Your loving Anna: Letters from the Ontario Frontier by Louis Tivy. University of Toronto Press, 1972.
David Leveridge and his wife Anna enjoyed a reasonably comfortable life in Norwich, England, where he worked as a farm overseer. However, after a “friend” bolted and left David to cover the loan he had guaranteed, their lives were shattered. David chose to make a new start in Canada. He left his pregnant wife and six young children behind and set out to establish a place for his family in a new land. A year later, in 1883, Anna and the family joined him where he was living south of Coe Hill, Ontario. They finally settled on 100 acres north of Coe Hill, in Wollaston Township. Your loving Anna was written by Anna’s grandson and combines his own text with Anna’s story as she wrote it in letters sent to her parents and family in England. A number of the letters were saved and returned to Canada, and now rest in the Trent University archives.
The tone of Anna’s letters is uncomplaining, but Anna certainly had much she could have complained about! She managed without her husband for a year, giving birth to their 7th child along the way, and traveled with a baby and six children under the age of 11 across an ocean to a new country, where the family subsequently lived in a one-room backwoods shanty of 12 by 20 feet for the next decade!
Her letters include bits of gossip such as people might indulge in now (“…was old enough to be her grandfather. He is dead and she is married again, a Canadian, a drinking man. Her first family will not have much to say to him…,); talk of the weather (it snowed on May 16, 1883!); and bits of community news. They also form a fascinating record of their daily lives, offering details such as what they planted in their new garden (a surprisingly modern selection including tomatoes and watermelon) and the fabrics she used to sew clothes.
The letters also illustrate how attitudes and expectations have changed. Anna comments on the multinational nature of her neighbours: Irish, Scotch, French and English! When neighbours request that she speak at the funeral of their child, she defers to a male acquaintance. Children grew up quickly. Of her 14 and 15 year old sons, she notes: “The boys are well and busy most of the time. Their Father lets them have a half day sometimes….” No ipods and video games there!
Perhaps the biggest change in attitudes is found in views on money. Anna and her husband paid $50 of the $100 cost of their farmland when they purchased it. In one letter, Anna writes “…bushels of raspberries are ripening all around…. I shall not be able to make the preserve I did last year for the want of sugar (we have had to do without all except necessaries, to keep out of debt…). No maxed out credit cards or minimum down-payment mortgage here.
Anna and David’s story is also the story of Coe Hill and the surrounding area. The high hopes that were held for the Coe Hill iron mine were soon dashed. The farmland, claimed at the expense of ancient white pine forest, was soon exhausted of its nutrients and pioneers were left with stony, infertile ground. I found it amazing that so little consideration and planning seemed to go into the choice of Coe Hill as the Leveridge’s pioneer home. The decision chained both them and another generation to years of hard work with minimal returns. It was also surprising to read of such a rugged pioneer experience here in Ontario on the verge of the 20th century. The famous Susanna Moodie had written of similar experiences, not so very far south of Coe Hill, 5 decades earlier, which she recorded in her book Roughing It in the Bush in 1852.