Monica Storrs came to the Peace River Block in 1929 to serve as an Anglican missionary. She worked with other female missionaries, known as Companions, as well as lay brothers and ordained priests. Monica visited the lonely; started Sunday school, girl guides, and boy scouts; conducted services; distributed clothes; and served her neighbours in many other ways.
When Monica arrived, she stayed with May Birley. She then built a home nicknamed the Abbey. She lived there with other Companions. It also served as a home for rural children to attend school in Fort St. John. Over the years, Monica’s Companions included Adeline Harmer, Cecila Goodenough, Hope Onslow [later Symons], and others.
Monica sent letters to England chronicling her work in the Peace Region. This exhibit shares many of her Christmas memories. These recollections show the effort that Monica and others put into their work. Monica found humour and pleasure in her work and leisure time.
Travel back in time with Monica to experience Christmas in the Peace from 1929 to 1937.
“On Christmas morning… Miss [May] Birley assembled a very special Christmas breakfast – Grapenuts, coffee, and an egg. Then we exchanged our own little presents and found to our amusement, that neither of us had given the other anything, but the horses, dogs and cats had been very generous to us both!”
“Christmas Day was wonderful compared with two years ago. We had no early Celebration, but at nine Muriel and I rode over to St. Martin’s for a Children’s Service, followed by Holy Communion, which alas only four besides ourselves attended…
We got back to supper at six… We had a marvelous dinner cooked by Muriel – Bro. W’s [George Wolfendale’s] turkey, Mrs. Haslam’s pudding, fruits and sweets and biscuits from the Harmers and Lady Goodenough, and heavenly tiny trees and candles for the table also from Lady Goodenough. Cecilia and [Phyllis] Moon [teacher] had decorated the house most beautifully, and put a real little tree in the Chapel, so we felt as festive as possible, and Bro. Wolf seemed to be in a state of complete enchantment with everything, especially with the dinner, for he had practically no food all day…
Later we put [out] all the light but the candles on Lady Goodenough’s tiny Christmas tree, and in the hands of my little Rothenburg angels, and by these lovely little lights we sat and listened to some carols on the gramophone in the next room…”
“… Puck [Monica’s horse] and I stole two dozen hymn books and pounded over to Charlie Lake for the first Christmas Day Service ever held there. Only five adults and four children came, but there again they told me that the whole district is laid out with flu… Of course they dribbled in late and then we had to ride like the man who brought the good news from Ghent to Aix in order to bring back the stolen hymn books before five o’clock Evensong at St. Martin’s. As it was… the congregation had assembled and Brother Wolf and the verger were both standing anxiously in the porch when I galloped up very dramatically and cast my trophies at their feet, i.e., 24 Canadian hymnals.
This, you realize, was the first big Christmas Service ever held at Fort St. John… and we had a full festal Evensong with lots of hymns and carols and quite hearty singing…”
“My last event of the old year was the Carol and Tableaux Service in St. Martin’s on Sunday night… Alene Darnell made a very sweet grave Madonna; and her sister Betty and another girl stood as Angels quite motionless on each side of the Sanctuary step throughout the Stable scenes.
Three little Wise Men came one by one up the Church from the West door, not a long distance, as you can imagine. But the Wise Men learned their lesson of slow movement so thoroughly that Mrs. Kirkhoff had to play several supplementary verses to ‘We Three Kings’ twice over, before they all arrived at Bethlehem. While Mr. Noseworthy’s big bass voice was singing ‘Gold I bring to crown him again,’ I could look through the curtain and watch Walter Middleton, aged 11, dressed in a long red robe and turban, carrying up his little golden crown (née jam-can) with infinite reverence and concentration. George Middleton looked much more ecclesiastical wearing my Cyprus bed-spread as a kind of cope, and swinging a silver censer which had once been an Antiphlegistine [Antiphlogestine – a remedy for muscle and joint sprains] tin. Harold, the Myrrh King, was entirely enveloped in a beautiful length of purple cloth which one of you had sent in a parcel…
It was all wonderfully reverent and unselfconscious, which mattered more than any technical perfection, and filled me with thankfulness.”
Christmas Day was cold and brilliant… Hope and I came home to prepare a Bachelors’ Supper to which we had invited six so-called lonely men. Hope had never drawn and trussed a turkey before; and of course I hadn’t, so we had a great time trying to make him look restful!
…About five o’clock two of our guests turned up, i.e. our two next door neighbours, Mr Holland and Mr Mowick. But the other four apparently took fright and never came at all. We waited till 6:30 and then proceeded to demolish the turkey without them. Mr Holland is very highly educated, and loves to talk rather advanced political philosophy. Dear old Mowick is a nearly stone deaf Norwegian, also a great talker and politician of a simpler kind. He couldn’t hear a word of Holland’s but kept throwing in helpful comments in very broken English, such as, ‘I hear that Hitler has just unheaded forty men. I say let England and France get around and unhead him both together’…
All through the day Hope was splendid. I know what a first Christmas here is like. You can’t help being a bit Homesick. But she showed no sign of it at all, cooked the dinner splendidly and was the life and soul of the party afterwards…”