Sharing stories over lunch keeps Esquimalt friends connected

Group of longtime chums relish get-togethers at Gorge Vale

A toast to longtime friendships Former Esquimalt High classmates Josie Willock

Their numbers are dwindling, but they fondly remember and tell stories about those who have passed on.

As they sit at a round table overlooking the first tee at Gorge Vale Golf Club, a group of friends who attended Esquimalt High together – in some cases, Lampson Street elementary as well – reminisce over sandwiches, wraps and bowls of soup.

This is not an Esquimalt grad reunion, since most of the six women did not officially graduate.

A couple went to work at Yarrows Shipyards in the late 1940s, or elsewhere. But the camaraderie of the group after nearly 70 years is unmistakably that of grade-school chums.

“Betty (Carter, nee Speirs) and I have known each other since we were kids,” says Mona Brown, formerly Mona Coulter. “And we were both usually into sports.”

Showing how Esquimalt has a serious pull on people who grew up here, five of the six women have lived in the municipality all or most of their lives, even through their married years.

Carter, the organizer of these lunches, proudly shares that not only did she and her three siblings attend Esquimalt High, her two children graduated from the school and two of her grandchildren currently go there.

Almost in mirror-like fashion, her lifelong pal Brown chips in to say three generations of her family have also attended the school.

The shared experiences at the table bring a group chuckle.

Carmen “Carmie” Wright (nee Hocking) tosses out a memory of a large sawdust bin that once sat on Viewfield Road, near where she grew up.

“We used to jump in that bin all the time,” Zeno McMillan (nee Emery) says, smiling broadly.

On a roll, Wright speaks fondly about the days of riding the old B.C. Electric buses into Victoria with friends.

“You used to be able to go downtown and know people, but not now,” she says with a tinge of regret.

Over the years her connection with many friends from school would come through working at the Safeway store in Esquimalt Plaza, now Country Grocer.

“I still run into people today who say, ‘You used to work at Safeway.’”

Asked for humorous anecdotes from their Esquimalt High days, Betty Wilson – rather quiet up until now – tells a story of exam sheets that mysteriously went missing after she typed them up for a teacher, one Mr. Blodgett.

“I put them in a cupboard with no lock and they started disappearing,” she recalls. The teacher became almost enraged trying to track down the culprits, Wilson says.

“Rumour had it that you had to swear on a Bible that you were telling the truth,” she says. “But Betty Godson got all upset and said she wouldn’t do it because she was an atheist.”

More chuckles.

Josie Willock (nee Shaw), whose family is famous for bike racing, is the outlier in this group of Esquimalt residents, having moved long ago to the Lakehill neighbourhood in Saanich. Her invitation to the roughly twice-a-year lunches came when she reconnected with the late Ivy Bulmer.

“That was 15 years ago and we had about 20 people coming regularly then,” Willock says.

These days those numbers have diminished to less than a dozen, with most of the participants now in their 80s.

For those who keep coming back to touch base with old friends, whether to catch up on neighbourhood news or commiserate the passing of another friend, these gatherings become ever more important.

“I just love it, the connection with people,” Brown says.

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