Jeff Gaye

Lorane and Willie MacGregor chose an inauspicious date for their wedding: April 1.

“My aunt said, ‘you can’t get married on that date!’” Lorane recalls. “I said why not? She says ‘it’s April Fool’s Day.’

“I said, that makes no difference to me, we’re going to get married. And we did.”

That was in 1948. The couple will celebrate their 72nd anniversary next week. 

And this week, on March 23, Willie celebrated his 97th birthday.

Willie and Lorane both grew up in the area near Iron River. Willie’s family moved there from Vermilion during the Great Depression. “There was nothing to do, no price for anything,” Willie said. He remembers his father shipped three steers to Edmonton, and got a bill for six dollars—the three 1,000-pound animals didn’t pay enough to cover the freight.

Eventually they moved the family and their cattle to Sandy Rapids.

Willie served as a medic with 11 Field Ambulance in the Second World War, attached to the Essex Scottish Regiment from Ontario. He participated in the D-Day landing and the liberation of The Netherlands before moving into Germany.

After VE Day, he was sent with the UK’s Royal Marines to a German U-Boat base in the Frisian Islands just off the Danish coast. The base had not yet been captured by the Allies or surrendered by the Germans.

“When we got there, there was white flags all over and they just surrendered,” Willie said. There was no fighting, but there were still U-Boats returning to the base from all over the world. Many of the sailors on board were sick with “the bends,” and had to be removed from the subs.

“They couldn’t stand up. We had to go down into a submarine and take them out on stretchers, straight up on the ladder. And I was the medic in charge of doing that.”

Lorane, meanwhile, had been living on the family farm on the Beaver River south of Iron River. They had a small field and a lot of sheep, she says—her mother would shear the sheep and spin the wool into yarn. She knitted socks and sweaters that sold (“for very little,” Lorane remembers) across the country.

Between her mother’s knitting and her father’s hunting, “we were never cold and we were never hungry,” she said.

She used to have to cross the river to attend Pinecrest School. When that school closed for lack of students, Lorane attended Iron River School, staying with an older local gentleman. She met Willie’s brother John, who was working for the older man, but wouldn’t get to know Willie until after the war.

(John also went overseas, and was killed fighting in The Netherlands.) 

In 1940, Lorane’s father bought the older man’s place and the family moved there. She and Willie still own it.

Lorane and Willie met at a dance in Iron River in January 1946, before Willie’s release from the army. “And that’s where we started,” Lorane said. “I went with him for a couple of years and then we ended up getting married and had a good life—72 years coming up.”

They had two children shortly after they married, about a year apart. Lorane remembers the well water was very hard, so Willie used to bring water up from the creek for washing clothes.

“We hauled water, put it on the stove and heated it—nothing like it is nowadays. I’d put the clothes up on the line in the winter and they froze like boards. And then you bring them in, thaw them and dry them.”

After about three years of this, Willie got a washing machine—over Lorane’s protests that they didn’t need one.

Besides the work of running a farm and a household, both Willie and Lorane have always been busy helping out in the community.

“That’s how communities functioned then,” Willie said. He served on the seed plant board and the Co-op board, and volunteered with the 4-H Beef Club and the Junior Forest Wardens. 

Lorane spent 23 years with the 4-H Sewing Club. From there she trundled her sewing machine from Goodridge to Saskatchewan, teaching adults to sew things like jeans and western jackets.

Both served with the Agricultural Service Board and were on the ground floor of starting the project that would become Bonnyville’s Centennial Centre, or “C2.”

Lorane stayed involved with agricultural shows and fairs, while Wille “graduated,” Lorane says, to the Bonnyville Seniors’ Drop In Centre. He spent about a decade as president.

The couple lives in Bonnyville now, but they still own some of the old farm. They return to a cabin on the homestead every summer, where they enjoy getting away from town life and picking blueberries. Willie likes being a five-minute walk from the berry patch, and being able to go back to the cabin for coffee.

They have harvested as much as 50 gallons of a berries in a season, Lorane said. They have freezers full of them to last the winter, and they never get tired of them.

Some couples are made stronger by having separate interests and activities, but Willie and Lorane say their long, happy marriage comes from the time they spend together. 

“We always worked together. We did everything together,” Willie said. And according to Lorane, that is what gave them something in common when the work was done.

“When one’s on the road up north to the oilfields and the other works in the hospital as a nurse, what have they got each other to talk about?” she said. “Even in the clubs we were in, we knew what each other’s problems were or whatever. We talked it all over.”

(Lorane says Willie is even happy to offer advice on her quilting. “He can’t do it, but he can tell me what I did wrong!”)

Willie has been invited to Europe this spring to participate in commemorations marking the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, but it looks like those plans will be affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. He and Lorane attended the 50th and 55th anniversaries, and visited brother John’s grave in Groesbeek Cemetery.

Lorane said the pandemic has also restricted their plans for birthday and wedding anniversary celebrations.

“We were thinking of having a birthday party but we said no. Just him and I.
We got a piece of our Christmas cake—we’re going to have a piece of Christmas cake for it.”

Willie and Lorane MacGregor met at a dance in Iron River in 1946.   VIVIAN BRYANT