By Mark Weber For the Independent
During my childhood, I would often hear my father talk fondly of the community of Stettler, and in those conversations, he would often refer to a tiny community called Fenn as well.
My grandparents lived in Fenn, a short ways down the road from Stettler, at the time of my dad’s birth, as my grandfather was a grain buyer there at the time.
Dad was born in Stettler, and although the family didn’t reside in the region for very long, it was always a special place to him that he spoke affectionately of.
Last year, I landed the post of Stettler Independent editor and of course one of the first things I wondered was if the hospital my dad was born in still stands.
Turns out, it does.
There is a big purple house about two blocks from my office which the ladies I work with believe was the local hospital at the time of my dad’s arrival. It’s so fascinating for me to look at the at house today and think that it’s where my father’s life began.
But over the months, I always wanted to see Fenn as well.
And thanks to my friend Stan Eichorn, I was able to see firsthand some sites in tbe Fenn area that relate directly to my dear grandparents and dad.
Although on private property today, we saw the buildings that housed Fenn’s original general store, blacksmith shop and post office. It was pretty fascinating to look at these simply-structured buildings today and know that my grandparents would most likely have been in each one of them. I picture them as how they would have been at the time – Ed and Dorothy Weber – a young, good looking, newly-married couple living in a new community, busy making new friends and connections with neighbours. I have photos of them from that time, and they look so happy – many pictures show small gatherings with other young folks and there are always lots of smiles.
I love looking at those pictures, as sadly I never met my grandfather, so it brings that era to life for me.
Seeing my dad as a toddler is also pretty special too, and it’s clear through their expressions how pleased and proud my grandparents were of their firstborn son.
Stan also showed me where the original grain elevator my grandpas would have worked in stood as well, and I was able to take a photo of that site with the old Fenn store (now house) still standing in the distant background.
Nearby, there are also train tracks marked with a simple sign that says ‘Fenn’.
I was struck by a few things – the almost haunting sense of quietness for one thing. Plus the sheer beauty of the place – rolling hills that are so green (with the constant rain of late). It’s a really compelling spot.
I was also reminded of the importance of reflecting on our roots. I know that it’s not a pleasant subject for everyone, but for me, thankfully, it is.
I’m absolutely grateful for my heritage and so very proud of dedicated relatives who had many more challenges than I will ever know when it came to building a happy and successful life.
Today, Fenn is a short drive from Stettler on a smooth highway but back in the mid-1920s, it certainly wouldn’t have been as brisk of a journey.
I think of my grandmother back then, a woman of about 21, nervously being driven to give birth in Stettler, in a region she couldn’t have been overly familiar with. And far from her own family, too.
Clearly, this couple had a strength to face those days, some of which must have been quite lonely as well.
But it also makes me think about how simpler things were, and maybe, just maybe, it was in some ways a better era to build a life in.
Just think – not the flood of entertainment or stream of constant distractions that we have at our fingertips today.
No social media. No TV. People not glued to their phones.
There was almost nothing around to draw you away from the ‘here and now’.
Community was everything because it pretty much ‘had’ to be everything. Folks must have held their neighbours in very high esteem as they were, quite literally, a lifeline in desperate times.
I also think of my grandparents sitting in their modest Fenn home with a newborn son, wondering what the years ahead held for them.
Their time in that community wasn’t long, but it was impactful to be certain.
Dad would talk about a community he couldn’t have remembered well but still really meant so much to him. He was proud of Fenn, and he was of course proud to call Stettler his birthplace.
These days, as I stroll down Stettler’s Main Street, I think of my grandparents walking the same road in a much different time when everything would have looked and sounded so different.
I think of the P&H Elevator that still stands, and how it looks very much the same inside as it would have when grandpa bought grain in Fenn. It’s probable he would have been in that elevator, as I’m sure there was visiting from time to time amongst the guys from the various grain companies.
My dad passed away in 1996, and it saddens me when I think how he didn’t live to see me working in his hometown.
He would have been so thrilled at the thought. I know he also would have taken such joy in seeing Fenn as it is today; he also would have loved to visit a fine and friendly fellow like Stan to talk about earlier times.
It would have all meant the world to him.
In the meantime, all I can really do is count my blessings – for family, faith and the richness of a legacy that continues to enrich my world so deeply.