Marie Victoria Gibbs, a Moose Jaw resident with quite a story to tell, recently turned 100 years of age.
“I was born in Pennant, Sask., where my father had been a farmer. I was only there for a year and we moved to Swift Current, which I really consider my hometown. I grew up, did all my schooling, and graduated from the St. Joan of Arc Academy,” she recalled.
During the Second World War, Gibbs said she worked for the post office.
“I was hired by the government to be a post office worker. I worked there from 1941 to 1947 when my husband got out of the navy and we moved to Moose Jaw.”
Her husband was working for the CPR (Canadian Pacific Railway) when the war broke out, and with a leave of absence, he served overseas until the end of the war. When he returned home, he continued his work at CPR.
Gibbs said the reason she moved to Moose Jaw was “to get his (her husband’s) training to be an engineer on the CPR,” as Moose Jaw was the rail hub for the area.
After the war, Gibbs said she was not able to return to her job in the post office despite her seven years of experience. “After the war they were only hiring men, if you please!” she exclaimed.
Her second job was selling clothing at Mickey’s Ladies Apparel, which she recalled being very successful at. “You can do anything if you set your mind to it,” she said.
Gibbs shared her secret to making it to 100 years of age. “First of all, it’s a sense of humour; secondly, I 'splice the mainbrace', she said. “That’s an old navy tradition, (from) my husband serving in the navy during the war… it stems back to the days of Lord Nelson. He (Nelson) used to reward the boys who used to lose their lives when they climbed the 400-foot poles to splice the braces when the wind used to get the sails.
“You never say to anyone, 'let’s go and have a drink' — you just don’t say it. You say, 'let’s splice the mainbrace',” Gibbs explained, referring to a glass of rum. “I’ve educated 444 people (on this matter), and (now) you make it 445.”
When her husband stopped for a month’s leave after VE-Day, Gibbs said he was able to purchase a wedding dress from an American dealer. When he arrived, he gave her the perfect wedding.
“It (the wedding dress) had a 20-foot train veil, the crown, and it was all silk and satin,” she said. During wartime, silks were rationed in Canada and nobody could buy silk or satin at the store, but the United States did not have these restrictions, she told the Moose Jaw Express/MooseJawToday.com. “So, there’s the story of what my sailor boy did for me,” she said.
Gibbs lives independently in her own home, which she and her husband built with their own hands.
“We built this house in 1953. I can hold a hammer and hit a nail like nobody’s business,” she said. “He drew up the plans, and what we wanted for a house.” Gibbs told the Moose Jaw Express/MooseJawToday.com that they had lots of help, including a hired foreman and plenty of additional labour from his friends and coworkers on the railroad to assist with the build.
For a while, Gibbs played in the Heather Highlander’s Pipe Band, when Moose Jaw was known as the Band City. “Last year was my 50th year (where) I always gave the grade 3 piping trophy. It was the Marie V. Gibbs trophy.” Now Gibbs travels to Regina to hand out the award.
“I belong to Clan Wallace; that’s my clan tartan, and I learned the pipes and got my picture taken to prove that.” Her clan can trace its roots back to William Wallace, and when she met Queen Elizabeth II, the queen recognized her kilt and shook her hand.
Gibbs said she was instrumental in helping Lorne Calvert get his political career started, and in 1982, Calvert approached her and asked her to run his campaign. When she later met Prince Charles during a campaign, Calvert told the prince: “This is the little lady who put me where I am!”
Prince Charles asked her how she did it, and she replied, “When you’ve got good metal to work with, you mould gold.”
Over her lifetime, Gibbs said the one societal change that stood out to her is giving women an education and a place in working society. “If they have the ability, (women) can be hired on at the CPR right now.
“They (women) have brains, but at one time they weren’t allowed to use them. That’s the change I’m very pleased to see. The doors have been opened completely for women.”
Happy 100th birthday Marie Gibbs!