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Ethel Mary Laura Corman

by Hazel Corman,
originally published in the Snow Lake News, 1 April 1993

Ethel Corman was born in London, England in 1896. As a child she had rickets, which is a childhood disease that affects the bones, and she was not able to walk until she was six years old. In England it was common for young people to apprentice for a trade and Ethel completed an apprenticeship as a lacemaker. In those days there was no machine lace and wealthy patrons wore garments decorated with handmade lace. Her cousins were actresses in the theatre.  She came to Canada as a young woman and never went back.  She must have been lonesome for her family and relatives but she never showed it. I often wondered how she coped through our cold winters as she never saw snow until she came to Canada.

She had a daughter Betty from her first marriage. She then married Albert Corman and joined him in the thriving gold mining town of Herb Lake.  Albert built a small home and in that home she gave birth to four children, Gilbert, Freda, Jim and Ernie.

Ethel was a small lady with blue eyes and a lovely rosy English complexion. My husband Jim describes his mom as “four foot nothing”.  She was a hard working, resourceful and loving person.  She welcomed people to her home, and those who met her, never forgot her. When the mine closed at Herb Lake, and the children were grown and gone, Ethel and Albert continued to live at Herb Lake with Albert commercial fishing and trapping in the winter.  Eventually, in 1961, when hardly anyone was left in town, they moved to the “South End” of Wekusko Lake, now known as Herb Lake Landing.  At that time Ethel’s nearest neighbors were Bertha and Wilfred Cote, who lived a mile away, and they didn’t see them often. Even though Ethel lived in the bush for many years, she never got over her fear of bears.

Ethel was alone a lot while Albert was on the trapline.  She passed the time crocheting, knitting, making quilts and sewing. Ethel could copy any crochet pattern she saw, without reading instructions.  She was an excellent seamstress and she cut garments from cloth without using a paper pattern.  She was thrifty and often remade adult garments into clothes for her grandchildren.  She cut sections from men’s shirts to use as the centers for doilies which she edged with crochet.  She used Albert’s cotton cord for mending fishing nets to crochet her dishcloths. She saved all her sewing scraps and sewed them into quilts which she lined with old coats and worn wool garments. She was an excellent homemaker who wasted nothing. 

Ethel was a good cook and was famous for her jelly rolls and homemade jam. She had a propane stove and fridge but no electricity.  At night she lit the kerosene lamps. She grew a large garden and every year canned her harvest which she stored in the cellar under the house.

In the winter Albert hired a couple fishermen to help him with his commercial fishing, and they stayed in the nearby bunkhouse.  Ethel cooked meals using the fruit and vegetables she had canned in the fall.  She cleaned and washed clothes for Albert and herself and sometimes for the crew.  No matter how busy she was, she always welcomed visitors and would ask:  “When did you eat last?” then bring out her cast iron fry pan and prepare food. 

This reminds me of a story she told. “There was a bachelor who lived at Herb Lake who grew the best rhubarb of anyone. Anytime the ladies of the town would go by, he’d give them enough rhubarb for a pie.  These ladies appreciated his rhubarb until someone found out that the reason his rhubarb was so good was because he fertilized it from his outdoor toilet.  This ended the rhubarb pie making from this patch for the ladies.”

Ethel never smoked or drank alcohol, but she always enjoyed the parties with her family.  Sometimes she would bring out her violin or her little accordion and sing “Danny Boy” and “Galway Bay”, her favorites.

In 1984 Albert passed away and Ethel then made her home with her daughter Freda, and son-in-law Don in The Pas.  A few years later, Don retired and built a home at Herb Lake Landing.

At the age of 95, after a lifetime of good health, Ethel fell and broke her hip.  Soon she was getting around with a walker, and then finally, with just a cane.  Then she began having gall stone attacks and needed another operation, so it was back to the hospital.  The family wasn’t sure if she would make it this time, but she recovered.

Ethel celebrated her 96th birthday in November,1992. “I can’t believe I’m that old.” she said.  She moved to St. Paul’s Nursing Home in The Pas and was still crocheted doilies. She would ask the nurses: “Do you have one of my doilies?” and if they said “No”, she would reply: “Here’s one for you.”
I remember Ethel in the words of a song that she used to sing: “Be happy when you are alive; You’re a long time dead I fear.”

NOTE: Hazel Corman originally entered this story in a contest on the CBC North Country Program. To enter the contest she had to write about a person that made an impact on her life, and she chose Mom Corman. She won the contest and the story was read over the radio. The prize was a photo of the 4 chiefs of the North taken by Murray McKenzie.

Herb Lake Jubilee
by Ethel Corman

This Herb Lake Town is a merry old town,
It’s seen its ups, and it’s seen its downs,
People come and people go
But there’s plenty still left when it’s 60 below.

There are fishermen and trappers and storekeepers too,
Who sometimes have arguments over a can of stew.
Then old Marsh Ballard who’s been married twice before
Thought there was no harm at all in marrying just once more,
So the vows he did take when up the aisle he went
Leaning on his walking stick, were pretty badly bent.

There’s Roger and old Gasper and pioneers galore
If I named them one by one, there’d be something like a score.
They fish and trap and drink and fight.
I’m sure you will agree
That sometimes they’re an awful sight
For anyone to see.

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