At first glance, Wilma Ingram's life is remarkable in her having 35 descendants, living to nine months shy of 100 years and overcoming debilitating asthma. Other marks of her exceptional life include her integrity and kindness, and how well she took care of family members until past her 96th year.
But Wilma's world was most extraordinary in how her life and values prefigured today's social achievements. Women like Wilma quietly built today's social contract of multiculturalism, tolerance and human rights.
Born in a French-speaking camp in the Yukon gold fields, Wilma was one of five children of Esther and Frank Brochu. Her world was always on the crossroads of native and settler, francophone and English-speaking, literate and illiterate, and a wide array of religions. As the Brochu stakes were exhausted, the Métis family moved to Prince Rupert.
At 18, Wilma married Ross Sheldon Ingram of Vancouver. They had four children in Prince Rupert, although Wilma was devastated by the loss of their first son to crib death.
Wilma and Ross worked together in their grocery store. The family was more fortunate than most during the Depression; Wilma recalled feeding many destitute strangers. She grieved the loss of a Japanese-Canadian friend who was interned and never returned. The family agitated for entry of more Jewish refugees. Wilma was also a breastfeeding advocate, a member of a women's gymnast group and a believer in reproductive rights.
In the 1950s, the family moved to Victoria. Wilma became a nurse's aid at the Royal Jubilee Hospital and had one more child. Ross built a cottage above Saanich Inlet across the road from the Tsartlip First Nation Reserve. As Brentwood Bay desegregated, Wilma and Ross acted as a bridge in the community, especially in the area of public education.
Wilma began four decades of widowhood after Ross died of heart disease in 1971. From motherhood and grandmotherhood, Wilma went on to become "Great." She rarely travelled, save for a few visits back to Prince Rupert, a trip to California and a bus tour of the U.S. Southwest.
Well into her 90s, Wilma walked more than five kilometres a day. At 98, she still walked two kilometres on a good day. Along Victoria's lanes and beaches, in cafés from Pagliacci's to La Collina to her beloved Café Mela, and with sojourns to the Vancouver Art Gallery Café, Wilma enjoyed the fruits of building the country - combing the newspapers over strong coffee and giving advice to individuals who would accept it. She is missed terribly.
Gordon Brent Ingram is Wilma's younger son.