Growing up on a ranch with a disability didn’t bother Donna Schoonover, or her family one bit.
Donna was born at the original Cariboo Memorial Hospital that was eventually turned into the Williams Lake City Hall and later replaced with the city hall as we know it today.
Donna suffered a difficult birth which left her with a rare type spastic paralytic polio causing low vision and difficulty walking.
“I wore leg braces for a few years but I didn’t get any special treatment,” Donna says. “I still had to feed the chickens, pack wood and help with the housework.”
She is the third generation and last in her immediate family’s pioneering roots who is still living in the Cariboo.
She was raised on the meadow lands at Slater Mountain where her dad Bob Schoonover operated a small sawmill and her mother, Florence (nee Ross), raised cattle.
Her dad was born and raised in Squamish and at 19 decided to stretch his wings by moving to the Cariboo where he fed cattle for John Hailey near Horsefly.
He also worked for the old Smedley and Sharpe hardware store before setting up his own saw-milling operation.
Her parents met at an old-fashioned country dance at Riske Creek.
Florence was born and raised at Meldrum Creek where her parents Florence and Murdoch Ross homesteaded.
In those early days Donna says her parents didn’t own a car.
“Our transportation was a little wee tractor that we would drive into town for supplies. You could licence them in those days.”
If the family moved around the countryside cutting wood or homesteading they used a team and wagon.
They also had a good friend who owned a truck who would help them out when they needed to haul larger items.
Her dad logged their land and produced conventional 2×4 lumber as well as railroad ties, and rail car stakes. Her mother worked out as a janitor and Donna and her sisters helped her mother run a Christmas tree farm.
“Ruth and I would help to pile and sort the Christmas trees,” Donna says.
“My mother was highly thought of and a shrewd businesswoman.”
Donna and her sisters, Ruth and June, took their early schooling by correspondence. Her sisters finished high school, but Donna quit school part way through Grade 6 because she couldn’t do the math.
But she was an avid reader and kept learning other things.
About the same time she quit school at age 13, Donna also had surgery to lengthen the muscles in her legs and had to wear weighted casts for several months.
“It added six inches to my height,” Donna says.
In 1966 Donna and her family moved from Slater Mountain to Langley but decided they didn’t like the rainy weather and returned to the Cariboo eight months later in the spring.
They settled at Miocene where they ran a small farm and small sawmill, trading work with neighbours.
Donna never married but has never been at a loss for things to do be it helping family or her many hobbies, photography, crochet, making cassette tapes, music, and studying history.
She also enjoys collecting first edition books. Some of her favourites are the Nancy Drew series, Bobbsey Twins, The Cherry Aimes series about a young nurse.
“Cherry was kind of like Nancy Drew. She would go on all of these cases and end up solving mysteries,” Donna says.
“I liked cooking a lot too. I miss baking,” Donna says.
She also had lots of opportunity to travel with her older sister.
“I was all over B.C. with my older sister, June, and her family during the 70s,” Donna says.
June and her husband established farms and businesses and Donna would help, sometimes with babysitting and sometimes with other work.
Travelling with June and her family she lived in Topley near Smithers, Woodpecker near Prince George, Mt. Lehman in the Fraser Valley and Clearbrook.
She was also happy to enjoy three big trips with them to Disneyland, West Edmonton Mall and to Hawaii.
Donna lived on the family property at Miocene until she had a fall in 2008 and decided to move into the Seniors Village, where she could receive the support she needed.
Donna turns 70 this month, and now lives comfortably in her own apartment at the Seniors Village, where she is happy to receive the part-time help she needs to cope with her disabilities.
“Williams Lake is home,” Donna says.
Donna’s father died in 1980 and her mother died in 1996.
Her older sister Ruth (Reg) Sortwell, became a registered nurse and worked for a number of years at Cariboo Lodge and Deni House. Now living in Abbotsford Ruth has two daughters, four grandchildren and two step-grandchildren.
Her older sister June (late Norman) Cridland is an artist who supported her craft over the years working in various businesses including managing the gift shop at the Empress Hotel in Victoria.
June raised three daughters and now has three grandchildren.