Lorraine Doiron has not been around the Bulkley Valley forever, it just seems that way.
In a good way.
Although Doiron only arrived in Smithers in 2003, she immediately got deeply involved in the community in multiple ways and was tireless in her commitment to a variety of organizations, causes, projects and other activities.
As a community columnist for this newspaper since 2004, she prides herself on having rarely missed a deadline. Even when she was in Vancouver undergoing treatment for breast cancer, she found a way to “borrow” wi-fi from some apartments across from the hospital or made the trek down the street to an Internet café to get her column in on time.
“I felt horrible, but you do what you’ve got to do,” she said.
As editor of The Interior News for 79 weeks now, I can attest, she has never missed a single a deadline in my tenure.
And as a fellow columnist, I have to admit, I have often envied her following.
This week marks Doiron’s last column for the paper. She is moving to Prince George to be closer to her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Perhaps the greatest tribute to Doiron’s 17 years in the valley is that people virtually lined up to say nice things about her.
Smithers’ loss will be Prince George’s gain.
Among all of her volunteer efforts, she will perhaps be best remembered for her dedicated service to the Smithers Public Library
“Lorraine has long been a tireless advocate for the library in our community and vice versa, informing people about the many free programs and materials available to them and bringing suggestions from community members back to the board and staff,” said Wendy Wright, library director. “As chair of the Friends of the Smithers Library she organizes their popular annual book sales and has fundraised for everything from books, DVDs and magazines to snacks for children’s programs. Lorraine’s passion for making the library all it can be – a free source of learning and leisure for all – is an inspiration. She will be dearly missed.”
But it’s not just the current library that benefitted from her efforts, she was also instrumental in the new library/art gallery project.
“To me , she’s a tremendous asset as far as bringing a better quality of life and a better community to the whole of the Bulkley Valley,” said Wally Bergen, chair of the library board.
“Lorraine is always the one who drives to get something done… a lot of people come up with ideas, then they kind of abandon, but when Lorraine gets an idea she wants it to happen. And boy, she just keeps on going and going and going until it’s done. We’re going to miss her.”
Doiron was born in Vancouver. Her mother was living on Vancouver Island while her dad was away in the navy during the Second World War. The pregnancy risky so she was moved to Vancouver.
From there they went to Millairdville, then a small French community outside New Westminster, now a neighbourhood in the City of Coquitlam.
They lived with her aunt and grandmother, three families on a farm.
“I only spoke French, I didn’t know how to speak English at all,” she recalled.
“When my father came back from [the Second World War] I had to learn how to talk English because he did not know how to speak French, even though his last name was French.”
They soon moved to New Westminster where she attended St. Anne’s Academy (closed in 1968), an all-girls Catholic school taught by nuns from Grade 2 on.
She quickly learned not to run afoul of the nuns.
“The girls school was on [one] end of Agnes St. and a block or two that end was the boys school,” she recalled. “I was toddling along… and I happened to look over and there were these two boys, they were playing on the swings or something like that and all of a sudden, Sister Mary Margaret — they never seemed to walk, it looked liked they floated — and she just whooshed onto these two kids, grabbed one by each ear and banged their heads together. I thought, I will never talk back to Sister Mary Margaret again, ever, ever, ever.”
After high school she married, had a son and moved to Cache Creek.
“There was nothing in Cache Creek and I didn’t know how to drive, so I went back to my mom and he followed,” she said.
“They weren’t long there, though, because Mike found work in Little Long Rapids in northern Ontario building a dam on the Missinaibi River, which flows into Hudson Bay at Moosonee.
She said it was a revelatory experience.
“I had never experienced a winter like that,” she said. “We had our own mobile home, we had bought one, and it was so cold that the propane froze.
“New Year’s Eve, I had this beautiful New Year’s Eve dress, I was all dressed up fancy and my husband demanded that I wear longjohns because we had to walk to the hall where they were having the New Year’s Eve celebrations and I wouldn’t, but when we got there I did regret that I didn’t wear them because it was minus-60.”
When the job was done they came back to Cache Creek briefly until Mike got a job in Cutbank, SK (now a ghost town) working on the famous Gardiner Dam in southwest Saskatchewan that created Diefenbaker Lake.
Although not as remote as northern Ontario, it did not suit Doiron much better.
“I had never, ever lived where there weren’t any mountains,” she explained. “I was scared if the wind blew it would blow us right off the face of the Earth cause there was nothing there to hold onto; it was horrifying. And you couldn’t find the end of the road in the wintertime because the snow was all even.”
They gravitated back to Cache Creek again because Mike’s parents ran an auto-court there, so it was a guaranteed place to live, but the marriage fell apart.
Eventually she wound up in Houston with her last husband who was a logger. He retired to Vernon, but got sick and passed away in 20o2 leaving Doiron to wonder where she would go next.
“I always liked this area,” she said. “I was going to move to Houston, but my daughter [Cheryl Ann Stahel] said, ‘mm mm mm, you’ve got to move to Smithers because that’s where I live,” Doiron said.
“Smithers was my choice to be close to my family, so that’s why I’m moving now, everybody now is in Prince George.”
Another of Doiron’s pet projects was Smithers Community Radio. When CICK was still just in the planning phase, Doiron heard about it and attended the very first meeting. She volunteered to be the secretary.
“So, I did that for a while, kept their meetings and stuff, and then they had a little sound board and they said, ‘you can do it, you can do a weekly thing, you can interview people,” she said,
And she has. Over 10 years, she has interviewed hundreds of people from seniors to tourists passing through town to politicians seeking election. She has done more than 400 episodes of her show Porch Talk, a series of podcasts called Past, Present and Future and was an active member of the station’s board until the very end.
“Her feeling of responsibility to the community was always an element to her contribution to CICK,” said Glen Ingram, station manager. “She rarely missed a bi-weekly council meeting and was responsible for all the recordings that would then be featured on her show, Porch Talk.
“In so many ways Lorraine has helped our station and our community. We are sad to see her go, but are also happy for Prince George and for what they are about to receive. A rare and valuable gem of a person who makes all of us better and more informed citizens. Good luck Lorraine.”
She also found fans on town council. Former councillor and deputy mayor Gladys Atrill enumerated some of the other contributions Doiron made.
“Lorraine kept track of our Centennial celebrations, the Girl Guides SOAR visit and has been stalwart in her participation at what was once Measuring up the North and is now Access Smithers – a dedicated group of volunteers pursuing accessibility for all,” Atrill said, adding she appreciated Doiron’s participation in municipal politics.
“Lorraine is also one of the folks who shows up to pretty much each and every town council meeting, which she records for CICK Radio and presents as “Council Briefs.”
“Lorraine, you have demonstrated through consistent example what citizenship means. You have shown up, participated, laughed with us and urged us to do better. Thank you for all you have done.
“We will miss you and wish you all the best in your new home.”
Where does she find all the energy?
“It’s fun,” she said. “It’s easy, there’s nothing hard about it, not really”
While Doiron is hanging her hat elsewhere as of yesterday, her heart remains in the valley.
“It’s just been awesome being here,” she said. “I was thinking about it, 17 years, I kind of dug in pretty good. I joined a lot of things, I was given a lot of responsibility and no one looking at me like, ‘oh, you’re kind of really old’.”
And she has no intention of abandoning the library project, she said as she produced a gold-painted spade that was given to her so she could be one of the dignitaries to break ground on the library project.
“I’ll be back” she said.