A Purpose Filled Life – The Bill White Story
Part Three – Care and Concern
The terms “care and concern” are words that often spill from Bill White’s lips. It is a sort of mantra that he lives by. He claims it was engendered into him at a very early age by his father and by his mining career. So what say we step back into that time in his life and see what it was that shaped this remarkable man into who he is today.
In 1942, while Bill was still in Vancouver at the North Vancouver Ship Repair yard, his father called and reminded him that he had promised to finish high school. Bill always respected his father’s wishes and caught a plane back to Lethbridge shortly after. Today, catching a plane is not considered a big deal but back then it sure was. The aircraft he flew on was a Lockheed Electra that carried only 14 passengers and as it passed low over the Crowsnest Pass the stewardess pointed out to him where they were. I have heard stories of young boys climbing up local peaks to position themselves knowing that the Electra would fly over them at a certain time of day. It was a pretty exciting time.
On returning here Bill restarted his studies, walking from Hillcrest to Bellevue High School each day. During that time one of his first jobs as a young man was to be part of a team of four young boys hired by the Mohawk Mine to cut a roadway into their planned Number 5 Mine up the Adanac. This was done on holidays and weekends with Swede saws and axes and once they reached the coal outcrop, miners were brought in to start its entry.
In 1947 Bill began working in the main Mohawk Mine east of Bellevue where he drove draft horses hauling coal cars. This mine had a very thick seam which allowed for larger horsepower which was, in this case, Percherons and Clydesdales. He also shared an iconic image with me of the flatbed mantrip they used to ride up to the Mohawk hoist entry which is high above Bellevue to the north. Bill arranged for the shot to be taken with his camera. A valuable moment in time with 20 men dressed for work and about to take a rear-busting half hour ride up the mountain to that hoist room in the sky.
During his time at school Bill met the love of his life, Doreen Shevels and after a 3½ year courtship, that he professes went by the rules, they were married in June of 1948 in the Bellevue United Church. Their first home was one of C.P. Hill’s cottages that he had built in Hillcrest for miners. It had three rooms and no foundation and the rent was a whole $7.00 a month.
Bill told me Doreen was the best thing that ever happened to him and that she eventually gave him two daughters and a son; Sharon, Coleen and Robert. They also later adopted a three-year-old boy named Kevin. Doreen was a wonderful organist and played the church organ for 62 years. I got to hear her play The Old Rugged Cross at a special commemorative event I organized at the Bellevue Mine using an ancient foot-pump portable organ. After an amazing 62 years of marriage Doreen passed in 2010 at the age of 82.
Doreen was always at Bill’s side as he went through all his ventures and job changes which are a legacy unto themselves. In 1949 Bill took work at the Blairmore Greenhill Mine where he stayed for 6 years. By then he had earned his tickets for first class miner, first aid, mine rescue and, more importantly, his fire boss ticket. His father Alfred had been a much respected fire boss and mine rescue team captain himself and had demonstrated to Bill the importance of strict mine safety and an unwavering adherence to the rules. Bill applied his skills and his “care and concern” lifestyle to everything he did.
There was an incident in the Greenhill Mine that Bill described to me that demonstrates this commitment. It involved a man named John Lester who, while working on a duckbill operation, became buried up to his neck in coal. Bill rushed into the scene and on seeing that the coal was continuing to run and threatened to smother Lester, grabbed a shovel and began digging. For three and half hours he continued to dig away the continuously sloughing coal from around Lester until pit boss Reggie Tuange arrived and between the two of them managed to pull John Lester free.
John Lester had immigrated to Canada from Swinelton, England three years earlier and had been hired at the Greenhill Mine. Bill said to me that there was a heart wrenching moment that occurred after the rescue that made him realize that is was much more than the rescue of one man. As they emerged from the bus from Cougar North mine Lester’s wife and four sons were anxiously standing, waiting to see if he was okay. To see those four boys rush towards their father and hug him is a moment Bill said one does not soon forget.
In 1955 Bill White wound up working at the Coleman Collieries Tent Mountain mine and was in line to be trained as a shovel operator when the warehouse keeper and office payroll clerk was injured and Bill offered to step into the job. There were 40 trucks hauling off of Tent back then and there were several warehouses and garages that needed to be overseen. Bill worked there until they closed the strip down and then it was off to help build and operate a new coal briquette plant at Michel. An interesting side note here is that in the early 1950’s he also helped build the Greenhill briquette plant alongside Gunter and Franz Koci who had just immigrated from Germany. I profiled Gunter’s amazing story in a four-part series in 2019 called Tales From the Cookie Box.
The writing was on the wall for the coal mines back then, at least for a short while until the Japanese coking coal market finally surfaced. In the meantime Bill’s brother Allen contacted Bill in 1956 and said to get down to the Pincher area where Allen was working, as the British American Company (BA) was building a new gas plant there and there was a job opportunity. He found work in an accounting fashion, which required balancing time reports against payroll for several hundred men. Incredibly Bill told me that the workers time had to be accounted for in 15-minute increments. Well that’s just crazy but he did it and with such success they invited him to Calgary where he was asked to close off the construction job. Bill was always up for a new challenge and wrapped it up with a report and billing for services.
So it was that Bill White, the fire boss/coal miner, found himself in the middle of gas plant construction frenzy. Being a principled and diligent numbers man by this time, he had made quite an impression on his Calgary head office boss. From there Bill was then sent to Fort St. John to yet another massive gas plant where he was to learn the entire accounting procedure for his company, Stearn Rogers.
After five months of training he was then sent in 1958 to Steelman, Saskatchewan where as office manager he oversaw the installation of the first gas plant in S.E. Saskatchewan. It was a massive five million dollar construction project with five huge compressor stations in the field. That plant is still running to this day and has 1,100 km of gas pipelines that feed into it.
After wrapping up Steelman Bill was asked to go immediately to Windfall, near Whitecourt, for yet another gas plant job. Bill had not had any time off and despite their pressuring him he managed to get home for one single day, in which he went hunting and shot the biggest elk of his life. Bill has always an avid hunter and fisherman and his walls are covered with pictures of his successes.
Once Windfall was done Bill returned to Calgary to discover they had formed a pipe fabrication division to supply pipe to gas plants all across Western Canada. Eventually he was chosen as their office manager, a position he held for six years. Bill is quite proud of this segment of his career and claims his strict adherence to the principles of honesty and integrity precluded him ever making a mistake on any of these huge projects. Not once.
Author’s Note: In 1964 Bill and Doreen moved back to Bellevue and he purchased Adolf Bogusch’s farm on the east side of Maple Leaf. The next few years of Bill’s life are a mix of raising pure bred cattle, real estate and appraisal work, insurance sales and other various ventures. In Part Four I will dip into this era with some fascinating stories which I will interweave with anecdotes about his constant involvement with his community.