There was an unusual hula class on Thursday, with eleven siblings all taking part.

“This is the first time we’ve gotten together, all eleven of us!” said Shirley Kooyman.

Kooman is one of the Hemsing sisters who range in age from 62 to 85 and span three decades. It meant that growing up, they didn’t get to know all of each other.

“I know me growing up, the most school lunches I can remember packing for was 13,” said younger sister Mary Jacobi.

The sisters call Rolling Hills, Alta. home.  Their parents, Mary and Sylvester Hemsing, married in the 1930s and were settlers in the area, raising 22 kids – 11 boys, 11 girls over 26 years on a small homestead.

“To start a farm, everybody was quite poor,” said Kooyman.

“As the years went on, things got better and better so the younger ones had it different than we had it. I wouldn’t say they had it better, because we had a lot of fun, even though we were poor!”

And while the sisters see each other for family gatherings, their age gap has meant that they haven’t spent any time together under the same roof.

“One of my saddest thoughts, as I’m getting older, is that I really don’t know my older sisters,” said Jacobi.

All that is, until now.

“We’re three generations so some of the older ones have totally different understandings, it’s as if we were raised by different parents!” said Jacobi

“Because the social situation changed, the economic situation changed, the times changed. So the Mom and Dad my older sisters had, is not the Mom and Dad I was raised with. So it’s just wonderful bringing that together and having a chance to talk about that.”

Brought here by one sister who lives in Victoria, they siblings are sharing stories,  bathrooms and beds this week, all to finally celebrate their sisterhood.

“Even though our generational experiences are different, we have a bond that unites us,” said Jacobi.

In fact, they’re already planning next year’s girl getaway in Ottawa, undoubtedly dancing and singing, all the way.

Kori Sidaway