Bernice (Wotherspoon) Knight
“The Flower Lady” is a very fitting nickname for Bernice Knight, who showed community members one small idea can change a whole town.
Bernice Knight was born in Auckland, New Zealand on April 16, 1946 to Mathew Inwood and Una May Wotherspoon. She spent her early years on the 100 acres of free farmland her father Mathew had received for his service during the Second World War.
On her father’s dairy farm, Bernice's main chore was to raise the female calves after school and on weekends. This involved everything from bottle feeding to bucket feeding. She enjoyed helping her father milk the cows. She was also given chores in the garden. For example, while weeding she would pull Ragwort, a weed with long taproots. She would earn her allowance this way. Bernice was always happy as long as she was able to spend time outside on the farm or with the farm animals.
When Bernice was 15, the family moved to the resort town of Mount Manganui, where she worked as a hairdresser's apprentice. She would go down and catch the ferry to Tauranga, which was a bigger town with more job opportunities. Every morning, there was a handsome young man on the ferry, and they would exchange smiles. After about three months, the man introduced himself and asked Bernice out on a date. Bernice brought Roger Knight home to meet her parents before they went out for a movie date. Bernice and Roger were together for four years before they married on September 18, 1965 in Tauranga.
Once married, Bernice and Roger moved to Wellington. Here, they had their first child, Stephen, in November of 1966. Their daughter Melissa was born in February, 1968. Bernice stayed at home with the children during this time. For extra money, she would sew at home for a manufacturing company. When they had the time, Roger and Bernice would both help pave driveways. Roger was working for the government in telecommunications, hooking up and troubleshooting switchboards. Roger's job required frequent moves; the family spent time living in Taranga, Wellington, and Auckland.
Bernice and Roger would often joke about selling everything and moving to Canada. So they did! After 5 failed attempts to apply for immigration, they learned they could find a job in Canada and then immigrate from England. The family sold everything and flew to the United States, where they bought an old station wagon and drove to Canada. The couple found work in Edmonton and then continued on their flight to England. They were in England for three months getting their immigration sorted out before they moved back to Canada. They arrived on December 23 1976, two days before Christmas.
Bernice found work at a doughnut shop, while Roger changed careers and became a pressure welder. After two years, Bernice started working at Toronto Dominion Bank. The family lived in Mill Woods for twelve years until Stephen and Melissa moved out.
Bernice and Roger then took the opportunity to follow their dream and move away from city living.
Bernice and Roger often went to Wetaskiwin to buy vehicles. While driving along Highway 2A, they would dream about living in the cute little houses they would see on the way. One afternoon, they went out for a drive around the Millet area, looking for acreages. They saw a house nestled in the trees with a for-sale sign. The home was a little run down, and the grounds were in need of some grooming, but they loved its potential and bought it.
When living in the new house, south of Millet, Bernice would still commute into Edmonton for her job. She then transferred to the Wetaskiwin branch, where she worked part time while they renovated the house. Bernice soon realized that banking wasn’t for her, and got a job at a local greenhouse.
When Bernice and Roger went on a trip to Leavenworth, Washington, they were inspired by the beautiful town and the community. They wanted to bring that feeling to Millet. Bernice decided her first step would be to approach the town council, to see if they would allow her to place hanging flower baskets. The town approved her request and Bernice started right away. At first, the baskets were in need of some improvement. Bernice got help from local greenhouses for guidance, and they would let her use the greenhouses after hours to plant her flowers.
After two years, the planters were improving. She had been using plastic planters of not the best quality, so Roger made hundreds of wire planters for her. The Butterfly Boutique then asked Bernice for some flower baskets. This request laid the framework for entering the Communities in Bloom competition. The town placed signs along Highway 2A, each with two flower baskets. Other local businesses began asking for baskets. Roger helped Bernice by building a greenhouse in their yard. He also set up their truck for watering, complete with a water tank, RV pump, and a 12 foot watering wand. Before they knew all the details, Millet had entered Communities in Bloom. In 1997, the town of Millet won the provincial Communities in Bloom title. The whole town was buzzing with pride when they heard the news.
During this time, Bernice had been working part-time at the greenhouse and part-time at Butterfly Boutique. She had many volunteers and was part of the Millet in Bloom committee. The group maintained many historical gardens, like the Burns Creamery Rock Garden.
Bernice also started the Memorial Rose Garden. She wanted to plant a rose in her mother’s memory and other community members and groups wanted to join in. They built the picket fence out of old pallets, meeting at Bernice and Roger's place while cutting the wood. They still maintain the gardens today, where community members can buy a hardy rose and a plaque to honor a family member. While doing work with Millet in Bloom, Bernice also worked with schools. She taught children how to plant flowers and got them excited about gardening.
In 2000, Bernice was the Western Canada liaison for Communities in Bloom. She visited communities all over Alberta and British Columbia and encouraged them to get involved. Millet was a great example to use because the whole town got involved and took pride in their achievements.
Bernice and Roger moved back to Edmonton when Roger was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. The two decided they were finally going to do some traveling; they went on many of river cruises together and made many special memories. Even today, Bernice is giving to the community. She has a contract with her condominium board to place flower pots and various plants on the grounds. This has helped improve the quality of life for many people living in the area.
Bernice is an innovative and captivating woman. She changed the lives of many people by showing them how one person can make a difference.