We’re back. Had some trouble with at hacking cough for a while. Then ended up going to the Cancer Clinic once a week for a month.
Aut, now I’m back. The sun is shining. For Alberta, it’s warm. The other day I saw a house fly–whom we will be cursing in about three months–but that day meant and immenint sign of spring.
Last Thrusdays tirp to Calgary was filled with the expectation that I would get on a new clinical trial. Un fortunately, my liver enzymes were out and they are very strict that everything has to be perfect. My last CT scan showed a gall stone and while it doesn’t caues any discomfort, we are thinking it might be part of the problem.
So, they gave me 1500 units of saline solution in the hopes that it might flush it out. Then We go back next Thursday to see how things are shaking out. If everything seems ok, than I will go on the trial. The first results of this trial are quite amazing but there is a 35% chance that I will get a placebo. We are willing to take the risk. If the trial shows remarkable promise, then ethically they are bound to give it to everyone.
So, hopefully, it will work out.
For now, I feel pretty good, occasional pain in my back.. I wear out fast and don’t have much stamina for such things as walking. But we try and get out everyday even if it is to only walk around the mall.



The year 1999 marked the centennial of the establishment of the Markerville Creamery which has since been turned into a historic museum. The people of Markerville celebrated a homecoming that year and as part of the special entertainment, I agreed to write a play to honour the event. It was performed three times at the homecoming as an open air theatre. Later that year, it was presented at the Alberta Museums Association conference as dinner entertainment.
The play was based on Andy (Fred Andersen) celebrating his 100th birthday and an old time garden party was held. Andy’s long time friend, Nels Borg (Wayne Linneberg) was the M.C. for the event. The only problem was, the two main characters got to swapping stories and pretty much forgot about the birthday party.
As part of the play, we related some old stories and are indebted to Carl Morkeberg and the column he wrote for the Innisfail Province in the late sixties. Those columns, now published as a book, provided valuable information for the play.
The segment on Charlie Brown and the one on the Hildafolk were a part of the play. This segment is the final scene of the play and Andy is speaking.

I really truly want to thank everyone—all of you—for coming to my little birthday party. I know I’m not as good as I used to be—but then, maybe I never was. This has all been a real pleasure—the stories we’ve heard, the visits, reminiscing about old times. Some of them tough. All of them good.
My great grandson…. He couldn’t be here this afternoon but he did stop by a week or so back. He said he had some places to go. He wanted to pass on to everyone here that he was sorry he couldn’t be here.
You know, it’s funny. Actually it’s real strange. He told me he wasn’t going back to school. I couldn’t believe it, you know, these young kids with all the opportunities today. And what do they do? They throw it all away.
It seems that he and his girlfriend bought an old Volkswagen bus—if you can imagine. And they were heading to the east coast with it.
I said—well, I actually got kind of angry—I said he only had six months to go, then he’d get some sort of certificate or something. You know, after all his folks had done for him. Hell, I even gave him money to pay for some of his books. And, now here he goes. Throwing it all away. Just what exactly are they teaching in these schools? You know, if I had half the chances these kids had…. Well, I can imagine where I’d have got.
Gramps, he said, after I settled down a bit. Gramps, I just hope you get to understand. We’ve bought this van you see. It’s in real good shape and we got it for a great price. And, we have this sea kayak and we have our bikes. We’ve worked all summer and we’ve got some money. And, well, we’ve never been to the east coast and it just seemed to be time to get there. We want to try that sea kayak out.
Well, I tell you. I just sat there. Shook my head. Didn’t know what to say. He was always such a good kid. And, besides, I don’t even know what a kayak does.
And then a funny thing happened. My long term memory kicked in. At my age, you know, it’s the best memory I’ve got. And this is what I thought. What if Dan and Holger had said they couldn’t head west until they had their dairy certificates? What if Stephan G. had said he’d go to Markerville as soon as he finished with poetry school? Or Charlie Brown saying he couldn’t be a blacksmith till he’d gone to Blacksmith School.
Just where exactly do you suppose we’d be right now. Not here, that’s for sure.
I guess, if there’s one lesson that modern folk can learn from these pioneers is there’s a life out there, there’s a future to be lived and, by damn, if we don’t find it, it’s nobody’s fault but our own. And maybe, just maybe, the biggest shame would be to destroy that pioneer spirit these young kids might have.
God bless you all and thanks for coming.
                                                                               Bill Birse 1998


We had a birthday party for a friend of mine a couple of years ago. His name was Andy Fergusson and it was his 100th birthday so it was a pretty special day. He asked me if I had ever heard the story of the Hilda-folk and the Great Dane. He said it played a pretty big part in the early history of this area.
I was a little curious because I had never heard of the Hilda-folk before so I asked him who they were.
“The Hilda-folk are like little Icelandic fairies, gnomes that live in the rocks in the woods. They can be seen when they want to be seen and sometimes they do mischievous tricks on people. They sort of look out for the common folk though,” he said, and then he paused.
“Well, you have heard about the Great Dane, haven’t you?”
I said, not wanting to look too ignorant, that, “yes I had sort of heard about him.”
Then Andy leaned in toward me and in a fairly low voice whispered to me “When I was younger, I was a pretty great Dane myself, if you know what I mean!”
Then he told me the story of the Hilda-folk and the Great Dane.
“You see,” he said, “when the first Icelanders came to North America; the Hilda-folk knew they were in over their heads. They knew how hard it would be not only to get there but once they did, how tough things would be just to survive. Now, the Hilda-folk, they were great protectors of the common Icelanders and they knew the pioneers were going to need some help. So, they stowed away—a small band of them did anyhow. They crept into the baggage and trunks of the new North Americans and tagged along with them. It was the Icelander’s stubbornness that took them to North Dakota but it was the guidance of the Hilda-folk that led them to western Canada.
“When they finally got to Markerville, they named it Tindastoll—because it reminded them of the hills of Iceland. After they were settled there for a while, things were going not too bad until, one day, the Great Dane showed up. Now, everyone knows that the Great Dane always had amorous intentions toward the Fjeltkona and, sure enough, when he showed up, he tried to make his intentions known.”
I had to stop him right there because I had no idea what a Fjeltkona was.
“The Fjeltkona,” he said, “is the ceremonial Icelandic maid of the mountain. She gets dressed up for Icelandic Independence Day in a traditional fancy gown that represents all sorts of stuff that I can’t remember.” Then he got this far-a way look in his eyes and whispered to me “I get to sleep with one, you know.” He paused wistfully and then continued. “This had gone on for centuries but now, when the Icelanders were in their new land, the Hilda-folk decided that they had about enough. So they proceeded to make things miserable for the Great Dane. They started to pull practical jokes on him like tying his shoelaces together in the dark, putting syrup on the seat of his outdoor biffy or they put thistle in his boots. Generally speaking, they made his life pretty miserable. For the first time in their lives, the Icelanders could see that there might be an end to this Great Dane conquest-pillage type affair. But, being that they were a gentle people, they really didn’t want to see any harm to the Great Dane. They just wanted him to go away.
“But, one day, the Great Dane was being particularly sort of conquersome and the Hilda-folk started chasing him. Now, the Great Dane with his big long legs could run pretty fast but by this time he was pretty old and all his parts weren’t exactly working together—sort of like me I guess. And, the Hilda-folk, you might think they were small but, boy were they quick. They never seemed to get old. So, they chased the Great Dane right from the Stephansson House all the way down to the back yard of the Creamery. When he got there, he was pretty much out of puff so he lay down on the grass for a rest, sure he’d left the Hilda-folk far far behind. But, when he laid down, he had a big massive heart attack from all the rushing around and he died. By the time the Hilda-folk got there, he was already gone. Realizing that their practical jokes were over but still believing in being kind to their enemies—which the Great Dane sort of was—they decided to bury him. But, because he was the Great Dane, he was fairly large and was really too big to move–so they just buried him there, right in the back of the Creamery.
“So that’s why, if you go to the Creamery in Markerville today, there is a big mound of dirt in the yard, covered with grass and signs on it saying to please keep off. Now, the government officials in charge of this sort of thing and the people who run the Creamery, if you ask them about this, they will tell you over and over that pile of dirt is really some sort of modern sculpture. But, you know what?” and he leaned over to get my attention like he was passing on some top secret information. “I don’t think they even believe in the Hilda-folk.”
I thought his story was over but he continued. “Now,” he said, “I hear there’s a huge to-do over all of this because the people down in Dickson in that big Danish museum want his bones dug up and put on display down there.”
Then he said to me “Not many people know that, but now you do!”
                                                                                                                        Bill Birse
This story was written as part of the play ‘Andy Fergussen’s Birthday Party’ and presented in 1999 as part of the centennial celebrations of the Markerville Creamery. Andy Fergussen was played by Fred Andersen.


Yesterday, despite very wintery roads, we headed for Calgary for a long awaited appointment at the Baker Cancer Centre. Although we knew I would not be receiving any treatment i.e. chemo, we were still interested in finding out what was next along the trail. Turns out, that very day they were introducing a new clinical trial on a new drug that shows significant success.
By the time we got home, we had a message on our machine that I had been accepted into the trial and they would set up the necessary scans in Calgary—very good news indeed. The trial is 1/3 placebo but that is just a chance we will have to take. Sometimes, these trials show such marked improvements, they switch everyone on the placebo to the actual drug.
So, we were happy that we went even though we could have easily cancelled but if we had done that, we would not have been able to have such a productive conversation with the docs.
So, here we go again. This will be the second clinical trial that I have signed up for and there have been two other treatments that were so brand new, they were unofficial trials. Since we started with all of this, there has been tremendous progress in treatment in prostate cancer which is extremely good news for all us males, especially those of us with sons.

I lost a friend.

I lost a friend the other day.  Not that she was the type of person I regularly dined with or went out for coffee.  Jean Weddell was the type of friend who was always friendly wherever we met, always classy in her demeanour and always supportive of good causes.

I probably would not even know who she was were it not for an incident back in 1975.  We were living in a tiny rented house in Edmonton and I had a job with the Government of Alberta.  In my spare time, more as a hobby but with a definite eye towards future self-employment, I was making wooden toys in our basement.

One day, our front doorbell rang.  Nobody came to our front door.  But standing outside were two elegantly dressed people, the Weddells.  Somehow, (and it must have taken considerable effort as I had not done any promotion) they had tracked me down as a maker of wooden toys and wondered if they could purchase some for their grandchildren.  As I look back, that simple transaction put me on a track where I realized it was possible to make a living as a woodworker.  Soon after that, we moved to central Alberta, I set up somewhat of a haphazard shop to make toys, and together with my family, we remained in business for over thirty years.

So, now we have lost a great lady.  I guess some of the rest of us are going to have to pick up the slack.

                                                                                                     Bill Birse 2013


I’m not sure how old a vehicle has to be before it is declared an antique but I have—well, I had—a 20 year old Chev pickup pushing three hundred thousand kilometres.  When we had a trailer, we used it as a puller but we sold our trailer over seven years ago.  Since then, I used it to get to work and other odd and sundry jobs.  Since I retired, it was used sparingly.

In the interest of environmental consciousness, we decided to pare down to one vehicle.  As such, the truck was disposable.  Friends of ours—Win and Bob—whom we have known for over forty years are building a straw bale house at GullLake.  I would have loved to have helped them in this unusual project but my physical limitations prevented that.

So, we decided to lend them our truck for as long as they needed it.  I don’t think they realized it then but if you are going to build a house, you need a truck.  I think they know that now.

Anyhow, in the middle of this construction, their son who was living and operating a resort with his wife and child in Belize was put in a tenuous situation that was no longer tolerable and decided to return to Alberta.

So, Bob and Win headed to Belize on December 1 in my old truck—for border crossing purposes, we had to sell it to them—to pick up their son, all his stuff, and a ski boat on a trailer.  Win flew back with her daughter-in-law and grandchild while Bob and his son made the trip back.

It took seven days of what Bob calls ‘intense’ driving to get home but they did make it on December 27 with a total of 15,606 km added to the truck.

I know I rolled my eyes when Bob told me their plans, especially having to drive through the most dangerous part of Mexico.  But, he got his mechanic to check out the truck and it passed inspection, his mechanic saying ‘that’s a good truck’.

I’m not sure if I am the only person who gets in this space but sometimes I find it very difficult to find joy in my life.  I guess things just pile up—things that you need to do like doctor visits and scans and blood tests—and the joy of living gets shoved to the back.  But, I tell you, following their progress on their trip and to realize that they made it gave me untold pleasures of joy that I haven’t experienced in some time.

I said I sold the truck.  I actually couldn’t bear the thought of selling such an old truck for such an adventurous trip.  Especially if something went wrong.  So I said I’d trade them.  What I traded them for was a photograph of the truck on the beach in Belize with palm trees in the background.

Here is that photograph!!!



          If it’s a perfect night, if it is absolutely perfect, the snow will be falling.  Not little tiny scurrying flakes that are usually driven by a howling wind.  No, it would be big round flakes that crash into each other as they fall, obliterating the moon and creating a vast fluffy blanket of white.  The kind that if you listen carefully, you can hear them land.  Boom!  Boom!  Boom!  And, in that dead of quiet, a sound of bells.

          Church bells, slowly at first, and then DING…DONG as the rhythm gets going.  It’s a sound that can’t be missed.  A call to everyone.  The doors of the brightly lit houses of the cozy hamlet fling open.  People, little kids to grandparents, stream out.  All heading to the same place.  The antique church.

          Christmas Eve in Markerville.  The stove has been firing all day and while it may be cold outside, inside a warmer place you’ll never find.  Ever!

          Clomp up the stairs, snow being knocked from boots.  The bells still ring, calling everyone.  Quickly now, the little church is filling up.  A little girl is handing out carol sheets printed years ago, rumpled with age—but with all those timeless old carols.

          The younger ones hustle to the front.  They know where the best seats are.  Some of them have been coming here on this night all their lives.  They know that, at the front of the church, behind the sheet of plywood that is draped in blue fabric, lies a secret story of Christmas that will soon be told by—yes—puppets.  It’s odd, but those kids, up front….   You can almost read their minds and the story is not about Santa Claus or presents.  It’s about something else.

          The bells stop ringing.  The church might be jammed full or not—it depends on which family is Christmassing where.  But, it’s always just right.

          JOY TO THE WORLD

          Voices ring out; the acoustics in the curved roof of the old church reverberate with song.  The beauty, the majesty, of Christmas Eve.  What a night!


          Three children help their Dad light the candles while a grandmother reads the story.  “I want to go up too” whispers a visitor’s granddaughter.  She squeezes between the seats and up to the front.  There’s always room for one more and there’s always need for more help when the job is as big as lighting those special candles.


          Slowly, the story strikes home again.  It’s been a year.  Maybe we’ve forgotten something.  I guess it’s a story that is never lost in the telling.


          Kids only on the second verse.  Almost brings a tear to the eye.  Well, in fact, there are a few wet eyes in the crowd.  Third verse and the whole congregation joins in.  Those old rafters are lifting and the pioneer spirits that gave us this place must be nodding in approval.


          At last, the climax. 

          This is it!  This is it! 

          From behind the ‘stage’, a star pops up.  Then, a donkey pokes his head up.  And then a rooster.  Somehow these figures become tied together in the story and the secret of Christmas—the magic is told.  Awestruck, the kids in the front row crane their necks for a better view.  On the wooden seats of the old church, parents, grandparents, and friends soak it all in—the kids, the story, the puppets, and, yes, the magic.

          SILENT NIGHT

          Yes Holy Night.  A beautiful story of Christmas told in song and written all those years ago.  No matter how many times we hear it, it won’t be enough.  No matter how many times we sing it, it won’t be enough.


          The respondents to the bells of Christmas rise from their seats, well wishes to all.  Slowly, gradually, everyone trickles through the door and head in small groups of family to their homes, the feeling of Christmas— yes its very soul— entrenched in their hearts.

          If it’s perfect, it will be snowing.  You know, those big round flakes.

          But then again, it doesn’t have to be perfect to be very, very good.


    This was written and read at Christmas Eve in Markerville quite a while ago.

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