Kay Trelle, Missile Man: Part I

Above: Kay Trelle and Rex Ford, another first year engineer from Douglas Hall, in front of the Engineering building at Queen’s University in December 1940. (SPRA 193.02.03.42)

Kay Trelle spent most of his career working for the aerospace industry in the United States. It was an interesting time of rapid growth in the aerospace industry, with the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Space Race to land on the moon. For much of that time, he worked in secrecy for Boeing and Lockheed on projects such as the Polaris and Poseidon missiles, and the drone-carrying Boeing 747. While he recognized these accomplishments, his greatest thrill was always the challenge of solving the next problem. He returned to Canada in 1973 and retired to the Lake Saskatoon district in 1990.

Roy Kay Trelle was born at home to Herman and Beatrice Trelle on August 18, 1924, near the hamlet of Lake Saskatoon, Alberta. He started his education in a two-room school at Lake Saskatoon and finished high school in Calgary when his father was stationed there during World War II. When Kay turned 18 in 1942, he enlisted in the Canadian Air Force and trained with the Commonwealth Training Program in Vancouver, British Columbia. After the war, he traveled down to the United States to visit his family who had just moved to California. While he was there, his father was murdered by a disgruntled farm worker. Extending his visit to help his mother and 12 year-old brother during this crisis, Kay overstayed his visa and was drafted into the American Army. He served for two years with the occupation army in Japan. After his military service, he stayed on in California to attend the Cal-Aero Technical Institute. He graduated in 1950 with an Honors B.Sc. in Mechanical/Aeronautical Engineering, and received a special letter of recommendation from the president of the college. He married Dorothy Smith in 1949, and was divorced in the 1950s.

After graduation, Kay worked with Convair, an American aircraft manufacturing company. In 1952, he took a position as Design Group Supervisor with Hiller Helicopters in Palo Alto, California, where he directed engineers and draughtsmen on helicopter basic structures and mechanical design. He later  went on to become a Consulting and Design Engineer for Cook Research Laboratories in Redwood City, California, in 1957.

In 1958 Kay was hired by Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, and three weeks later became part of a thirty-three member international team (called the Skunkworks) designing the Polaris Missile. He was working there during the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. The Polaris Missile is still being used today on the Trident Submarine. Kay designed the release mechanism for the missile. He received a special commendation “for demonstrating outstanding imagination and design conception versatility resulting in substantial cost conservation benefits to the Polaris Missile Design Project.” When the Poseidon C3 Task Force was formed in February, 1964, Kay was included as a design specialist and lead engineer. He received his second commendation for his work on the Poseidon “design solutions for re-entry system installations, structures, and separation devices.” The letter states that Kay’s “valuable contribution will result in missile systems of high quality and will extend the success of LMSC in missile system programs.”

In 1966, Kay married his World War II sweetheart, Mae Morton, whom he had first met while in the Canadian Air Force Commonwealth Training Program in Vancouver. The couple had lost contact during the war and Mae assumed that Kay, like too many of his fellow soldiers, had died during the war. Kay re-established contact in 1965 and, after a separation of twenty-three years, they were married in 1966.

That same year, Kay moved from Lockheed to Boeing Aircraft Corporation in Seattle as a design specialist and lead engineer, with his primary responsibility “to develop an entirely new bomb suspension concept for tactical fighters.” The fighter program was being carried out in Germany and Kay took German language classes to facilitate his work. It was all for naught as the program was abandoned in November 1966.

This article was originally featured in the September 2020 issue of Telling Our Stories. Stay tuned for Part II on February 1.

Serving Up Kindness

Image: I.O.D.E. member, Ann Watson, with Meals on Wheels, 1981 (SPRA 111.04.110)

Scattered throughout the Archives’ collections, we see evidence of communities in the South Peace coming together to feed the hungry. Friends and neighbours have often banded together when times were tough, but as the community has grown, so too has the need for more structured support. In 1919, Captain Gains and Martha Nelson established the Salvation Army in Grande Prairie. They and other local churches and organizations provided meals to those in need at free community dinners.

During the Great Depression, the relative agricultural prosperity of the region brought many debt-ridden homesteaders north in hopes of finding better living conditions. Assistance provided by the Unemployment Relief Act was supplemented by groups such as the Women’s Institutes and the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire (I.O.D.E.). These groups, and others, made hampers and hosted dinners through the Second World War and beyond.

In 1972, Meals on Wheels was introduced to Grande Prairie, delivering hot meals to those who were unable to cook for themselves at home. Many organizations helped administer this program to keep costs low, including the Royal Purple, Kinette Club, and the Welcome Wagon.

In the early 1980s, when Alberta’s economy was particularly hard hit, community groups again stepped in to offer help. The Grande Prairie Friendship Centre began offering Christmas hampers in addition to their regular programming and, in 1997, partnered with a number of community groups on the Canada Pre-Natal Nutrition Program.

The Grande Prairie food bank amalgamated with the Salvation Army Family Services in 1989 and, a few years later, opened a soup kitchen to assist those experiencing homelessness. More recently, in 2019, the Grande Prairie Friendship Centre and the Salvation Army partnered to combine their kitchens in one centralized location to better meet the needs of the community.

Especially during the holidays, these groups remind us of the power of food… and a little kindness.

This article was originally featured in the December 2020 issue of Telling Our Stories.

The Sawdust Fusiliers

Image: A group of six men traveling by horse and wagon from Grande Prairie to Athabasca to enlist with the R.N.W.M.P. at the beginning of WWI.  Harlie Conrad, who later served with the CFC, is at the far left.  1914 (SPRA 356.03.08)

With Remembrance Day just around the corner, we’re revisiting a past Telling Our Stories article about the Canadian Forestry Corps in World War I. This article was contributed by Archives volunteer Kaylee Dyck and appeared in the March 2020 issue. Kaylee researched First World War veterans of the South Peace in order to complete the Archives’ online World War I Soldier’s Memorial.

Forests play a crucial role in Canada’s history and economy. In times of war, this has been particularly true; after all, 40% of Canada is wooded land. During the Napoleonic Wars, Britain imported tremendous amounts of timber from Canada to build up the Royal Navy. When the Great War began, Britain wanted not only the timber, but Canada’s lumbermen as well.

At the start of the war, timber was shipped across the Atlantic. However, limited space aboard existing ships and the threat of U-boat attacks prompted change. In February of 1916, the British government requested that 1,500 skilled lumbermen be sent from Canada to harvest forests in England and Scotland (and, later, in France). The 224th Battalion produced its first sawn lumber in England within three months. It soon became apparent that more than one battalion would be needed to keep up with the demands of war. On November 14, 1916, the Canadian Forestry Corps (CFC) was officially established. By the end of the war, the CFC was a force of over 30,000 men, including some foreign labourers and German POWs.

When the CFC was first formed, the army preferred experienced men like Jack Cummins, who homesteaded between Sexsmith and La Glace after the war.  Jack had been logging in British Columbia when he decided to join the CFC, and he was assigned to a company in France. In August 1918, he was one of 1,300 forestry men who volunteered for active service in aid of the final push that led to the end of the war.

As the war dragged on, the CFC needed more and more men. Men previously deemed unfit for active service at the front lines were now welcomed to the CFC. Many lied about their age, desperate to “do their bit.” William Paige of East Pouce Coupe gave his age as 17 when he enlisted, and though the recruitment officer believed him to be even younger, William was able to join the CFC. At the opposite end of the spectrum were those who were overage but unwilling to let the young fellows do all the work. Omer Dupont of Goodfare was 54 years of age when he was enlisted (he claimed to be ten years younger). Omer served with the CFC until April of 1918, despite suffering from rheumatism. Herman Klukas was transferred to the Corps after sustaining injuries at Passchendaele and Ypres. Flat feet and the lingering effects of a gas attack landed Walter Bowen, a Beaverlodge farmer, in the Forestry Corps. This motley crew of the too-young, too-old, and injured would disprove the critics and become the backbone of the Allied effort.

The CFC produced an estimated 70% of all Allied lumber during the war. This lumber was used to construct trenches, duck boards, telegraph poles, troop shelters, ammunition boxes, aircraft, guns, rail lines, bridges, roads, and countless other necessities of war. The CFC operated 151 logging camps in Britain and France, and was made up almost entirely of Canadian men, machinery, and methods. In most cases, locals greatly admired these hardworking lumbermen. The press described them as having “the bronzed, healthy look and the easy confident swing which we have learned to look for in Canadians.” The royals too were great supporters of the Forestry Corps; Princess Anne acted as an informal patron, and King George V donated Windsor Great Forest to the war effort.

Over time, the CFC became more sophisticated. In 1917, the CFC began to farm its own plots of land in order to become more self-sufficient, rather than taking valuable rations away from those at the front. Also that year, a training camp was opened for the men who had no previous experience in the logging industry. No amount of training or experience, however, could prevent accidents. Two South Peace men, Herbert Stewart and Thomas Rice, sustained injuries while serving with the CFC. Herbert joined the Forestry Corps in England after receiving shrapnel wounds and showing signs of shell shock. In March of 1918, a log fell from a wagon onto his leg, causing a serious fracture and resulting in a permanent limp. Thomas’s injury was less serious; he slipped on ice and his foot became “jammed between the log and the carriage and the skidway.”

By the end of the war, at least 75 men from the South Peace region had served with the Forestry Corps. For some, serving in the CFC marked the beginning of a new path in life. George Nowry, once a barber, used the skills he had learned during the war to take over a sawmill in Grande Prairie in 1921. Researchers can visit the Archives’ online Soldiers’ Memorial to learn about Nowry and others who served in the Canadian Forestry Corps. A list of local CFC veterans can be viewed on the Archives’ blog.

Without the work of the Canadian Forestry Corps, the Allies would have suffered from a serious lack of supplies. The outcome of the war might have been very different without their efforts. While most of those who served far behind the front lines were spared from the atrocities that the soldiers in the trenches witnessed, the labour and dedication of these Sawdust Fusiliers was no less significant.

In 1915, Herman Klukas enlisted in the 66th Battalion of the Loyal Edmonton Regiment for World War I. This photograph was taken while he was serving in France, in 1917. (SPRA 635.01.01)

Fire on the Farm

Image: Wanham’s Main Street in 1931 (SPRA 018.03.50)

The following excerpt was taken from the diary of Maria Wozniak.  Maria’s diary was originally written in Polish, and has been translated and transcribed by her son Mathew.  Here she writes about the Wanham-Codesa fire of October 22, 1942.

My husband is in much pain.  The next night he can’t sleep because of the pain in his leg.  October 22, 1942, the owner of the sawmill was driving to the mill in the bush and stopped in to visit us.  It was as if the Lord sent him.  Seeing him, I asked Mr. James Emerson if he could take Antoni to a doctor.  He looked at the leg and said that in Tangent, there was a government nurse and he would take Antoni to her.  In a while, we both took Antoni by the arms and led him to the half ton automobile.

Before harvest, my husband built a small pigpen from round trees about 16 x 16 feet and the threshing machine blew straw over it.  In the pen was a door about 4 x 4 feet.  Inside the pen was spread straw and so prepared a place for our sows and other animals for the winter.  1942 was dry and the fall was without rain.

Mr. Emerson took my husband to the east to Tangent about 20 miles and in the west there began to appear clouds of smoke.  I stood the sick cow “Masia” on her feet.  I dropped her a bundle of hay for her to eat.

Fear overtook me about the fire from which so many times I defended our property.  The first thing was to harness the horses to the plow and make a fire guard in the field to the west of our buildings so the fire does not come here.  Quickly we achieved this task and were ready to plow.  Our Eddy did not go to school that day so I took him to the neighbors to the east, Hrishuks, asking them to watch over our son.  Fortunately, at the time I was plowing the fire guard, Bill Sanoski came over and took over the plowing.  The wind came up about noon and then came approaching danger.  While Bill plowed I went with fast steps to where there was a low place where water gathered in the spring, by that place we had dug a well and got some water.  Then I went to the barn and chased the cow and calf out.  From the west the fire is coming closer.  Already we can see the leaping flames.  I ran around like a lunatic, I have very little chance of saving anything.

I take out of the house anything I can carry to the garden.  Then came frightening wind like it was a storm.  Mr. Sanoski is doing everything he can and keeps plowing.  The fire jumped over in a few places and the whole field is burning.  All the pigs are running to their pen where there is much straw.  I poured full their troughs with feed that was farther away from the pens.  The hogs went to eat because they were hungry.  Soon they were ready to return to their pens.  I had armed myself with a good stick and stood in the doorway, our two dogs helped me.  I know for sure that the straw pile is on fire from the flying sparks.  Everywhere there was fire and smoke and it’s hard to breathe.

Smoke is hurting my lungs and I am tired.  I go to the garden and kneel looking at the burning buildings and granaries with grain in them.  The view is frightening and the wind goes like crazy.  Seeing the fire, people from the district gathered and began to save our neighbour.  They stood in a row, both men and women with wet sacks began to extinguish the fire against the wind and in that way saved our neighbours’ buildings.  With digging and plowing they were able to save them all.  This was the neighbour where our son was staying at.

My husband and Mr. Emerson returned and did not recognize the place.  The fire had taken our harvested crop.  Somehow our new unfinished house was saved.  On that memorable night we sat at our neighbours, Mr. Paupst’s place.  Here, too, the neighbours helped save the buildings.  People that were built to the west of our place, like Tom Bergeron Bouchard, Soquet, Fred Lewis, Wojenski, and Scott and many others, not only lost their buildings but lost livestock.

At 5:00 in the evening, the police came to see if anyone had lost their lives and how bad were the losses.  We lost practically no animals.  There were 110 hogs and the cattle were in the pasture where there was not enough grass for the fire to go.  In the evening rain began to fall and the ground was covered with snow in the morning of the 23 of October.

A note from Maria’s son, Mathew Wozniak:

The fire started some place in Wanham and a matter of a few hours went about 10 miles.  Daughter Cecelia was with Bill plowing the fire guard.  She said that they were in an open field and flames singed the horses’ manes.  In those days, bundles were hauled in to be threshed so there was very little to burn, just the stubble.  The granaries that were full of grain burned and the grain spilled into a cone and kept smoldering.  It was important to keep the livestock from getting to these grain piles.  A gallon of grain eaten by an animal that had been on grass would most likely kill it.  All land clearing at that time was done with axe, saw, and grub hoe, piled and burned so fires getting away were a common problem.

This article was originally featured in the March 2019 issue of Telling Our Stories.

Hollywood Hunts: The American Sportsman visits the South Peace

Image: Reproduction from Jerry Stojan’s slide collection: Roddy Moberly (left) and Horst Buchholz (right) display the antlers from Buchlolz’s moose. (SPRA 2018.040.23)

Jerry Stojan emigrated from Czechoslovakia with his parents in 1926. Jerry married Irene Lenoir of Ontario, and they had two children, Charles and Linda. Though Jerry spent many years occupied as a farmer and horseman, he also enjoyed time as a hunter and avid outdoorsman. In his later years, Jerry pursued a career as a hunting guide and outfitter.

Jerry’s team packed horses into the mountains southwest of Grande Prairie and established base camps before hunting season. The Kakwa-area mountains where Jerry brought his clients were home to big game animals such as sheep, caribou, elk, moose, and bear. He often worked with local guides, including Roddy Moberly and Alex Moberly. Jerry’s clients harvested animals both for their meat and trophies.

In 1969, Jerry coordinated two hunts for the American Broadcasting Corporation to be featured in the television series The American Sportsman. In a letter to the show’s producers, Jerry committed “30 head of horse (10 saddle and 20 pack) tents, heaters, camp cook, spotter, packers, food bedrolls etc. as per [their] telephone conversation” for the hunt. The episodes would feature singer Vic Damone hunting bighorn sheep and actor Horst Bucholtz hunting moose.

On October 10th, the Daily Herald-Tribune reported “the stars are whizzing through [the] city airport” as these two celebrities crossed paths in Grande Prairie: Damone leaving after a successful hunt and Bucholtz arriving to begin his own. The article boasted that “every other hunter that has gone to the camp has got his animal, with the help of Indian callers; and under the watchful eye of the Stojans it is hard to imagine anyone not getting a moose.” Horst Bucholtz was indeed successful hunting a moose.

Airing throughout the United States, The American Sportsman episodes emphasized the beauty of the Albertan Rockies, the thrill of hunting big game animals, and the knowledge of the local hunting guides. Observing a herd of caribou with Vic Damone,  Jerry explains “they’re starting to move down to the winter range. They normally range about ten, fifteen miles west of here and they migrate about sixty miles off to winter range down on the Kakwa River.” Later, approaching the bighorn sheep shot by Damone, Jerry demonstrates how to determine its age by counting the growth ridges on its horns: “every year they’ll grow during the good feeding season and in the winter, they create a ridge. That’s how you count them.”

When the episodes originally aired , Jerry travelled to the United States to watch them; later, he was provided with 16mm film copies of the episodes that he shared with friends on a projector. Jerry’s daughter, Linda, recently donated these films and contextual archival documents to the Archives, as well as a collection of slides that document Jerry’s many years of hunting and guiding in the South Peace.  These records will be added to the Jerry Stojan family fonds (fonds 253) to provide a more thorough narrative of Jerry’s life and career. They will also demonstrate how a sheep and a moose brought Hollywood to the South Peace and back again.

This article was originally featured in the September 2018 issue of Telling Our Stories.

The Art of Postcards: History in the Mail

Image: Postcard sent by Madeline Hanni-Lozeron to her brother Pierre in Canada, 1902 (SPRA 006.04.01.01)

The history of postcards dates back one hundred and fifty years. Immensely popular, these affordable, attractive, and sometimes kitschy items likely owe their existence to stamps.

Before the 1840’s, mail rates varied depending on the number of sheets in a letter and on the distance the letter travelled. Postage was payable upon receipt of the letter. If the addressee refused the letter, the post office was out of luck. The Postmaster General of England, Sir Rowland Hill, proposed two of the changes we take for granted today: postage should be at a set rate to anywhere in England, and the sender should pay it. Proof of prepayment would be required. That proof of course, was the stamp, and in 1839, Sir Hill’s proposals were passed in the Penny Postage Act. The first penny postage (called the Penny Black because of its black background) first sold on 1 May 1840 and the first Canadian stamp (the Three Penny Beaver) was issued 23 April 1851.

The penny postage made mail affordable and more reliable. Paper cost was still an issue. Luckily, postal cards soon followed the new postage system. Like many popular, mass produced items, there is some question as to where and who developed the first private postcard. We can only be certain that, by the 1870s, governments began to issue “postals” – plain cards with a stamp image on the back.

Now people had their stationary and postage all together for one affordable price. But plain cards were not enough. Printed envelopes had become quite popular in the 1850s; the same was soon true for postal cards. This likely contributed to one of the major lasting changes in the production of postcards – the divided back.

Because original postcards were plain, the recto (front) side was used for message writing while the verso (back) side was strictly for providing a delivery address. England was the first country to approve the divided back on postcards in 1902. This provided space for writing and an address on the back of the card, leaving the front unblemished.

Postcards form a small but important part of our holdings and they convey valuable evidence about people and the places they lived and visited. Most of the postcards spread throughout our holdings are view cards (images of cities or places), greeting cards, and photographic cards (people). We are also lucky to have several “silks” (embroidered cards which were immensely popular as gifts during the Great War) and a number of humorous “topicals” from each of the wars. A timely gift to friends and family in the past, postcards can provide a wealth of information about social past-times, personal relationships, and changes in the urban and natural landscape.

You can create your own history. Next time you take a trip, send yourself postcards featuring sites of interest. Jot down a quick reminder of your special moments and when you arrive home, you will have a pictorial and a textual reminder of your holiday. You could even do this for staycations. Slip them into sleeves or a travel box and you have an instant travel archives to share with family now and in the future.

This article was originally featured in the December 2018 issue of Telling Our Stories.

Fishing Expeditions in the Archives

Image: Lucy Lundblad taking the girls fishing, May 1940 (SPRA 175.055.05)

People often compare research at the Archives to digging for treasure. I think it is a little bit like fishing. The best place to start fishing at the Archives is through our website. Hopefully you already know your way to our online fishing hole. If not, what are you waiting for? Let’s get started.

When you embark on a fishing expedition, you need three things: bait, tools, and a place to fish. When conducting research, your search terms will act as your ”Bait.” The best way to dig up bait is to annoy your relatives with a lot of pesky questions about your great-grandaunt or that distant patriarch who supposedly robbed a train. All that annoyance activity should help you generate a list of names, dates, and places to research. Every tiny morsel has potential for your bait list.

Next, you need your tools. You will want to take notes as you go otherwise, you may find yourself returning to the same spot to retrieve that fish you lost. So grab your pencil and paper, start up that excel spreadsheet on your tablet, or open that cloud doc on your phone. Be ready to record your catch.

Now you need a place to fish. Ready your bait and cast out into the waters, or in this case, our online research “sweet spots”. Last year, over eighteen thousand visitors from around the world visited our website to fish for answers. There are several prime spots to choose from starting with the finding aids— where we list all the archival collections already arranged and described. These collections include a brief history about the creators and may yield all that you need. There are also several online databases that allow you to “fish” through indices for community history books, reference files, and newspapers, as well as our digitized photographs. Even our most experienced fishers may not realize that the Archives is also home to an expanding library related to the South Peace Region. We keep a list of our reference books online for your browsing pleasure.

In some cases, you may find all you need at our online destination: that story about great-grandaunt Sela’s lingerie and haberdashery business  in the collection biography or the photograph of that rascally five-times-great-grandpa Johnson on your mother’s side (no! your father’s side!). It was just what you were fishing for. Your successful foray may also yield bigger bait, for which you will need to take your boat into deeper waters. In this case, deeper waters is the Archives facility itself. There you can cast your line into archival folders, reference files, and photograph collections.

This part of the fishing expedition is often the most rewarding and sometimes the most disappointing. The thrill of seeing new sights does not always make up for the lack of discovery. Not all fishing expeditions are successful in the actual fish-catching department, after all. Sometimes the success is in being able to take part in the excursion.

This process of discovery is one of the beautiful things about archives in a democratic society. Except in collections where personal privacy is a consideration, our records are open to the public. Online resources and on-site collections allow “fishers” of all skill and interest levels to “fish” through the records for information about their families, local history, and government records. We keep a healthy stock of various types of fish – textual documents, photographs, maps, film and audio recordings, to name a few, in order to provide a reasonable chance that you will find the fish you are looking for when you visit our website or enter our doors.

Of course, it helps to have a guide with you when searching unknown waters for records. The friendly staff at the South Peace Regional Archives are happy to show you how to set your bait and where to fish in the hopes that you will reel in the big one. Maybe it will be the catch of the day.

This article was originally featured in the September 2018 issue of Telling Our Stories.

Bill Archer and Murray Carlisle fishing in Contrary River, 1941. (SPRA 399.09.22)

Speedy Bird Gets the Worm

Image: Pigeons of several varieties in a pen, part of Vince Durda’s collection of exotic birds, July 1979 (SPRA 002.05.06.524)

There is no lack of exciting stories and extraordinary pieces of history to be found at the South Peace Regional Archives. Nestled among the Sports, Recreation, and Leisure reference files are news clippings detailing the unique story of a group of 10 local pigeon enthusiasts who joined forces in 1987 to create a club fit for sports fans and bird lovers alike: the Grande Prairie Pigeon Racing Club. Pigeon racing is a sport in which trained racing pigeons are released by their owners at a specific location, often ranging from 150 to 950 kilometers away. The pigeons are then monitored using a clocking machine that is placed on their legs and measures the distance travelled per second as they make the return flight home. The bird that arrives home the fastest is declared the winner of that day’s race, and often earns a sum of prize money for their owners. The Grande Prairie Pigeon Racing Club’s 1987 season ran from May to late August, with races taking place every weekend.

Bob Lange, a Clairmont resident and one of the Grande Prairie Pigeon Racing Club’s founders, had a passion for pigeon racing long before the club was established. In the 3 May 1984 edition of the Daily Herald-Tribune, Lange described his 50-year-long history of training and breeding pigeons for racing. According to the article, Lange owned about 500 pigeons from locations such as France, Belgium, England, Ireland, and the United States: some of which had cost him as much as $1,200. Lange detailed the long process of training a racing pigeon, which he recommends begins when the pigeon is about three months old. The initial training starts by taking the pigeon about 1.5 to 8 kilometers away, and having it return home from each direction. The distance is gradually increased until eventually the pigeon can complete a 480 kilometer trip. At the time the article was published, Lange was breeding pigeons using “proven birds who have flown at least 1,600 kilometers” for other clubs and individuals, however he expressed his hopes for setting up a racing club in the Grande Prairie area (DHT, 3 May 1984). Lange later accomplished this dream with the establishment of the Grande Prairie Pigeon Racing Club.

Members of the Grande Prairie Pigeon Racing Club saw their fair share of races gone wrong. Herald-Tribune staff member Stephen Fletcher once observed that “when your racetrack is in the sky, there’s no telling what an ill-timed air current can do,” leaving lots of unpredictable variables in each race (DHT, c 1990). Between the pigeons losing their sense of direction, taking a break in comfy-looking barns along the route, or the ever constant threat of prey-seeking marauders, there are plenty of opportunities for racing events to go awry. Mike Wright, a founder and former president of the club, knew this all too well. Wright shared various stories of mishaps in his pigeon racing career with the Daily Herald-Tribune. One of these involved a hawk with a very expensive palate. Just weeks after purchasing a very speedy, champion racer for $10,000, Wright learned the hard way that high prices don’t guarantee results. His new prized-pigeon became a lunchtime meal for one of the Peace Region’s many birds of prey. The truly unpredictable nature of pigeon racing means that even with proven winners and well trained racers, there are rarely any certainties when it comes to the sport.

These clippings show years of passion and dedication towards breeding, training, and racing pigeons. Through these records, it is apparent that the Grande Prairie Pigeon Racing Club gave community members in Grande Prairie and the surrounding areas a unique opportunity: to learn and appreciate the many challenges and triumphs that come along with the excitement of pigeon racing.

Daily Herald-Tribune, May 3, 1984

Daily Herald-Tribune, April 15, 1987

Daily Herald-Tribune, ca. 1990

Lewis Love Letters

Image: Portrait of the Dick Lewis family: Freddie, Dick, Ursula, Cathy. 1953 (SPRA 195.01.19)

“As I’ve told you before, you’ve always sort of been my dream girl.  From the first night I met you I found there was something about you that was irresistible.  If I were to call you up in about six months time, do you suppose you’d go for a walk with me through Stanley Park?”

These were Richard “Dick” Lewis’s words to Ursula Walker when he wrote to her from Holland on May 10, 1945, shortly after the Allied victory in Europe.

Dick and Ursula had met in the summer of 1941 at a dance in Vancouver, where Dick was stationed with the Royal Canadian Air Force.  When Ursula went to work in Penticton the following summer, the two began a lively correspondence.  It did not take Dick long to realize that he had met the girl of his dreams, and in his letters he made no secret of the fact that he was smitten.

In a letter dated June 23, 1942, Dick proposed to Ursula for the first time.

“You know, I do think an awful lot of you, and even though I have known you a comparatively short time, feel I do know you well.  After this war is over, I would like to talk you into a life-time job.  Is there any chance?  Believe me, you are the only one I have ever talked thus to.”

Ursula, only seventeen at the time (Dick was twenty-six), was less certain, and turned down the proposal.  They continued to correspond, however, as Dick went overseas to serve with the RCAF.

Three years later, after the war ended, Dick returned to Canada.  After not having seen each other for so long, neither was entirely sure how they felt about the other.  As Dick wrote to Ursula on August 7, 1945:

“You say you don’t know exactly how you feel towards me.  I suppose to be quite fair, it is difficult to know.  I’m not exactly sure myself but I think I know and I do want the chance to find out for both of us.”

On October 22, 1945, Dick arrived on Quadra Island, British Columbia, where Ursula was spending two months of rest. As a nursing student, she had been stationed on the tuberculosis ward and had contracted an infection.  They spent two weeks together, taking the opportunity to get acquainted once again after the years apart.

Evidently, Dick found that Ursula was still his “dream girl” and the woman with whom he wanted to share his life, for he proposed the very day of his arrival. Ursula needed more time to be sure of her own heart, but before Dick left on November 5, she said yes.

November 6, 1945

My dearest sweetheart,

I know it is late but I just can’t go to bed without telling the most wonderful girl in the world how much I love her… Thank you so much, Ursula darling, for saying “yes” before I left you; it means more to me than anything else in the world.  I am missing you awfully, darling, but there is such a feeling of comfort to know that you are there and that you love me…

Twenty-eight of the letters Ursula and Dick exchanged during their five month engagement are housed at the archives.  These letters, as well those written during the war years, have been digitized and transcribed.

This article was originally featured in the March 2018 issue of Telling Our Stories.

Ursula Walker by Okanagan Lake, 1942. Dick carried this photograph with him during his time overseas, 1942-1945 (SPRA 195.01.05)

Dick Lewis, 1942 (SPRA 195.01.07)

Richard Lloyd French Lewis married Doreen Ursula Walker April 4, 1946. (SPRA 195.01.08)

Pressing Concerns: Flower Specimens in Archival Records

Image: The garden at the Clough home at Sturgeon Lake. Mr. Sutcliffe, the gardener, was also a forest ranger. (SPRA 175.028.04)

Archival records contain traces of the past, in more ways than one. The practice of pressing flowers as a form of scientific study or art has existed for centuries. In Archives, these organic materials can offer both a pleasant surprise and preservation challenge.

By the time they arrive in the Archives, most pressed flowers are extremely delicate and at risk of deterioration. Rarely, they may pose additional risks to accompanying documents by staining paper, retaining moisture, or even harbouring pests. Therefore, in some cases, we remove these specimens to be stored separately from the original document. Each collection is assessed by our Archivist and handled on an case-by-case basis to ensure its preservation.

When Olwen Sanger-Davies documented her journey from England to the South Peace in 1933, she collected plant specimens and placed them alongside her notes, photographs, and paintings. Climbing Sulphur Mountain in Banff, Olwen wrote: “up & up we wound getting marvelous peeps of the valleys & finding various new flowers, green orchids & a small pink lady slipper orchid, & also nice bits of the Rocky Mountains.” She included three pressed flowers, demonstrating the species she encountered.

In the case of Olwen’s scrapbooks, all pressed flowers were removed for preservation. First, a digitization specialist carefully scanned each page of the scrapbooks, maintaining the flowers in their original position. Then our Archivist gently removed each specimen, marking their location with pencil to document the removal. The flowers are now stored in acid free envelopes, labelled with their original location. Archival-quality scans ensure future users can view the scrapbooks in their original form, while separation ensures their mutual preservation.

Despite the challenges they pose, pressed flowers are a valuable addition to archival records. They can mark a moment of engagement between records, their creators, and users. They can contribute to a historical record of vegetation in a specific location. They can be admired for their beauty and studied for their botanical knowledge. Pressed flowers are treasures for future generations to discover.

This article was originally featured in the June 2019 issue of Telling Our Stories.