Saturday, March 28, 2009



Within three months of his return from his Sarnia trip, on September 5, 1979, my father was dead from a massive coronary. He died in Mannville, Alberta while on a bicycle trip. The news left everyone in the family in shock, as he seemed to be in excellent health.

I have always blamed his death on his exertions while on the bike trip to Sarnia. I believe he must have been aware of the risks before setting out, however. When he spoke to us about his plans for a canoe trip with his friend, George Hamilton, he mentioned that canoeing in Lake Winnipeg would be risky, for example, but insisted he would be more than happy to take the trip in spite of the risks.

When I first considered beginning this blog, I found the idea a bit intimidating. Once having made a start, I would be committed to continue without knowing at all where the undertaking would take me. Eventually, I overcame my fears, mainly because I felt it was something I should do.

As it turned out, I found it was not only worthwhile, but actually very rewarding. Over the weeks, I became immersed in the life of my father, learning new things about him, looking at photos for the first time in many years, pondering the meaning of various events, and trying to understand how he may have experienced them. The result of this reflection is that I feel I have come to know and appreciate my father in a new way. Certainly, I see him now more as a fellow human being rather than only as a parent.

I hope that readers have found my father's life interesting and that, for those who knew him, I have drawn a picture of my father that is consistent with the man they knew. If anyone wishes to add or amend anything, I hope they will contact me.

At this point, I think some concluding thoughts would be appropriate. What words would describe the kind of person he was? Is it even possible for one person to truly understand another? These are my issues as I try to compose this final entry.

When I was a child, and my father a young man, I saw him as moody, stern and remote, except on those rare occasions when his face would light up as though the sun had suddenly emerged from the clouds, and he would suggest doing something for fun. Whatever disappointments he was suffering from then, he must have come to terms with later, because he gradually mellowed and became warm and jovial as he aged.

Perhaps being outdoors every summer working on bridges and highways and running his own show may have brought him a degree of contentment. After he retired, he and my mother often went to the Lions' Seniors Centre in Edmonton for dances and other activities. They made friends and had a very active and enjoyable social life.

Once, as a young adult, I had a friendly argument with my father about his views on personal achievement which I found quite harsh. He believed that anyone could make good with sufficient effort. I mentioned a family I knew who came to Edmonton from Newfoundland. I often wondered what would become of their six young children, particularly their sweet six-year-old daughter. They had very little money, and there was not a single book in their home.

My father and I were speaking specifically about his contention that anyone could obtain a university education if they were willing to put in the effort as he had done. I was working as a Social Worker at the time, and thoroughly disagreed with him. I pointed out that perhaps he failed to take into account the advantages he had started with - literate parents, books in the home, etc. - when he made this claim. Of course, he disagreed...

One had to admire him, though, because he would never brag about himself and he truly regarded all people - except the lazy ones who he often railed against - as essentially of equal value. I think this egalitarian perspective was reflected in how he reacted when someone congratulated him. He would almost blush from embarrassment, seemingly unable to take credit for anything extraordinary.

My father loved Canada as a land of opportunity. He placed it between Britain and the US, believing it had the advantages of both without the negative attributes of either. He rarely ever spoke about his Belgian cousins or what his parents and grandparents had done there. When asked, he seemed reluctant to talk about it. He never expressed pride in being of Belgian descent. I therefore grew up in ignorance of Belgium yet with great curiosity about it.

A few other things about him worth mentioning are his love of a physical challenge, his personal reserve, his enjoyment of good conversation, his interest in history and in the world around him, and his contentment with a simple life needing only a good book (non-fiction) and music to listen to.

I mentioned in an earlier post that my father found it hard to express affection. In the mid-1970's while I lived in Britain, I had a friend to whom I mentioned that I could not remember my father ever saying he loved me or hugging me, nor had I told him I loved him. This was not to say, however, that I could remember having felt unloved. My friend believed it was very important for me to express my love for my father, because of how awful I would feel if he died with this left unsaid. In my next letter to him, I told him I loved him. He then wrote back and said the same to me. The fact that we never spoke these words to each other says something about our relationship.

I hope that in publishing this account of his life, I have been able to set these inhibitions aside. Please look on this description of my father's life as a testament of my admiration and love for him. For me, it has been a very worthwhile thing to do, even as belated as it no doubt is.

In the photos are:

1) From left to right, my maternal grandmother, my father and my mother at my sister, Suzanne's, for a barbecue, probably in the early 1970's.

2) Family members somewhere in Edmonton around 1979, likely during a visit of my father's brother, Albert. Back row, left to right: Terry, my sister's husband; my mother; Uncle Albert; Jeannette, his wife; cousin Don, son of my father's sister; Joe, husband of my cousin Roseanne. Middle row, left to right: my sister, Suzanne; Suzanne's daughter, Colleen; and cousin Roseanne, Uncle Albert's daughter; front row: Catherine, my sister's daughter; Jason, my son; Lise, my cousin Don's daughter; Thelly, my cousin Don's wife; and my cousin Roseanne's two boys.

3) Family members in 1974, left to right: Suzanne; her daughter, Catherine; our mother; our father; our maternal grandmother;
Suzanne's daughter, Colleen.

4) My father in his kitchen.

5) Family members in the early 1970's: Anna, cousin Tony's wife; my mother, my father's cousin, Tony; me; my father; my grandmother.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009



On May 13, 1979, my father set off from Edmonton on his bike to make a long-distance trip to where his brother, Albert, lived in Sarnia, Ontario. According to his log, he had covered a distance of 4,321 kilometers
when he had completed the trip.

He had saddle bags on his bike - a British-made three-speed Triumph - and carried his camping gear with him, intending to camp with his tent most nights. At the outset, he weighed in and recorded in his log a weight of 170 lbs. for himself and 78 lbs. for the loaded bike, a total of 248 lbs.

Before he left, he contacted the Edmonton Journal and the Lions Club. The Journal, which had covered his trip to Vancouver, asked him to phone in every week with progress reports. The Lions Club gave him introductions to some of their club presidents along his route.

His route went east from Edmonton, then north on the graveled Hanson Lake Road to Flin Flon, and east to Sarnia on the highway that follows the north shore of Lake Superior.

While reading his log, which I still have, several themes emerged:

he is very much in tune with nature and comments frequently about plants, animals and weather conditions

he takes every opportunity to chat with people he meets along the way, and loves good conversation

he is often assisted by people, invited into their homes for coffee, allowed on a rainy day to pitch his tent in their yard or, on one occasion, to sleep in their trailer, and has great appreciation for this help

he is interested in his surroundings, in people, and in their history

he has a sense of humour and an appreciation of the absurd

he is comfortable and self-sufficient living the outdoor life, but becomes very tired and discouraged by the strong head winds, long hills, black flies, and mosquitoes he encounters in northern Ontario, and

finally, he stubbornly refuses to give up on his goal.

All of this is best be described in his own words in excerpts from the log he kept.

May 16, 1979

At 1 p.m. started raining. Wind stronger from east... Got soaked... Heavy spray being blown across road by strong NE wind. Decided to walk on left shoulder pushing my bike...When I reached Blackfoot access, discovered no motels, so pushed on being soaked to the skin and a bit cold. Arrived at Lloyd at 6 p.m. and stopped at first motel "Ivanhoe" and registered. The lady recognized me as the biker going to Ontario and said it's on the house, so I got a $22.00 room free. Unpacked everything to dry out and took a hot bath. I now feel decidedly better. (Ended the day in Lloydminster, logged at 276 km. from Edmonton.)

May 18, 1979

Another shower. Got pretty wet. Rode into farmyard. Clay slippery. Fell in mud. Got wheels thoroughly plugged. Got back on the highway - cleaned out bike. Head wind. Very hilly. Also very tired. (Ended the day in North Battleford, Saskatchewan, logged at 437 km. from Edmonton.)

May 19, 1979

Went to the hall where the Jennings-Pobran wedding reception was held. A big line of people moved to the head table with gifts while the band from Saskatoon played short lively bursts of music and the people who had given their gifts gyrated wildly to some polkas (Kolemenka).

The general dancing started about 11 p.m. There were waltzes, polkas, a butterfly and some rock and roll. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, meeting a lot of charming people and dancing till 1 a.m. These small towns have a genuine friendliness which is now often lost in the large cities. (Ended the day in Hafford, Saskatchewan, logged at 498 km. from Edmonton).

May 21, 1979

Reached P. A. Had lunch at Sheraton Hotel. Then phoned Mr. Doug Lloyd, Pres. of the local Lions Club for whom I had an introduction. Rode over to his house and he offered to let me stay in his trailer... Had dinner with the Lloyd's... Had some flapper pie with real farm cream which was delicious. After supper Mr. Lloyd took me for a tour of the city. Visited the famous penitentiary. Also Red Lake Park and Keyhole House which is a turn of the century mansion with red tile rode and dormer windows in the shape of large keyholes, hence the name. It was a very enjoyable stay. (Ended the day in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, logged at 648 km. from Edmonton.)

May 24, 1979

Little traffic, strong south wind at 10 a.m. New grade being constructed. 1 mile of walking, stopped for lunch at a lovely little restaurant and bar at Mile 62. At 12:30 a van with two fishermen from Saskatoon stopped and offered me a cold beer.

Arrived at Highways maintenance yard. Here Dave and Joan Pelech not only let me pitch my tent among the pines, but invited me to supper and later we played ... that universal Highways card game, Oh Hell. A very good day terminating in an enjoyable evening. (Ended the day at Junction Hwy. 165, logged at 900 km. from Edmonton.)

May 25, 1979

Stopped for a drink at Ballantyne River. Some fishermen were frying some pickerel and they invited me to join them and I had two big glasses of iced tea which suited me admirably. (Ended the day in Deschambault, Saskatchewan logged at 983 km.)

May 26, 1979

After the dust and bumps of the last 200 miles it was wonderful to reach pavement again. At 4 p.m. arrived at Pawastick Lodge which is beside a lovely little lake and having a government campsite across the road. Barry & Deane Ogdan invited me over for drinks to celebrate his birthday and later we had supper including strawberry short cake. I promised to cook breakfast for them tomorrow... Perfect weather and delightful company. (Ended the day at Pawastick Lodge, Saskatchewan logged at 1051 km.)

May 27/28, 1979

In evening, walked over to Willowvale where I looked at the house I built on Parkway Blvd. and visited with my neighbor Jack Martin. Over rum and cokes we talked about old times till 1 a.m.

Decided to take today off... Then Barrie Ogden came to get me ... for a 20-minute interview with CFAR radio. Then to the Flin Flon Hotel for lunch with Jack Heins of the Lions Club. Visited main office (HBM&S)... Rode my bike to Phantom Lake and called on Garnet Eidt who played some guitar music. Had supper with the Ogdens and slept there over night... Saw the Remainder article... Radio station had excerpts of my interview on the air. Ended the day in Flin Flon, Manitoba logged at 1,110 km.)

May 30, 1979

Arrived at The Pas and after checking with the town hall and getting a map, registered at Rupert House Hotel run by Shorty Rusick who was a famous dog musher. I met him in the hotel and talked with him, but he is a bit deaf... he is 87 years old... Had a couple of beers in the Kelsey Room of the New Avenue Hotel. There were many Indians and there was an unmistaken atmosphere of northern Manitoba. At the door, as one entered, was a sign which said, "Those creating a disturbance, will be charged." However, all was peaceful and quiet...

After dinner... interviewed Shorty Rusick who now had his hearing aid on. Used Alaska Hitch., 7 dogs. Dog food: little balls of gound beef. About 12 teams started. Any number of dogs could be entered... Rode sleigh most of the way but helped by pushing on hills or in soft snow. Dogs were mongrel: part wolf. All brothers and sisters... He gave me a photo of himself and team. (Ended the day in The Pas, Manitoba logged 1,281 km.)

June 1, 1979

Four Flin Floner's going south stopped and gave me a drink of whiskey. I'll have to watch this does not happen too often as I'd hate to be picked up for being impaired.

Lake Winnipegosis. Pelicans. Red Deer River running full. Approaching Mafeking, sides of road are green and neat and the R/A (right-of-way) is very wide. Saw my first dandelions. Stopped at Mafeking and had a good meal. Fresh lake trout. Strong N breeze, so benefiting from this favourable wind went on to Birch Lake, and made the 35 km in about 2 hrs.

Went to a nice little gov't campsite where a party of 8 guys from Russel were stopped for a meal They called me over and poured me a generous drink and set a plate with cabbage rolls, home made country sausage, pickles and other delicasees. Although I had eaten not too long before, I couldn't help but have another good meal in congenial company. Set up my tent and lit a camp fire... This is a very lovely spot in poplars, the underbrush having been cleared away. (Ended the day in Birch River, Manitoba logged at 1, 486 km.)

June 2, 1979

From Bowsman West, the wind was so strong I had to push my bike and walk. Arrived at Swan River ... and phoned Mrs. Heiman who is the mother of the Edmonton Journal reporter who edits my weekly reports and she invited me over for supper.

The valley from Birch River to Swan River is very beautiful, trees are now in leaf and there is lush green grass. Farmers are busy trying to get their crops in. Noted many American toursits towing huge motor homes...

Went to Heiman's for a nice meal and there Martha Heiman interviewed me for the local paper. (Ended the day in Swan River, Manitoba logged at 1,528 km.)

June 5, 1979

Wakened at 5 a.m. by birds chirping and owl hooting. Beaver swimming and feeding. Cooked breakfast in drizzle. Away at 7, but not far. Heavy rain... ran into farmhouse (Lebel)... Her mother who was visiting ... was a Van de Poele, Belgian, spoke French. Invited me to stay for lunch. Very nice. (Ended the day in Ste. Rose du Lac, Manitoba logged at 1,763 km.)
June 8, 1979

Barely out of Oak Point the right pedal came apart. Unpacked and made a temporary repair with hay wire. Resumed ride at 9:30. Good going, there being a following wind just about all the way and my repair holding well. Tomorrow I will get ... my bike looked after and visit friends (his neice, Claudette and her husband). (Ended the day in Winnipeg, Manitoba logged at 2,044 km.)

June 12, 1979

After a breakfast of hot cakes, set out for Kenora. I have been warned that the road gets narrower once I enter Ontario... Here it is definitely the Pre-Cambrian Shield and the road is more winding and hilly. Also there is now a bit of a head wind. Stopped at Granite Lake where the two cyclists from Carman who had left before me had ordered and paid for coffee and a piece of pie for me. A nice surprise.

Finally arrived at Kenora ... Set up tent. Not too bad a campsite. I got quite a sunburn on my arms and legs. Also skidded in loose sand and fell and skinned by knee. The heat and numerous hills made this a very tiring day. Have now completed about 46% of the trip. I sometimes wonder if it is worth it. (Ended the day in Kenora, Ontario logged at 2,302 km.)

June 14, 1979

Packed and ready to roll at 9 a.m. CBC Edmonton phoned and had a 5-minute interview. Shoulders are now paved. Hooray! However, after a few miles they disappeared. A Dept. of Hwys truck stopped and talked with me. Said he had heard the CBC broadcast. Wished me Good Luck. (Ended the day in Stewart Lake, Ontario logged at 2,371 km.)

June 15, 1979

Camped at Stewart Lake Resort... This stopping place is run by Lynn and Bill Krolyk who also have a flying service. They were very friendly and as there was a storm forecast, they told me that if things got too rough I could take shelter in the garage. There were two huge dogs that growled often in the night and I couldn't help but think of bears as one big black one had been sighted earlier in the day. They advertise their flying service by a t-shirt listing it as "Krash" Flying Service. (Ended the day in Aaron Park, Ontario logged at 2,455 km.)

June 19, 1979

Strong head wind. Lots of traffic. Stopped at Raith for bite to eat. As the forecast was for rain, the wind was blowing a gale from the SE, and the lady running the store here said I could pitch my tent next to the house, decided to do so and hope for a better day tomorrow. (Ended the day in Raith, Ontario logged at 2,727 km.)

June 20, 1979

After a bite to eat,... started towards Thunder Bay. I had not gone very far before it began to get quite cloudy and cold. There was some smoke as well, probably due to the forest fires in the vicinity. Soon it began to rain and what with the strong head wind, the steep hills, that was all I needed. Ducked into a farm yard and waited about an hour before the owner, a Finn by the name of V. Hernseshuhtha, returned. He suggested that I spread my eiderdown in his camper. I did so and was very comfortable. (Ended the day at Junction of Highway 102) logged at 2,786 km.)

June 22, 1979

Walked up a hill that was about 1 1/2 miles long. Stopped at restaurant at Crystal Bay for lunch. This is another tough day with strong head winds and now lost one of the clips off my pants when I was walking in the bushes. For two bits I feel like packing it in.

Wind continues to blow intermittantly dead ahead to that I had to do a fair amount of walking. When I arrived at Dorion and found that I could get a room for $10.00 decided to do so... Guys in the bar bought me a beer. This establishment is run by a French Canadian and the atmosphere is jovial and friendly. A welcom relief. Tomorrow, it promises to be a warmer day... (Ended the day in Dorion, Ontario logged at 2,883 km.)

June 23, 1979

There were many long hills ... about 2 miles long, up which I had to walk, pushing my bike. When I started down the other side, I found that not only would the rear brakes not hold, but the front brakes developed a chatter and then would suddenly take hold in a succession of shuddering catches. This certainly was anything but reassuring, so I had to go down cautiously.

Finally, at about nightfall, arrived a Rossport which is a lovely little harbour on Lake Superior with some boats anchored out close to shore. There is an inn which is in the process of renovation and a dining room and bar. The latter was doing a roaring business, it being Saturday night, and I had a cold beer and a piece of pie and a cup of coffee. Unfortunately, all the cabins were rented, but ... the landlord ... permitted me to pitch it (my tent) near one of the cabins on the lawn. (Ended the day in Rossport, Ontario logged at 2,995 km.)

June 25, 1979

Last night met a young couple from Sarnia by the name of Ferguson who had a tent camper in the camp. We sat around a camp fire and swapped yarns. This morning ... I tackle the 2-mile hill and the rest of the rolling road to Marathon. Met a cyclist from Halifax who stopped and offered me a handful of a mixture of peanuts and raisins. The hills continue, though on a minor scale. Just before reaching Marathon, it began to blow a gale from the right and prospects are for rain. So, arriving at Marathon more dead than alive, I took a motel for $20.00 and got a good rest. (Ended the day in Marathon, Ontario logged at 3,111 km.)

June 28, 1979

Met three Edmonton motor-cyclists who had read about me in the Journal and who stopped and said hello. Met three cyclists from Kitchener going to Alberta. At 3:30 the seat on the bike broke. Bought new seat in Wawa for $8.51. Wawa means wild geese in Ojibway... returned to highway and went to Oski Wawa Park where I got a tent site ... (Ended the day in Wawa, Ontario logged at 3,319 km.)

July 4, 1979

Built a fire and two couples from Haliburton as well as a young couple from Lanigan, Sask. came over and we had a pleasant evening in spite of the many mosquitoes. Up at 6:30 and away at 7:30. There are quite a few small hills which with the head wind or cross wind require walking to ascend. (Ended the day in Spanish, Ontario logged at 3,777 km.)

July 7, 1979

Last night, woke to sound of scratching and scared away a raccoon who had gnawed a hole through my front saddle bag. Up at 7:30. Cooked breakfast and away at 9:40. Stopped and talked to an Ojibway wood carver set up at side of road. Arrived at Wiarton and took a room at the Pacific Hotel... The local press came in at about 8 p.m. and interviewed me. Nice little town. (Ended the day in Wiarton, ONtario logged at 4,038 km.)

July 9, 1979

Stopped for hot cakes at Kincardine. Shortly after stopping for lunch at Sullivan's Restaruant at Kingsbridge, along comes my brother Al and his wife Jeannette. (Ended the day in Bayfield, Ontario logged at 4,204 km.)

July 10, 1979

Very heavy, wet fog to Grand Bend, then strong wind. Fog lifted at Grand Bend and at that point along came a reporter for the Sarnia paper and interviewed me. Took motel... (Ended the day in Forest, Ontario logged at 4,276 km.)

July 11, 1979

Approaching Sarnia was overtaken by a young lady on a bike who told me that there had been an announcement over the Sarnia Radio and wished me congratulations for having completed the trip. Stopped a bowling alley and had a bite to eat. (Ended the day in Sarnia logged at 4,321 km.)

The first photo, taken in Winnipeg, is of my cousin, Claudette, and my father as he is preparing to leave for Sarnia in 1979.

The second photo shows my father as he is leaving Winnipeg on his way to Sarnia. Both the first and second photo were provided by Claudette who is the daughter of my father's sister, Jacqueline.

The third photo is from the May 14, 1979 edition of the Edmonton Journal and was taken as he was leaving Edmonton the previous day on the trip to Sarnia.

The fourth and fifth photos, taken from newspaper clippings which cannot be identified, show my father arriving in Winnipeg and with his bicycle.

Monday, March 23, 2009



The Edmonton Journal published a small part of my father's log for his Vancouver trip. His description of crossing the Howse Pass on foot on the British Columbia side follows:


After having supper and packing everything, I sat in the car and listened to CJCA which came booming in.

June 17 dawned clear and the forecast was for a hot day. Everything went as expected until I arrived at Breaker Creek at 9:50, about five miles along the way. Here I found a considerable creek which was in flood and which required to be crossed.

I took off my shoes and stockings and rolled up my pants as high as I could and put on my crepe sole shoes. I made an attempt to cross but found that the flow of water was too strong to permit me to retain my balance. At this point I almost decided to go back. However, after a bit of reflection, I decided to try using a stout pole as a brace against the large rocks.

In this way I managed to cross the three channels which made up this little river. The water was up to my knees and ice cold. I then took my pants off and wrung them out.

The going was extremely tough and I was lucky to be able to make a mile in an hour. At 3:30 p.m. I reached the approximate point where I had stopped when coming over the pass and turned back. I realized that I might not reach my car before dark.

The return trip was marred by several accidents. The first was that my trousers split down the seam and before I had gone many more minutes it split fore and aft. This was rather uncomfortable when I had to slide down some bushes or a rocky slope.

The second accident was that I somehow lost my bear warning tin. However, I had my whistle and I hung it around my neck so as not to lose it. At one point I came upon a large grey goose which pretended that it was injured to draw me away from her nest, I suppose.

I reached Breaker Creek at 9:15 and was quite tired and bruised. I made preparations to cross over as before but noticed that the water was quite a bit higher, probably due to the hot weather. I made an attempt but when I found I could not stand upright decided to try elsewhere.

I walked about a mile upstream in the hope that there might be a better crossing or that some large tree trunk could be used as a bridge. Nothing good in this direction.

I decided to look over the stream on the downstream side at its confluence with the Blaeberry. Here I found that the water had spread out a bit and thus was worth attempting fording. I started across and managed to cross about a third of the foaming water when I realized that I was now at the main channel.

I started across and almost made it, but at the last moment I lost my balance and felt myself falling. I grabbed the nearest branch that I was able to reach as I fell flat in the water and thus was safely across. I took off my clothes and wrung them out and put on my spare shoes which were not thoroughly soaked and started the last five miles to the car.

By this time it was beginning to get dark and in the heavy timber it was very difficult to see. I knew that if I walked two miles along the river I could then strike at right angles and climb up into the heavy timber and intercept the logging road... I hit the logging road right on the button.

I was so relieved that I decided to have some lunch so I sat down in the middle of the road and had the last boiled egg and a sandwich and, to hell with the bears, I had completely forgotten about them.

The remaining walk (three miles ) back to the car went off without incident and I reached the car to find everything in good shape at 1 a.m. I was so tired that I decided to drive back to Golden and take a motel for the night."

In the photos are:

1) Looking west from Nordegg, Alberta
2) and 3) the Blaeberry River

Friday, March 20, 2009



My father played tennis well into his 60's. Another activity, one that probably began when he was in his late 50's, was riding long distances on his bike. In addition,
throughout his life he enjoyed walking.

He and a friend, George Hamilton, had planned to take a canoe trip after their retirement, going all the way from the Great Lakes to one of the big western rivers, portaging wherever necessary. Unfortunately. his friend died suddenly of a heart attack. My father decided, as an alternative, to go on long walking and cycling trips.

Jean Gaspard III, my father's grandfather, had imported Waverley bicycles into Europe from the US where they were manufactured. This was in the late 19th Century, when bikes were all the rage in Europe. He advertised his bikes at an exhibit at the Brussels World Fair in 1897 and was visited there by King Leopold II of the Belgians. He also advertised his bicycles by going on an extended bike trip all over Europe. I have a copy of my aunt's English translation of the newspaper articles that covered his trip, which I hope to put on the Internet some day.

My father was inspired by his grandfather's trip to undertake something similar in Canada. He began by going on weekend camping trips while he was still working for the Department of Highways before his retirement.

His first major trip was to walk to Vancouver. He left on May 27, 1977. His method was to take his car with him, walk eight and a half miles, return to his car on foot, camp out for the night, drive to the furthest point of advance, and walk again the next day, repeating the process until Vancouver was reached.

When finished, he would have covered the distance from Edmonton to Vancouver twice for a total of about 1,600 miles. Prior to the trip, he drove over the route, logging the mileage and looking for places to camp. He decided to take the car, because he could use it to drive to restaurants and tennis courts or for shelter in bad storms.
His plan was to finish in 100 days. He reached Vancouver on September 1st, 97 days after leaving Edmonton.

His route was over the Rocky Mountains through the Howse Pass, discovered by David Thompson in 1807. The David Thompson Highway which connects Red Deer, Alberta with the Banff-Jasper Highway over the Howse Pass, had not yet been completed. A gap of about 21 miles through the Pass had to be covered on foot with no human habitation anywhere in the vicinity and a stream, Breaker Creek, to cross.

I remember vividly his story of the trip when he came home after its completion. He had carried a tin with a few stones in it which he would rattle continuously to warn away any bears.

On the Alberta side of the Pass, west of Rocky Mountain House, there was a trail to follow. Walking west, he was able to reach the summit without incident and make his way back to his car. He drove around to the western B. C. side of the pass and reached the end of the road. Leaving his car and beginning the ascent to the pass in an easterly direction, he discovered that, unlike the Alberta side, no trail had been broken. In order to make his way upward to the pass, it was necessary to break a trail through the underbrush and follow the line of the streams. He reached the top of the pass, a distance of about 10 miles, and began the return trip to his car.

When he reached Breaker Creek, which had not posed a problem on the way in, he found the creek had become a torrent due to spring run-off and hot weather. He managed to find a relatively peaceful spot and attempted to cross, but even with the aid of a long pole he was swept off his feet. Managing somehow to recover, he made his way across. By now it was dark, and he had no landmarks, having made the initial crossing of the creek at a different spot. Eventually, around 1:00 a.m., much to his relief, he found his car.

The trip was covered by the Salmon Arm Observer and the Edmonton Journal. A few excerpts are worth repeating.

From the Salmon Arm Observer:

" 'Being a retired engineer, I do everything very precisely,' Darimont said. He keeps a detailed log of his travels, keeping it up to date each evening. In this diary he records the distance traveled each day, and anything of interest he has seen or done, such as landmarks he has passed and pictures he has taken. (Unfortunately, this log seems to have disappeared.)

The log also makes it possible to compute how many miles he has traveled. By last Wednesday evening he had traveled 921.4 miles, from Edmonton to the A&W in Salmon Arm... His goal is to reach Vancouver in 100 walking days, and he calculates he has covered 57 per cent of the distance in 54 days.

He carries a small tin tied to a stick to frighten away prowling bears... Two black bears did come prowling around his camp one night, but 'I flashed the flashlight at them and told them to scram.' The bears beat a quick retreat."

From the Edmonton Journal:

"You sense in John Darimont, despite his reluctance to speak about it, a feeling that walking is a true and continuing pleasure, when the muscles move to a relaxing rhythm which frees the mind to muse or daydream or think deep thoughts, when the eyes take in birds and animals and kids playing by the side of the road: the kind of things you fail to see when the metal monster goes screaming down the freeway at 100 kilometres plus.

That's not conjecture. It's implicit in the daily log of his trip, typed up conscientiously each night at the end of a day's foot-slogging.

John Darimont is an observant man. When I first knocked at his door to talk about his journey, he stopped me. 'Look there's a squirrel quarreling with two waxwings over the berries,' he said, pointing to a tall tree.

His diary reflects that interest in all things great and small: of how he watched prairie dogs, and herons, Canada geese, deer, and the raven who tried to fly like a hawk, but kept wobbling instead of gliding. ...there are vignettes of friendly farmers who let him pitch his tent on their fields, a little child who drew his picture, a bunch of kids from King Edward school at a campsite, nurses from Red Deer, yarning with other travellers around a fire at night, tennis games, and, on occasion, the savoring of cold beer at the end of the hot and dusty daily tramp."

In the photos are:

1) The Salmon Arm Observer article.
2) My Dad in his back yard preparing for a weekend camping trip.
3) My Dad, his bike and his car.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009



After spending most of 1955 in the Yukon, my father joined us in Edmonton. He then took a job with a firm of consultant engineers, R. M. Hardy and Associates.
Beginning in 1930, Dr. Hardy served as a professor in the Engineering Department at the University of Alberta, going on to become Head of Department and Dean of Engineering in 1946. In 1957, my father, while still employed by the firm, became responsible for the dismantling of the Peace River suspension bridge which had collapsed on October 16th of that year.

The following information about the collapse of the bridge is from a website of the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of the Province of British Columbia. The bridge, built by the US Public Roads Administration in 1942 as part of the Alaska Highway, was 647 metres long and was being maintained by the Princess Patricia's Light Infantry based in Whitehorse. A truck driver noticed that the road was settling, the Army immediately closed the bridge, and after continuous movement it collapsed the same day. The cause was a landslide in the bedrock beneath the bridge. The cost of the dismantling was $60 million.

For those who are interested, photos of the old bridge before and after it collapsed can be seen at

My father worked on the bridge all winter. The next summer, 1958, my mother, Suzanne and I lived in a motel at Taylor Flats, BC. to be with my father. Pacific Petroleum Ltd. had an office nearby, and my father was able to get me my first job as a temporary replacement for the manager's secretary who had quit suddenly. I enjoyed the job and found that my Grade 10 typing was adequate. The recommendation I got enabled me to get another temporary typing job in Edmonton before university classes began in the fall.

When work on the bridge was completed, my father continued to work as a consultant engineer, though I'm not sure which firm he was with. Perhaps a year later, he came home from work and told us he had quit his job. The news was a huge shock. The reason he gave was that there had been a disagreement over a matter of principle. I always admired him for his courage over this. Though further details were never revealed, I had the impression that it had involved something he was asked to do which he considered unethical.

After a fairly short period of time, he took the job of project engineer with the Alberta Department of Highways which he held until he retired. In winter, he was in the Edmonton office doing the design work for the forthcoming construction. For the remainder of the year, he was on the job, coming home on weekends. Most of the work involved the paving of highways, a major undertaking all over the province during that time.

I think he enjoyed his job. Certainly, it provided a very good pension, which would have been important to him. He used to joke about a tradition of the Department in which the Minister of Highways would visit the engineers' office at Christmas time and hand out tiny dixie cups of ice cream. I'm sure most of the engineers would have preferred something considerably stronger.

At some point in the late1960's, my father had saved enough money to buy a better house without needing a mortgage. Over the years, my mother had begun to work occasionally as a supply teacher to save money for furniture and other such things that she wanted for the house. She must have been happy the day he came home and announced sheepishly, "I think it's about time we bought a better house". They found one that was also in Edmonton's west end but in Crestwood, a nicer neighbourhood.

When I finished first year university, I had a summer job at Swanson Lumber as a typist. When I had been paid a total of $75.00, I decided to go and look for a used car, not knowing at this point how to drive. I found a 1949 Anglia. It was ten years old, but seemed in good condition and the price, $75.00, was right. The salesman said they would keep the car for me until I could come and get it.

My announcement at dinner that night was a bombshell: for the longest time, no one spoke. Finally, my father said, "Well, I guess you'll have to take driving lessons," and everyone relaxed. My mother decided after she saw the car that driving it would be unsafe. Now, it was her turn to buy a car and learn to drive. She and I, and later Suzanne too, kept the new Fiat in use almost continuously. Having wheels made quite a difference to my mother's life. She really blossomed with the her new-found freedom and independence.

Other memories I have of my father in the late 1950's are:

1) retiring after dinner to his rocking chair in the bedroom to read a history book
2) tracking the progression of his investments on huge charts which he would unroll and call me to come and look at
3) walking to work and home again even on the coldest winter days, a daily trek of about seven miles
4) while driving onto a ferry in Ontario, tearing the trim off the side of his brand new 1956 Buick when the attendant insisted he move further and further over to the side
5) getting lost in Saskatchewan when he turned the wrong way at a cross road, then claiming that all roads lead to Rome after my mother with great temerity had suggested we turn back, and finally getting stuck and having to be pulled out by a farmer's tractor
6) the pride he felt in the enormous number of miles he put on the Buick (and later on the Chrysler)
7) taking us out for brunch after church on Sunday's
8) doing jig saw puzzles while listening to classical music, especially Beethoven's Emperor Concerto, Smetana's the Moldau, and something by Mendelssohn
9) giving me $100 for getting good marks when I graduated from high school, and
10) teasing my mother for her Quebecois pronunciation of French, especially the word she used for rain.

In the photos:

1) My father in the family room of the Crestwood house.
2) My mother in the living room of that house.
3) My father's sister, Jacqueline, and his brother, Albert (date unknown).
4) My father, my Uncle Henry (Jacqueline's husband) and my father's cousin Tony Darimont (Tony and his wife Anna were with us every Christmas and often came over to play bridge with my parents.) This photo was taken in the first Edmonton house, probably in the mid-1950's.

Monday, March 16, 2009



During the summer, to relieve the monotony, we would often go to Whitehorse, the capital city of the Yukon. Near the town was Miles Canyon, a deep gorge that was very impressive. It had a foot bridge that made me very frightened. I remember the bridge being suspended on cables, making it wobble as you crossed. It was hard to keep my footing, and if I looked down to the bottom of the gorge, I would feel dizzy.

Also at Whitehorse on the river bank, there was an old, derelict paddle steamer, one of the stern wheelers that had operated on the Yukon River between Whitehorse and Dawson City between 1900 and 1950.

My Uncle Albert's visit and our trip to the ghost town of Atlin, BC, were two events that occurred that summer. I remember seeing at Atlin a small, very old fashioned fire engine that had to be pulled by a horse.

My Dad was very busy working on the bridge. He talked about it a lot over dinner. Dinners at our house were very important, if not for the food quality, then for the conversation. My Dad always included Suzanne and I, and often we would talk about serious matters. I remember conversations about the Korean War and several about the Depression.

In Teslin, I learned a lot about bridge construction. For instance, there were several cofferdams installed in the water where the bridge was to be located. I believe these were made of steel and placed below the water level. The purpose was to create large square spaces that could be kept dry, enabling men to work inside them. Here, I believe, long wooden piles were driven and the concrete piers that would ultimately support the bridge were poured.

I remember my father, with great anxiety, monitoring the level of the water outside the cofferdams, as the spring melt came down into the Bay that summer. He took great pride in precise documentation, which he regarded as an essential attribute for engineers and also desirable in wives and children, along with orderliness, punctuality and efficient use of time. I can still remember his almost daily reports of continuously increasing water levels which came very close to causing flooding of the cofferdams.

One of the most embarrassing moments of my life occurred in Teslin. Colonel Brown and another government official from Ottawa came to check on progress at the bridge. My father entertained them in our small two-bedroom apartment above the school. Suzanne and I were in also in the living room, when my father mentioned a man whose name was very familiar. I immediately said, "Oh, that's the stool pigeon." If looks could kill...

Of course, even though I was 14 years old, I didn't know what a stool pigeon was or that this man was being paid by my father to spy on the contractor. I did discover what this was all about later, when my father explained in no uncertain terms what he expected of his daughter.

It transpired that the contractor had been cheating on the amount of cement he was putting in the concrete. I'm sure that Colonel Brown would have approved of my father having a spy if that's what it took to protect the integrity of the bridge.

In the photos are:

1) The old bridge at Teslin.
2) With fireweed at the side of the road.
3) The new Nisutlin Bay bridge.
4) Piling for Pier 3, Teslin Village in the background.
5) Pier 3 Cofferdam, January 31, 1954.
6) Pile driver hammer, August 25, 1955.
7) Working in Cofferdam #7, September 3, 1955.
8) Nisutlin Bay Bridge, January 10, 1954, looking north from existing old bridge.
Cofferdam #7, September 19, 1955.
10) Bearing Piles, Nisutlin Bay Bridge, August 17, 1955.
11) Alaska Highway Mile 804 looking north down the hill towards Teslin village on the point.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009



For quite a while after we arrived in Edmonton, I missed Flin Flon and had a feeling of having been dislocated. I especially missed my friend Helen Booth and attending Girl Guides and having long bike rides with her. Other things I missed were having lessons with my piano teacher, Mr. Sonnichson, who was much nicer than his Edmonton replacement; playing piano at music festivals and on the radio; and walking to the Main Street cinema to see the Saturday afternoon movie for children, often featuring a Batman or Superman short.

I don't remember who my father worked for when we first arrived in Edmonton. After about a year and a half, he got a job at Teslin, a small settlement in the Yukon. He left in January, not returning until June. As the job was expected to last at least another year, Mom, Suzanne and I moved to Teslin to be with him. Mom taught there so we were able to rent the apartment above the school. It must have been like old times for her to teach with eight grades all in one room. As I was starting Grade Nine, I took lessons through the Alberta correspondence school.

My father's new job was at a bridge being built on the Alaska Highway, 1,300 miles north of Edmonton. The contractor was Burns and Dutton and the owner Defence Construction Ltd., a federal Crown Corporation. My father's role was to ensure that Burns and Dutton built the bridge in accordance with the specifications of the contract. It was a long bridge across Nisutlin Bay.

Teslin was little more than a stop on the highway. There was a restaurant and small motel owned by a family named Crumm, Brown's general store, a Ministry of Transport depot with three or four families, a few Metis families and an Indian Reserve. Most of the students at the one-room school were Metis. There were also three or four Treaty Indian children who had obtained exemptions from attendance at the residential school. Dolores Fraser, the wife of one of the men working for the Ministry of Transport, worked at the school to assist my mother.

Our nearest neighbours were a Norwegian trapper with his native wife and about five children. There was a piano at the school where I gave lessons to Laura, their 14-year-old daughter. In that way I got to know the family. Laura and her older sister Liliane were children of a former wife, and consequently discriminated against in the current regime. Liliane was engaged and subsequently married a fellow who worked for the Ministry of Transport.

Laura, however, was not so fortunate. A few years later, we saw her one afternoon in Fort Vermilion. She was standing on the sidewalk outside a bar. Tears came to her eyes as she told us that her father had forced her to come all the way to Fort Vermilion to take a job as a maid. Her employers spent much of their time in the bar, and she showed us bruises as proof that she had been mistreated. She was only seventeen and beautiful.

In the autumn, it began to get dark early in the afternoon. Before long, school had to close by about 3:00 p.m. In the summer, Suzanne and I had ventured a little way into the forest beside the school. We were deterred from going further because of its immense size and our fear of losing our way. In the winter, it was too cold to do much out of doors, and there was little to break the monotony of the long, dark days.

Soon after our arrival, I saw a very small puppy at the general store. She was very scrawny and smelled strongly of fish. There was no one with her, so I took her home. We named her Lucky. Not long after, I put on the little coat my mother had made for her out of a Seagram's bag, and went for a walk. A native woman, came up to me, very angry. I was able to make out that she was accusing me of having stolen her dog.

I replied, "Fine, come to the school where we live, and if you bring some money to pay for the food we've given her, we will give her back to you." Needless to say, she didn't appear. At the time, I felt proud of myself for my presence of mind and for rescuing the dog from possible starvation. Now, I feel sympathy for the native woman. Lucky was a bear dog, a breed developed by the Yukon Indians to use for hunting bear. These dogs were small and quick and would nip at the bear's feet while it was being hunted. For their owners, they were likely prized possessions.

We had this dog until her death many years later. My father often played with her and loved her very much. He was a person who had a lot of feeling. However, it was easier for him to show his affection for a dog than for a person.

We left Teslin just before Christmas, driving the 1,300 miles to Edmonton. On the way, in the dark, we almost hit a moose. My father stopped the car and we waited for quite a while until he recovered and could drive again. He told us we would have been killed if we had collided with the animal. The family returned to Teslin in January, while I stayed with my grandmother until the end of the school year. Going to real school was much more to my liking than taking lessons by correspondence.

In the photos are:

1) With Laura on the suspension bridge over Miles Canyon.
2) Annette holding Lucky.
3) The old-fashioned fire engine at Atlin, BC.
4) Lucky.
5) In Edmonton in December 1954, from left to right: M. Robert, my grandmother's husband; my grandmother; Annette; Mom; and Suzanne.
6) Transport Cafe at Lower Rancheria, Alaska Highway.
7) The bridge over Nisutlin Bay that was being replaced.
8) Old photo of a bridge on the Alaska Highway.
9) Dog team at Marsh Lake between Whitehorse and Teslin.
10) Alaska Highway near Silver Creek, just over the Alaska border.

The sixth, seventh, ninth and tenth photos were taken by my father some time between 1953 and 1955.

Monday, March 9, 2009



In 1950, my parents decided to build a new house on the lot they had acquired in the new neighbourhood of Willowvale. My father decided that he would build the house with help from Mom, Suzanne and me. Every weekend for the duration, we drove to Willowvale to work on the house. Except for the excavation of the basement, my father built it entirely himself. By 1952, when my parents decided to move to Edmonton after school finished, we had been living in the house for several months. Almost everything except the finishing carpentry had been completed.

I can remember spending a lot of time in the relative gloom of the basement helping my father with the plumbing. Mostly this involved just being there in case he needed me for something. He had a machine which put threads on pipes. I was amazed at how much pipe there was in a house, and how tedious and boring plumbing was.

Other things I remember clearly are my father's lists. All his life he made lists. He didn't particularly like doing chores, but neither did he approve of procrastinating. In this respect, he expected at least as much of himself as of others. His solution was to construct long lists with a reward - this was always reading - to be enjoyed upon completion of each job:

10:00 am - Put in bedroom storm window
10:15 am - Read
10:30 am - Put in dining room storm window
10:45 am - Read
11:00 am - Put in kitchen storm window, etc., etc.

It was a bit eccentric, but it was a way of getting the job done.

In the summer of 1951, when I was eleven, my Dad decided I was old enough to know the facts of life. One day when we were working in the yard at the new house, he took it upon himself to fulfill this responsibility. It seemed to take a very long time. While it went on, we were both terribly embarrassed. When he finished, I found I hadn't understood much if any of it. I remember a lot of big, unfamiliar words, and finding it hard to focus on what he was saying, because his embarrassment made me feel equally embarrassed. Still, I knew more or less what the topic was and appreciated his effort.

The decision to move to Edmonton in the summer of 1952 was made because my father feared Flin Flon could become a ghost town if known ore deposits were depleted without any new discoveries. Having invested in a new house, he was not going to put it at risk.

Before we moved, my father took me aside and told me I must not expect to be at the top of the class in Edmonton, as it was a big city compared to Flin Flon. I would likely encounter much more competition for marks following the move. Although he spoke in a very kind manner, I did feel anxious about what such a huge city would be like.

In the photos are:

1) The house my father built in Willowvale as it was in 2003 when my sister, Suzanne, visited Flin Flon.

2) Happy workers in Willowvale
3), 5) and 6) Various shots of Flin Flon.
4) 30 MPH speed limit with no snow clearance
7) My great-grandfather, Docithee Lamoureux and my grandmother's dog, Buster with me on one of our visits to Edmonton.

Thursday, March 5, 2009



My Mom and Dad often went out on Saturday night, leaving Suzanne and me with an older lady to babysit. I've forgotten her name, but remember those nights quite vividly. Foster Hewitt would be on the radio announcing the hockey game, and my father would be whistling while getting ready to go out. I don't think I liked the babysitter very much, as I was unhappy anticipating her arrival and remember lying in bed unable to fall asleep.

My parents' best friends were Irene and Bill Stickney and Kay and George Kent. We usually had Christmas with the Stickney's. I remember envying their son who was about my age for the interesting gifts he would receive. On Christmas Day, he and his father would construct wonderful things with a Mecano set, for example, and I would wish girls could play with such things.

Bill Stickney had been promoted to an executive position with HBM&S and so was entitled to live in a company cottage. This was a mark of status in the town. When I was nine or ten, the Kent's also moved to a company cottage. My mother was unhappy about this. I think she felt my father had let her down by not getting a similar promotion. I remember her saying that the reason for his failure in this was his lack of ability to socialize and his refusal to join the Elks or Lions or to play golf at the Company golf course.

There may have been some truth in this, and with her two best friends living in company houses, I can understand her disappointment. On reflecting about it, I realized that my father was always a bit of a loner. I think he loved Flin Flon in the early days, when it was a rough and ready place with the many challenges a new town would have provided. As the town matured, however, the type of corporate life that likely developed within HBM&S would not have suited him. As well, company towns are notorious for being inward looking.

When I was older, my father expressed to me his disapproval of class privilege as it existed in Europe. Certainly, his life as a child would not have prepared him for the competitive life of a large corporation or given him the self-confidence and desire needed to succeed in that type of environment. He was not materialistic in the sense of needing possessions to enhance his self-esteem. Except for a big car, he lived very frugally.

It was important to my mother, on the other hand, to have a nice house and attractive furniture. She was not at all superficial, though. On the contrary, she was a very good person, strong and serious, always encouraging Suzanne and I with our school work and music lessons. However, social status was definitely important to her, perhaps because her grandfather who she loved dearly was a respected leader of Edmonton's French-Canadian community. Growing up in his house, she may have become accustomed to a certain level of social status.

It was about this time that my father decided to build a house in the new neighbourhood of Willowvale. My memories of my father before moving to Willowvale include him taking me on the mile-long walk to Phantom Lake. I felt it a great privilege to be going there alone with him. On another occasion, before I knew how to swim, he persuaded me to go down the slide on the dock, saying he would catch me before I reached the water. Then, to my horror, he let me go, intending I'm sure to cure any fear of the water I was in danger of developing. Of course, he was standing right there beside me as I landed in the water, but nonetheless, I got a huge mouthful and was very angry.

He would sometimes take me on a search for interesting rocks. Once we found a good-sized beautiful piece of quartz. He would pick up a rock and describe all its various components.

He was often moody, though I don't recall him ever raising his voice in anger. When he was in a bad mood, everyone became very quiet. He believed strongly in good manners, and would threaten my sister and I with being sent to a finishing school if we didn't improve our behaviour. We didn't know exactly what a finishing school was, of course, but we knew it must be very horrible.

When I was nine, my father bought a car and took us on a vacation. We went as far south as Salt Lake City, Utah, then to Vancouver for Uncle Albert's wedding. I didn't see Uncle Albert very often.
He was a chemical engineer who worked all his life for Imperial Oil and lived far from us first in Port Moody near Vancouver and then in Sarnia, Ontario. I remember him being very warm, friendly, and easy to like. I loved his Christmas gifts, especially a beautiful Parker pen and pencil set, a lovely wooden pencil case, and the book Anne of Green Gables.

In the photos are:

1) Visiting Aunt Jacqueline and her children on our 1949 vacation: left to right are Aunt Jacqueline, Claudette, John, Madeleine, Suzanne, Annette, Mom, Dad, and Don.

2) Suzanne and me at Athabasca Falls on the same vacation.

3) Suzanne and me on a mountain outside Yellow Stone Park.

4) Uncle Albert with his dog.

5) My parents having fun.

6) My father with friends, or co-workers.

7) My father and me.