Elsie Pratt (nee Walters) came into this world on January 21, 1922, in the small fishing outpost of Fox Roost, Newfoundland, one of 12 children.
Fox Roost was a tiny fishing village at the time only accessible by water, but not very far from Port aux Basques, where the ferry connects the island of Newfoundland to Nova Scotia.
It was a tough time in rural Newfoundland and there were few medical resources.
Only six of the children survived past early childhool and Pratt’s mother died when she was only six years old, and her father passed away not long after, leaving her older brothers to ensure the younger siblings didn’t end up in an orphanage.
“Thank goodness that didn’t happen,” said Pratt, who recalled her childhood fondly, despite the challenges her family faced.
“We were never bored, there were always games and stuff to play,” she said.
The Newfoundland tradition of mummering was one Pratt recalled fondly. People would dress up in disguise between Christmas and New Years and knock on neighbours’ doors, performing music, jokes or recitations if they were invited in. The hosts must then guess their identities and provide snacks or drinks.
She also says she appreciates the value of hard work, something she saw her brothers doing as they supported their younger brothers and sisters.
“We always had lots of food and a warm bed,” she explained, something many in rural Newfoundland at that time might not have been able to say, especially prior to Newfoundland joining Canada in 1949.
Pratt said her older brothers were “confirmed” fishermen who worked for six or seven monthes a year fishing, and then in the winter would hunt wild game. They would also trade people further inland in the province fish in exchange for the root vegetables they couldn’t grow where they lived due to the poor soil.
After finishing her education as far as she could in the area where she lived – Grade 7 being the end of the line unless you were able to send your children to larger centres – she went to work in North Sidney, Nova Scotia.
She had many jobs, and learned as she went, and she continued to endure hardships, as one of her elder brothers drowned in a fishing accident the year after she left.
She met and fell in love with a young man in the Canadian Air Force while in Nova Scotia. He was a French Canadian man, and soon after he left to fight in World War II.
When he returned, the pair were married in Montreal, and when he was transferred, the two of them moved west to Richmond, B.C., with their daughter, who turned two as they crossed the country by train.
They had a second child, this time a son, and the whole family moved to Germany for three years when her husband was posted there during peacetime.
“That was quite an education for us,” she recalled. “It was like a big holiday for (the kids).”
She described how her son and daughter would teach the German children English phrases while they would in turn learn German.
But the marriage broke down and the couple were divorced, however, Elsie met her second husband, Vernon Pratt, and the pair were happily married in 1977. They moved to Williams Lake for work and Vernon worked at the Maple Leaf Hotel.
She held a number of jobs before she retired, but her last job saw her work at the hospital in the kitchen for more than 11 years.
After retirement, she volunteered for a number of organizations in the area, including the local Legion, of which she is still a member.
“I’m never the type of person to sit around,” she said. “A good hard day’s work and a good smile never killed anybody.”
While her husband Vernon passed away 15 years ago, she remembered back on their active life together, camping and fishing in the area, with Felker Lake and Jacobie Lake being two of their favourites.
“It was so peaceful and so relaxing out there.”
While Elsie no longer travels, camps or bowls like she did in the past, she still keeps a fairly busy schedule, with social visits and attending the Legion regularly prior to COVID, and lives independently, with a bit of help with her vacuuming.
“I really feel blessed with having so many nice friends,” she pronounces. While Elsie said she has lost so many people over her lifetime, she also appreciates what she has.
“I’ve been one of the privileged ones to last this long.”
We wish Elsie a happy 100th birthday.