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Writing women's history one mother at a time... since 2004.

Gladys Swedak’s story of Ruth



My mother’s story starts May 3, 1901 the day she was born on the Woodheed sheep farm in Annan Scotland. She was the youngest of Margaret Agnes Kirkpatrick Pool and John Pool’s 11 children. When she was 3 years old her mother died, of what I do not know. She was raised with the other younger children by her oldest sister named after their mother and nicknamed Kate. At about 5 years of age Mom fell and hit her head on the hearth of the fireplace and cut her forehead. She carried the scar all her life.

I have no idea what her young life would have been like living on a working sheep farm before the First World War or during it. I do know she had a pony cart she and her sisters and brothers used to go to school. When she was 12 years old the First World War broke out. Her brothers Matthew and David enlisted and met a Canadian whom they brought home during furlough. The Canadian told this impressionable young girl all about the beauty of his country, the mountains, lakes, and flat lands of Saskatchewan where he lived. He told her that if she ever wanted to come to Canada, she would have a home with him.

Her brother Matthew died in Dieppe and David died in a hospital in England from being gassed. But the Canadian survived and returned to Canada.

When Mom finished school she went into nursing and was an O.R. nurse in the Glasgow General Hospital where she took her training. She was also a midwife in the hospital and in the slums of Glasgow. She told me that even as a young woman alone in the slums she felt safe as long as she had on her nurse’s uniform and blue cape. She was respected and the people who lived there would protect her if need be. There was one time “on district” as she called it, where she was with a young female doctor on her first tour. They went to a delivery in a hovel and the mother was on the bed about to give birth with her other 5 children around her when the doctor fainted, from what Mum didn’t say but I assume it was from seeing the squalor the woman lived in and was giving birth in. Mum left the doctor on the dirty floor as she had only fainted but the mother needed her help to deliver the child. There was also a delivery in the Glasgow Hospital where a white couple had a black baby. They were both upset and the husband accused his wife of cheating on him but she swore she hadn’t. It was found out later that the father’s great grandfather had been a black man and the gene had mutated for 4 generations.

When she had finished her training she asked her father if she could go to Canada but he said no so she went to work at the hospital. After her father’s death, she booked passage to Halifax and took the train to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan where she was met by John James Zubick, the Canadian she had met with her brothers. He took her to Kerobert where he lived with his wife. He got her a position in the Kerobert hospital. She was again an O.R. nurse and ward nurse. When she was needed in the O.R the doctors performing the surgery would call, “Nurse Pool wanted in the O.R.” She was a respected and well liked nurse there as well.

It was while she was nursing on the ward that she met John’s brother, Peter, and his wife who was dying.  After Sophie died, Miss Ruth Pool married Peter H. Zubick the widowed father of four girls and two boys, October 3 1927. Her oldest stepdaughter was 7 years younger than she was and the youngest was only 2.

They lived on the farm Peter owned. He had cattle, wheat, horses and equipment for thrashing. At the time of year when the wheat was ready to be thrashed the farmers would gather together and start on one farm then move to the next and then another until all the thrashing had been completed. Sometimes they would even cross the border and go into the states and the U.S farmers would come to Saskatchewan. It was up to the wives to feed the thrashers three hearty meals a day. Sometimes it was a communal meal. But mostly it was the farmer’s wife whose field was being thrashed who made the meals.

During the dirty 30’s and the drought Peter had no choice but to walk away from his farm with his family. He packed up his children and his wife and left Saskatchewan, leaving everything behind. He had given his cattle and horses and other farm animals to his friends, the equipment stood in the yard where it had been left. They also left behind the grave of a son who had died at 7 years of age. They settled on a small property in the mountains east of Nelson B. C. There was a creek running through the property and Peter figured he would have water but the seller didn’t tell him all the water rights to the creek had been taken long before. No water meant no animals and water to feed the crops. From there they moved to a home at the bottom of Tagham hill closer to Nelson. The last time I was in Nelson the white barn was still standing by the road.

Ruth’s first daughter was born January 31 1932 on a bed of hay in a wagon on the way to the Nelson Hospital but they had to turn back because of a snow storm. Margaret Ruth was delivered by her father. After a few years they moved into Nelson and Peter started remolding and building houses. The first house they moved into was an older house and while they lived in it Peter fixed it up. It was at this home where Ruth’s second child, a son, was born in September 1937, Sheridan David lived only 5 months. He died of measles that his youngest step-sister brought home from school. In April 1942 on the 15th I was born at Kooteny Lake General Hospital after Mom had to spend the last six months of her pregnancy in bed to keep from losing me. Margaret, my older sister, had to come home from school at lunch to feed mum and her step-sister who was still at home. By this time 3 of Mom’s step-daughters and remaining step son were married and starting families of their own. After I was born, Mom still wasn’t well enough to care for me or herself so that went to Margaret for another four months. When I was six Marg got married at 16 so I ended up from age six being raised as an only child except on Sundays when the whole family came for dinner.

Mom never complained about never having a home that wasn’t in the process of being remodeled or renovated then sold. After moving around Nelson for a number of years, Daddy took us from Nelson, to Cloverdale, Aldergrove and back to Nelson all within a year. He finally settled on a house, yes it was remodeled too while we lived in it, with an acre and a half of land at Willow Point west of Nelson, and we lived there for 10 to 12 years -the longest we lived anywhere.

While in Willow Point, Nelson auctioned off some streetcars. Daddy bought two and made them into a two bedroom home with a kitchen-living room and bedroom in one and in the one behind Daddy had his workshop and my bedroom.

One day after living in the streetcar home for a while our family doctor phoned and begged Mom to take a newborn baby no one wanted because she was supposedly Down Syndrome.  He didn’t tell us she had an opening in the roof of her mouth. Mum told the doctor we lived in converted streetcars and the baby would have to sleep in a drawer. In the 50’s foster children had to have their own bedroom. The doctor didn’t care; the mother didn’t want the little girl, and the state where baby had been born wanted it out of the state as soon as possible because the mother was Canadian. Mom said okay but she would need supplies including a crib. When the social worker brought Mary she was wrapped in a blanket wearing only a diaper which was wet. Mom had to go into town and buy clothes, bedding and diapers for my foster sister. Mom cared for Mary who was not by look or action a Down Syndrome baby but because of the hole in her palate, she was a special needs baby. She was beautiful, smart and demanding. Feeding her wasn’t easy. She had to be held and the bottle placed just so or she would choke.  If Daddy or I didn’t immediately come see her, she would summon us for a command performance. When Mary was about 5 months old she was too big for the drawer and Mom requested a crib again.  Instead of providing the requested items social welfare came and took Mary away. She was put into a foster home with 4 other children under the age of 5. One night when she was with a babysitter Mary choked to death because the sitter put the bottle in her mouth without holding her or making sure it was in right. Mom, Daddy and I were very upset. She had been taken from a home where she was loved, cherished and the center of attention.

After I moved away Daddy sold the property in Willow Point and they moved into an apartment in Nelson. They were there for a year or so before they bought a two story house in the alley behind the Nelson Daily News where Daddy died in 1961. Mom sold the house and moved into a smaller two bedroom house, then moved again to the Okanagan where she had a close friend. Mom seemed to have got into the habit of moving because soon she moved again into an apartment in Surrey where she met a man and wife who were making plans for their 50th wedding anniversary. The month before the anniversary the wife died and the husband took comfort in Mom’s company and they became a couple. Mom said he was the first man she had really loved. I was happy for her.

Then, after a few years, Ben was summoned before a Catholic priest because his children accused him of sleeping with Mom out of wedlock. This wasn’t true but because of the pressure of the priest not believing him, he said he had slept with Mom and made his penance. But when he told Mom she told him that since he had confessed to a lie she was finished with him and never wanted to see him again.

She left that apartment building and moved again, but her heart wasn’t in it anymore. Shortly after that she fell and broke her hip. While she was in the hospital all she wanted was Ben. I had his number so I called him and of course he came and sat with her for hours each day holding her hand. That was the only time she was quiet and not agitated because of pain and the meds. Ben and I sat together while she was in the O.R, praying for her recovery. Mom did recover but didn’t remember anything about wanting Ben or him sitting with her for hours. They had a soul love I’ve never seen before or since.

She died a few years later the day after we had spent the afternoon together with my toy poodle in the care home she was living in. October 28 1982 at the age of 81 she took her last breath just after I came for my afternoon visit.


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