Elsie Urquhart has never been one to sit still for very long.
The 100 Mile House resident and avid community volunteer always has something on the go – a project with the local Legion, a board meeting with the Stemete7uw’i Friendship Centre, a new craft or baking recipe.
“I can’t just sit around doing nothing,” Urquhart, 80, said.
She has been a familiar face throughout the South Cariboo since moving to the area in 1987, when her husband was hired by Sanders Redi-Mix and the family relocated from Merritt.
Having never been to 100 Mile House, Urquhart didn’t know what to expect. She admits the welcome wasn’t exactly warm at first. As an Indigenous woman living in town, she recalls many assumed she was from the Canim Lake Band and were somewhat unfriendly towards her.
“The people in town would glare at me,” she said.
However, after taking a job at the junior high working with Indigenous youth, she got to know many teachers, students and parents and recalls “the attitude changed.”
She spent close to 25 years working with the district, all the while raising six children of her own.
“It was a great job, I loved working with the kids,” Urquhart said. “Even when I retired at 68, the kids still wanted me to stay on.”
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Retirement certainly did not mean Urquhart would slow down her community involvement.
As a longtime member of the Royal Canadian Legion, Urquhart took the reins as chair of the poppy program several years ago. She organizes the annual poster contest with the local schools, heads up the local poppy drive starting the last week of October and helps host the Legion’s annual Remembrance Day luncheon.
“It’s a busy time of year, but I really enjoy it,” she said. “Especially working with the students on the poster contest.”
While she puts in a lot of work raising funds for the Legion, Urquhart said she is always taken aback by how generous the 100 Mile House community is around Remembrance Day.
“They come out and they really donate – you’ll see people putting in $100 bills, $50 bills or writing cheques,” she said. “It just amazes me that they are so generous. I love the people of 100 Mile.”
In recent years, Urquhart has become an integral member of the Stemete7uw’i Friendship Centre, after joining in 2019 and quickly being recruited to the board of directors.
“I didn’t even know it was here until 2019, the first time I came,” Urquhart recalled. “Then I came to the first meeting and they said, ‘you’re going to be one of our directors’ and I said, ‘Ok!’ And that’s how they roped me in.”
Though the centre is currently closed to the public due to COVID restrictions, during normal times Urquhart can be found helping to serve soup and coffee, putting up posters around town to promote events or visiting the radio station and newspaper to get word out about the centre’s activities.
She is currently on the hunt for a downtown location where the friendship centre might be able to relocate, in an effort to attract more members.
On Saturdays, Urquhart drives to 70 Mile to help out a friend who runs the SMAC (Seventy Mile Access Centre) thrift store there. She spends about four hours each weekend sorting through books, and labelling and shelving them accordingly.
But she also makes sure to save some time at the end of her shift to enjoy some shopping of her own.
“Since I’m only volunteering, I told her I’m going to work till 2:30, then I go buy some movies and look at the material since I sew. That last hour is my time.”
When she is not volunteering her time throughout the community, Urquhart can be found sewing, crafting or baking. She has various sewing machines and recently invested in an embroidery machine with her son, which she is eager to get set up and start working on.
She credits her good health and “a lot of praying and a lot of crying” for being able to keep her days filled with so much activity and has no plans to slow down anytime soon.
“I hope to live to 100.”