Jane Lunson tends a flock of goats on her Helgesen Road farm in 1983. (Sooke Region Museum)

SOOKE HISTORY: Jane Lunson created her own legend

Elida Peers | Contributed

This scene on Helgesen Road in 1983 shows a remarkable woman called Jane Lunson feeding her goats in the farmyard.

Born to a dairy farming couple, Frank and Mary Balfour, in Northumberland County, England, in 1907, Jane grew up knowing that she wanted to spend her life outdoors working with farm animals.

Jane earned a scholarship to Armstrong Agricultural College at the University in Newcastle on Tyne, graduating in 1928 with a degree in agriculture, a lone diminutive female alongside 300 men.

It was at college that she met Tom Lunson. In the throes of the Great Depression, in 1933, the two were married, and the energetic young couple looked for available opportunities in agriculture.

When Tom was offered a farm position in Hong Kong, it required the pair to travel to both Canada and Australia to secure cattle that would be required in the enterprise.

As dairy superintendent, Tom was employed by a company that provisioned ships, a necessity for a busy island in the crossroads of shipping lanes.

In 1937 Tom and Jane began working with 1,000 head of cattle, and then the clouds of war threatened. Rumours of impending attack were circulating, and evacuations from the island began.

While Tom was critically needed on the farm, he wanted to send his wife to safety. Passage was found on the Empress of Asia in June 1940; after a stop in Honolulu, the ship was bound for Ogden Point.

After her arrival here, Jane went to Vancouver where she worked for the Red Cross during the war years. In that period, after the fall of Hong Kong on Christmas Day 1941, Tom Lunson was interned there, and due to the conditions of the war, Jane had no knowledge of his survival.

The couple was only able to pick up the pieces after the war ended, and in 1947 came to Sooke where they bought the old Helgesen farm in the DeMamiel Valley.

Decades of busy, contented life followed, where the couple operated a dairy with Ayreshires, shipped milk, raised sheep and goats, and sold wool.

I met Jane Lunson when I went with my mother to buy white and black wool. When the dairy closed and Tom died, Jane kept the goats.

One winter, in her advanced years, she made local history when she fell, while tending to her goats in the barn. The survival of this feisty lady after lying three days on concrete in a freezing barn, until found by a neighbor, was miraculous.

In time, she regained strength to continue her dedicated volunteer work in the community, before she died in her 102nd year, a legend in her own time.

•••

Elida Peers is the historian of the Sooke Region Museum.

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