A Morning Chat with Laura Vansickle

Some time ago I enjoyed a pleasant morning (and part of the afternoon) visiting with Mrs. Laura Chapman Vansickle. Laura taught school in this area, more precisely, the one-room schoolhouse in Zimmerman. This was her first teaching assignment with a class of 30 plus children from grades of Kindergarten to Grade 10. After that she taught four years at Omegh School (Tragalgar). In those first five years of teaching, Laura made $122. With this money she and her husband, James Vansickle, bought their first cow from George Pelleterio for the Vansickle Farm.

Our story begins on May 24th, in the year 1909, when Laura Chapman Gunby was born. Her parents were Margaret and (Joshua) Freeman Gunby. Laura was the fifth child born to them in Tansley-Nelson Township, their house on Hwy. 5, one mile west of Tremaine Road (Ash Station). She was named after her father’s sister Laura and her mother’s brothers Chapman Erwin. She had seven sisters and one brother. Her oldest sister, Mary, died at age two. Her brother is Jonathan, and her sisters are Margaret, Blanche, Gladys, Olive, Alice, and Clarissa.

Laura’s grandmother was Mary (Chapman) Erwin and her grandfather was George Erwin. Mary Chapman also taught school at Zimmerman. Her grandparents lived in the house they had built for them. Unfortunately, just before it was finished, Grandpa Erwin passed away.

Their son, Chapman Erwin, together with his wife Irene, owned the Kilbride grocery store. They had two children, Claude and Marjorie, who both attended Kilbride School. The Erwins were members of Lowville Anglican Church. Laura remembers when she was quite young going to Kilbride United Church with her grandmother and her grandmother’s sister, Rachel Mills. At that time they had a communion railing at the front of the church. When they went up to receive communion, Laura and her little sister Olive followed behind and were shown the front seat to remain there until later when they were motioned to join them back in their own seats. At another time, she recalls, both she and her sister Olive were asked to help pick raspberries at Nicholson’s. Grandma replied that she thought they were a bit too young, but as help was needed, they both went and each picked 2 quarts. They earned 8 cents each, but were given 10 cents each. Grandma then took them to Uncle Chap Erwin’s store, where they each bought 2 ice cream cones. Both girls had bought an ice cream cone for Grandma. With a smile Grandma ate a bit from each cone, and then the girls were finished with their own, they finished the cone they each had given to Grandma!

When Laura was seven years old, her family was having dinner at Auntie Irene and Uncle Chap’s when a phone call brought an end to their evening. Grandpa Enoch Gunby had been killed in a car accident on the corner near Lowville Anglican Church.
While vacationing with her Grandma Erwin, who lived in the house she later sold to Dr. MacDonald, Laura would attend the Young People’s Group at Kilbride United Church, together with her good friends the Prudham sisters, Laura and Anna. Laura Prudham married Lorne Dixon. Anna Prudham Married Archie Cairns.

Laura lent me a story that had been written by her great-niece, Laura Tosky, which contained some more interesting facts about her life. On Laura’s seventh birthday they went to a family reunion. It was 1916 and there she saw her first automobile ever. It was pure fulfilment. Feelings of delight and joy flooded through her as she watched her skeptical father ride with the owner down the back lane at fifteen miles an hour. Five years later her father purchased a second hand Buick in which they attended the next family reunion. All the girls, dressed in crisp white summer dresses, descended from the car one after the other, their faces filled with pride.

Laura’s mother loved all of them. She taught each of them to be responsible for her own self and never mind what others do. Her father was a good man. He strapped for every rule that was broken or disobeyed, but he never took a drink or a smoke. She had to obey whatever her father said and not ask why because he had her best interests at heart. Her mother taught her to read and not to criticize others, which to this day she still takes to heart.

The blessing had to be said at every meal. If you took even one bite before grace had been said you would be sent away from the table. You also had to clean your plate or sit at the table until you did. On Christmas morning their stockings would be under the tree filled with one piece of coal, one orange and a few little nuts. One year her father bought a sleigh for the whole family. They rode it from their doorstep to the old No. 5 Highway and had great fun. Laura also remembers one day in public school that an airplane landed in a field close by and the teacher dismissed the class. They ran through the fields, their faces filled with joy, eager to see their first airplane. During the 1st World War the students were also taken to see the soldiers marching.

When Laura was nine and a half years old she was picking apples in the orchard when the bells and whistles from Hamilton could be heard signalling the end of the war. At age fourteen Laura stayed home from school for a year to help her mother with the chores. She felt that year she had been the closest she had ever been with her mother. The next year she returned to school to take grade nine from her old public teacher. Before that year was up she and her best friend, Erma Walker, went to Milton to try their entrance exams at Milton High School. They stayed at Erma’s aunt’s house and awaited the announcement of their marks. They found out that they had both passed, one seven marks short of honours, and one three marks short. Both Laura and Erma were so happy that neither one of them found out who got which mark.

Just before her seventeenth birthday Laura’s mother died from a ruptured appendix. When Laura was 19 her father remarried, and Laura moved in with her grandmother who quickly became the person she most looked up to after her mother’s death. Her grandmother had a heart of gold. She generously offered to lend Laura the money to go to Teacher’s College and also provided guidance to expand her sense of values. Two years later Laura began to teach. Her dreams of being a missionary had long ago faded and her love for children had led her towards teaching.

Laura made the decision to wait to get married to her love, James Vansickle, because she wanted to teach and married women were not permitted to teach. After two years, a male teacher was eligible to become vice-principal. When Laura had taught for five years, she was still not eligible because female teachers never got the chance to be promoted. She guessed that she was modern in her beliefs, but she always felt women had to cater to the men and she resented it.

After her first five years of teaching she had to make the choice of going back to Teacher’s College for another year or getting married. She chose the latter. On October 12th 1935, Miss Laura Gunby became Mrs. James Vansickle. They were married at the parsonage at Appleby. Rev. J. F. Clugston united in marriage Laura Chapman, fourth daughter of Mr. Freeman Gunby of Tansley, to James, eldest son of Mrs. and the late Mr. J. Vansickle of Palermo.

At the beginning of their marriage they lived with James’ mother. They were unable to afford a house of their own, so Laura devised a plan to divide the house. She knew that she needed her own kitchen and even though it was one of the hardest decisions she ever made, she also knew she had made the right one. Together she and James had five beautiful children; Lyle, Laurene (named after Laura), Verna, Marjorie and Reva (named after an author she had admired).

Her children are special to her in every way. The happiest times of her life have been when she has been with her children. Laura defines happiness as being content with herself and not wishing you had more, like money or material objects. Laura and James were able to buy their farm, which was located on Tremaine Road, R.R. #6, Milton, where they worked and lived for 32 years. After her beloved husband died on January 26th, 1968 of cancer, Laura moved to her apartment in Milton. Without forgetting the memories, but knowing that there was still more life left in her, Laura is strong and independent in her belief that she will always have happiness and love with her.


Contributing Author: Debbie Cragg

Source: Kilbride Chronicles, Issue 11, page 24
Transcribed by: Lyndsey Innes