High heels as brakes and other memories from 90 years

Pearl Lorentzen

Lakeside Leader

Stevy Johnson aged 19.

From 1931 to 2021, a lot has changed, but where there’s snow there is sledding. 

“We used to go sliding down the hill in the winter,” says Stevy Johnson (90). “And I loved high heeled shoes, that my sister gave me.”

She used the high heels as brakes while sledding. 

Stevy has lived in Slave Lake or Diamond Willow Resort since 1964, but she grew up on a farm in the St. Paul area. 

Sometime in the early 1900s, Stevy’s parents came from the Ukraine. Her mother came with her parents in a boat. 

“My dad followed them, because he was in love with my mother,” says Stevy. 

“There were 10 of us, and I’m the only one left,” says Stevy, about her siblings. 

Stevy was the second youngest.

Stevy’s last sister died at 89. 

“When I lost my sister, it was like losing my right arm,” says Stevy. “She was like my mother. When everyone else was gone, she was the only one left alive.”

While Stevy is the only family member left now, there’s a history of longevity in her family. Stevy’s father died when he was 98 from pneumonia. 

Getting old isn’t for the faint of heart. 

Stevy with her daughter Sharon in June 1955.

“All my friends are dying,” says Stevy. “In my church, I’m the second oldest and I still drive. The others don’t drive.”

At 90, Stevy still lives in her own home, shovels snow, mows her lawn, and plants flowers.

Along with high heeled shoes for sledding brakes, Stevy has other fond memories of growing up on a farm. She remembers riding the horse out to bring the cows in to be milked. Also, she stood on the top of a load of hay to “trample it down.”

School wasn’t quite 10 miles uphill both ways, but Stevy walked to school. When it was really cold, her father would drive them in a horse-drawn caboose with a small heater. 

Riding a horse four miles to get the mail was “the highlight of my week,” says Stevy. “I’d also talk to this one and that one and be late coming home.”

Talking to people was a habit which followed her throughout life.

Stevy’s daughter Sharon Gallagher tells how her mom was an avid petitioner and got thousands of signatures to support her cause. 

“She went after everybody,” says Sharon. “If you see her at a signing table, sign.”

Two of the topics Stevy advocated for were transportation for seniors and improved standards in continuing care. 

May 1964 – Stevy and a coworker in the restaurant where they worked in Whitecourt. It was Stevy’s last day, so they had a beer.

A devout Catholic, Stevy has also raised money for her church. 

Growing up on a farm in Alberta in the 1930s and 1940s wasn’t all fun and games. It was also a lot of hard work. 

“We had everything,” she says. “We grew everything.”

“I don’t know how my mother did it,” Stevy adds, about all of the gardening, laundry, cooking, cleaning, and other work her mother did. 

No slouch herself, Stevy and her husband started several businesses and campgrounds. Stevy also volunteered. 

In 2011, Stevy won Slave Lake Citizen of the Year in recognition of her volunteering through the years. This includes helping various ministers with church services at Vanderwell Heritage Place, long-term care, and Points West Living. Stevy also delivered meals on wheels.

Stevy was the first person in her family to make it all the way through Grade 8. This was when their school ended. At 15, she left home and moved to Vermilion. 

Stevy didn’t want to be a farm girl, she said. She wanted to do things like in the movies, such as “ride in cars.”

Stevy met her husband Herb Johnson while working in a restaurant. 

Stevy and Herb moved to Slave Lake in 1964 on Mother’s Day, because of the oil boom. Herb worked with oilfield supplies, then started Johnson’s Hardware on Main St. which was all mud and gravel. 

Putting up the windmill at Diamond Willow.

In 1972, Stevy and Herb developed the Marten Beach subdivision and across Marten River developed Diamond Willow Resort. They moved the old Anglican church, and a community hall from Main St. to the campground. The community hall became the Diamond Willow store. Both are still there today. Herb also built a windmill, from an oil derrick and helicopter wings. 

In 2000, Herb passed away. Stevy continued to run the campground for five years. Then she moved back to her original home in Slave Lake.

Stevy (standing with the hat) in front of Johnson’s Hardware store during Riverboat Daze.
Stevy Johnson (second left) with her family on her 90th birthday in July 2021.