Faces in the Crowd – For Home and Country

Posted on August 18, 2016 under Faces in the Crowd with 2 comments

Merle 1


“The hard times that I experienced during the Great Depression made me what I am today.”

Meet Merle Taylor.

If you want to know why Merle still stacks her own firewood for winter at the age of 93, look no further than her prairie farm upbringing in the 1930’s.

One of five siblings born into a farming family not far from Winnipeg, she grew up in hard times. “We always had lots to eat and we were never cold, but we never had any money.” She attended school not far from the farm until the end of grade 8. Besides her chores at home, she was paid the princely sum of $5.00 a year to get the fire going in the stove at the school each morning. One morning she completed her duties but no one showed up at the school.  On her way home she met a farmer driving his horse and wagon. When she looked at the thermometer on the back of the wagon and saw that it was -56, she realized why school had been cancelled!

The local high school was 4 miles away and with no way to get there; Merle took grade 9 and 10 through correspondence. She earned her GED some thirty years later. Before she joined the military at the age of 19 she worked at a local farm in the summer, earning $8 a month working 10 hour days, milking the cows, feeding the pigs and other chores … hard work for 3¢ an hour.

Her father’s younger brother was a wireless air gunner, her impetus for signing up to serve her country. When an opening appeared at the recruiting centre for a “wireless operator ground “(WOG), she jumped at the opportunity as she had discovered that she had an aptitude for this important work. She completed basic training in Rockcliffe, Ontario and then moved on to Montreal to attend wireless school.

On her first night in Montreal, she was writing a letter to send to her parents back home when a young, “lovely looking” airman came around the corner looking for an ink refill. Fred Taylor would later on tell his best buddy that he had just met a farm girl that he was going to marry someday.

Merle became a whiz at Morse code and trained pilots from all over the British Commonwealth in Saskatoon. Fred was posted to Calgary and when the couple realized that they couldn’t be apart, they decided to get married there … on Merle’s 20th birthday. They tracked down a United Church minister and arranged a time for the wedding. They arrived by streetcar and were married only after the minister managed to find two witnesses. They left the church by streetcar and treated themselves to fish and chips and ice cream, a far cry from some weddings today!

When Merle discovered that she was expecting, she received a tersely worded letter from the Air Force: “Your duties are no longer required.” Although excited at the prospect of starting a family, deep down Merle felt some sorrow, as she was very proud of the work she was doing for her country.

They were now living in Calgary in an apartment. Fred was a wireless electric mechanic and in his spare time he had made a radio for Merle. When he got called for service overseas with just two days’ notice and no rent money in hand ($28), he bartered the radio for the rent. For the next thirty-five years, they exchanged Christmas card with their former landlady. When the she passed away, her children arranged to have Merle’s radio returned to her. She proudly displays this treasured keepsake in her kitchen.

They travelled to Nova Scotia by troop train with their young son so that Merle and Sandy could be close to Fred’s parents, just in case he didn’t make it back from Europe.

After the war they began farming in the Lochaber area. Four more sons arrived: Lloyd, Keith, Sid and Jim; who all pitched in with the farm chores. When Fred became a property assessor in 1956, most of the farm work fell to Merle, who continued to milk cows by hand. They planted their first strawberry crop that year and this family enterprise is still thriving at 70 years later and counting.

When they were approached by the Department of Highways in 1954 to house some of the workers building the new # 7 highway, Merle and Fred agreed. In addition to all of the farm chores and looking after four small children, the Taylors boarded 10 men! For six months Merle fed these hungry workers three square meals a day as the highway took shape along Lochaber Lake.

Her soulmate and best friend (that lovely looking airman!) passed away in 1982. Merle still speaks lovingly and longingly about her late husband, Fred.

After keeping the farm going upon Fred’s death, Merle was delighted when Sid and Barbara purchased the farm in 1986. She still surveys the comings and goings on the farm from a perch on her golf cart.

Merle has been a powerhouse in her community, devoting years of service to the Woman’s Institute and every conceivable project and purpose in and around Lochaber. In 2005 when she could no longer shear and shape thousands of balsam fir Christmas trees, she turned her enormous energy and talents to making “tied comforters.” In eleven years she has turned out 278 comforters with all of the proceeds going to charity and the community. And nobody has won more ribbons at the Eastern Nova Scotia Exhibition over the years!

Even though she handles an iPad like a teenager, she still prefers to communicate with friends around the world with Morse code and voice.  She has been an amateur radio operator for years, tapping out dashes and dots from her control center in the basement.

On her 90th birthday, Merle had the pleasure of christening a canoe named in her honour at the local canoe club. And what is her next adventure? “On my 95th birthday I want to fly in a float plane and land on Lochaber Lake.” One wouldn’t be surprised to hear that she wants to be on the first voyage to Mars when she turns 100!

Merle shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. This prairie farm girl with the incredible work ethic and generosity of spirit continues to give of herself for home and country.

“I have been extremely blessed with good health and I am very thankful for my lot in life.”

Surely it is Merle Taylor’s family, community, province and country who are the fortunate ones.


Merle 2


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