In his early days in the Cariboo John Roberts often flew his own plan in to remote ranches and guide-outfitting operations to care for sick or injured animals.

Flying veterinarian and historian will be missed

The Cariboo lost a great link to the past with the passing of Dr. John Roberts on Nov. 6, 2013.

The Cariboo lost a great link to the past with the passing of Dr. John Roberts on Nov. 6, 2013.

He died quietly at home sitting in his favourite chair, 10 days after celebrating his 91st birthday.

John was born in Melbourne, Australia on Oct. 27, 1922.

He left high school with a Grade 10 education to join the Australian Armed Forces when the Second World War erupted.

After two years at the Royal Australian Military College he joined the air force and learned to fly de Havilland Tiger Moths and twin engine Avro Anson bombers over the Indian Ocean.

He was deployed to England towards the end of the war, arriving a week after D-Day in mid-June 1944, and spent his military career flying about a dozen different planes as they came out of the factory.

After the war he returned to Australia, but saw no future for himself there.

In 1952 he immigrated to Canada, and managed to finish three years of high school in 16 weeks. He then enrolled in the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph and supported himself as a student on weekends by training pilots for the Royal Canadian Air Force flying Chipmunk airplanes. He also worked part time for a local veterinarian.

John met Anna Brown on a blind date while still a student. Anna was doing research in plant pathology for the federal government in Ottawa, and when John graduated in 1958, they were married.

On their honeymoon the couple headed west to British Columbia to look for a place where John could set up a veterinary practice. On Anna’s insistence they drove north to the Cariboo to have a look at the migratory birds she heard often stop near Williams Lake.

When John learned there was no veterinary service north of Kamloops, he decided to set up his practice in Williams Lake and try it out for a year. The couple rented two rooms on North Lakeside – one room to live in and the other for a veterinary clinic – and John literally hung up his shingle along Highway 97.

When they bought some property at the end of South Lakeside, John began building their house and veterinary clinic there.

He would paddle his canoe across the lake and use binoculars to keep an eye on his clinic back home.

If a customer came by Anna would hang up a white sheet, and John would paddle back across the lake to perform his veterinary duties.

John was paid by the government to inoculate cattle for brucellosis and test for tuberculosis on ranches across the region from Clinton to Quesnel, and Horsefly to Anahim Lake.

He quickly learned that the easiest way to get around the vast Cariboo Chilcotin was by plane.

In 1959 he bought a Piper Super Cub and used skis, floats or wheels as the seasons determined to make his house calls, and John became known as the flying veterinarian.

It was while visiting the ranching families across the region that John gained a passion for local history. While administering to the veterinary needs of the ranches, John spent many hours asking questions and learning the family legacies of the early settlers.

In the course of his 55 years in the region, he amassed an extensive resource of documents, photographs, historical records, books and knowledge.

Besides his own personal collection, John spearheaded the creation of the Williams Lake Archives in the local library and wrote two books on the history of the region.

In 1999 he self-published the limited edition book Cariboo: An Historical Narrative, after researching several months in the London archives and reading the journals and diaries of people who had come to British Columbia. Prior to that he published a small booklet in 1979, Cariboo Chronicles, to commemorate Williams Lake’s golden jubilee.

In 1977 John was appointed coroner for the Cariboo Chilcotin region, and served in this capacity until 1987. He ended his veterinary practice in 1982 and this allowed him more time to pursue his love of history.

John was well known for his wry wit and dry humour, and delighted in telling stories with a play on words that often left the listener wondering whether the story was fact or fiction. He was an avid reader and took special delight in finding bargains in the Salvation Army thrift store.

John is survived by his wife, Anna, of 55 years, and three children, son, Kim, and daughters Naomi and Gina. He was also extremely proud of his six grandchildren, Ian, Alison, Graham, Tamias, Elliot and Hillary.

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