Gabe Pinette a century of building and striving

Gabe Pinette passed away at Cariboo Memorial Hospital on Jan. 23, 2013 at 101 years of age.

Gabe Pinette passed away at Cariboo Memorial Hospital on Jan. 23, 2013 at 101 years of age.

He moved to Williams Lake in 1953 and co-founded Pinette and Therrien Mills (P&T) and the town’s first fixed sawmill. Gabriel Joseph Alfred Toussaint Pinette was born Nov. 1, 1911 to Philomene and Felix Pinette on the first homestead near Ste. Amelie, Manitoba.

He was the fourth of 12 children and since there were six boys before a sister, Gabe’s mother taught him to knit to provide the growing family with socks, mitts and sweaters. Farming was hard and the children had to help as soon as they were able. Gabe recalled getting up at 5 a.m. to milk and then, alternating with his brother Fred, missing school to haul the milk to the cheese factory.

His formal schooling began at age seven and ended at age 12 when he hired out for work.

It was common for the times. Also common was not being permitted to speak his first language, French at school.

It made school harder, but being bilingual would help immensely as he moved his way across Canada.

Gabe recognized the hard work of his family to maintain the farm, especially during the Great Depression, which he always called the Hungry Thirties.

Even 80 years later, when thinking back to those days of no money and lost assets he was grateful for having had enough to eat. His appreciation for the land as provider was life-long.

On Oct. 12, 1938 Gabe married Annette Therrien. Her father had recently died from TB, leaving her with the responsibility of an ailing mother and young brother. Gabe took on this ready-made family and tiny farm, trying to provide for all. Their first child, Conrad, was born in 1939 and then Angela in 1941. By this time Gabe realized farming didn’t offer much of a future so they all moved to Hudson, Ontario where he worked in various mill camps. He logged with horses and ran equipment; he was a sawyer and camp operator; he travelled to work by bicycle; barge, bombardier and float plane. It is in Ontario that Jeanne was born in 1942 and twins, Harold and Gerard in 1945.

Forever seeking better employment, the family yo-yoed to St. Boniface, Manitoba where Gabe bought an ornament factory, then back to Ontario to haul wood and back again to Winnipeg to work in a pulp mill.

In 1951, they moved to Vancouver where Annette’s brother Dollard Therrien had settled. Gabe and his cousin Roger Therrien found work as log peelers, but the three men had other plans and soon purchased a portable mill. A sixth child, Gloria, was born in 1953, but Vancouver was not to be home. That fall they moved their mill through the Fraser Canyon, under the cover of darkness because authorities were questioning a lack of official papers. That was the birth of the “Gabe Permit”

When you just do what needs to be done.

The mill reached the 6 Mile Hill off the Old Soda Creek Road and the business of Pinette and Therrien began with a crew of four; three owners and one hired man operated for a year, logging with a team of horses. They added a planer and eventually transferred the operation to Glendale with a permanent mill in 1957.

Over the years, that site would house gang mills, planer mills, dimension mills, stud mills, chippers and dry kilns.

It encompassed businesses such as Gard Logging, A&J Trucking, mills at Puntzi and Silvacan Resources on Takla Lake, the latter to supply ties for the extension of B.C. Rail.

There were hundreds of employees who got their start and often spent their working years in Williams Lake because of the dreams of three farm boys from Manitoba.

Friends and relatives moved here for jobs which made it feel even more like a family business.

Gabe was a hands-on boss who could be seen anywhere at any time with his hard hat and his pipe. He respected hard workers like himself and had little tolerance for laziness or red tape.

While the mill was in its difficult infancy, Gabe was also busy building a three-bedroom house so his large family could move out of the shack that had been slapped together. A seventh child, Ronald, completed the family in 1961.

Gabe and Annette had always made frequent trips back home to Manitoba, but in the later 60s they began to see a little more of the world. Gabe’s favourite place was Las Vegas where he enjoyed testing his luck against the blackjack dealers.

He usually left them a “donation,” but sometimes came out ahead and earned the nickname Reverend Stardust. He never overcame the vice of gambling, but did learn to play within his means. He was up to $291 in cribbage wagers at the time of his passing, money he would have used to treat his family at Dairy Queen, a tradition he started in his 90s. He was very competitive at cards, just like his mother. Those poor, cold Manitoba winters were excellent for math.

In 1982, after a decade of partnership, P&T was sold to BC Forest Products. It has since passed through many hands and is presently owned by Tolko Industries.

When Gabe retired the first time, he and Annette built Panorama Trailer Park, living there until finding retirement property on the lake where he kept busy building a huge rock wall.

That completed, he bought a small ranch on the Likely Road. However, it wasn’t long before both were sold because of a desire to try farming again.

They moved to Beaverlodge, Alberta with three of their sons to raise wheat, barley, oats and canola. Gabe loved the challenge and hard work.

At the age of 87 he spent 17 hours a day driving his combine during harvest.

The farm was sold in 1999 and Gabe retired again. The couple returned to Williams Lake and settled in a tiny home with a wonderful view of the lake and valley they loved. Their son Gerard passed away in 2008 and Annette soon followed in 2009.

During those difficult years, Gabe took wonderful care of his beloved wife and became the shining light of his family.

In addition to hardship, Gabe overcame other difficulties in his long lifetime. He quit drinking at the age of 56 and quit smoking near 70.

He tossed his trademark pipe on his dashboard and said: “if other can do it, so can I.”

He was a man of determination. He was also a man of faith, always a Catholic parishioner and member of the Knights of Columbus wherever he lived.

With reluctance, Gabe relinquished his driver’s license at the age of 100.

He quietly accepted Deni House as his home and endeared himself there with his wit and good humour. The caring staff responded with kindness which is much appreciated by the whole family.

Gabe’s life is testimony to working hard, being tough, tackling challenges, sharing generously and teasing shamelessly.

He gave us examples of what to do, when to adapt and how to win at life with a 29 hand.

Gabe was predeceased by his wife of 70 years, Annette, in 2009; his son, Gerard, in 2008; and his son-in-law, Ken Mack, in 2011.

He is mourned by sons Conrad (Dorli), Harold and Ronald and by daughters Angels Justus (Harvey), Jean Mack and Gloria Kaufman (Ron). He leaves behind 16 grandchildren, 20 great-grandchildren and seven step-grandchildren.

He is survived by one brother, Jean Pinette (Aurore), and sisters, Cecile Tucker and Simone Rivard (Paul), all of Manitoba, and his many nieces, nephews, cousins and their families. Gabe had fond memories of relatives, friends and co-workers from across a century and appreciated the fullness of his busy life.