Sask. seniors reflect on previous times of sacrifice, in the age of COVID-19

Saskatchewan seniors find similarities between the coronavirus pandemic and the hard times of days gone by.

Seniors in Saskatchewan find similarities between the coronavirus pandemic and the hard times of days gone by

Evelyn Sundet, 88, recalls digging for cattle bones and hauling them to the train station to be used for ammunition during the Second World War. She compares the war effort of pitching in to people having to stay home amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Submitted by Terri Leniuk)

Evelyn Sundet will never forget the start and finish of the Second World War.

Despite being a young girl at the time, the now 88-year-old Regina woman remembers reading about it in newspapers and listening to the latest news on the radio. 

"It was really awful," Sundet recalled. "We had our sugar rationed, our meat rationed, our butter was rationed — a lot of things were rationed, even coffee, tea and clothing."

Lately, her memories of the early 1940s are being triggered more than ever as the world tackles the COVID-19 pandemic. Seeing empty shelves where toilet paper once was, for example, takes Sundet back to things like the wartime stocking shortage.

"All the kids wore stockings, but you couldn't find them," Sundet said. "We'd have to make our own socks in the wintertime because you couldn't buy them, but you could buy the yarn."

Marlene Betker, 84, hopes young people use their free time at home during the coronavirus pandemic to learn the home economics she feels are often lost on newer generations. (Submitted by Verna Betker)

Similar thoughts come to mind for Marlene Betker.

Growing up on a farm south of Lemberg, Sask., the 84-year-old can remember selling their meat and dairy products to city folks who couldn't find what they needed in the stores.

"We weren't as hard done by as some people in the city because you could always get food, but lots of things were in short supply, so we would sell things like cream and eggs," Betker recalled, adding that extra money would go toward her family buying some flour or sugar for baking.

For those who did shop in stores, Bob Campbell noted there were the well-used ration books.

"You did not have the opportunity to stock up like we do today because you had coupons that the government issued out to you, and you could just buy whatever the coupons could buy," remembered the 84-year-old from Wolseley.

Finding parallels between polio and COVID-19

Although thoughts of wartime food rationing are sparked for Campbell when he thinks of the COVID-19 pandemic, the polio epidemic of the 1950s is top of mind.

His 15-year-old sister died of the disabling and life-threatening disease in 1953. Three days later — on the day of his sister's funeral — Campbell's pregnant cousin also died of polio.

"To families losing a loved one [to COVID-19] it would be very much the same. The question is always, 'Why?'" Campbell said. "Whenever [a virus] passes on to people, it's upsetting."

However, he said he can tell the coronavirus is taking an added toll these days.

"I can't even compare [COVID-19 and polio] because this virus that we have now is so much more of a problem," Campbell said. "You have to protect yourself so much more. I never remember having to stay six feet away from people or everybody isolating themselves; it was unheard of."

'Staying home is pretty darn simple'

Bob Campbell, 84, finds similarities between the coronavirus pandemic and polio epidemic, which he lost three relatives to during the early 1950s. (Submitted by Bob Campbell)
Looking back at how young people stepped up to pitch in during the Second World War, Sundet said those today should take note.

"We did a lot of things you wouldn't even dream of doing nowadays," she said, listing digging up cattle bones to make ammunition as an example of the war effort.

"People [nowadays] are just so into 'doing my thing, I want, I need, I have to' that they don't think of the whole world. There are so many things they can do — and staying home is pretty darn simple."

With all the newfound free time in staying home, Betker hopes parents and kids use this as an opportunity to learn.

"Because we have been so fortunate, [young people] have forgotten how to plant a garden, they don't know how to sew or even cook because they go out to restaurants," she said. "I'm hoping this [pandemic] will make the younger generation realize that, 'My grandpa went through a lot worse and maybe I have to learn how to do some of these things.'"

The rationing of supplies and fearing a new virus may seem foreign to many of us, but the changes in lifestyle the COVID-19 pandemic has brought has some Saskatchewan seniors reflecting on times of personal sacrifice in the past. 7:06

About the Author

Jessie Anton is a Regina-based journalist with CBC Saskatchewan. She’s been sharing stories from across the province on television, radio and online since 2016, initially getting her start in the rural weekly newspaper world. Email her:

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