By Jenn Watt
Published Feb. 2 2017
Valerie Clark answers her door wearing a green skirt and jacket stockings and black dress shoes. She looks like she’s ready to go to a formal dinner or perhaps to the office for a day’s work; instead she’s entertaining a reporter who has come to interview her about her recent 100th birthday.
When she first moved to Minden at age 90 Clark soon learned that there was no dress shop in the village as fellow residents would stop her on Bobcaygeon Road to ask her where she got her outfits.
“The first two or three years I was made up like I had just come from somewhere. I’d wear suits and that kind of thing … and everybody notices” she says sitting on the couch in her front room surrounded by photographs and two special certificates. One is from Elizabeth Dowdeswell lieutenant governor of Ontario the other from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau congratulating her on her major milestone.
Clark was born on Jan. 2 1917 as Valerie Stidolph in London Ont. Her father was a soldier Stanley Stidolph who died in the First World War and her mother was Vera a performer and intelligent woman whom Clark greatly admires.
“I had this clever mother and she is a story in herself” she says. Vera was a Secord – of Laura Secord lineage – and was part of a live theatre group that travelled to Minden in the 1920s. When Clark first moved to the village the Times wrote a story about her first visit – to what she suspects was the Dominion Hotel at age four.
Although Clark had her first Minden experience as a youngster she ended up moving to the area at the urging of her son Alan Clark whom many will know from his participation in the Haliburton County Senior Winter Games; and daughter-in-law Marci Mandel a local writer and musician.
“We found her mom’s diary for 1921 and it shows that her mother performed in Minden on Feb. 23 of that year” Alan wrote to the paper. “Mom would have just turned four so she was probably with her [mother]… Vera performed until Mom was in her teens so she lived with relatives while her mom was on the road. ‘Talkies’ pretty much killed these live theatre troupes in late ’20s. Mom learned piano and taught dancing.”
As a child Valerie Stidolph had plenty of adventures in an Ontario that many of us wouldn’t recognize today. She remembers travelling to Toronto when she was eight years old with her uncle and young cousin.
She describes the city as being “tiny” at the time. They decided they might check out Casa Loma. “It was deserted at that time. There was no flower beds. There were weeds all over” she says.
Her uncle was tall and slim and he managed to squeeze himself through a window into the basement.
“There was no hydro there was water in the basement … he got up onto the first floor and he opened one of the windows and here I am and my cousin that’s four years old and we’re walking around the downstairs of Loma Castle.”
The wealthy financier who had built the lavish home in downtown Toronto completed it in 1914. He was unable to pay property taxes and by 1923 abandoned it. Today it is a landmark and a museum open to the public.
Clark wonders to herself some 92 years later whether she was breaking the law back then touring the abandoned property. “I guess they wouldn’t put me in jail [now]” she smiles.
Valerie Stidolph married Keith Clark and together they raised three children: Robert Noel and Alan. They had a happy middle class existence. Later in life Clark entered the workforce but when she was raising her children she stayed at home. It’s a path she would recommend even today.
After high school graduation “you got married and were a housewife and I thought it was a lovely life” she says “Linen tablecloths and you were all dressed up when you went to [a friend’s] house for a party or tea. The ladies were educated but when you get married you were a housewife and then you did charity work.”
When the Great Depression descended on Canada Keith was fortunate to have found work at a hosiery but not all were that lucky.
“When that crash came [in 1929] there was absolutely no work. People were lined up starving they’d knock on your door at night and ask you if you had anything they could eat” she recalls. “It was just absolutely horrible.”
“Some people committed suicide right off the bat. Oh it was awful. Keith was thought of so much that this man who was a private owner of a hosiery said to Keith you can come and learn the trade while this problem is on and then you can go back into the world and see what’s coming up.”
When the man retired Keith Clark moved to Ottawa to run a hosiery mill there relocating the family. And it was in Ottawa that Valerie started on her own career path. At 40 she met a woman who noticed all of the charity work Clark had done. She asked if she’d ever thought of working for her own benefit.
“She said there’s this nice china shop in Ottawa … why don’t you come for a couple of days and see how you like it? Well I loved it. It was all the best china and crystal” Clark says. She went from the china shop to working at Holt Renfrew where she distinguished herself as a savvy saleswoman.
Of her longevity Clark has a few theories: “The thing is I’ve never had a drink of wine. Never. I have a very small appetite. I keep thin. And I think because I study all the time … it keeps your mind active. If you haven’t got a mind you can’t do much” she says.