Bella Coola Valley lost one of its pioneer matriarchs on December 5, 2005, with the passing of Mabel Hammer.
Born on May 13, 1917 in Vancouver and raised during the Great Depression, Mabel Catherine Suffill excelled as a student. After graduation from high school she completed one year of normal school before accepting her first teaching position at the tender age of 19 in the one-room Nusatsum schoolhouse in the Bella Coola Valley.
This was rather overwhelming for a city girl used to electricity and indoor plumbing.
Mabel met her future husband Eric Hammer, the eldest son of the family she boarded with, and the attraction was immediate. When she first began teaching Eric was out on the fishing grounds.
The young couple began courting once Eric returned, under the watchful eye of the community that insisted on high standards of decorum for its teachers. Mabel was strictly reprimanded for “untoward behaviour” meeting with Eric in the empty schoolhouse after hours.
By springtime Eric proposed, and Mabel being cautious, declined to accept the ring until she thought it over.
The following year she accepted a teaching position in Black Creek on Vancouver Island, then taught at Maiden Creek Ranch near Clinton, then in Cape Mudge the following year. Finally she followed her heart’s desire back to Bella Coola to marry Eric on August 7, 1941.
Though it was against the law for a married woman to teach in those days, Mabel was hired to teach the following year at Hagensborg School.
After four years of marriage Eric and Mabel bought a small farm in Hagensborg and proceeded to move in just in time for the birth of their first child Valerie Anne, and Mabel become a fulltime mom.
In 1950 their second daughter Beth was born, then three years later Tom completed the family.
Mabel and Eric spent nearly 50 years together on their small farm in Hagensborg until Eric passed away in May of 1991.
During the 1940s and 50s Mabel taught elementary school then in 1958 she returned to UBC to retrain as a home economics teacher.
Both Mabel and Eric were avid supporters of the Bella Coola Fall Fair. As summer came to an end the Hammer household became a busy hive of canning jars, pattern pieces, baking powder biscuits and vegetable arrangements.
Mable adored growing roses, reading and keeping in touch with her children. After retirement she enjoyed helping with the local library and taught adult sewing classes to the Nuxalk women. She was an active member of the Women’s Institute, the Valley Choir, the Future Teachers Club and the Liberal Association.
For years Mabel and her daughter-in-law Kitty tended berry, flower and vegetable gardens and had a regular weekend stall in the Farmer’s Market where Mabel was known as the Rose Lady.
Always passionate about history, Mabel embarked on a trip to Scotland and England in 1996 with her daughters Val Biffert and Beth Hopkins. She was thrilled to visit a real castle, something she always dreamed of.
The last six years of her life were challenging for Mabel who loved her independence.
It was difficult for her as she grew more frail and needed to be looked after.
As a final tribute to Mabel her family is inviting any former students and friends who have memories they wish to share to contact them by email or by snail mail so they can compile a book in her memory.
Beth can be reached by email at email@example.com; Val at firstname.lastname@example.org; and Tom and Kitty Hammer at Box 2, Hagensborg, BC V0T 1H0.