Welcome to Maple Creek’s centennial club

MAPLE CREEK, Sask. — Hazel Foster laughs and slaps her leg when asked about her husband.

“Which one?” she says.

There were three, she says, thrusting her fingers forward so it’s clear.

“I’m a sucker for punishment,” she says, laughing again.

Foster turned 106 in February, making her the oldest resident at Cypress Lodge, a privately owned, assisted-living residence in Maple Creek.

She has outlived three husbands and one of her three children, but her sense of humour is strong, and aside from using a walker, her health is good.

And she’s not that unusual in this home of 35 residents.

Herb Duncan is 104, Mary Simpson is 103 and Joan Lawrence is the baby of the bunch at 102.

They ended up in Maple Creek for different reasons but share the distinction of passing the century mark.

Duncan’s theory is that he just kept busy.

Born in the Maple Creek hospital, he grew up on a farm near Hodgeville and moved back to Maple Creek in the 1920s.

“We rode in a wagon from Hodgeville to Maple Creek,” he said.

His career varied from shepherding sheep to building roads with his father-in-law, to working as a mechanic and a truck driver, and spending 10 years before retirement in the hardware department at the local Co-op.

“I had 2,500 of them with three dogs up at the park on the old golf course,” he recalled of his sheep-herding days.

He was also well known as a water-witcher, using a crowbar to find good sources for dugouts.

For years, he played a fiddle with the Maple Creek Old Tyme Fiddlers. They made albums and cassette tapes and travelled in an old Winnebago-style vehicle that Herb drove.

“I wouldn’t let them smoke in it,” he says.

Their gigs included playing on a cruise boat on Lake Winnipeg.

He participated in fiddle contests and at the age of 80 took up making the instruments, completing seven. He bowled, curled and sold calendars for the Shriners. He still has trophies from his many pursuits.

He and his wife, Connie, raised three sons and a daughter he describes as his “bonspiel prize.”

“You can’t sit down,” he added. “You have to do something. And you have to have people around.”

Mary Simpson says it could be stubbornness that has kept her going past 100. She will turn 104 in April.

“I guess I must be,” she replies when asked if she’s healthy. Her daughter confirms it.

She is from the Piapot district and moved into Cypress Lodge in June 2018 after several years at another residence. She lived in her own home until 1995 and has also outlived two husbands: Albert Kreutzer and George Simpson.

Married at 18, she recalls living on the farm near Piapot, where her first child of two sons and three daughters, was born at just three pounds.

They had the typical mixed farm for the time and place.

“We raised wheat, cattle, milk cows, some chickens,” she said. “We had roasted chicken now and again.

“I know it was a lot of work.”

The family lived close to the country school and therefore boarded the teachers.

She curled, played bridge, did petit point and still enjoys a good word search puzzle.

For years she worked as a cook at a restaurant and catered events.

Hard work could lead to a long life, she supposes.

Simpson and Joan Lawrence, who turned 103 in December, have been friends for years and enjoy more time together since Joan moved into Cypress Lodge last November.

Lawrence was born in Moose Jaw but after her dad died of the Spanish flu when she was three the family moved to Alonsa, Man., to her step-father’s homestead.

At age 17, she went to normal school for teachers training in Winnipeg. When she didn’t get a teaching job right away she moved to her aunt’s in Regina to babysit for $6 a month.

Spending what she calls “a heap of money,” or $10, to obtain her Saskatchewan teaching licence, she got three offers.

“One could pay no money. One boarded the teacher around to all the homes, including the bachelors,” she said. “Maple Creek school could pay $30 a month and I had to pay $15 to board.”

She taught for three years before marrying Russell Lawrence and spending 74 years on the ranch south of town at the turnoff to historic Fort Walsh.

Living on the main road meant people herding cattle often stopped at the ranch overnight with their animals by the creek.

The Depression was hard, but people were happy, she said.

“They didn’t have the same want for everything,” she said. “They had different attitudes.”

Lawrence raised four daughters and a son while tending 800 turkeys at a time, raising sheep, cattle and pigs. She had chickens and a large garden until she was 90.

“It’s just something that happened,” she says of her age. “I always think there’s something you should be accomplishing.”

Foster’s advice comes from her father.

“He always told me, ‘you never look back’, ” she says.

She took that to heart after a tragic accident took her first husband, Aksel Nielsen.

The youngest of their three children was still in a crib when their house caught fire. Aksel rescued the baby but lost his own life.

She and the children moved in with her parents near Pense, Sask., and she went into the chicken business with her dad, learning to grade eggs for sale at stores in Regina. At one time they had 1,000 hens.

She later married Bill Fletcher, who died just after their 25th anniversary, and then John Foster.

“I’ve had a good life,” she said. “I’ve had ups and downs but so has everybody else.

“Life is just what you make of it.”

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