Betty Frank learned to hunt and fish as a girl, but it isn’t every little girl who can parlay those skills into a career as a big game guide.
Like many people in the Cariboo, author Sage Birchwater had heard about Frank’s exploits as a sled dog racer, guide outfitter and cedar shake contractor, but he had never actually met her until she contacted him about The Squaw Hall Project which he had written about for the Tribune.
“I kept hearing about Squaw Hall: A Community Remembers,” says Frank, who had run the old Squaw Hall in its early years.
After that initial contact Birchwater and Frank met numerous times to record her incredible story in a new book called The Legendary Betty Frank, the Cariboo’s Alpine Queen.
Frank says she had other ideas about what the title should be – Grizzly Bears and Bikinis being her favourite — but her publisher at Caitlin Press had the final say.
The editor also filtered out some of the racier and potentially libelous stories, admits Frank.
One of those racier stories that made it into the book is about the time Frank literally lost her bikini when the dog sled she was driving tipped over and the dogs dragged her through spring snow and mud. Wilderness or not, Frank took every opportunity to suntan on sunny days.
A failed grizzly bear hunt is central to another of her many adventures. Although the hunter didn’t catch a bear on their hunt together, she says the hunter wrote and asked her to send her a stuffed bear because he had told his friends he had got a bear and they wanted proof. So she got a bear from a local taxidermy and sent it to the hunter.
“I got more hunters from that story than almost anywhere,” Frank says.
Frank and Birchwater will be at the Williams Lake Library this Thursday, Nov. 24 at 7 p.m. in the main library. Frank’s old friend and employee, Murray Boal, who is a well-known Cariboo musician and songwriter, will also be there to sing the song he wrote about working for Frank.
The event will include story-telling and a slide show of Frank’s colourful life, says Birchwater.
Growing up in isolated Owen Bay, just off Sonora Island, and taking farm jobs on Vancouver Island in her teens, Frank says she realized that becoming a teacher or nurse would be her ticket into the wilderness where she could pursue her dream of becoming a guide outfitter.
One of the amazing stories in her book is about how she nearly died rowing a boat home through treacherous ocean waters to ask her father if she was Catholic. If she was Catholic (she was) then she could get a job at a Catholic school on Vancouver Island and finish high school and then earn her teaching certificate.
“I lived where the only transportation was by boat. You couldn’t even run away from home,” Frank says. “That’s what the whole book is about, how crazy I am. When I wanted to do something I did it.”
Several years after starting her teaching career, getting married and giving birth to five children in rapid succession, Frank met game guide Alfred Bowe and began what would become a five-decade long dream career as game guide, sled dog racer, and for a time, shake manufacturer.
She says her children all helped out with the family businesses and played in a family band while growing up.
“They are all very musical,” Frank says.
In researching her story, and meeting the family, Birchwater says he was impressed with how Frank has maintained good relationships with her ex-husband and subsequent former boyfriends, and how normal all of their children are despite their unconventional upbringing.
“It’s been fun trying to ferret out her stories,” Birchwater says.
Frank, who turned 80 this summer, now shares her time between Quadra Island, and a lodge and cabin on Quesnel Lake where she once guided, trapped and cut shakes years ago.
Birchwater says he and Frank recently finished a mini book tour in the Chilcotin and will also be at Save On Foods for a book signing Friday, Nov. 25 from 1 to 4 p.m. and later Friday evening at the Likely Hilton from 6 to 9 p.m. in Likely.
The book tour will continue north to Quesnel (Nov. 26 and 29) and Prince George (Nov. 28) and will conclude in 100 Mile House (Nov. 30).