Effie Jean (George) Roper
Life and Work
Effie Jean George, the third of Frank and Sarah’s four children, was born on September 3, 1917. Jean’s father Franklin Bryden George, originally from Ontario, worked for Canadian Pacific Railway and was a stationmaster in Stavely, AB then Lacombe, AB when he met Sarah Fairservice, a resident of one of the boarding houses. They married on January 6, 1914. When they met, Sarah was a young widow whose first husband, William Henry Cuming, had passed away in Enderby, BC, and had moved into the Lacombe area. Sarah sustained herself with a sewing business which she continued when the family moved to Wetaskiwin. Jean’s siblings were Isabelle Estella was born on September 14, 1914, then Gerald Bryden on February 11, 1916, and Robert Franklin on October 21, 1921. All four George children were born in the family home in Lacombe.
Sometime between 1921 and 1924, Frank was transferred to the Wetaskiwin Railway Station to become the Stationmaster and the family moved with him as a result. This move proved a benefit for Jean and her brother Robert as they could take the train free to Edmonton for dancing and skating lessons. Their first home in Wetaskiwin was near the current site of C.B. McMurdo School. They later moved into one of the large turreted houses on 51 St and 44 Ave where it remained in possession of the George family until Jean moved into a home in Edmonton in the 1990s. The same gentleman, D. J. McLaughlin who built the Courthouse in 1907, built the second home.
The railway provided Edmonton Clubs the opportunity to setup classes in outlying cities for schoolchildren. The Pimlott School of Dance from Edmonton was one such group to send instructors to Wetaskiwin and Camrose for dance lessons. Jean started dancing in 1924 or 1925 when Miss Ethel Bottomley of Pimlott established classes in Wetaskiwin and Camrose. Jean danced with Pimlott until she graduated from the school in 1932 when she was fifteen.
After graduating from Pimlott, Jean started teaching in her own dance school with her brother, Robert, as her assistant and frequent partner under the name of the George School of Dance. The first recital for the school was in 1933 when Jean was sixteen. She and Robert taught many varieties of dance including ballet, jazz, tap and ballroom. She even taught and had recitals in Ponoka and Lacombe. Jean and Robert often danced in individual acts and with other dancers. Many of the acts were themed, (Greek, Scottish, Irish, Dutch, etc.) and required costumes many of which were made by Jean, Isabelle and their mother, Sarah.
Jean and Robert also studied figure skating together at the Glenora Skating & Tennis Club in Edmonton (now the Royal Glenora Club). As well as solo acts, the two entered in pairs competitions, winning many accolades for their talents.
In the years before starting their own school, music was also a huge part of their lives. Sarah and Frank provided music lessons for all four of their children. Mrs. Anna Condie, a renowned music teacher in Wetaskiwin, taught both violin and piano to the George children. The Condies’ and Georges’ remained family friends for many years. Her sister, Isabelle often played the piano accompaniment for Jean and Robert’s performances as well as other dancers in the shows while brother, Gerald played the violin. Mrs. Condie either played the violin or piano for the recitals.
Jean and Robert were also part of the United Church Children’s Choir led by Professor William Touche and accompanied by Mrs. Condie. In school, they were part of the music program at Alexandra School and the Wetaskiwin High School. Jean played the piano for the school orchestra, led again by Professor Touche, which entertained many crowds at the Elks Hall. Even though Jean graduated from the Wetaskiwin High School in 1934, she was so valued that she continued to support the music program by accompanying the band on the piano until her brother Robert graduated in 1940. Isabelle and Jean were part of the girl guides as well during their school years.
After graduating from high school the other George children worked with Jean and moved on with their education. Isabelle continued to work with Jean and Robert as an accompanist for many of their dance revues. She then joined the Canadian Army during the Second World War and then worked for the federal government in radio licensing in Edmonton. She was also a faithful Edmonton Eskimos and Oilers fan. She would go to their practices and games regularly. Isabelle never married. She passed away in 1989.
Gerald attended Normal School in Camrose and became a teacher in the Humble School District. He then went to the University of Alberta, taking Chemistry, and worked for the mines in Flin Flon, Manitoba. He married Sadie Quaal and had two children, Sharon and Sheldon. Gerald passed away in 1997 at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton. Sadie lives in Dauphin, MB close to their daughter Sharon.
In 1939, before Robert started his final year of high school, Sarah and the children went to New York to the World’s Fair. After high school, Robert continued to teach with Jean. He also taught and produced skating shows at the Glenora Skating club. He joined the Army in 1942 and then went to the University of Alberta in 1946 and gained and education degree. He taught in Edson, Red Deer and Victoria. He married Betty Wolcott, and they had four children: Barry, Brian, Brenda and Beverly. Both Robert and Betty passed away in 2011 in Victoria.
On May 23, 1942, Jean married Henry Basil Roper at Bittern Lake where they met at a dance in Bittern Lake. Basil came from one of the most prominent business families of the village. Basil’s father, Cecil Thomas Curzon (Don) Roper, was one of the first partners of the General store along with Basil’s grandfather, Arthur Henry Ladell. Don soon became the sole proprietor of the store and started the Roper ranch on the west-side of Bittern Lake. Before meeting Jean, Basil was managing the implement and trucking business under his father. He suspended his business when he enlisted with Royal Canadian Air Force in 1941.
When Jean and Basil got married, he was a cadet with the RCAF. Basil graduated in August of 1942 as a Wireless Air Gunner and started teaching in Lethbridge, Alberta as a Gunnery instructor for the No. 8 Bombing & Gunnery School. After a year of teaching, Basil joined the 161st Bomber Reconnaissance Squadron in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia and was with them until 1945. Jean stayed with her parents in Wetaskiwin until Basil returned from his tour in Nova Scotia. They then moved into an apartment above the garage and general store in Bittern Lake owned by Percy McKay. Upon returning Basil continued his trucking business in partnership with his brother-in-law, Bob Wylie. While Basil was gone and even when she and Basil lived in the apartment in Bittern Lake, Jean had continued to teach dance until Basil bought the Roper ranch from his father in 1948 and she retired.
For 25 years, Jean and Basil ran the ranch where they bred and raised Herefords, horses and sheep. Barry George, Robert’s son, recalls “a prosperous farm, well cared for by hard work.” While running the ranch, Jean also worked for the Village of Bittern Lake as Secretary-Treasurer from 1952-53 and 1957-65. After Frank George’s passing in 1973, they sold the farm to the newly formed Chico Ranches, Ltd. and Jean and Basil moved to Wetaskiwin into the George home.
Frank George was active in the Freemason Lodge. The Masons were dedicated to ‘making good men better’ and supported the community through charity work. Since the Masons were a fraternity, Jean and her mother Sarah were part of the Order of the Eastern Star, a women’s group of the Masons also dedicated to good works in the community. Jean, for a period of time was Grand Matron of the Order in Wetaskiwin.
During their marriage, Jean and Basil enjoyed some travelling. They would often go to Radium where Basil’s sister, Dorothy and her husband Duncan McIntosh ran the Radium Hot Springs Lodge and with their children, Douglas, Bruce and Patricia. They also went to Scotland, England, and took a cruise to Fiji.
Jean actively enjoyed square dancing with her husband during their marriage. Jean would make their costumes like she did when she did her dance recitals. She was very skilled in sewing as well as, crocheting, needlepoint and quilting.
The couple did not have any children but Jean and Basil cherished their nieces and nephews and treated them as their own. During the summers, children from both the George family and the Ropers would visit their grandparents and would often visit Jean and Basil while they were here. Bruce McIntosh, Basil’s nephew, remembers visiting his grandparents, Don and Queenie Roper’s, home in rural Bittern Lake and walking over to Basil & Jean’s ranch along the lake. Sharon (George) Gingera, Gerald’s daughter, remembers visiting Frank and Sarah George’s house in Wetaskiwin for two weeks to a month in the summer and seeing Jean and Basil’s ranch and even meeting the Condie family, who were close family friends of the Georges. To keep Jean and Basil company were a pair of black or white Scottish terriers.
After Basil passed away in 1984, Jean kept busy with working on her beautiful garden. She also did a bit of golfing and travelling. She remained at the house until she was moved into a senior’s care home in Edmonton because of failing health. Jean passed away in 1996 and was buried in Wetaskiwin next to Basil at the Old Wetaskiwin Cemetery.
Sources: Barry George, Sharon Gingera, Bruce McIntosh, George Wilson