They came to the Cariboo as young women, one a nurse, one a teacher.
While their working and family lives have been quite different, they met in early retirement and have maintained a close friendship for more than 20 years.
They call them the raging grannies. You will find them speaking out on all kinds of issues, their support for the Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society (lifetime members), the Horsefly Salmon Festival and the Quesnel River Watershed Alliance being closest to their hearts.
They are fast friends Nora Nicol, who turns 84 in May, and Nancy LeBourdais, who turns 87 in June, who are great companions and enjoy outings with the Red Hat Ladies.
“There are about 20 of us Red Hat Ladies. It is a friendship thing for older people 50 and beyond for our own enjoyment,” Nora says.
Nora was raised on Pender Island where her family ran a dairy farm and had a milk run. She moved to Vancouver for grades 11 and 12, then took her teaching certificate at the Vancouver Normal School.
In 1951 her first teaching position was a one-room school in Beaver Valley teaching grades 1 to 8. Another teacher took charge of the Grade 9 students. The next year she taught grades 1 to 7 at Springhouse, but it wasn’t long before she left teaching to become a rancher’s wife back in Beaver Valley.
Nora married Shelley Nicol and joined him at the Lakeview Ranch on the Beaver Valley Road connector half-way between Horsefly and Likely.
The 1800-acre Lakeview Ranch was started by Shelley’s parents, Alexander and Margaret, who immigrated to Canada from Dundee, Scotland.
Alexander came to Canada first in 1911 to work and find land and Margaret joined him as he established the Lakeview Ranch in 1913. Next year the Lakeview Ranch joins the ranks of ranches owned and operated by the same family for 100 years.
After marrying, Nora gave up teaching to help run the ranch which includes a cow/calf operation, putting in a big garden each year, and cooking for their guiding business.
Shelley passed away 10 years ago and Nora continues to help their sons Mike and Gavin with ranch chores. Mike and his wife Crystal Barter have one boy, Louis, 4. Gavin has a daughter, Katie, who is in high school in Williams Lake.
For years Nora wrote a column and took pictures for the Tribune, but these days she says her failing eyesight makes it hard to write although she continues to enjoy photography.
She says the family manages a special trip once a year but mostly she enjoys activities in Horsefly.
“I love the summer music festival, Arts on the Fly, that’s my favourite,” Nora says.
“I’d like to go back and see England again. My husband’s cousins still live in Scotland.”
Nancy was raised in Vancouver. After high school she worked a year at the Royal Bank then took the three-year nurses training at St. Paul’s Hospital.
“It was a little tough. The Catholic nuns were very strict but they were good and we got very good training,” Nancy says.
Her first nursing job was for a year at the old hospital in Quesnel. Then she went to Portland, Oregon to nurse for a year because there was a shortage of nurses there.
“That was very interesting, quite a change from Quesnel to the big city.”
After Portland Nancy returned to nurse at St. Paul’s from where she would also take holiday relief jobs in Quesnel. She had a brief marriage to a man she met in Quesnel, which resulted in her son Ray.
Back in Vancouver she met Gerry LeBourdais who worked at the Shell Oil refinery and was also from Quesnel, although they had never met there.
Gerry had a son, Louis, and a daughter, Linda, so when Nancy and Gerry married she and Ray took the LeBourdais name. Later their fourth child Lorraine would complete the family.
After they married Nancy nursed at the Lionsgate Hospital in North Vancouver from 1954 until 1970, when the couple decided to move back to the Cariboo and back to the land.
They first bought land at Rose Lake but soon sold it to establish a communal farm co-operative that rented various properties around the Williams Lake area that were dedicated to organic farming.
In 1983 Nancy and Gerry parted ways. She moved back to Vancouver to recertify as a nurse and work in the long-term care pavilion at Vancouver General.
In 1987, when Deni House opened at Cariboo Memorial Hospital, Nancy returned to Williams Lake to work there and live closer to her children.
When Nancy retired in 1990 her son, Ray, and his wife, Maureen, built her a small log cabin on their property just down the road from the Nicol’s ranch.
Daughter Lorraine and her husband Rob Diether carried on the organic farming tradition in 100 Mile House where they established the Horse Lake Community Farm Co-operative, a 54-hectare working farm protected by the Land Conservancy of B.C. that supports a community of farmers, wildlife and birds.
These days Nancy says she is content to help Ray and Maureen with their large vegetable garden, enjoys knitting, walks with the dog, outings with Nora and visits with and keeps tabs on her large extended family which includes 12 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. Unfortunately she lost son Louis to cancer in 1994.
As she recalls it, Nancy says she and Nora were dubbed the raging grannies when they participated in a protest against the war in Iraq that was held in 100 Mile House.