The following story about Zena Campbell was originally posted in the Prince George Citizen, titled “From Telegraph Creek to the BC Seniors Games”. Here is the link to that original story written by Kathy Nadin – link to full story
From Telegraph Creek to the 55+ BC Games
Zena was born in Telegraph Creek in 1933. Telegraph Creek is a small community located off Highway 37 in northern B.C. You can reach the town by driving Highway 51 through what is known as the Grand Canyon of the Stikine because of the steep river banks and rocky gorges that form the terraced nature of the geography. The small town is located at the confluence of the Stikine River and Telegraph Creek and is home to the traditional territory of the Tahltan people. Today there are approximately 250 members of the Tahltan First Nation and non-native residents living in Telegraph Creek.
Telegraph Creek got its name from an overland telegraph line destined for the Yukon that started in 1866 and is historically significant as a staging point for two telegraph lines with the intention of connecting North America to Europe through Siberia. The line was never built.
Zena said, “I was born at home. I was a premature baby and my mother kept me warm from the heat of the oven and that is what kept me alive. I am the middle child of 17 children; I have 10 brothers and six sisters. I grew up and went to school in Telegraph Creek.
“My father was a hunter and a trapper and he looked after all of us. He worked for the government on the highways and cooked in the bush for the hunting guide outfitters.
“We lived peacefully and enjoyed all the uncomplicated simple things of life. We walked everywhere and where we lived everything was up and down steep hills. I loved to play ball and there were enough of us to get a good game going. We rolled up socks for a ball and our bats were simple tree limbs. There were no such things as sports equipment. We made our own and we all loved to play games.
“Our favorite game was Ante-I-Over. You have to shout out Ante-I-Over, throw the ball over the top of the house to the kids on the other side and then run to the other side of the house. If they catch the ball they can sneak around the building and throw the ball at you or catch you and tag you. You have to keep an eye open for them coming and beat them to the other side of the building without getting tagged. You have to fool them if you can and if you throw the ball and it doesn’t go over the house, then they can call you names. We were all strong so throwing the ball over the house was easy and lots of fun.
“My older brothers grew up and left for town (the closest town was Prince Rupert) so I was the boy worker for my mom. That suited me just fine because I was always an outdoor girl. I could manage the dog team to do the work of hauling wood to the house or to bring supplies home from the Hudson Bay store in Telegraph Creek.
“I was the live-in babysitter for my uncle’s family. When I was 15, he decided to move his family to Lower Post which was just south of Watson Lake in the Yukon. I packed my belongings and snuck away with them and I didn’t even tell my family. It was the first time that I was ever out of Telegraph Creek. It was many years later before I made it back home to see my mother.”
Zena said that her first real job – with a pay check – was stocking shelves in Watson Lake. She worked at the hotel in Whitehorse as a chambermaid and then moved to Stewart, B.C. and drove a taxi. There literally was no work in Stuart at that point in time for women.
She had four children; Richard, William Henry, Michael George and Freda.
Zena moved to Prince George in 1975 and drove a taxi and limousines for many years. In retrospect, she thinks back and says that she would have liked to have joined the army. She often wonders how her life would have unfolded if she had joined the army in her younger years.
She was always involved with sports in one way or another and at the age of 78 she got involved with the B.C. Senior games. She fell in love with competitive sports with all the events in track and field as her specialty. She said, “It is with much thanks to Dick Voneugen that I heard about the BC Senior games in the beginning. He looked after the schedules and our training. He made the arrangements to get the athletes registered, housed and a means to get to the competitions year after year; it is because of Dick that I was able to participate. I could not have done it without his help.
“I was proud to participate in slow pitch, badminton and all the track and field events. I am so proud of all my trophies and medals and the fact that I am 85 years old, in fairly good health and I am still able to compete. I am always ready to go and I still have the desire to compete. If it is a sport then I am there – I am always there giving it my best.
“I just want to say that I might be 85 but I am not an old lady because I don’t feel old and I have a good mind. I enjoy singing and I can still play the guitar. I try to be positive and keep a good sense of humor and I figure that I still have lots of good left in me yet.
“We all grew up at Telegraph Creek, all 17 of us. We didn’t have the opportunities like city people but we survived. We never had electricity and the only running water we had was if I ran as I regularly carried two buckets of water at a time to the house.
“I grew up ok and yes, we had some hard times. I have always been a good worker and I never gave up on myself; things were not easy but we didn’t know the difference. I can’t say that we were poor because we never heard of such a thing – we would not have known at the time what that actually meant. We were all the same and no one worried about stuff like that.”
Photo: BC Seniors Games Society