As a young woman, Mildred Richardson, who just turned 100, drove a van that brought religious education to rural England and Canada from 1920 to the 1970s. Photo: Contributed
On March 19, another Anglican centenarian came of age and received a congratulatory certificate from the primate.Archbishop Fred Hiltz sent congratulations to Mildred Richardson, who has spent a lifetime serving the Anglican Church of Canada and is still a member of her parish in Woodstock, Ont.
A former grade school teacher, Richardson spent two summer vacations in the 1940s plying the back roads of northern British Columbia in a two-ton Anglican Sunday school van. The caravan ministry was demanding. “It wasn’t for everyone. You were far from the amenities of home and you had to keep in shape,” says Richardson.
She herself was well prepared for the rigours of this role, having grown up as one of five children on an electricity-free dairy farm in West Zorra township, near London, Ont. And just after graduating from London Normal School, the young Richardson took on all eight grades in a one-room schoolhouse in her native township.
As a “vanner,” Richardson drove one of the Misses Frances H.E. Hasell’s and Iris Sayle’s fleet of 24 vehicles that brought religious education to rural England and Canada from 1920 to the 1970s. Mildred was one of the recruits dispatched to minister to remote communities not served by the church. The recruits taught lessons and even led services when no clergy were available.
“If your van broke down on an isolated road, you just had to wait until help came along,” recalls Richardson. Luckily, the big Fords were equipped with beds. “We had a little camping stove and we ate mostly out of cans,” she says. “Sometimes we got invited to dinner, and sometimes people held canned goods ‘showers’ for us.”
Her 35-year career as an educator included two years at Indian residential schools in Alberta and ended as a teacher-librarian in Woodstock, Ont. Of her time in the residential schools Richardson says, “I enjoyed the connection with the children but not the situation. What upset me most was that the children were not allowed to speak their native language.” Teachers were supposed to send the pupils for punishment if they spoke their native tongue. “You’d be surprised how quickly I could turn deaf!” says Richardson
Returning to southwestern Ontario, Richardson taught Sunday school at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Woodstock, setting up its library and founding its first newsletter, The Crook.
She is still a member of the parish, although she now lives in the nearby town of Tavistock. After her retirement in 1973, Richardson became an ambitious traveller and still enjoys reading, socializing and playing Scrabble. And she gives a lively telephone interview.
Further reading: www.gutenberg.orgoffers a free online book about the mobile Sunday school: Across the Prairie in a Motor Caravan, by Frances Halton Eva Hasell and Iris Eugenie Friend Sayle.
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Diana Swift is an award-winning writer and editor with 30 years’ experience in newspaper and magazine editing and production. In January 2011, she joined the Anglican Journal as a contributing editor.
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