Free-spirited and grounded too: Norma Howard personifies those characteristics.
The longtime Jasper resident was born on Dec. 1, 1923 in Elko, B.C., to Grace and Harry Raby. She joined sister Beatrice, who was born a year-and-a-half earlier.
“My sister was very artistic; I was a sports girl,” Howard said.
After graduating from high school in 1942, she started a job in the office at the Powell River Pulp and Paper Company.
A couple of years later she and her buddy, Myrtle Cumming, decided to exercise their adventurous side.
“We got tired of just hanging around home,” Howard said. “We said, ‘Just do it.’”
That was a step outside the norm in those times.
“Not too many young people were travelling,” she said.
Howard used money she had saved for the trip and before she and Cummings left, they made themselves safety belts to hold the tender.
The travelling buddies got on a freighter in Vancouver and sailed down the Panama Canal. From there, a long journey across the pond took them to Antwerp, Belgium. That was the launching pad to explore other countries, including Germany, France, Switzerland, England, Scotland and Ireland, which Howard made a point of visiting because her Powell River neighbours had family there.
After a few months, she and Cummings had office jobs lined up in Scotland.
“Then Myrtle’s dad passed away, so we decided we’d better not stay,” Howard said.
Cummings flew home ahead of Howard.
“I came home on the Queen Mary, a big ship, to New York City,” Howard said.
The adventurous lady made sure she visited the Empire State Building and went all the way to the top of the 102-story building.
A journey to Toronto was next, on “a very, very comfortable bus” where Howard spent Christmas with a cousin and his wife. Then she boarded a train and took it to Vancouver and finally boated to Powell River.
It was nice to get home, Howard said, “and yet, I wasn’t in a hurry to get home.”
Twenty-five years of age by then, she returned to work at the Powell River Pulp and Paper Company as a secretary. In her off time, Howard hung out with friends in Powell River and lo and behold, that’s when Howard and Lorne first saw each other.
“We met at the beach, got talking,” she said. “When we found out we were both for the same company, we started laughing; Lorne worked in the mill.”
After a while, Lorne left Powell River and eventually joined the Canadian National Railway (CNR) in Vancouver. He ended up working in Jasper.
“We were good friends by then,” Howard said. “He came back to Powell River different times for visits.”
One of those times, when she and Lorne were walking along a beach trail, “He said, ‘Why don’t we get married and you could move to Jasper with me?’ So we got married in Powell River on Oct. 30, 1953.”
After a ten-day honeymoon in the U.S. the couple Howard went to Powell River, picked up their belongings and headed Jasper.
It was Nov. 17 when they arrived and Howard said there was a lot of snow that “beautiful day.”
“I’d never been in Jasper before,” she said. “We came by train. Two of Lorne’s good friends met us at the train. These fellows were there - you’d think I was marrying the town.”
She said she met people very quickly. “They just accepted me so early.”
As was the case for many people who moved to town, finding accommodation could be a challenge. The couple called an apartment home for the first year, then moved into a good-sized house on Connaught Drive.
Their two sons, Dave and Glenn, were born a year and a half apart when they lived there. In the late ‘40s, when Glenn was just ten months old, the family moved to another house in town and Howard calls it home to this day.
When the boys got a little older, Howard was offered a job at Rowed & O’Neill Photography, owned by Harry Rowed and Ray O’Neill. O’Neill and his family were the Howards’ neighbours too and the families shared many adventures.
“I’d never worked in a store in my life before, but I sure learned in a hurry,” she said.
The one-day position evolved into a full-time job for the next 15 years. Howard called the store one of the best in town, providing “top notch” products. She said the folks there were “a good bunch of people to work with.” Her son Dave started working there “when he was knee-high to a grasshopper and that's when he got into photography.”
Bears were a common sight in town and Howard said she and Lorne talked to their sons about being safe around them.
“We had bears going through our yard sometimes,” Howard said. “They’d be coming up the alley. At that time, we each had our own garbage cans. You knew the bears would be around. Kids respected them. They all walked to school and the bears would be in alleys on the way. Back in those days they weren’t interested in anybody. Maybe on the trails you’d run into them and if they had cubs, that’s when you’d start to worry.”
Howard added, “You just have to respect animals. They were here before we were.”
That respect was shown by Glenn who, at the age of eight or nine, Howard said, “wrote a letter to Parks Canada complaining that people were building houses on top of where the animals had their houses. He sent it without my knowledge; he told me after he sent it. I don’t know if he got an answer. He was so concerned to think houses would be over the little animals.”
Lorne introduced Howard to hiking and skiing when she joined him in Jasper and the two went on many excursions.
“There were so many different trails around here,” she said. “It was really nice. We’d go and make our own trails. They’d be just for us.”
Roy Richards was often their hiking partner.
The Howard family spent many summers in the Okanagan, where some relatives live.
Lorne worked for CN for many years. When he retired, hiking and skiing remained favourite activities, which he and Howard shared many times.
Howard said over the years, she and Lorne “never got into a really big argument”.
“We had a really good marriage. No matter what happened we were always there for each other,” she added.
“When I think back, when I heard people complaining about things, Lorne wouldn’t complain. He’d laugh. We both did.”
Lorne passed away in 2005 when he was 84 years old.
Howard was an avid hiker and skier for many years but there was the time at Marmot Basin, when she “wiped out, just turned the wrong way,” breaking her ankle. She went a few more times down the slopes but started focusing more on cross country skiing, something she did until she was 93 years of age.
Howard loves gardening and was busy in the vegetable patch until just a couple of years ago.
“I’ve lived on vegetables all my life, anything and everything,” she said. “I have to have my green beans and I love my yams.”
Chicken thighs are another favourite food for her.
Howard said Jasper was a wonderful place to raise her children and over the years, she has enjoyed the company of her extended family, including two grandsons and two great-grandsons.
Although Howard lived in Edson for about three months with Glenn in 2020, she missed the mountains deeply and returned to her beloved town. These days, she gets help with cleaning and is visited daily by home care staff. Family members bring her food as well.
And the mountains - they are her sustenance too.
“This is the most wonderful place to live, it really is,” she said. “I don’t want to leave my mountains. They’re so beautiful. Sitting at my window, I feel peaceful here. When I can see the mountains, I think, ‘I’m home.’”
Joanne McQuarrie, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Jasper Fitzhugh