A Lifetime of Memories
A fond look back at a full and rewarding life
Iwas born on January 15, 1923, in Rocky Mountain House, Alta. My parents lived in Strachan, which was about 20 miles southwest of Rocky. We basically lived in the wilderness, no graded roads or electricity, sometimes no bridges over the rivers.
It was a long drive to get to town, travelling over rough roads with a team of horses and a lumber wagon. You would have to stay overnight and return the next day. The roads were so rough that when you hit a bump, it knocked the wind right out of you—no springs in those wagons!
For us kids, it was a real adventure to go into town, where we’d see things such as bananas, oranges and ice cream cones. Once, on the way home, we crossed a flooded stream and the water came right up to the wagon box. We could feel the wagon floating! Dad was yelling at the horses and popping the lines as the horses were lunging against the current. We got out safely, though.
We had some close calls as kids, as well. There was a salt block for the cattle, and one time, my sister and I crawled under the fence to lick it, almost coming face to face with a massive bull! He lowered his head and began walking towards us. We could see froth coming from his mouth, moisture running down his nose, and his eyes were rolling. We were terrified and frozen to the spot. I was sure we were going to be trampled to death or eaten. My mother heard us screaming and came running with a broom to chase the bull away. When I think back now, the bull was probably just curious and trying to be friendly—we never forgot that experience, though.
When it came time for school, we either walked the three miles, or rode on horseback. In winter, it was too cold to sit in the saddle, so we always walked. We had to cross a creek by walking over a log bridge—the rushing creek was two feet beneath us. We tried not to look down or think about what would happen if we fell in. We also had good times travelling to school, especially in spring when flowers were in full bloom, birds were singing and we could watch fish darting around in the cold, clear water.
We rode horses from an early age. I fancied myself a good rider. It was wonderful to feel the muscles of a good horse beneath you, smell his sweat, sit comfortably in the saddle and be in perfect harmony with your animal.
When I was 14, I was given a high-spirited horse named Jock. The first time I rode him to school, he pranced and danced all the way there. I was sure all the other boys envied me. On the way home, though, with the other boys ahead of me on their horses, Jock began to buck. I was okay for five bone-jarring jumps before hitting the
ground headfirst and seeing real stars. Jock kept bucking until the saddle turned on his side—was he ever in a lather! I got to my feet, brushed the dirt from my face, straightened the saddle and climbed back on. He never bucked again and was a good horse after that.
There were other things I enjoyed besides horses. My father was very musical and loved to sing. We had a piano, so the neighbours would often join us—with their instruments—for a sing-along. When I was older, I got my own violin. To this day, I enjoy playing it, with my son Lew accompanying me on the guitar or mandolin.
I quit school at the age of 15, working on the farm in summer and sawmills in winter. We’d work ten-hour days for 90 cents a day, which included room and board. I didn’t enjoy working in sawmills, so to earn extra money, I’d take my dog and my rifle and wander the hills trapping squirrels or weasels. You could get $1.50 for a weasel pelt—squirrel pelts were only worth a nickel.
I was 17 when World War II broke out. Dad, a World War I veteran, joined the army as a military officer. That left me on the farm with Mom and three younger siblings. It was hard work, but we still made time for fun including picnics, ballgames and dances, where I got to play my violin. We also weren’t as isolated as we’d been before. Roads began to improve, more cars and trucks came through and we could listen to radio programs such as Fibber Mcgee and Lux Radio Theatre. We didn’t have much to complain about.
I worked at various jobs as I got older, including joining the air force, but after four years was happy to return to our quiet farm back home. A few weeks after my return, I got a job with the Shell Oil Company. Following that, I spent a winter on the traplines with my uncle Ray. It took a while to get used to walking on snowshoes while carrying gear on my back. Ray and I worked alone for three or four days at a time, meeting up at a well-stocked cabin along the line. The hunting was good; it was a wild and free life. Ray and I got to see frozen waterfalls, northern lights and beaver dams a mile long—things city folks don’t see. We forged a strong friendship that continued until his death.
After that adventure, I worked as a forest ranger in Nordegg, Alta., for the summer. It had its exciting moments, but overall it was a lonely existence and I was once again happy to return home.
In time I married and had five children, including two sets of twins. We moved to British Columbia before the twins were born and lived in the same house in New Westminster for more than 50 years. I am 94 now and it’s been a good life, although I miss my sweetheart, Lillian. The old way of life is long gone, but the memories linger on.