Special to the Tribune Advisor
There are sometime volunteers, regular volunteers, and special volunteers.
Tom Curtis is one of the latter. If you’ve been to the Royal Canadian Legion on Barnard Street in the last decade or so you have likely seen him busy at one task or another.
He is always there to help with whatever is needed, be it kitchen duty, setting things up for events, or fixing things. If you ever visited or attended an event at the Museum of the Cariboo Chilcotin when it was located on Fourth Avenue, you would have seen him there too.
He volunteered for more than 20 years at the museum. Along with serving on the board of directors as vice-president, president and chair of different committees, and doing the usual volunteer tasks, he added some extras, like providing room and board for a summer student and checking out the museum building in the middle of the night after responding to a burglar alarm call.
He was awarded a Lifetime membership for his contributions.
Tom was born and raised in Williams Lake. Both his parents came from pioneer families. His grandfather Harry, a founding father of Williams Lake city, came to Ontario from England with his parents in the early1880s. He came west at an early age and had a pack train between Calgary and the Yukon.
On one trip through the Cariboo, he met Julia Dussault, the daughter of Cariboo pioneer Joseph Dussault, and that prompted him to move to the Cariboo to stay. He and Julia were married at St. Josephs Mission in 1903.
They first lived near the Fraser River where Chilcotin travellers often stopped overnight. Harry was a foreman on the construction of the Fraser River (Sheep Creek) bridge in 1904, and after that he became foreman at the Alkali Lake Ranch.
Their eight children learned all about horses at the ranch, and four of them, Marvin, Olive (Ollie Norberg /Matheson), Ray and Colin, became stampede stars. They competed in the riskiest rides and all four were named lifetime members of the Williams Lake Stampede.
In 1920 Harry moved the family to Williams Lake where he built a house and a sawmill on what is now West Ridge Estates. The mill provided lumber for homes and businesses in the growing village, and for a new family home on Second and Borland.
The mill burned down in 1923, and Julia died that same year, leaving Harry and 14 year-old Olive to raise the younger children. Harry rebuilt the mill but sold it in 1929 and took the job as road foreman for the provincial Public Works Department.
Harry belonged to the Masonic Lodge and he was always interested in community affairs. He was on the provisional board that planned the inauguration of the village in 1929, and was one of the first Village Commissioners.
He also helped build the first hospital. When he retired he took up prospecting and staked some mines, but that did not end well. He and his partner drowned in a boating accident while exploring in the Mahood area. He was buried in Williams Lake in 1936.
Harry’s son Ray, Tom’s dad, was a top rodeo contender in his early days. He worked at Harry’s sawmill as a lad, then bought it back into the family in 1937.
He worked with survey crews in different areas, providing the horses and rigging needed for the work.
In 1942 he joined the Dominion Government crew constructing the telephone line from Williams Lake to Bella Coola. His horse Man-O-War was famous for his ability to pull telephone wire.
Ray married Dora Haller, whose family were pioneer ranchers/miners in the Cariboo/Lillooet area. Their wedding was the first in the Catholic church located where the Yorston clinic is now. In 1935 Ray built a home on Third Ave and Barnard St., now the site of the Legion.
The house is gone but the lilac bushes are still there. Tom and his five sisters and six brothers grew up in this house.
Along with the house in town, Ray had a homestead at Knife Creek. All the family helped with the chores there, which included tending a huge garden.
The entire Curtis clan enjoyed gatherings at the homestead. Among the attractions were Dora’s scrumptious meals — she’d never let anyone leave her house hungry.
Ray and Dora sold the house in town in the 1980s and lived on the Dog Creek Road for awhile before moving back to town. Ray died in May, 1991, shortly before their 60th wedding anniversary. He was 81. Dora spent her last days at the Senior’s village. She died in March, 2005 at age 92.
Tom is the tenth of the twelve children. He says it was a good position because he always had someone to hang out with. Back then, Williams Lake was a great place for children, the whole town was their playground in all seasons.
He went to Parkside Elementary school, where he took his turn getting the fires going in the morning and packing water. When he got home there were chores waiting for him there too.
He went to Williams Lake Elementary and Williams Lake Secondary. He was always interested in sports, particularly badminton and skiing, and he was known to be a really great dancer.
Tom’s first job for pay was at Lignums sawmill, and he was there for four years before going to Merrill Wagner (which became Weldwood then West Fraser.) He spent 43 years in the lumber industry. His fellow workers say he was “ the nicest guy you’ll ever meet or work with.”
Tom married in 1971, separated in 1992. He has two children, Daniel, who is principle of a school in Vernon, and Tracy, who lives with her husband Pete Kellet in Calgary. Tom has six grandchildren and he visits them as often as he can.
He takes time off from volunteering in the summer months and spends his time at his summer home at Canim Lake.
There he enjoys fishing and kayaking and just plain relaxing.
Tom takes things as they come. He lives by his mother’s philosophy— take one day at a time and always keep one foot on the ground.
The Curtis family has held a reunion in Williams Lake every five years since 1990. These events are larger as the years go by.