Day 200 - Doug (2nd person I approached)
July 19, 2014 - I’m big on numbers and significant milestones. I wondered what the day would bring me to mark or notate the 200th story in this project. It brought me to Doug and his wonderful story. Put the kettle on, sit back, relax and enjoy…
Doug was reading a newspaper and drinking a cup of coffee in the food court of a local shopping mall. He put down the section of the paper he was reading, listened to what I had to say and replied
“Sure, I don’t see why not,” when I asked him to chat with me. He folded the section of the newspaper he had been reading and laid it down on top of other sections of newspaper. Throughout our 45 minutes of conversation, he continued to use his hands to realign the paper’s sections, keeping them very neat and tidy. The entire time Doug was talking, I listened like a child listening to a fairytale being told by a great storyteller. And of course, I asked a lot of questions.
He was born into what he describes as a ‘middle class working family,’ here in Vancouver, BC (British Columbia).
“I have eight sisters, and one brother. I was number six of the ten children. I had six older sisters, and my father told me he broke the axle on the car rushing to the hospital to meet his first born son!” Doug said with a big smile.
“Whether that is true or not I don’t know, but my father always maintained that story.” Seven of his sisters have passed away with the most recent being last week.
“My last living sister has lung cancer. It’s surprising to me that all of the women have gone, and my brother and I are still here. I guess that’s just life,” he says quietly. Doug grew up in a large home situated on a double lot in Kerrisdale.
“We weren’t wealthy, and at that time not everyone who lived in Kerrisdale was. My father had been fortunate to barter with the family who owned the house. The owner was having trouble selling it and they ended up doing a house swap, with some cash added to complete the deal. The property had lots of Fir trees on it and it was an ideal place to grow up in a large family. There’s only twelve and a half years between the oldest and the youngest child, so we were a very close family. When I hear from people today that they’re not close with the family, I find it surprising. We grew up close and remained close all our lives,” he said.
“Of course being in a large family, we all had chores. It was always get your chores done before going out of the house to play. My sisters all had things to do around the house and we boys had outside chores. It taught us good skills and gave me a work ethic that stayed with me throughout my working life. All of my sisters became excellent cooks, bakers and are the best at canning fruit. My brother and I learned how to chop and stack firewood, prune trees and do household repairs.”
Doug got his first job working in a logging camp for the summer when he was seventeen.
“I had been to Pitt Lake (BC) with a couple of friends to check out where they said Slumach’s Gold was hidden (*Fact Check - see link below). I saw an advert in the paper looking for logging camp crew. I lied and said I was 18, even though I was only 17, and I told the man asking the questions that I had experience. He asked me all kinds of questions, and I said I had worked for BC Forestry Products at a camp located next to Pitt Lake. I had remembered the information from that trip with my buddies. I got the job, and made my way to Tahsis (on Vancouver Island). There weren’t any roads into Tahsis back then and I got a steam ship from Port Alberni to get there. It was a brand new mill and operation. Nine days after arriving, the mill caught fire and burned to the ground. The job was over. We had to wait two days for a boat to come and get us to take us home. I was devastated, it was my first job and I didn’t want to go home. I wanted to work.”
“There were some seasoned veteran loggers on the boat back and I got talking with them. They told me they were getting off the boat at Port Alberni and were going to hang around and try to get work at another camp. They invited me to stick with them. The next day I went along with them and when it came my turn to be ‘interviewed’ I used the same story about Pitt Lake. The man looked me up and down and told me I was pretty small and skinny, which I was. It worked again and I got hired. On my first day of work, I told the foreman that I had lied to get the job, that I was 17, and had no experience. His name was Slim Cahill. He looked right at me and said ‘Well, you’re about to get an experience alright.’ I worked hard. I was using a choker, a large cable that wraps around the end of the logs, but it was so big I could barely pick it up. Three days into the job, Slim called me over to tell me he could see I was struggling with the chokers, and that they were too big for a little guy like me. Then he had the blacksmith made me some custom chokers that were smaller and told me to pick the logs I could handle. He really took me under his wing and looked after me. Toward the end of the summer I got caught between a stump and a rolling log. My leg wasn’t broken but it was badly bruised. The camp medic looked at it. He didn’t think I needed to go to the hospital, saying that it was to be expected that it would be so badly bruised. I didn’t get much sleep that night and the other guys seemed to know that. When Slim heard the next morning that I had been injured, he came to check on me. The guys told him I’d had a rough night. Apparently he went right to the medic and physically grabbed him by the collar and held him up off the ground. He told him to get me to the hospital and that if anything happened to me, the medic wouldn’t need a hospital when Slim was finished with him. I went back home and spent the next three months on crutches.”
Once he finished school, Doug went back to logging camp.
“I worked in that same camp for the next two years. And Slim was always good to me,” said Doug.
“I was on the boat going home from Port Alberni. I had injured my hand and was going on compensation leave, and I ran into a fellow who would later become my brother-in-law. He said he was glad to see me, that he had some work for me. I told him I couldn’t work because of my injury, but he told me it was something I could do to help him out, and that the injury wouldn’t get in the way. He was a surveyor and had a job that he needed some help with. I said okay and worked with him for nine days. He taught me the basics of surveying and I thought no more of it,” said Doug. A number of weeks later, when Doug was suitably recovered from his injury, he was scanning the help wanted ads in the paper.
“I saw a posting looking for surveyors,” he said with a wry smile on his face.
“I went down for an interview. When the fellow asked me if I had any experience, I used the nine days that I had worked with my brother-in-law. Of course I didn’t say anything about my brother-in-law, and told them it was eight months. They wanted a reference so I gave them my brother-in-laws address and they wrote to him. He wrote me a reference, which I still have to this day, and I got the job!” he said laughing smugly.
“When I arrived on-site, I soon realized there was no way I could fake my way through this. Once again I went to the foreman and told him I had lied to get the job. I told him I only had nine days experience and just really needed the job. He took pity on me and said he’d teach me everything I needed to know. His name was Jim Flynn and he taught me so much, I’ll never forget him. Not only did he teach me to be a good surveyor, but he became my mentor. He taught me the technical skills but also taught me about decision making and when to call the shots. When some surveyors run into a problem, they call the head office, who then have to consult with another team and wait for answers, then relay the information. That could hold up a job site for days or weeks. Jim taught me to find the solution and then tell the office what we were doing, instead of asking what to do. That helped me out many times throughout my career. He wasn’t married and was completely dedicated to his work. One of the nicest and smartest guys I’ve ever met. Eventually he moved out east for work, and got married. I had a chance to thank him for everything he had done for me, and to tell him how much I appreciated him. I’m glad we had that talk,” he said.
Doug tried to resign at one point, wanting to work up north and they wouldn’t let him quit. Instead, they asked him where he wanted to work and then sent him to help build the mill and town at what is now Kitimat.
“I was very fortunate in my career. I’ve had a couple of incredible mentors that gave me so much knowledge and showed me so much kindness. I really think that it was my honesty that helped me out. The work was too risky to take chances. Being honest opened doors for me with Slim Cahill and Jim Flynn, my two mentors," he said, with genuine gratitude. Doug worked for that company for twelve years.
He went to work for the Municipality of North vancouver but left after three years.
“After all those years of surveying, I wanted more challenge. I went to work in the marine construction industry, as a labour foreman, overseeing projects. I worked on a radar station at Baldy Hughes. I called the President of the company to ask a question and get his approval on something I wanted to change. He told me ‘Doug, you’re on site, it’s your project and your call.’ Just as Jim Flynn had taught me.” Over the years, Doug worked on a gas line from Kamloops to Nelson, and a large pier in downtown Vancouver. He also worked for the federal Government in the Yukon Territories overseeing bridge construction.
“I was out in Tsawwassen working on a pier being built there for BC Ferries. I needed to hire a pile driver and crew and so I called the union hall to see if they had any experienced crew available. The guy who answered knew me. When I told him what I was looking for, he told me that he only had five guys available, but that I wouldn’t want to hire any of them. For some reason I asked him what their names were. He listed them off and as soon as I heard the names, I knew I had my man. Slim Cahill. It had been almost twenty five years since he had taken me under his wing, and now I was able to hire him. It was payback time,” said Doug.
“When I saw him, he didn’t recognize me, but as soon as I told him who I was he remembered the story. Sadly the years of logging had taken a toll on his body. He had put on a fair amount of weight and after four days of working, Slim came to me to say it was too much for him. He was grateful for the work, and was happy that our paths had crossed again. It was another lucky opportunity for me to see someone that had been so instrumental in my career. And I got to tell him that too,” Doug said.
“I was married twice. The first time was for two years. We were both too young and never should have gotten married. We had one child together. Then my second wife had two children when we got married. I adopted them both. And we had a child of our own. So I have four children who are all in my life still. The second marriage ended abruptly and by surprise after twelve years. I spent the next seventeen years on my own,” he said.
"Then my brother was going down to the Philippines to meet a woman he had become pen-pals with. He asked me if I wanted to go, and I wasn’t working on any projects at that time, so I went. I met his pen-pal and all of her family, including her sister. My brother and I planned to stay for three weeks, and after that he went home. I stayed for three months. That’s when I first started to think about retirement. I was fifty two. My brother married his pen-pal and I’ve been in a relationship with her sister now for twenty four years. At first my sisters thought she was just after a way to live in Canada or something. She soon proved herself to be the wonderful person I knew her to be. She fast became an important member of our family,” Doug said.
“We don’t need a piece of paper to say we're married to make things work. They just do.” Doug's mother passed away when she was 95. All ten of her children were still alive, and she had 55 grandchildren and 65 great-grandchildren.
Doug retired twenty five years ago, at age 56, but remained available for contract work.
“Since retiring I’ve worked on projects in Newfoundland (and Labrador), Peru, Venezuela and Chile. I’ve enjoyed the travelling as well. Before retiring I didn’t take enough time to really take holidays, and now I can travel and sometimes combine them both,” he said. I thanked Doug for his time, even though I could easily have chatted with him for a few more hours. We determined that we live close to one another and Doug said
“I hope we get to chat again, I’ll look out for you next time I’m here.” I asked him what he had been doing that brought him to the mall to read his paper.
“Oh,” he said, “I’m just coming from the gym, and was having a coffee before going home.” By my calculations, Doug is 81. And definitely #notastranger
*Fact Check - Slumach’s Gold http://bit.ly/1nJsTZq