Nancy (Ward) Samson




Life and Work

Nancy Ward was born at Buffalo Lake, Alberta on December 26, 1914 to James and Mary Ward, the oldest of twelve children. The family lived in log houses both on the Samson Reserve in Hobbema and at her paternal grandfather's place near Bashaw.

When Nancy was eight years old, she went on the train to the Indian Residential School. She got off in Edmonton where staff members met her and other children, and drove them to the school in St. Albert to the School. The school served the Protestant children and was operated by the United Church of Canada. The parents were welcome to visit at the school and were put up overnight when they came.

Nancy had few problems at the residential school. The students worked half-days and attended classes half-days. She worked in the laundry room, cleaned dormitories, helped in the kitchen, and mended clothes. The only time she remembers being severely disciplined was one fall when the children were carrying cases of plums from a truck to the kitchen. She along with others were pulling out the plums and eating them as they walked along. It was noticed that quite a few plums were missing so the principal lined the children up in his office. "Did you take the plums?" was the question. "Yes." came the answer. "Which hand did you use to take the plums?" They held out that hand and got a strap on it. It was the only strap she ever got.

The students stayed at the school all year except for six weeks when they'd break for holidays in the summer. It was very hard to leave home when it came time to return to school, and Nancy cried on the train taking her back. However, when the staff met them and they were on their way to St. Albert, there were no more tears.

Native students were forced to leave school at age 18. Nancy had finished Grade 9 with one year at Alberta College. There was no opportunity in those days for any more schooling.

The fall after leaving school, Nancy's parents and John Samson's parents began talking about them getting married. The Samsons wanted Nancy as a daughter-in-law, and the Wards were pleased to have John as a son-in-law. They asked the young couple if they wanted to marry each other. As everyone was happy with the union, they were married December 12, 1933, just before Nancy's 19th birthday. To this couple were born ten children, six of whom are still living as of 1996. Their first home was built of green logs, plastered with mud. Mr. Samson, Sr. made a table and benches. The curtains were made from printed flour sacks, as were the sheets and pillowcases.

Nancy and John worked together in the farming operation. She cut brush, stocked and chopped wood, hauled water, raised a garden and cared for her large family. They managed to scrape up $34 for a Singer treadle sewing machine at an auction, and she would sew on it for many years.

After the children were in school, Nancy began work as casual help at the Hobbema Hospital and soon moved up to feeding the infant patients. Her gentle manner endeared her to all. She took the Community Health Representative training and continued to work in the health field until her retirement in December, 1979. Community health was very important to Nancy and she took the initiative to get road ditches cleaned, old cars hauled out of yards, and stray dogs put down. She worked very hard to make the reserve a better place to live and was dedicated to her people.

In 1967 Nancy, Emma Minde, and Theresa Wildcat formed the Four-Band Homemakers Club. They did a lot of sewing and quilting. The quilts were donated to fire victims. They saw a need to give the people of the community news on births, deaths, weddings, and who was at the hospital in Ponoka or Wetaskiwin. (The local hospital had been closed in 1963.) The Bear Hills Native Voice newspaper was born. The women collected the news items which were typed and the paper was run off on a Gestetner. There was no charge for the paper at that time. It continued to be published by volunteers for several years, and later became a business. The name was never changed.

Retirement meant changing focus: she now had time to pursue her arts and crafts, sew and enjoy her grandchildren. The Samsons built their lovely log ranch-style home in 1980. The logs-were pre-cut and John said it was like a puzzle: every log was numbered and he had to put them together correctly. It is a four-bedroom home with attached garage. The garage, however, has never had a car in it. It became the sewing room, craft room and almost a museum. Both John and Nancy have done many native crafts.

Nancy Samson has been a lifetime resident of the Samson Reserve. She has shaped her own family, her community, and indirectly the native people of Alberta. Beneath her quiet demeanour lies great strength. Nancy and John Samson have been leaders in the growth and prosperity of their community.

Nancy passed away August 13, 1998.


  • Research and Writing: Roma Simonson

  • Contributors: Lorraine Arnold, John and Nancy Samson, Adelene Harvey, Dennis and Jeanette Samson, Roma Simonson and Lorraine Arnold

  • Curator: Harriet Liddle