Ray Isnardy

BY LIZ TWAN

Special to The Tribune


This is a story whose telling is long overdue. Our friend Ray Isnardy lived a life rich with story material.

Ray Isnardy (Isnardi) passed away Thursday, March 30, 2006 after a battle with cancer. The service will be held at Sacred Heart Catholic Church at 1 p.m. Friday, April 7 with Father Tony Ackerman officiating. Pallbearers are David Maurice, David Stafford, Bobby Haines, Joey Rosette, Mike Paul and Lee Graves. Willie Crosina will give the eulogy. A tea will follow at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church Hall.

Ray is survived by his wife, Caroline, daughter Valerie (Nelson Harry) of Anahim, son Carey and Rhoda (Antoine) of Cache Creek, daughter Lorna (Dixie Hance) of Williams Lake and son Avon (Mamie Montgomery) of Deadman’s Creek. He leaves 12 grandchildren: Kristy Johnson, Harlan, Cole and Shoshana Rae Harry, Sasha and Chace Hance, Joel, Riley, Cash, BJ and Kiley Isnardy and Alex Isnardy. His sister, Bertha Fletcher also survives him. He also left behind many, many more relatives and a large group of friends.

Ray seemed to be doing okay with his chemo, so his passing, so soon, was a bit of a shock.

Ray didn’t like to be the center of attention, or even be on the edge of attention – he preferred to be in the background quietly observing the goings on. He attended every rodeo and horse-related-event taking place anywhere in the Cariboo – going mainly to see what the horses were like. He and wife Caroline were steady visitors to the stockyards on sale day as well.

Ray and Caroline became a partnership in 1960 and they raised four children together, Valerie, Carey, Lorna and Avon Isnardy. The couple lived in various locations in the area, before settling in at Springhouse. Ray worked in the mill and Caroline worked at home. It is a bit of a family joke that Caroline milked the cows while Ray pulled up a chair to watch. They gathered wood together, also, Ray fired up the chainsaw, cut the tree and bucked it – then would hang about while Caroline spilt and loaded it – then they would drive home where Caroline would unload and stack it. There was no arguing with the fact that Ray had chosen well when he took Caroline as his wife. They were partners for 46 years.

Ray choosing to live at Springhouse was no coincidence; the place was in his blood. It was a location that his maternal family had homesteaded early in the 1900’s. His father Bill was one of the long-time Isnardy of Chimney Creek clan – a grandson (Bill) was to the first Amadee (Amadeus) Isnardy (Isnardi).

His mother, Jessie (nee Johnston) was from one of the first white families to settle in the Springhouse area, she came there, as a very small child with her family all the way from Missouri, U.S. in 1913.

Bill and Jessie met up in the late 20s; two children were born during their brief time together, Bertha (Fletcher) and Ray. Sadly, Jessie died in 1934 when Ray was only three. For a time, Jessie’s mother, Maggie Johnston looked after the children, Bill tried to keep his family together. But young Ray, with whom school never agreed, kind of roamed ‘from home to home’ until he was where he wanted to be staying. He spent a lot of time in the home of Alfred and Minnie Bowe at Springhouse, where the guest ranch is today. Ray also stayed at the Alkali Lake Reserve often and hung around down at the ranch.

As children Ray, Jimmy and Cherie Harris, Myra and Sophie Riedemann used to play together a lot. In a conversation with Myra recently, she remembered that whenever children from outside the ranch, especially boys, came to play, they always wanted to ride something. Their targets, based on availability, were either the milk cows or the pigs.

Ray’s pleasure in life was horses; he ate, slept, lived, dreamed and breathed horses. He liked wild ones, saddle horses, bucking broncs – any kind of a horse with four legs and he rode most all types of them in his lifetime. There was no better fun for Ray than chasing and trying to capture wild horses. He and his friend, David Maurice and others spent many hours in the bush chasing those wild ponies. Sometimes he’d come home after a 4 p.m. to 12 a.m. shift at the mill and head directly out to chase horses.

Horseback training began early for the youngster. His father Bill used to break horses and he had Ray to look after while he did it – so he would sit Ray on one horse and he would tie it to the one he was riding (to train) so he could keep track of Ray. There were some wild rides for that little Isnardy boy. Ray attended virtually no school at all; somehow the truant officers never noticed that the Isnardy boy was missing.

One of his first ‘real’ jobs was haying, but he soon gave that up in favor of cowboy work and riding saddle bronc horses (the latter took him all over North America). He cowboy’d on most of the big ranches of B.C. during the 1940s and 50s; Alkali Lake, Circle S Ranch, Quilchena, Douglas Lake, Nicola, Stump Lake and Froleks. He also worked frequently for stock contractors, including Dave Perry and Ronnie Gottfriedson.

Ray loved to ride saddle bronc horses and he did it for years and years. He won the Williams Lake Stampede two years in a row in the late 40s or early 50s. In fact from the time he could walk, Ray had never missed a single Williams Lake Stampede, either attending as a competitor or spectator.

He travelled throughout Canada and the U.S. to ride those bucking horses, for several summers in a row; he travelled South to the U.S. for the entire summer to rodeo. He went with a friend named Emory Lewis (his wife, Lucy) – others joined them on occasion. Emory was the financial man, Ray rode the Broncs – Emory did the entering, paid the fees, fueled the car and made sure that they ate.

Ray continued to ride saddle broncs well into the late 70s (age 45-46) but not without paying a very physical price. He broke at one time or another almost everything there was to break. Ray had his ear was ripped off by a saddle bronc horse’s foot, Ray was down and the horse’s hoof landed on Ray’s ear, the twisting motion as the bronc took off – removed Ray’s ear. He broke both arms (one at the Calgary Stampede), destroyed the socket of one hip and suffered many small injuries too numerous to mention. As a young man he survived a bout with TB that was bad enough that he had to be sent to the sanatorium in Vancouver for a time.

Caroline says: “If Ray got hurt anywhere it was a debate as to who should be called, a doctor or a welder! He had so many screws, bolts and bits of steel holding him together that a welder should probably have been first choice. It’s a good thing he never flew because I’m certain that every alarm, bell and whistle in the airport security section would have blew when Ray went through.”

Ray’s time as a rodeo cowboy was spent having a good time, smoking, drinking, carousing with friends – riding many a Bronc, both real and imaginary and traveling endless miles. There was an always a lot of action and adventure taking place. When his group of fellow cowboys were in Williams Lake, the Lakeview was the place of choice for beverages and fun and talk.

Ray used to tell the story of one night when the ‘fun’ in the Lakeview escalated in to their being asked to leave the premises, but they thought their fun was harmless and they didn’t really want to go when asked. In the end – they were physically removed (the police were called). As Ray told it, ‘a bit of a melee erupted during that process and in the scuffle one of the policemen was hit by one of the subjects being evicted’.

Ray says: “When the dust settled there were quite a few of us in jail, and we were sentenced to 30 days for being drunk and disorderly. The jail in town couldn’t hold us all for that long, so they flew us down to Oakalla to do our thirty days – one of the toughest prisons in North America. We did our 30 and then they gave us a few cents and dropped us all off in Skid Row in Vancouver. Us broke Cariboo boys had to find our own way home from there.”

Ray cowboy’d around for years, then in the late 50s he took a sawmill job with Gene Johnson over at Riske Creek, the beginnings of a career that lasted the rest of his working life. In 1965 he signed on with Merrill and Wagner sawmill, staying (Weldwood) until he retired in the early 1990s, more than 25 years later. ‘Coyote,’ as the mill boys always called him, was given a great sendoff and Ray was looking forward to retirement. No, not really – now he just had more time to do what he loved, which was embedded in his heart and soul, he rode horses and he cowboy’d. First he worked for his Springhouse neighbor, Eric Stafford, then later Corinna Thompson and Duff Gunderson, of Carmelita Lake Ranch, Springhouse.

Corinna comments, “You knew how long or short the day’s ride with Ray was going to be by checking out Ray’s cigarette supply. (He was a heavy smoker for years before quitting in 2002) – lots of cigarettes, very long ride – very few cigarettes, very short ride.”

Ray was still riding the range with Corinna up until last year when he was diagnosed with cancer at 73.

Corinna says: “You’d have thought at his age some of those old injuries, which were pretty bad would have begun to ache and make him unable to put in such long days in the saddle. If they did, he never complained about it, or he just loved to ride so much that he did anyway. I’ll miss my riding partner a lot, he taught me so much and I still had more to learn.”