A new book recalls the memories of a public health nurse in the early 1960s who worked for the Cariboo Health Unit in Williams Lake. (Photo submitted)

New novel explores the life of a Cariboo public health nurse in the early 1960s

Always Pack a Candle hit bookstores this spring

A former Williams Lake public health nurse, nursing instructor and novelist has penned a new book about her early days working in the Cariboo-Chilcotin.

In Always Pack A Candle A Nurse in the Cariboo Chilcotin, Marion McKinnon Crook delves into her quick, on-the-job education about the region in 1963 and its people and the realities of covering the 15,000 square miles for the local health unit.

“I sure hope that blind corner on the Likely Road is no longer there,” she told the Tribune from her home in Gibsons. “In winter time it was treacherous. I used to hardly breathe before I got around that corner because I knew loaded logging trucks would be coming at me.”

Everything in the book did happen, she said, although the names and some information about the characters were changed to protect their privacy.

“I do think people will recognize some of the people,” she said. “I hope to give people the flavour of what it was like and also I think it’s pretty revealing.”

While the book takes place over the course of 1963, she “telescoped” time as the events did not all happen in one year.

Crook arrived in Williams Lake as a new nurse right out of university in 1963 to join the Cariboo Health Unit.

Former Tribune reporter Irene Stangoe travelled around with her and wrote an article about the day in the life of a public health nurse with photographs that was published on Nov. 20, 1963.

She worked in public health for many years, a-year-and-a-half in a hospital, and returned to university to get a bachelor of science in nursing and masters in liberal studies, which allowed her to study the nature of passion and “all sorts of esoteric things,” and then a PhD in education and taught nursing at Kwantlen University in Surrey for 11 years.

“I loved teaching but I couldn’t do much writing then. Teaching takes a lot of energy and creativity. I loved teaching — the student nurses were very inspiring and my colleagues were fun.”

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Always Pack a Candle began forming as Crook’s memories emerged in little vignettes and she began to write them down.

About two years ago she wrote the entire book, had it edited before it was contracted to Heritage House Publishing Company in Victoria and published earlier this year.

Crook also writes mysteries under the name Emma Dakin and was thinking about all the things that happened when she was in the Cariboo and thought if she did not write them down something might happen to her or she would forget them and no one would ever know.

“I want people to know the people were wonderful. It was a young community and so many young people coming to work with a vibrant sense of adventure. People would haul me out of ditches and radio ahead alerting I was coming through and then checking up to make sure I did.”

The novel ends with her contemplating marrying the local rancher she’s been dating.

When asked she said she did marry him, although they later divorced, and she lived in Williams Lake until 1986.

She has also written books about adoption including The Face in the Mirror Teenagers and Adoption and Thicker Than Blood, adoptive parenting and the modern world.

For anyone who knew Crook when she lived in Williams Lake, or someone wanting to learn more about what the area was like at that time, her book is a quick read that is difficult to put down.

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Public health nurse Marion McKinnon (left) gives five-year-old Darlene Bakken her shot of diptheria-whooping-cough-polio-tetanus vaccine at the Kiwanis Health Centre while her mother Cyril Bakken of 150 Mile House, and small daughter look on with interest. (Irene Stangoe photo, Williams Lake Tribune, Nov. 20, 1963)

Marion McKinnon was featured in an article written by Irene Stangoe in the Williams Lake Tribune, 1963. (Tribune Archives)