my dad

Archibald and Violet Douglas had two sons. Their first son, my father, was born July 24, 1922 and they named him Ernest Earl Douglas. Ernie’s grandfather in Scotland thought his name sounded a little too British. Regardless of that opinion, Dad was very proud of his Celtic heritage. We grew up with an appreciation for all things plaid, pipes and drums, fiddles and ballads.

Dad was born in Drumheller, Alberta. A solitary and serious little boy, he roamed the hillsides, exploring the layers of rock and dinosaur bone, old mine shafts, hill and valley. His life long love of nature, especially of birds, had it’s beginning there.

His childhood coincided with the difficult days of the Great Depression. He began at a very early age to contribute to the household economy. As a youngster, he put wheels on a wooden crate and hauled load after load of coal from a distant abandoned coal mine. As a young teenager, he worked in a Chinese market garden and was paid in coin, one silver dollar a day. This was turned over to his parents.

The little house he shared with his parents and brother was built over a mine. Dad remembers one particularly powerful blast that shook the house and separated it into two halves. The floor tilted on a bit of an angle that made his toy trucks and model train careen around the corners in a delightful way.
As the 1930’s ended, the Douglas family moved to Blue River, B.C. They travelled by train, Dad riding in the box car with the goats. It was an eventful trip, with a collision between two cars causing Dad, goats, feed, and water to end up in a heap at one end of the box car.

Grandpa Douglas worked for the railroad and the family settled into life in Blue River. Baseball, hockey, skiing, fishing, hiking, Blue River was an active teenagers paradise. And of course, there was the Nelson family. Dad’s picture appears in my mother’s teenage photo albums with the caption, the Douglas boy, under his picture.

Grandpa Nelson, knowing that Dad was a lover of the outdoors, thought he would be the perfect person to invite on a trip up Mt. Cook to accompany the new male school teacher. Some masculine company so to speak, because the oldest three Nelson children were all girls. Mom was dispatched to invite the Douglas boy to join the hiking party. When she timidly knocked on the Douglas family door, she was informed that Ernie was fishing. We have joked that Mom should have taken that as fair warning.

A strong and mutual affection developed between the Nelson brood, and the Douglas boy, but Norma was his sweetheart, a love that would be shared for nearly 70 years. His skill as a whistler was honed as he walked home alone through bear country, after taking Norma home from an evening out together in town.

World War II separated them during those dark days of the early 40’s. Dad volunteered, and headed to Victoria’s Esquimalt Base for training. He was a remarkable shot with a rifle and hoped that it wouldn’t land him a stint as a sniper. He always remarked that snipers had very short life spans. He was trained to operate the heavy anti-aircraft guns. I can still remember him running outside when a plane went over, his interest so cultivated in planes of all kinds.

His regiment travelled to Halifax and boarded the Queen Mary for England. Life jackets were handed to each enlisted man as he boarded, and were taken away as they rounded the corner, and no doubt, passed to the next men in line, a way to side step regulation.

He slept on the deck and arrived in England safely. He was involved in the defense of England, and in time found himself in Europe. The Liberation of Holland was with him all of his life; the danger, the suffering, the comradeship, the courage.

As war in Europe ended, Dad signed up to continue the fight raging in the Pacific. Home on leave, he and Norma were happily married on August 11, 1945. They honeymooned at the family cabin up Mt. Cook. As a practical joke, Norma’s brothers placed a heavy iron bar in Dad’s pack. They were sure he would discover it immediately, but unsuspecting Ernie, carried it all the way up to the cabin. It turned out to be a more practical joke than they intended, because that chunk of metal was heated on the stove and used by many a skier to soothe strained, sore muscles in the years that followed.

After their honeymoon, Mom returned to a job in Alberta, and Dad to the armed forces. The war ended, before Dad could embark for the Pacific and he returned to Blue River, but his bride was employed in Alberta… for the school year! It took some time, but Mom was finally able to find someone to take her place, and by spring, the young couple were together at last.

Loading their bicycles on the train, they headed for Alberta. Norma’s grandparents were settled in the Carstairs area, and farming seemed a welcoming occupation for a couple starting out. I believe my parents would have done well and flourished on the prairies, but Dad discovered that the hay fever he had developed in the fields of Europe was a permanent affliction. As he sat up in the night, wheezing, his eyes streaming, the decision to return to Blue River was an inevitable conclusion.

Dad found work at the CN Roundhouse until, seeing that the stream locomotive was soon to be a thing of the past, took a job with the Department of Highways. They had lived in a little house right in Blue River that they nick named Hop Toad Inn, but they soon bought a dairy farm, and moved out to the far edge of town. Three little ones followed in rapid succession.

My older siblings have stories from those days, stories of bears, and snow, and childhood adventures. My oldest sister recalls Dad taking her on an ill fated fishing trip as a five year old. An eager trout took the bait before the rod and line were quite ready for action. “A fish, a fish” my sister cried. “Well, pull it in,” my Father instructed. Pull she did, and the fish was launched through the air onto the bank. The trout flipped and flopped. A little girl jumped and hopped. Back into the water went the fish. Right after it went my sister. Dad scooped his wet daughter out of the water and headed for home stating, “There won’t be a fish left for a country mile after that commotion,”

He remained an avid fisherman until failing health made that, and many other passions, a difficult or impossible challenge. The last time he felt the pull of a fish on the line was father’s day of this year at a fish farm. They may not have been wild trout, but they made a crisp and tasty supper and were very, very fresh.

The Douglas family eventually included five children; two girls, a boy, and then two more girls. Dad always referred to our brother Allen as the rose among the thorns just to hear we girls sputter.
The older children had to leave Blue River to attend high school. Mom and Dad were sorry to see their children gone so early. Dad was finally able to transfer with the Department of Highways, to Kamloops. All of us as parents know that often, by the time we are able to grasp a situation, life has swirled along, and needs have changed. The older children made their way into adult life and Mom and Dad moved back into the North Thompson Valley. Birch Island became home for the next forty years.

Dad entertained his children and many others with his amazing whistling, and his gentle humour. He told us that during the war, in England, the soldiers would whistle at the girls, but they would continue walking, their heads held high. Then Dad would whistle. The air would be filled with bird calls and trills, and they would always stop and turn to look, their pretty young faces admired by his grateful comrades.

Dad had a large repertoire of funny sayings. “It’s a great life, if you don’t weaken” he would state. “This getting old is for the birds.” He would say shaking his head. “The best should be good enough.” He’d declare, or “we’re hired on to be tough.” and he and Mom together seemed at times like a comedy team, my mother, the straight man. “That’s not very nice,” mom would reproach. “They don’t make ‘em any nicer,” Dad would say, “That’s a pity,” she would fervently add.

After my brother died, I could hear his humour at times. I could imagine just what he would say. His humour was so quick, so lively. It is always with me. I know already that it will be the same with Dad. Life will be filtered through the lens of his gentle humour.

Dad had many passions. Faith, family, friends, his golden retriever--Taffy, fishing, music, hockey, bees, birds, trains, planes, whistling, reading, gardening, and many other hobbies as the years unfolded.

He was an avid reader, a steady stream of books appearing on his side table and returning to the library. As a boy in Drumheller, he paid ten cents for a library card that could be filled with stamps on both sides before a new one would be needed. He eventually read the entire children’s side of the library. He longed to read Zane Gray, but alas, Zane Gray was on the adult side, and therefore unattainable. This past year, he has been working his way through Duane and Arlene Bridges collection of vintage Zane Gray books.
More than sixty titles, no cards to stamp, no limit.

He served the Church in countless ways, both in Blue River and Clearwater. If the church doors were open, he was there, a man who could be depended on. He and Norma were also supporters of the Clearwater Bible Camp, supplying a steady stream of garden fresh produce and craft projects. Dad was the camp’s night watchman for many years, ensuring the safety of summer after summer of children of all ages.

A friend reminded us that Dad often started his prayers with the same words, “Our precious Lord and Saviour,” or “Our precious Heavenly Father.” These were not merely words spoken out of habit, but were a simple and profound statement of his faith.

He was a loving and loyal husband. A few weeks ago, he had confinded to me that the various infirmities of age that he and mom struggled with, had made them, he said tenderly, “very, very close.” This was very plain for all to see and their bond is something that we his children love him for.

He was a kind and peaceable man, a funny and friendly fellow. He enjoyed meeting people and would strike up a conversation with ease. He was sociable and bright, a bonnie companion.

He loved his children and grandchildren and great grandchildren. He was proud and pleased at their lives well lived and concerned yet always hopeful and loyal during their difficult times.

He suffered the loss of his precious son, fifteen years ago. He was so proud of his son. He nearly lost his own hold on life when he had a heart attack the summer he turned 75. He was thankful that his days were extended, that he was able to continue to be Norma’s companion and make the transition from Birch Island to Aldergrove with her.

Taffy, a gentle golden retriever joined Mom and Dad thirteen years ago. Dad caught Mom at a weak moment after his heart attack and she agreed to a pet. Taffy has accompanied Dad and Mom on innumerable walks round the neighbourhood. Our house is referred to as Taffy’s house by neighbours.

Dad had a lot of interests it seems. So many things, that will now remind us of him, will connect us to him. The things he loved will be loved by us.

We are so thankful for our Dad. For the man he was. The purpose of a man’s life does not end with his death. Only God can see the good that may be yet to come from his influence, his quiet, faithful life