The inexorable hands of time pause for no man, longevity is the only method of delaying the inevitable parting from this Earth but on Aug. 19, 2011 the sands of time finally trickled away for William (Bill) H. Stafford, when he passed away at the age of 90 at Cariboo Memorial Hospital.
Thus the Cariboo was forced to bid farewell to another old-timer, one more broken link in the rusty old chain that links us to our pioneer past.
Although a considerable time has passed since his death, as a community we would be remiss in not acknowledging him on these pages, as, in the process of living his long life, raising his family and working within the farming/ranching industry Bill found time to make numerous valuable social, community, civic and provincial contributions as a volunteer, committee member or director.
Bill was born and raised on Springhouse Prairie, a member of our earliest Cariboo pioneer families; it was in 1916 that his father George pre-empted his first acreage on Springhouse Prairie.
Due to the nature of his upbringing there, his longevity of life and the experiences gathered therein, his memories of those bygone days are a vital legacy for those he left behind, a treasury of a historic period in the Cariboo.
He was born of an era when survival and providing for one’s own consumed most of one’s time, hauling water, sawing, gathering and splitting wood for fuel/heat, feeding/raising livestock, growing, harvesting and preserving grain/fruit/vegetables and more ate up all the daylight hours and then some.
It was a time in which physical chores took longer to accomplish; there were no electrical power/lights, power equipment or motor vehicles. Back then a trip to town was a carefully planned, hugely exciting excursion made only a few times a year. It was a four-hour journey via team and wagon, one way, from the Stafford family home on Springhouse Prairie in to Williams Lake.
In many families, each passing generation is chuckled at for their propensity of telling the younger family members, just how easy they have it now. Bill was no different, regaling his grandchildren with the reality story of how he had to get to school, either on foot, on horseback or riding in a horse-drawn cart or sleigh, in sub-zero temperatures in the winter, fighting the nasty, biting wind that whipped across the breadth of the Springhouse Prairie.
Often they travelled through snow that was so deep upon the ground that “we could walk along the top rail of the Russell fence,” barely visible in the winter landscape.
In contrast, his grandchildren rode in a school bus, boarding daily at the end of their driveway, travelling in comfortable warmth. Grandpa Bill would, however, concede that although daily chores are much easier now, life has become ever more complicated.
William was raised on Springhouse Prairie, the baby in a family with seven children. Bill and the next youngest, Edna, were born at Springhouse; Evelyn the eldest in England; Fred and Lloyd in Regina, Sask.; and Ethel and George in Newton, B.C.
Their father George (wife, Edith) was a market gardener in England but worked any job he could find after arrival in Canada (1906), not truly happy in the other occupations.
But after settling in Springhouse (1916) he was able to resume his much-loved occupation as a market gardener; he made his living, selling his goods/produce door-to-door. He travelled from his Springhouse homestead, to Williams Lake, selling from the back of his wagon.
Each member of the family pitched in to help, doing whatever job they were able to, according to age and capability. After George (father) passed away in 1931, Bill’s eldest brother Fred took over as head of the household/farm.
Bill was content living at home, venturing out socially on the odd occasion to a dance or, more likely, to play hockey in the winter or baseball in the summer. In both sports, he often played with a group of local lads and they would travel a bit, challenging teams in Williams Lake, Alkali Lake and Dog Creek.
It was at a hockey game in 1946 that Bill, at age 26, made the acquaintance of a young lady, Dorothy Berryl Wilde. They shared a mutual love for the sport. Bea, as she was called, had come to work, as a nurse in the Williams Lake Hospital. She stayed nearly a year before moving to Victoria in 1947 to take a job as a maternity nurse. While there, Bea worked her weekdays in Victoria, then spent her weekends working in Vancouver (Essondale) nursing soldiers returning home from the Second World War. In 1948 Bea relocated back to her family home in Oliver.
During the war years Bill (ineligible/agricultural status) served with the Rocky Mountain Rangers as a member of the national defense troop. They met monthly for rifle practice at the Dog Creek base/airfield.
Bill had been bitten, or smitten, by the love bug once he met Bea. He was finally able to marry his gal on May 9, 1949 in Oliver.
The newlyweds returned to Springhouse where they lived for a short time with Bill’s mother while the house Bill had started to build in 1947 and was finally completed later in 1949.That home was the centre of their family life, a busy hub that got busier during elections, when it served as the polling station. The couple went about the business of ranching and in time, were blessed by the births of four children; Betty (1952), Elaine (1954), Bill Jr. (1956) and Fred (1964).
They resided at Springhouse until 1956 when Bill Sr. purchased the Chimney Creek Ranch on Highway 20 (bottom of the A and P Hill) from Pudge and Georgina Moon. Bill Sr. loved cattle and horses; he was always, unashamedly and unapologetically, a Hereford man at heart. He started his Hereford herd in 1947 at Springhouse, signing up that same year (1947) as a registered member of the Canadian Hereford Association, a belonging that would last his life time. On the 50-year anniversary of his membership Bill was recognized by the Canadian Hereford Association in a special presentation at the Williams Lake Bull Show and Sale (April 1997).
Bill acquired most of his early seed stock (Hereford) cattle from Earl Spencer, Gard Boultbee and Alex Turner. He had tremendous pride in his Hereford herd and from the very start, delighted in entering cattle shows and agricultural fairs, competing as much for the pride of it, as for anything else (ribbons, trophies or prize monies). He was often successful. Records show wins as early as Oct. 16, 1947 when Bill was awarded the Bank of Commerce trophy for the Class of five/finished steers (he edged out Alkali Lake Ranch for top-honours).
In 1948 Bill added more hardware to his trophy case taking first/five finished steers (under a 1,000 pound/class) and second/five finished steers (more than 1,000 pound/class).
When he first trailed his herd over the mountain from family homestead to his new ranch, it numbered 15 in total; in later years his Chimney Creek Ranch herd total-number fluctuated, lowering and rising according to conditions. The high was 250 cows.
Bill always ran a small registered Hereford herd along with his commercial cow herd; he championed the breed his whole lifelong. In the latter years, however, he came to appreciate the Angus breed as well, recognizing the advantages to be gained with the introduction of a little Angus blood to the mix (Stafford cow herd).
Living a rural life with four children and having a prior affinity (Bill) for showing cattle, it seemed a natural progression for the children to join 4-H. When Betty signed up as a Springhouse 4-H pre-club member in the early 1960s, it was an involvement that drew in the whole family; Bill (Sr.) and Bea supported 4-H in every way possible.
Bill’s belief in the value of the program, his dedication to it and to the many children who joined 4-H never wavered. He was a 4-H parent, a 4-H leader and an avid 4-H supporter to his dying day, which in an odd twist of fate occurred right at the beginning of 4-H week, 2011.
Family involvement has not lessened over the intervening half a century since he began as Bill’s children and grandchildren now carry on as a family of volunteers. Their dedication is such that even the Celebration of Life/ graveside ceremony for Bill on Aug. 23 was scheduled to avoid conflict for those participating/volunteering in the 4-H events being held that day.
Back in the day (starting in the mid-1960s) Bill Sr.’s children were able to choose a 4-H animal from the family herd.
The price was always good, but you had to answer to dad if the animal was not given proper care, and they gathered their fair share of trophies with those animals.
It began with Elaine winning Grand Champion Steer (1966); her sister Betty won the Reserve Grand Champion Steer ribbon that year, as well the sister-duo took the same places in the Showmanship category for 1966; Elaine, first; Betty, second.
Over the years, the Stafford youngsters accumulated many prizes and awards. Then, years later, Bill’s cattle; four Stafford steers (individually owned by a group of 4-H youngsters) won the Best Group of Four Steers trophy (2000) for the Springhouse 4-H Club. The Stafford family 4-H trophy collection swelled when the third generation of Stafford 4-Hers (Bill’s grandchildren) took to the ring; daughter Elaine’s children Marina, Naomi and Regan Cawley, and Bill Jr.’s offspring Ross, James and Connie Lynn Stafford. Before long, the fourth generation will be proudly leading Stafford-bred cattle through the 4-H show ring.
Bill’s preferred 4-H emphasis was focused on the children learning good animal husbandry skills, but he also recognized the value of the public speaking, demonstration and other sectors of 4-H for rural youth. He was always positive, giving freely of his knowledge and learned experience in the cattle industry to any child who asked for help and always, kindly sold prospect animals from his herd.
Besides 4-H, family fun/recreation (Springhouse years and afterward) was pretty much self-made, no matter what the season, with skating, pond hockey, summer ball games, fishing (often with Clark Tucker Sr. and family) and food gathering (berry picking, fishing and hunting) being popular activities. With ranchlands bordering the Fraser River, Bill was in close proximity to First Nations fishing spots; he observed (and much admired) the art of dip-netting salmon and the skill in which the multitudes of fish were carefully preserved (smoked/dried) for winter use.
Stampede events and the social gatherings that went hand-in-hand with it were always highlights in the year.
Days on the ranch were never done, yet Bill still made time in support of social/civic causes; he was a founding member of BC Livestock Co-op.
The cooperative came into existence to provide a fair-selling venue for local cattlemen, a market place where the rancher was not at the mercy of a single cattle buyer on a given day.
In the early 1960s Bill took responsibility for a petition calling for rural electrification in the Cariboo-Chilcotin, a bulky sheaf of paperwork that he carted near and far as he endeavored to gather the required number of signatures needed for the residents to obtain the right to obtain access to single-phase power.
Daughter Elaine remembers many family signature-gathering expeditions, as well the head shaking naysayers who never believed that Bill would get enough people to sign (in order to push it into reality).
Later, Bill campaigned for the upgrade to three-phase power, enabling him and others to run big irrigation pumps on their hay lands.
Also, in the early years, Bill took it upon himself to make water storage improvements all the way up the natural watercourse of Chimney Creek (back to Brunson, Felker and Chimney Lakes) working with other ranchers and stakeholders to ensure a steady-reliable water source (in the days when such involvement was not illegal) for all of them.
Bill was a constant champion of the agricultural lifestyle, his entire life-long he fought fiercely to protect the ranch and the wildlife –— in spite of the havoc and damage wildlife sometimes invoked on his operation (fences, stack yards, hay fields, etc.).
Yes, there were some CRD officials, government employees and politicians who might have wished for invisibility when they saw Bill advancing! He was tenacious when battling an issue that was threatening the health and welfare of his livestock, the wildlife and/or the grasslands.
Bill lost his beloved wife Bea in 2002, but he carried stalwartly onward without her, living alone in their home beside Highway 20 until 2007 when he moved across the road to live with his son Bill and his wife, Lynn.
In 2011 poor health finally forced him from his beloved Chimney Creek Ranch, but he was fortunate to be able to return to his old Springhouse family homestead, owned by his daughter, Elaine and her husband, Cliff Cawley, where he resided until his passing.