by Esther Darlington MacDonald
The big craggy man with large pale blue eyes was the regional electrician many of us knew back when. Which is really not so long ago.
When you think of how much he gave the area by way of service, wisdom, and far ahead thinking. Thinking that always seemed so reasonable, you couldn’t understand why things didn’t happen the way that Walter saw it.
For example, one of the things Walt couldn’t understand, was why Cariboo cattle had to be shipped to Alberta for slaughter and processing? Wasn’t it reasonable to have that kind of resource more practical right here, where the cattle are produced? Well sure. So it seemed. And undoubtedly there will be logical explanations why we have to ship cattle hundreds of miles by truck. And I will not go into the condition the cattle arrive in when they get to the point of departure from this world altogether.
Walter’s working garment was a workman’s coverall. Sometimes, he wore a cap. He spoke in a quiet tone. Sometimes, so quiet, you had to ask him to repeat himself. But make no mistake about it, Walter’s forthright opinions (Yes, by darn, he was opinionated. Opinionated as Winston Churchill. And many of his opinions were not appreciated. Particularly if they had something to do with honesty, uncompromising integrity, and an acute avoidance of the euphemism to pretty things up).
Walt arrived in Clinton in 1948. He bought the Cariboo Lodge with friend Freddy Hoad. The lodge later became the Cariboo Motor Inn. The two men operated the hotel for 16 years. A long time for a business partnership to last. But Walter simply explained it as a “good business relationship”.
A prairie born socialist, Walt grew up in Swift Current Saskatchewan, the country that Tommy Douglas worked in. Times were tougher than tough on the prairies, so Walter came west to British Columbia in 1938. Worked as an electrician in Vancouver. During the war however, Walt would return to the family farm at Swift Current to help with the harvesting. Walter was never far from his agricultural roots. In those days, it took eight weeks to get permission to leave B.C.’s employment as an electrician, to work help on the farm.
“They just had to know where you were in those days”.
In today’s climate of worry about how much governments know about us and what many believe is an invasion of privacy, conditions in those war years in Canada breached any consideration of that kind.
Walter’s parents were from England, and both were socialists.
“My father was one of the founders of the C.C.F. party. I have always been a socialist”.
Moving to ranch country, where socialism is a dirty word, might have meant economic disaster for Walter. But the man’s personality, integrity in business, won Walter a lot of friends, many of whom didn’t agree with his politics, but the strength of personality won over biases.
Walt was an entirely dependable working tradesman, as well as a business man. He was clearly a round peg in a square hole in this area. But many of his opinions melded with the opinions of others. Particularly in the area of producing foodstuffs here and making us less reliant on foreign produce and meat. He thought we should be growing our own, and creating employment. In this day of multi national trade, such ideas seem almost Victorian. But Walt’s belief that the Cariboo’s ability to produce food was tremendous, and the potential was almost entirely ignored.
I wonder what he would think of Ashcroft’s Desert Hills farm? I bet he would be more than pleased to see those formerly semi desert mesas turned into greatly productive suppliers of produce.
Walter’s history on Clinton council was stormy. Walt’s accusations about conflict of interest seem today, utterly justified. But back then, in the 1970’s, it was a given. And no one thought about it much. Regardless of differences, Walter and his fellow councillors were still on speaking terms when bigger issues came up, like hydro power and water supply.
A hearty laugh and a dry sense of humor made Walter one of the most pleasant conversationalists you would encounter. When Walter teamed up with a mutually vocal, opinionated lady named Grethyl Adams and they married in 1971, Walter inherited step sons Mike, Tom, Mark and John. Tom carried out Walter Adams Electric for many years after Walt and Grethyl retired to an acreage at Chasm. Walt thought about going into hog raising, but the marketing problems made that idea impractical.
Walter was instrumental in getting an airport built on the boundary of Clinton. He owned his own plane and was always interested in flying. He was also elected as school trustee during the 1970’s, and even in this sphere, Walter had definite ideas about how teachers should teach. Less authoritarian, for example. Here again, I think Walter would find the changes in the school system much less so.
Grethyl moved to North Battleford, Saskatchewan eventually. A real estate operator for many years, she just found more opportunity there, and of course became very active in the politics of the area too. Walter went back and forth from Clinton to North Battleford for a number of years. Grethyl wanted him to move there permanently. But Walter’s heart was always in the Cariboo. That’s where he made his mark. That’s where he found his purpose in life.
Both Walter and Grethyl have passed on. But I’m sure their memories are still fresh in the minds of many long time residents.