A Tribute to a Grandpa'
A few weeks ago, my grandfather passed away at the age of 90. He had had a full life, and was enjoying life right up to the last. This tribute isn't about mourning or loss, it is about a man who was a friend and loved father/grandfather to many, and about the example he set in his life.
Perhaps the most important reason for writing this is the realization that I had after his death that many people who were close to him didn't know much about his past. I consider myself fortunate to have spent the time over the years to talk to him about his life, and to record his story. Over the years he was often overlooked and under appreciated by those around him, and I sincerely hope that this tribute will make a few people realize what a special person he was...
October 12, 2007
Ernie Frazer was born in 1917 in the growing town of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and was the ninth of eleven children. His parents, George and Hettie (Faithfull) Frazer had been early settlers in the community, with George running the local harness shop for several years.
In 1932 at the age of 15, Ernie was forced by his father to quit school so that he and his younger brother Frank could help on the farm. Although he didn't dwell on this in later years, it was a sad time for him as he enjoyed school. Together they would clear out 50 acres of land neighbouring their father's farm, and the family started farming those plots as well. After his father left the family for a time, Ernie also worked for other farmers in the area to bring in much needed extra money for the family to live on.
In December 1941 he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force. Although he went with his brother and two other friends, he was the only one accepted, and went to Ontario alone by train for basic training. It was the first time he had left home, and years later he spoke of how scared he was to be leaving all alone to go to war.
After about a year of training he was sent to the westcoast to serve as a flight engineer/navigator on a CANSO (the Canadian version of the PBY Catalina) search plane. He was part of a four man flight crew which would patrol Vancouver Island and the northern coast searching for Japanese boats and aircraft. His duties also included search and rescue duties along the coast.
Many years after the war, he recalled being told that there was no point having a parachute - the crashes would be fatal anyway - and would still be bothered remembering having to watch other planes crash so they could locate the wreckage. After those experiences, he said he never wanted to see anyone suffering every again.
In December 1946 he returned to Ridgedale, Saskatchewan, where he and his brother Frank cleared a quarter of acre of land which Ernie received for his military service, and which Ernie would farm for ten years. (This plot of land was bought at least two years before Ernie left the military, and it is unclear whether he knew his benefits had been used to buy the land, or if his father just did it for him). It was also during this time that he was pushed into a marriage that neither he nor his new bride wanted. As a result of many problems with family and farming, Ernie never really enjoyed those years on the farm.
In 1956, with the lumber mills on the westcoast thriving Ernie moved to Youbou, BC to be trained as a millworker, and a short time later began work with BC Forest Products in Victoria, BC. As a millworker, Ernie would often have to work long graveyard shifts, earning little pay, and on at least one occasion was laid off and couldn't pay the bills. However he stayed with the job for 26 year, retiring only when the mill was about to close.
In December 2006, at 89-years-old, Ernie was shopping when a gust of wind knocked him down and caused his hip to fracture. By this time his wife had been suffering dementia for some time, and he was still looking after her in their home fulltime. As a result of the fall, it was decided that he and his wife would move into a long-term care home.
In spite of all this hardship, Ernie was still cheerful and happy. A few days before his 90th birthday, the staff at the care home told me that he had spent the morning on the patio, singing and telling jokes for the other patients. Every time I saw him he was praising the staff for their good work, and told me "I have a roof and a meal, what more do I need?"
Two months later his Parkinson's disease finally took his life. In his final days, every one of his six surviving children and several of his grandchildren dropped everything to be with him at the last.
Through the years of his life, there were those in his family who called him lazy, but he worked at a boring job for three decades so that his own children didn't have to struggle the way he had as a child. And there were those who said he didn't do anything important, but he went to war while they lived in peace.
He may not have left behind a fortune or made a mark on society, but all of us who knew him were left eternal memories...