Cranbrook writer Joyce Beek

Cranbrook writer Joyce Beek

The First Meadowlark

Cranbrook's Joyce Beek captures life on the prairies in her first book, a family memoir

Cranbrook writer Joyce Beek has published her first book, a memoir that beautifully captures several generations of family history.

Joyce has been writing for years but was inspired to write about her ancestors by her sister.

“My sister Dell wrote about the lives of servicemen from Dauphin who had been killed in the war. Dell died of cancer and I wanted to carry on in her vein,” Joyce tells the Townsman.

She began writing “The First Meadowlark” about five years ago and finished in March.

“I wanted children and grandchildren of all families to search out past information and to study and honour their ancestors.”

Joyce was born during a blizzard into a multigenerational farming family on the Manitoba prairies midway between the two World Wars.

She is the youngest of five daughters, who lived in a modest homestead not far from Dauphin.

Joyce retraces her family’s steps to her pioneer ancestors who first made the long journey from Ontario to the prairies in the late 1800s. She tells of their difficult journey – across the Great Lakes to Minnesota, across the Mississippi to North Dakota, and lastly on a paddle wheeler up the Red River to Winnipeg – and the struggles they experienced when they finally made it to Manitoba.

For instance, her grandmother gave birth to 14 children, but had to bury 10 of them. Eight babies died in infancy, a girl died age 10, and another daughter died at age 19. It was a hard life.

“It is easy for me to glory in the past and forget the troubles and pain endured in the early settler days,” Joyce writes.

I most enjoyed “The First Meadowlark” as Joyce shares stories from her childhood, about farming, rural schools and small town living.

Joyce remembers those particularly cold winter days when her father would give her a ride to her tiny rural school in a horse-drawn sled, bundled under a blanket with her feet warmed by heated stones.

She tells of her father’s last harvest, using a four horse team the way he had always done to cut the standing grain.

After her family purchases an automobile, Joyce describes a typical Saturday night in Dauphin, watching a film in the theatre, spending nickels on liquorice suckers and jaw breakers, while her mother visited in the grocery store with neighbours.

The book is packed with family photos which bring the stories and personalities to life.

The Lee family – Jack and Elsie and their daughters Phyllis, Margie, Isy, Dell and Joyce – seem to be in many ways a typical Manitoba farming family, and in “The First Meadowlark” Joyce captures the experience of many generations who live off the prairie soil.

But what sets the book apart is the affection Joyce shows for her loved ones in gently and respectfully telling their stories.

“I wrote about my sister Dell and my mother often in tears for feelings not expressed in words,” she says.

Joyce lingers on her memories of each of her sisters, who have all passed away now, capturing their best traits and sharing her favourite things about them.

“The First Meadowlark” is a touchingly detailed family memoir that depicts an era that has passed now.

It is sure to be treasured by many future generations of the Lee family’s descendants who will never want for memories of their ancestors.

“The First Meadowlark” will also be enjoyed not only by anyone who grew up on the prairies, but also by those who are curious about that way of life.

Joyce Beek will be a special guest at the Cranbrook Public Library’s 45 Books in 45 Minutes event. Visit the library from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Friday, November 1, to hear Joyce read from “The First Meadowlark”.