Recent History – 1998
Nov. 30, 1998, Mark Nielsen, Daily News Staff
Turning 100 years old is an achievement in itself, but Ada Carlson is at least as well-known for her sweet nature and her ability to get along with others.
“It is sometimes noted that the Irish have a temper trait,” said Eric Carlson as he read a brief description of his mother. “This does not pertain to her. She is a very easy going, caring and considerate individual, never critical or complaining. She has a quick wit and a cute sense of humour, always enjoying a good clean joke.” The comment drew applause from the more than 50 friends and relatives who showed up for Carlson’s 100th birthday party, held at Peace River Haven on Saturday.
It was also a trait that many others were willing to confirm afterwards. “She’s a just a sweet lady,” said daughter Bernice Miller.
Living by the “golden rule” is how Ada Carlson approaches life and living with others. “I try to treat others as I hope they treat me,” said Ada, who remains bright and articulate despite her age, although a little hard to hear at times because of a soft voice.
The second-oldest daughter in a family of four girls and three boys, Ada was born to John and Karoline Graham in the Massey Township near Walford, Ontario on November 27, 1898. At the age of 10, her family moved from Ontario to Vermilion, Alberta, and later to Kamloops, B.C. where she started working in a dress-making shop.
Her mother passed away while they were in Kamloops, and, due to the work situation there the family moved to New Westminster and then on to Vancouver. “Her sister, Mona, and herself, looked after the home and cared for the younger children,” Eric said. “Ada did sewing to help with the income.”
One evening, at a dance in Vancouver with Mona, she met Gustav (Wally) Waldeman Carlson. Their courtship began, and in 1922, they were married in Vancouver. They raised four boys — Don, Eric, Stan and Ray — and one girl, Bernice. Two of their sons were born in Vancouver and two in Abbotsford, while their daughter was born in Dawson Creek.
A steam engineer by trade, Gustav worked in logging camps running donkey engines, a line of work that took him up the coast to sites like Port Hardy on the northern tip of Vancouver Island.
But the coastal climate affected his asthma, so they decided to move north.
“They had heard of homestead land in the Peace River district,’ Eric said. “So in 1929 Gus purchased a truck and chassis, built a cab on the truck and a fifth-wheel trailer to pull behind for their living quarters, then headed to the Peace.” Traveling with them was Ada’s father, brother Rex, and the four boys, the youngest of whom was one year old. They traveled by way of Washington, Montana, over to Calgary, Edmonton, Athabasca, Slave Lake, Dunvegan, and Grande Prairie, arriving at Pouce Coupe a month later.
They filed for land at Arras, B.C., took up farming, and later operated a sawmill. Times were not easy, but they made the best of what they had. Along with doing all the cooking, sewing, mending, cleaning, and gardening Ada took such measures as giving violin lessons to pay for a spinning wheel. They also traded a washing machine for a much-needed cow. “So out came the scrub board and the lye soap,” Eric said.
On January 10, 1936, they lost their home to a fire. “It was 30 below, Eric said. “They were able to save a few things, but lost the home in 20 minutes.” They were able to live in a vacant house one of the neighbours had until spring, and then moved into a wood shed they had until the new log house was completed that fall.
“During the house-building, while Gus was working hard getting logs to build with, a log rolled on his leg and broke it,” Eric said. “Ada and the boys continued doing what they could until Gus recuperated and was home again.” For a short while, they received relief of $11 a month, and although she didn’t like guns, Ada learned how to shoot so she could bring some meat to the table.
In 1948, her father, John Graham, passed away and was buried in the Dawson Creek cemetery. In 1943, Bernice was born. Ada taught her through correspondence, because of the distance from school, until 1951, when they moved to Dawson Creek.
But three years later, they moved to Fort Nelson, after Gus got a job as a steam engineer at the army base at mile 295 on the Alaska Highway.
Ada did alterations for a men’s wear store and continued doing home sewing, creating beautiful wedding gowns. And she also continued painting, which she began while in Dawson Creek.
“Her hands were never idle,” Eric said.
Meanwhile, Gus became involved with the school board in Fort Nelson and, for his years of dedication, the G.W. Carlson School was named after him.
In 1962, they retired to an acreage west of Dawson Creek. After a brief stay in a trailer, they moved into a newly-built house, happy to be back with old friends.
In the late 1960s, they were involved in a terrible vehicle accident that left Ada in the hospital for a month with serious internal injuries, while Gus was there for a week with bad cuts and bruises. “We thought we had lost her,” said Eric. “Someone was watching over them.”
Ada and Gus also helped get a senior citizens’ society off the ground. An opening meeting on April 28, 1970 drew 140 people, and Gus was elected president.
“Its chief purpose was to socialize,” Eric said. “There was always on-going events, which continue today. They both enjoyed the dances, bowling, and other planned functions.”
On October 14, 1972, they reached another milestone — their 50th wedding anniversary.
Ada also continued to enter her handicrafts, such as afghans, doilies, knitting and home-made quilts, at the fall fair often winning ribbons and prizes for her entries. “The last fall fair she attended was four years ago,” Eric said. “Family members have articles of her handicrafts which she has given them over the years, which will be treasured for years to come.”
In 1978, Gus passed away at age 85. They had 56 years together. Ada sold her place and moved to the Heritage Heights apartment in 1982, then to the Peace River Haven in late1992., where Eric said she is living comfortably.
“When asked recently what she attributed her long a healthy life to, she said ‘contentment, a good husband, and clean living'”, Eric said. “She has a great attitude towards life.”
Along with her five children, Ada has three daughters-in-law, one son-in-law, 11 grandchildren, 12 great grandchildren, and two great-great grandchildren.
“I kind of marvel at the different changes, you know,” Ada said. The most interesting one, she said, has been watching her children grow up.