Calgary

Writing in self-isolation: 88-year-old blogs about childhood spent on Alberta farm

Charlie Brumwell, 88, is retired doctor who is self-isolating at a seniors' facility and has started a blog to pass the time. He writes stories about his childhood including one about German war prisoners working on his family's farm in southern Alberta.

Charlie Brumwell was born during the Great Depression and lived near Vauxhall

Charlie Brumwell, 88, began blogging while in self-isolation. He often writes about his childhood on a southern Alberta farm. (Brumwell family)

Charlie Brumwell, 88, is a retired doctor who is self-isolating at a seniors' facility and has started a blog to pass the time. He writes stories about his childhood, including one about German war prisoners working on his family's farm in southern Alberta. 

Brumwell lives in a seniors' residence on the University of British Columbia campus, where he spent most of his career practising medicine. 

''With this close-up because of the COVID virus, I regard myself as an inmate," said Brumwell, laughing.

"I haven't been out the door for three weeks.''

As a child, Charlie Brumwell and his family lived on a 1,500-acre farm near Vauxhall, Alta. He lived there for 13 years in the 1930s and 1940s. (Brumwell family)

Brumwell started jotting down childhood memories as a way to stay busy. They date back to his family's homestead near Vauxhall, Alta., about 250 kilometres by road southeast of Calgary.

The memories start with a trickle but soon turn into a torrent.

"When you start, you may have one or two little things, and then when you go along, it's amazing how things start to come back," Brumwell said.

His son, Craig Brumwell, says his father at first would send the stories in emails.

"I literally can't keep up with him," his son said.

Brumwell was sending so many that Craig suggested he start a blog. 

And so was born The Quarantinian: Stories from an 88-year-old self isolating senior.

Charlie was 13 years old when his father died of cancer. It was around that time when the farm was sold and the family moved to Victoria, B.C. (Brumwell family)

Brumwell writes about happy and challenging times — living on the farm as a kid in the 1930s and 1940s.

He was born Dec. 14, 1931, during the Great Depression. His family farmed during the Second World War. 

Craig helps out by posting the stories and pictures and says he's learning about his family's history from his father's writing.

"They had German war prisoners, low-risk prisoners working on their farm, and they had the blue jumpsuits with gigantic orange circles on the back so they could get shot if they tried to escape.

"I've always known that but here he writes this story the other day that one of them hung themselves in their barn. I never heard that before," said Craig.

Charlie fondly remembers his childhood and shares his vivid memories on his blog. (Brumwell family)

The high school social studies teacher calls his father a natural blogger. He says it's reassuring to know he's using the platform as a positive way to get through a difficult time.

"They're the perfect length and they're just a quick read, and these beautiful old photographs with handwriting on them going back to 1917," Craig said.

Brumwell's granddaughter Emily, a 26-year-old graphic designer, says she waits every morning to see what her grandpa has written. 

"It's just impressive that someone of his age could even grasp the concept of what he's doing, you know," said Emily.

Brumwell 'always impressed' with Albertans

Brumwell knows his childhood memories might strike a chord with seniors in Alberta who are self-isolating at home or in a seniors' residence. 

His last post, detailing his Alberta childhood before moving on to memories of life in British Columbia, focuses on a place we are all spending more time in lately: the family home. 

"The last I've written is a page and a half on the farmhouse, because the farmhouse was the nerve centre of the farm … where you ate, you slept, you interacted."

Brumwell says he's astonished by the idea of anyone besides his family taking an interest in his blog. But it's clear by the amount of detail he conveys, the 88-year-old is proud of his Prairie upbringing.

"I was always impressed at the Albertans, that co-operation and mutual regard and their ability to help others. I think that continues to this day."

About the Author

Terri Trembath

Video Journalist

Terri Trembath is a video journalist who joined CBC Calgary in 2008. You can reach her at terri.trembath@cbc.ca.

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