Antoinette Simard celebrates 100 years

by Sabine Gibbins

Antoinette Simard’s eyes sparkle when she remembers her days as a teacher in Meadow Lake.

It’s clear Simard, one of Meadow Lake’s pioneers, has returned to a place where she once contributed to the livelihood of a burgeoning community.

Simard celebrated her 100th birthday surrounded by friends and family Aug. 5 at Grieg Lake.

“It’s kind of hard to believe,” Simard laughed. “I never dreamt I’d reach it.”

Born Aug. 8, 1912 in Ituna, SK, Simard came to Meadow Lake in 1919, just before her seventh birthday. Later on, her teaching career would bring her to the community between 1937 and 1941.

“Meadow Lake at the time was just a settlement, really,” she said. “There were no stores, except for two general stores – no roads like you see now. There was a blacksmith shop and a couple homes. There were no cabins on the lakes (at the provincial park), either.”

She first started her teaching career in Junor, SK in 1933, and was also the school’s first teacher. There was no electricity, no phone, and the school was heated by a drum stove.

“Many of the pupils couldn’t speak English, so I taught them,” she said. “I would write songs on the blackboard, and they learned the language that way. We’d have games where we would do actions, and they would really enjoy it. It helped them learn.”

During the Second World War, Simard headed east and, for one year, taught at an orphanage in Montreal. She also landed a job in the accounting department of the Sun Life insurance company and worked there until she met and later married Robert Simard, a lieutenant in the Armed Forces, on Nov. 20, 1943.

She returned to Meadow Lake in 1948 with her husband and two small children. The town asked them to stay and, eventually, Simard was offered a teaching position.

“I’ve spent most of my life in Meadow Lake,” she said.

Simard recalls the time she would help put on Christmas plays and concerts, her productions always a lasting memory for many of her students, one of whom she still stays in contact with today.

The recent birthday girl was also very active in the community, participating in fundraising efforts for the hospital auxiliary.

“In the early days, I belonged to the Catholic church, and learned to play the organ because there was no organist at the time,” she said.

She retired from her teaching career at the age of 64 in 1976, when she and Robert moved to Grand Centre because he got a job at the air base in Cold Lake. He passed away in 1983, but after four years, Simard moved back to Meadow Lake.

Together, the couple had three children – Ron, a chemical engineer, Louise, a lawyer and former politician, and Giselle, a chartered accountant. Simard is also the proud grandmother of six grandchildren.

“I’m so proud of all my children, and grandchildren,” she said. “They’ve all been a success.”

Returning to Meadow Lake is likely the best gift she could ever have. Now, Simard lives in a retirement residence in Regina, close to her daughter, Louise.

“Meadow Lake is a wonderful place to live,” she said. “I was always enchanted by the trees and flowers.”

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