Animals Pets 03

Madeline Eliza Ferguson

May 17, 1930 ~ March 24, 2023 (age 92) 92 Years Old


It is with deepest sorrow that we announce the passing of our beloved Madeline Ferguson who passed away peacefully on March 24,2023, at the age of 92.

Her memory lives on in her family she leaves behind.  Daughters Caroline(Wally) Hepner and Mickey(Don) Ferguson, Sons Dwight Lavallee and Monty(Marina) Ferguson and many grandchildren, great grandchildren, her first great great grandchild, nieces, nephews and a large extended family as Madeline was a mother to all.

Madeline started her life in Flin Flon as the fifth child of 13 and has fond memories of growing up and playing with her siblings.  At a young age she came to Winnipeg to start out on her own and completed her Safeway School.  There was no work for her so she had to find what she could and moved to the farm for work where she met and later married Ralph Ferguson and expanded her family.  After her husband passed away she needed to still take care of her family and moved to Neepawa and settled in her home.  Her Safeway education came in handy and she worked a long and happy career with her Safeway family, getting to know the community and always being a positive part of peoples day.

Madeline went on to meet Bert and found her life dancing partner. Together they were very involved in the community and notably the Royal Canadian Legion #23.

Madeline also had a zest for life and and lived her life to the fullest.  Madeline enjoyed travelling, to Germany to spend time with family, Alaska which was her favourite trip with Bert and proudly representing her Metis heritage as the Elder travelling with the Metis trek in 2005 in an open chuck wagon across the prairies at 75 years old. She always found a way to connect with everyone she met and was so eager to share a story, a song or laugh with anyone.

Madeline was truly an exceptionally talented painter which she took up in 1977 and has had her art make it all over the world.  Her eye for the beauty in nature was incredible and she was always stopping to get that perfect picture to paint later. Madeline was also a cancer survivor and after she won her fight she used her unending strength and love to support those in difficult situations through a group she was very involved with. 

Madeline leaves behind a legacy with all whose lives she touched, with her strength in character, her compassion, her love and loyalty for all of her family and acceptance of others.  To celebrate her life the family will be holding prayers graveside at a later date. Donations in lieu of flowers can be made in Madeline’s name to Cancer Care Manitoba. 


Madeline Ferguson’s life hasn’t been what anyone would describe as easy. Ferguson grew up in a Métis family during the dirty ‘30s. From there, her life was a nearly constant uphill battle.

Despite the hardships, Ferguson never let the bad overshadow the good. Always focusing on the silver lining, she considers her life a good one. “I’m blessed, very blessed,” she expressed.

I was born May 17, 1930 in Flin Flon, Manitoba, the fifth child in a family of 13. I left there when I was seven years old, because my dad got work trading with the Hudson Bay Company,” Ferguson said. “We moved to Island Falls, [Saskatchewan],” she added.

While Island Falls is now just a hydroelectric dam, back in the ‘30s, there was a small community located on an island. The community consisted of the individuals employed to operate the dam and their families.

“It was pretty well a native settlement,” Ferguson recounted, “there was no public school for us, so my sister taught us around the kitchen table… When we did get to a public school, we were all moved up one grade, so that was a blessing.” 

Riding the dog sled home

One of Ferguson’s favourite memories from her childhood is the trip from Flin Flon to Island Falls. “This was in 1937, so I was seven. Dad was going to this job in Island Falls, mum was expecting and he took mum and the boys to Island Falls, but he left three sisters behind; my two older ones and myself, with the intention that he’d come back for us,” she began. “He [didn’t] come back for us until after freeze up. That’s when he came by dog team. I remember being bundled in the Alaska sleigh,” she continued, “my two older sisters, they would ride on the sleigh too, but sometimes they had to get off and run behind the team, just to give the dogs a break. We camped overnight and I remember dad making a shelter, how he folded the spruce boughs, so that we’d be off of the snow. It was just like a springy bed. When we did get to Island Falls, here was this new baby sister!”

Another favourite memory for Ferguson was when she asked her mother to look at a playhouse she made in the bush. “I had mud pies on leaves and I made my own bed, because I knew how dad made those beds with the spruce boughs. For [my mum] to come and see my house in the bush from her busy, busy day, I was so honoured.

Not all of Ferguson’s childhood memories are so positive though. “I remember one day, I saw these parents and little children going down to the lake front and there was a plane down there. I thought, ‘Why are they all crying?’ because I was none the wiser,” she shared, “I didn’t realize [until] many years later; they were going to the residential school. That’s why mums and dads were crying and the kids didn’t want to leave mum and dad.”

From Island Falls to Cold Lake

Ferguson’s family lived in Island Falls for two years, before moving to Cold Lake, Manitoba, as it was known at the time. Nowadays, Cold Lake is known as Kississing Lake.

“We always lived right beside the shore. I’ve heard they call that the moccasin flats… I guess that’s pretty well where [all the Métis] settled,” Ferguson mentioned. “We fished right from the docks, mum cleaned the fish and then we, as children, had to go door to door selling the fillets to make enough money for her groceries and what not,” she noted. 

At around eight years old, even though she couldn’t swim, Ferguson would row across the lake to pick cranberries and blueberries, which grew plentifully on the other shore, “We’d pick them, bring them home to mum, she would clean them [and] we’d again go door to door selling them for mum.”

The war years didn’t affect Ferguson much, she was too young to really grasp what was going on. She also had her own problems to worry about. 

“I had a health problem as a child. The teacher didn’t want me to go to school, they wanted mum to put me out in the fresh air to sleep, everyday,” Ferguson remarked, “I say mum did something right, because I’m still here.”

Despite some of the darker undertones, Ferguson spoke fondly of all her childhood memories, even the ones related to her family’s poor economic status.

While Ferguson spent a considerable amount of time doing chores and helping her family, being a kid, there was always time for play. And with a family of 13 kids, there was always someone to play with. “There was always baseball, kickball, lots of games we could play,” she mentioned.

Hitting the city

At 15 years old, Ferguson left home. “[With] so many mouths to feed in the family, it was, ‘Get out and make your own living.’ I went to Winnipeg,” she said. “Can you imagine today, a 15 year old girl going into Winnipeg to make her own living?” she remarked. 

When she arrived in Winnipeg, Ferguson found employment at Perth’s laundry, where she worked until a cousin suggested she go to the Safeway school. “I said, ‘But I can’t, I need to have my board and room.’ [My cousin] said, ‘I’ll give you board and room.’ So she did and I went to Safeway school for two weeks,” said Ferguson.

Describing the experience at the Safeway school, Ferguson said, “One day you’re a cashier, the next day you’re a miserable customer. You had to learn how to handle that. Also, it was the old style scales where you had to multiply, in your head, the pounds and ounces by the price. At the end of two weeks, you had an exam to write. If you passed that, they put your name down, because they didn’t have an opening right then for anyone.”

Continuing to describe the school, Ferguson said, “It was so much like an ordinary grocery store. The shelves were stocked. It was a lot of mental mathematics you had to [know]. It’s so different today.”

After a month with no word back from Safeway, Ferguson decided she couldn’t just accept free board and room from her cousin, so she went looking for work. “I found a job as a waitress,” Ferguson said, “I was to be at this restaurant for 9:30 and I phoned them and I said, ‘No, sorry, I can’t be a waitress.’ Half an hour later, I get a phone call. It was Safeway, wanting me to come fill this position.”

At this time, Ferguson’s older sister was working with Safeway, but was taking two weeks of vacation to visit their mother. Unbeknownst to either of them, was that Ferguson was being called to fill the vacancy left by her sister. 

“So many of the customers said I look so much like this other cashier,” Ferguson mentioned. “After [the two weeks] I got [a position] in my own store as a cashier,” she added.

Ferguson married young, but not to the man whose last name she would eventually keep. In her first marriage, as is unfortunately the case for too many women, her husband was abusive.

“He was not a very kind person, but being so young and not understanding life… I had two children and I thought, ‘I’m not living this life.’ So I up and left,” Ferguson shared.

Thankfully, Ferguson’s husband ended up having to serve jail time, but Ferguson was still left with no support, no contacts and no job. “I had to find work where I could still [support] my two children, Carol and Dwight” Ferguson said.

New job, new life

In a stroke of luck, one of Ferguson’s friends had a sister-in-law whose brother, [Ralph Ferguson], was looking for a housekeeper. “My friend’s husband took me to the farm to meet this farmer and of course it was a brand new home. [The farmer] had left a note, saying, ‘Please make lunch, I’ll be in to interview you’.” Ferguson recounted. “I opened the fridge,” she continued, “and I saw this huge pork roast, all cooked.”

Seeing that roast, Ferguson knew she had to have this job. “After we discussed wage and whatnot, I decided I would stay, because I felt so comfortable,” she noted. “The second year [I worked for him], he wanted me to marry him,” she continued.

Ferguson turned down the proposal, as there was some friction between his son, Larry, and her.  “Larry did not like [mother figures]. I could see his point, because he was adopted. His mother gave him up and the adopted mother left his father,” explained Ferguson. “The little girl, his girl, was always so loving,” she added.

The next year, Ralph proposed again and his persistence paid off. “I thought, ‘Well, these children will be grown up and gone, why not? He’s such a caring and kind soul’,” said Ferguson, explaining her decision.

“We got married, right at home, on the farm. I more or less had to push my two [children] back and bring his two forward, to kind of line the four up and treat them equally,” Ferguson said. “Three years later, we had our own child, [Monty],” she added.

“I remember when [Monty] was crawling, he’d crawl up to his brother, Larry. Larry would ignore him. Then, this one morning, he crawls up to Larry. [Larry] picked the boy up, put him on his lap and I thought, ‘Now, that is the Ferguson family’,” shared Ferguson.

“I loved the farm life. My girls, Carol and Karen, became real farm girls, but I never did. I was always afraid of the cows and the horses and I hated the geese,” she noted. “If they caught you in the yard, they’d swat you with their wings. It wasn’t too long [before] I said, ‘No more geese around here,’ so my husband quit raising geese,” she added.

Unfortunately, life still had a couple curve balls left in store for Ferguson. “[Ralph] passed away in ’67 and we had to sell the farm, because it was in debt,” she remarked. ‘There was very little income from the money, for me, so I came to Neepawa for work,” she added.

Moving to town

Her first stop was at the eviscerating plant, which she quickly decided was not for her. Her next and final stop was at the Neepawa Safeway. “They asked if I could start right away, because I had Safeway experience,” Ferguson stated, “I said I couldn’t, because I still had family at home; I had to get settled here.”

And that’s exactly what she did; she found an apartment, moved her family to Neepawa and began working at Safeway. “That was my salvation, because I could support my two children who were still at home,” Ferguson remarked.

Finding that job at Safeway changed Ferguson’s life, in more than one way. Not only did it allow her to provide for her family, but during her employment, Ferguson won an all expense paid trip to the Calgary Olympics in 1988.

“The apartment I found in Neepawa was very close to Safeway and also, I had very good neighbours; Nettie and Lionel. They showed me the town, anything I didn’t know, they would help me… This lady, Norma, looked after my youngest at lunchtime and after school until I got home from work,” shared Ferguson.

Life goes on

Two years after she arrived in Neepawa, Ferguson met Bert Carr, who she would later marry. The two did a lot of travelling, all across Canada and even into Alaska, which was their favourite trip. “We always said we’d go back [to Alaska], but he ended up having health problems,” Ferguson shared.

The two also loved dancing. “We followed the [Don Strelczik] Band... They got to know what song Bert liked, so they’d start playing it and they knew Bert would get up and dance. Then of course, the rest of the people got up,” Ferguson reminisced.

In addition to dancing and travelling, Ferguson and Bert were also notably involved in the community. 

“I have 42 years with the Royal Canadian Legion #23 as an associate member,” Ferguson mentioned, adding, “I attended many Legion conventions with my husband, Bert.”

Riding wagons cross-country

“In 2005, I was asked to go on this Métis trek. We went to help Saskatchewan and Alberta celebrate their centennial,” Ferguson recounted, “We motored from here to Batoche, Saskatchewan, then from Batoche, we travelled by covered wagon and lived in tents for five weeks. Our destination was Victoria Crossing, it’s now called Métis Crossing.”

Continuing to share her experience on the trek, Ferguson said, “I took sick after we passed St. Paul and someone took me back to the hospital. The doctor wanted me to stay over night.” 

In 2005, Madeline Ferguson was part of a five-week Métis wagon trek to help Saskatchewan and Alberta celebrate their centennial. On the trip, Ferguson was interviewed by CTV. For the interview, they had her stand behind one of the wheels on a wagon, shown above.

That wouldn’t do for Ferguson, as her wagon left in the morning. She managed to get the doctor to let her leave, with the understanding that if her health got worse she’d return. “I was well cared for and was able to make the trip to Métis Crossing,” Ferguson said. “It was the trip of a lifetime, it was so meaningful, because my forefathers, I’m sure, they travelled that way,” she expressed.

Keeping busy

Nowadays, Ferguson mostly spends her time reading. “I read a lot, I read Neepawa’s papers, I read the Brandon Sun, I read the Winnipeg Free Press. I like to be up to date,” Ferguson mentioned.

“I’m writing my own story for my children. I know the children [would] love to read it now, but I say, ‘No, when I’m done.’ It’s only for their sake. Everything is in there for the children to understand,” she remarked.

Ferguson also sings in the choir at funerals, if they need some extra people. She was also an avid painter. “I started painting in ’77,” Ferguson said, “I have paintings in the States, Germany and England. I haven’t painted in a while now, but I’ve sold them at the art gallery.” Though she doesn’t paint as much nowadays, she’s still a member of the Neepawa Area Art Club.

Not easy, but worth it

“I have a great-grandchild named after me,” Ferguson shared, “When my granddaughter told me that, I cried. They call her Madeline; it’s quite an honour.” She added, “They also say now, she’s just turned three, ‘Yep, she sure is well named. Her temperament is just like great-grandma’s’.”

Ferguson remarked, “Neepawa has been a blessing for me, otherwise, I don’t know how I could have managed.” Summing up her experiences and offering some advice, she said, “It was a hard life, but I think a lot of it has made me stronger for it. You just got to keep moving on, don’t give in.”

From growing up in near poverty to striking out on her own at 15, Ferguson didn’t have it easy. But as they say, nothing worth doing is easy.




Private Family Graveside

Riverside Cemetery
1 Smith Dr
Neepawa, MB R0J 1H0


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