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157-year-old walking spinning wheel returns to Ponoka

A piece of local homesteading history donated to Fort Ostell Museum
(Photo submitted)

It’s the turn of a new century and a chill in the air is a warning that autumn is on its way out and winter would soon swoop in and settle in on the rugged Alberta prairies, and for Vivia Reynolds, that meant it was time to start spinning; the children would soon be needing warm mittens and socks.

Later on, a young Dixie Crandall would watch as her grandmother Vivia walked forward and back, forward and back, in a seemingly endless dance as she teased the undyed, plain wool fibres into twisting into yarn for countless hours.

Winters were cold on their homestead near Crestomere, and the wool they produced was essential for the pioneering family’s needs.

“I have memories of her touching the wheel to keep it moving,” said Dixie Malcher (nee Crandall), now 91 and living at Legacy Place in Ponoka, recalls.

Passing through several hands and travelling many miles, the piece of Ponoka-area history has had quite the journey and has finally returned, finding a permanent home at the Fort Ostell Museum; Vivia’s walking spinning wheel can now be viewed and enjoyed for generations to come.

Unlike it’s smaller descendant that’s operated while sitting down by using a foot pedal, the older walking spinning wheel was huge and required the user to walk in a pattern to spin wool into yarn.

Vivia’s walking spinning wheel was manufactured in 1866, and came with Vivia and her husband Charles when they migrated across the country from Musquodoboit, Nova Scotia to settle in the Crestomere area in about 1903.

A necessity in those days, the behemoth of a spinning wheel came with them; Vivia would not have left without it.

Bringing the wheel all that way “must have been an undertaking,” said Malcher.

“You didn’t buy many things back then. You made everything,” said Kathy Bogath, Vivia’s great-granddaughter.

Bogath added people don’t really understand how hard it was to survive back then compared to now.

On the farm, they would shear their sheep, pick and wash the wool and then card it so it could be spun.

While some would use natural things easily at hand to dye the wool different colours, Malcher remembers their wool being mostly plain.

Vivia and Charles had three children: Ida, Dean and Jim.

When Vivia’s husband passed away in 1926, she moved in with her daughter Ida, her husband Marcus Crandall, and their children on their farm in the Ferrybank area.

It was there that Malcher remembers watching her grandmother spin, although the family also had a farm in Bellingham, Wash., and that’s where Malcher was born.

When Vivia passed away in 1949, Malcher’s mother Ida inherited the spinning wheel.

Malcher can’t remember it being used much during that time, as there were likely newer, less cumbersome ways to spin wool.

When Ida died in 1966, her son Hugh Crandall became the steward of the family heirloom and took it back to Sacramento, Cali. with him where he lived at the time.

The wheel remained with Hugh ever since, throughout several moves and eventually to Grants Pass, Oregon.

Hugh was a favourite of Grandma Vivia’s and Hugh must have held on to it because of sentiment, Malcher and Bogath said.

Hugh passed away on June 1, 2023, and it was his daughter Donna’s wish — and Hugh’s — that the family wheel return to Ponoka and be donated to the museum.

Bogath, who lives in Ponoka, made a trip down to Grants Pass to bring the spinning wheel home in the first week of July.

The spinning wheel is about five feet in diametre and had been stored underneath a bed.

Bogath was at a bit of a loss at first seeing how large it was, about how she would fit it into her truck to make the trip back, but she managed.

It was then donated to the museum on July 7.

“It’s travelled a lot of miles,” said Bogath. “It’s come home to where it was meant to be.”

A year ago, Hugh and Canadian family members had made plans to move the wheel back to Alberta, however, they were delayed due to Hugh’s health issues.

“It was important to the Crandall family that it came back and we’re grateful to the museum for offering to have it there and look after it for us … to preserve a piece of history,” said Bogath.

The walking spinning wheel is still a working machine, and as such, is a fairly uncommon artifact.

Fort Ostell Museum curator Sandy Allsopp said the wheel has found a safe and secure home with them.

Allsopp said it’s a nice piece to have and is something new to the museum.

However, making a permanent display area for the large wheel will take some re-arranging.

For now, the wheel can be viewed in the museum’s lobby, along with an information poster. The wheel also came with a few wool carders, and a couple of instruments the museum has yet to identify, said Allsopp.

Allsopp hopes to move the wheel into the parlour but some more modern displays will have to be moved first.

What would be wonderful is if the museum could receive a donation of raw wool to display with the wheel, she said.

“It’s a great addition to the museum,” said Allsopp, adding it was amazing how many visitors commented on the wheel in one week. “It was kind of neat.”

This 1866 walking spinning wheel is about five feet in diameter and now resides at the Fort Ostell Museum in Ponoka. (Facebook photo/Fort Ostell Museum)

Emily Jaycox

About the Author: Emily Jaycox

I'm a reporter for Ponoka News and have lived in Ponoka since 2015.
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