The true meaning of the word ‘hero’

Look around your house and pick out all the modern conveniences that you enjoy. You’ll probably identify things like computers, entertainment systems, music systems. Now add a few more, like chairs and sofas, eating utensils, a stove, a microwave, a washing machine, a selection of clothes, a vehicle. A water tap.

Actually, nearly everything in your house could be considered a modern convenience in Alana Collins-Fogie’s eyes.

Alana and her husband Frank have just returned from rural Manitoba where for a year they and another couple lived as pioneers in 1875. After competing for the privilege of doing this, Alana, Frank, and Deanna and Tim Treadway of Kenora were taken by wagon and horse to 40 acres near Argyle, Manitoba. Alana, 29, who’s lived in Barrie since moving here with her parents and siblings 11 years ago, left her job as a psychiatric nurse. Frank was/is a millwright.

For the next year they lived as homesteaders, with only reading material from 1875, only tools from 1875, and they were required to dress as pioneers would have dressed. They were equipped with a horse-drawn plough, a tent, lanterns, grain, seed, simple foodstuffs and $500 in cash. Every two weeks they met with Pioneer Quest organizers at their “pretend” store a few miles from their new home. At that time they would order so many potatoes, items they needed for sustenance. They would pick up those items at the same location two weeks hence. Costs were 1875 prices.

“We had a jersey cow, chickens, a pig. We also had a fire in our barn that we built and our pig, who was ready to have her babies, was so badly injured in the fire that we had to put her down. She was supposed to be our Christmas dinner.”

The reality of pioneer life came long and hard for Alana and Frank. For Alana the frustrations included working in long skirts, wearing two long sleeve shirts to try to ward off mosquitoes which were at an all-time reproductive cycle after 40 days of rain and 30 degree temperatures. Trying to work in long skirts, and the depression of not being able to get away from the mosquitoes almost did her in, Alana admits.

The two couples lived in their tents and hand dug two wells so they had water. They built two log cabins, one big enough to house their communal kitchen since their single cook stove had to serve them all. Less gregarious than their pioneer partners, Alana and Frank built their log cabin in a remote wooded area, happy to leave Deanna and Tim with the larger cabin and kitchen area for visiting.

Their cabin had one tiny window, salvaged from a house that dated back to pioneer era. Their rudimentary outhouse offered “toilet tissue” which included old newspaper, moss, flannel cloths which were washed out. Sanitary products like tampons and napkins didn’t exist for the women on this venture and is one of the modern conveniences most appreciated now that they’re “back.”

Frank and Alana talk proudly of their achievements as pioneers. The four pioneers hand sawed and chopped enough wood to live in uninsulated log cabins and heat them for a Manitoba winter. They sewed and cut and raked by hand 10 acres of grain with which to feed their animals. From that field they harvested 21,000 pounds of hay, 52 wagon loads.

These are incredible achievements.

No radio, no stereo. So, Tim’s ability to play the guitar became very important as entertainment. Frank chose to immerse himself in 1875 literature. Alana and Frank made sure they went for long walks every day, to ensure they got a big dose of sunshine after their almost windowless cabin.

All four people left their full time jobs to enter pioneer era and be willing to have their ability to survive filmed for the History Channel. It’s Canada’s version of survivor, legitimate, real, gut wrenching reality of how pioneer folks 126 years ago survived in our rugged country. There was no script, there were realistic supports and controls and both couples came through the experience having been permamently changed.

They have yet to see any of the episodes filmed about them by Credo Entertainment. The series has been aired on the History Channel (60 on cable in Barrie area). The History Channel bought first rights to the mini series and following its final airing, the series moves to the Life Channel where it will be aired repeatedly. Our modern-day pioneers will see the first footage on June 10 at 9 pm when the wrap-up final episode of the series is aired. The entire 8 hours will be aired on the History Channel on July 1… a wonderful celebration of the pioneer spirit that opened this country on its 134th birthday. You can check it out on the Pioneer Quest website at

For Frank and Alana, they’re recording their thoughts in a book these days, as well as re-writing their resumes as they begin work-searches. One thing’s for sure… they want to incorporate their Pioneer Quest experiences into their millenium life.

“We realize how important it is to simplify our lives. It’s so easy to get caught up in the rat race of consumption. We’d rather spend time together and have time to enjoy life, stay in shape, live healthier.”

Did their experience change them? Yes, definitely. Alana says she has a renewed appreciation of her husband, his patience, his tenacity, his willingness to wait while she shouldered as much of the load as she could.

And Frank? He’s in awe of Alana’s tenacity, her ability to not give up, even when she wanted to.

As Alana cuddles the kitten that was Frank’s Christmas gift to her during their pioneer stint, she reflects on the reality of life for pioneers.

“The reality for them was terrifying. While we had just the two of us in our cabin, they would have had five or six children. They had no medical help; they watched their children die. They themselves died very young.” Frank comments: “we don’t realize how difficult life was for pioneers… how much they sacrificed… it was a horrible way of life. We looked at pictures of them and they looked so old. But they were only in their late 20’s.”

“Like us.”

Thanks, Frank. Thanks, Alana.