Lil Deschene

The family and many friends gathered at Sacred Heart Catholic Church last Tuesday to say goodbye to longtime Cariboo resident Lilian Deschene.

Mrs. Deschene, Lil, left peacefully “to heed God’s call back home” on September 11, at home as she wished, with her family around her.

Lil was a legend in Williams Lake and her passing will leave a gap that isn’t likely to be filled.

Born in Brockley (near London) England, on November 8, 1919. Lil came to Canada with her mother Lilian and younger sister Pat to join her father in North Vancouver. Her sister Ivy was born in North Van, and the family lived there until 1930 when, seeking adventure, Lil’s father Victor moved them to Hawkins Lake, near Forest Grove.

The Goffins lived in a tent until their house was competed on December 18, there were many stories about that experience. The Goffin girls attended the one-roomed Bradley Creek school. Lil made lifelong friends there, and the outdoor life — hunting and fishing — and later work filled her years until 1938 when Lil she married Ed Deschene.

The couple homesteaded at Bradley Creek where they built and lived in a small log cabin. In 1941 Ed, Lil and son Al left the Cariboo for Ontario where Ed worked on grain boats on the Great Lakes. When they returned to the Cariboo in 1943, daughter Rosanne had joined the family. Ed went to work for the Pacific Great Eastern Railway in Williams Lake. They leased a PGE owned house “across the railway tracks” that was to be the Deschene home for 57 years. Daughter Bonnie, born in Quesnel, and Theresa, born in Williams Lake, joined the family.

Lil wasn’t in town long before she became involved in community affairs. As the town grew, she was right there supporting whatever was being developed.

Her children can’t remember when she wasn’t church oriented, politically active and community minded. She became a Roman Catholic when she married Ed, and she adopted the faith wholeheartedly. She was involved in everything to do with the church, preparing the altar, singing in the choir, helping found the local branch of the Catholic Women’s League, writing for the BC Catholic, whatever was required.

She didn’t do anything half way when it came to politics either, she carried the flag high and proudly for the Social Credit Party. Her work with volunteer organizations was wide ranging and the list is too long for either space or memory to accommodate, but they included the Aquatic Society (formed after three drownings in the lake) the Parent Teacher’s Association, Fall Fair, Drama Club, Players Club, Musical Theatre, several choirs, and the Central Cariboo Music Festival (49 years.) She was a member of the Ground Observer Core and manned the weather station for 25 years.

She was a ‘lady’ of the Royal Purple, a Brownie Leader, active in the scouting movement, and a long time volunteer with the Arthritis Society (she canvassed for 16 years). Lil was involved in centennial celebrations, and protecting parks (especially Boitanio). Always interested in history, she worked with the original Williams Lake historical society and museum and more recently was honoured with a lifetime membership from the Williams Lake Museum and Historical Society. That was before she donated her vast collection of photographs and mementos to the museum.

Lil spent many years recording and photographing the Williams Lake news for the Quesnel Observer, the Kamloops Sentinel and the Tribune as well as writing for the BC Catholic and the Cancer Society. She was a woman of strong opinions, and she had no qualms about expressing them on almost every subject. During the years CKWL hosted an open mike show, Lil was a frequent caller. She was also a prolific writer of letters.

Lil loved her family, her church, her friends, her many pets, and she was true to them all. She also loved her music, her garden, and yellow roses. She especially loved her home, and with the help of family, friends, and sometimes strangers, she managed to live in it until the end. Folks got her wood and gave her rides and drove by her house in the morning to make sure there was smoke coming from the chimney.

Others saw she got to church. It was along walk uphill from her place to the shops, but that didn’t stop her from walking uptown, sometimes on crutches. She didn’t ask for help, but accepted it graciously if offered. None of her four children live in Williams Lake and they are somewhat awed, but very grateful, to all the people who helped Lil stay in her beloved home. Her four children spent her last months with her.

Former lakecity priest and long time friend Father Brendan Boland came from Penticton to assist Father Tony Ackerman for Lil’s funeral mass on September 17. The Catholic Womens League provided the guard of honour. Ladies of the Royal Purple were on hand. Members of Lil’s church choir sang, her crutch and choir robe marked her place in the choir. Daughter Theresa gave the reading, daughter-in- law Irene and daughter Bonnie gave the eulogies, and CWL representative Anna Mae McCarvill kept a promise to Lil to speak at her funeral.

Flanking the altar were two vases holding 15 yellow roses each, one for each of Lil’s family.

Lil is survived by her children Al (Irene) of Ladysmith; Rosanne (Homer) Waffle of Quesnel, Bonnie (Charlie) Gillis of Comox, and Theresa (Steve) Dannenfelser of Guilford, New York; nine grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren, sisters Pat Pelletier and Ivy Craig, both of Vancouver, and many other family members and friends.

Donations in Lil’s memory may be made to the charity of choice, acknowledgements sent to Rosanne Waffle, 708 McRae Rd, Quesnel, V2J 6N8.

LITTLE GREEN HOUSE

When the Deschene family moved into the ‘little green house’ by the railroad tracks in 1945 it was one of several homes and section houses the PGE provided for personnel. The other buildings disappeared long ago. The Deschene house survived because Lil wished to stay there after husband Ed, an engineer for PGE/BCR passed away, and BCR agreed to continue the lease.

Lil and the house grew old together. It may not have been the fanciest of abodes, but it was a home in every sense of the word and it would be hard to find its match in warmth and hospitality. The door was always open to whoever wanted or needed to enter, and those who crossed the tracks to visit ranged from the most humble to high-ranking government and church officials. The house was a home away from home to priests, teachers, nurses, railway workers, and new immigrants. People of all ages were welcome and it was a popular hangout for young people when the Deschene children were teenagers. There were always extras at the table for Sunday dinner.

Lil didn’t always enjoy good health, but when she could, she loved to entertain. Stories are told of gatherings that ranged from St. Patrick’s day dinners where the guests dressed in green and ate green food to international dinners where each guest brought a favourite ethnic dish and a new friend to share it.

At Christmas, Ed and Lil would do the rounds of hotels and bunkhouses inviting anyone who was alone to Christmas dinner. To make room at the table, guests were often seated on blanket-covered planks atop frozen sawdust buckets.

Lil loved a cup of tea, and in later years few visitors got away without joining her for tea and a chat.

The little green house obliged Lil by holding itself together for as long as she needed it. Some are sure that love was the glue. It is gone now.

The house and shed were beyond restoring and with Lil gone, there was no need for them. The garden and grounds are another matter.

There is a lush green lawn, tall stately lilacs, and flowers all over the place, some of them as old or older than the city. The property overlooks the creek valley, and the view is ever changing with the seasons. It is a quiet and peaceful spot (the trains don’t go by THAT often). The vibes are good. You can feel the happy memories.

There are hopes and plans, which have been discussed behind closed doors until now, to have the property designated as a park. It is ideally located to be part of the Williams Lake River Trail.

A well-used footpath goes by the garden and down the bank to join the trail. A nearby bridge gives access to the West Side of the creek.

The plan depends of course on the good will of the property owner, BC Rail, and the city, which would maintain the park.

Maybe BCR will consider it as a 75th birthday present for the city.


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