Monterey Faces: Meet Ena Cooke

Linda Foubister is a Monterey Recreation Centre volunteer photographer and writer

Monterey centre volunteer Linda Foubister’s Q&A with Monterey member Ena Cooke.

What is your background?

I was born in Dornach, Scotland. In World War II, the Royal Navy was making mines in the firth and we were bombed. My mother, who was pregnant at the time, was injured and was taken to a nursing home. I became one of the many unaccompanied child evacuees. Wearing a badge attached to my jacket for identification, I was put on a train and sent away. I ended up in Blairgowrie with a couple who had no children. I had no friends there except for a mouse I had befriended. The mouse would sit on my hand and keep me company. In homage to Beatrix Potter who also befriended small animals, I called the mouse Peter the Mouse.

I went to university and became a Chartered Accountant. I also hold a Masters’ degree of International Trade. While I was at university, I had two children. I found a job in London doing audits for an international metal company and went on to became the first woman executive with the firm, travelling between their offices in London, New York and Montreal.

When my husband was offered a job on the DEW Line, our family immigrated to Canada where I worked in the Montreal office of the firm. Montreallers are very ‘swish’, and it was there that I developed my fashion sense. In the UK, we had rationing after the war, so I was amazed when I first arrived in Montreal at the abundance and variety of goods for sale and the low prices.

I am so lucky to have lived in Canada for over 60 years and I love it.

What brought you to Victoria?

I came to Victoria for a job interview with Premier Bill Bennett. And I got the job which was to start Knowledge Network, BC’s public educational television network. I went to Seattle to learn about public broadcasting from KCTS-TV who broadcast the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) programming. They were fabulous, giving helpful advice and ideas.

As the first executive director of the network, I hired 36 staff. With a very small budget, we operated out of a hut at the University of Victoria. Both the Network and the university were learning institutions so were compatible. The station began broadcasting on January 12, 1981 after U.B.C. gave us free office and basement space for the uplink which we used to send our program to the new Canadian satellite. We did have enough money left to hire a helicopter to take shots of beautiful B.C. People loved the scenes and the switchboard lit up with questions about the areas. I was with Knowledge Network for five years and then worked 5 years for the Federal Business Development Bank granting loans for small businesses. For that, I travelled up and down Vancouver Island and the islands.

How did being a woman factor in your successful career?

I believe that being a woman was a plus in my career. I got good jobs because I was a woman. I took a softer approach and people felt they could talk to me. Clients often asked for a woman. I studied everything about the position and added new ideas.

How long have you been a member of the Monterey Recreation Centre?

I have been a member of the centre for 18 years. I joined at the prompting of my husband.

What do you do as a member and a volunteer at Monterey Centre?

I have been going to the weekly Sing-A-Long at the centre for 25 years, serving as the Secretary, the Treasurer and then the President. People frequently say to me, “But I can’t sing.” To them, I reply, “We don’t have auditions; everyone is welcome.” Singing and music improves your health, so the doctors tell us!

The club meets on Thursday mornings from 10 to 11:30 am. Club members must also be members of the center. After that, club membership is only $5 a year and we often provide refreshments and song sheets. About 45 people attend the sing-a-longs regularly and our membership exceeds 80 people.

The Christmas Sing-A-Long was open to all centre members and was a big hit with over 80 singers joining us. My co-conductor, David McAlary, fills in for me when I am away and also serves as Treasurer.

In my first year at the centre, I co-founded the computer club and was a regular computer instructor until the club closed last year. I enjoyed teaching for those 17 years and helping members who had bought or were buying computers for the first time.

Why do you volunteer?

I volunteer to give something back to Canada that’s been so good to me and my children.

What do you like about the centre?

Everyone is friendly, there is lots to do and I meet people from all walks of life. Many people who were isolated come to the centre and meet friends here. The social events such as the occasion dinners are enjoyable.

What would you advise a newcomer to the centre to do?

Visit different clubs first and see which ones are best for you. I like family history and I like singing. Others may enjoy sewing and chatting with Craft Carnival.

What ideas do you have to improve the centre?

I would like to see a paid position to help members with issues such as understanding bills, suggestions and advice on medical problems, protection from scams, etc.

Where do you see the centre in five years?

I anticipate a larger centre as we are short of rooms now.

What are you reading now? I am reading McGill University: For the Advancement of Learning by Stanley Frost. The story of McGill University is the story of Canada. James McGill left his farm estate and £10,000 to start the university. When it ran into debt, Mrs. Beniah Gibb, wife of a leading merchant tailor, was the first to provide funding so it went ahead. It encouraged the Molsons, McDonalds, the Bethunes and many more Montreal merchants to donate money for a college which became the well-known university.

What are your hobbies?

I like gardening, computer, walking, dancing and singing.

How do you stay fit?

Walking.

What inspires you?

My inspiration comes from making people happy and comfortable. If they come here to the centre, they are happy mostly because someone starts to speak to them and a friendship begins.

What would surprise people to learn about you?

I love wild animals. I often see cougars and river otters around my place. I see deer coming up my driveway and they are as interested in me as I am in them.

Linda Foubister is a Monterey Recreation Centre volunteer photographer and writer.

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