Jasper Treasure: Glenda Cornforth

·5 min read

Innovation, focus and tenacity: those characteristics are easy to see in longtime Jasperite, Glenda Cornforth.

Cornforth was born at home at a farm close to Kelliher, Saskatchewan, on May 22, 1936 to Jennie and Harvey Church. She joined brother Mervin who was born six years earlier.

Harvey worked for CN Rail and was transferred to Jasper. He went ahead of the family to secure a place to live, and the rest of the family arrived in December 1942.

"The biggest changes," Cornforth remembered, "were that there was running water and electric lights, and the fact that my mom could send me to the store for a loaf of bread."

Cornforth's parents had purchased a house by the summer of 1943. Part of the purchase agreement required them to send information from a weather station to the federal government's meteorological office Edmonton at least twice a day.

"That means we had a telephone, and not many people had a phone at that time - in the late 40s," Cornforth said.

Since the school year had already started, Cornforth waited until the following year to get into school.

She and her friends played hopscotch, skipped rope, and softball during recess. Dresses were the norm.

"That's what everybody did in those days," she said. "Girls didn't wear slacks. Often our mothers made our clothes. We wore wool skirts and sweaters in the winter, with long brown stockings.

“On really cold days we'd wear snow pants to school, take them off and hang them with our coats."

By the time Cornforth reached the senior level, classes were smaller because "a lot of kids moved away or quit school in Grade 9".

A new school had been constructed for senior high students where the Jim Vena Stage at CN Place sits today.

"It had a very well-equipped home economics room, a chemistry lab and an industrial arts room for the boys," she said.

A new auditorium was the place for basketball, badminton and volleyball games, and dances.

An outdoor skating rink and an Olympic-sized swimming pool were nearby. Skaters were treated to music the school caretaker played on a phonograph over the PA system. Hot chocolate was for sale in the change room.

Tragedy hit the Church family on Nov. 21 1950. Cornforth’s father, Harvey, was killed in the Canoe River train crash in Valemount, B.C., when a westbound troop train and eastbound CN Railway train collided head-on.

In the mid-60s, Glenda's brother Mervin passed away in an accident.

Cornforth graduated from high school in 1955 and soon after got a full time job at Jasper Park Lodge (JPL).

"I was a clerk in the engineering department; I kept track of time cards, ordering supplies," she said.

"I met a guy called Doug Cornforth the first day. He was working with the golf course and had to come in to get the key for gas. A staff member introduced us and we dated a bit."

JPL was open from June 15 to Sept. 15 in those days.

"When the lodge closed, the summer staff went back to college or university, or where jobs were elsewhere," Glenda said.

That included Doug, but he returned to JPL the next year and worked with the golf course crew again.

"I just thought, 'Oh well, the manager's son…’" Glenda remembered thinking.

She and Doug resumed dating and the 'Oh well' turned into 'I do' when they got married on Oct. 31, 1958 in Jasper.

The newlyweds honeymooned in Edmonton and Calgary - in that order. There was no taking the parkway southward then, as it was closed between mid-September and early June.

Glenda was a busy homemaker. Doug first worked at Jasper Motors, then Jasper Plumbing and Heating, from 1965 to early 80s.

The couple had their children, Karen, Richard and Brian.

Glenda was on the board of St. Mary and St. George Anglican Church and helped with childrens' activities. Doug was a volunteer firefighter with the Jasper Fire Brigade for several years.

Glenda said he was a very good skier, both downhill and cross country.

Doug, John Walker and Jim McCormick joined forces and owned and operated Shovel Pass Home Hardware for about 10 years. Glenda worked there as a cashier part time. In about 1989 she was hired at the Jasper Yellowhead Museum and Archives as archives manager and worked in that position up to 2005.

In the 70s Glenda and friends, Millie Black and Doris Kensit, started hiking together and soon a group of ladies went on hikes regularly. On their outings, The Thursday Group hiked into areas where they knew flowers would be blooming at their peak.

Doug passed away from cancer in 1992.

"The most important things to him were his family and friends," Glenda said, and added he thoroughly appreciated and enjoyed living in Jasper.

In the years following the Canoe River train crash, Glenda and her mom were asked to lay a wreath when the event was commemorated the first time, and every 10 years after that. "I've always been honoured to be asked," she said.

Glenda has been the president of the Jasper Seniors Society for almost five years and is on the accessions committee with the Jasper Museum and Archives. She belongs to a book club too.

Glenda's life changed on May 27 this year when her hip and wrist broke when she was getting off my bike and fell on a sidewalk. Following surgery in Edmonton she was flown to Jasper where she stayed in the hospital for a couple of months while she healed. Glenda said the care she received in both communities was excellent, and "then I had all kinds of help at home". Physiotherapy and occupational therapy have helped her, along with the "wonderful" support from family and friends, including her grandchildren, Patrick, Brendan and Taylor.

Joanne McQuarrie, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Jasper Fitzhugh