The Bikes in My Life
From first to last, his bicycles hold a special place in this fella’s memory
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.