A memorial will be held Sunday for Procter matriarch Hilda (Dilla) Ogden, known to all who live there for her beautiful garden and extensive volunteerism. Ogden, who has died at 98, spent nearly her entire life in the community and was the driving force behind the history book Kootenay Outlet Reflections.
“It’s a big loss, yet we’re so blessed to have had her that long,” says her daughter, Beth Ogden-Wood. “We’ll sure miss her. She was a great lady.”
Ogden was born October 23, 1914 on a farm about a mile west of Procter. Her maternal grandparents, the Waltons, arrived in 1908 from Alberta and ran the general store. Their widowed daughter Clara joined them a few years later and met Alfred Heighton, a Nova Scotian who came west to build bridges for the Canadian Pacific Railway.
They married in 1913. Hilda, the second of their six children, grew up on the farm and worked in her grandparents’ store. She recalled Sikhs from the local sawmill would come over to cash their paycheques, but asked her to hang on to the money. “They said ‘You keep.’ She’d write them a receipt and they’d get her to keep the receipt too,” her daughter says. “She acted like a bank.”
It was also at the store that Hilda met her husband, English-born Albert Ogden, almost ten years her senior, as he delivered freight. “She used to still blush about it,” Ogden-Wood says. “She had lovely blue eyes and my dad was pretty cheeky. He started singing Beautiful, Beautiful Blue Eyes. That was the first time they laid eyes on each other.”
Hilda’s father, however, was very protective, so Albert set about winning him over. “They talked guns, played crib, and of course he’d get invited to dinner.”
Alberta and Hilda married in Procter’s United Church on June 13, 1934.
Her new husband nicknamed her Dilla. “She had two Aunt Hildas,” their daughter explains. “My dad said Dilla was a pet name in England. That’s what he called her and it stuck. Because they were so close, it’s what she preferred.”
In 1935, the couple bought the house they were renting from Hilda’s grandmother. With enlargements, remodelling, and landscaping, Hilda would call it home for the next 75 years.
Albert continued to operate the Procter-Nelson freight line before and after serving overseas during World War II, then worked aboard the SS Moyie, Harrop ferry, and MV Anscomb.
Hilda, meanwhile, became a community pillar. “She guided so many people and counselled couples in trouble,” says daughter Beth. “She ran a Sunday school for over 25 years, basically by herself. No other adults were willing to put that much time into it.”
When Beth and sister Claire were in school, Hilda and friend Edna Fitchett took charge of the annual Christmas concerts, ensuring every child had a part and a costume.
Hilda lamented the 1987 closure of the Procter school, writing that “The children are now bused away … I miss the sound of them at play during recess and lunch time. It’s as though the Piped Piper has spirited them away.”
She was among those who spoke against the building’s demolition. Years later, when it was a thriving venue for the Kootenay Storytelling Festival, she opened her garden for tours.
“Her white house sat at the end of the street like an English cottage, always looking so quaint and well cared for,” says festival co-founder Rick Budd. “She was always very supportive and loved the storytelling festival, especially how it reminded her of earlier times when Procter was busy with young families and community events.”
In the 1980s, Ogden was president of the committee that compiled the massive Kootenay Outlet Reflections, writing in the preface that the project was “at times, arduous, time consuming and sometimes discouraging. But always interesting and very, very rewarding.” The book is due to be reprinted this year.
When Albert took early retirement, he and Hilda paid an extended visit to family and friends in England. They were fans of TV’s Coronation Street — Albert could translate the thick accents — and got a kick out of the fact the show’s most popular character was named Hilda Ogden.
After Albert died in 1973, Hilda kept up the house and garden on her own. She joined the hospital auxiliary and sold raffle tickets with her dog in tow.
Hilda Ogden died February 27 in Kamloops at 98, where she had been living part of the year with her daughter. “People say she’s really an icon,” Ogden-Wood says. “The way she lived her life was such an example. She always kept so positive.”
Ogden was predeceased three years ago by younger sister Lily. She’s survived by her two daughters and many grandchildren. A celebration of her life will be held Sunday in her garden at 8004 Woodside in Procter.