Special to the Tribune
Ruth and Jim Fraser have contributed to the betterment of Williams Lake for nearly 60 years. Jim served on city council for 13 years (1965-1978) – six of them as mayor (1972-1978). Ruth did her part giving fitness instruction to seniors, teaching skiing and working with the Stampede Queen Committee.
Jim discovered “small-town British Columbia” while serving in the Royal Canadian Navy in Prince Rupert. He joined the navy in January 1945 and received an honourable discharge in 1952 with the rank of Petty Officer Stoker Mechanician.
In Prince Rupert Jim experienced the intimacy of a small community and it was something he wouldn’t forget.
“You could walk around Vancouver for days and not see a person you knew, but in Rupert you couldn’t go down the street without saying hi to fifty people.”
Jim settled in Vancouver once he left the navy, and on August 9th, 1957, he married the love of his life, Ruth Johansen. He says this was the highlight of his life.
Two years later Ruth’s brother-in-law, Dick Chappell, invited Jim to go into partnership with him in a service station in Williams Lake. Jim welcomed the opportunity to once again live in a small town.
“When we arrived in Williams Lake between Christmas and New Years in 1959, it was minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit,” Jim says. “My poor wife was about ready to turn around and go back to the Lower Mainland.”
Despite her misgivings, Ruth persevered, and says she has no regrets.
Jim and Dick named their business DJ Sales and Service, and put in long hours to make a go of it.
“It seemed we were always short half a man,” Jim says. “We did a lot of sixteen-hour days because we couldn’t afford to hire extra help.”
Jim soon got involved in community life and began serving on the town’s recreation commission. That’s where he whet his appetite for local politics.
“I was lobbying council for changes needed in the community when someone suggested I run for council. So I did. I got on council in 1965. Herb Gardner was the town’s first mayor. He was a great guy, a solid man and he mentored me.”
Herb put Jim in charge of parks and recreation.
“We did a fair amount of tree planting to beautify the streets and the graveyard, planting mountain ash and flowering cherry trees.”
These species were ideal for boulevards because their root structure didn’t impact water and sewer lines running underground and their branches created canopy tunnels over the streets. Half a century later many of those trees are still growing strong.
In 1968 Jim was named president of the Northern BC Municipal Association. Then in 1972 when Herb Gardner retired, Jim was elected mayor of Williams Lake. That year he was elected to the executive of the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM). He became UBCM vice-president in 1977 and president in 1978.
Jim’s penchant for leadership showed itself early. The minister who performed his and Ruth’s wedding convinced him to become a cub master. Jim welcomed the opportunity to influence young people in a positive way.
“One day one of the young cubs came up to me and said a couple of the other kids were out in the back alley smoking. I decided to take a negative approach to this. Around the campfire at the end of the session I told the boys that it was OK to smoke if you don’t want to be an athlete or grow up to be strong and healthy. Then by all means go ahead and smoke.”
When Jim got home that night the phone rang. It was one of the mothers who asked if he had given a little talk about smoking. Jim admitted he had. Then the mother said her son just woke up crying, saying he would never do it again.
A few years later after the Frasers had moved to Williams Lake, Jim was the District Commissioner for Boy Scouts. At a Scouts jamboree in Lac La Hache a young man came up to him and said, “You don’t recognize me Mr. Fraser, but I was in your cub group in Vancouver. Do you remember the night you gave a little speech about smoking? I was the one who woke up crying. You know, I’ve never smoked since.”
In their later years Jim and Ruth got into downhill skiing. They first got interested in the sport when their children, Colleen and Scott, were involved in a school ski program at the old ski hill north of Williams Lake where Nanqayni Wellness Centre is today.
“The extent of our skiing at that time was point ‘em downhill and hope you get to the bottom,” Jim chuckles.
When the Frasers took a ski holiday to Silver Star Mountain near Vernon, the five-day package came with ski lessons. Jim noticed an instructor going down the hill with a bevy of young kids behind him, and this piqued his interest in becoming a ski coach.
“They were just whooping and hollering and having a great time. I said to Ruth, if I ever got the chance, I’d sure like to coach kids skiing.”
Jim was 65 when he took a ski coaching course at Mt. Timothy and earned his Level One instructor’s rating.
“By taking the course you have to show kids, not tell them what to do, so it made my own skiing a whole lot better.”
Ruth was 69 years old when she got her Level One instructor’s ticket, and joined her husband teaching kids on the slopes.
“Working with kids has got to be one of the great pleasures of life,” Jim reflects.
He remembers one young girl having a particularly difficult time starting out.
“She and her mother were both in tears and I asked her mother to leave her with me for an hour. I showed her how to fall and how to get up. We laughed and giggled, and she was fine.”
At the end of several weeks training, Jim says the young girl came ripping down through the race gates full of confidence and never fell once.
“She came over and jumped up on me and said, ‘I did it Jim!’ I told her, ‘Yes you did. Remember when you first started how upset and afraid you were? But you conquered it all by yourself. So you know when you go into a new school, or a new job, or into a big test, you can overcome.’ She looked me square in the eye and said, ‘You know, you are right!’“
In 1995 Jim became Mt. Timothy Ski Society’s first president at a critical time in the ski hill’s development. He helped transform it into a vibrant community-owned facility.
Fundraising to support the hill was done through dinner auctions in 100 Mile House and Williams Lake.
“The competition between the two communities was very stiff. It was hard to beat 100 Mile even though it was a much smaller community.”
He says the merchants were very generous donating fabulous items for the auction and people didn’t mind spending money because it was going to stay in the community.
Under Jim’s watch the chairlift from Mt. Washington was purchased and shipped from Vancouver Island to Mt. Timothy. “We bought the chairlift for the price of taking it down.”
It took two or three years to get the new chairlift operational, but Jim says the public got behind it. “There was no end to the volunteers and people were very generous.”
He said each of the nine or ten poles that held the chairlift was purchased by supporters for $10,000 and each of the 140 chairs sold for $500.
Now both in their 90s, Jim and Ruth have much to be proud of. Ruth has taught exercise classes for seniors for 40 years and instructed skiing until she was 83.
Years ago she started the Stampede Queen training program. Before that the queen contestant who sold the most tickets won the crown.
Jim has a long list of honours and accomplishments that include serving on the board of the Williams Lake & District Credit Union; serving as president of the now defunct Kiwanis Club; and volunteering for the Hough Memorial Cancer Society for 46 years. In 2004 he received a British Columbia Achievement Award and was named Williams Lake citizen of the year. In 2012 he was a recipient of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal.