Kath Yorston looks back

One of the area's pioneer women explores her past as she passes the 100 years of life mark

  • Fri Mar 27th, 2015 2:00pm
  • Life

Kath Yorston was the first of her siblings born in the B.C. Interior at the community appropriately called McAllister (her family name).

At the age of 101 years Kath Yorston says that when she wakes up in the morning she is never sure what the day will bring. And she has had a good many of them.

Katherine was the sixth of 10 children and the first girl born to James and Charlotte Macalister on Nov. 12, 1913. Her family included Don, Jim, Jack, Sandy, Joe, Katherine, Bob, Frances, June and Irene. The community of Macalister was named after this family.

There was no road to Quesnel at that time. She remembers the first time she came to Quesnel was to get her tonsils out and had to go up the Fraser River by boat. One of her school day memories was of students trying to pin the name Girlie on her but she would have none of it. She let them know that she preferred the name Kate.

Kath went to high school in Kamloops and worked for her room and board caring for children. It was the same situation when she was fortunate when a relative of the family she was boarding with in Kamloops needed someone to care for children in exchange for room and board for the year’s teacher training in Victoria.

“After kids were in bed I had a chance to do homework in my room in the attic.” she recalls. Once her landlady scolded her for keeping the lamp on so long and using so much coal oil. After that she would get up early in the morning to do homework. Studying and working after classes left little time for a social life. When she returned to the Cariboo she taught for a year at Menzinger Creek School, Ten Mile Lake School then to Macalister School for a couple of years. During her five years of teaching Kath preferred working with the younger children.

“There had to be 10 children registered to keep a school open,” she explained. There were just two families for a while, Macalisters and the Pickards, with the school half way between them so children from each family had only 2.5 miles.

Kath married John R. Yorston and their sons are John, Ken, and Bob. John worked his way through school and achieved his Doctorate in Horticulture. Bob remains on the original farm south of Quesnel. They have developed the popular corn maze on the farm. The original old house has been made into a haunted house to the delight of visitors.

Recalling some of the times on the farm she said they usually had a hired man, one of them from Switerzland, who slept in a cabin but ate with the family. “He was good with the little boys.” On the farm they raised cattle, wheat, oats, hay crops, chickens for eggs and just enough turkeys to eat themselves. Their few sheep provided wool that Kath would card, spin and knit for things such as socks. She has done a lot of knitting through the years.

With a background in agriculture and handwork, Kath was one of the founding members of Kersley branch of Women’s Institute. Their mandate is to gain awareness of current social issues; opportunities for self improvement; leadership skills; self confidence; new friends and adhered to the Women’s Institute motto For Home and Country to keep women interested, informed, involved in building a better tomorrow for family and community’. She led the first meeting to participate in the provincial fair which gave them greater connections. She remains a lifetime member of Women’s Institute.

One of her great contributions to the community was her crusade against invasive weeds. While she was out walking she noticed knapweed growing along the highway and knew how invasive this weed was – getting into the pasture and choking out all other crops. With her short-handled shovel she dug up any knapweed plants she saw, shaking off the roots, taking them home to burn in a barrel.

That routine was carried out for a number of years in an large area around her home which made a real difference to the spread of knapweed. With a chuckle she says she was known as the weed chaser. Sprays are used now to eradicate noxious weeds along main thoroughfares.

Kath has been a resident of Maeford Place Assisted Living Residence since it opened in 2007.

– Submitted by Ruth Scoullar