Not slowing down at 90

First in a weekly series of pioneer profiles

Cracking jokes and serving cake at her birthday party last month, Fran Horan seemed far younger than her 90 years. But then, she walks into town several times a week from Mountain Lake seniors community, explaining that an active body promotes an active mind.

Her reaction to her milestone birthday?

“It’s 100 per cent gratitude. It’s nothing that I did, it’s just lifestyle. When we grew up you darn well worked hard and ate properly. I can still remember cleaning the chicken house every Saturday. I dreaded and hated it, but you did it.”

Born in Nelson in 1921, Horan was the youngest of seven children. Her paternal grandfather, J.J. Campbell, came to West Kootenay for the mining boom, but was “bitten by the orchard bug,” and planted fruit on vast tracts along the North Shore.

It proved a big mistake.

“The Okanagan had just been irrigated and the poor old Kootenay apples weren’t that great,” Horan says. “He really made a dead loss, but he was a very special, wonderful man.”

Her father, Ian Colin Campbell, returned from World War I severely wounded and died when Fran was only four, leaving her mother Jean to raise the family at Willow Point in a cedar log house her father built.

“There was one huge bedroom. I still remember our mother coming from bed to bed to bed to say goodnight,” she says.

(The house no longer stands. Although her brother later added on to it, ultimately it fell into disrepair. A later owner invited her to take a final look before it was burned.)

Horan attended Willow Point school, Nelson High School, and then Normal School to become a teacher. Her first posting was at Johnsons Landing, where she had seven students in Grades 1 to 9.

“A wonderful guy over there had been madly in love with the teacher the year before me, but she was engaged and went to marry her boyfriend,” she recalls. “I fell madly in love with him, and he didn’t even see me!”

On Saturdays, she caught the SS Moyie to Kaslo and then took a bus home.

After that lone year, she enlisted with the Royal Canadian Air Force and served as an equipment assistant and aircraft parts factory worker at stations from coast to coast, giving her “a wonderful view of the whole of Canada.”

After the war, she attended UBC for her bachelor of arts, taught high school for a couple of years in Rutland, then headed east and joined the air force reserve.

At Summerside, PEI she met future husband Patrick (Paddy) Horan, a pipefitter putting in a curling rink at her station. They married in 1959 near Ajax, Ontario, and their son was born the same year.

Feeling restless, Fran suggested they return to BC, a decision they never regretted. In Nelson, she resumed her teaching career at Central, Rosemont, and briefly, A.I. Collinson.

“I loved that country atmosphere,” she says. “We did lots of exercise. These days young people, the only part of their body that gets any exercise is their thumbs and fingers.”

The Horans also built the Willow Bay motel — a poorly chosen name, she says, because it caused endless confusion with the nearby Willow Point motel.

Fran served on the school board, Selkirk College board, and for years was president of the local branch of the Canadian Cancer Society, where she earned a reputation as a relentless fundraiser.

Paddy passed away in September, after more than 50 years of marriage.

Son Paddy Jr. and daughter Mary came from out of town to attend her party, while grandchildren and great grandchildren sent video greetings.

“I haven’t died yet,” Fran kidded. “I don’t plan to!”

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