Benedict & Nancy Freedman's Mrs. Mike

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

The authors of Mrs. Mike never visited Alberta when they wrote their 1947 best-selling novel based on the life story of Katherine Flannigan. They did their research at the UCLA library, where they may have happened upon this 1907 map of Calgary. Flannigan, however, returned to the city in 1954 to visit friends, and died here at the age of 55. (Credit: Calgary Public Library Historical Maps collection)

The authors of Mrs. Mike never visited Alberta when they wrote their 1947 best-selling novel based on the life story of Katherine Flannigan. They did their research at the UCLA library, where they may have happened upon this 1907 map of Calgary. Flannigan, however, returned to the city in 1954 to visit friends, and died here at the age of 55. (Credit: Calgary Public Library Historical Maps collection)

In 1907, a sixteen-year-old girl from Boston meets and marries a Canadian Mountie on her uncle’s ranch in the Alberta foothills. She and her husband will travel by dog sled to his post in the Peace River country, but the grand adventure of Katherine Mary O’Fallon Flannigan’s life begins in what her uncle calls the “mighty big” city of Calgary.

 

It was because of my pleurisy I was being sent to Uncle John, who lived in Calgary, Alberta. Up till 1905 Alberta had been part of the Great Northwest Territory, and it gave me a real thrill to go to a place that had been officially civilized for only two years.

My mother had had her doubts about letting me go into such a wilderness. We looked it up on a map of North America, and Alberta seemed awfully empty. Our part of the country, which was Boston, was covered with winding black lines meaning roads, and barbed-wire lines meaning railroads, and circles of all sizes meaning cities and towns. It was so crowded with these proofs of civilization that there was no room for the names, which were stuck out in the Atlantic Ocean. In Alberta there was none of this reassuring confusion. A couple of thin blue rivers, a couple of crooked lakes, and the map maker was through. My mother found the circle that was Calgary and carefully compared it with the circles of Massachusetts.

“A fine black dot it is, but not be mentioned in the same breath with Boston,” she said. Boston was a very distinctive city on our map, being a large dot with a ring around it. “And you’ll bear in mind, Katherine Mary,” she added, “that’s as far north as I want you to go. Don’t be letting your uncle take you up into this.” She waved in the general direction of Mackenzie and the North Pole. “My own mother lived and died in the house where she was born, and all the traveling she did was to the oatfield and back.”

We both sat and wondered at the size of the world until she folded it up and put it in the bureau drawer.

However, the doctors said the cold dry climate of Alberta would be good for my lungs, and Uncle John said it was a long, long time since he had seen one of his kin, and so at last my mother gave in and let me go.

 

Benedict and Nancy Freedman, Mrs. Mike (New York: Coward-McCann, 1947)