Book Reviews

No Corner Boys Here, a book review from a family history perspective, by Claudine B. Nelson and Joseph S. Nelson, B.Sc., M.Sc., Ph.D.

Source: Relatively Speaking (a quarterly journal of the Alberta Genealogical Society) 36(1):34-35 for Feb. 2008.

No Corner Boys Here is a delightful and inspirational story of an English/Welsh family of 5 boys and 4 girls immigrating to Irma Alberta in the spring of 1927. It is about the parents who risked it all so their children could prosper. The story will interest all genealogists and those interested in the family history trials of British immigrants adapting to a new life. Few people can become enthralled in someone else’s family history. However, No Corner Boys Here goes far beyond being just an enjoyable family history book. These wonderful stories are told from the perspective of first generation Canadians who were the benefactors of their ancestors decisions, many descendants still reside in Alberta.

It details the history of the Thurston family moving from England to the coal mining area of southern Wales and later having ‘assisted immigration’ to a prairie farm near Irma. The hardship on their arrival was only to be further tested with drought and the Depression plus the addition of another child three years later. As the title states, the problems that the family had to deal with ensured that none of the boys (or girls) loitered around the street corners. They became successful farmers and educators and left themselves another generation.

Volume I – Jean started her genealogical quest using her grandmother Thurston’s simple hand drawn genealogy tree which provided about 10 names and a few place names.

In this first volume she traced her family back to 1818 in Somersetshire, and researched more their life in southern Wales before they immigrated to Canada. She was spurred on by continuing questions. Why did they move so many times and why did they emigrate? What was it like for the children – the move, schooling? In each chapter she discusses the family with very descriptive writing of the times accompanied by photos and pictures of places relevant to the family. She interviewed as many of the family as possible to get first hand views and reactions. Not everything is wrapped in cotton candy – there was tension in the family.

Volume II – This volume is about the next generation, i.e., the nine children.
Each of the 9 chapters is devoted to one of the children accompanied by a photo, and there are anecdotes about some of the siblings in each, all taken from personal interviews, their children , or other relations.

Jean’s mother, Phyllis the second child, was quite resentful that she could not remain in Wales, recalling ‘The worst day of my life was when Grandpa told me we were coming to Canada. I’d sat for a special exam ….and I came in second, second out of 2,000, can you imagine?’ She had won a 4 year scholarship and only used a year and a half. She was not permitted to stay behind and never forgave her father. She is now an alert 94 years young.

At the end of Volume I there are many color photos with captions. Each volume is generously supplemented with captioned black and white photographs. Each volume has its own “Notes” section, giving for example, additional information, the source of information, or explaining a word.

We enjoyed reading both volumes. It made me, Claudine, stop and think about my own grandparents who moved to B.C. in1906 and 1910 from ‘across the water’. I have early farm pictures. Jean’s family history is making me think more about the conditions that they had to cope with and also provides information about the changes that I had never considered. She not only discusses the farming of today but compares it to what it was like when they first arrived– what it was like to haul and heat water; keeping the house warm when there was no insulation; the day to day living that they had to endure with no electricity; the pot under the bed.

One humorous story Jean tells of the family is one concerning grandmother Nellie (Vol. 1:163). ‘During the most difficult years, Nellie had only one housedress. Every Monday, she washed it with the other laundry, after the men had gone to the fields. Then she hung it on the clothes line, where the sun and wind would have it dry in an hour or so. In the meantime, she wore whatever she could find.’ Do you recall hearing about the traveling Watkins man? Yes, she got caught! ‘Nellie hid behind the drying bed-sheets praying that no sudden gust would compromise her modesty.’ She had to then wait another month before she could replenish her cinnamon for berry pies. [No mention what she was wearing or not wearing!]

Readers will enjoy the many other humorous stories in the book that also include historical information. For example, there are many stories of Leo Thurston, who was ordained as a priest in Edmonton. He smoked a pipe, could swear a blue streak, and wore his collar backward, but was a kind and caring minister. Stories take the reader from Ashmont, his first parish, to such places as Rocky Mountain House and Lacombe.

We heartily recommend the book No Corner Boys Here for the personal thread that Jean has woven in about herself, her ancestors and other relatives, her siblings, divorce, work and 2nd marriage while writing about the love she found in this extended family. The author, Jean Crozier, a native Edmontonian, brings her experience and knowledge of both human and technological history to the Thurston family story.
March, 2008

No Corner Boys Here: An Alberta Saga
A book review by Marie Matiaszow, B.A., B.Ed., MLIS

Jean Crozier’s recently published book No Corner Boys Here (c2007) is one of the most comprehensive, well-documented books about the immigrant experience in Alberta I have ever read.

In her two volume rendition, the author describes how her Welsh grandparents immigrated to Canada in 1927, with eight children in tow (a ninth was born three years after the family’s arrival) and settled on a farm at Irma, Alberta. Unlike many immigrants, Fred Thurston had been born on a farm, and had farmed most of his life.

The significance of this story, however, is not just in the personal story of one extended family, but in the comprehensive documentation and research that authenticates the family’s journey. The author recreates the economic, political and social conditions of the time so accurately the story takes on a much greater historical appeal. This could be the story of any family anywhere in Alberta at the time.

Jean Crozier doesn’t just start with her grandparents’ immigration, but delves into the background of her grandparents’ predecessors in England and Wales. Her curiosity is insatiable as her search for answers takes her to Wales, into archives, local record offices, historical sites and the homes of previously unknown and distant relatives. She visits the homes her grandparents lived in and weaves her own journey into their lives as she unravels the mystery of their motivations. In doing so, she recreates, again, an amazingly accurate picture of the social, economic, and political times in Wales, England and Europe of the time.

Once in Canada, the story becomes the story of every immigrant farmer who ever tried to eke a living from the Alberta soil. The picture she portrays of the changing farming methods, the struggles, the economic fluctuations, the social life, the family discords and cohesion, farm modernization and the final destiny of the nine children in the family is an indelible record of what happened on farms everywhere in Alberta. The story is enriched by an abundance of photographs that are impressive in their detail, and that reinforce the nature of the times and the family’s daily travail.

This is also a story about a little girl, her sisters and her brother, sibling who spent their summers on their grandparents’ farm and flourished in the secure, loving environment of a large extended family. In spite of the struggles, differences and poverty that sometimes plagued them, this family was able to love, play and work together. The author uses a beautiful metaphor to illustrate this, referring frequently to the silken web of relationships and events that wind back around to bring people together again and again in surprising ways.

These are very readable books, written in an easy, conversational style. The author writes candidly, incorporating facts, family myths, stories, interviews, speculation and questions into a fabric of great complexity and depth. She does not skirt the truth, but reports conflicts and feelings with respect and tact. Her descriptions of special moments, reactions to scenery and her own emotional responses verges on the poetic. Her characterizations of family members is thorough, interesting, well rounded and sometimes suspenseful. You want to know what happens to each of these people.

This book transcends being “just another family story”. The story is so well researched and documented and the historical facts presented so accurately and astutely that the book takes on a much greater value. Read for the intrinsic value of its content, the characters are not only interesting individuals in their own right, but represent a period in the history of Alberta that warrants attention.

No Corner Boys Here is a valuable historical resource for any library, school or individual wanting to find out what life was like in rural Alberta in the early part of this century.

Marie Matiaszow, B.A., B.Ed., MLIS
now retired Consultant,
Libraries, Community and Voluntary Services Branch
Public Library Services
Alberta Government

January, 2008