Norquay resident celebrates 100th birthday

A come and go tea was held in Norquay recently in celebration of a resident who reached a milestone birthday.

Nellie Matiece was honoured on January 12 at the Evergreen Place common room on the occasion of her 100th birthday.

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“It was a wonderful afternoon and everything turned out well,” Matiece said recently. “It was nice to have family and friends stop by to help celebrate the occasion.”

Born on January 12, 1919, in the Canora Hospital, which was the Hugh Waddell Memorial Hospital back then, Matiece was one of nine children born to Maria (nee Kobylka) and Nicholas Gulak. Although she was not their youngest child, she is now the sole surviving member of the siblings.

“I had four sisters, and four brothers,” she said. “But in those days, that was not an unusually large family, as there were neighbors who had 14 and 16 children.

“Times were very different back then, but I still remember what it was like. I was there, I lived it, and saw many things, but I can say my mind is still clear enough to talk about it,” she said.

“I was raised in the Gorlitz district on the family farm. My siblings and I attended Ukraina School, three miles from home, and we had to walk.

“I was a keen student and completed my Grade 8 education, but had to leave school as my family had no money to buy the books required for further education. My teacher even paid a visit to my parents to encourage them to have me pursue more education, as he felt I was very bright and would do well, but it was just not possible.

“I took a job at a neighboring farm and I was put to work doing everything from plastering the henhouse, caring for the children, milking the cows and helping clear straw with a pitchfork on an old-style threshing machine,” she said.

“I was a small runt of a girl, but I was willing to do hard work, and even though it was dangerous, I wanted to do my part.”

When speaking about her first farm job, Matiece recalled an incident where she was helping perform a dangerous task while helping the farmer to operate a threshing machine. She was using a five tine pitch fork to pull the heavy straw from the machine. Her father happened to come along and witnessed his slightly-built daughter wrestling with the straw and removed her to safety, then took her home.

“My father was a very kind-hearted and smart man.” she said.

Matiece met her future husband, Metro Matiece of Swan Plain, while visiting Anaka’s Grocery store with her older sister, Lil.

“We were married in 1934 at Canora in the Ukrainian Orthodox Holy Trinity Church. It’s still standing, and is a heritage building, but there is a newer church on the same property now.

Matiece recalled her early married life, as a young bride at age 15.

 “Times will never be as bad as they were then, in the ‘Dirty Thirties’. There was no economy, no crops, no help to be had from anywhere, and all the water dried up except for the river which kept trickling along. We survived, we managed to stay fed and keep the animals alive. It was a strong sense of determination that helped us to survive those tough years.”

Matiece and her husband were “blessed” with the arrival of three children; a son, Wes, and two daughters, Livia and Lori.

The couple farmed in the Swan Plain area and raised a herd of Hereford cattle.

“When Metro was out threshing, I would milk 13 cows by myself and then would have to chase the cows to the river to have a drink of water. In winter, we had to cut out plugs from the ice so the cattle could drink.

“Our refrigerator was an old, dried up, thirty-foot deep well that we filled to the top with snow in the spring. The snow didn’t melt until the end of summer, and we lowered whatever needed to be kept cold down that well in buckets, and pulled up a bucket when we needed to get something out.”

Preserving butchered meat was done by thoroughly cleaning the carcass, cutting it up and salting it heavily and storing it in the grain in the bins.

The hard times passed, the children grew up and now Matiece has six grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren, whom she says are “a very rich blessing.”

When speaking of her family, Matiece cannot conceal her deep love of her children, and this spills over to their spouses. “I am so blessed to say that both of my son-in-laws are the best you could ever wish for. They are always respectful and helpful.”

Matiece has been living in Norquay at Evergreen Place since 2006, after she moved off the farm in Swan Plain where she had worked alongside her husband, Metro. When he passed away in February of 2006, the couple had been married for 71 years.

“I decided it was time to move to town, and give up driving on country roads. I am comfortable here and I live independently in my own suite,” she said.

“Our mother Nellie is, and has always been, a very positive person,” said her daughter, Livia. “Her glass is always half full, never half empty.”