Twenty-third in a series of pioneer profiles
Joan Reichardt was fed up with Saskatchewan winters. After 22 years, she realized she couldn’t spend the rest of her life there.
“It was the weather. The wind. The topography. The flatness. The nothing,” she says. “People were wonderful, and I still have friends there, but when you spend the summers dreading the winters, you know this is not the place.”
It was 1968, and she and husband John had five kids, the oldest in high school. She felt some urgency to move while the family was all together. They looked at Kelowna, Victoria, and — because her husband’s sister had holidayed in Kaslo — Nelson.
“When we drove into Nelson, I felt like I’d come home,” she says. “Around the courthouse, all these chestnut trees were in bloom. The town I came from in England had chestnut trees. It just felt right. I’ve never lost that feeling.”
She made it plain how strongly Nelson appealed to her, and the family moved here that fall.
Born in 1928 and raised near London during wartime, Reichardt lived through the Blitz. Sometimes she spent all day at school in an air raid shelter, returned home to change, and sheltered again at night.
At 16, on a dare, she kissed a red-headed Canadian solider at a dance. She swept him off his feet — literally, for he stood 6-foot-6 and she had to push him onto his seat and hop on his lap to pucker up.
They married in 1945, but soon after he went back to Canada. Ten months later, she followed: a two-week journey by oceanliner and train finally brought her to Saskatoon. (The marriage lasted 51 years until John’s death. Reichardt has since been active with war bride reunions, and in 2006 retraced her route.)
In her new home, she was a stay-at-home mom and super-volunteer — less altrusim than a chance to get out and meet people, she says. But even as a girl in England, she heeded her grandmother’s advice that those born to fortunate circumstances must give back to others.
During the war, young Joan organized a benefit concert for the Red Cross, collected canes for wounded soldiers, and amassed books for army camp libraries — until the local postmaster begged her to stop.
Once in Nelson, however, she was determined to land a paying job, and found one that suited her perfectly: supervisor of homemaker services, today called home support.
“I loved it. I went to work every day for the next 24 years and thoroughly enjoyed it.”
She started out working three half days per week with an annual budget of $3,500. By the time she retired, the budget was $3.5 million, and she was responsible for numerous programs aimed at keeping people in their homes despite age or mental or physical disability.
Being far from Victoria, Reichardt had autonomy to try new things. She also became an expert at obtaining grants, or, as she puts it, “creative whining and snivelling.”
Reichardt also sat on the boards of BC Transit and Mount St. Francis, served on the Nelson and District Housing Society for 27 years — a building at Cedar Grove Estates is named after her — and recently rejoined the Community First Health Co-op board.
Never afraid to express her opinion, she has been a frequent newspaper letter-writer, a critic of health care cuts, and an advocate for those less inclined to speak for themselves, especially seniors.
In 1992, she was awarded Freedom of the City, the highest municipal honour.
“I’ve had a really fun life and I’m very happy to be where I am now, because this is a beautiful and special place,” she says.
Previous installments in this series