A Life's Story
July 03, 2021
A true free spirit
Spontaneous, accepting attitude drove Christianson
By: Eva Wasney
Lorna Christianson had an affinity for cars. It wasn’t the horsepower or mechanics she appreciated; but rather, the freedom they represented — even if the only place to drive was to the nearby lake and back.
"She had a vehicle before we even had a highway out of Wabowden," Lorna’s eldest daughter Susie Secord says. "She really didn’t need a vehicle, she could’ve walked to work and the store wasn’t that far away… but she wanted that independence."
Wabowden is a small community located 640 kilometres north of Winnipeg. The town’s population has fluctuated over the years in step with the rise and fall of mining and logging operations in the area and currently sits around 440 residents.
Lorna’s first set of wheels arrived by train and Secord recalls a spontaneous mother-daughter trip to Winnipeg to buy a new vehicle after Highway 6 was established. Spontaneity reigned supreme in the life of the single mother of two.
"Where we lived, it’s cold, it’s northern Manitoba. What did she buy? A yellow convertible," Secord says, laughing. "We drove home with the top down… and we must’ve been close to Dauphin because there were these cows all over the road, you should’ve seen us trying to put the cover back on the convertible. We’re from the bush and we don’t see cows very often — we were afraid."
Lorna, the youngest of six children, was born in The Pas to Hans and Mary Christianson. The family moved to Wabowden in the 1940s and Lorna lived with her parents until they died, raising two daughters in an intergenerational home.
At times, Laurie Christianson saw her mother as more of a peer than a parent — getting pulled out of school for shopping trips in Thompson and last-minute vacations were common occurrences.
"In a way, my grandparents were my parents and mom was just like the fun older sibling," Laurie says. "She did have that childish part of her personality… and it was a good part because it made her very spontaneous and creative and fun."
Lorna was a feminist before the term was popular. As a girl, she was often in trouble for speaking her mind in school. As an adult, she worked outside the home when most women didn’t and decided marriage wasn’t her cup of tea.
"I remember her saying things like, ‘You can’t depend on others. If you want something, you have to make sure you do it," Secord says. "She was very aware of the limitations placed on women… she didn’t want to be told what to do and she didn’t want to live a traditional woman’s life."
Lorna worked for the local Hudson Bay store marking prices for everything from fishing tackle to women’s clothing to shotgun shells. In the 1960s, she applied for a job with the federal Department of Transport’s meteorological division to monitor the weather station in Wabowden. She was one of only two people in town with the necessary training and would often work split shifts and odd hours logging condition reports.
With so much attention paid skyward, Lorna also saw things that weren’t weather-related. Twice, she and others in town spotted unidentified flying objects looming over Wabowden. The first sighting happened at night, when a group of bright dots were seen moving in unison across the sky. The second took place in broad daylight.
"People saw a rotating object that was close enough that it looked to them like it was as big as the sun… and it essentially disappeared right in front of people’s eyes," Laurie says. "My mom was like, ‘Well, I guess I gotta report this when I go into work’ — it was paperwork."
Lorna had a quick wit, a knack for sarcasm and a strong sense of community. She was heavily involved in the social fabric of Wabowden, volunteering at the curling club, organizing dances and movie nights and fundraising to bring satellite TV to the area.
She cared deeply about helping others (humans and animals alike) and moved through the world without judgement.
"She always said that the only reason to not like somebody was because they were unlikeable," Laurie says. "Not because of their religion or skin colour or their sexual preferences."
There’s an 11-year age gap between the sisters and while Secord had to attend a boarding school in Cranberry Portage before the local high school was built, they both have fond memories of growing up in Wabowden. Weekends were spent swimming, target shooting, berry picking and fishing at the cabin their mother built and summers were often spent on the road.
There was little planning involved and rarely a destination in mind during Lorna’s cross-continental road trips. Sometimes it was a pilgrimage to see a concert, other times it was because she wanted to visit another province. At all times it was about the freedom of the open road.
"I was probably 40 before I ever made a hotel reservation or even realized that was a thing that normal people did," Laurie says with a laugh. Her mother had eclectic taste in music and would belt out capable duets while the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Smashing Pumpkins played through the car radio. "I remember falling asleep a lot while she was singing Ghost Riders in the Sky (by Johnny Cash), because I really liked that song."
Both siblings left Wabowden to pursue careers elsewhere. After the local Bay store closed Lorna left too, eventually joining Laurie in Winnipeg where she worked at Walmart in St. Vital Centre. She enjoyed the convenience of living in a big city, but yearned for her carefree youth spent in a tight-knit community in the northern Manitoba bush.
"I think she probably missed the old Wabowden," Secord says of her mother. "We always sort of look fondly on the good old days, whether or not they were the good old days."
Lorna Christianson died on Oct. 25, 2020. She was 88.