Hazel Thompson, 98, resides in Heaton Place in Armstrong. She reflects on life, love, war and how she keeps her ‘wits’. (Carrie O’Neill)

98-year-old North Okanagan woman designs clothes for Barbie

Hazel Thompson on love and war… and knitting

  • Nov. 6, 2019 12:00 p.m.

Hazel Thompson was born to Stan and Nellie Parkinson in a little mission hospital located in a small community known as Southbank near the Shore of Francois Lake. Pioneers of Armstrong, her grandparents, George and Jane Parkinson, and John and Mary Hunter share a long history in the landscape of this area — even Parkinson Road was named after her grandfather.

Hazel started out in a primary school, which was built on the grounds of our Memorial Park in Armstrong, then went to the old brick school and graduated in 1940 at the old leaky Armstrong high school.

Hazel said she went to school by bus, which back then, the buses were built like chicken coops! With railings on the sides of the bus and three long benches inside.

“The exhaust pipes would be set under the benches and would create heat. I remember the smell of rubber boots heating up from the exhaust pipes,” she said.

George Game was the bus driver at that time and he would later become one of Armstrong’s mayors. Hazel said George and his wife were also responsible for planting the beautiful arch of trees you see today as you drive down Otter Lake Road.

After school, Hazel met her husband to be, Bill Thompson. Bill lived in the Deep Creek area and would gather in Armstrong for ball games and dances. The romance began and the couple married on April 28, 1942. They would be married for 59 wonderful years. After they were married, they moved to Port Alberni and Bill joined the army. Hazel decided to return to her family home in Armstrong while Bill remained serving in the military. Following his service, Bill returned to his wife in Armstrong. The couple went on to have five children. All but one was born in the hospital that was situated on the same property of Heaton Place Retirement Residence, where Hazel lives today.

Dr. Haugen delivered four out of their five children. Hazel experienced a lot of difficult moments in her life, the most difficult being the loss of one of her sons. Hazel quietly said, “there’s nothing harder than losing a child.”

I asked Hazel how she coped with difficult or stressful times in her life; to which she replied, “one day at a time.”

Hazel stays busy and young at heart today by going for a walk every single morning, sewing, knitting and painting. Hazel is still an avid reader. As you look around her home, you will see beautiful framed paintings, boxes of homemade knitted mittens and pictures of her family. Hazel is a proud great-grandmother to eight children.

READ MORE: Armstrong couple has deep roots in town

One of Hazel’s hobbies is knitting outfits for Barbie dolls. At 98 years of age, she is fashion designer for Barbie dolls. She sends them off with her daughter to Atlin, B.C., where they are sold in a small boutique called the Magpie.

As we approach Remembrance Day, I asked how the War may have affected Hazel. She brought out a book titled So Young They Were, wrote by Leonard Gamble, a retired school teacher in Armstrong. She flipped through the pages to show me a page that wrote “We will remember them.”

On the page were 39 young men, all from the Armstrong area, that had lost their lives in the War. Hazel had written the names of each young man underneath their picture and mentioned she went to school with most of them.

On the back cover of the book it wrote, “Sadly, more than 60,000 of those on active service died. Of that 60,000, 39 were from Armstrong, Spallumcheen and surrounding areas, at the north end of the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia.”

I asked Hazel a few questions:

  • What are some of the most important lessons you have learned in your life? She replied “Count to 10.”
  • What would you say are the major values or principles that you live by? “I like to think I treat others the way I would like to be treated.”
  • What would you like for your 99th Birthday? “My wits about me!”
  • Is there anything you would like to share? With a pause, she replied with emotion, “I deeply want my children to always care for each other and remain friends. I would be devastated if that did not happen.”

As Resident Relations Co-ordinator of Heaton Place, I am honoured with sharing space with our residents. When I sit with them and listen rather than talk, I learn so much about their lives. Without fail, I always leave their homes with a deeper sense of humility and gratitude. I would like to thank Hazel for allowing me the privilege of being a part of her journey.

— Carrie O’Neill is the resident relations co-ordinator at Heaton Place in Armstrong. These are the stories of its residents.

READ MORE: Grinch steals Christmas early from Vernon pair


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Hazel Thompson, 98, also loves to paint. Her home at Heaton Place is decorated with handmade paintings like this one of the Enderby Cliffs. (Carrie O’Neill)

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