The Bikes in My Life

From first to last, his bi­cy­cles hold a spe­cial place in this fella’s mem­ory

More of Our Canada - - The Way It Was - by Richard Lougheed (Dick) John­son,

Igot my first bike in 1943. It was an older, sec­ond-hand blue CCM, a one­speed. Bikes of any kind were very ex­pen­sive at that time. The Sec­ond World War was dev­as­tat­ing coun­tries that I was only fa­mil­iar with through so­cial stud­ies classes in school.

A new bike was about as easy to find as a live di­nosaur, as metal was needed to man­u­fac­ture ar­ma­ments to as­sist our brave men and women in the fight­ing over­seas.

My older brother Gordon was in the army, as were two of my cousins. My mother worked as a cook in a fa­cil­ity for peo­ple work­ing at a pack­ing plant in Ed­mon­ton, while my fa­ther worked in the Ne­gus Mine, a gold-pro­duc­ing mine in Yel­lowknife.

At ten, I was quite am­bi­tious. I con­vinced my mother I could earn enough money to be a mil­lion­aire tycoon—if I only had an old sec­ond-hand bike. She laughed but con­trib­uted about 80 per cent of the to­tal cost of the bike. I had made a few dol­lars dig­ging gar­dens, shov­el­ling snow and other mi­nor ven­tures. I promised Mother I’d pay back the “loan.”

The day I got my bike was one of the hap­pi­est of my life. I could start earn­ing my first mil­lion—de­liv­er­ing gro­ceries for Clarks’ gro­cery store and pack­ages for a small hard­ware store a few blocks away— this was in the For­est Hills sec­tion of Ed­mon­ton. I made a few dol­lars and de­cided to start work­ing on my sec­ond mil­lion, as the first was prov­ing too hard to come by.

My mother, another brother, Len, and I were to join Dad in Yel­lowknife. Leav­ing my bike was very dif­fi­cult, but prac­ti­cal­ity had to come first. I made very lit­tle money sell­ing it, not enough to pay Mother back.

We left for Yel­lowknife in the fall of 1943 aboard a two-pro­pel­ler DC-3. It was quite an ex­pe­ri­ence for a young fella, or any­body else for that mat­ter.

After we’d been in Yel­lowknife for a while, I was able to re­pay Mother for the bike loan. I got a job set­ting pins in the bowl­ing al­ley at the re­cre­ation cen­tre in the Ne­gus Mine. The min­ers paid great—i had lots of money, but would not buy another bike. The roads there were made with the tail­ings from the mine—lots of jagged, crushed rock. The new

town was only plans on a draw­ing board at the time.

Dad wasn’t happy in Yel­lowknife, but not be­cause his name was Al­bert John­son, which hap­pened to be the same name as the crim­i­nal known as the “Mad Trap­per of Rat River.” That Al­bert John­son had ac­tu­ally been tracked down in 1932 by Wil­fred “Wop” May—a for­mer WWI fly­ing ace who later be­came a bush pi­lot of the North—and was killed by the RCMP. Peo­ple still teased Dad though, even mem­bers of the RCMP!

No, Dad was un­happy be­cause he felt he wasn’t do­ing any­thing to help the war ef­fort, so he de­cided to re­turn to the coal mines where he nor­mally worked.

We ar­rived back in Ed­mon­ton in 1945 just be­fore the war ended. The Ed­mon­ton Bul­letin printed great sto­ries about the end of the war and the pa­per was look­ing for strong fel­las to carry news­pa­pers to street cor­ners and sell them. I had quite a bit of money saved from my job in Yel­lowknife, so I could af­ford to buy the pa­pers for two cents each and sell them for five cents or more.

Some peo­ple bought as many as ten pa­pers to keep as sou­venirs: tips were good, too!

A bike was now a pri­or­ity. I was at­tend­ing Mckay Av­enue School and many of the kids had bi­cy­cles— they came in handy for our protest. Down Jasper Av­enue, the main street in Ed­mon­ton, we went. There was about a dozen or more of us; cars honked their ap­proval. We were quite proud of our­selves. Po­lice didn’t bother with us. We had large signs that read “Down with seven-cent choco­late bars!” We de­cided that go­ing from five to seven cents was atro­cious. It changed noth­ing, of course, but it was fun.

I do be­lieve that the bike I own now will be my last. It’s a one­speed again, just for ex­er­cise. It’s a “Su­per­cy­cle 70th An­niver­sary” edi­tion. Sadly, it will have to go, as I’m down­siz­ing. Then again, I might just buy a souped-up Har­ley and hit the rac­ing cir­cuit; after all, I am just a young se­nior. ■

Left: Dick with his first bike at ten years of age, and (above) with his lat­est bike in 2016.

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