It Could Have Been Worse


190 pages
Contains Illustrations
ISBN 0-00-216855-3






Reviewed by Jerry McDonnell

Jerry McDonnell was a teacher and librarian the F.E. Madill Secondary School in Wingham, Ontario.


Books like this serve as a needed reminder of how recently some parts of Canada were settled. Pioneers still live and work among us. They have seen changes in life style and technology that are difficult for the rest of us to comprehend.

With her husband, Harry, Peggy Holmes arrived in Canada in 1919. She was city-born and raised and knew virtually nothing of country or farm life, but she was headed for a cabin in the northern Alberta bush and an attempt to clear and operate a farm. The sight was daunting, but the Holmeses threw themselves into the mammoth task and made considerable headway despite all hurdles.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle was the sheer mind-numbing isolation. There were “neighbours,” but they were distant and transportation on unimproved roads was difficult and slow. Other new settlers arrived after the Holmeses but the tide was flowing south and back to more developed areas. Many of the departing people left furniture, equipment, and livestock with those remaining, but this proved a mixed blessing. Nothing was refused, but the added stock meant more work and the need to put by more feed for winter.

The farming and pioneering venture eventually came to an abrupt end with the arrival of Peggy’s father from England to stay. He was in very ill health and medical care was non-existent in the area. A hasty departure for Edmonton was arranged, and the stay there became permanent.

The book is good reading for an understanding of twentieth century pioneer life. It would be useful in schools from grade six and up for supplemental material when studying homesteading. It would also be a good local history study in Alberta or simply a good read for the general public.


Holmes, Peggy, “It Could Have Been Worse,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 18, 2024,