Reminiscing with a Pioneer Woman

The following article appeared in the January 20th, 1998 edition of the Chronicle newspaper.

Florence Foster remembers Ladysmith when it had no electricity and when Tom O’Connell was the town’s only policeman.

She remembers the miners’ strike, when there was a bandstand at Market Square, and how volunteers, after laying the floor in the hall they were building, took time out to hold a dance. The next morning, they put up the walls on the Aggie Hall.

Florence will be 92 in a couple of months, but she looks 20 years younger. Her brother, Bill, lives across the harbour, but, at 85, she says he’s still a young fellow.

An honorary member of the Order of the Eastern Star, she still turns out, every week, to make dressings and trim stamps for the cancer society.

“I was always active, so it seems only right to continue to do what I can,” she smiles.

Florence has been a member of the Native Daughters for more than 50 years and for 43 of them, she helped by weighing babies.

She was a long-time enumerator for the town and when the popular, province-wide Vancouver Sun Teen Town program was at full swing, she helped the Native Daughters organize it here – all the while caring for her own daughters, June and Jackie, and her husband, Bert.

2007-034-116
Bob Stillin presenting cheque to Flo and Bert Foster at the Overwaitea Store in Ladysmith. circa 1970

Florence was born here in 1906, two years after the town was incorporated. The family home, one of those brought by rail from Extension as James Dunsmuir created an instant town for his miners, still stands at First Avenue and White Street.

What did people do here in those early days?

“We pretty much made our own fun,” she recalls. “There was no television, of course, so we listened to radio programs.”

One of her early memories is her uncle making taffy, taffy so good every kid in town wanted some.

Later there was to be lots of dances, friendship and sports.

“There were a lot of people in town, and the hotels (there were 11 of them, at one point) were busy providing for the miners.

“I worked in a restaurant for a while, and I recall the miners buying books of meal tickets. They could eat for 50 cents, and we made them lunches.”

Florence didn’t know her husband, Bert, until she met him at Stanley Park, in Vancouver.

“It’s kind of hard to imagine that we were both born in Ladysmith and didn’t know each other; but people sort of kept to their own end of town in those days.”

Public dances were more popular.

“We spent evenings dancing.. I remember Nicholson’s Hall, above where the Wigwam is today. We also visited one another often, and played cards.”

There were a lot of sports played too, through which Ladysmith gained a good measure of fame for its basketball, soccer and boxing teams.

“I remember a steamer coming to the coal dock and taking half the town over to New Westminster for a provincial basketball championship game.”

Bert worked the coal trans when he and Florence married. When the mines shut down, he found himself out of work, and they had to tough it out through the depression years. But when logging became king, Bert was soon back on the trains.

Florence says she never imagined Ladysmith would change like it has.

She loves the Festival of Lights, and says it takes her back to when the Chamber of Commerce sponsored a Christmas light-up of homes.

“It was nothing like it is now, but Bert and I entered, every year, and I still have a number of winners’ plaques.”

Has growth and the changes it brought to Ladysmith been good”

“For the most part,” she says, “but some things disturb me, especially the ill feeling about the teen drop-in centre.”

“We need to do what we can for the young people, just like when we had the Teen Town.”

She wishes she was young again, so she could help the kids.

“But I am still able to pull for them,” she smiles.

Contributed by Rollie Rose

Image added by LDHS from their files

Florence passed away in 2011 preceded by her husband, Bert, who passed away Feb 7, 1990. Both are buried in Ladysmith Cemetery.