100 years in Cowichan: Stella Fullerton’s story

Stella Ford. (Submitted)
Baby Stella Fullerton in a carriage, 1920. (Submitted)Baby Stella Fullerton in a carriage, 1920. (Submitted)
Stella Fullerton’s class at Duncan Consolidated School in 1929. (Submitted)Stella Fullerton’s class at Duncan Consolidated School in 1929. (Submitted)
The Ford’s in their bathing costumes. Stella Fullerton, then Ford, is in the middle. (Submitted)The Ford’s in their bathing costumes. Stella Fullerton, then Ford, is in the middle. (Submitted)
Stella Ford at school. (Submitted)Stella Ford at school. (Submitted)
Stella Ford all dressed up. (Submitted)Stella Ford all dressed up. (Submitted)
Stella Ford. (Submitted)Stella Ford. (Submitted)

By Joy Davis

Stella Fullerton was born 100 years ago on Oct. 4, 1920, a time far different than the world we live in today.

Stella was born at Kings Daughter’s Hospital in Duncan to Douglas and Doris Ford of Somenos. Stella had an older brother and sister and a younger brother and sister. She was the first child born after her father returned from the First World War. They lived in the midst of their old growth forest acreage on Bell-McKinnon Road which was a portion of the property that Douglas’s father, James Ford, had divided between his family.

The world has seen 100 years of change from a time when, as a child, she shared a bed with her two sisters; rode her bicycle with a pail of milk swinging from her handlebars for delivery to grandparents in Duncan; she rolled a metal hoop along cow paths with a stick; picked lady slippers where the Trans-Canada Highway now passes through and played “Rounders” a type of softball game with a soft rubber ball, and not necessarily a proper bat, as they couldn’t afford such luxuries. She built forts, climbed trees, walked on stilts and played make believe farms with moss and pine cone animals.

Young Stella rode the school bus from “Ford’s Corner,” at Norcross and Bell-McKinnon, to Duncan Primary School and Consolidated School (Duncan Elementary). One school bus had wooden benches down either side, another bus had four or five doors on the side, each door opening up to a forward-facing bench seat. The buses were not much wider than a car but eventually those buses were replaced with old Nanaimo coach buses. Girls entered the school on the south side, boys from the north side; inside they were in combined classes. The boys and girls played on opposite sides of the schoolyard. Girls played hopscotch and jacks, boys played marbles and conkers. Stella was called Tin Lizzie, a nickname for a Model T Ford, by some schoolboys. Stella fondly remembers dancing around the May Pole in a pink organdy dress.

This was life as Stella knew it.

Stella was 12 years old when their first telephone was installed in the home requiring five telephone poles to be erected. Their telephone number was 201R3 and was a shared party line with other homes. Each home had a different ring sound, but others could pick up the phone and listen in, even when it wasn’t their ring. There were at least three different rings.

It was an extra special summer day when the family would go to the sandy beach in Crofton in their open-sided Ford. They would play in the water and ride on floating logs. Returning home they would drive along the old highway through Westholme. Their father didn’t turn at Bell-McKinnon because their car likely couldn’t make it up Solly’s Hill. They continued along Somenos Road (the Island Highway), a much longer route.

Stella learned how to ride her father’s bicycle along Herd Road. The men’s frame bicycle was far too big for her, so she tilted it to the side and rode inside the frame instead of standing over the top tube.

The family enjoyed their gramophone and their radio which was operated with a battery similar to that of a car battery. Her father would take the battery to town to get charged. They listened to Major Bowes Amateur Hour, a talent show.

The Fords didn’t have an abundance of water, and didn’t have a bathtub, only a round tub that you stood up in. Bath water was often shared and Stella remembered once pretending to have a bath by splashing the water around as she didn’t want to bathe in previously used bathwater.

Stella’s father only received $40 per month for many years while they were growing up. Thankfully they owned their own home otherwise they would never have managed to make ends meet.

Hot summer days were spent with her brothers and sisters, and neighbourhood children, swimming in Somenos Lake where the Forest Museum train trestle is now located.

Stella was 18 years old on May 31, 1939 when she made her first trip off of Vancouver Island to see King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in Vancouver.

In 1940, Stella began working at City Bakery on Station Street in Duncan, earning $11 per week. Doughnuts were three for five cents and oval shaped loaves of bread were 10 cents. City Bakery, previously called Page & Lansdell City Bakery, employed both Stella and her mother, some 30 years apart.

Stella enlisted in the armed services in the Air Force Women’s Division in Vancouver in 1942, only the second year women were allowed entry. She ended her years of service as a Leading Aircraft Woman.

In 1950 Stella and three friends went on a three-week road trip to the Grand Canyon and California. Each of them paid per day, $2 for gas and $5 for food and hotel.

After living in Victoria for a few years she returned to Duncan and started working at the 5 and 10 cents store across from Eatons. She bought a 1949 Austin Devon and learned how to drive; gas was 25 cents a gallon.

Stella married Victor Davis and they bought a new home on 10 acres on Bell McKinnon Road for $6,000. They had two children, Brian and Joy. Family vacations included a motel stay in Parksville, however they found the $8 per night rate too high and resorted to buying a tent so they could afford to stay longer.

Stella lost her husband on Oct. 3, 1979.

Later Stella remarried, Jim Fullerton, who had in turn lost his wife, Shirley Fullerton, a friend of Stella’s. She had met the two during the time she was in the air force.

At 100 years, Stella is still living in her own home on Norcross Road, within half a mile of her childhood home, a home that is still standing in 2020.

Joy Davis is Stella Fullerton’s daughter.