Laura Barbara Dixon: A True Inspiration
I recently spent a delightful couple of hours chatting with Laura Dixon, her daughter Ruth, and her son Bob. This is Laura’s story.
Laura Barbara (Prudham) Dixon was born May 7, 1907 in the Prudham farmhouse, Maple Lodge (built about 1947), at the corner of Britannia Road and Town Line. Her parents were Charles and Anna (Pickett) Prudham. Laura had two older brothers George and Harvey, and two younger sisters, Anna and Janet. Laura’s grandparents were George and Elizabeth (Tansley) Prudham, and William and Barbara (Harvey) Pickett. (William Pickett’s grandparents were the Reverend Daniel Pickett (Methodist Circuit Rider) and Elizabeth Franks (Ingersoll) Pickett, sister of Laura Secord. Reverend Daniel Pickett and family settled in Lowville in 1822.)
Laura’s family, on her mother’s side, settled in New England in the early 1600’s, some of the families coming to Upper Canada during the Loyalist Period of the late 1700’s, settling in both the Bay of Quinte area and the Niagara Peninsula. In the early 1800’s, the Smiths and the Picketts settled in Trafalgar and Nelson Townships in Halton County. On Laura’s father’s side of the family, her great grandfather, John Prudham came from County Durham, Yorkshire, England in 1832. John Prudham worked for Van Normans and the Breckons before purchasing his own land about 1841. A corner of the Prudham farm was donated by Laura’s great grandparents, John and Elizabeth (Foster) Prudham for Bethel Church and Cemetery. The Church, Wesleyan Methodist New Connexion, was built in 1853 by family and neighbours and is still used for annual services, the Sunday following Labour Day Weekend.
Laura’s earliest childhood memory probably goes back to twenty months of age, and the magic of seeing their cedar Christmas tree decorated with real burning candles. When she was three, she remembers receiving a miniature bake-board complete with rolling pin. This started her on a lifetime of baking over twenty pies for the Prudham barn raising in 1923. One year in the 1950’s Laura won nine firsts, two seconds and one third to make her the top prize winner in the ladies division of the Milton Fall Fair. She was still using the wood cookstove for baking as it maintained a more even heat than the new electric range. She missed that old cookstove when she moved to Milton in 1961. Over the years, Laura has also baked and decorated several wedding and special occasion cakes, including one for the Milton Centennial cake competition.
Laura’s years on the Prudham farm were busy ones. She helped her family raise cattle and sheep, helped with the milking and separating, the raising of chickens both for meat and eggs, and by making both butter and bread for use at home and for sale in the Kilbride and Lowville Stores, as well as the Hamilton Farmer’s Market. Another important part of the Prudham farm operation was apple production, which won them many ribbons at Fall Fairs.
The Hamilton Farmer’s Market played a big part in Laura’s early life. In winter, along with her father, and sometimes her mother, she would leave for Hamilton Market at 2:30 a.m. Bricks were first heated in the oven of the cookstove, then wrapped in blankets, and placed in the bottom of the sleigh box for their feet. They piled on layers of warm clothing, and after loading the sleigh box with produce, they climbed in themselves, and covered up with buffalo robes, only their eyes left exposed. Off they went to Hamilton traveling down Town Line, across 6th Concession, down through Waterdown to the Snake Road and over the High Level Bridge, then down York Street to the Market. More than once the horses reared up when a train came along near the Valley Inn. They arrived at the market by 5:00 a.m. to meet the wholesalers. The market was all outside in those days, and more than once Laura did a little browsing in Eaton’s just to warm up. She well remembers visiting Eaton’s Green Room, a fashionable tearoom, shortly after it opened. After a busy day selling at the market, they returned home, usually by dark. They attended market mostly during the fall and winter. Spring and summer were spent working on the farm. In later years, after Laura married, she sold baking and produce at the Waterdown Market. She also raised chickens and sold the eggs to Auckland’s Store in Lowville.
Growing up in the early 1900’s, church, school, and family played the biggest part in Laura’s life. She attended Dakota School, later known as Cedar Springs School, where she entered Grade One in 1913. She remembers, in the winter, walking as far as Bethel Church, then hopping on her sled and coasting downhill the rest of the way to school. We had quite a chuckle when Laura recounted how she had accidently swallowed her slate pencil, giving her mother quite a fright! The remedy? Bread and milk! Laura enjoyed school very much, but because of her responsibilities at home as the eldest daughter, she often had to miss school. It was Laura’s dream, after passing her entrance at Milton, to attend one year of high school. However, it was not to be. Nevertheless, this determined young woman took courses and studied independently. This was to be her pattern throughout her lifetime. Through the years, Laura and her classmates met for reunions and relived their memories of school days. Classmates Burdge Gunby and Gladys Wilson still live in the area. During the 1930’s, Laura won two two-week scholarships for Short Courses at Mcdonald Institute in Guelph. She also attended Short Courses in Kilbride, Waterdown, and Milton.
Laura taught Sunday School for many years. She is especially proud of the boys class she taught, which included Donnie Coulson! Laura’s family, the Prudhams, all took an active part in Kilbride United. Charlie, Laura’s father, was Sunday School Superintendent for many years, and her mother Annie, was Secretary Treasurer of the Sunday School at the same time. Laura, Anna, and Janet sang choir, Laura and Anna often performed duets, not only in the church but at local functions as well. She can well remember when the church was lighted with coal oil lamps and heated with woodstoves. Tea Meetings were held in the church, and the Young People’s Groups were very active. Their Young People’s Group often presented plays in other churches in the other areas as well as Kilbride. Laura played the Kilbride Church organ for over ten years. When Laura and Lorne moved to Milton in 1961, she transferred to Knox Presbyterian Church, which was Lorne’s Family church, but she still loves to come back to Kilbride.
Some of Laura’s happiest memories are of riding in the old red sleigh box, piled high with fresh straw, pulled by their horses Fan and Jim, as they skimmed over the crunchy snow, the sleigh loaded with neighbourhood children on their way to Church and Sunday school. In summer they travelled in the democrat. One spring they talked their father into bringing the more fashionable democrat into use earlier in the spring than usual. After nearly freezing to death as they bounced over the frozen ruts, sitting high up on the open democrat seats on their way to Kilbride, they were glad to go back to the old lumbar wagon with its box full of soft, warm straw until the weather warmed up, and the ruts disappeared.
Laura and her brothers and sisters also belonged to the Mount Nemo Social Club, then an active social club that met in Mount Nemo School. They also played on the local Kilbride ball team. The Prudham children, then in their teens, first walked to their ‘lower place’, fifty acres about a mile south of their farm on the Town Line, drove the cows home, milked them, separated milk, helped with supper, then walked to Kilbride to play ball. They nearly always walked home after dark.
Laura also recalls her father owning what they called ‘the ranch’. They grew apples there, milked cows in the barn, and pastured cattle. He sold the property around 1920 and this farm became part of what was to become W.D. Flatt’s Cedar Springs, the old barn became Cedar Springs Community Centre. Her brother George, and brother-in-law Archie Cairns built many of the original cabins in Cedar Springs.
Her brother George travelled West to seek his fortunes and settled in Edmonton where he became a successful builder and businessman. He named one of the apartment buildings he built in Edmonton, Kilbride Apartments. George married Vivian Griggs. George was elected Liberal MP for Edmonton West in 1949, and was the Minister of Mines and Technical Surveys in the Louis St. Laurent Government until 1957 when he returned to his business and home in Edmonton. George officially opened the 1957 Milton Centennial Celebrations. Harvey remained on the Prudham farm, marrying Jessie Kersey. When Jessie died, he married Beatrice (Burtch) Tansley. Later after Beatrice’s death, Harvey married Evelyn (Kersey) Veal, Jessie’s younger sister. Harvey remained on the Prudham family farm until his death. Laura’s sister Anna married Archie Cairns, and lived near Campbellville, later moving to Milton. Her sister Janet and her husband Lloyd Aitken first lived in Waterdown, later moving to Edmonton.
Laura met her future husband. Lorne Dixon at a local dance. Lorne had a reputation as a pretty good dancer! Lorne too grew up in the area, just east of Lowville, on what in now Walker’s Line, but the two did not know each other as children. Lorne attended the Kilbride Presbyterian Church, and Laura the Kilbride United Church. They were married on Valentine’s Day, 1940, at the Carlisle Parsonage. It was the day of the biggest blizzard seen in years – there had hardly been any snow all winter. After their wedding, they followed the snowplough in their Graham Page motorcar into Hamilton where they stayed at the Royal Connaught. On return from their honeymoon to visit Lorne’s aunt in Flint, Michigan, they took up residence at the Dixon Farm, Limestone Hall, on Walker’s Line which had been in the Dixon family since 1885.
On November 28, 1942 tragedy struck the young married couple. Lorne, driving his Graham Page car up the road towards home, was struck by a newspaper delivery truck. Hours later, when finally removed from the wreckage, he was taken to Guelph General Hospital where he remained for five months. Ruth only eight months old when the crash occurred, was a comfort to her mother through that long winter. Lorne’s brother Guy, partially paralyzed from polio, and nephew John Dixon, kept the farm going during Lorne’s absence. Life was never the same for the young couple as much of Lorne’s love of life was dulled by the tragic accident.
Lorne and Laura had two children, Ruth and Robert. Bob and Pat and their children Heather, Jason, Laura, and John attended Kilbride United Church. Ruth and her husband, Don Taylor, live next door to Bob and Pat. Uncle Don raised horses, chickens, and pheasants with the help of Laura’s grandchildren. Many happy family holidays have also been spent at the Taylor cottage on the Madawaska River in the Ottawa Valley.
Laura has many hobbies. She has always had an abundant old-fashioned rose garden. A life-long interest in photography started with her mother who even developed her own pictures just after the turn of the century. In the 1980’s Laura won a photography contest sponsored by the Canadian Champion Newspaper. Laura has had a life-long interest in local and family history, often assisting with area publications. Her mother, Annie Prudham, was also a respected local and family historian, as was her great aunt Maggie Pickett. Laura is a Life Member of the Woman’s Institute, and served in many executive positions of the Mountain Union Woman’s Institute. She is still a member of the Nelson Woman’s Institute. She is also a Life Member of the Women’s Missionary Society (W.M.S.) of the United Church. Her favourite hobby, however, is writing.
Laura has been a writer all her life. She began writing stories as a small child on return from walks down the back lane with her family in springtime. She began turning these stories into poems almost immediately, and has continued to do this right up to the present day.
As an adult, now a senior, she still receives her best inspirations from nature and everyday events, often writing down ideas at the kitchen table. While she worked in the pantry on the farm, she always kept a book on the ‘pantry shelf’ for jotting down lines of ideas. Her best inspirations come to her in the evening, or sometimes she wakes up at night and jots down ideas. Sometimes sleep is a long time coming – there are just too many ideas. A lovely spot for writing was her kitchen table at her Derry Road home, which overlooks Mount Nemo.
Laura wrote a book to commemorate the Kilbride United Church Centennial called “Our Church Centennial – Kilbride United Church 1860-1960”, a Pioneer Film Production, produced and directed by Dr. Leslie Meszaros.
Laura, as you may know, has had two books or poetry published, Open Gateways in 1977, and Where Trilliums Bloom in 1984. She is about to release her third, just in time for her 90th birthday. This has been a goal of hers for some years. However, because she has been hospitalized since early January as the result of a serious heart attack, her daughter Ruth has taken over compiling of the brook. She has arranged the book Changing Seasons (the title Laura had chosen) in the order of the seasons of life, as well as of nature, starting with spring. Ruth has included family and area pictures that complement the poems and follow Laura through her 90 years. Bob helped with the publications, so this has been a family effort. The book will be available in early May through local stores, or from Laura’s family. When asked to comment on her life, as she sees it, Laura said that if she had been able to choose a career, she probably would have studied journalism, which would have been an unusual, and perhaps impossible, choice at the time Laura was a girl.
Her love of family is very evident, and Laura remarked that her life has overflowed with inspiration. The happy times and the highlights have certainly outweighed the rest. She said that there isn’t much about her life she would change.
Laura is truly a self-taught and most accomplished person who has travelled a path of life-long learning. Her writing and her poetry express her love for all around her.
She herself is an inspiration, and a very special lady.
Source: Kilbride Chronicles, Issue 8, Page 6
Transcribed by: Lyndsey Innes