Annie (Angus) French
Life and Work
Annie Florence Angus was born on February 21, 1898 at Angus Ridge, when it was still a part of the Northwest Territories. Her parents, Robert MacLachlan (R.M.) Angus and Florence Donaldson, had settled in a log house homestead at Angus Ridge in 1892. Annie’s parents were born and married in Quebec and travelled west, bringing along their two young children: William Gilbert, born in 1890, and Mary Alexina, born in 1891. Sadly, Mary passed away shortly after their arrival at Angus Ridge in 1892. Along with Annie herself, three more children were born at Angus Ridge: Harold George in 1896, Eva Myrtle in 1899 and Rubena Maud in 1901.
In 1903, the family moved to Wetaskiwin. Victoria Alberta was born that same year. Tragedy befell the family a year later, when Rubena and Victoria contracted diphtheria and passed away on February 10. Annie recounted the experience as very sad and distressing, especially for her father, who had to bury the children himself. However, the family rallied together and continued to grow, with the birth of three more children: Jean Hazel in 1905, Robert Donaldson in 1906 and Kenneth MacLachlan in 1909.
The children most likely went to school in Wetaskiwin, although not much is known about Annie’s formal education. In contrast, Annie’s summer activities were a favourite topic. During the summer months, the Angus children would stay at Ma-Me-O Beach in Pigeon Lake. R.M. would set up two tents for them, one for cooking and the other for sleeping, before heading back to town to continue his work. Those days out in the lake were what Annie considered the best times of her life. Staying at the lake was an experience fit for pioneers: living in tents, splitting wood and building fires. The children would have to keep an eye out for any approaching storms, so they could head back to town in time and avoid getting stuck in the muddy trails. Their father would visit them during weekends, bringing more supplies and sometimes a friend. When there were visitors, fishing was a necessity and Annie would have to cook extra. In her teen years, Annie worked at the Star Store for some time.
She married Horace Roderick French on October 11, 1920. H.R. French came from Quebec in 1909, and worked in a jewellery store that he soon bought out and turned into French’s Jewellery. He was known locally as Frenchie. Annie occasionally helped out with the store, especially during the busy seasons. Annie and Frenchie had two children: Charles Roderick in 1924 and Malcolm Angus in 1927. Rod and Mac had an elder sister who passed away at an early age from unknown causes. The French brothers helped out with their father’s businesses in the later years, with Mac as a jeweller and Rod an optometrist. Mac married Shirley Davidson in 1956 and they have two children: Douglas and Donna. Rod married Dorothy Levitsky in 1957 and they also have two children: Margaret and David. Annie was later blessed with three great-grandchildren: Julianna, Marli and Jeffrey.
Inspired by her desire to help the less fortunate, Annie joined the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire in 1926. The Peace Hills Chapter of the I.O.D.E. was a volunteer organization dedicated to strengthening the Wetaskiwin community by adhering to their motto ‘Contributing to Community and Country’. They supported the war effort through fundraisers and rummage sales. Scholarships and youth programs were also initiated by the local Chapter. Annie herself headed a committee to discuss plans for handling the promotion and the sale of War Savings Stamps in 1942. She was also involved in selling tickets for the annual I.O.D.E. Armistice Day Dance in 1945. Annie became a life member of the I.O.D.E. in 1977, receiving a 50 year pin for her faithful work with the organization. Dorothy, Annie’s daughter-in-law, traces her own extensive involvement with the I.O.D.E to Annie’s anxious urging.
Beyond her work with the I.O.D.E., Annie also joined the Order of the Eastern Star and earned a 25 year pin for her membership in that social group. Annie was an equally active life member of the Anglican Church Women’s Group, a group that attended to the church’s needs as well as the community’s. They hosted tea parties for special seasonal events and catered at funerals. A humble lady, Annie not only enjoyed the company of the ladies in the groups she was involved in, but also the satisfying feeling of working together to help people in a way that she couldn’t accomplish by herself.
Continuing the tradition of staying out at the lake, Annie spent the summer months with her own family there. The experience was essentially the same as when the Angus family had spent their summers there: no power, gas or running water and enjoying carefree play on the lake. The only modern improvement was that they stayed in a cabin instead of tents. Annie loved to pick berries at the lake. She made jars of pin cherry jelly and Saskatoon pies, both family favourites. Annie often baked four small pies at a time, one for each of her grandchildren. Marg, Annie’s granddaughter, remarks that the pies were always done to perfection, with a light golden brown crust, and that “it seemed like everything Annie did, she did well and she did with love, thoughtfulness, and care.” The French brothers also fondly remember their mother as a wonderful cook; they never lacked anything to eat. Although Annie was never the type to get mad, Mac does remember getting in trouble when he was young. He was caught with singed eyebrows, which he incurred from trying to smoke seaweed at the lake; Annie had made him extinguish it right away.
Annie travelled often to Quebec to visit friends; Frenchie was a CPR watch inspector and provided the family with frequent rides on the train. Annie also liked to spend her time doing petit point, cross-stitch and mending clothes as well as playing bridge with her husband and friends. When her husband and sons were out for Kiwanis dinners, Annie often visited her daughter-in-law and had dinner with her grandchildren. Annie was known for her grace and composure, so the sight of such a proper lady having a crazy hat plunked down on her head by her grandchildren at such a gathering was a memorable spectacle. Her sense of humour was not lacking when it came to their teasing. Her family amusedly remember how rosy her cheeks would be after having a bite of the Christmas pudding she had spiked with a little whiskey.
Annie’s home was always open to her family, and she would welcome her grandchildren often wearing her familiar attire of a dress and apron. Donna, Annie’s granddaughter, remembers being able to bike to her grandmother’s house for tea parties. Annie was always interested in what her children and grandchildren were up to. Marg remembers the calm and cheery air about Annie that made it a joy for the pair to sit and talk at ease in each other’s company. The two shared a passion and talent for art.
When Frenchie passed away on May 25, 1974, the resilient Annie kept herself busy with her community involvements, as well as with babysitting the grandchildren. Christmas time was usually celebrated with the whole family together, and Annie liked to sit down with her daughters-in-law and watch the kids tear away at the wrapping on their presents.
Having lived in Wetaskiwin for the majority of her life, Annie had a large circle of friends who often referred to her as ‘gentle Annie’. Despite the distance, she kept in contact with her friends out of town by writing letters. She was kind, well-known, and well-liked.
With her sons Rod and Mac at her side, Annie peacefully passed away on October 18, 1986 at the age of eighty-eight.
Compiled in 2013.
Compiled by: Michelle Mabuyo
Sources: Rod French, Dorothy French, Margaret French, Mac French, Shirley French, Donna Mikulecky, David French, Wetaskiwin Times, Pioneer Pathways, Angus Ridge Community History Book