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  • Writer's pictureErin Dentzien

321-1 AVE - Somers' Always Here

The cabin at 321-1 Avenue tells the story of a family journey from Wetaskiwin to the shores of Pigeon Lake starting well before four walls went up at Block Three. John Warden (Wardie ) Somers and his wife Gertrude Somers purchased two lots at Ma-Me-O Beach in 1923. Wardie was a pharmacist and the owner of Northern Drug in Wetaskiwin. Wardie and Gertrude had an agreement with the local Indigeneous residents for many years to come out and camp in the area of what is now known as Ma-Me-O Beach. The Somers’ would come for the summer to swim, walk along the beach and enjoy time spent camping in the idyllic area before the purchase in 1923. The way out from Wetaskiwin could be quite challenging. The road conditions were often nearly impassable during and after rain had fallen and it could easily take more than an hour to get to Pigeon Lake. There is a story about a family friend of the Somers’ from Winfield who actually went up a big hill known as Merfits Hill just west of Battle Lake in reverse because the hill was so steep, the forward gears did not have enough power to ascend the hill.

Jo Wa So became the cottage name at 321- 1st Avenue and Summer Lane was at 000-1st Avenue. The first cabin was the typical summer-only cottage built in 1923, so named Jo Wa So after Wardie Somers’ initials. There are still some original concrete steps and one concrete block on the beach side with the initials JWS are faintly visible on the walkway block. Roy recalled spring ice damaging the retaining wall and boat house at least four times in the past

74 years. There had been at least three retaining walls built over the years following ice damage. There were cabin improvements over the years to expand and renovate as the family grew into the space each summer and entertained friends and family over the weekends. Gertrude truly enjoyed cooking for a crowd with her famous fried chicken dinner and homemade pies for weekend gatherings at the cabin. Saskatoon pie was a family favourite thanks to the abundance of bushes on the property to pick berries.

The second cabin, Summer Lane, was built in 1971, with a garage and bunkhouse added in 1980, and was sold to a new family in the mid-1980’s. This cottage was rented out to families during the summer. At one point, this cottage was rented to a Mr.Anderson, the local policeman. Word was that at the time of Mr.Anderson renting, there was a makeshift ‘jail’ to house any troublemakers caught overnight. Mr.Anderson would then transport the ‘overnighters’ to the main police station in Wetaskiwin the next day.

Dr.J.C. Shillabeer & Esther Laidlaw nee' Somers

Wardie and Gertrude’s daughter Estor Laidlaw inherited the family cabin in 1971, and brought her children Roy and Elenor out to Ma-Me-O Beach for many years. Estor and her husband Stuart built the present cottage in 1971, with the intention of retiring at the lake. Unfortunately Stuart became ill and they were never able to permanently move to the lake. In the 1940’s and 1950’s Roy recalled that every summer his parents purchased beaded Moccasins for him and his sister Elenor which always had a very pungent smoking smell for at least the first month after they got a new pair. The whole summer they were either barefoot or wearing those favoured moccasins which were purchased from the local Indigeneous residents.

In 2002, Estor’s son Roy and his wife Doreen Laidlaw took over Jo Wa So for the next generation to continue enjoying life at the lake which came with renaming the cabin 'Somers Here.' This also included their kids Brian and Robert; now grown-up with their own children to bring out for time with the grandparents. Roy always knew he wanted to keep the cabin in the family after many summers running barefoot and learning to swim in the Red Cross program taught by instructor Betty Hoyle.

Roy and Doreen recalled their most favourite times at the cabin with family and friends were when storms and other Mother Nature events rolled through the area. The meteor shower, which was viewed in lawn chairs out on the beach, was particularly spectacular. Also, the great ‘Toadey Night’ which consisted of a migration of toads going for a swim one warm summer night stood out for the family. There was always something to see or do for family members of all ages. Imagine both the awe and excitement for such events!

The Jo-Wa-So cabin family got big into boating, watersports, golfing and long beach walks during the summer with plenty of skiing and skidooing in the winter. Even Roy’s Aunt was still surfing behind the boat at 73-years-old! Roy could often be seen puttering around on a 1967, restored skidoo across frozen Pigeon Lake. If you happen to stop by for a visit you may even see the family chair lift seating which was rescued from Marmot Basin when a new chair lift was going in and the old equipment was retired.

From picking saskatoons to make ‘Grandpa’s Famous Saskatoon Pancakes’ or working on the cabin, the Laidlaws continue their legacy with their grandchildren leading into the next round of kids at the cabin. Five generations have now opened up the doors to the Jo-Wa-So cabin each year and walked the shores of Ma-Me-O Beach with many more following in their sandy footsteps.

That's all for now folks! Stay tuned for our next post as more stories are collected and submitted.

~History Book Team~

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