Monterey Faces: Meet Elsie Farr

Oak Bay centenarian first life membership of Monterey Centre

Elsie Farr, at 103 is the first life member of Monterey Monterey Centre.

What is your background?

I was born in 1915 in Goodmayes, a 35-minute train ride from London, England. My father had a hairdressing business before opening a confectionery and tobacconist shop where I used to help out. My mother wanted me to get a good education so I went to Furzedown teacher training in London on a scholarship.

In school, I played sports and was the captain of our netball team. I also appeared in plays in school and college, and after finishing college, I performed in several operettas.

My first teaching job was at Hardley School in Southampton where I taught for four years. It was at Hardley that I met Bert Farr, another teacher. We married six months after our first meeting. We loved doing things together and shared a love of theatre. We never quarreled. When we moved to Christchurch in the south of England, we both taught school and continued going to plays and concerts.

What brought you to Victoria?

A friend of Bert’s was teaching in North Vancouver and persuaded us to move to Canada. Conditions in England at the time were depressed and we wanted better opportunities for our three children. We thought that we would try it and if we didn’t like it, we could always come back.

My husband got a teaching position in Merritt, BC. In our second year there, I became the town’s first home economics teacher. I had always loved sewing and textiles. As a little girl, I was fascinated as I watched my grandfather’s staff of tailors.

During the summers, we took classes at the University of British Columbia. Together with our children, we stayed on campus. My husband got his Master’s degree over a couple of summers and I upgraded my British teacher training by taking courses over five summers to complete my Canadian education degree. The kids had the run of the campus, enjoying cafeteria food, the swimming pool, and fun courses. They had lots of freedom to play outside whenever they wanted. It was a lovely way to spend the summer holidays.

In 1960, we were offered teaching positions in Victoria. I started teaching home economics and commerce at Colquitz Junior High School and my husband taught at Victoria High School. Many Vic High students remember Bert Farr as the commerce and drama teacher. We also volunteered at Langham Court Theatre. Bert directed plays and I helped with costumes, sets, membership and publicity.

How long have you been a member of Monterey Recreation Centre?

Before I retired, I knew there was a seniors centre in Oak Bay, so I went in to see what was there. I became a member in January 1980. When I had been a member for 30 years, I received a long service award pin. As there wasn’t a 30-year pin, I received two 15 year pins.

I also treasure the long service award presented to me by then Mayor of Oak Bay, Chris Causton, at the volunteer recognition dinner at the Uplands Golf Course in 2010. The award hangs in my living room and a copy hangs in the ‘Hall of Fame’ at the Oak Bay Recreation Centre.

What did you do as a member and a volunteer at Monterey Recreation Centre?

I held various positions with the Oak Bay Seniors Activity Association (as it was called then), including Treasurer, Vice President, and President. I was willing to do anything. My training in elocution helped me as announcer of the songs at the Sing-A-Long Choir on Thursday mornings; my training in commerce served me as Treasurer; my love of sewing and quilting, and my training in Home Economics, supported my role as President of the Craft Carnival Club. I organized and ran the annual Bazaar. We made a lot of money! One of my favourite activities was to organize a group of people to count the cash after the bazaars. I had learned calligraphy so for many years, I enjoyed writing birthday cards from the centre to members.

I belonged to the Photo Club and acted as President twice. I arranged the programs for shows by members and presented travelogue slide shows at the centre and various retirement homes. When we retired, my husband and I had done a lot of travelling, so it was fun to share the pictures of our trips.

The club that gave me the most satisfaction was the Craft Carnival. We raised significant funds that helped to support centre activities.

Why did you volunteer?

It was fun. Because of my teaching background, I knew the importance of involving others as much as possible when I took on leadership roles. A person who takes over and doesn’t consult means that others don’t feel appreciated. I made them feel valuable. I thought that it was important to make people feel part of the community. I especially enjoyed working with the Monterey staff and I did so in a businesslike manner.

What did you like about the centre?

Initially I liked that the Centre was close to where we lived in Cadboro Bay. When my husband and I moved to James Bay, I continued to volunteer at Monterey even though I also started volunteering at the James Bay New Horizons seniors centre.

I really liked Monterey because it was so much fun! People could always try new things. If one or two people wanted to try new activities, they were given the chance to do it. Sometimes they worked, sometimes they did not and were discontinued.

Even now, I enjoy being invited back at Christmas for the Sing Along.

How would you describe the centre to a newcomer?

I don’t feel that I know enough about what goes on there any more to say. Some of the programs I was involved with don’t exist anymore. Everything changed when people started using little computers. There used to be a lot of knitting and sewing, and I understand that the Craft Carnival is still going strong.

How do you spend your time now?

I go to Beckley Farm Day program several times a week. We’re treated very well. They have lots of activities and do exercises with us. We listen to music, go to talks and are part of discussion groups. I enjoy going to the James Bay New Horizons dinner once a month. I also walk as much as I can with my walker.

About twice a month, I play a great card game called Wizard with my family. I like my puzzle books and I love Knowledge Network programs, my favorite being Radio City on Sunday afternoons at 3:00. They have wonderful opera or other concerts each week.

What traits do you think helped you to live over 100 years?

I would say that genetics was a factor. Of the five in my family, three of us lived over 90 years. Another was physical fitness – I played sports which made me quite strong. But most important, it’s not about the age, it’s the attitude.

What would surprise people to know about you?

I was the first Life Member at Monterey! I’m also the oldest Life Member at the Langham Court Theatre. People are always surprised that I’m 103. They say that I look like I’m in my 80s.

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Linda Foubister, volunteer with Monterey Recreation Centre, writes Monterey Faces.

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