Early Alexis Creek telephone agent Nellie Kinkead turns 102 in Smithers

Nellie Kinkead (centre) celebrates her 102nd birthday in January with her family in Smithers, including daughters Marilyn Van Tol (left), and Doreen Walter. Nellie now has 20 grandchildren and 1 0 great-grandchildren. - Photo submitted
Nellie Kinkead (centre) celebrates her 102nd birthday in January with her family in Smithers, including daughters Marilyn Van Tol (left), and Doreen Walter. Nellie now has 20 grandchildren and 1 0 great-grandchildren.
— image credit: Photo submitted

Nellie Kinkead’s family gathered in Smithers Saturday, Jan. 11 to celebrate her birthday.

She was 102 years old.

For many years Mrs. Kinkead was the agent and telephone operator at Alexis Creek where she was known for her dedicated service to the job and the community, and for her always pleasant manner.

The telephone/telegraph service was provided by the Dominion of Canada’s Department of Public Works when the office opened in the Chilcotin community in 1932, and Nellie was the first agent.

Along with operating the switchboard, she collected rents for the telephones in the village (there were only about eight at the beginning) and she was responsible for recording all calls received or sent outside the village.

The operator’s official job was to relay messages from Ashcroft to Bella Coola, but Nellie took and sent messages for people who didn’t have phones and she often called around the village to locate people.

There were set hours for the service, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, but someone had to be available for emergency calls between 6 p.m. to 8 a.m.

The switchboard was located in the Kinkead home, so Nellie was really on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week, until she hired an assistant in 1952.

Nellie had two stepsons, and along with her telephone/telegraph duties, she raised a family of two boys and four girls.

When the girls got older, they helped with the switchboard.

Nellie’s husband Clifford was the lineman for the telegraph service and he was responsible for keeping the telephone lines intact over a large part of he Chilcotin.

Nellie was born in Brock, Sask. Her family moved to Williams Lake when she was nine, and she attended school here.

When she was 16, she went to Vancouver to take a job as a nanny, but when she arrived on the doorstep of the would-be employer, she was told she wasn’t needed.

She had her suitcase, and $1.

She wandered around until she found a Salvation Army facility where she was taken in and cared for.

Needless to say, she was always a staunch supporter of that institution.

She returned to Williams Lake, worked for a time at the Lakeview Hotel, then went to work for the Lees at Hanceville.

It was there she met Clifford Kinkead, who was hauling freight (with horses) to the Chilcotin from Ashcroft.

The two married in 1931, and went to live at Alexis Creek.

At the beginning, their home was short on amenities.

Nellie carried water from the nearby hotel, two buckets at a time, a daunting job in winter when the roads were icy.

In 1954, BC Telephone took over the government telegraph/telepone service, and the Kinkeads had a new employer.

The jobs stayed the same except that the new switchboard hours were  7 a.m. to 10 p.m., emergency service from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Cliff passed away in 1965, and Nellie retired a year later.

She was in Williams Lake for a time, then moved to Mission where she stayed until 1975.

She came back to Williams Lake for a year, then moved to Smithers where she lived in a senior’s residence.

She is now in a care home.

She is in a wheel chair now, but she never did walk, she always ran, and everyone was hard put to keep up with her.

Nellie’s oldest son, Stan, lives in Terrace, Allan in Williams Lake. Janet (MacKay) is in Maple Ridge, Joan McLennan just outside of Vernon. Doreen (Walter) lives in Smithers and Marilyn (Van Tol) in Telkwa and they both see their mother every day.

Nellie has 20 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

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