By Marianne Love

Frances Mary (Westerman) Jepson was born in Westlock Alberta on January 18, 1927. At the age of eight, she arrived in Victoria B.C. with her English-born parents Walter and Ellen (Nellie) Westerman. Frances attended Cedar Hill Elementary School for Grades 3, 4 and 5, before moving to James Bay, where she attended South Park School for Grades 6 and 7. A WWI veteran of Vimy Ridge, Walter secured a job as live-in caretaker at the “Woolen Mill,” (British Columbia Worsted Mills Limited), when the building was being used as a Department of National Defense military stores warehouse during WWII. The building was located at 25 Montreal Street, across from the Ogden Point Breakwater, on the property bordering Dallas/Montreal/Dock Streets in James Bay, where the Seaport Apartments now stand. With a little help from the family pet, Walter and Nellie had a clever system in place for filling orders.

Nellie would answer the telephone, and then cocker spaniel “Tuffy” would run a note to Walter, who was distributing supplies from the far end of the building. How many children get the opportunity to live in a seaside warehouse? This was quite an adventure for young Frances, whose early years had been spent in a tiny farm house in rural Alberta. She spoke often and fondly of her magical childhood in James Bay, swimming at Dallas Road beach, and playing in the fields nearby, along Dock and Pilot Streets, before the “wartime housing” was built in the early 1940’s. Frances also reminisced about the caged bears in Beacon Hill Park and how she often encountered Emily Carr, out and about the neighbourhood with her pet monkey in tow. By the time Frances attended Victoria College at Craigdarroch Castle, the Westerman family had moved from the “Woolen Mill” to a house purchased at 233 Michigan Street. Shortly after WWII, Frances fell in love with a soldier, and in the summer of 1948, she and Albert (Bert) Jepson were married at a minister’s home on Superior Street. The newlyweds rented a suite on San Jose Avenue before their first home at 245 Michigan Street was built in 1950. In the mid-sixties, Frances, Bert and their two children moved up three houses to 277 Michigan Street, with its signature Monkey Puzzle Tree in the front yard. After Bert passed away in 1986, Frances remained in the family home until 2009, during which time she volunteered at James Bay United Church and Thrift Shop, the James Bay Care Centre, and at the seniors' dinners at the James Bay Community Centre. An avid gardener, Frances spent many hours tending her large vegetable patch in the back yard, the harvest always shared with appreciative neighbours and friends. Her favourite crop was scarlet runner beans; those of exceptional size always measured with pride against the length of her outstretched index finger.

  Photos provided by Morianne Love

Frances loved cycling and continued to ride her coaster bicycle well beyond her 80th year. A familiar sight in James Bay, she happily delivered church bulletins, as well as the James Bay Beacon to friends who were unable to get around the neighbourhood on their own. When she herself required more help, Frances’ love of James Bay led her to Parry Place Assisted Living. Her first time without a garden plot, Frances could not be discouraged. She grew sunflowers and green onions on the second-floor balcony. Frances enjoyed her time there and continued to volunteer nearby until she had a fall in July 2016. After two months in hospital, she was discharged to the James Bay Care Centre. Still close to friends and neighbours, this was Frances’ first choice of care facility and her final home in James Bay. Despite her declining health, she remained in good spirits, delighted to re-connect with staff and residents whom she already knew from her 22 years of volunteer time there. Frances passed peacefully on October 1, 2016. A life well lived, she had spent 75 of her 89 years in beautiful James Bay. She never wanted to be anywhere else.