Wednesday, March 18, 2009
LIFE OF MY FATHER - 24
LIFE IN EDMONTON
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 http://www.apeg.bc.ca/services/branches/documents/pr/Peace_River_Bridge_Collapse.pdf
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.