Ted and Elsie Cowley, both in their mid-90s, are celebrating 70 years of marriage. (Aaron Hinks photo)

Ted and Elsie Cowley, both in their mid-90s, are celebrating 70 years of marriage. (Aaron Hinks photo)

70 years of marriage

South Surrey family faced difficult times after arriving to Canada by boat 60 years ago

As Ted and Elsie Cowley, both in their mid-90s, reflect on 70 years of marriage, they wonder where the time went.

“Honest to God, it’s hard to believe how we went through 70 years, it felt very quick,” Ted told Peace Arch News on the day of their anniversary Oct. 14.

The couple met in Ceylon, now known as Sri Lanka, when they were children. Elsie later worked as a nurse and Ted for an insurance company. The couple had three children before Ceylon was granted independence from the British Empire in 1948.

At the time, Ted was working for a Canadian company in Ceylon. All British companies were forced to close once Ceylon gained independence. The director of the insurance company offered Ted sponsorship in Canada for his family of five.

In Ceylon, the Cowley’s lived a comfortable life. Elsie said she’s never had to cook or clean, and had servants taking care of the house and children.

Regardless of what they had to leave behind, the family, including a five-month-old baby, boarded a ship to Canada.

“Very scary,” Ted recalled. “When I came here, I was lost. I didn’t know what to do, we had a very hard time when we came here.”

“I stepped into Canada, I realized I had to start cooking,” Elsie added.

For the first year, the family had a consistent diet of biscuits and tea until they connected with their land lord, an Italian woman. She taught Elsie how to cook spaghetti, which tied the family over until Elsie got a Ceylon cookbook, which was a gift from Ted.

Elsie, through a connection she made at a catholic church in Toronto, quickly found work in the city as a nurse. However, her British qualifications weren’t recognized by the Canadian standards so she was forced to write an exam. She was given two weeks to study at the local women’s college.

“I wrote it and I got a B-plus,” Elsie said.

Her “little salary” kept the family going until she had to stop working to update her degree at a Toronto university.

“She worked very hard,” Ted said. “She did all the grocery shopping, all the cooking. My children and I had to do all the dishes and so on. I cleaned the house every week,” Ted said, adding that the first house he purchased in Canada cost $14,750.

The couple described a teamwork approach to raising a family. Elsie, for example, has never used a vacuum in her life, and never had to get into a cold car before leaving for work at 6:30 a.m. Ted would wake up early and make sure the car was warm before her daily commute.

“We do have problems, but one thing, of course, I had it with my faith – when the worst came. When I felt like walking out for one reason or another, my religion stopped me. I think religion had a lot to do with our lives. Because they say, once you marry, it’s for life,” Elsie said.

When asked what type of advice Elsie has for newly-weds, she said to never do something final.

“If you want to leave your partner for a little while, then leave your partner for a little while, work it out by yourself, but come back. But don’t just say, ‘that’s it, I’m going.’ Then it’s too late, and sometimes, I think you can make a mistake.”

As Elsie continued her nursing career, Ted found at job at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in the accounting department, then a job as an auditor for the federal government.

After retiring, about 30 years ago, they moved to South Surrey.

“When I came here, month of February, they were cutting the grass!” Ted said.