Erlene Marie Monteith
I was born at the General Hospital in Edmonton, Alberta, on September 3rd, 1964. My birth had been predicted the year before by my mother’s eldest sister, when my mom had visited her in the hospital, after her 4th son’s birth (September 4th, 1963). My parents had just been married on August 3rd, 1963 and laughed at her prediction! My Aunty Edwidge has always had a close relationship with God - so I believe he whispered my birthday to her!
My parents are Peter Balanchuk and Aurelie Marie Cecile Paulhus. They met when my mom had come to live with her eldest sister and find work in Edmonton. My mom’s family was from Batoche, Saskatchewan. The family had owned the General Store in Batoche and of course, were well known in the area. They had lived there during the Riel Rebellion and there are many family stories of our history. That is where my Metis connection comes from. My Great Grandmother was native and had married a Scotsman. This would come to mean something special to me, later in my life.
After 13 children and plenty enough hardships (including the deaths of 3 of the children due to illnesses), the time came when the family did move away from Batoche to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. My Grandma Alice Marie Cecile Paulhus (and the daughters of the family) began working with/helping the nuns at the hospital, while my Grandpa Ferdinand Paulhus and his sons began establishing their family plumbing business, ‘Paulhus Brothers Plumbing and Heating’.
Eventually, my mom’s eldest sister married and moved away to Edmonton. When the time came (and Aunty Edwidge’s family had 3 sons with a 4th soon on the way), my mom (who had graduated from business school) came to live with her sister's family, to help out and to find work in Edmonton.
Mom began working for Canada Mortgage which was located downtown, close to DPW (where my dad was working).
My dad was born to Jacob and Helen Balanchuk. Jacob and Helen’s family had come from the Ukraine. Gido came after the Russian Revolution. Jacob and Helen met and married here. Their children Lucy and Peter grew up on a farm near Boyle, Alberta until they moved to Edmonton. In Edmonton, Baba and Gido held many different jobs to keep their family fed and clothed - including owning, living in and renting out, a boarding house in the Boyle Street area of the city. (This house would come to be my home until I was a teenager!) Gido mostly worked for the city as a labourer and my Baba worked in various restaurants. Gido and Baba worked well past their retirement years - Gido with the Co-Op store as a cleaning man at night, and Baba maintaining the boarding house/babysitting my brother Paul and I.
My dad being Ukrainian Greek Orthodox, went to Alex Taylor School and then Victoria Composite High School. His first job was working at DPW office. That was where my dad met my mom and wooed her with candies and visits to her, at her office. Eventually, he won her heart (not easily I might add - my mom made sure he was dedicated to her). My mom did not agree to marry him, until he became a Roman Catholic. If he loved her and if he wanted her as his wife, he had to commit to God and to the Catholic faith. This decision he made, caused some differences between my Baba and Gido and my mom. Over the years, she put up with a lot of hurt because of it. I’m not saying Baba and Gido didn’t love God - but they were Ukrainian and set in their beliefs/own way of doing things. They resented her, for having such influence with their son. They were also disappointed that my mom was not Ukrainian.
After they were married, my mom and dad agreed to continue living in the boarding house to help watch it, as Baba and Gido were now going to move to the North end of the city. As mentioned earlier, after a year of marriage I was born and a year and a half later - my brother Paul. With 2 young children, my dad needed to return to school for a better future. He soon became a plumber and gas fitter (like my uncles and grandpa) with Local Union 488 in Edmonton. My mom continued to work for Canada Mortgage, while Baba and Gido looked after us and the boarding house we were living in.
By the Spring of 1979, the last of the renters had gone. We finally decided to move away from Boyle Street to Delton neighbourhood, a block away from my Baba and Gido’s house. As they were now getting on in years, my parents wanted to be closer to them, to help them more easily. My brother and I did not change schools. We continued to go to school with the peers we had grown up with. This meant travelling a fair distance to school, but we would not have it any other way.
My parents continued to stay involved with Sacred Heart Church and my dad’s Catholic Men’s Association. Though my brother and I now attended church close to home (St. Matthew), we still stayed active helping with charity work for Sacred Heart Church and the Catholic Men’s Association.
In the latter part of Grade 12, I finally decided upon a career for myself. When the time came to decide my further education, I heard the voice of my Grade 3 teacher telling me years earlier (when I was in Grade 3), that I would one day become a Grade 3 teacher like her. So… that’s where I dedicated my future goals. Luckily, I had prepared myself academically for entering University and thankfully, my dad’s Union was covering the cost of tuition and books. (I would not have been able to do it any other way!)
I entered University immediately after high school. Even though I was feeling a bit tired of being a student at that point, I knew I wanted to pursue my life as soon as I could. I also served as a major inspiration to my future husband. He had come from Scotland in 1976 as a teenager and when we met and worked together in 1980, he was still uncertain as to what career choice he had wanted to make. He had graduated from Ross Shepherd High School and had attended NAIT - but left that program because it did not inspire him. After we began dating and he saw me going off to University with a definite career path ahead of me, he re-entered NAIT in a different program and graduated as a Medical Laboratory Assistant in Microbiology! (He then went to work for the Misericordia Hospital until after the birth of our second son!)
At times, I found University to be quite challenging. I had been working ever since I was a child of 10 years old or so. I continued to work throughout University at my job as a sales clerk/cashier and during a couple of summers at my mom’s office too. I was becoming tired. I found maintaining and putting everything in proper balance to be difficult at times. I knew I wanted to become a teacher and I also had my relationship with my future husband that was important to me. I also had one and sometimes two jobs, at the same time. I feel, looking back now, that I could have done better in University than I did. I graduated - but I also felt that my marks did not reflect what I was truly capable of in the classroom.
When I began teaching, and even during my practicums, this idea of mine proved to be very true. I was very comfortable in the classroom and with all the students I worked with (even with the challenging ones). Actually, I soon became known as the substitute teacher that could take over anywhere, at any time, with any class. People thought of me first - when it came to a challenging assignment. The students I met, worked hard for me and they were always happy to see me in their classes.
After working in all areas of the city, in many different schools, with a wide variety of students and staff, I was finally given my Continuous status with Edmonton Catholic Schools. My 12th contract led me to ‘Lucky 13’! Even though many questioned why it took so long - it was not due to anything negative. I had wanted to stay at some of the schools I had worked in, but fate at that time, did not allow for it. God had a different plan for me. He brought me back to the inner city climate I had grown up in. It was at Ben Calf Robe - St. Clare School that I would achieve one of the greatest goals I had strived for. I would remain there for a total of 8 years, before I would decide to move on. It was God’s plan all along that I should leave there when I did. I continue to have faith that He is moving me away and into the future - closer to Him.
As mentioned earlier, my relationship with my (future) husband - Grant Scott Monteith - has been very significant in my life. We met when we both were working for ‘Thrifty’s’ store in Kingsway Garden Mall. We became friends first, but this grew into a relationship that was meant to be. When we married 7 years later… my Grandparents (mom’s mom and dad) were so happy for us. They had accepted Grant from the first time they met him (years earlier). As mentioned before, the fact that he was of Scottish heritage was very special to them. In a way, for them it was like history repeating itself. Actually, the entire family loved Grant from when we first started dating. It was the same with his family. They loved me just as much too!
That is how I knew (even before we were married) that our relationship was blessed by God. I had seen that a marriage can have its ups and downs - but if the family loves you - you are blessed in a very special way. Even more than that, my husband’s parents told me I brought love, hugs and most of all God… into their new home in Canada. They had not found a church they felt comfortable attending, since coming to Canada and now…they did attend church and knew their grandchildren would grow up in a strong faith background as well.
My husband I were married in the church where I had received all of my sacraments - Sacred Heart Church. Though my husband was a Protestant, he did have a strong history of being involved with his church back in Scotland. He willingly agreed to attend marriage preparation course and insisted our children be raised in the Catholic faith, as I was. He still did not feel there was a Protestant church here that he wanted to attend. I did not require him to change faiths in order to marry me, as my mom had required of my dad. Over my life, I had seen the pain that can occur because of such a decision. I knew Grant loved God and respected God as I did. That was what was truly important. Some people say they are of a devout faith but do not truly live it. My husband lives the word of God in his daily life and has proven that in all his words and actions. He attends church with us as a family and encourages me to be as active in my faith as I want to be. He supports whatever I ask him to.
We have created 3 children together. Our first child did not make it past the first trimester. We understood that these things happen. They happen for a reason. We believe our baby’s spirit will meet us in heaven. It was a test of faith for me especially, because I did not want to face the loss. I did trust in God’s plan for our marriage - but it hurt to lose a gift of our love. I believe to this day that the baby was a girl. My family jokes that I wouldn’t have wanted a girl anyways, because then I’d have to share my love of jewellery with her (ha-ha). I feel that God gave me boys because I get along better with them. Of course my girl students are all even more special to me now because they are the daughters I will never have. So… I have LOTS of ‘school’ daughters… and ‘school’ sons too!
My husband and I then went on to have a perfectly healthy son - Clarke Scott Monteith. From when he was first born - he brought joy to his entire family. He was the first grandchild for my parents and the first grandson for my husband’s parents. He displayed wisdom and strength from a very young age.
Our second son - Bryce Jaron Monteith - came into the world with a bit of difficulty. He was well overdue and it was discovered that he was having difficulty getting out! He did come into the world safely and things were looking wonderful. Sometime after his birth, we believe after his 6 months inoculations (when he got a very high fever), things changed. It wasn’t until he was four years old that he was officially diagnosed with PDP (Pervasive Development Disorder) and later formally diagnosed with Autism. Not only that, it was discovered that the hole leading from his lungs to his heart had not yet fully closed after birth and he required a PDA procedure to close it. Thankfully, he was one of the first children to have this procedure done through a catheter instead of open-heart surgery. Later in his life, Bryce did suffer a few hospital visits due to high fever seizures, croup (when he was well past the normal age for that) and other more minor difficulties (dental).
Bryce has been a source of worry and heart-ache but also a test of faith in God too. Why do these kinds of conditions (like Autism) exist and why can’t we figure out how to make these children’s lives easier? Of course there are a lot of even worse conditions/illnesses than Autism, but we must have faith that God may not be able to do everything - but he is there to hold our hand and hug our hearts to keep us strong and help us to keep going to another day. Today, Bryce continues on his medication and is just entering Junior High!
Our elder son Clarke has been a source of worry and heart-ache for us as well. In the past couple of years, he has had his own difficulties. Though he is highly intelligent and capable, he became ‘lost’ beginning in Grade 8. He lost interest in his academic success and the following year, was friends with someone who committed suicide. This lead to him becoming a counsel for his other friends in dealing with this tragedy, and also lead to his further disinterest in school. We tried to get our son counselling and attempted a wide variety of ways to get him to attend some kind of schooling, but it is only recently that he has expressed true interest in getting his high school diploma. This has been a test of our faith too. Clarke has been in the prayers of many people and we have faith God will do all He can with Clarke… but we also know Clarke must want Him and be listening for Him in his life. When he was younger, people thought Clarke might grow up to become a priest. He was so faithful and read his bible for fun. Hopefully, Clarke will realize how many people want to help him find his way to a successful life.
One area of my life that has always been a great source of faith development has been in the sicknesses and sometimes passing, of others.
I remember as a very young child, that my baby brother almost died when he was born. I remember that, though I was barely 2 years old. I remember the sadness and worry - but also the praying. My brother did survive his blood transfusion and grew up with me, as one of my best friends.
I remember as a young child, my mother having to be in hospital for various procedures. I remember the feeling of having her away from us at home and seeing the pain of her healing, when she returned. I remember praying that my mommy would feel better soon.
I remember as a teenager, when my dad was stricken with Guillaume Barrie Syndrome. This is a condition where a form of virus eats the coating around nerve and muscle cells. My dad became paralysed from the waist down and it even threatened to take his life, when it appeared that it was climbing higher - to his lungs. I remember seeing the pain he went through under the various tests to assess his condition . I remember the prayer vigils at his bedside - with the priest, Aunty Edwidge, and friends from her prayer group. Dad was in the hospital and then therapy at the Glenrose, for almost a year and a half, but he did get better and come home to us.
I remember in my early adulthood, when my mom faced another, but more serious surgery. I remember all the pain she lived with before she agreed to have this surgery for Diverticulosis and I remember all the pain and suffering afterwards. We had so much worry but also prayed so much, that things would get better for her. Eventually some of the burdens of the healing process were finally removed to give her the freedom she so richly desired and that we all prayed for.
When I had just graduated from University, my Grandpa Paulhus passed away. The process of his passing had taken over a year. I had gone to visit him a number of times along his journey to passing to the heavenly world. He did not let us see him suffering, when we visited him. He might have been a bit grouchy - but we were used to his way. We loved him for it. He lasted as long as he could and was here long enough to know his grandchild was the first one in the whole big Paulhus family, to graduate from University. He was so proud that I was taking after his favourite Aunty who taught in a one-room schoolhouse. I never got to see the look of pride on his face about that - but I was there to say good-bye to him with the whole family. The night before he passed, he came to see me in my dream. He looked happy. Since I graduated, a number of my cousins have gone on to graduate from University too. Two of my cousins have even become teachers in Saskatchewan!
When I was becoming a successful teacher on contract, I lost my Gido. He had always been so proud of me throughout my life. At first it was because of my Ukrainian dancing. Then it was when I went to Ukrainian school to learn more about the language. Then it was when I wrote to his nephew in the Ukraine. Of course he was also proud of how I did when I went to school. He and Baba would always come to every school concert or event. They also came to be a witness to my receiving all my sacraments too. In the loss of my Gido, I learned I needed to be strong for my dad and Baba.
Following that a year later, this strength was called upon when my dad’s sister Lucy (only sibling), passed away from cancer. As cruel as this sickness is, her passing felt like a redemption for me. As much as I hated to admit this to myself and to God, I harboured resentment towards her for the times she brought my mom to tears and the times her tongue or actions, were used to hurt others - consciously or unconsciously. Her passing was a chance to forgive her and let go of the painful memories.
Five years later, my Baba passed away. I was very close to my Baba. I had been her little helper throughout my life. When I was a young child I would help her with the cleaning in the boarding house. As I got older, I also helped her make and sell her yearly Easter Paska and Babka breads at the city market. In her later years - especially after Gido was gone to the nursing home, I would come and clean her house for her. When Baba went on to the nursing home, it was mostly my dad and I who went to visit her. When the blessing of passing came for Baba, I had to let go of one of the people who needed me - even more than I needed her. I had become more than a granddaughter to her - I had become her daughter.
In between the passing of my Aunty Lucy and Baba, was the passing of my Grandma Paulhus. I did get the chance to go and see Grandma a couple of times before her passing on to be with Grandpa. In my visits with her, she always wanted to know how my teaching was coming along. Grandma passed on, the summer before I got my job at Ben Calf Robe - St. Clare School. I truly believe that was one of the first things she did, when she got to heaven - was to help me get that job. I was having a test of faith. I had just lost her and I had not heard about getting a job for that September. After 11 contracts, I was not given a guarantee of a contract for the Fall. I was almost ready to give up on teaching. I prayed and cried a lot that summer - for many reasons. Then it happened. I received a 12th contract at Ben Calf Robe - St. Clare School.
After joining this school community, I began to learn more and more of my own family history - especially my Metis roots. My mom’s family had kept this a mystery to many of us children. After I became involved as a teacher at an Aboriginal school, I learned that my Metis roots were actually close to the surface! I wanted to learn as much as I could about this part of my family - Grandma’s family! In addition to everything else… I went on my first native sweat ever in my life. During the sweat, I heard my Grandma’s voice telling me that I was needed there (at the school) and I needed to give them as much love as I could - they needed me. “Don’t worry - this will work out good”. A couple of months after this sweat, I was granted my Continuous Contract with Edmonton Catholic Schools. I believe Grandma helped with that too!
After this, I wanted to pursue my ‘Metis Status’. Of course my mom had to get hers first and that made it easier for me and my children to do the same. Other members of my mom’s family were inspired to also do the same. Now most all of us have our status. Grandma must be so happy and proud of how I have shared all my learnings with them!
About five years ago, my dad had a massive heart attack. I found out about it, at school. I was called into the office and they told me they had called a taxi and I was to go immediately to the hospital. Never was my faith in God tested more than this day. The prayers of our family were never more strong than they felt that day or the days to follow. Once again, my dad recovered from what was near death. I trust in God completely - but I wanted my daddy to stay with us. Thankfully once again, he was blessed with the gift of healing.
Now, as I prepare to enter Newman, my dad is facing another serious health matter. He has just recently been diagnosed with cancer and is preparing for massive surgery. I took this as another challenge to have my faith tested. I also questioned whether or not I have the strength right now, to devote myself to my studies, when my family may need my attention more. In addition, I have just left Ben Calf Robe-St. Clare School after 8 years there, to go to St. Gerard School. This means facing a new beginning, which means a bit of a testing of my faith, as well.
First and foremost in my life though, has been my deep and devout Catholic faith. No matter what is going on in my life, I keep my trust in God that He will be there to help me through it. Even though during my years at Ben Calf Robe - St. Clare School I have learned more about my native culture, practices and traditions, I have continued to nurture and develop my Catholic faith. In addition to becoming a resource person for my colleagues and students about our Catholic faith and practices, I have even been involved in preparing others for receiving some of their sacraments.
A particularly moving event for me in my life was when I remember receiving my Confirmation. I was a reader during the mass and as I was doing my reading, I felt an incredible sense of God within me. Tears came to my eyes for no apparent reason. When Archbishop McNeil blessed me, I felt a joy like I had never felt before. I KNEW Jesus was within me and so happy with me. I was now a ‘Soldier of God’ and I was ready to recruit believers!
In my teaching career, my greatest joys have come through teaching my students about our Catholic faith. I have felt the most rewards from my involvements with Liturgical Committees, planning various celebrations (school and district wide), and being involved in our faith activities. The community of colleagues I have met and worked with in the Religious Department of Edmonton Catholic Schools, have given me friendships I treasure most. It is mostly because of them that I am pursuing studies at Newman College now.
My future goals are to deepen my understanding of my faith, to enrich my relationship with God, and to acquire knowledge to share with my family, my students and my colleagues. I wish to continue to be someone they come to, when they want or need some guidance or support from our faith and from God. As well, I realize I may be called upon to be a greater support for my school district, with the attainment of my Masters in Religious Education.
Though I feel somewhat unsure of my abilities to accomplish these goals right now… I am trusting that God will lead me where He wants me to be. I will continue praying for those I love and care about, as I need and want them around me, as I take this journey of faith development. I know I have the support of my heavenly family as well - I want make them proud of me too!