Mary (Clair) Meraw
Life and Work
Mary Clair was born in Ontario July 17, 1904, the third of six children. The Clair family lived on a farm a few miles from the nearest town, but when her father heard of the golden opportunities in the west, he bought a homestead at Kerrobert, Saskatchewan in 1913. By that time, her brother was old enough to also lay claim to homestead land. They started farming with three oxen and two horses.
When Mary was young, there was lots of hard work and no conveniences. Her father built a new home on the farm in 1915, but it was lost in a fire in 1916 (along with a new piano). They rebuilt and bought another piano as music and reading were very important to their family.
One of the children's chores was to bring the cows in from the pasture. They would then have breakfast and walk three miles to school. After school, they brought in wood and coal, gathered eggs and fed the pigs. When they were older they learned to milk. They had good times together as a family.
The Clairs were very devout, so every Sunday they drove thirty miles to church by team of horses. They would leave at 5:00 A.M. to get to church by 10:00 A.M. They took turns going to church - one time her mother and two of the children would go, and the next Sunday, her father and two children would go. The younger ones stayed home. The churchgoers would have dinner at an uncle's and then drive home.
The Clair children all took music lessons. A neighbour on the farm was an English homesteader who taught them piano. He lived with his mother and Mrs. Clair was very adamant the children call him Mr. and his mother Mrs. This was to show respect to their elders.
The school teacher always boarded with the Clairs. When the children were older they drove to school with a horse and buggy. In bad weather, Mary's father drove them to school. The teacher rode with them. School was closed after Christmas until March. It was then open all through summer.
Christmas was always a big event with a Christmas concert at the school. Mary loved to recite and act in plays. In their home, the Clairs always had a Christmas tree - not spruce, but a poplar tree from around the slough. They decorated it with green crepe paper and real candles. The candles could only be lit when her father was in the room. They made gifts for each other.
There were many box socials at the school and the money raised went to buy a school piano. On July 1, a big picnic was held at the school. Before they could go, the Clair children had to pick rocks. Then in the afternoon at the picnic, there would be races and ball games and food to eat. Home-made ice cream was always on the menu. Ice came from a well on the Clair farm. Mary's father would put straw down on the ice to hold it longer - sometimes until August or September.
As a young person, Mary played tennis and golf, and rode horseback. Groups of young people would ride on Sunday afternoons to neighbouring stampedes. She was active in girl guides as a youngster. After she married, Mary was too busy to do these things, but she joined the I.O.D.E. in 1924 and has also been a member of the C.W.L. since 1920.
The Clairs had good gardens and crops to begin with, but in 1924, they had a complete crop failure so they moved to a farm at Standard, Alberta. During that same year, Mary left to take a bookkeeping course. She worked for the Bell Shoe Company where she learned how to fit shoes and ladies' wear. In 1929, she went to Claresholm and worked in a shoe store and did shoe fitting. During this time, she met Harry Meraw - a salesman in the retail business. They were married in 1942 at Battleford, Saskatchewan.
Harry had opened a business in Wetaskiwin in 1939. After they were married, they both worked in the store. The first store was in the Compton Block (now the French Block) on Main Street. Later they bought a building across the street and were there until they sold the business.
They employed many local young boys and girls, from 15 to 20 at one time. Mrs. Meraw trained them in business, taught them how to give change and good service. She enjoyed working with the young people and the public.
When Mary and Harry married and had children they were very strict about attending church. This is still a tradition with Mary and her married children. The Meraws built a home in 1944. Harry left the store in the hands of his wife and worked for three months with one builder to build their home. It was ready to move into by August 19, 1944. August 19th was a significant date to the Meraws - Harry had opened his first store on August 19th, 1939, and he was to die on August 19th 1980. The Meraws had one son - Mickey, now working in Calgary for the government, and one daughter living in Lloydminster.
In 1949, Mary's brother drowned while at work in the oilfields and his wife died shortly thereafter. The Meraws took two of the nephews and raised them as their own. They kept the two children's surnames (Clair) as they wanted the boys to maintain their own family ties. The two adopted boys, Hugh and Walter, now live and work in Edmonton.
Mary's mother and father also lived with them. This was wonderful as her mother could watch the children while Mary worked in the store. Mary Meraw has been a willing volunteer in many organizations in Wetaskiwin. She has a lot of friends and has done many crafts. She knit and crocheted many items for her grandchildren. She took up ceramics. Many of the lamps and vases in her home are her creations. She did three needlepoint pictures of their house from a snapshot and gave them to her children for Christmas.
Mary has a wonderful memory. Her advice is: "Don't marry too young and enjoy your youthful years. When you marry you are tied down and can't do some of the things you would like to do."
"She always takes time for her friends no matter how busy she is or how she is feeling. She is everyone's friend and knows almost everyone."
- Barbara Stringer, a friend and former employee
"Mary still lives in her own home on Main Street, growing flowers and touching people's hearts. She is there to help those who are experiencing financial or emotional difficulty. One can always count on Mary's help, support, prayers and smile! We're glad you came to Wetaskiwin, Mary."
- Pat Murray, friend and president of CWL
My Friend, Mrs. Mary Meraw by Barbara Stringer
I have known Mrs. Meraw for many years, since I was 18 years old. I worked for her and Mr. Meraw when I finished high school.
I have always found her kind, honest, caring, thoughtful, patient and always very interesting to listen and talk to. She is interested in everyone and everything that is happening in her family, in the community, in the province, and in the rest of Canada. She is always up-to-date on the news of the day.
She has influenced me in many ways. For instance, in shopping, she always knows where the best buys are in buying groceries, cards, flowers, sweaters, slacks, etc. Consequently, I have become a wiser shopper because of her.
She always takes time for her friends, no matter how busy she is or how she is feeling. She is everyone's friend and knows almost everyone.
Mrs. Meraw is a devout Catholic and practises what she believes in. To be positive about all matters of importance, and not to judge. Let the Man up above be the Judge. That is very good advice.
To me she is a great lady and a great friend. I hope she never leaves us.
- Research and Writing: Roma Simonson
- Contributors: Mrs. Mary Meraw, Pat Murray and Barbara Stringer
- Curator: Harriet Liddle