The following is the third and final post of: The Life and Times of G.F. Allen, my father. As you may recall he was born in Quesnel, B.C. to homesteaders from Great Britain and moved to Kenora, Ontario as a child. He joined the navy at 16 years of age and went to war. Post war he married, became an electrician, then re-joined the Canadian Armed Forces, moving his young family to Portage la Prairie. Enjoy!!
Portage la Prairie, Manitoba
The Allens added to their family with the birth of their first child, Ronald Charles, in 1951. They would have likely remained in Kimberley but, with Lynn on a visit to relatives in Saskatchewan, the mine’s union where George worked went on strike and he found himself out of work. George was not one to sit on his hands for very long. On his way home from his last day of work he noticed an enlistment office for the Canadian Armed Forces. He stopped by, signed up, sold their house, and phoned Lynn to suggest she return as they were moving to Quebec. She had bags to pack.
In 1953 the Allen family of three travelled across Canada to St. Hubert, Quebec where George began his basic training. Being a war veteran, he was segregated from the raw recruits and did most of his training making coffee for the female instructors. This suited him very well and, with Lynn and Ron renting an apartment in town, he was getting paid to do very little. One small glitch in this seemingly idyllic situation was the apparent animosity of the landlord’s child against two year old Ron. It seems the larger and older child took exception to young Ronald and inflicted a daily beating. I expect Ron was very glad to seek his departure after about 6 tormented months.
In 1954 George completed his training and was stationed to Portage la Prairie, Manitoba where their second child, Carol, was born. Portage was to be home for the next 8 years with the family initially renting a trailer, then purchasing a building lot where George had a home moved. George had purchased a quantity of lumber to build their home but found a recently built structure that was advertised at a lower price than his lumber. Suspecting something untoward, George brought a lawyer to the property transaction and quickly moved the building to his newly purchased property while returning the purchased lumber for full value. George’s sound business acumen was apparent in this transaction as the previous owner feloniously sold the home twice with George ultimately the legal owner.
Due to the swiftness of the transaction there had been no excavation for the basement. Consequently, George shoveled the entirety of his basement onto the front yard via a conveyor belt through a hole in the foundation. This worked so well he was to perform a similar excavation in a subsequent home some years later.
Life was pleasant in Portage as the Allens lived on a quiet street lined with large walnut trees, met many friends, and enjoyed frequent visits with Florrie and Charlie during summer holidays. Several summers Lynn took the children to Kenora where they lived in a cottage on the lake while George commuted on weekends from his work in Portage. Ron and Carol began school in Portage and gained many friends. George always had a boat and began scuba diving, teaching his children this sport from a very young age. Both Ron and Carol experienced many wonderful summer days on the Lake of the Woods.
George, on occasion, somewhat replicated his youthful weekend forays on the lake by taking his young children on the boat with only a frying pan, a fishing rod, and confidence that lunch would be served around noon. There was seldom a day that a fish was not caught by fishing pole but on such a rare occasion, everyone would don their snorkeling gear and descend below the water’s surface with Hawaiian Slings in hand. Lunch was always served over a fire on some small island. On these days Lynn would enjoy quiet peace from her week-long child-minding and the children would experience a lifestyle that is seldom available today.
Scuba diving was similarly unique as this young family could not afford three sets of diving gear for the three aspiring divers. Consequently George improvised some old fire extinguishers fitted with regulators thus allowing his 6 and 8 year old children to accompany him on many dives. Always having an eye for profit, George occasionally hired out his services as a diver to gather rock samples for a mine, search for submerged property, and the recovery of fishing gear. On one occasion George touched a wallet at 50 feet in depth to discover dollar bills floating to the surface. The clothesline dried the bills and the holiday was gratis.
Cold Lake, Alberta
As a member of the Canadian Armed Forces one is unlikely to remain in a community for lengthy periods of time. The average posting is about 4 years in duration before a family is uprooted to, possibly, Europe or the other side of Canada. The Allens were fairly lucky as they remained in Portage for approximately 8 years before being transferred to Cold Lake, Alberta in 1962. Consequently the Allens packed up their belongings including 21 rabbits that were stowed in the back of the boat. Two apparent females had birthed this unwieldy number just prior to the family’s move to northern Alberta.
“Luckily George had the experience of basement excavation in Portage and similarly shoveled his whole basement onto his new front yard once again and built a more sturdy foundation.”
Upon their arrival in Cold Lake, George decided to build a home in the small town of Grande Centre, located only a few kilometers from the airbase. He then purchased a prefabricated home that was essentially a big wooden puzzle ready for assembly. He enlisted the help of other instructors at the base with promises of all the beer and pizza they could consume once the day’s labors were completed. In this manner the Allens were able to move into their home a month after the puzzle’s delivery. The home, however, was without basement and a large storm washed out most of the foundation leaving the home standing, only, by its four corner posts. Luckily George had the experience of basement excavation in Portage and similarly shoveled his whole basement onto his new front yard and built a more sturdy foundation. After a year in Grande Centre he was informed that a transfer to Europe was inevitable resulting in the home being sold and a move to married quarters on the airbase. The transfer never occurred with the Allens enjoying a fairly privileged four further years on the Cold Lake airbase.
George was an aeronautical electrician in Portage, working on the Canadian jets. In Cold Lake he was promoted to Sergeant then Warrant Officer two years later. The pace of such promotions seldom occurs as the Warrant Officer is the highest ranked noncommissioned officer in the forces and the actual leader of the troops. One has to be of special disposition to achieve such a status. George became a flight school electronics instructor in Cold Lake, a position he enjoyed very much.
Cold Lake is fairly isolated, situated in northern Alberta, with only the small towns of Grande Centre and Cold Lake near the airbase. The Canadian Forces bases, however, offer many and varied amenities for their troops and families. There were schools, playing fields of all kinds, an indoor swimming pool, and a large gymnasium that was accessible to everyone. With George’s love for water and sports he became a lifeguard and instructor at the pool. As well he played a variety of sports including volleyball, rifle shooting, and, of course, hunting and fishing. Many weekends during the cold winter months George and Ron would rise before dawn and drive out to a farmer’s field to harvest the winter’s venison. On one occasion they ventured onto a very stormy Cold Lake before dawn to hunt on the opposite shore. Ron, who had never experienced 30 foot rollers especially before dawn, was soon depositing his breakfast over the side when a huge wave engulfed the top half of his body. It was only George’s purchase on his trousers that kept Ron from slipping beneath the waves.
The Allens remained in Cold Lake for 5 years before George was transferred to Comox on Vancouver Island. George had visited this seaside community many years before and had decided this was where he wanted to reside after retirement. Initially living in married quarters on the airbase in Comox, a home was eventually purchased in Courtenay. This was a new home at the end of 6th Street East, and fairly rural. The property was almost two acres in size with many large trees and a creek running through the property. There was enough room for lawns, fruit trees, a large garden, and to get lost in the woods. A further bonus was a view of the Comox Glacier and the town of Courtenay. George and Lynn had arrived at the destination they wished to live out their days.
Carol and Ron were newly coined teenagers at the time of their arrival in Courtenay and entered high school while George worked at the Comox base, some 10 kilometers away. Lynn remained in the home to provide for her family. She worked briefly as an assistant French teacher but largely preferred to be caretaker of her family and home. Lynn seemed to enjoy her life very much as she could frequently be heard humming a tune while she cleaned the house, did laundry or prepared meals. Ron left home after high school to travel and attend university while Carol married and began her own family.
Nearing the end of his career in the Armed Forces, George had hoped to retire in Courtenay and live out his days in that community. The powers that be, however, did not cooperate and transferred him to a suburb of Toronto where he was assigned a detachment that inspected electrical equipment produced by a private company. He was in charge of 6 inspectors and remained in this position for three years before retiring and returning to his home in Courtenay. George was discharged at 50 years of age in 1975.
Retirement and Beyond
Again, not one to sit on his hands and, with many healthy years ahead, George began his own electrical contracting business. Being skilled in all aspects of electronics he wired homes and businesses, fixed appliances and essentially performed anything associated to electronics. After three years he changed careers to become a real estate agent. It would seem his low key sales approach allowed by a solid pension income contributed to his effectiveness as a sales person where he enjoyed much success. However, after 8 years of being constantly on call, George returned to his best known skill in electronics. He was hired by Crown Zellrbach as a trouble shooting electrician. This was a fairly comfortable position as he was tasked with keeping appliances operating and adding any electrical fixtures to the various logging camps owned by Crown Zellerbach. Frequently he would be flown into a floating camp for a quick fix and a lunch, then on to the next camp, coming home with several hundred dollars in his pocket for touring northern Vancouver Island by air. George remained in this position well into his 70s when the local Crown Zellerbach office closed and he would have had to commute to Campbell River.
George and Lynn had a good life. Their children were living independently with grandchildren soon arriving. George and Lynn lived in a beautiful community, had resources to travel, and enjoyed many visits from their children. They were able to tour Europe with Carol and her family, join Ron and his family in Mexico and Hawaii, and travel many times to Kelowna where Ron lived and Ottawa where Carol lived.
Having lived in Courtenay since 1968, they had many friends and enjoyed dancing and socializing. They always had a boat and still relished both fishing and camping well into their 80s. George started playing tennis in his 60s and continues to enjoy this sport in his 90s.
Unfortunately Lynn became ill with cancer and passed away on July 28, 2002 with George at her bedside. George could have placed Lynn in the hospital or hospice as her care was difficult and all-consuming but she remained in their home with the assistance of a nurse. Lynn was obviously very special to George and her children. She was a special person in her own right.
George is not one to believe in the supernatural but he relates his experience at the time of her death. Lynn passed away in the early morning hours with only George and a nurse present. Within moments of her passing a small colorful bird, unfamiliar to George or the nurse, was heard chirping in the rafters of their home. The bird was eventually shooed from the house and never seen before or since.
George was alone for the first time at 77 years of age. He decided to remain in his home and live out his days as planned. He has since travelled to Cuba, Hawaii and Mexico yearly with Ron and two successive companions. With his health very remarkable, George continues to play tennis weekly and dance almost daily in a variety of genres. Having been in the Canadian Air Forces for over 20 years yet never manning an aircraft, George decided to take up flying at 85 years of age. With a sharp mind and good health, he became a successful pilot and continues to rent airplanes while on vacation in such destinations as Victoria and Hawaii.
Life is not always kind, however, as a second tragedy befell George and Ron when Ron’s son Linden died of a brain tumor at 11 years of age in 2006. Linden and George were very close and his voice still falters when he speaks of Linden some 9 years later.
Now 90 years of age, George enjoys the daily companionship of Muriel but continues to maintain his independence. At 89 years of age he recently purchased a new car and plans to enjoy this sporty vehicle well into his 90s, perhaps his 100th year. George has always had a strong personality and did things his way. I expect he will continue to be uniquely George until his last breath, many years hence, I hope.