Remembering Walter Austin
Long time North Fork resident Walter Austin lived a life not many understand. It was a way of life most only hear about in stories now. This is Walter's story…
Walter was born in Tisdale, Saskatchewan to Percy and Hilda (Austin) Sewers on November 4, 1925. Five years later his brother Henry was born. The family moved to Grand Forks, B.C. when Walt was 6. They lived in a small house in the area known as Ruckle.
Percy purchased property off the grid 28 miles up the Granby on Burrell Creek at what is known today as the Burrell Creek Ranch. They built their homestead and started a sawmill cutting bridge timbers. Walter attended school at the now gone brick school building, (what is now known as Perley School). He walked the path from Ruckle to the school, over the original railway bridge. Walt attended school until grade 6 when he left to work for his father in the mill and doing government land clearing and putting up hay around the valley. He'd work away all day, then come back to the ranch and build fences at night by lamplight. Walter's main diet those days consisted of lard sandwiches, rice, potatoes, beans and raw eggs to wash it all down.
Ranchers don't farm for the money; they farm for the love of the land and animals. Walt became very good at vet work and was very proud of his skill in doing C-sections on cows to deliver their calves. When there was no vet in town, he was quite often called upon by other ranchers to doctor their animals. When asked what he would have been if he could have been anything he wanted, he always replied, "A surgeon".
In later years, they built an air strip that ran through the property which allowed Percy, Walter and Henry to fly planes into the ranch.
Through the years Walter became a jack of all trades. He cleared many a field with his Cat for the government land clearing in this valley and in the South Okanogan and the Christian Valley. He dug the irrigation ditch in the Osoyoos area, too. He built range roads and cattle watering holes. Walter logged the Phoenix area, driving the logs down the Phoenix road on the bed of an old model T Ford. He laughed as he retold the story with his hands how to drive one. He was so amazed at the way machinery drives now, "like driving a Cadillac" he would say. While logging up the Eholt way, a log smashed through the cab of the Cat, crushing Walter inside, busting him up badly. He was alone and had to crawl for help out to the highway. When driving past the area, he would recall that devastatingly painful time in his life.
Raised in a time before electrical appliances, Walter cut blocks of ice from Smelter Lake and hauled them to the homesteads for people's ice boxes. He often talked of the flood of '48 that covered downtown Grand Forks when they blew out the smelter dam.
Walt may not have had much schooling, but was by far one of the most knowledgeable men to know. He knew every mountain, creek, river, bird, animal and plant that covered this area. He knew the seasons to the day they were to change and when the geese would return to the fields. He was proud of his knowledge and with reason, too. And did you ever hear him play his mouth organ? He played a mean harmonica! He also loved to laugh and tell jokes and loved to fool people into thinking the joke was a real story until he got to the punch line.
Walt made many friends in his youth that remain his friends still. In the early 1990's Walt met the Thomson family and discovered many common interests. He welcomed them to help him farm the land after his father had passed away. Walter, Doug and Sue farmed cattle, pigs, sheep, rabbits and much more for the next 10 years. Walter became part of the Thomson family. When Melissa (Doug & Sue's daughter) gave birth to her son, Phoenix, in 2000, Walter took the role of proud "Papa Walt". When the farm house burnt down in 2003, the Thomson's welcomed Walt into the house in town. Lost in the fire were Walt's daily journals and all his photograph albums which chronicled his day to day living. They were truly wonderful to read.
In 2009, when Walt could no longer drive, he took to the streets in style with a four wheel scooter. With a new sense of freedom, Walt was out and about visiting friends, orange flag waving high, just about anywhere. He even went 4x4ing with it! Thanks to those who brought him home when his adventures outlasted his battery charge.
As Walt aged and retired from farming he began to enjoy life's simple pleasures; listening to the birds while sitting on the front porch, watching the newly born fawns, traveling with a good roof over his head; everywhere and anywhere, people watching, family dinners for no reason, just because we could, Christmas with all the trimmings, visiting with all of his wonderful friends and, of course, a fond love for sweets! Walt welcomed friends with a drink, and many happy hours were spent with old friends reminiscing about how things used to be, how life was lived then and how so many are now gone.
This strong, honest and awesome man left us July 6, 2012. Please join us to celebrate the life of this truly unique man on Tuesday, July 24, 2012 at 7pm at the Brown Creek Community Hall.
You are loved and so very much missed. Till we meet again, cheers Walt!