There is a pretty good chance that when Doris Townsend turns 100 this week, she’ll head to the Legion and have a wine spritzer, after all she quit drinking scotch.
Her son Ron Culshaw, who is typically the recipient of her meat draw winnings, pipes up that she only started drinking when she was 50.
Townsend will be the latest Drumhellerite to become a centenarian come March 18, and she has spent all but 17 years in the valley. Even at 100, she exudes the energy of someone half her age, never slow to crack a broad grin and utter a joke at her own expense. And by all account is showing no signs of slowing down.
“I still go out every Friday, and I have a wine spritzer,” she relays to The Mail. “ I have a friend who picks me up and takes me home. She is six foot tall, so she is able to look after me.”
Doris came in 1928 on her own from England to be reunited with her father and stepmother. Her dad came earlier to work in the mines. Her sister also came by herself. Her father and stepmother eventually made enough money to settle in Australia with her brothers just a few years later.
Coming from England, her first impressions of Drumheller were stark.
“I had wondered what I had come to. Oh, Drumheller was such a small place. All the freight trains stopped here,” she recalls.
She came to Canada to do domestic work and went to work for the Pappas family. They owned a rooming house called the National Rooms right across from the rail station. The parents lived at the rooming house while she lived in the family home. At only seventeen, she began taking care of the family’s 12 and 14 year old children.
“I didn’t mind being with the kids, we got a long well,” she said.
As a young women, she remembers going to dances at the Legion in the early days when women were admitted free.
Not long after she went to work at the hospital in the laundry.
“I enjoyed it because the girls were all so nice,” she recalls.
Beside the Pappas home lived her first husband, and she married John Culshaw in 1930, who at the time worked for the cab drivers as a dispatcher.
“I don’t know if he swept me off my feet, but it was a good living,” she chuckles.
The couple had a daughter in 1931. John went overseas when World War II broke out.
She recalls when her husband was serving overseas, a neighbour used to come at night and steal coal from their home. She would hear the culprit in action.
“I knew the guy that did it. He had a bag, and it must have had a hole in it because he left a trail,” she laughs. “Some people don’t have a conscience.”
She did have a conscience, and during the war years signed up with the Ladies Auxiliary at the Royal Canadian Legion. This was at her mother-in-law’s urging. She joined about 82 other members and promptly began to knit. Socks scarves, gloves, vests and blankets were stitched together to keep the serving men warm and thinking of home. She served as president in 1967, 1968, 1978, 1979 and 1984. While the numbers have dwindled, she is still a proud member. She was awarded the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal for her service.
After the war, the couple had two sons, Ron in 1948 and Keith in 1950. John went to work loading coal into engines at the round house.
She lost her first husband who passed away in the late 50’s at the age of 47. She remarried in 1963 to Art Townsend. He was a Korean War veteran, and the two became acquainted through the Legion. He worked at Canadian Utilities.
In 1969, she travelled to Australia and saw her parents for the first time since they left the valley in the 1930’s.
Even talking about the men she chose to spend her life with, she still cracks a grin.
‘I’ve been married twice, and I outlived them both, I don’t know what I did to them,” she chuckles. “It wasn’t as if I didn’t feed them, I treated them nice, but there is no telling for some people.
She adds she is following in her father’s footsteps as he lived to be 91.
While her first impression of Drumheller was bleak, the town warmed her over in the last 83 years.
“I wondered why I came out. I didn’t like Drumheller at all, I thought it was the most horrible place on earth,” she said. “I got used to it, and the people are so nice. I like Drumheller, it’s home. When I go to the Legion on Friday night, I know everybody.”