Sally Watson is just a senior working to benefit her community.
That’s how she describes herself when you ask for her background. Since moving to 70 Mile House almost 40 years ago Watson has been an avid community volunteer and advocate, spending 20 years as a director with the Thompson Nicola Regional District.
“If you want to see something happen in a small community, you work on it. That’s always been the way I have understood small communities, you have to get involved,” Watson said.
Watson first moved to 70 Mile House in 1986 with her first husband to run McLean Tire. They went broke within three years and moved to Clinton before Watson returned, post-separation, to 70 Mile in the late 1990s. At the time her youngest son was having a hard time learning how to read and 70 Mile Elementary had a good program that helped him address that issue.
She bought a three-bedroom bungalow within walking distance of the school, which Watson said was a great investment at the time. Of course, only a few years later in 2000, the school was shuttered but by that point she had come to enjoy living in 70 Mile.
“I’m a horseback rider and there is an amazing amount of trails and roads to investigate in the area,” Watson remarked. “I also like the climate, I’m not that fond of too many people. I enjoy the fall, the winter, some of the summer and we don’t really get spring in 70 Mile House anyway.”
Her first taste of volunteering came while her children were still living at home. Watson joined a group of parents who organized a Halloween party at the 70 Mile Community Hall every year for the community’s children.
In 2001, after the elementary school closed, Watson was one of several community members who came together to create the 70 Mile Access Centre (SMAC). Originally SMAC was intended to serve as a lending library, a computer lab to teach people how to use their computers and a space for teenagers to do activities. The thrift store was created to help pay the bills, somewhat as an afterthought.
“As time went on and more people had computers the computer lab kind of failed and the kids that were playing in the gym aged out and it became more and more a thrift store and book store, which it is now,” Watson said. “Now (in 2023) the vision for SMAC is to continue as a thrift store and we’re asking the government to turn the property over to us so we can build a seniors independent living complex.”
By 2002 Watson was first elected as the TNRD director for 70 Mile House where she learned how much she enjoyed being a public servant. It gave her a real insight into taxation and how local government pays for public services.
“I also learned a great deal about humans and how they react to pressure. People learn if they rock the boat they can’t get someone to vote for them so they don’t rock the boat and play the game so they can get things done.”
As a director, she said she did her best to support the 70 Mile Volunteer Fire Department with TNRD funding. While ultimately the board voted to stop collecting taxes to support the department, citing fear of liability, she fought it as best as she could. Watson also made an effort to inform her community every month of the TNRD’s decisions up until she was voted out last year.
After losing her last re-election bid, Watson took on a new job working with the Cariboo Family Enrichment Centre as their seniors’ navigator. Watson explained she wanted to work closely with seniors to help them find and access the services they need. She noted this can be quite difficult as, while most of this information is online, many seniors are not tech-savvy.
“I really enjoy making connections with people and getting them an answer on where they can find what they’re looking for.”
No longer being in government has also allowed Watson to get back into volunteering. She has rejoined SMAC as treasurer and the 70 Mile Community Club as a director. She is also supporting the 70 Mile House Community Riding Arena Committee, which aims to revitalize 70 Mile’s old riding arena, by helping them write grants.
One of her favourite things to do as a volunteer is selling raffle tickets. Regardless of the cause, Watson said she can sell a raffle ticket to anyone.
“I find as I age my volunteer participation has become less physical and more administrative,” Watson said. “My new mantra is to look for the best in people. Sometimes you’re disappointed but you feel really good when you’re right.”