Guest Post: Fitness for Women (Old School)!

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by Marion Corless

(as told to her #4 son, Robert Corless)


Marion Leslie Corless (nee Armitage) was born November 26th 1921 in Toronto. She graduated from the University of Toronto in 1943 with a degree in Occupational Therapy. Her travel adventures in the last few years include Australia, New Zealand, and the Maritimes. She lived (on her own) on Williams Lake BC since her husband John, of 66 years, died in 2011.

Marion died this December 31, 2016. You can read her obituary here.

Samantha asked me to describe my early physical education, as well as my later means of keeping fit. My son Robert was to interview me and write up the details for this blog. He did so over three evenings on my trip to Ontario this past August, and this is the result. It seems to be three parts reminiscence and one part fitness, but anyway here it is.

From grade school (in Toronto) I remember running races, sack races, high jumps, generally what they do on “Sports Day.” There was some gymnastics, which looked quite different to the gymnastics of today. I joined the Toronto skating club, when I was around 10 or 11 years old, and took bronze lessons and silver lessons. My skates were not sharp enough, and I fell once and hit my head. It still bothers me. I must have cracked my skull.

I took part in 3 or 4 skate carnivals. Sonja Henie came once and we were all on the ice together. My cohort were all ‘snowflakes.’

I had a tricycle. I wasn’t allowed a bicycle. (Too dangerous!)  I wasn’t allowed up the hill. I went up the hill.

I also played badminton, I remember.

In the summers we used to go away to the lake (Balsam Lake mostly, also Shadow Lake). My father would drive; mother, my younger brother Jock (born Douglas John August 26 1926), and my friend Elizabeth all came.

Dad, Elizabeth, and I used to canoe, and swim, and row. My dad took us out and dumped us in the middle of the lake, and watched “now find your way back!” (the first time) that we could make it back. After that we could go anywhere, by ourselves. I don’t ever remember learning to swim; I remember swimming in the ocean (Dad learned to drive, after he bought a car, on his way to the Maritimes; his father, my grandfather, was William Rowan Armitage, Anglican Archdeacon of Halifax. We vacationed in Peggy’s Cove.

We moved to Vancouver [Dad was dean of Christchurch Cathedral] in 1936. We lived at Alexandra and Balfour, near 24th Street in Shaughnessy. I would (mostly) walk to Crofton House (my school) down by Stanley Park. I must have got over The Burrard St Bridge somehow. At Crofton, I did badminton and running and gymnastics. I said it was different to today’s. We jumped over [pommel] horses, and did rings. I swam, though there were no indoor pools. Again I swam in the ocean, I remember. I walked around Stanley Park with my Dad, who was a great walker. Once a week we’d walk down to the passenger liners embarking, walk on board and enjoy the festivities of departure, then walk off waving at everybody. It was great fun.

On weekends in winter, I would take the streetcar to the harbour, then the ferry across, then the streetcar as far as it would go. Then I walked up Grouse Mountain (there was a trail to the top) and skied all day; then did the reverse on the way home.  I was never able to finish my dinner before I fell asleep. I played basketball.

While we lived in Vancouver, we spent a month each summer – July usually- in a place called Red Roofs. This was 14 miles north of Sechelt. Dad always took us. We walked in to Sechelt for fun, but we took the boat -The Lady Cecilia – home. The Cecilia would call in at all the ports between, because there were no roads! It was a steamship, not  a ferry. My friends Tanny and Mike and I used to walk in to town three times a week. Once we found a big turtle! I remember the turtle bashing its own head into a log.

I had a Kodak Brownie, which I got for my 10th or 11th birthday. That’s what I took that big picture with, of Mount Shuksan (near Mount Baker), probably in 1936. It was a beautiful, beautiful summer, and we took trips everywhere because we always thought it would rain tomorrow. It was a fall trip on which I took the picture of Mount Shuksan. We had the black and white picture enlarged and colourized in Vancouver. If you’d done the actual fall colours, no-one would have believed it!


I went back to Ontario, to Branksome Hall, for Grade 13. I continued basketball; there was no more skating per se, but I played ice hockey! The girl’s team had sticks, skates, and a puck. That was the saddest hockey team you’ve ever seen! I kept skiing, this was before real skiing, which the Norwegians taught Canadians when they came over.

In the summer of 1940 we went to P.E.I.. The beaches there are gorgeous- Cavendish and Rustico. That’s where I learned to drive. They were training pilots there, and they flew over the beaches, pretty low. My brother Jock drew a cartoon: Marion waving, and everyone else (even the dog) flat on the beach as the planes soared just overhead.

I walked every day to university. I interned at the Children’s Hospital on College Street. I didn’t like the lunch so I would walk home and back ( about 12 blocks each way).

I also worked at the workman’s compensation clinic while interning. I stayed there, after interning, because there were no jobs. I saw the signs saying “Enlist in the Army” and thought, “What a good idea!” I did it before lunch. This was December 1943. Mother asked me at dinner, “What did you do today, dear?” “I enlisted in the Army” “Oh, dear!”

I was sent back to BC -to Nanaimo- for basic training, gas training and all that, but otherwise didn’t do much. After that we went to Harrison Hot Springs, where they’d taken over the big hotel for rehab. The ten patients swam in the pool, and played golf when it wasn’t raining, (i.e., not often) After D-Day, 4-6 days, I was posted overseas as part of hospital #24. I had 3 weeks embarkation leave to Toronto. After that I went by train to Debert, NS. I got my shots, and paraded up and down in the rain. It rained like it’s raining tonight, the whole time we were there. The vaccinations were really good to have; I never got sick overseas. I got on the boat – the whole hospital got on the boat- at pier 21. When I got to England I bought a bicycle. That was the first time I’d ever ridden a bicycle [aged 22]. I never learned how to fix flat tires. I always enlisted “some other help”. Then I met your Dad.

The whole hospital was there, cleaning staff, administrators, nurses, driver, all the doctors, occupational therapists, physios, dietitians, cooking staff. The ship was The Nieuw Amsterdam, which had been made over for us. I shared a cabin about as big as the kitchen: there were twelve  of us. There was no exercise aboard ship!

There were two [male] officers in the lounge at the end sitting for breakfast at the table for four. They were there first, but they saved seats for us, and then we saved seats for them; we played bridge till lunchtime. we did that for six days. That’s where I learned to play bridge. They said they’d teach us.

There were Army bunks in the cabin, with three tiers. I was in the middle. It was quite a struggle with twelve women and one bathroom.

It was really quite a pleasant trip. One minute you’re looking at the Ocean, one minute at the sky.

There were good meals, including the last of the real coffee until we got home. After that it was chicory or something. You’d think you had real real coffee, then you’d get it up to your nose, the goodness! No.

We landed at Grenoch in Scotland. I was amazed how beautiful it was. They took us on trucks down to the train at Scotch Corners which was at the intersection of several highways. We were taken to a hotel. There was nothing in that hotel but tables and chairs downstairs. We slept in sleeping bags.

The first night I had some chocolate (as usual) I left it out as I slept, which was a mistake because a mouse got it (at least I think it was a mouse). I never left chocolate out again.

We spent three weeks there, waiting for the hospital that was in our building to move to France so we could move in. We met many  people. One young man I felt badly for- he was so worried- “I’m so afraid that’ll I’ll be afraid!” I never saw him again.

We went all over Yorkshire. We took the bus and then we walked everywhere.

Then we got on the train to go down to London. Luckily I got a place at a table (one foot square) for four people. The tracks got bombed on for four or five days and we were stuck till the tracks got fixed. I had a blow-up pillow and slept with my head on the table. We lived on k-rations, which was an american package of cheese, crackers, and bologna. They did have enough water for us on the train. After two days of actual travel we got down to London.

After a long time the train pulled in to Victoria Station. It was really all glass; the panels looked like they were about 10′ x 10′. We arrived just after the Germans had bombed, and the glass was falling all over us- our luggage, our uniforms- we were walking on it. All this glass, and we weren’t hurt. We thought of all the people bombed.

Anyway we were met with trucks and taken to the next station (I forget the name, I’ll know it the minute I’ll see it) on the London-Brighton line. We got off at Horleigh, and were met by Army trucks. We got in the back and were driven to a place called Smallfield, where the hospital was. I’ve written this up; it was a Red Cross hospital built during the war. There were forty wards each in seperate buildings, each with forty beds. this was July. The ambulances were lined up, and we were told that we might have to give up our quarters, but they found room. Your Dad came in on one of those ambulances (I met him in August).

There were only two physios. Your Dad never got enough. He never could straighten his leg.

I was on my feet all day. I never got a chance to sit down except at lunch. After a year or so lunch got so boring that I never ate. It was either the brussels sprouts or the mutton! I lost a lot of weight. The Americans got a lot more food, and the British Army got a lot less. We were right in the middle.

In England your dad and I tried roller skates, I also tried hockey skates, which I found very difficult. We played golf in the summer 1945 on the Isle of Wight. We rowed- I remember dangling my fingers in the water as we went through the arch.

After the war we moved to Prince George. There wasn’t much happening there, and there was very little I could do in the way of fitness.  David was born June 1946, and your Dad was helping to build the golf course about then, for which we got a lifetime membership. I played basketball before Duncan was born in February 1948. We had a curling rink, with real ice- frozen by power from an old aircraft engine. Once we were playing on ice covered by two inches of water. That was exercise.

There was “turkey” shoots: target shooting with a 22 caliber gun, with a turkey as prize. This was indoors in the Civic Centre basement. Gord Wood and Dick Corless (John’s older brother) showed me how to shoot. Entry cost 25 cents. This was a time when there wasn’t a lot of money. After the shooting stopped the call came: “Who’s closest to the centre?” Marion Corless! I had beaten my teachers. John was pretty happy I’d beaten his brother! So I won two turkeys, and after that they wouldn’t let me shoot anymore!

We had a Ford Model A. Your brother David was in the seat beside me, and Duncan in a cardboard box on the seat behind us, and we started the Ford using it’s crank (or we could start it ‘the other way’)

There were dances in the CCF* Hall. There was not much canoeing, though there was some down by the Nechako River.

There were Spanish dancing classes; there was really no sport outside the high school system.

At the cabin at Summit lake we would swim, row, and canoe. The canoe was bigger than the smaller river boat of Dick’s. I had to chop wood, and then I had to  chop kindling. John chopped wood a lot, but not as much as me. I had said “how about I chop the wood and kindling and you get up with the kids at night?” (He thought he won that one.) John brought me a big long-stemmed roses box, and I was so happy he’d remembered our anniversary. I opened it, and inside was a Hudson’s Bay axe!

Wash day was quite interesting in the winter. Those days were quite cold. I remember it was -60°F for five days in a row, and then it warmed up to -50°F. After hanging on the line, the diapers were frozen. We’d put them up on the rack above the wood stove (bend them over the rack) and they’d dry up there. Same with John’s jeans.

I joined an exercise group around 1957. In that group, eight of us got pregnant, we laughed. People ask what the exercises were – just stretching and running and leg lifts and abdominal work down on the floor. I can’t remember anything else.

I started cross-country skiing in the 1970’s; John was clearing ski trails for the Sons of Norway about then.

In the 1980’s, we sailed. John would pack dinner – bread, meat, butter, wine, and cheese  and he picked me up after work. We went to our boat (a 22 foot Siren) on Cluculz Lake, set the tiller and stayed out until the moon came up. It was just so perfect. We went to the British Virgin Isles and sailed there. I tried sailboarding – I didn’t want to fall off because of the sharks, so they had to come get me! I wouldn’t try tacking.


Mother took up Yang style Tai Chi in the 1990’s after they moved to Williams Lake. Her teacher was Denise Deschene. I never got to this part of her fitness journey; but she was in her 70’s when she started, and kept it up till the end.



Kathleen (Sam’s mum), Marion, and Sam!



Marion with swords!


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