Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Category Archives: Canadiana

The most popular snack food of Canadians

By Bondolo – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18761126

These are Cheezies, the favourite snack food flavour of Canadians. Other snack foods come in a variety of flavours, but W. T, Hawkins Ltd. has never seen a need for ranch flavoured, barbecue flavoured or salsa falvoured Cheezies. This is the only product made by the Hawkins company, a family owned business in Belleville, Ontario.

The Hawkins company has been making Cheezies for 70 years. They do no advertising, yet Cheezies are found in every convenience store and supermarket from one end of Canada to the other. Cheezies are not available outside of Canada as the company sells everything they can produce in a production run of four and half days per week. Friday afternoon is devoted to maintenance and cleaning in preparation for the following week.

It is a simple recipe, extruded corn meal deep fried in vegetable oil and sprinkled with powdered aged cheddar cheese. The irregular shapes may be part of the appeal. Other companies produce similar products that are uniform in shape, but Canadians still prefer Cheezies.

Gentle Mary laid her Child

In 1919 a weekly Methodist paper announced a contest for the best new Christmas Carol. The winning entry was the following poem from Joseph Simpson Cook, a Methodist minister in south-western Ontario. The tune is Tempus Adest Floridum, composed in 1582 for a Latin hymn, adapted by John Mason Neale for an English hymn in 1853, then in 1930 Ernest MacMillan, the most renowned musician in Canada of that day, created a new arrangement for this hymn.

Gentle Mary laid her Child
Lowly in a manger;
There He lay, the undefiled,
To the world a stranger:
Such a Babe in such a place,
Can He be the Saviour?
Ask the saved of all the race
Who have found His favour.

Angels sang about His birth;
Wise men sought and found Him;
Heaven’s star shone brightly forth,
Glory all around Him:
Shepherds saw the wondrous sight,
Heard the angels singing;
All the plains were lit that night,
All the hills were ringing.

Gentle Mary laid her Child
Lowly in a manger;
He is still the undefiled,
But no more a stranger:
Son of God, of humble birth,
Beautiful the story;
Praise His name in all the earth,
Hail the King of glory!

The first car my mother saw

My mother, who was born in January of 1908, told me that the first automobile that she ever saw was a Gray-Dort. Her uncle bought it when Mom was still a little girl and it was a sensation in their little community in south-western Saskatchewan.. I don’t know what colour or model her uncle’s car was, but it would have looked something like the picture below.

Gray-Dort Motors of Chatham, Ontario produced 20,000 automobiles from 1915 to 1925. The company was a successor to the William Gray & Sons carriage company which was founded in 1855.

My Jesus, I Love Thee

My Jesus, I love Thee, I know Thou art mine;
For Thee all the follies of sin I resign.
My gracious Redeemer, my Savior art Thou;
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

I love Thee because Thou has first loved me,
And purchased my pardon on Calvary’s tree.
I love Thee for wearing the thorns on Thy brow;
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

I’ll love Thee in life, I will love Thee in death,
And praise Thee as long as Thou lendest me breath;
And say when the death dew lies cold on my brow,
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

In mansions of glory and endless delight,
I’ll ever adore Thee in heaven so bright;
I’ll sing with the glittering crown on my brow;
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

William Ralph Featherston, 1864

These words were written by a teenager! Very little is known of William Ralph Featherston, except that he lived in Montreal, attended a Methodist church, wrote this poem at the age of 16 and died when he was 27. Adoniram Judson Gordon set the words to music in 1876 and it has become a much loved hymn. William Featherston did not live long enough to hear his words sung as hymn or to have any idea how many people would be inspired to a greater love of Jesus by his words.

Dreams and happiness

Let me ask you a question — if you achieve the thing you are dreaming of, will you be happy?

Tom Sukanen came to Saskatchewan from Finland as a young man with immense strength and talent. He was a friend to all. He helped neighbours build their homes, work their land, repair their machinery, thresh their crops.

Through tragic circumstances he lost his family. He withdrew from his neighbours and began building a small ship that he would float up the Saskatchewan River to Hudson Bay and return to Finland. He built every part of the ship himself. He knew his business, he had charts of the river system, he knew the seas – it would have worked.

Tom Sukanen’s ship, now in a museum south of Moose Jaw

The drought of the 1930’s intervened. Tom Sukanen almost starved to death, and died a broken man in 1943 at the age of 65.

Would he have been happy if he had managed to return to Finland and receive a hero’s welcome for his accomplishment?

Or did he experience true happiness when he was helping his neighbours, only to turn his back on that to follow his dream?

We all need to follow a dream. But if it is a selfish dream, we will not find happiness at the end. Let our dream rather be of helping others find happiness. Then genuine happiness will sneak up and surprise us.

He that despiseth his neighbour sinneth: but he that hath mercy on the poor, happy is he. Proverbs 14:21.

Divine intervention

Daniel was in a dilemma. He was a captive in a strange land, yet now he was being offered training that would prepare him for a lucrative career. The only problem was that one of the benefits of this training program was that he would be given the same food to eat that the king ate. The food itself was not what troubled Daniel. It would be healthy, nutritious food; but it was food that had been offered in sacrifice to the king’s god. Daniel knew that he was in captivity because God’s people had compromised for years with the gods of the heathen peoples around them.

So Daniel purposed in his heart not to defile himself. What a momentous decision for a young man to make. He knew his decision might result in being barred from the great opportunity before him, it might even have fatal consequences. But that was his decision and he held to it.

God blessed Daniel’s decision. That gave Him a man in Babylon who was fully devoted to Him and He would use Daniel to move the king of Babylon to protect the people of God. We know how things went from there. The king had dreams, Daniel interpreted them. The king promoted Daniel and his three friends to the highest administrative positions in Babylon.

Daniel’s three friends were cast into a super-heated furnace and came out without even the smell of smoke on them. The king then decreed severe punishment for anyone who would say anything against the God of Daniel’s three friends.

The king lost his mind and was put out to pasture with the animals. I imagine that all the time that he was out with the beasts he kept telling himself “I am the great king Nebuchadnezzar, I can just get up and walk back into the palace any time I want and continue as before.” But he couldn’t. It wasn’t until he admitted that the God of heaven was greater than he was, that his reason returned to him. Now Nebuchadnezzar fully acknowledged and submitted to the God of heaven as supreme.

Nebuchadnezzar’s son learned nothing from his father’s experience. When he became king he threw a great party and called for the vessels from the temple of God to be brought out and used for drinking wine at his party. Then he saw the writing on the wall. No one knew what it meant, finally his mother came and told him to call for Daniel. Daniel told him the writing said that he had been weighed and found wanting and the kingdom would be taken from him.

Babylon was overthrown that very night by the Medes and Persians. Daniel continued as a trusted advisor to the king of Persia. They were others in the Persian kingdom who put their lives on the line to be faithful to God, such as Esther, Mordecai and Nehemiah. It appears from history that as long as there were people who refused to defile themselves with paganism, God intervened directly in the affairs of great heathen kingdoms to protect His people.

At what point in time are we in North America. Is God about to reveal the writing on the wall for Canada and the USA? Or will the writing on the wall be for us as Christians in these countries? Is God about to weigh us in the balance and declare that we have come up short?

God has intervened in the history of our two countries to provide for our religious freedom. Yet it seems to me that we have been to prone to honour men for what God has done, even to the point of calling our nations Christian nations. They are not, and never have been. Is labelling a nation of this world as Christian and regarding men and historical places and events almost as saints, sacred writings and shrines much different than defiling ourselves with food sacrificed to idols?

God has intervened directly to provide freedom of conscience in our two lands. Delegates at the Continental Congress in 1774 debated which church should be the official state church of the new nation, because almost all delegates agreed that such a thing was necessary. The New England states were Congregationalist and allowed no other church. The southern states allowed only the Church of England. Maryland was Roman Catholic. Only Rhode Island and Pennsylvania had no official state church. Because of these divisions the delegates were not able to come to agreement and finally abandoned the idea of having a state church for the new republic.

This was not the work of great men with a true vision of liberty of conscience. It looks to me more like a direct intervention of God to prepare the way for the establishment of His church in North America.

Likewise in Canada, as long as Upper Canada and Lower Canada (Ontario and Quebec) were separate colonies, The Church of England was the state church in one and the Roman Catholic church was in the other. But when they were united under a single government in 1841 it was no longer possible to have a state church for the whole country and as the country expanded eastward and westward it was not possible to make any one church official.

When Mennonites first settled in Upper Canada around 1800, they were tolerated, but could not conduct legal marriage services. The Orange Lodge was very powerful in Ontario and fiercely opposed to any groups who were not White, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant. The Roman Catholic church in Quebec was equally intolerant. I see it as divine intervention that Canada was brought together in such a way that neither camp could dominate the country, thus allowing freedom of conscience for God’s people.

New belief systems have emerged and become predominant in both countries, propagated by the cathedrals of learning (the universities), and the whole educational system. We are now coming to a point where freedom of conscience is seen as a dangerous thing, almost treasonous.

The freedom we have enjoyed was not granted to us by great and noble politicians, but by the direct work of God. The solution to our present situation will not come from political sources. We must seek God’s mercy and purpose in our hearts not to defile ourselves with ideas, beliefs and programs that come from other sources.

Happy thoughts

Image by Scottslm from Pixabay 

There’s a bluebird on your windowsill
There’s a rainbow in your sky
There are happy thoughts, your heart to fill
Near enough to make you cry.

(The first stanza of Bluebird on you Windowsill by Elizabeth Clarke.)

Elizabeth Clarke was a nurse at the Children’s Hospital in Vancouver. One day in 1947 one of her patients, a young boy, was thrilled when a bird perched on the windowsill next to his bed. That evening she wrote the words to this song, and soon after added a melody to the words.

She sang the song often to her patients. Soon friends and coworkers encouraged her to publish it. She sang the song on a Vancouver radio station and before long it was being recorded by well-known singers like Wilf Carter, Tex Williams, Doris Day and Bing Crosby.

Elizabeth Clarke once told a journalist “I didn’t intend to write it – it just came.” She donated all the royalties from the song to children’s hospitals across Canada and continued her nursing career until her death in 1960.

But God Can Save Us Yet

[This is an excerpt from a Canadian Classic, Roughing it in the Bush, by Susanna Moodie, first published in 1852.  At the climax of the crisis described here, she buries her head in her apron. It was her custom to  pull up her apron to cover her head for privacy when praying.]

The winter and spring of 1834 had passed away. The latter was uncommonly cold and backward; so much so that we had a very heavy fall of snow upon the 14th and 15th of May

A late, cold spring in Canada is generally succeeded by a burning, hot summer; and the summer of ’34 was the hottest I ever remember.  No rain fell upon the earth for many weeks, till nature drooped and withered beneath one bright blaze of sunlight; and the ague and fever in the woods, and the cholera in the large towns and cities, spread death and sickness through the country.

Moodie had made during the winter a large clearing of twenty acres around the house. The progress of the workmen had been watched by me with the keenest interest. Every tree that reached the ground opened a wider gap in the dark wood, giving us a broader ray of light and a clearer glimpse of the blue sky. But when the dark cedar swamp fronting the house fell beneath the strokes of the axe, and we got a first view of the lake my joy was complete: a new and beautiful object was now constantly before me, which gave me the greatest pleasure.

The confusion of an uncleared fallow spread around us on every side. Huge trunks of trees and piles of brush gave a littered and uncomfortable appearance to the locality, and as the weather had been very dry for some weeks, I heard my husband talking with his choppers as to the expediency of firing the fallow. They still urged him to wait a little longer, until he could get a good breeze to carry the fire well through the brush.

Business called him suddenly to Toronto, but he left a strict charge with old Thomas and his sons, who were engaged in the job, by no means to attempt to burn it off till he returned, as he wished to be upon the premises himself in case of any danger. He had previously burnt all the heaps immediately about the doors. While he was absent, old Thomas and his second son fell sick with the ague, and went home to their own township, leaving John, a surly, obstinate young man, in charge of the shanty, where they slept, and kept their tools and provisions.

The day was sultry, and towards noon a strong wind sprang up that roared in the pine tops like the dashing of distant billows, but without in the least degree abating the heat. The children were lying listlessly on the floor for coolness, and the girl and I were finishing sun-bonnets, when Mary suddenly exclaimed, “Bless us, mistress, what a smoke!” I ran immediately to the door, but was not able to distinguish ten yards before me. The swamp immediately below us was on fire, and the heavy wind was driving a dense black cloud of smoke directly towards us.

“What can this mean?” I cried. “Who can have set fire to the fallow?”

John Thomas stood pale and trembling before me. “John, what is the meaning of this fire?”

“Oh, ma’am, I hope you will forgive me; it was I set fire to it, and I would give all I have in the world if I had not done it.”

“What is the danger?”

“Oh, I’m terribly feared that we shall all be burnt up,” said the fellow, beginning to whimper.

“We must get out of it as fast as we can, and leave the house to its fate.”

“We can’t get out,” said the man, in a low, hollow tone, which seemed the concentration of fear; “I would have got out if I could; but just step to the back door, ma’am, and see.”

I had not felt the least alarm up to this minute. Judge then my horror, when, on going to the back door, I saw that the fellow, to make sure of his work, had fired the field in fifty different places. Behind, before, on every side, we were surrounded by a wall of fire, burning ferociously within a hundred yards of us, and cutting off all possibility of retreat.

I closed the door and went back to the parlour. Fear was knocking loudly at my heart – I felt stupefied. The girl sat upon the floor by the children, who had both fallen asleep. She was silently weeping; while the fool who had caused the mischief was crying aloud.

A strange calm succeeded my first alarm; tears and lamentations were useless; a horrible death was impending over us, and yet I could not believe that we were to die.

My eye fell upon the sleeping angels, locked peacefully in each other’s arms, and my tears flowed for the first time. Mary, the servant-girl, looked piteously up in my face. The good, faithful creature had not uttered one word of complaint, but now she faltered forth, “The dear precious lambs! Oh such a death!”

I threw myself down upon the floor beside them, and pressed them alternately to my heart, while inwardly I thanked God that they were asleep, unconscious of danger.

The heat soon became suffocating. We were parched with thirst, and there was not a drop of water in the house. I turned once more to the door, hoping that a passage might have been burnt through to the water. I saw nothing but a dense cloud of fire and smoke – could hear nothing but the crackling and roaring of the flames, which were gaining so fast on us that I felt their scorching breath in my face.

“Ah,” thought I – and it was a most bitter thought – “what will my beloved husband say when he returns and finds that poor Susy and his dear girls have perished in this miserable manner? But God can save us yet.”

The thought had scarcely found a voice in my heart before the wind rose to a hurricane, scattering the flames on all sides into a tempest of burning billows. I buried my head in my apron, for I thought that our time was come, and that all was lost, when a most terrific crash of thunder burst over our heads, and, like the breaking of a water-spout, down came the rushing torrent of rain which had been pent up for so many weeks. In a few minutes the chip-yard was all afloat, and the fire effectually checked. The storm which, unnoticed by us, had been gathering all day, and which was the only one of any note we had that summer, continued to rage all night, and before morning had quite subdued the cruel enemy whose approach we had viewed with such dread.

The imminent danger in which we had been placed struck me more forcibly after it was past than at the time, and both the girl and myself sank to our knees and offered up our hearts in humble thanksgiving to that God who had saved us by an act of His Providence from an awful and sudden death. When all hope from human assistance was lost, His hand was mercifully stretched forth, making His strength more perfectly manifested in our weakness.

“He is their stay when earthly hope is lost,
“The light and anchor of the tempest-toss’d.”

You don’t know the wind

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Image by ptra from Pixabay

The title comes from a line in an art book published 25 years ago, titled If you’re not from the prairie . . . The art is by Henry Ripplinger and the poetic text by David Bouchard. Together they evoke childhood in rural Saskatchewan just as I remember it.

Another line in the book says “You’ve never heard grass.” People in other parts of the country know the sound of the wind in the trees. We don’t have many of those on the prairie. I remember warm summer days in my boyhood when I would walk through the pasture and hear the sound of the grass swaying in the gentle breeze.

Another favourite Saskatchewan book is the novel Who has Seen the Wind, byW. O. Mitchell. The description of the boy listening to the sounds made by the wind in the grass is picture perfect, a beautiful example of showing, not telling.

I have travelled across Canada, seen the Pacific in the west and the Atlantic in the east. I have lived in half of the provinces and I know there is wind everywhere. Yet there is something about the wind that blows across the flat prairie with few trees to impede it that speaks to me in a way that tells me that here I am at home.

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Image by sspiehs3 from Pixabay

We don’t enjoy it when the wind blows at gale force for several days. But then, we don’t enjoy it either when it is a hot summer day, the mosquitos are around us like a cloud and there is not even a little breeze to blow them away. For better or for worse, the wind is part of what it means to be a flatlander.

  • If you’re not from the prairie . . . , © 1993 by David Bouchard and Henry Ripplinger. Published by Raincoast Books, Vancouver.
  • Who has seen the wind, © 1947 by W. O. Mitchell. Published by Macmillan of Canada, Toronto.

How Old Wives Lake Got its Name

When one travels south from Moose Jaw one soon enters a vast upland area rising from the flat prairie. This is the Missouri Coteau. The water in the streams and rivers east of the Coteau flow into the Assiniboine River and eventually into Hudson’s Bay. Streams and rivers of the Coteau flow to the Missouri River, then the Mississippi and finally the Gulf of Mexico.

Many years ago this was all grassland, with water in all the low spots between the hills. There are a few larger bodies of water, the largest being Old Wives Lake, just north of the town of Mossbank. Wildlife is abundant in the hills; the lake is a migratory bird preserve. Buffalo no longer roam these hills; they are now partly cattle country, partly grain-growing country.

Missouri_Coteau_(656541298).jpg

But for hundreds of years the Missouri Coteau was home to vast herds of buffalo and prime hunting ground for indigenous people. The Lakota people inhabited an area that extended from Old Wives Lake south into Montana. The Lakota medicine man Sitting Bull always claimed to have been born on the north side of the Medicine Line (the USA-Canada border). I don’t believe there is any reason to doubt the accuracy of his memory.

The Nakota people, closely related to the Lakota and speaking the same language, lived further east but also came to these hills to hunt buffalo. The Cree people who lived northeast along the Qu’Appelle Valley also hunted in this area. These people all respected each other and made no trouble for each other.

The Blackfoot people lived far to the west and did not come to these hills to hunt. However, sometimes a group of young braves ventured into the hill to seek an occasion to prove their manhood.

And so it happened on a day many years ago that a Cree hunting party had set up camp not far from the body of water now known as Old Wives Lake. The buffalo hunt was a family affair. The men killed the buffalo and brought them back to the camp. The women and children busied themselves scraping and drying the hides, collecting wild berries and pounding the meat and berries into pemmican.

Toward evening a scout returned to camp with the chilling report that a large group of Blackfoot braves was encamped in a nearby valley. Everyone knew that at the crack of dawn the Blackfoot’s braves would come galloping over the hill and slaughter everyone in the camp. The Blackfeet had done this many times before and their hidden presence left no doubt as to their intentions.

The men gathered around a campfire to plan a way of escape. There was a small chance they could drive off the Blackfeet, but many lives would be lost, especially of the women and children. To slip away during the night would silence the drums and let their campfires go out; that would send a signal to the Blackfeet to attack immediately. Their situation seemed hopeless.

Then the old women approached the men and said: “We have been talking. There is no hope for us all to get out of here alive. We will stay, keep the campfires burning, beat the drums and sing all night. You take the young women and children and slip away in the darkness. By morning you will be far from here and you will be safe.”

At first the men refused to consider this idea. But as they talked it became clear that this was the only way to save their young women and children. So they slipped away silently in the night, heading back toward the Qu’Appelle Valley.

The old women remained, kept the campfires burning, beat the drums and sang all night. In the morning the Blackfoot braves swept over the top of the hill, attacked the camp and killed the few old women who had stayed behind.

Soon the story was being told around campfires all through the west of how  mighty Blackfoot warriors had bravely attacked the camp of a Cree hunting party and killed a few aged women. The story reached the Blackfoot elders and they told the young braves “You have brought shame to our people, You shall not go into those hills again.”

From that time the lake and the small river that flows into it have been known as Notukeu (old woman) by the Cree. When French-speaking people came into the area and heard the story they translated the name to la Vieille. On English language maps the river is labelled Notukeu and the lake is Old Wives Lake.

The Bible tells us that God loves us the same way that these old women loved their children and grandchildren: “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee” (Isaiah 49:15).

In the New Testament, Jesus compares Himself to a mother hen: “ how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matthew 23:37).

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