A former teacher, firefighter, airplane builder, carpenter and more, Alden Bigsby has lived a colourful life.
His family originated in Michigan, U.S., and settled on the prairies in Saskatchewan. His father, Floyd, was a hardworking man who served in the First World War, and his mother, Edna, tended to the family home ensuring the kids were taken care of.
After the war, the family purchased a 480-acre parcel of land on the shores of Bright Sand Lake, Sask., and on July 1, 1930 (or thereabouts) Alden would come into the world.
“I was born in my family home and dad worked long hours at the time, so when mother told him to go to town to report my birth, he wasn’t fully certain of my actual birthdate, but he thought July 1 was a good day to be born,” chuckled Alden.
His memories were of hardships and the skills that it took those pioneers to eke out a living on virgin soil; the rigorous clearing of trees and breaking of land.
He also recalled that at no time did they feel the government needed to support them or that they were unhappy in any way. It seemed that an acceptance of all that came was the Bigsby way of life.
With the Depression coming on strong and the climate change of the 1930s, Floyd was faced with some heavy decisions to make. He would eventually gather his family and all their belongings into a 1920 Chevrolet and off they went to Michigan, to a dairy farm that was familiar to the family. The farm in Saskatchewan was sold in 1939.
Upon arrival at the border, they ran into a dilemma. As war had been declared, only U.S. citizens could enter, and the three children born in Canada were turned away.
After some collaboration, and an offer from friends, they soon found themselves enroute to Summerland where they would pick and harvest fruit in order to make ends meet.
Their journey would eventually land them on a farm two miles from Armstrong. With assistance from a Veteran’s Land Administration loan, they were able to purchase 103 acres for $500 on Sleepy Hollow Road.
Five years later, an additional 80 acres of “wild” land was obtained for $200 and farm life for the Bigsby family was back in full swing.
Alden continued his schooling in Armstrong, and in his spare time he would hang out at the local Armstrong pool hall where he was considered a front runner in Snooker 101.
Alden eventually graduated from Grade 13 in 1948 and embarked on his working career, at least for a short time, until he returned to school to become a teacher – a shop teacher, of course.
He took his training at University of Victoria and his first teaching job was in Ashcroft where he taught Grades 7-12.
When he arrived at the school, he was startled to find that the shop was in the basement of the school and could only be accessed through the boys’ washroom, which as you can imagine, carried with it all kinds of humorous and challenging stories.
But the biggest surprise of all was no power tools, no benches and only a small cupboard with hand tools consisting of hand planes, hand saws, and miscellaneous tools like chisels.
“It was a learning curve for me,” Alden said.
After five years of pouring his heart and soul in to children in Ashcroft, he went on to accept a position in the Langley School District. There he found the attitude of the city students lacked the respect and discipline he was used to and made a decision to pursue other possibilities.
With a determined spirit and a friend who was teaching in Salmo, he found his way to the Kootenays. Alden was hired at Stanley Humphries High School in Castlegar in 1957 and spent the next 28 years of his teaching career doing what he loves to do.
After retirement, he spent many hours flying and creating wooden pieces. He and his buddy even built a sawmill in Salmo.
Alden married and brought three children into the world.
He is happily settled in at Heaton Place Retirement Residence in Armstrong, where he has been reconnected with many fellow schoolmates from his growing up years.
“Alden brings a peace to many in our facility; he is a beautiful soul and we are very lucky to have him with us,” said Carrie O’Neill, resident relations coordinator.