A bit of family history

These are my maternal grandparents. Left: a photo of Fanny Anderson as a young woman, dressed in a manner that belies her Icelandic origins. On the right, a painting by my mother, Helen Andersen, of her father, W.E. Anderson, who was a medical doctor. She called the painting 2 Medicine Men.

My grandparents were prairie people; Saskatchewan and Manitoba. In 1873, the Canadian government wooed Icelandic settlers by giving them an exclusive reserve called New Iceland in Manitoba. Without the assistance of Indigenous people, the Icelanders would never have survived their first prairie winters. See the story of John Ramsay. That’s Fanny’s family background.

Dr. Anderson was a general practitioner. When his patients, farmers and Indigenous people, were short on cash (especially in the years of the Great Depression), he received fees for service in kind. Eggs, poultry, produce … and beautifully-made textiles, beadwork, feathers and leathers.

Below, you see Fanny and and unknown friend, dressed in some of the collection. Beside them, a photo I found of some of the pieces that Dr. Anderson eventually placed into the collection of the Hudson’s Bay Company. I assume they are still there.

Left: Fanny. Her resemblance to my sister Joni is unmistakable. Unknown friend on the right.

Careful readers will have noticed two spellings: Anderson and Andersen. My mother was born Helen Anderson and married a Dane, my step-father Raabye Andersen.

Helen was profoundly influenced by her father, following his example by going into medicine as a Registered Nurse and carrying on his interest in the arts for her whole life. Dr. Anderson was a Sunday painter himself, as well as an avid appreciator and collector of Indigenous art.

W.E. Anderson was an early promoter of socialized medicine, which was a political stance not without risk in those days. He knew the young Tommy Douglas personally, but I gather he didn’t think Douglas was radical enough. I wish I knew more about my grandfather, but I only have anecdotes told to me by his admiring daughter. My impression is that he was a strong-willed, independent thinker and something of an eccentric.