For Joan LeMoine, helping others has always come easily.
Because of that attitude, she was honoured with a key to the city on her 90th birthday on July 6, which she said was her best birthday yet. She is the second person in Parksville’s history to get a key, the only other person being MLA Michelle Stilwell.
“I was shocked, I was just stunned. Never in my wildest dreams,” said LeMoine. “Four of my kids were here, and that was awesome because you know, I’ve told them different things that I have done and I think they listen, but I don’t think they really listened until the mayor was listing all the things that I had done.”
LeMoine is no stranger to recognition – she received the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012, the Community Ambassador Award from the City of Parksville in 2013 and the Medal of Good Citizenship in 2016. And at age 90, she is still committed to volunteering in Parksville – she is still active with the Oceanside Community Safety Keeping in Touch program and the Mount Arrowsmith Branch 49 of the Royal Canadian Legion.
“I don’t do it to get anything, I do it because I love living here,” she said.
Before moving to the area in 1996, she and her husband Jim and their children lived in the Okanagan for a few years after moving from Calgary. Once she moved to Parksville, she said it was obvious that it was where she was meant to be.
“We were there for three years and I don’t think eight people said ‘good morning’ in three years,” said LeMoine about living in the Okanagan. “The first day Jim and I got settled and went for a walk [in Parksville], eight people said ‘good morning’. Eight! Jim and I looked at each other and said, ‘OK, this is home.’”
LeMoine said she thinks helping others comes so naturally to her because of the way she was raised – in rural Ontario in a humble house.
“Didn’t have any money, but neither did anybody else at the time,” she said.
She remembers a beautiful childhood in Muskoka, a once small community approximately 150 kilometres from Toronto and now a popular tourist destination. Her father cut logs and built cottages in the area, which was then quiet and removed from the city. LeMoine said she feels lucky to have grown up that way and around parents who gave everything they could to others.
“It was all dirt roads, there was no electricity and no indoor plumbing,” she said. “My mum and dad were very generous with people, not with money because we didn’t have it, but if mum made bread she’d give a loaf to somebody – and we were always taught that.”
LeMoine said her parents taught her and her two sisters a lot during their time in Muskoka. She said they were self-sufficient, creative and fun – qualities she continues to value to this day.
“I remember it as a happy place to grow up, go swimming with my mum and dad and going on picnics,” she said. “My dad built cottages, so we lived in each one, we had to try them out during the winter and everything. And he built a boat in the living room.”
It was the same setting where LeMoine met the man who would become her husband, Jim, who is also from Ontario. He was up in Muskoka building a cottage with his brother when he met 21-year-old LeMoine. They married the following year – LeMoine said she knew quickly that he was the one she wanted to settle down with.
“He was a sweetheart, he was,” she said. “We never had a lot of money, ever, and it didn’t matter. We had each other and we had the kids.”
They eventually moved to Calgary in the early 1960s, which LeMoine said was exciting for the family. At the time, the city still felt like a small town, making it a great place for her six children to grow up. It was during their time in Calgary that LeMoine and her husband started volunteering with organizations and clubs that their children were involved in.
“When my second-youngest went to school and somebody asked if somebody could do something, his little hand went up and said, ‘my mum will do it’ – that was his favourite line no matter what happened at school,” she said, with a laugh. “Always happy, except when it was his bedtime and he said ‘oh, I need a dozen cupcakes.’”
It was that same attitude that followed LeMoine and her husband to Parksville, where they decided to move on a whim in 1995.
“We heard that a friend had passed away and I said to Jim, ‘if anything happened to you, I would move to the Island’ and he said, ‘so would I,’” she said. “So he jumped up and phoned the real estate agent in the Okanagan and said put the condo on the market, we’re moving to the Island, there you go. That’s the way Jim and I did things.”
Jim was an active community member in his own right as a volunteer driver for SOS for 10 years, a board director for the Summer Beach Festival for eight years and a Canada Day Committee member for eight years. He passed away in 2009 after 56 years of marriage to LeMoine.
LeMoine said she’s been reflecting since her birthday on how lucky she feels to be part of a community with so many great friends and community members. In terms of tips on how to live a happy life, LeMoine said she thinks it’s all about making the most of things.
“I’ve had a really good life, I have absolutely no regrets,” she said. “You have to live and enjoy the day, because when you get up in the morning you got two choices – you can have a good day or you can have a stinking day, because we do have a choice. Even if it’s raining, it’s helping the flowers or making the grass green or maybe it’s a good day to sit and read.”