THE MARCHANT GROVE QUILT

A CANADIAN RED CROSS QUILT

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The Marchant Grove quilt must have been made from purchased fabric, since only four different fabrics are used. They are all cottons, a red for the stars and border, white and very pale blue (now very faded) for the rest of the block and a mid blue for the sashing. The backing fabric is the same white as for the blocks. The Ladies Aid did use purchased fabric for at least one project. In the minutes for January 8, 1942, it says ’Mrs Marchant made a motion seconded by Mrs Piedt that I was to send to Eaton’s* for what was necessary for the Red Cross quilt’. The writer, and therefore the purchaser of the fabric, was probably Mrs Mason, who was president of the Ladies Aid from its inception for many years after. The fact that this is one only two references to quilting in the minutes for the war years indicates that it was a project of some significance, and was a planned design.

*Eaton’s was a store in Winnipeg selling everything a home needed including fabrics. It issued a mail order catalogue twice a year, in Spring and Autumn, a boon for the early settlers.

One fact which corroborates the year of 1942 as the starting point is that on the block with Clifford Holmes’s name on it, his rank is given as ‘private’. The information from his family about his service record shows his promotion from private to lance-corporal on 1st September 1942. This would indicate that the block with his name was completed before this date.

Where service numbers appear on the quilt, an approximation of the date of enlistment can be deduced from the length of the service number. Manning stations were allocated a group of numbers, the length of which varied as the war progressed, starting with four-digit numbers in 1939 and 1940 and culminating with the 600000 series in 1944. Since there are examples of all the series of numbering among the names, it confirms that the project spanned a number of years.

Maizie says the quilt was intended to be given to the Red Cross to support soldiers fighting overseas. The women Maizie remembers working on the quilt are Mrs Eunice Wilson (in whose house they met), Mrs Nina Piedt, Mrs Bryan, Mrs Mason, Mrs Georgia Marchant, Mrs Bowerman, Mrs Alice Person, Mrs Florence Person, Lily Marchant and Mrs Van Eaton. All these women with the exception of Maizie herself, Mrs Bowerman and Mrs Van Eaton were also members of the Ladies Aid during the period of the making of the quilt, and the two latter were members of the Red Cross. This would indicate that the quilt was a joint project between the Ladies Aid and the Red Cross. The two organisations often worked together on activities: the minutes of the Ladies Aid for June 29th 1944 read ’Mrs Van Eaton and Mrs Bowerman attended this meeting to help arrange the joint Picnic Red Cross and Ladies Aid….It was suggested that we have a joint meeting at the home of Mrs Bowerman on August 1st’

Unsurprisingly, most of these women have family members recorded on the quilt. They are detailed below:

Mrs Ray (Eunice) Smith: Ben Smith (brother), Doris Hurley (cousin and stepsister), Noel Wilson (husband’s cousin)

Mrs Harvey (Elsie) Bryan: Harvey Bryan (husband)

Mrs Edwin (Georgia) Anderson: Edwin Anderson (husband), Orin and Byron Anderson (brothers-in-law)

Lily Marchant: Edwin, Orin and Byron Anderson (brothers-in-law)

Mrs Axel (Alice) and Mrs Clarence (Florence) Person: William Waller (brother), John Person (brother-in-law)

Mrs Guy (Anna) Van Eaton: Wallace and Jack Van Eaton (sons), Roland Bishop (son-in-law)

Identification of one of the above came when a granddaughter of Alice Person viewed the quilt. She recognised her grandmother’s handwriting on the block recording the names of her brother and brother-in-law, Willian Waller and J.P.Person.

Maizie acknowledges that ’it was a long time ago’ and there may have been more women involved than those she remembers. There may also have been fewer: Ed Anderson, Georgia Anderson’s son, doubts that his mother was involved as she was living in Saskatoon for most of 1944 and 1945, and in poor health as a result of a problem pregnancy and difficult birth. This is verified by the attendance sheet in the Ladies Aid minute book, which shows that although Georgia’s membership dues were paid, she attended very few meetings in those two years. Ed showed his mother photos of the quilt and talked to her about it just before she died, and she had no recollection of it. Although her memory was not good in her later years, Ed felt strongly that she would have remembered the quilt had she taken part. She was clearly involved in quilt-making, as she said to Ed, ’Oh, we made so many quilts then’.

It is likely that there were other Ladies Aid members involved in some way. For example, Mrs Oliver (Edith) Beckett and her daughters Arvella and Evelyn, were all members of the Ladies Aid, and have six family members on the quilt. Floyd, James and John are Mrs Beckett’s sons, Ed Holdstock her son-in-law, and F. Haley and A. Rivers are relatives by marriage. Mrs Fred (Anna) Waller has her son William and her son-in-law Fred Dawson recorded. Mrs David (Helen) Schutte, another member, has her brother Eldon Nordstrom included.

Another Ladies Aid member, Mrs Audrey Parker, is a strong contestant for inclusion in the making. Archie Shafer is her brother-in-law, and so is William Parker. William Parker was a US citizen, served in the US Army as recorded on the quilt, and never lived in Canada. To date, his is the only name on the quilt of someone who did not live in the area. Mrs Parker was also a close friend of Elsie Bryan. In Our Harvest of Memories, Mrs Bryan’s son Lawrence records ’Mom and Mrs Parker travelled many miles by horse and cart to attend meetings and other activities such as “quilting bees”.’ (page 213)

There is similarly a case for Myrtle (Ahlsten) Engelhardt’s involvement. Edward Carey was her brother-in-law, Carl and Oliver Ahlsten her brothers and A. Engelhardt possibly a relative by marriage. As with other family groupings, all these names appear on the same block.

Many women who did not belong to the Ladies Aid during the war but belonged to the Red Cross have close relatives on the quilt, making a strong argument for their involvement.

As well as Mrs Van Eaton detailed above, there was Mrs Walter (Ida) Casey, Harold Casey’s mother, and Mrs Albert (Annie) Christianson, who as well as being Clifford Christianson’s mother was Harold Casey’s mother-in-law. Mrs Thomas (Mary) Rusk was Neil Rusk’s mother, and Mrs Thomas (Lillian) Wark has two sons, Neil and Douglas stitched in. The three sons of Mrs Alexander (Minnie) McAteer, August, John and William all feature in the quilt.

It may have been that a relatively small number of women did the assembly of the quilt having obtained the relevant information from their neighbours. The names have been written on the blocks with a permanent marker and then stitched. There are clearly several different hands in the writing of the names, and no agreement about the kind of information and its form. First names are recorded either in full or by initials. Most, but not all, have their rank included and most have their service number painstakingly stitched in. Some are rendered in cursive script, others printed in lower case or capital letters. One possibility is that individual blocks were made by a group of women and given to neighbours to record their family members. This would have the advantage of sharing out the most time-consuming activity, the stitching of the names.

The most likely explanation of the identity of the makers is that it was a joint project by the Ladies Aid and the members of the local Red Cross, done over a period of several years, recording their relatives’ service as they joined the various armed forces.

As mentioned above, Roll of Honour quilts are rare in Canada, so it is an interesting choice of project. Many of the families in the area, including some of those which the women above belonged to, had originally farmed in the United States before emigrating to Canada. These quilts were much more common there, made as a record of those who had served in the armed forces. They were usually put on display in a public place such as a church or community centre, and remained in their communities, finding a home eventually in a museum or a Legion meeting place. They were not intended to be sent abroad for war relief. This may have been the origin of the idea for the quilt. These American Roll of Honour quilts are well documented in Sue Reich’s book, World War II Quilts.


THE MAKING OF THE MARCHANT GROVE QUILT

Maizie LaClaire is the last surviving lady who worked on the quilt. According to her, it was made by a group of neighbours who got together about once a month over a period of a year, and was completed before the end of the war. Maizie moved to the area in 1944, and the quilt had reached the stage of quilting by this time.

Quilting was a well-established occupation for many of these homesteading women, of necessity for providing warm bedding for their own homes, and for charitable purposes. The Ladies Aid minutes for November 13, 1944 record 'It was suggested that we all take what wool pieces we have to the next meeting towards making the Red Cross quilt'. This implies a quilt made from scraps of fabric.

Maizie LaClaire
Photo courtesy of David March