Community remembers the life of Hilda Clark
By Jenn Watt
When the Municipality of Highlands East chose their first Senior of the Year last year, Hilda Clark was the obvious choice. Heavily involved in myriad aspects of life in Wilberforce and Haliburton County, she has had a hand in shaping the community as it is today.
After Hilda’s death on Aug. 7 in her 87th year, friends and family are honouring her tireless work ethic, feisty spirit and passion for helping others, which fueled so much of what she did.
“Hilda was our rock, so much of our village was built around her or by her,” said Joan Barton, former Highlands East councillor and community volunteer. “All the work she did, all for the common good – I don’t know about all of it (I’ve only been here 20 years) but I think basically if something good was happening in our community Hilda was either leading it, or volunteering for it or quietly donating to it.”
The list of organizations Hilda has been involved in is extensive. She was the driving force behind getting the Red Cross Outpost Historic House Museum refurbished and open to the public, and later in having it designated a National Historic Site. She was a key figure in the Loop Troupe Theatre Group, which staged plays in Wilberforce over the years. She was on the Fun-Raising Committee, helping to raise money; was a committed member of St. Margaret’s Anglican Church; wrote a weekly column for the Haliburton Echo; was a member of the retired teachers’ group; and for many years ran the bed and breakfast The House in the Village. In the past, she was a council member and sat on the board of the Haliburton County Development Corporation. She has also been honoured with the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal and the Retired Teachers of Ontario Award of Merit, in addition to the Senior of the Year.
All of this alongside her love of music and performance, which had her travelling the county to various concerts and plays, and the countryside for her annual Stratford Festival trip. She was a member of the Wilberforce book club and read voraciously.
“She was very well-read. She was very well travelled. She’s one of those people who buy Canadian, travel in Canada, stay in Canada. That was her life, basically,” said Gail Clark, who is married to Hilda’s nephew Ward, and who had a close relationship with Hilda. “This is, of course, after she’s travelled around the world. But I do think she was just well ahead of her time because she did read so much.”
Hilda didn’t marry or have children, but was a doting aunt and great-aunt.
“There were four grandkids that would come up for the summers. She would play games with them. Back in the day, Wilberforce always had a big celebration in July called Country Good Times … Hilda always created a float and rode on it. It usually had a theme that went along with her bed and breakfast. All of the cousins would get to ride on the float with her. That was always a big, fun time in the summer.”
Gail remembers Hilda taking the kids berry picking on the property and taking the nieces and nephews and grand-nieces and nephews out to cultural events.
“Hilda always had season’s tickets to the Toronto Ballet and everybody got to go with her. She always got two seats, so when it was your turn you got to go the ballet with Hilda,” she said.
Gail said her husband remembers when his aunt took him at age 10, and another nephew Barry, 13, to Expo ’67. “Oh my God. They still talk about it. That was a big deal, especially the part that she just gave them spending money and they got to go and do their own thing. My husband being from this farm in Wilberforce, he said that was a huge thing.”
Hilda was born to Walter and Mabel Clark in 1933 in the Red Cross Outpost that she later became so involved in protecting. She grew up on a farm with her siblings and after high school, she became a teacher, moving to Oakville to teach, and eventually moving back to Wilberforce after a 35-year career.
Her memory was so good, that many years after last seeing her students in the classroom, she could remember who they were, their names and what grade she taught them. This also made her a great keeper of family history, which she frequently shared with her nieces and nephews and documented for posterity.
Following her death, many have been sharing the important role Hilda played in their lives.
Barb Schofield volunteered alongside her on the Fun-Raising Committee and on the museum committee. “I will remember fondly our lengthy conversations, our weekly lunches and our yearly road trips to Stratford,” she said. “She will be deeply missed, but her spirit will live on in the community she loved. “
Martha Perkins, former editor of the Haliburton Echo, said it seemed Hilda’s life was defined by where she grew up.
“Even though the Wilberforce of the 1940s was not an easy place to grow up, she loved it. She loved her family, she loved the sense of community, she loved belonging to something bigger than she was. To her, Wilberforce was not defined by how much was lacking; it was celebrated for how much it provided,” she said.
“Whenever I need information about someone with ties to Wilberforce, I’d call her up. Granted, I knew I’d have to have a few minutes to spare because every answer came with its own back story. … And, of course, I was so grateful she was the chronicler of Wilberforce’s present as well as its past. I loved her column because it reminded me of all the qualities that go into creating a sense of community. She wasn’t just a reporter – many of the things she wrote about she also experienced. She didn’t just observe the village’s comings and goings, she was part of them. We will all miss her.”
Cathy Agnew, who served on the Wilberforce Heritage Guild with Hilda, said there was a unique quality to her friend, who offered unfiltered opinions about the world, which came from a good place.
“She was Hilda. We keep saying that. She was Hilda,” Agnew said.
“She had a good heart. She was such a good ambassador for not just Wilberforce, but Haliburton County. ... She frequented the diner here and she was the type of person if there were people sitting at the next table, or two tables over, she would strike up a conversation with them and ask them where they were from. Little things like that are so important because it makes the town seem very welcoming.”
In her eulogy to her great-aunt, delivered by Reverend Ken McClure at Hilda’s funeral on Saturday, Teralyn Phipps described her as a role model and “force to be reckoned with.”
“Hilda was a beacon of light in her community. She pledged her life to supporting the community of Wilberforce in so many ways,” she said. “Many of us go through our entire lives wondering what our ‘purpose’ is – not Hilda, she knew her purpose. Her purpose was leadership in service of others, supporting a friend or family member in need and giving to those less fortunate.”