Maureen Wills recalls the reasons for immigrating to the Cochrane area and her 11-day voyage.
She talks about knowing that Cochrane would be her home for the rest of her life from the very first sight.
Thanks to M.D. Bighorn’s oral history project for capturing this story.
Article from page 811 More Big Hill Country
Maureen Wills Family
By Andy Marshall
On her second day in Alberta after arriving from England, rounding the top of the Cochrane Hill on an exploratory drive to Banff, the thought strikes Maureen Wills as clearly as the stunning view before her: “This is where I will spend the rest of my life.”
The year was 1960, and although it took two years for the then 24-year-old to realize her vision, she’s lived in the Cochrane region for almost 46 years, helping build the community and serving others with remarkable contributions of time and energy.
Now 72, she’s still hard at it, sitting on a task force deciding on the future of the former town office site, president of several organizations, including Victim Services, Handibus Society, William Watson Lodge Society, and the multi-million-dollar Kerby Seniors Centre operation in Calgary.
There’s her nine years on the Family and Community Support Services advisory committee, her involvement from their beginnings with the Cochrane and Area Humane Society and the Beaupre Community Association. Town councillor from 1998 to 2004, she was also a founding member of the town’s affordable housing group. And, the town can celebrate her life long involvement with scouting and her drive to build the Frank Wills
She’s now promoting expansion, broadening her horizons is a constant theme with Maureen. “I’m still up for a challenge,” she says, a twinkle in her eyes. “I come from Yorkshire” (England). “The most tenacious dog breed is the Yorkshire terrier, so Yorkshire people are supposed to never quit,” she adds.
Born near York, she grew up and went to Catholic school there. “We were poor, working-class, but my parents gave us precious gifts of love and support.” At five she joined Brownies, “and my life since has been living by the ideals of scouting.”
An all-around athlete, Maureen yearned to be out playing rather than inside pouring over books. Leaving school at 16, she hated her first inside office job. But subsequent work on a poultry farm and later at the York Institute of Agriculture reinforced her love of animals and the outdoors.
She joined the Royal Air Force during the 1950s, learning a trade in radar. After a stint with an electrical equipment company, she joined friends for that fateful trip to Canada.
A magnificent blanket on Maureen’s bed is an evocative memento of her first two years in Canada teaching physical education in the Blackfoot Nation east of Calgary. The blanket was a gift from elder Rosario Redgun, who earlier “adopted” her and gave her a Blackfoot name equivalent to Blue-eyed Woman. Maureen hopes one day to finish a book, From Tipi to Trailer, inspired by these experiences.
Her first job in the Cochrane area was caring for dogs, horses and other animals at the Ghost River Ranch. There followed a spell with the Red Cross, a trip back to England, then a return to the ranch.
A tumble off a horse introduced her to Frank in 1967. He happened to be nearby when her horse reared backwards and he untangled her foot from the stirrup.
“I really fell for him right there,” says Maureen. There’s that twinkle again. They married the following year.
Together with Frank, a longtime Scout leader and owner of several sawmills, they spent countless hours rejuvenating scouting throughout the region. They lived on Jamieson Road, northwest of Cochrane, opening up their large home, with a firing range and games room, for young people in need of recreation.
Frank, a keen hunter, had his Spaniels; Maureen her beloved Corgis. Their daughter, Kathy, was born in 1971, so she was only eight when Frank died in 1979. Still close to Maureen, she enjoys, with her husband, a career in monster truck driving, the only woman in Canada to manage that, according to proud Mom.
In 1989, the two moved into Cochrane’s east end. All the time, Maureen kept up her involvement with scouting. She also drove a school bus for 17 years and, incidentally, became a Provincial Driving Champion.
Numerous awards cover a wall in the apartment she moved to three years ago, reflecting her relentless advocacy for seniors and young people: Commonwealth Golden Jubilee Award, Citizen of the Year, scouting silver and gold medals, Provincial Seniors’ Service award are just some of them. Maureen is quick to deflect the glory. “I don’t win these alone. I work with other people, and that’s what makes it fun.”
Amazingly, she still has time to play cards. For her spiritual restoration, nothing beats a quiet time in Kananaskis Country. Ask her what keeps her going, she replies: “I have to have something to go to bed and feel good about it.”
She’s certainly living up to those ideals.