Editor’s Note: Last week, Agassiz resident Vera Striker celebrated her 100th birthday. In her honour, her grandaughter Tuesday has written the following biography, detailing Vera’s early childhood in Saskatchewan, memories of the Great Depression,and her adult life spent in Agassiz.
By Tuesday Striker
Special to the Observer
To ask 100 year old Vera Striker about her life, she will most likely be very humble and tell you: “I am just a plain ol’ farm girl from the prairies.”
Ask her family and friends, and they would agree that while Striker is humble, the spirited lady is far from being plain.
Vera Striker was born May 14, 1914 to Oxford-educated , English-born Richard Barton, and Quebec-born Ella McGillivary on their homestead in Saskatchewan, between the town Leross and Kelliher. The eldest of six children, she grew up in a two-room log house. Growing up on a homestead in Saskatchewan at that time was a simple and secluded life. She and her siblings playing simple games which needed their imagination, as they did not have much.
They used their dad’s shoes or a piece of wood wrapped in cloth as a doll, or they would ride miles on their “horses” – a stick with a piece of a string. They also played a game called “Laws”, in which they lined up all their chairs in a row and jumped from seat to seat.
At the time, their father was the local Justice of the Peace.
Two of Vera’s earliest memories go back to 1918, the time of the Spanish flu epidemic that devastated her community. The other memory is of the First World War, and waiting for the boys to come home from the front. These boys would be her uncles, Clifford and Roland. The year 1921 was also a big one for Vera, as the homestead got their first phone, and she started school with her sister, Jane.
She attended a one-room school house in Eskdale. Often, she would talk about taking the horse and buggy two and a half miles to school and how the horse just knew the way. The school year started after Easter, and ended just before Christmas, as it was too expensive to heat the school. She adored her teachers. The Eskdale school was the hub of the community, hosting concerts, dances, church and political meetings.
She attended there until Grade 10, and finished high school at Nutana Collegiate.
In 1923, Vera Striker got her first taste of city life, as her father took the three eldest children to the Regina Exhibition. For the first time in their lives, they ate at restaurants, rode in elevators and saw running water. During this visit they saw their first motion picture film starring Charlie Chaplin. She would often tell us this story, as it was the most memorable trip she ever took.
Living through the Great Depression influenced Vera’s life greatly, living in the dust bowl of the prairies was tough and reward for living on a farm was grim. Her father and mother worked hard, yet only got $2.32 for 15 turkeys, or $21 for five cows. As a result of living in that era, Vera would be very resourceful all of her life, using every single scrap of material to make clothes or quilts. Leftovers were never thrown out and everything could be used or recycled for a different purpose.
In 1934, she finished Grade 12 and her sister Jane graduated from normal school. Upon graduation, Jane was offered a job to be a teacher at the Alert School outside of Biggar, Sask. Their father would no allow Jane to go alone as it was “dry, hilly country, the whole place was Russian thistle, and when the wind blew that Russian thistle would come rolling over the hills like thousands of wild animals.”
So, Vera went with her to be the school janitor. Little did she know that this action would set her course for the next 80 years.
Upon arriving at the Alert School District, Vera would meet a sweet-talking charmer and a smooth dancer – Fred Striker. They were married on Dec. 10, 1935 (his 21st birthday) – a union that lasted 69 years. They resided on the land rented from William Striker until 1948. During this time, they had six children, Lloyd, Clarence, Gwellyn (Gub), Stanley, Valdeane and Ted.
The farmland in Biggar never rebounded after the drought of the ’30s and Saskatchewan was still in economic depression in the ’40s. Fred left the family in late 1947 to find work and found his way to Agassiz, where he was employed as a CAT operator in the forest industry. A year later, the rest of the family joined him here.
They traveled by train with all their worldly possessions including one cow, one dog and two horses. They rented the Bulyea farm on McCallum Road. Fred was comfortable with renting a farm, however Vera wanted a home to call their own. In 1952, she convinced Fred that they were buying a dairy farm on Ashton Road.
With Fred gone 10 days at a time working in the bush, Vera would take care of her beloved cows and ran the farm with military precision. Cows were milked twice a day, meals and lunch prepared, huge gardens were tended to. Everyone’s clothes were sewn or mended, produce and meat canned for winter months, 13 loaves of bread baked every third day and an immaculately kept house. As well, Vera the kids earned extra money picking hops, strawberries and raspberries. Somehow after getting everything done she still managed to enter baking contests and flower exhibits at the Agassiz Annual Fall Fair, winning many gold ribbons for her efforts.
In 1962,Vera and a contractor designed and built their new house on Ashton Road. Vera was so proud of that house and when it was timeto move in she would not, as she was afraid to get it dirty. One evening after supper, while Vera was snoozing in her rocking chair, two of her boys picked up the chair – and Vera – and moved her in.
As the kids started moving away from home, Vera reluctantly came tot he decision that she could not run her dairy farm by herself. She sold her beloved cows, however would remain living on Ashton Road into the late 1990s. Vera was one to never sit still and worked for Fraser Vale in Chilliwack for many years.
Even in retirement, Vera did not slow down. She volunteered at the Agassiz-Harrison Museum and the Thrift Shop, and was an active member of the United Church and the Friendship House for many years. In the evenings, she would often be found playing cards, Scrabble or floor curling and quilting with the ladies. Very loved her garden and flowers. She was ahead of her time when it came to physical activity and at the of 61, learned how to ride a bike. In the summer months she would often forgo her car and cycle into town. When cycling became too onerous, she would continue to walk three miles a day.
Her main pride and joy are her grandchildren, and was always excited when they came to visit, often making dozens of cookies, teaching card games, knitting, crocheting, sewing and schooling them in Scrabble. She also made every grandchild several sets of pajamas, and quilts for their beds. These quilts are a prized possesson for all the grandchildren. She would often travel to Kitimat, Terrace, Kamloops and Saskatoon to see her other grandchildren who didn’t reside in Agassiz.
Vera’s passion has and always will be her family with six kids, 16 grandchildren and 28 great grandchildren. Her legacy of being humble, honest to a fault, and giving back to the community will be well served into the future. Vera is the glue that binds the past, present and future of the Striker family.