Updated: Oct 15
Story by: Billi J. Miller
Barn days are waning... that's no surprise. If you drive throughout the prairies, you'll see. Some historic barns have managed to be restored, but others with no useful purpose anymore have tired and become a hazard if left standing. I've often wondered if those walls could talk what stories they would tell. My interest is mostly in the people who have lived there.
Our barn came down last month after standing in this farmyard for ninety years. On the very same day - our neighbours' barn came down too. They've been staples on the 109 and 110-year old farms in what's known as the "Earlie District" and so too, to all those whose childhoods were spent playing there: kids, grandkids, and cousins. They all have fond memories of the barns.
Although the foundations of the barns have waned... there's a relationship that has only strengthened - and that's the connection between the Millers and Mauws' families. They've been neighbours in Earlie District in east-central Alberta for more than a century. It was fitting that since their barns went up together... they came down together too.
There's a story told by Ceriel Mauws Jr. and Gary Miller, the families' patriarchs. In 1911, David Miller (first generation) walked down from the rail line to claim his homestead. After a long journey from Scotland, once finding the location, he looked off to the west and saw what appeared to be candlelight in a window beckoning him. He walked toward the glimmer to the shack where two brothers originating from Wales were inside. With an obvious language barrier between them, David Miller rubbed his belly to signal hunger, and the brothers got to work, bringing him tea and a warm meal.
It's that first meeting in 1911 that started a more than century-long friendship that continues to this day. Ceriel Mauws Jr. (now 95) remembers both of their barns built in the '30s, as the homesteads were slowly being built. But, now nearly 90 years later - as with many farms - it was time for those barns to come down. After 90 years, and no longer used for their original purposes, the wood was worn, and the floors and ceilings were caving in. The walls still holding the stories of generations of children played within it. Gary Miller (now 71) remembers sleeping in the hayloft as a child when friends came to sleep over.
The homesteads now resided on by Ceriel Jr., his son Charlie and his wife, Kari. The Miller homestead is now lived on by Dean Miller (fourth generation) and his wife Billi Jean (coincidently the person writing this story). It's our two girls Madeline & Kate, who have been the latest to play in this barn, making it home to scores of their farm kittens.
There's another serendipitous connection between the two families, too - aside from barns and their way of life. Ceriel Mauws Jr. (95) shared with me not long after I moved here that if it weren't for the Miller family, he "wouldn't be here". In the early 1920s, his mother (a war-bride who lost her first husband in World War I) was later introduced to his father by the Miller family. They were "set up", you could say. As history would show, it was a match, and they were soon married. In 1925, their son Ceriel Mauws Jr. was born. He just turned 95 earlier this month (Oct 2020). By an interesting fate... the story repeated itself when Ceriel's son Charlie went on a fishing trip and introduced Dean Miller and me. Another "set up", only 90 years later. In 2010, we were married, and we now have two girls. So you see almost as if "returning a favour" - first, the Millers set up a Mauws - then all those years later, a Mauws would set up a Miller. And so the legacy and the connection between families continues.
It's going to change the view a lot around here without these barns. It was hard to watch the day it came down. Luckily though, we have the people to carry on, the stories being retold, the kids forging forward with new friendships, and all of them know where their roots started and where it all began.
Until next time,
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Billi J. Miller is an author, photographer and speaker from Alberta, Canada who is known for telling stories from the heart & telling stories that matter with her work. Billi J Miller is an author, photographer, speaker and writer from east-central Alberta, Canada. Previously a city-living, 9-5 Government worker, Billi moved to the country to marry the man of her dreams in 2010, and traded concrete and traffic for life on a 100-year old prairie farm.
When Billi married her husband, a 4th generation Canadian farmer, she noticed there were very little photographs of their rich, 100-year farming heritage. As a photographer she felt called to do something about it. Harnessing her entrepreneurial spirit, she created a successful business as a photographer and writer. In 2016, she authored the first of a two-book series about the remarkable contributions of farmwives and has since been recognized on CBC, Global TV, City TV, as well as countless newspapers and magazines both in Canada and in the US.
To find out more, or to book her to speak at your event, visit here.