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Celia Sanderson

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Celia Sanderson

April 21, 1921 - June 19, 2016


Amy Celia Sanderson was born on April 21, 1921, in Shafton, Yorkshire, England. She died on June 19, 2016, in Duncan, BC. On every step of her journey from a small, impoverished coal mining village to the Cowichan Valley she showed her quiet strength of will and strength of character. Those, her intelligence, and her skill with her hands helped impress her onto the memories of all those around her.

From the start of her life, Celia needed her strength. Her mother was unkind and valued external appearances above inner worth. Rather than support Celia’s education, she made cruel comments about Celia’s need for glasses. Her father was killed when she was nine years old, in an accident at the open pit coal mine. Celia watched from the window of the school as the police went in the direction of her home, but it wasn’t until someone came to the classroom that she knew it was her family tragedy had struck.

Celia did have those in her life who cared for her, however. Her paternal grandfather would have the family to Sunday dinner after church, and sometimes offered her the rare treat of grapefruit, as he had read citrus was good for children. Her maternal grandmother also lived in Shafton, and as Celia walked past on the way home from school, she would rap on the window to let Celia know she was invited in.

It began with kneading the bread: Celia’s grandmother found the task increasingly difficult as she aged, so Celia helped her with it. From there, her grandmother taught Celia to cook and knit and sew, skills she excelled at and practiced for the rest of her life.

The contrast of the gifts Celia’s grandmother gave her with Celia’s mother’s treatment of her is apparent in what happened after her grandmother’s death. She had promised that Celia would have her sewing machine, but sadly her husband, Celia’s grandfather, had been knocked down by a motorbike, which affected his mind. Celia’s mother was able to turn him against Celia, and the sewing machine went to Celia’s mother instead. She did not sew and the machine sat, unopened, in her front room until she died. When Celia married, the first thing she and her husband did was save up to buy her a treadle Singer of her own.

Celia’s intelligence also drove her to excel in school: she passed the Eleven Plus exam, allowing her to continue on to Grammar School on a scholarship, rather than leaving school at age 14 as her sister did. She was the only child in her village to pass the exam that year! In a way, schooling also led her to her future husband. She chose to take a night school course on shorthand in addition to her regular classes, as she enjoyed learning so much. There, she met Kenneth Sanderson. They were drawn to the spark of intelligence they recognized in each other, and their shared determination to make something of themselves despite difficult childhoods. Neither had much money, so their courtship flourished through long walks together.

In Kenneth’s memory, the moment when he first saw her stands out. She was small and wearing her school uniform, making her seem absurdly young to be in the class, though she was only two years younger than him.  Perhaps those things should have made her fade back, but the dark, intense red of her hair caught his attention. Through the rest of her life, that red shade stayed with her, delighting her when others assumed she must dye it.

Against the backdrop of World War II, Celia attended teacher training college. She had her choice of jobs on graduation, as the country was desperate for teachers during wartime. Her stepfather blithely assumed she could get a job in her home village, live at home, and give up her paycheque to him in exchange for an allowance. Celia didn’t even consider it, and took a job well away from her village, teaching elementary school. Not only did her success steadily grow in teaching, by then “she could make her sewing machine sing.” She was so talented, several women had her make their wedding dresses.

Kenneth joined the RAF and the two married during the war. Her new in-laws didn’t care for her, because she continued to work even after marriage, and also because Kenneth’s allowance now went to her instead of them. However, her in-laws were shocked to discover that while she seemed a quiet, agreeable person, she could stand up for herself. During the rationing of the war, Kenneth sent her tea from India, where he was stationed. It went to his parents’ home, and they opened it, but once Celia discovered it was addressed to her, she calmly took it away from them and took it home with her! Even when Celia tried to make peace by sewing her hard-to-fit mother-in-law a dress at Kenneth’s request, the mother-in-law refused to wear it. In the end, when the mother-in-law died, the family offered the dress back to Celia, and Celia used the good wool to make a coat and hat for one of her children.

After the war, Celia had her two girls: Olwen and Lorna. Not long after, in 1953, Kenneth saw an ad in a farming paper asking for people to move to Canada. When he suggested they answer it, she accepted willingly. She never guessed what a shock it would be when they finally arrived at the railroad station in Duncan and took the gravel road to Fairbridge, where they had housing. For someone used to life in England, even a smaller village, it must have seemed like the wilds! But she threw herself into this next chapter of her life with a will. Far from what the ad had promised, for a couple of years her husband had to work the night shift at the sawmill in Honeymoon Bay. Celia kept the baby quiet during the day so that he could sleep.

Finally, Kenneth was able to get his teaching papers from England and got a job teaching. Even better, Celia was also able to take up the teaching she loved again. Miss Denney at Queen Margaret’s School heard that she was a teacher and hired her to teach math to senior girls.

Together, she and her husband were able to buy 65 acres of land that came available in Cobble Hill. By then, her husband was having health problems, so he left teaching and built them a house while her teaching supported the family.  Celia and Kenneth lived in that same house from the early 1960s until they recently donated the land to the Nature Trust of BC for an ecological reserve and park.

To Celia’s happiness, her two greatest areas of skill, her teaching and her sewing and baking, came together when Bonner School in Cobble Hill opened and she got a job as home economics teacher. She never stopped learning herself, however. She took night school courses and spent summers at UBC until she got her official degree in teaching. She was also extremely proud of her boys’ cooking class, which she created entirely herself, conceiving the idea, writing the curriculum, and teaching it.

Celia truly touched the lives of her students, and remained in their memories. Even when she had been retired for years, she could hardly go to the grocery store or even for a walk along the road without someone stopping to talk and tell her she taught them and sometimes their daughter and granddaughter. After retirement she also continued to be an important part of her community. She was active in such groups as the Home Ec Teachers Association, the University Women’s Club, the Women’s Institute, and the Heart Club.

Throughout her life, Celia liked creating things with her hands. It might be easier to say what she didn’t do rather than what she did! Early on, she took courses in book binding and leather work and made Kenneth a wallet with his initials embossed on it. When he saw it, he said, “it’s so big I’m going to need a bloody wheelbarrow to carry it!” Unbothered by her husband’s sense of humor, she took the wallet back and used it herself for the rest of her life.

She also had a large garden and experimented with grafting fruit trees, and then canned or froze much of her produce herself. For several years she kept a quilt frame in her living room as she hand-quilted several quilts she had pieced. She hated to sit and do nothing, so she would almost always have some knitting on the go, whether it was a sweater for one of her daughters, or for one of her grandchildren. When she went into the nursing home she carried a bag of knitting hanging from her walker. Her hands remembered how to knit even when she could no longer recall the patterns.

Her four grandchildren were a special pleasure for her. She had never been one for hugging, but she learned for them. She was always ready to talk about what they were up to, and how proud she was of them. For their part, her grandchildren’s sweetest memories include the things she made: for Rhiannon, the oldest, it was the dress for her senior prom, much more flattering than anything off the rack would have been. For Nicholas, it was a cake depicting the phases of the cell cycle for a school project, which they baked and decorated together. For Rowena, it was the giant, molded chocolate Easter eggs she created with each grandchild’s name in icing. And for Ewan, the youngest, it was a teddy bear with hinged joints made from the tops of lemonade cans. Celia even put a squeaker inside, so it would protest when turned upside down!

Celia did the difficult crossword puzzle daily. In fact, she and her husband shared it, with Celia doing it on graph paper and Kenneth on the newspaper. It was one of life’s small tragedies that her memory, which had been one of her greatest assets, failed her when she became very old. She used to say she could read the textbook in her mind’s eye as she wrote an exam. Even in her 80s, she could still recite a passage from Les Miserables, which she read for pleasure as a teenager.

As her memory failed, Celia finally had to go into a nursing home. She was fortunate to be a resident at Cerwydden Care Home, where she passed the last few years of her life surrounded by kindness. Her family is very grateful to everyone at Cerwydden who took such good care of her.

If you would like to hear more stories from Celia’s life, join us for a Life Celebration  at the church hall of the Anglican Church of St. John in Cobble Hill on Sunday Aug 14th at 2:00pm

In lieu of flowers, Celia would have been very pleased for you to donate to the Nature Trust of BC in her memory, for the support of Sandersons’ Royd, which is the name of the park to be created from their land at Cobble Hill.






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From: H.W. Wallace Cremation and Burial Centre Staff

H.W. Wallace Cremation and Burial Centre Staff send our condolences to family and friends.

From: trish kolk
Relation: student at Bonner High

Mrs. Sanderson was surely a kind soul. I still smile when I think of her. It was very nice and touching to read about her life. Thank you for her story. Goodnight, Mrs. Sanderson, till we meet again.

Love Trish

From: Pauline
Relation: Teacher, co-worker, friend

She was such an inspirational teacher. She did not for a moment entertain fools, and would give 100% support to anyone who asked and was a terrific help for years as judge of the needlework for the Cowichan and Cobble Hill fall fairs. She was missed these past few years. I hope my grandchildren meet a lady like her in their lives.

From: Jenny Ingram
Relation: She was my teacher

I’m sorry for your family’s loss. I did not know her well, but she taught me sewing in Grade 8 at Bonner, in about 1983. I was not very good, but she helped me to complete my first actual garment, and was patient and encouraging. I now really enjoy sewing and needlework and knitting. Thank you for sharing her fascinating life story–she was a remarkable woman! She was exactly a week younger than my Grandma who passed a year and a half ago, who was from Scotland, and who also had a life-long skill and passion for sewing and knitting and other textile crafts. Those little tiny ladies from that era were so strong in the face of all kinds of adversity, and yet had such kind hearts and amazing skills! I think they would be astonished at how much they are missed.

From: Jean Hamilton (Stuart)
Relation: Former student

Mrs. Sanderson was my Home Ec teacher at Bonner School in the early 60’s. I doubt she ever had a more recalcitrant student. Despite that early resistance I went on to learn to love all the needle arts and became a competent cook. And I was ever fond of that lady, always delighted to see her in the community and always keeping an eye out for her to be walking on Cobble Hill Road. My condolences to Olwen and Lorna and the rest of the family.

From: Anneke Kolk
Relation: student at Bonner High

My sincerest condolences to the family. Mrs. Sanderson was my home-ec teacher at Bonner High in the 60’s. I remember those years well and have fond memories of both Mr. and Mrs. Sanderson as well as their daughter, Olwen. What a remarkable story about her. Rest in peace, Mrs Sanderson. You were a great teacher.

From: Marie (Norie) Jennings
Relation: Geo. Bonner Home Ec teacher

An energetic and friendly teacher who left a lasting imprint on our lives. Not everything was done by the book, but it worked. So many years later, a teacher who we still mention today in our infrequent school get-together’s, all of us inquiring as to her well being. She obviously left fond memories with many of us. Not knowing the details of her earlier life, I can now admire that she truly was a strong lady in spirit, and yet was always kind and caring. A full life, well lived, fondly remembered by many, may she rest in peace.
Marie (Norie) Jennings, Bonner High 1957

From: Cathy Campbell
Relation: Former student

Some teachers stand out in our memories long after we’ve forgotten many others. Celia Sanderson is one of those… a tiny dynamo in the classroom, one who you didn’t dare cross, but who remembered you by name and with a smile if she saw you years later. The tough guys lined up to take her boys’ cooking classes, thinking that they could slack off and just enjoy the good food, but she quickly dispelled that notion and made them work for their desserts. I was lucky to have her as one of my math advisors while on a self-paced programme one year… I gained new respect for her, as she had a gift for making obscure math concepts more real. It’s inspiring to read now what she overcame to forge the life she lived. This strength of spirit that drove her to make her own path and impact the lives of generations of students is her legacy. My thoughts are with the family and friends as you remember a life that was truly well-lived.

Service Schedule

  Funeral Service

Date & Time:
August 14, 2016
Beginning at 2:00pm

St. John''s Cobble Hill
3295 Cobble Hill Road
Cobble Hill, BC Canada

3295 Cobble Hill Road
Cobble Hill, BC Canada

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Nature Trust of BC

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