Margaret “Grandma” Watson was born in Nova Scotia in 1887, but later moved to Alberta. She married in 1907 at the age of 20, and honeymooned in Edmonton when the town was still a small settlement. There weren’t any streetcars in the city at the time, she recalled years later, and much of what is now Edmonton’s downtown core was still heavily treed.
Margaret’s marriage lasted long enough to produce four children. Then, one day, her husband left, leaving her to work the family homestead on her own.
“He got up one morning and walked off toward the bright lights,” she told a reporter.
In 1940, at the age of 53, Margaret loaded her belongings into a boxcar and traveled by train to Burns Lake with her youngest son, 11-year-old Bert. She arrived in the middle of a snowstorm, and her first home here was an old cabin at Southbank that belonged to John Keefe. Not long after, though, she bought land near Danskin that abutted property owned by a friend of her eldest son. She worked the farm on her own because Bert was too young and unwell, and when her neighbour died suddenly from a heart attacked, she took on his chores, too.
Some of her well-meaning neighbours encouraged her to quit farming. “You can’t make it alone,” they told her, but it only made her more determined to succeed. She acquired more land and expanded her operations. They were, she said, busy years; there was land to clear, hay to cut, cows to milk, cream to separate and ship, timber to log. She did it all without the aid of machinery.
Twenty-five years after her arrival, at age 74, Margaret was still working the farm with horses.
Grandma Watson was a skilled fiddler, and played in orchestras in both Alberta and BC. She frequently performed at events in Danskin and Grassy Plains, and won a fiddling competition at the age of 83.
“I have a great belief in doing whatever is right,” she said in an interview in 1978. “You don’t have to fight things; they’ll be yours if you’ve got them coming.”
Margaret died in her sleep on October 3, 1989 in Willingdon Park Hospital at the age of 102. She was, by all accounts, a remarkable woman.
© 2018 Michael Riis-Christianson and the Lakes District Museum Society