Our first car – at least the only one I can remember as being our family car – was a 1927, link 4 cylinder Chevrolet sedan. Wooden body, salve wooden spoked wheels, wooden steering wheel. Although you could use a crank to start it, there was a starter. I drove it in to Oak Lake when I was 16, stopping at the Municipal Office on the main street, a place where licenses were issued. The clerk asked: “Did you drive in?” When I said: “Yes”, he proceeded to issue me my first driver’s license. I have never had a driver’s test.
One late fall Saturday night, Dad, Lyman and I were driving home from Oak Lake. There had been some freezing rain and the road down the hill to Harrison’s bridge was slick. We were going very slowly, still the car tipped over on its side in the middle of the road. We cranked open the passenger side window and crawled out. Uncles Water and Ralph came along; somehow got their car stopped behind us and surveyed the situation with us. Then the five of us picked up the car and set it back on its wheels and we drove home!
My first trip to the big city – Winnipeg – was in 1943 or 1944. Dad had business in Winnipeg (no idea what it was) and I accompanied him on the Greyhound bus. It may have been a Manitoba Motor Transit bus in those years. We shared a room at the Clarendon Hotel on Portage Avenue. When nature called I followed Dad’s advice and proceeded down the hall to the big bathroom that served all the rooms on our floor. At 12 or 13 years of age I had never sat on a flush toilet in my life, but Dad had told me to just pull the chain. The flushing water in the overhead tank scared me so much that I ran back to our room. Now, there’s a “poor” story hard to match!
Describing my first job is more difficult. I guess it would have to be working in the summers for Uncle Walter Smith, driving his tractor. I was small for my age (at age 14 – 4ft 11”, 96 pounds), so that reaching the clutch pedal to change gears on the McCormick-Deering Farmall “M” was a “stretch” in the true sense of the word. I was probably only 12 or 13 when I first worked there. Hours of work were 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. for the princely sum of $1.50 a day. Dirty work too, as the tractor had no cab, not even fenders for the rear wheels and at the end of a day cultivating the summer fallow I was covered in dust. No running water, so no hot shower after work. As I recall, my pay increased to $2 a day in subsequent summers.
In the spring of 1939 the reigning monarchs, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth made their first visit to a Commonwealth country and they chose Canada. The whole country was excited and the 9 or 10 students at our little rural school (Ryerson) were equally thrilled. I was 7 years old in the summer of 1939, and one of several hundred rural school children that crowded along the main line CPR tracks in Oak Lake. We were issued Union Jack flags (Canada’s flag with the red maple leaf was decades in the future). The Royal couple, riding in a special coach on the special Royal steam train, had spent the night in Brandon. They were due to pass by Oak Lake on their way west. About 9:00 a.m. the train stopped for water (steam train, remember). We were sure the King and Queen would come out and wave to us kids, all of us lustily calling out: “We want the King! We want the Queen!” and waving our little flags. They didn’t come out however, and the train pulled away slowly. Far down the tracks, as the Royal coach passed the water tank, someone came out and waved. “That was the King!” someone said, but we never knew for sure.
First dead person
When I first travelled to Winnipeg from the farm, I was 13 and went on the bus with my father (mentioned before). One of the mornings we were there I was outside the hotel and noticed a group of people on a side street beside the 8 or 10 story Paris building, which fronted on Portage Avenue. Small for my age, I found my way to the front of the group and saw a blanket on the ground and a pair of expensive shoes – and spats – sticking out from the blanket. There was blood too. A man had obviously jumped to his death only minutes before. Someone notice this young boy (me) and I was quickly bustled out of there.
At University I was selected, along with classmate Esmond Jarvis and two Diploma Agriculture students to attend the University of Saskatchewan Aggie Winter Fair. It was February, 1951, and we took off from Winnipeg Airport in mid-afternoon. It was my first flight in a big aircraft. At dusk I looked out of the window of the Trans-Canada Air Lines (pre Air Canada) 4 engine North Star aircraft and noticed a clean division of light on the ground, way below us. To the right were the twinkling lights of hundreds of farmyard lights. To the left, darkness. Rural Manitoba received hydro electric power in 1948; Saskatchewan 4 or 5 years later. We were flying over the border between the two provinces.