Margaret “Ruth” Pratt was born to Henrietta and Fred Jackson on July 7, 1928 in Edmonton.
She began her life in Clover Bar, Alta., near what is now Sherwood Park. The oldest of four children, Ruth learned early on that working hard was part of life on the family farm. As her sister Joanie tells us, Ruth was not just about hard work; she was also a fun big sister who could get into her fair share of trouble.
In 1946, she went to Vermilion College to study to be a domestic engineer, which meant learning to cook, sew and run a household, even though she already had a great deal of knowledge from helping with the household duties in the family’s Clover Bar home.
It was at Vermilion College that she met Frank Pratt. She would often tell the story of enticing him to ask her out by putting a bucket of fried chicken on her dorm window. Well, that young fellow took the bait, and he was hooked.
On Nov. 19, 1948, Ruth and Frank were married in her family’s Clover Bar home, a loving marriage that would last 68 years. Franks tells the story when they were dating of them sitting on her dad’s couch late one night. Ruth asked, “Are you going to marry me or what? Cause if you’re not, let’s go tell my dad right now!” At that point, I’m not sure if he was deeply in love or scared of Ruth’s dad, but one thing is clear: she knew what she wanted.
Soon after the wedding, they moved north to High Prairie to homestead near Enilda. To put this into perspective, she moved from the outskirts of Edmonton, from a home with running water, hardwood floors and electricity, to a log house where Frank was a key feature of the running water, since he was the one who ran to the creek to get it.
Three little boys soon followed: Richard, Lorne [Duff] and Kelly, who were born while the family lived in the log house.
As the log house filled with a growing family, Frank and Ruth decided to move to a new site, one that was closer to water and electricity, and had access to a better road to town to deliver cream and hogs. This certainly made life easier.
In 1954, they built a new home on the farm site where the Pratt Ranch sits today. With a new, larger house, Ruth and Frank added to the family as Martha, Dawna, and Lindsay came along. Lindsay clearly remembers his mom saying that she always wanted three boys and three girls, which is why he says he was named Lindsay.
Together, Ruth and Frank were a team, giving each other the confidence to build a family and a home, and not just a material home of walls, windows and paint, but rather, a safe place to raise a strong, hard-working family. Frank and Jim Stokes might have built the house and barn, but it was Ruth who made it into a home.
The farm expanded into a dairy farm, with Ruth and the children being instrumental in its management. Running a dairy farm was tireless work, even to the point where the cows had to be milked before Christmas presents could be opened. They built the dairy herd to over 100 cows, which meant that every day, Ruth was up at 4:30 a.m. with Frank to milk the cows.
As the family grew and ventured out into the world, Ruth and Frank diversified. In 1975, they sold the dairy cows and started a beef operation. My dad says Frank had to change because his workforce all disappeared in the same year: Rich to university and Duff and Kelly to play junior hockey.
Poor Jim was trying to take the place of three younger men. Together, they continued to build the family farm and in 1994, the were recognized with the Edmonton Northland Farm Family Award, something they were both very proud of.
Life wasn’t all about work. Frank claims they danced in every hall from Dawson Creek to Oklahoma City, a tradition that carried on for years, even up until their last anniversary where grandpa “danced” with grandma in her wheelchair to the live band at the lodge.
Ruth also loved the trips to the Canadian Finals Rodeo in Edmonton, and the NFR in Oklahoma City. There were also the legendary bonfires on the sand bar of the river that possibly half of High Prairie attended. I heard that the next morning, the boys would sneak down to the river and find all the leftover beer stored in the cold running water. Not the breakfast I would recommend, but hey…
Ruth and Frank were also very involved in the community, as Ruth was a member of the Women’s Institute, Royal Purple, and when the girls and Lindsay began to figure skate, Ruth was an active member of the Figure Skating Club. Ruth made sure the kids understood the value of community. They always encouraged their children and grandchildren to step up and do what you can for your community.
Growing up, the Pratt children didn’t want for much, as the boys played hockey and the girls figure skated in the winter. The summers were spent riding horses and going for a swim at the river, which I heard, might have actually been their bath and quite possibly, a chance for grandma to put her feet in the sand and just relax for a time. Ever summer night after returning from the river, the family would build a fire in the backyard and make fried potatoes and roast hotdogs.
Ruth never did share Frank’s passion for horses, but she understood and supported him always. Despite this difference, she still drove a camper and trailer full of horses up and down the road with Dawna and Lindsay to show horses while grandpa stayed at home to work. Over they years, Frank tried to teach her to ride horseback, but it seemed that when the time came to learn, she would be pregnant. Heck of away to avoid learning to ride a horse.
Ruth’s health started to catch up with her in the early 1990s. She had difficulty managing the stairs so the family looked at adding a bedroom on the main floor, but because of the condition of the foundation, it was decided to build a new home with everything on one level and a larger, accessible bathroom. Rich took on the task to build the home but got a tremendous boost of help from many others including Lyle and Lindsay and many friends. Ruth again took a house and turned it into a home. Sadly, she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1995, but thankfully, the new house made coping with the disease a lot easier.
Grandma loved to garden, both flowers and vegetables. She believed that to get through the winter, she needed to can one jar of veggies and one can of fruit for each day of the year. She had many skills that she learned from her own upbringing and from Vermilion College, but also from trial and error.
She was a fabulous cook and baker. I remember she taught me to make cinnamon buns, mincemeat tarts, pies and fudge. Fudge was her specialty, and she could make a Divinity Fudge that would melt in your mouth. Through the years, my dad and I have tried to duplicate her expertise in making fudge and, well, let’s just say it turns out right once in a while and when it doesn’t, we sure enjoy eating the “mistakes”.
Although there wasn’t always a lot of money, the family always are like kings; everything was home grown, canned or homemade. Roast beef, Yorkshire pudding and cinnamon bus were just a few favourites. Ruth’s home was always open to everyone. For many people, the farm was a place to come to find a sense of purpose, learning to make cinnamon buns, bake a cake, or have one of Ruth’s home-cooked meals. You felt needed and you left with a greater sense of self.
Ruth truly loved all her grandchildren but the ones that struggled or just needed that extra bit of help, she had a way to reach out and make them feel special, without making a public display of it. We always knew grandma had our back.
Many grandchildren spent their summer holidays at the farm, but it was never a “holiday” because we all got put to work. With grandpa, there were always cows to move or a calf to treat. But on the rainy days, we got to learn to cook from the best. With Grandma Ruth, it was all hands on deck, and learn by participation.
All told, Ruth could do it all: keep books, milk the cows, raise the kids, fantastic cook, and a great support to her husband and family.
Ruth was a fighter for herself and her family. She proved this in her battle with Parkinson’s.
She passed away on March 24, 2017. Her family was instrumental in the direction of her care and they fought for her as she had fought for them in their lives.
We, as a family, will try to carry on her legacy by striving to raise honest, hard-working kids who take responsibility for their actions, and always hold onto good memories.