Close to 200 family and friends gathered on July 27, 2013 in the lower hall of the United Church in Wetaskiwin to celebrate the 100th birthday of Walden Smith. A large number of former colleagues and students were in attendance to pay tribute to this master teacher of 60 years.
Family members acknowledged Walden and paid tribute to him through a brief life history; the reading of one of his favorite poems, “The Cremation of Sam McGee” by Robert Service; and the singing of “Lara’s Theme” from the movie Dr. Zhivago, one of his favorite songs. Congratulatory certificates from Governor General of Canada David Johnston, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, M.P. Blaine Calkins, Premier Alison Redford, MLA Diana McQueen, Lt. Governor of Alberta Donald Stewart Ethell, and Mayor Bill Elliot of Wetaskiwin were read.
Walden acknowledged and thanked everyone for coming and said he would see them at his next 100th birthday.
It was on a warm summer day on July 24, 1913, that the very first baby was born in the small town of Chinook, Alberta—a small hamlet 74 miles northeast of Brooks. He was named Horace Walden Smith and was the first of eight children born to Reverend Horace and Eva Smith.
Walden, as he was known, lived in many places in central Alberta while growing up as his minister father was transferred often. I wonder what the congregation thought when the family of eight moved into the area to be supported by them. He recalls riding in a boxcar with their belongings and their animals which were being transported to a new place.
While living in Millet, he graduated from high school in 1932 and then went on to Normal School—a teacher training school—and after one year one could go out teaching. He persevered and went on to get his Bachelor of Education degree plus two more years through summer and night school, a total of six years of university. Quite a feat when you consider that he lived in the country.
Walden tells the story of him and Daddy (his father), in 1933, striking out in the Model T driving central Alberta in search of his first teaching job. As they approached the very small rural community of Capbillion and the small school there, it began to rain and the model T got suck in the mud. This area was isolated; mostly bush with only a trail for a road. As Daddy set out to get a team for a pull, Walden walked to the nearest house which was Bill Borgstede’s and he happened to be on the board of trustees. They struck up a conversation and Walden had a job by the time Daddy returned unstuck. Bill would be Walden’s friend, mentor and second father for the rest of Bill’s life.
From here he taught in nearby Sunnybrook. He was to receive $500 a year to teach grades 1-9 but ultimately received only $200 as that was all the community could pay in taxes.
It was here that he met and married Florence Cameron whose family had moved to Canada from Bismark, North Dakota in 1923. They will be celebrating 77 years of marriage next month. They have three children—Carole, Doug and Vance. Even though their first home was quite small, they always had room for lots of company and boarders over the years. Nobody was ever turned away.
Teaching and other careers
While living in Sunnybrook, Walden and Florence raised chickens, pigs, milked several cows and sold the milk around town to their several customers. Their three children helped deliver the milk by wagon in summer and sled in winter.
Walden took the three children with him to the barn while he milked and kept them entertained by telling them stories–classics like Treasure Island, Huck Finn or Kidnapped.
They also raised honey bees and extracted and sold honey. Honey was valuable during the war years as sugar was rationed.
After 13 years here, in 1946, the family moved to Winfield where Walden took the position of Principal. He later taught at the new school at the present location.
As an active member in the teacher association, he served as president of his local and also was a member of the salary negotiating committee.
I guess you could say that Walden was a teacher, farmer, and then a businessman. He was always a people person. While living in Winfield he sold life insurance for Co-op Insurance, becoming the top part-time salesman in the province.
After twenty years in Winfield, Walden was given the job as principal in the Millet school. He taught there until he retired in 1975 and then continued to sub until 1993. I still hear him saying that he would like to be subbing.
Walden liked travel and enjoyed new experiences. He also loved to dance. He was an athlete who could play basketball, baseball, hockey and curl with the best of them.
He was active in the community and in the men’s church group-AOTS. He was on the Wetaskiwin Credit Union Board of Directors, and belonged to Kiwanis and to the Chamber of Commerce,
With his brother Art, he helped with the Food Bank for many years—or maybe they were the food bank. They picked up soup, buns and other donated items to deliver to the less fortunate. Walden did this into his early nineties but had to resign when he broke his hip.
Walden enjoyed visiting people in the hospital. When he saw a need, he took action—whether it was delivering books that he bought at the goodwill store or reading glasses from the dollar store, or consoling those who had no other company.
The later years
He took up skidooing and motorcycling when in his mid-sixties and drove his car until he was 93—he was always on the go.
Walden and Florence bought their house in Wetaskiwin in 1971 and lived there until they moved to the Good Shepherd Lutheran Home in 2009.
Walden, you have lived such a full life and have touched many people’s lives with your kind words and deeds. It’s an honour to say Happy 100th Birthday to you!