Today is Father’s Day and so I’d like to honour the memory of a very special man.
Arthur Lovell Peak was born in 1917, just outside Winnipeg, Manitoba. He was the third child (out of four) and the only son born to Arthur Peak and his wife Elisa who had emigrated to Canada from England. They had a small farm but were unable to make a go of things because the land was barren and so they lived a bare existence. It was before the days of social assistance, and a list was posted in the centre of town of the families who required assistance and their name was on it every year. Arthur enlisted in the army as soon as he was old enough, hoping to spare his family the burden of supporting him.
A gentle soul, he served overseas in World War 2, in France, Italy, Belgium and many other places, as a truck driver. His job was to deliver supplies to the front lines and unfortunately to bring back the pieces of the wounded. For years, I never knew this because he seldom talked about the war, and when asked what he did, he would joke that he was a cook because everybody knew the enemy wouldn’t shoot a good cook. I remember one day his brother in law was visiting and regaling us with tales of the “good ole days” and Art left the room saying he didn’t remember them being so good. I don’t think he ever recovered psychologically from his experiences during that time.
After the war, he met Alice Chartrand in Toronto when he went on a double date with a friend. She was a French Canadian woman from northern Ontario working as a waitress and later as a nanny. After dating for several years, they married and he became a father to her daughter Cecile. Together they decided not to bring any more children into the world, but to become foster parents instead and to help children have a better life. This also enabled my foster mother to be able financially to stay home, but that wasn’t the main reason they did it. Twenty eight foster children passed through their house over the years. That was how I met them – I was one of them. Some others were Solange, Richard, Micheline, Margaret, Michael, David, Christopher, Clarence, Shawn, Donna, Catherine, Mark, Michael, and Jamie. Those are just the ones I can remember.
He worked most of his life for Continental Can Company, which was bought out by Crown Cork and Seal. He was a proud company man who worked rotating shifts and never missed a day of work until his nerves got the best of him and he had to take early retirement. He had worked for them long enough to get his gold watch though and every year he attended the banquet they gave for retirees. He was a simple man but always a hard worker. During the week he would work on finishing the basement in the house, repair things around the house, or work on his car. On the weekends and vacation he built a cottage on lower Buckhorn Lake so we always had room to run and time to enjoy nature. He loved camping, and country and western music, and he loved the feeling of family – all types of family. Especially children.
I once asked him why he never adopted my foster sister Catherine and me because we were there for most of our lives, and his answer showed the type of man he was. He said he worried what would happen to us if he lost his job and by not adopting us he knew the CAS would take care of us. Besides, this way we would have everything the CAS could give us, and everything they could give us. He was my first coach, my mentor, my biggest supporter. He used to always say that being a girl was no excuse, then he would ask us to help drain the waterline at the cottage, pump the brake line in the car, or pass him a tool he needed. He wasn’t at all sexist, and was often in the kitchen helping with the dishes. It was Catherine’s job to wash the dishes and mine to dry, but Art would come in and tell us we were too slow and “show” us how the dishes could be done in five minutes. We were always willing to let him show us!
I was a shy, timid child, afraid to speak up. He once jokingly called me the “dummy kid” not realizing how much that hurt me. I spent most of my life trying to prove to him I wasn’t a dummy and to make him proud of me. In later years he apologized for that comment and admitted that I definitely was not a dummy and that he was incredibly proud of me. After they left Toronto they moved to Norwood, Ontario. On a weekend visit once, my foster mother Alice was not home but out volunteering at the local curling club, so Art was home alone. We sat and talked and he shared with me some information about his life, about his Uncle Jack and swimming in the Red River, about his shame of growing up poor, and his fear that permeated his life about being poor, his feelings of inferiority, about his experiences in the war and what he really did there, and about how much all of us children meant to him. When his wife arrived home and asked what he’d been doing, and he said “Well, I talked to her like you told me to.” She may have suggested he entertain me by just talking but it was his choice to share his soul with me.
Arthur Lovell Peak passed away in February 2005 after suffering from Alzheimer’s for a several years with flashbacks to the war. He passed away with my sister Catherine and me by his side, with a smile on his face as he was reunited with his wife Alice, his Uncle Jack, his parents, his sisters and all his loved ones. He will never be forgotten; he helped to make me who I am and I will never stop trying to make him proud of me.
Any man can be a father – we see fathers around us all the time. It takes someone very special though to be a real Dad. Arthur Peak was my real Dad. I love you Dad, and always will. Thank you for all you did for me and for those whose lives you touched. You were always my hero.
Happy Dad’s Day!
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