Frances Lavina (Fenton) Dionne

pg 401 More Big Hill Country 2009

My Mom and Dad lived on Grandpa and Grandma Ferguson’s homestead. The homestead was nine miles east of Carstairs, Alberta. Dad was working in the Carstairs district, where my siblings and I would later be born. Grandma Ferguson was the midwife for my Mom, along with Dr. Williams. The doctor would come from Carstairs to assist my grandma with the births. By the time he got there the babies were already delivered and crying. Francis “Roy” was the first born on March 24, 1924. All members of the family said that Roy was a beautiful baby boy. Next, Tunis “Lynn” was born June 7, 1926. Then, along came me, born on March 1, 1929. They nicknamed me “Frankie” as that was also my grandma Ferguson’s nickname. Dad would never call me Frances, because he was very fond of my Grandma. The youngest baby of the family

was Gwendolyn “Joy”, born February 1, 1932. Mom and Dad lost a stillborn baby girl, whom they named Thelma in 1928. My Uncle Elmer, (my Mom’s brother) who was a carpenter, built the baby a little coffin, and my grandma lined it with satin. Thelma is buried at the Ferguson homestead under the big trees. 

Roy and Lynn started school at Tannybryn. They either rode to school on horseback or took a buggy driven by their cousins. It was about a two-and-a-half-mile trek. Mom and Dad moved to the Cochrane Lakes District, six miles north of the Town of Cochrane. My grandma Fenton (my Dad’s mother) and Uncle Orin lived just a short way from our new home. Their house is still standing; it is located just east of the biggest lake.

I started school at five years old, and attended the Cochrane Lakes School. Miss Jenny Anderson was my teacher. When my sister Joy started school, she also had Miss Anderson as her teacher. During those years at Cochrane Lakes, one of my favourite things to do during summer holidays was to stay with my Grandma Ferguson. Joy would go with me. When I was ten years old my Grandma passed away. I attended school at Cochrane Lakes until 1942 when the “powers to be” decided to close our beloved country school and bus us to the old brick school in Cochrane. Our first school bus driver was Mr. Gogo. On the first day of school the bus stopped at the correction line. All the older children had to push the bus to get it started again. This caused us to be late. It was not a good first impression to be late for our first day of classes with new teachers. Before the school year was out, we moved from Cochrane Lakes to Horse Creek, where Mom and Dad had bought the Hogarth place. After the move, Lynn would drive Joy and I in our old Model T truck to school in Cochrane. Roy had quit school to stay at home and work with Dad. Lynn finished school the next term, leaving Joy and I without a driver. Mom did not want me to quit school, so we both attended Horse Creek, originally called Chapelton School, just a half mile from our home. Our first teacher was Miss Peppard. She was an excellent teacher and had to ride about five miles from her home in the Weedon district to the school in Horse Creek. Joy and I did the janitorial work at the school. We were required to start the fire and warm up the school before Miss Peppard arrived. Boy, the winters were cold and she rode all that way! There was a barn for the teachers and students to stable their horses. The stable was well used as there were many that rode horses to school. 


In grade ten I attended school in Cochrane. Every morning I would ride my horse a mile to Jack “John” Perkin’s home where we would meet and ride the remaining three miles to the Weedon School to catch our bus to Cochrane. Our bus driver was Mr. Eddie Rowe. He liked his chewing tobacco and carried a spittoon on the bus, which he never seemed to hit. When winter came, the Dog Pound Road. now Highway 22, would be blocked with snowdrifts and the bus would have to veer through neighbouring fields. Eventually, the roads got so bad that the bus could no longer pick us up, and I was forced to quit school. I was disappointed that I had to quit because I wanted to become a nurse. 

Lynn and I stayed home and helped Mom on the farm with the cows, pigs, haying and daily chores, while Joy finished her grade nine at the Horse Creek School. Roy went with Dad to British Columbia where they worked on cattle ranches. 

Once I was finished with school I went to help various families with children, cooking, and cleaning. My first job was with the Weiss family in Irricana. I cared for their two children as the wife was waiting to give birth to the third. From this job, I went to Calgary to help my cousin, Lil Robinson, who had just given birth to a son, Allen. She was not well at the time, and eventually she developed Multiple Sclerosis. I remember teaching baby Allen to drink from a bottle. His Mom Lil taught me to knit diamond socks on four needles. After that Lynn was working for George and Mrs. Perrenoud. Lynn had me go with him to their place to help Mrs. Perrenoud cook for the men who worked on the farm. We traveled there with the team and rack. When I had finished working with the Perrenouds. I went to help Gilbert and Lucy Hallman at a small general store they had started just off the Horse Creek Road. The store was conveniently located a half mile north of my home. I then went to work for Jimmy and Chris MacKay in the Red and White Grocery Store on Main Street in Cochrane (which is now the location of MacKay’s Ice Cream). I enjoyed working for them until I married Alf Dionne on September 9, 1953. 

I met Alf when he was working for Chet Baldwin, and was an outrider for my Dad’s (Slim Fenton) chuckwagon team. He outrode for my Dad for eight years. After we were married we moved to Saskatchewan, where Alf worked on the rigs for Mobil Oil. We lived in a trailer, which at that time was located right on the oil lease. 

On June 10, 1954, our first child Mabel Lynn (Mabelyn) was born in Calgary, Alberta. I went back to Calgary and had her at the Holy Cross Hospital with Dr. Wilson. I stayed with my Aunt Anne McCool and Uncle Harve in West Calgary. Alf quit the rig and moved back to Alberta to work for Wilfred and Clarence Sibbald at the Jumping Pound. We lived in a small house at the Sibbald Ranch, while Mabelyn was a baby. We then moved into Cochrane so Alf could drive truck for Marlow Blatchford. We rented a house belonging to George and Herman Kinch. That house would be home to Margaret Gayle, our second child. She was born on September 27, 1956. Gladstone Alfred was also born while living there on November 18, 1957. We then moved down to the old Rattray place, which was owned by Bill and Louis Copithorne. The house was located south of the river near the old bridge. My mother Mabel Fenton passed away from cancer on April 23, 1960, at the age of 63. She was very sadly missed by all. We lived at the Rattray place for five years, then bought our first home in 1965 on William Street and Centre Avenue in Cochrane. That is where our fourth child Shirley Joy was born. Her birthday was December 16, 1967, at the new Foothills Hospital. Dr. McQuitty delivered her.

We sold our first home and moved to our present home in 1977. That same year, we lost our dear baby sister Joy Elliott to a heart attack at the age of fifty-four. She left behind her husband Kenneth Elliott, son Kenneth Roy born November 24, 1951, Rocky Lane born January 24, 1954, and Hector Marlow born August 5, 1955. Joy’s death was unexpected and a tragedy to those who loved her dearly. 

Since we have lived in our new home we have traveled a bit. We have been to Hawaii, Yuma, Arizona, and Mazatlan Mexico. We went to Alaska in 1992, to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Alaskan Highway. My daughters and I have also vacationed in Cuba together. Alf and I have enjoyed numerous fishing trips to Toquart Bay off Vancouver Island.

I made my home and raised my kids in Cochrane. I helped look after my good friend Alice Blatchford, and my three Aunts, Mildred Thompson, Gertie Culling, and Anne McCool, while they were living at the Cochrane Bethany Care Centre. I also worked for 19 years as a Matron for the Cochrane RCMP Detachment. When Alf was released from the hospital in November of 2004 after his wagon accident, I quit my Matron job so I could care for him at home. Dr. Foster and the excellent nurses from Home Care located at the Cochrane Health Centre came to our home and helped me get Alf back on his feet. 

I have enjoyed numerous hobbies. I belong to the Cochrane Art Club. I have participated in and sold my art in various shows in Cochrane. I belong to the Cochrane Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. My grandchildren also want me to say that I am well known for my garden, flowers, and baking,

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