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Helena - a peek into the past by Nettie Balzer

Nettie Balzer's "Helena - A Peek into the Past"

Nettie Balzer signing her book, Helena.

Nettie (Friesen) Balzer was honoured with a launch for her book, "Helena - a peek into the past" on Sunday afternoon, November 4, at 2:30 pm in the Fellowship Hall of Bethany Manor on La Ronge Road, in Saskatoon. The board of MHSS hosted the event, and served coffee and sweets. She was pleased to see nearly 100 people present.

Nettie, accompanied by two of her daughters and a granddaughter, who helped with brisk book sales, while Nettie signed the books as requested.

granddaughter and two daughters help with book sales

Jake Buhler, president of MHSS, opened the meeting by inquiring of those present how many were connected to Nettie on her father's side, and how many on her mother's side, and how many on her husband, Joe Balzer's side. Almost everyone present knew Nettie through a genealogical connection.

Helena, is Nettie's mother who was born in Manitoba in 1898 and who moved to Saskatchewan as a young girl with her parents, Julius and Helena Klassen Banman. The family settled in Aberdeen. After her marriage to Jacob W. Friesen they moved to Osler where they had 11 children, 3 of who died in infancy. Helena lived to be 102.

The 377 page book is self published, and according to Nettie, is a series of fictional stories based on actual dates, events and stories she and her sisters told their children about, and it depicts what life was like in the early 1900s. Nettie was fortunate to have the diaries of Helena preserved in notebooks that describe the everyday life, (and sometimes death), of a sometimes financially poor family, growing up just east of Osler.

But the family was rich in spirit, and valued music, a strong Christian faith, food, and education. The book contains 85 chapters, each one a vignette of a part of Helena's life. Additionally, it contains several maps showing the origins of Helena's family both in Russia and in Canada. Several dozen photographs, and drawings by Nettie, enrich the stories and provide a fine visual addition to the book.

Nettie telling her story of writing her book

Nettie (Friesen) Balzer told how she had translated her mother's notebooks full of memories for a volume within her family, in time for her mother's 100th birthday. After her father died in October, 1958, she found herself spending quite a bit of time with her mother. In her grief and loneliness, her mother confided many stories of when she was growing up, and even handed Nettie some pages of history that she had written. These were followed by more pages at a later time.

Nettie felt she would like to write a "Little House on the Prairie" type of book. However, it wasn't until she was widowed herself, and returned to Osler, that she started writing. She decided to write in the form of short, fictional stories, changing some names, but all 85 are based on the stories her mother had told her, and what some other relatives had shared with her.

Nettie and Jake during Q&A

Jake Buhler asked Nettie some questions about how to start writing such a book. Nettie suggested asking a lot of questions and then j ust start writing.

He invited questions from the audience, and also for Nettie to read an excerpt from her book. She read a piece about crossing the river after a funeral on the old ice road - just - before the ice broke up.

Nettie Balzer reading from Helena - a Peek into the Past

When Jake asked Nettie to lead in a short table grace for the refreshments, Nettie did so, but added that in her family they also sang the doxology, and everyone joined in as she began it.

The rest of the afternoon was spent in visiting over the lovely deserts served from the little kitchen attached, where Board members produced delicious berry plautz, apple pie, and assorted cheeses, pickles, etc. to go with the coffee and tea. At the same time there were always some clusted around the book sales table, buying books, and talking with Nettie and her family members.

Helena - a Peek into the Past, by Nettie (Friesen) Balzer is available through MHSS from our book sales pages.

[last updated - Nov/25/2021]
Mennonite Historical Society of Saskatchewan

Room 900 - 110 La Ronge Road,
Saskatoon, SK, S7K 7H8
Archive Hours: Monday: 1:30 - 4:00 p.m. Wednesday: 1:30 - 4:00 p.m. & by appointment on Wed. evening.