Dispatches

Ursula

Norbert Ruebsaat

She was a conversationalist, a home builder and a deliverer of calves. Those who loved Ursula will miss her adventurous soul.

Ursula Bainbridge was born Ursula Schumacher, in Rheinberg, Germany, in 1925. She was the oldest of three daughters, and was known as an athletic, artistically gifted child, somewhat strong-willed and rebellious—because, people said, her father, Herbert, had a habit of treating her “more like a boy.”

Ursula’s teenage years coincided with the Allied bombings of German cities and towns in World War II . She did much of her high school homework in basement air raid shelters, into which her mother, Mia, sometimes had trouble dragging her at night because Ursula slept so soundly. She passed her Abitur, high school matriculation (an uncommon achievement for girls in her generation), in 1943 , and was drafted into the National Socialist Youth Labour Brigade and sent to work in a munitions factory. On March 27, 1945, in Munich, as the city was being carpet-bombed, she married Helmut Ruebsaat, a neighbour since her childhood and now a medical student. The couple had to duck into air-raid shelters for cover three times on their way from the church to city hall to collect their marriage licence.

Ursula, Helmut and their two children, Norbert and Ulrike, settled in Canada in 1952, first in Edmonton, then in the small community of Castlegar in the West Kootenay region of British Columbia. Ursula and Helmut were active singers, skiers, hikers and campers, and Ursula learned cooking, bread baking, knitting and spinning from the local Doukhobor women who formed a good part of Helmut’s medical practice. Her daughter Susanna was born in Nelson General Hospital in 1953 , and her third daughter, Gisela, was born in the family’s 1956 Meteor sedan (delivered by Helmut) on the highway from Castlegar to Nelson in 1956.

The family moved to Vancouver in 196 , and Helmut and Ursula divorced in 1968. By this time Ursula had enrolled at the University of British Columbia and studied German literature; in the early 197s she earned her teacher’s certificate and her Master of Arts degree. During this period she opened the family home on Pine Crescent to students, who remember her for providing a homey atmosphere and intelligent conversation. She described those years as one of the happiest times in her life.

In 1971 , Ursula and Gisela moved to Vernon, B.C., where Ursula taught English, art and physical education in elementary and high schools, and later sold textbooks to schools in the Okanagan Valley. She was an active skier whose little Volkswagen bug was said to plow through the snowdrifts to Silver Star ski hill more efficiently than many large masculine vehicles. In March 1972 she married Jack Bainbridge, and over the next few years the couple lived in Vernon, Saanichton, Maple Ridge, Mission, Victoria and Gabriola Island. In three of these places they built houses, an activity they enjoyed so much that for an entire summer, while they were building the Mission house on a mountain ridge above the Fraser River, they lived in a pup tent so as to be present for all stages of construction. They travelled through other parts of B.C. as well, camping in their VW Westfalia; and when they were at home, Ursula produced beautiful weavings, knittings, paintings and pottery.

While she and Jack were living on a small acreage in Saanichton, Ursula realized her childhood dream of being a farmer. She kept chickens, ducks, geese, pigs and goats, not to mention dogs. She also had a cow, into whose birth canal she one day unabashedly, and to the extreme amazement of a young friend of Gisela’s, thrust her forearm up to the elbow to help the cow deliver her calf. During these years Ursula and Jack often visited Ursula’s mother, Mia, and her sister’s family in Bonn, Germany. After Mia died, the Schumacher sisters and their husbands went on walking and canal boat tours through northwest Germany and Holland, and Ursula renewed her connection to her birth country and to her sister.

Ursula Bainbridge died in October 29 , in St. Vincent’s Langara Care Home in Vancouver. All of the many people who loved Ursula as mother, sister, aunt, great aunt, grandmother, great grandmother, teacher, mentor and friend will miss her adventurous soul.

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Norbert Ruebsaat

Norbert Ruebsaat has written many articles for Geist. He lived in Vancouver and taught at Simon Fraser University.


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