Sunday, March 3, 2013

Quite an Undertaking: True Tales From the Mortuary, by Elizabeth Lycar and Lorrie Guymer Hutton. Nip & Tuck Publishing, 2012

The title of this short biography is a little misleading; while Violet Guymer was indeed an undertaker and mortuary owner, it’s only a small part of the story.

In 1905, Violet, with two small children, followed her husband, Daniel, and his brother, Lawrence, from England to the wilds of western Canada. At the time, the Canadian government was giving settlers 160 acres of land for the $10 cost of recording the deed. Prior to this, Violet was a professional dancer and lived a contented life of teas, community affairs, rose gardening and bridge games. Life on the frontier in Manitoba was a far different thing. Suddenly, with the men working long days, Violet had to learn to live a primitive life. More children soon followed the two she had arrived with.

Thankfully, they soon moved into town, which, while still a place without water or sewer, at least had some amenities, and Daniel and Lawrence had some financial success with a draying company and a mortuary. Things fell apart when Daniel died suddenly, leaving the widow with a lot of small children to take care of. She did it by stepping into Daniel’s shoes, taking over running the draying company and learning mortuary science. For a long time, she did it successfully, too. Of course she had to deal with people who thought that a woman shouldn’t be doing that kind of work- not that they had an answer to how else she was supposed to provide for her family! Violet led an eventful life that was filled with long hours and back breakingly hard work. She was a terrifically strong woman who refused to give up.

The book is told mainly in Violet’s voice, with parts told by her daughter and granddaughter, and one long letter from Daniel to her. It’s not a smooth narrative but jerks about a bit. While it was interesting, I was really hoping for more about the mortuary business and there was really not much on that. 


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