Mother, teacher, translator, writer, family historian, politics junkie. Born Dec. 5, 1920, in Cantal, Sask. Died March 12, 2012, in Vancouver of complications from a stroke and Alzheimer’s disease, aged 91.
Marie Bula started life in a world that seems lost in time today. “Home, school, church, farm, garden and occasional expeditions abroad took place in a world that was less than a rectangle 20 miles long and two miles wide,” she wrote in a book she self-published in her 70s about growing up on a small farm in southeast Saskatchewan.
Marie described an era of one-room schoolhouses, skies blackened by grasshoppers and the death of her three-year-old brother, one of the family’s eight children, after he was accidentally shot and bled to death because it was impossible to get him to a hospital.
That corner of Saskatchewan had attracted many French-Canadians like her parents, Wilfrid Hamel and Angeline Cloutier, looking for work at the turn of the century. Marie lived in French at home, but was forced to speak English at school, which made her flawlessly bilingual but also militant about French-language rights.
At 18, she became a nun with the Soeurs de Notre Dame de la Croix in Forget, Sask. But she left the convent at 32, dismayed she hadn’t found the spiritual life she had hoped for.
She became a high-school teacher in Fort Qu’Appelle, Sask., where she met John Bula in 1954. They married shortly after, moved to Regina and had four children – Frances, Philip, Raymond and Roger – in five years. Marie became one of the rare working mothers of the time, teaching students around the province through the Regina Correspondence School. In 1963, she separated from John and took her family to Vancouver, where she taught French in North Vancouver high schools for the next 18 years.
Marie brought her infectious enthusiasm to everything she did. She played endless Mireille Mathieu and Édith Piaf records for her students, took them to French restaurants and led expeditions to Quebec. She introduced her children to camping and skiing, which she took up at 45. When not teaching, she translated radio plays for the CBC, maintained a garden that fed the family for half the year, sewed her own clothes and renovated the house.
Politics was a passion that grew. The speeches she heard by Tommy Douglas when she was young made a lasting impression. When she had time after her children were grown, she became a dedicated volunteer for the NDP and a huge fan of all televised leadership conventions.
After retirement in 1982, Marie got her master’s degree in French, roamed around Europe like a twentysomething backpacker, travelled to China with her daughter and took up creative writing.
Marie struggled terribly with the effects of Alzheimer’s in her last five years. But to her last days, her excited smile lit up her face every time she saw her family, and the words she slowly strung together told us how much our visits meant.
By Frances Bula, Marie’s daughter.