An O.K. Cabin - 707-1 AVE
Updated: Dec 16, 2020
Marguerite 'Margie' Chrzanowski has noted that the family as a whole would like to begin the family cabin’s history by acknowledging that their property, which they have enjoyed so much for four generations now, is located on the traditional territory of the Four Nations bands, that is the Samson, the Montana, the Louis Bull and the Ermineskin Cree First Nations.
In 1949, Marguerite and Oscar Kuester bought the property that is now 707-1st Avenue from well-known Wetaskiwin photographer Carl William Walin for $1200. Mr. Walin had purchased it for $535 in 1940, from the Imperial Bank of Canada, which had acquired it from Charles Bell MacMurdo in 1938, and evaluated it at $1000. Mr. MacMurdo, a Wetaskiwin insurance agent, had purchased the lot from the Crown through the 'Indian Land Sale Grant' for $100 in 1935. However, Mr. MacMurdo’s daughter recalled that her father probably built the cabin there in the late 1920’s; she remembered being in it as a young girl.
The cabin was a one-room clapboard structure with two smaller rooms partitioned off within it that served as bedrooms, which had built-in beds set on boards against the wall. In the far end of the main room in the cabin there was a Winnipeg couch that could be pulled out to make a double bed. At the other end was a small kitchen with an old wood-burning cookstove, and an eating area containing one long table with a bench and chairs around. Coal oil lamps were used for lighting at night, and water was hauled in buckets from the community pumps. The cabin windows were screens with shutters that were propped open with long sticks. Margie remembers it was fun going to sleep with the cool air blowing on the kids as they listened to the sound of the lake waves lapping on the shore. The cabin was one step up from camping as they were off the ground, but the roof had quite a few leaks so things weren’t always dry. Before the power came in the early 1950’s the family had an icebox, which was filled regularly with a big block of ice that one of the Jackson brothers brought to the cabin. And, of course they had the traditional outhouse, as did everyone else at that time.
Oscar Kuester was a busy farmer, so he never spent much time at the lake, but he would drive his wife Marguerite and their three kids, Jackie, Peter and Marguerite (Margie), out to the lake for a 10-day or a two- week stint a couple of times each summer. The kids always had a contest to see who would spot the lake first on the drive out there. During those stays Marguerite occasionally enjoyed socializing with her Wetaskiwin friends; they would play cards, usually bridge. Pete and Bea Ryan, the kids' Uncle and Aunt, were frequent visitors, often for Sunday dinners. Oscar and Marguerite's friends, the Maas family from the Usona district not far from the lake would visit once per summer, and now their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren are still carrying out this tradition, visiting the cabin every summer.
As a child Margie loved the beach and the water, and most of her childhood days at Ma-Me-O were spent on the beach, or trying to swim, or reading. Her brother Peter sometimes fished off the pier that has long since been removed. A heavy old boat came with the cabin and
Margie often used to row out to a deep spot in the lake, throw down anchor and read from her stash of comic books.
Great to have the sun on your back and not a care in the world. Peter had a different use for that boat. He and a couple of neighbourhood kids would take the boat out to deep water, submerge it and then would have to swim to shore, somehow towing the boat behind them—that was definitely sink or swim! And, much entertainment for those taking part in the fun.
Margie became friends with Al Barnhill next door to their cabin and they spent many rainy days and cool evenings playing card games, in particular Canasta, and board games like Monopoly. They have been friends and neighbours at the lake for over 70 years now, and that friendship has extended to their children as well.
The Kuesters' other neighbours at the lake, Dr. and Mrs. Johnston and family, were kind to all the kids and sometimes took Peter and Margie water-skiing. Peter would sometimes chum with their son Ian and Margie sometimes played on the beach with their daughter Lynn. They would spend hours paddling on their paddle board and lying on their pier, suntanning. Lynn and her husband Doug Dale continue to be Margie's neighbours today at Ma-Me-O.
The family used to have bonfires on the beach in the 50’s and 60’s; it was fun roasting wieners and marshmallows by the fire, with the lake rippling so close by. Peter had a treehouse in one of the big trees close to the front of the cabin property; he and his friends often hung out up there looking across the landscape of Ma-Me-O all around them.
Jackie and Margie remember the dances at the old log house dance hall. As younger kids they liked to peek between the cracks in the walls to check out what the older kids and adults were doing. Later on as older teens in High School they attended some of the dances in person. It was fun dancing to the music of live local bands of the day. There were also dances in the community hall that Margie occasionally went to. Later there were live bands that came every weekend; they became too noisy and rowdy and were eventually shut down.
Other family members would sometimes use the cabin, in particular cousin Avalene (Ryan) Webb with her husband Bob and their children Robin and Pam. Sometimes they had to take Margie along with them as part of the deal! Another cousin, Rita and Bus Inglis would spend a week there now and then with their children. Also, a very good friend from Wetaskiwin, Oriole Wilson and her daughter Lloy frequently spent time there. Lloy who now lives in California, still loves to visit as often as she can considering Ma-Me-O Beach a little slice of paradise in Alberta.
In spring there was sometimes the excitement of having the ice blow in onto the shore and up past the beach. Occasionally, the log seawall would either be up-ended or completely demolished by this phenomenon. The first time Margie saw it was in 1953, and just recently again in 2017. That last time the cabin sea-wall escaped untouched but nearby neighbours had theirs destroyed. The ice/wind can be very selective! In 1990, the sea-wall was wrecked by a fierce rain and wind storm, during which up to 8 inches of rain fell, and many walls were destroyed and some boats were swamped.
Peter and Margie continued going to the lake during their adult lives, but Jackie moved to the USA, so she visited the cabin only occasionally after that. Peter, his wife Marie (Maciborski), and their children Tony and Kelly spent time there each summer as did Margie and her husband Bish with their kids Jan-Marie and Paul. The kids have memories of hanging out on the beach and playing in the water, and they especially liked the experience of being in a simple cabin without all the amenities that they had in the city. Some of their fondest memories are of bathing in a big tub that their parents would set up in the middle of the living room and fill up with warm water from the kettle on the stove.
Making popcorn over bonfires in the backyard or on the wood stove in the cabin was a challenge but the kids enjoyed it all the same. Either way they had to shake the popper like mad or risk burning the popcorn!
When the kids were growing up a playground program had been organized and they attended that most weekdays. Some of the other attractions for them were the trampolines near the main pier, and the stables at the north end of the beach where they would ride their favourite pony. There were pin-ball machines at the Beach Café and ice-cream cones there and also at Nancy’s. Bingo was a weekly popular activity that the kids never wanted to miss. They also liked riding their bikes on the pier and occasionally some kids rode off the pier! It was also a good spot for jumping off into deep water. Margie's kids remember there being a lot of dogs wandering loose on the streets; they wanted to bring one home to Edmonton. However, when they went back to find the small, brown dog that stole their hearts they never saw the same one again. During their childhood years at the lake, their kids spent a lot of time with the neighbour’s kids, Ann Marie and John Barnhill, hanging out with them on the beach and playing games in the cabins.
When Tony and Kelly Kuester were asked to share some memories of their time at the lake, Kelly remembered an incident that she refers to as “bat water”. One day when she was a child she ran into the cabin and gulped some water out of the dipper in the water pail. A few moments later, her mom rushed in and was very concerned because there had been a dead bat in the pail just previously and the water hadn’t been thrown out yet. She feared that there might have been a health hazard for Kelly, but time proved otherwise. That pail seemed to be a trap for bats and mice alike.
Tony’s favourite things were fishing, swimming, lazing in the hammock, eating saskatoons off the bushes, roasting marshmallows over bonfires, playing Bingo at the hall, and playing the pinball machines at Nan’s.
The one room “shack” was showing so much deterioration that in 1980, the family decided it was time to build a new cabin. Lorne Elgert was hired as chief carpenter, and Peter and Tony worked alongside him most of the time. And so the old cabin was taken down, which was a sad day indeed. Tony and his friends were tasked with the demolition. An A-frame cedar cabin with a knotty pine interior was erected in its place, the new beautiful cabin that they are enjoying to this day. Bish and Margie became sole owners in 1989, and they named it O.K. Cabin after Margie's father Oscar Kuester, using his initials.
A highlight for Bish and Margie for about 25 years during the ‘90s and forward was cycling at the lake. They had a small group of friends who also enjoyed riding bicycles and who had previously toured other places with Bish and Margie. One weekend they decided to ride from Edmonton to Ma-Me-O Beach. Good thing they took lunch as the trip lasted the whole day! They had supper and went to bed exhausted, then had to ride back the next day. After that the decision was made that riding around the lake would be a better distance. Bish and Margie would often make the same ride just as a duo on a beautiful day, allowing them to see the lake from many different views.
Now four generations have come to enjoy the cabin, as Bish and Margie's grandchildren John, Amanda, Maria and Lauren spend time every summer there as well. In 2003, the need for more sleeping space was apparent and so a new endeavour was planned. They had a small bunkhouse built at the back of the property; the bunkhouse loft can accommodate many kids, and has been ideal for pillow fights! When Margie asked her grandchildren what they liked most about going to the lake, they all mentioned that they liked the time spent with all the family out there at the same time. They enjoy participating in many activities—bingo at the town hall, ice-cream from Pier 6 by the beach, Ma-Me-O Days parade and dances at the community hall, playing board games and puzzles in the cabin in the evenings, swimming in the lake and sun bathing on the cabin decks and on the beach. The O.K. Cabin family continues to have many wonderful summer holidays at Ma-Me-O Beach.
That's all for now folks! Stay tuned for our next post as more stories are collected and submitted.
~History Book Team~