ERNEST CHRISTIE and MAUREEN JEAN (NEWSHAM) WALLEY
I, Ernest Christie Walley, was born at my parent’s home in Birtle (above their store) to Maude E. Christie and Ernest A. Walley. Nursing Sister Farquhar was the assistant. According to Bruce Thornton he is responsible for my existence. Bruce was born Oct. 1924. When his father Bob came to town to pick up his wife Lou and new son from the hospital, they called into Walley’s store. Jack Walley took a shine to the new baby and told his mother to offer the Thorntons $5 for him. I arrived June 23, 1925. When I was a little gaffer my mother referred to me as ‘Spud’. This may have been to avoid confusion with my father Ernie. Brother Jack and friends, namely Buck Dodge, started calling me ‘Sam’. This name stuck with me through my adult years, mostly among my hunting and fishing buddies. I have recollections of Jack and Buck ‘teasing the heck out of me’. For some reason I absolutely hated the ‘Prune Song’. They would proceed to play this song on the old gramophone when ever I was around just to watch my reaction. I also recall them taking this same gramophone through the sky light to the roof of the store so everyone else could listen to their music.
In 1930, when I was five, we moved to our home on St. Clair St. In 1931 I started school in the ‘Blue School’. Some of my teachers included Mae Williamson, Thelma Barber, Jack McLennan, Clarence Tibbatts and my sister Kay Walley. Kay and I managed to remain good friends when this part of our relationship came to an end. Some of my childhood buddies included Bruce Thornton, Dennis Pratt and Don Noble, and in high school Morg Johnson.
Clarence Tibbatts and George Lauman were my Boy Scout leaders. Dunc Birnie and Clarence Tibbatts coached our hockey teams. I recall the team going down to the rink, lifting a wood box with a canvas top on the back of Dick Randall’s truck. We would all pile in and Red Stewart would drive us. We had a little wood stove for heat and paid 2 bits for gas.
In the summer I was a ‘river rat’, both fishing and swimming. I took an active part in our yearly swimming gala at the Birtle Dam. In 1940 I won the Manitoba Provincial Championship, doing the 100 yards in 1 min. 12 sec., beating out a Winnipeg chap. There was no fancy swimming pool to practice laps. I got in shape by getting into the river near the town spring behind my parent’s home and swimming to the Birtle Park. As a kid I fished all along the river, often down by Haines Bridge. When thirsty we would just drink the river water with no ill effects. Not so today.
As a youngster I raised one of my Dad’s lambs (it lost its mother) in town. My job on the sheep ranch was to catch the lambs in the spring. They were dipped in water and creolin to kill the wood ticks. The young ones had their tails docked and dabbed with pine tar to stop the flies from laying eggs in the wound and creating a problem with maggots. Norman Hough did the castrating by snipping off the bottom of the bag, squeezing out the testicles, biting off the cord then spitting the testicles on the ground for his dog to eat. This was not my favorite place to be unless I was gopher shooting.
My interest in hunting began early. I had the inauspicious start as a ‘bush beater’ for brother Jack and Johnny Patton. Dad bought me a 22 rifle when I was 12. I used it to go rabbit and gopher hunting. Bruce Thornton and I shot many gophers for a penny a tail on my dad’s sheep ranch just south of Thornton’s farm. At the age of 13 my big brother Jack gave me a 410 shotgun for Christmas. Thus, began my deer and duck hunting days with Jack, Bruce, Ken Crew, Roy Dutton, Elph and George Salmon, Gerald Baskier, Buck Dodge and Elmore Honey. I remained active in hunting through the 1940s to the 1970s. We had many good times. One very bad experience I’ll never forget was the time my brother Jack got shot while deer hunting. His rifle barrel, which he was carrying across his chest over his heart, took the main force of a bullet that sent shrapnel through his chest and neck. Things looked very grim with blood coming out of his chest and neck. I pushed the pedal of my 1954 Ford to the floor to Birtle hospital. Fortunately, we had a very good doctor on hand, Dr. Nick Petrinack. Years later Jack was still picking lead out of his chest and thumb as it worked its way to the surface.
My military experience started in 1940 at the age of 15. I joined Birtle’s 12th Manitoba Dragoons under the leadership of Sgt. Harry Grieves. I spent 2 summers at Shilo where I decided the army wasn’t for me. My involvement in the recovery of the remains of airmen at a crash site near Birtle was one experience in the dragoons that I’ll never forget. June 1943, I turned 18 and completed grade 12. I immediately joined the RCAF with hopes of becoming a pilot. Of the 137 men who signed up with that group 5 became pilots. I managed to be one of them. Jan. 1944, I graduated from Virden Elementary Flying School with ‘The Gerald Murphy Award - presented to the most promising pupil pilot of class no. 94, E.F.T.S., Virden’. I was stationed at Brandon, Swift Current, Regina and Calgary. After receiving my wings as a bomber pilot, I was posted to Summerside, P.E.I. The war ended and I was put on reserve.
During the war years the Legion Ladies put on Saturday night dances. Entrance fee was 2 bits. On one of my weekend leaves in 1944 when at one of these “jitney dances” I had the last dance of the evening with a Birtle girl named Maureen Jean Newsham. She was living in Mrs. Randall’s house with Alice Stoughton (Bolter) at the time and working as an assistant to our local dentist, Dr. Miles. Maureen was also a ‘river rat’. She spent the summers camping at the Birtle Park as her parents Ted and Pearl Newsham were caretakers there in the 1930s. She was a very strong swimmer, but her specialty was diving. She usually took the Schofield Trophy for her swan dive at Birtle’s annual swimming gala. Many years later, while vacationing in B.C., a lady started talking about going to the Birtle water show to watch a young girl do the swan dive. I told her she was looking at that ‘young girl’. When Maureen and I were courting we spent much of our time in the summer at the Birtle Park. One warm day, when we were sitting on the stones below the dam with the water thundering behind us as the river was particularly high that year, I suggested we take a swim down river. So we took off from there and ended past Buck Dodges at Haines Bridge (west of golf course). We then realized we only had wet bathing suits and bare feet for the walk back on the gravel road as the current was too swift.
Following the war, I started dental school in Toronto but decided I had had enough of books with my recent intensive air force training. I returned to Birtle and entered the family business with Jack and became a “bean counter” like the generations before me. July 31, 1946 Maureen and I were married at my parent’s home on St. Clair St. The first year we lived on the upper floor of my parent’s home. 1947 we purchased Mrs. Arthur Doig’s house, one house west of my parents. Except for the first 5 years, I have lived all my life on St. Clair St. with my back yard going down to the Birdtail River.
Maureen stayed home to raise our family for the first years of our married life. For sports she curled and later enjoyed golf. Like her mother before her she was very good at sewing and other handi-work. Most of the pictures on our walls are her needlepoint. She liked puttering with plants, both indoors and out. She enjoyed entertaining with a well-set table and often had groups of family or friends for supper. The Walleys and the Newshams all liked to return home to Birtle which meant we had many family gatherings in our back porch and yard. We could look out over the Bird Tail to Birtle’s north hills, like we did at family gatherings at my parents home years before. When my mother, Nanny, relinquished the ladies shop upstairs at the store Maureen and Alice took over. When this part was closed Maureen went to work for our dentist at that time, Dr. Reg Parton. Maureen belonged to U.C.W. in the 50s and 60s and was a member of the United Church Choir all her life, her mother having gotten her started at an early age.
Following my hockey days my winter recreation was curling. This continued until ski dooing took over in the 1960s. I joined the Lions Club when it was formed and at present Harold Barker and I are the last charter members still here. I am a life Member of the Birtle Legion, being involved for 50 years. I served as vice pres., twice as pres. and 14 years as secretary treasurer. I was very involved when the legion built the present day community hall. I am a charter member of the Hall Committee of 1959-61. I was in charge of volunteers. I was active on our local fire brigade from 1950 to 1979, ten of those years as fire chief. Most of our fires were grass and chimney fires on cold windy days. A few of the big ones I attended were the Anglican Church, Savoy Theatre, Birtle Hotel and Garage, elevator at Foxwarren and unfortunately my own business. I was a member of Town Council, 1966-77, serving as deputy mayor. Jack had just left council and I inherited responsibility for the cemetery from him. The first winter I had 22 burials. The weather was very bad. In the spring Edith Davidson, the town secretary, and I took our books out to the cemetery to make sure we had everyone in the right place. Fortunately, we did. By the time I was done on council the Walleys had given 47 years of service through myself, brother Jack, my dad Ernie and my grandfather John. In the 1960s I again became involved in flying. Harold Spencer, whose farm was just south of the cemetery, had purchased a plane. He asked me to help with the flying, so I renewed my license. Harold received a municipal license to shoot predators. I piloted the plane while he shot many coyotes, wolves, etc. for $5 an ear. The pelts went for $25, a little better price than Bruce and I got for gopher tails many years before. I belonged to the Birtle Flying Club which formed at this time on the land just east of Birtle Town, north side of # 42. Some members included Bill Snow, Beryl and Dunc Johnson, Bill Cottingham, Evans Parobec, Nick Juba, Elmore Honey and Don Black. We moved the shed from the old hospital grounds (Pioneer Lodge now) for our club house. The land was partly town and partly Nelson Ewbanks.
In the 1950s Maureen and I along with Jack and Alice Walley, Elmore and Ella Mae Honey, Len and Babs Edmonson, Hector and Pat Roberts and others would go on a yearly fishing trip on the 24th of May to the Overflow, Dawson Bay (40 miles north of Mafeking) and Cranberry Lakes. We left after the store closed late Saturday night and drove most of the night. Family outings were often Sunday picnics/fishing along the Birdtail (Billaneys or Stanton’s Bridge) or nearby lakes with the families already mentioned plus the Jack Bolters and George Harts. In the 1950s and early 60s we would move into my mother’s cabin at Birtle park for the summer. This was a very popular activity in those days as several families had cabins there. In the 1960s and 70s we spent most of our winters ski dooing with Jack Walleys, Ken Crews, George Barteauxs, Murray Tittertons and Gordon Boltons. We also did more golfing at this time. By the 1980s Maureen and I had traded in our old fishing tent for a motor home. We spent about 8 winters in the southern U.S.A., usually Yuma, Arizona with George and Ida Barteaux, Murray and Birdene Titterton and Maureen’s sister June and Ed Garlick. Later in the 1980s we spent several winters out in B.C., namely Victoria and Penticton. We often stayed with Nelson and Sylvia Doran and Art and Kay Harrison. Fishing trips in the spring to the Okanogan, B.C. in the early 1980s were with Maureen’s sisters June and Ed and Delta and Richard Randall as well as Bill and Ev Pittendreigh and Ed and Liz Coleman.
Maureen and I raised 3 kids. Our oldest, Donna Jean, was born Aug.8, 1947. Following her school years here she attended the University of Manitoba, completing a nursing degree. In 1970 she married Garth Alexander Sararas. They made their home in Hamiota where they raised their 2 children, Kirby Dawn, born May 1, 1975 and Stacey-Lee, born May 10, 1977. Our second child, Betty Marie, was born Nov.26, 1950. After completing grade 12 Betty attended Victoria School of Nursing in Winnipeg, completing her R.N. In 1971 she married Barry James Davidson of Birtle. They lived at Birtle, Portage La Prairie, Flin Flon, Beausejour, North Battleford and finally making their home at Yorkton. Their 3 children are Jordin James, born April 2, 1976, Jayson Walley, born April 12, 1978 and Deanna Marie, born April 10, 1981. Our third child, Fredrick Ernest, was born Nov.2, 1956. After grade 12 he spent time at The Pas doing airplane mechanics. He later went to Winnipeg to take a refrigeration course at Red River. Maureen died very suddenly and unexpectedly from a brain aneurism at the age of 73 on Oct. 4, 1995. At present Fred is living with me. I am kept well supplied with fish.
Birtle Fire Department
Birtle MB R0M 0C0