When the paper mill’s whistle blew at 5 p.m., she knew she had to go home. It was curfew time.
She has lived a life many would have only seen in movies. An apartment building on 212 Third St. West built in 1903 was where Marg Kircher, 89, was born. The old two-storey building with a high attic was a hospital – Dr. David MacKenzie’s hospital, and her home for nine years.
“I had a rather interesting childhood,” Kircher said. “My mother came from St. Paul, Minnesota, and I was delivered by Dr. MacKenzie. My mother went back and left me. I was then adopted by him and his sister, and neither one of them were married.”
Because her aunt had physical disabilities and was a recluse, the hospital was home to Kircher for the next nine years, and the nurses were her caregivers.
It was a normal childhood, Kircher said, because nobody made her feel it was different. The hospital was where she would have friends over, play music and sports.
“I loved school,” Kircher said. “We had lots of interactions with our teachers and other children. My father had horses and buggies for going around to see patients and even when he got his first car, he still kept the horses, just in case the car did not go. We had milk and ice chunks delivered by horse and cart everyday.”
At 69 years of age, MacKenzie passed away when Kircher was only seven. She continued to live at the hospital and was looked after by the nurses until La Verendrye Hospital was built. She was nine when she moved in with her 74-year-old aunt.
“The doctors then agreed that they should have one hospital and the nuns were quite willing to come and run it,” Kircher said. “Nobody was going to be there to look after me so that’s when I moved to live with my aunt.”
Kircher lived according to her aunt’s rules and schedule.
“Bedtime was 9 o’clock, even when I was a teenager,” Kircher said. “I can remember sometimes I got a little beyond and tried to come in quietly. [My aunt] had a grandfather clock that chimes every 15 minutes. She knew when I got in. It was different, but I did not question the situation.”
Although her life with her senior aunt was different, Kircher said her aunt made sure she was on track with piano, music and dancing lessons.
“I was allowed those special things and went to church,” Kircher added. “Back in the day, churches were the centre of socializing. On Sunday, you went to church quite often. Because I like to sing, I got in the church choir when I was 13. Once in high school, I was in basketball and volleyball. I got to play in the high school orchestra.”
Christmases were also different with her aunt, because of the lifestyle they led. Her aunt would always put a small Christmas tree on the dining table and Kircher always got a present.
“I remember saying I’d like a book and I would get a book for Christmas and maybe something for my dog,” Kircher said. “Christmas dinner was the Sunday closest to Christmas and we did not have people over. My Christmases were quiet when I was a child.”
The aunt, a firm believer that girls should not work, did not allow Kircher to job hunt during the summer.
“Until Bruce Murray’s mother and a good friend of auntie told her Marg knows music and she likes books, and we can give her a summer job at Murray’s Music and Gift Store,” Kircher said. “Auntie told them if you really need her she can work, but don’t pay her. Bruce said it’s against the law to not pay employees, and that’s how I got my first job.”
Kircher lived with her aunt until she got married to Dick Kircher, a proud, young German man who immigrated to Canada after the Second World War.
Their initial communication was not in English or German; it was through dancing – a language they both mastered.
“Ours was an interesting romance,” Kircher said. “When he asked me to dance I had no idea he was German. He didn’t speak English. I loved dancing and one thing he did as a teenager in Germany was ballroom dancing lessons after the war.”
When Dick went to Atikokan to work on building a dam, they communicated through letters.
“I remember being totally amazed by his good English. He was very particular about learning English. Except, there was a line where Dick wrote something about hearing the train whistle. He spelled it ‘wissel.’ He told me he looked everywhere in the newspaper and I couldn’t find a whistle,” Kircher chuckled.
“My aunt would say ‘What’s wrong with that boy? He won’t say anything.’ I would defend him and tell her if he is not going to say it correctly, he won’t say anything. That was in his favour, because people were amazed that Dick ended up with hardly an accent. He was a very, very proud man.”
Their marriage union was also a tough undertaking, Kircher said; some people in the community did not perceive German boys well because of the war.
“The war was pretty fresh in everybody’s mind, particularly maybe mothers who lost a son or a woman that lost her husband. Dick asked me to go away with him. I didn’t think that was quite a marriage proposal. I was a little upset.”
However, they still got married in 1953. Kircher’s aunt and her friends supported the young couple.
“He was good looking and very polite,” Kircher said.
Together they had three children, Patricia, David and James. Kircher said both of her surviving children are very good, friendly and honest. James passed away in 1980.
Growing her family was Kircher’s dream come true. When Dick had a business and would work long hours, Kircher and the children would go to the cabin and always had projects, including clearing the land, planting flowers and picking berries.
“I love being a mom,” Kircher said. “My aunt never touched me. She never kissed me. She was not mean, it was just not her way. I remember when I was going to go to Sunny Cove camp. We went on the train and I had my bag. A lady said ‘Margaret, aren’t you going to give your aunt a kiss?’ Auntie said we don’t do that here.”
Margaret, Marg, Maggie, mom and now oma. Kircher’s life is not like most. Despite all that she has gone through, she was able to build a life that she can fondly look back on, one of love, joy and many dances.