By Jenn Watt
It’s hard to imagine someone more involved in the community than Hilda Clark. Every week, she sent in her Wilberforce column to the Echo, informing the readership about the goings on in her backyard, and each week I marvelled at how many of those cultural committees, bonspiels, penny raffles, croquet matches, book clubs and fundraisers she was involved in.
After learning that she died last Wednesday, I did a search of our digital archive for stories we’d written and photos we’d taken of her over the years. Our system only reliably searches back into the mid-2000s, but even with a window of 15 years, the results were impressive.
In one photo Hilda poses in a hockey jersey, skates slung over her shoulder, supporting the Wilberforce campaign to win Kraft Hockeyville at a family skating day at the arena. In another, she stands behind the microphone in a packed ballroom at the Pinestone, notes in hand, posing a question to federal election candidates. She’s there at the Canada Day celebrations outside the Red Cross Outpost museum, which she helped to rejuvenate and subsequently protect. She’s sitting with quilters as the final touches are put on the annual fundraising blanket for the Wilberforce Heritage Guild. She’s standing proudly at the foot of the bed during a tour of her bed and breakfast, The House in the Village, during the Doors Open tour. She’s at the front of a classroom in Wilberforce Elementary School, chatting with a student in a photo marking the 100th anniversary of the school. And she’s beaming as she receives the award of merit from the Retired Teachers of Ontario and then the Senior of the Year from Highlands East. I’m sure she was also beaming when she received the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal, too, just a few years before the Echo’s archives went digital.
All of this is to say that Hilda was singly dedicated to this little corner of the world: to its preservation and its growth. If there was a committee she could join (or a giant rabbit suit she could don at Maple Fest) to make things better for people, she did it.
She was also opinionated and unfiltered. More than once, I arrived at work to find a message on my voicemail from Hilda telling me about something she didn’t agree with in the Echo. Her column frequently included quips and nudges to the powers-that-be about what might be done better. As Cathy Agnew put it, “she was Hilda,” – a true individual, feisty and smart.
I thought that Hilda would live to be 100, at least. She had a deep well of energy that propelled her to all corners of this county and beyond. She went to church and concerts and plays, attended public meetings and book talks. And then she would pack her bags and travel to Stratford to take in some Shakespeare before the summer was through.
She could easily rattle off the genealogies of the founders of Wilberforce, discussing at length the lives of nurses who worked at the Outpost, or distant relatives in her own family. She was the go-to person for local history, “a keeper of stories,” as Martha Perkins put it.
And so now we find ourselves without her. An implausible situation.
Rev. Ken McClure offered some advice to those assembled at her funeral on Saturday: come together to fill the gaps she left behind.
Hilda can never be replaced, but continuing her work can keep her memory close.