History “love bug” can bite at any age
By the time Ed started farming, this would have been replaced by the combine. Photo credit: Peter C. Scott.
In 2006, we introduced you to member Ed Rooney, a nonagenarian who came to Canada's History late in life, however, he had lived through a lot of Canada's history. He was nearing his 91st birthday when we profiled him in our donor newsletter Advancing History.
He was enjoying reading and learning about his country's past and he had just informed us that he had honoured the History Society by naming it as the beneficiary of one of his financial investments. His generosity has helped ensure that others can, too, for years to come.
Ed Rooney was born in Alberta. His family farmed near the small community of Düsseldorf, about 80 kilometres northwest of Edmonton. The area's many Germanic settlers had named it after the great German city, but after World War I it was renamed Freedom.
When he was young his family moved to a farm near Marshall, Saskatchewan, about 20 km east of Lloydminster. Ed, a lifelong bachelor, learned farming in the era of horse-drawn implements, and spoke fondly of the first tractor the family owned. He took over the farm from his grandfather and “farmed pretty much on my own” from 1939 to 1989, when he retired and moved to White Rock, B.C., near Vancouver.
He recalled the Saskatchewan of his childhood as having “no railway, no towns, no roads, nothing; there was just prairie, and rivers you had to cross” if you wanted to get anywhere. He lived in the Barr colony area, named after Isaac Barr, an Anglican clergyman who had led a group of about 2,000 British settlers in 1903 on a dismal trek there, more than 300 km from the railhead at Saskatoon.
They were so unprepared that they overthrew Barr and turned to leadership from Rev. George Lloyd, after whom Lloydminster was named. Despite the poor start, the Barr settlers persevered, and eventually prospered. The area “produced crops when other parts of Saskatchewan were dried out,” said Ed, and his family succeeded as well.
Ed said of farming that “there were some years that were good and some years that you barely made your expenses.” He grew “mostly wheat and rapeseed, or canola as they call it now,” and prospered enough that he travelled overseas for parts of many winters. He chuckled when noting another reality of his farming generation — “you made out better when you sold,” because land values had risen so much. That enabled him to travel even more, and he cited China, Japan, New Zealand, the Amazon River, Israel and Turkey among the many places he has visited.
Ed said what he recalled of history from school is that it was dry and “it didn't mean much to us. It wasn't well presented.” A visit several years ago to a museum at Charlottetown, P.E.I., triggered his interest in rediscovering Canadian history, and The Beaver.
“There was a 10- or 15-minute film about Confederation and how it was almost happenstance,” he recalled. “It was so interesting I sat through it a second time, and it made me want to learn more.”
A member of the History Society and subscriber to The Beaver since 1999, he believed that our awards programs were “also very important, to encourage people to do more on history.” Ed said “it's the human interest” that appealed to him most about history.
“The early stuff (he got at school) was so stylized and rigid, and things didn't come through accurately … In The Beaver magazine it's more like real life, the way it was.”
He included the History Society in his legacy “because you're fulfilling a need, because so many things can be lost or forgotten, so having the magazine and the History Society can help preserve them.”
Sadly, Ed passed away in 2008 and the legacy he left to the History Society arrived this past year. We wonder what he would have thought of our online Vigil 1914-1918 project, given the likelihood his friends and family would have been greatly affected by World War I. Or that this year our two history awards expanded to three, and doubled to six, now known as the National History Awards. We believe that he would have also approved of 100 Photos That Changed Canada, and not surprised that it made it to the #1 spot on Amazon.ca's and #6 on the Globe & Mail's bestseller lists.
It seemed fitting at this time of year that we should remember Ed Rooney for his enthusiasm and generosity for the work we do.
Thank you Ed.