When Helen met Thelma two and a half years ago they became instant friends who shared a love of writing.
While others spent the first year of COVID-19 Zooming and baking banana bread, the two nonagenarians produced a 74-page pictorial history book called The Way It Was: The History of North Central British Columbia. It includes a section on the inside story of the building of the W.A.C. Bennett Dam on the Peace River, one of the world's largest earth fill dams.
Ninety-eight-year-old Helen Mustard is credited as the author, but she is quick to say it's "not my book, it's our book.
"Thelma is the writer, I'm the compiler."
Mustard lives next door to 92-year-old Thelma Parker in Aspen Lodge, a seniors retirement home in Calgary.
For a year they spent two hours every night poring over more than 400 photographs Mustard gathered while working on an earlier book on the development of northern B.C. called Where Eagles Fly and Rivers Run Wild.
The solo effort involved 26 interviews Mustard did while living in Mackenzie, B.C. in the 1970s where she was president of the local heritage society. She interviewed everyone from early trappers and explorers to Ray Williston who, as minister of lands and forests, oversaw the building of the Bennett Dam from 1963 to its completion in 1968.
"There was so much opposition to the dam and (Williston) wanted the story told with absence of fairy tales so he gave us all kinds of material," Mustard recalled in a phone interview. "That's how my interest in B.C. history got started."
Recordings of the interviews are included in the Northern B.C. Archives.
Two copies of Mustard's book, self-published by her daughter, can be found in the national archives in Ottawa.
Several years ago, on hearing the museum in Prince George was starting an exploration centre, Mustard initially planned on sending the photos she had collected to be displayed there.
Parker was helping Mustard prepare the photos to send when the latter learned Parker was a writer who also knew page design and shared her dream of taking information from her first book to create a pictorial history, Parker said.
"Helen didn't know anything about page design and she didn't have a computer so I typed out whatever story material she wanted."
Parker's knowledge of page design comes from 20 years of being an avid scrapbooker, she said.
"That was all we intended to do, just fulfill Helen's dream of getting it done. But people wanted to buy it so she has sold a few copies.
"If I had ever known it was going to take off, I would probably have tried to get her a publisher," Parker said.
Instead, the women had the three-in-one book printed at a Calgary shop at a cost of $80 for printing and $20 for materials, selling it at cost for $100.
"The only way you can get one is to call us and we have a copy printed." Parker said.
Mustard has sold five copies.
"I've been told by six teachers it should be in school libraries, but I don't know how to get it out there," Mustard said.
"Boy, if I had these books when I was teaching school in Nova Scotia trying to get kids interested in something that happened way out here, it would have been a great help," Parker said.
But there never would have been a book if the two women hadn't met and become best friends, a fact both marvel at.
"I've had many friends in my life, but I've never had anyone that has the same ideas as I have," said Mustard who described her bestie as "the most wonderful person in the world. It's really remarkable the way we've bonded."
Parker lauds Mustard as "most knowledgeable, very inventive, very resourceful and at 98 years old she is still interested in everything. She really is amazing.
"We were saying just the other night --isn't it strange we two end up being the best friends we've ever had. It's kind of surprised us."