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A touch of beauty

A woman wearing a dress in a studio.
Lousia (Parker) Wynder (1855-1932) as a young woman.

My husband and I recently visited his uncle in southern Alberta. I noticed an old china cabinet and peered at some of the objects displayed inside. On the top shelf was an elaborate clear cut-glass bowl. It sat on a pedestal base and was topped by a matching lid.

The dish, I was told, belonged to my husband’s 2nd great-grandmother, Louisa (Parker) Wynder (1855-1932). In 1896 she and her husband moved from Idaho to Cardston, Alberta, and she carefully packed it in a barrel of dried beans to keep it safe during the two-month wagon journey.

Louisa had been born in London, England in 1855 where she trained as a tailoress. In later years she told her granddaughter Jennie stories of her early years in London. She recalled the hot mint tea or ginger tea with “little squares of bread and butter and sometimes jam,” or “real tea” with oatmeal crumpets. She spoke of Christmas goose and suet plum pudding soaked in brandy sauce. “The lamps were dimmed, and they sat in silence while the brandy’s blue flame burned low.” But most of all, she spoke of hats: “Such beautiful hats the ladies wore! Grandma had a weakness for pretty hats. When she told me about them, she said they were always trimmed in ribbons and forget-me-nots or waving ostrich plumes.”

But city life would fall far behind her. When she was about sixteen years old, Louisa attended a church meeting and obtained a copy of the Book of Mormon. She and her family joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and emigrated to Salt Lake City, Utah in 1872. Louisa married Henry Wynder there in 1874, and as she would later describe it, “We have had a pioneer life ever since.”

After several moves around Utah, the family finally settled in Almo, Idaho where Henry worked as a ranch cook. Louisa gave birth to her 7th child there. Although life was hard, she just wanted to stay put. Or, as she explained: “Canada was then being talked about and its climate, but I said I’d pioneered enough and that was the last place I’d go.”

However, Henry lost his job after the ranch was sold, so the couple sold their home, took their savings, and put it into cattle and “an outfit to travel overland.” They arrived in Cardston on July 1, 1896, the glass dish safely buried among the dried beans. Despite the challenges of moves, children and pioneering, Louisa never gave up on her love for her London home and beautiful things. In later years, not only did she make Yorkshire pudding and create “exquisite eyelet and cut-work embroidery,” but she wore an ostrich-plumed hat.

Louisa’s treasured crystal dish was passed down through her maternal line for two generations until it came to my husband’s grandmother Jennie. I had never seen a dish like that, so took a picture, and used Google Lens to find similar images online. I discovered that the dish was American-made from the Riverside Glass Works company. It is a compote dish, and would have been used to serve fruits cooked in syrup. Apparently this is exactly how Jennie used it: she would pour a pint of her home-made canned raspberries into the bowl and serve it out like her “Grandma” did.

Jennie had five sons and no daughters, so Louisa’s compote dish is now proudly displayed in one of her son’s living rooms. It is a reminder of Louisa and all the other pioneer women who managed to treasure beauty in the midst of their hard work and sacrifice.

Sources: Memories: Louisa (Parker) Wynder: Autobiography; Jennie (Hinman) Vance “Grandma Told Us”; Beryl Shaw “In Memory of a Dear Grandmother”

Interview with my husband’s uncle and aunt at Raymond, AB, August 21, 2022.


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