Every life is a story that captivates the listener. One such story is of Fernie resident Alex Gredzuk.

Born in West Fernie on March 1932 to parents Nicholas and Mary Gredzuk, Alex’s cultural background includes Ukraine and Czechoslovakia. His dad Nicholas came to Canada in 1913 came from Galacia, Ukraine and his maternal grandfather from Czechoslovakia. His mother was born in Lethbridge with her family homesteading on the land just as you come into the city.

Alex met Lucille Glover and after a three year courtship they married in 1958. Alex says that although he was brought up Catholic they were married in the United Church. It was a small wedding with close family and friends with a reception held at home as was custom in that day. His best man was his close friend Johnny Hartley and maid of honour Shirley Baher Brown of Brown’s meat market fame. Alex recalls that they had a grand time as it was intimate having family and close friends celebrating their wedding day. Lucille and Alex have two children, Steven and Arlene and six beautiful grandchildren.

Alex has vivid memories of Fernie and area. He recalls the Slough Bridge and West Fernie Bridge to Fourth Avenue. The base of that Avenue led to downtown past the Leroux Mansion.

Alex loved spending time in nature working and playing in the bush. He worked in the sawmill, became employed at the Michel mine seesawing back and forth from the bush to the Coal Creek Mine and the bush again. He said he went where work available but after a time became an employee of the highway department retiring after 32 years. It was a job he liked as he drove heavy equipment clearing snow, dredging the river and maintaining good highway conditions for travellers. After retirement he continued driving truck, bulldozer, grader and helping families build homes.

As a kid he attended Fernie Central School. All the kids walked to school; there was only one street light by the bridge that went across the river to Fourth Avenue. Across the bridge to the left was an outdoor arena that ended up being turned into an Internment center at one point. His dad had been interned in that makeshift center and then was moved to the Morrissey internment camp with other internees from the area. Today, where the internment center was situated a commemorative plaque has been installed on a huge rock marking the spot where Ukrainian internees were held, most of which Fernie born were and raised citizens.

Alex remembers the many times on cold and snowy winter days he and school friends grabbed rides on the back of slow moving trucks, horse drawn carts or with anyone that would provide a ride. He remembers the town having five butcher stores, two jewelry shops and two bakeries, Hunter’s Bakery and George the Baker both on Second Avenue. He recalls the family shops of the Quails and Rahal’s, Minifies Men’s wear and Amantea and Aiello shoe stores, the town was busy back then, it wasn’t planned gatherings like today he says it was people just going into town, meeting up and spending time together.

Alex loved skating, played and coached minor hockey for years, he was a member of the Rod and Gun Club and an avid hunter and fisherman. He was involved with the Army cadets and taught flagging courses at the College in Fernie, Sparwood and Elkford. He trained junior hunters after Jack Williams the game warden retired. He was an outdoor enthusiast and an environmentalist before the term became popular. It’s shocking to see the clear-cuts he says, sickening to see the forest stripped off. He worked in Newgate, toured the area from Elkford to the South Country, most of it on foot, “I’ve been everywhere in this area, I know the whole country”. He also loved berry picking and planting gardens. He worked for free for seniors who needed handyman duties, he also recalls how in winter the snow on city roads hardly ever got cleared but people never complained.

He mentions names from his time in the mines like Littler, Verkerk, Gareau, Kniert, Anderson, Sangala and Kopchuik and tells of when the light went out in the mine, “it was pitch black, you couldn’t see in front of you”, he kept moving feeling around until he felt cables and somehow positioned himself to come down on them, everyone thought he was dead on impact because the cables moved so fast and furious.

Alex changes topic stating the river has changed course over the years, as a child he and others played on an area overlooking the river situated just across from Smitty’s restaurant, that space has long been gone as the river flows there now.

Although in his eighties Alex still loves to go and get a load of wood something Lucille frowns on but Alex is undeterred commenting that at one time he would witness many animals as he walked around but today the deer are hardly seen anywhere, not even in town and he finds that very sad.

Younger people today have no idea of the hardships experienced by the older generation but from listening to Alex and to others although life was challenging and times were difficult in many ways life was more enjoyable because people relied on each other and comradery was appreciated in a most heartfelt way. Despite technology that makes life easier today somehow the human contact that makes life so happy and satisfying seems to be eroded in a most significant way.

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