Dorothy Landon didn't think it was remarkable that she drove across Canada in the 1930s, before feminism had hit its stride, had a successful career as a nurse, read a library's worth of books and well into her 101st year never forgot the birthday of anyone in her enormous extended family.
In many ways, she lived a charmed life. She was born in Sherbrooke, Que., and at age 1 moved to Vancouver with her mother, father and older brother, Richard. Her dad, Clement Hobson, had a passion for photography, so Dorothy's childhood and teenage years are richly chronicled in black-and-white photos.
Her family moved back to Quebec in the 1920s, and some of the best shots are of a lanky, athletic Dorothy swimming with her dad and brother or hiking, skiing and canoeing. A photo from 1932 shows Dorothy as a nursing student, dressed in starched whites on a snowy Montreal balcony. A year later, she was grinning in a huge housecoat in a hospital where she was recovering from rheumatic fever. She had a strong constitution - she had also survived the 1918 flu pandemic.
In 1936, fresh out of nursing school, Dorothy and two classmates set out on a cross-country trek in a Ford Model A named Agatha. They drove from Montreal until the road ended in Thunder Bay, Ont. From there, a train took the women and their car to Winnipeg. They drove on, often on gravelled or grassy roads, all the way to Vancouver, changing their own tires on the way.
That trip turned her into a world traveller. She visited Japan, Italy, Spain, Morocco, England, Alaska, the Virgin Islands, South Africa and Zimbabwe (her daughter lived there for decades).
Dorothy was working as a general duty nurse at Norfolk General Hospital in Simcoe, Ont., when she fell in love with Jim Landon. They married in 1937 and raised three children. In 1949, Dorothy returned to the hospital as full-time night supervisor, a job that drew on her great calm and resourcefulness as it entailed everything from acting as delivery-room scrub nurse to receiving bodies at the morgue. At her 100th birthday party, women in their 60s came to pay homage to the capable nurse who helped deliver their babies.
A lifelong member of the Anglican Church, Dorothy took the Bible's lessons of tolerance to heart. She lived her religion rather than preaching it. Her husband died of cancer in 1976, and she would visit his grave to deliver a single red rose right up to her own death. On her deathbed, uncharacteristically delirious and weak, she asked her granddaughter if she had any family. Sally returned the question. Dorothy brightened, and said: "I have three children: Peter, Lois and Jimmy. They are all senior citizens. I have nine grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. And I love them all very much."
Laura and Sally Landon are Dorothy's granddaughters.
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