Bernie was born on January 2, 1932, the first of five children. It was the time of the Depression. Our parents, like most farm families struggled through the destitution of those years. They were determined to see that their children received an education so they could have a better life.
The rural school, Ukraina, was just a quarter of a mile from our house. He completed grade nine there. Because there was no rural school bus service in those days he attended Lamont High while living in the dormitory for three years. In 1950, for the first time, there was bus service available to Mundare high school but he had to walk two miles to catch the bus. (He needed to make up some credits in order to matriculate and get his high school diploma.) He graduated June of 1951.
It was in the spring of 1951 that we had an intense snow storm, as intense a snow storm as I had ever seen. Strong northwest winds piled drifts of heavy wet snow as high as the roof line of the old farmhouse. And the house had nine-foot ceilings. That morning, Mom warned him not to attempt to make the two-mile trek to catch the school bus. But he was no sissy. He was going to get to school. He made it just past the gate when he realized that trying to go further was futile, one of the few times he had to concede that someone was right.
After finishing high school, he took a job at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce in Mundare for a few months. When he learned of a job with the Department of Highways through a neighbour, he hired on. He joined a survey crew as a rodman and thus began his lifelong career in land surveying. He later enrolled in the land surveying program at SAIT (this was about the same time as Bob Baker, Hugh Impey and Dick Armfelt were at school there). Upon graduation, he articled to D. Rae Sutherland and then joined the firm of Hamilton & Olsen. He obtained his Alberta Land Surveyor commission in 1961. The same year, he became a Canada Lands Surveyor and, in 1965, became a Saskatchewan Land Surveyor.
During those years, I was in my teens and was the designated family letter writer. I would sit at the kitchen table, pen in hand while Mom told me what news and information to pass on. I sent letters to places like Sangudo, Oyen, Calgary, Dawson City, Watson Lake, Fort St. John, Dawson Creek, Slave Lake—you could say that Bernie had been everywhere. Sometimes he would send us pictures with his replies. I was thrilled to receive the batch of pictures from the Yukon that included a photo of the cabin of Robert Service.
After a time, he went into business with another land surveyor and Alberta Surveying Services was formed. He eventually bought his partner out and set up his own office on the upper floor of the building on the other side of 111th Avenue. Through good and the hard years that followed, he maintained the company single handedly. He had a contact in Chevron who directed projects his way. Sometimes he got jobs from Pearson or from Pacific. In later years, he kept working mostly on projects involving real estate transactions or the occasional wellsite near Wainwright. Sometimes he would take me along as his incompetent helper. He disbanded his company in 2007 at the tender age of 75.
Throughout his life he had a fascination with horses. It must have come quite naturally since he grew up in the days when money was scarce and farm tractors were scarcer. There is an old photo of him as a toddler holding the reins of horses that are hitched up to harrows as though he were out working the field. One summer, when he was home from high school, he decided he would train a skittish horse named Darky to be one he could ride horseback. He managed to get on and ride him for awhile. Just when he relaxed, thinking Darky was okay with being ridden, Darky bent his head forward and threw him. Bernie would have none of this. He got back on the horse and rode him hard all the six and a half miles to Mundare. I do not remember whether the relationship between the two of them improved after that, but it did not curb Bernie’s interest in horses or horse handling stories.
Bernie liked Mom’s borscht and he loved mustard pickles. It was a standing joke that whenever any of us came to visit Mom and Dad, the first thing we would do is lift the lid of the pot on the stove to see what was cooking. If Mom was expecting a visit from Bernie, the pot always contained borscht.
He enjoyed big band music, dancing and redheads. In his late thirties, he met Barbara Rendle at a dance. They married in 1970. Their only son, James, was born in 1972. Although Bernie and Barbara parted ways in 1990, they maintained contact until Barb passed away. She trusted his judgment and sense of fair play to the extent that she named him executor of her estate even after they were divorced. When our parents died, Bernie took responsibility for settling all the affairs. He took great pride in being able to settle the estates settled without any legal entanglements. His skill with mathematical concepts and attention to detail served him well in his work as well as in these situations.
After the divorce, while living as a single man again, he decided to bring some music into his life. He bought a saxophone and joined the Cosmopolitan Society. The saxophone and music stand became prominent fixtures in his living room. When I would drop by, I’d usually find him practicing an old standard from the forties.
He also took up gardening, raising his salad fixings: lettuce, cucumbers, onion, potatoes, tomatoes, peas. But corn proved to be a challenge. On August 14, 2003, James and his partner Renae, gave Bernie the best gift a father can get, a grandson, a young man who goes by the name of Atom. We are not a demonstrative family, so it was always a delight to see Bernie’s face light up when Atom was around. He liked other little tykes, too. He enjoyed holding Braden, our niece Janine’s son, too.
When Renae and James suggested he move to Calgary to live with them after he disbanded his business, Bernie leaped at the chance to be near the loves of his life. He joined their household in November of 2008. They bought a bigger home together in Crossfield in 2009 where Bernie spent his remaining days taking Atom to school, playing cribbage at the Golden Key Club, taming Crossfield dirt for his garden and watching the televised hockey games. He did like the Oilers.
We met as a family for the last time on Good Friday. He was very ill then, but very pleased that we were all there to share the day with him and his family. The next day he was admitted to Didsbury Hospital where he passed away on May 6th, 2011. If I were allowed to say only one thing of Bernie, it would be that he never lived a life of conspicuous consumption. When he needed a vehicle, equipment or furniture, he chose quality items. But they were necessities, not luxuries.