I grew up on a mixed farm a mile and a half (2.4 kms) south of Strathclair, MB. Our farm was named Maple Grove after the many maple trees planted on the property. A large stone barn housed horses, turkeys, chickens, cows, pigs and sheep (much of the farm land was fringed by page wire fencing). Earlier income had been supplemented by making daily dairy deliveries into Strathclair. The Campbells used a horse and wagon to deliver milk around town from their farm cows. This was before my time, but I remember playing in the old milk delivery wagon that was left abandoned under the large oak tree north of the silo pit by the old stone barn.
Maple Grove in the '50s
Our cream separator was in basement -- I remember turning the crank to separate the cream from the skim milk. I remember glass milk bottles. The raw milk was great because cream always rose to the top and could be skimmed off for coffee, etc.
The neighbour farm to the north east was owned by the Jim Christie family. Back in the '30s the kids formed a Campbell-Christie band - Campbells: Don guitar, Louise piano and accordion, Bill autoharp and coronet - Christies: Barrie fiddle and her brother Bob.
One of the oldest buildings in the area is the large red 2-storey structure east of our house. At one time it served as a horse stable. I loved to climb the outside wall ladder to the second storey. There were a lot of tack and old farm treasures and tools there. I found a large leather saddle there that I moved down to our verandah. I straddled it on one of the low verandah walls and used to ride my make believe horse on it. Later in the decade, Dad removed the second-storey when he converted the building to serve as a large grain bin. Sadly, many of the old "treasures" stored there were disposed of.
Mom and dad made the odd shopping, etc. trip to Brandon 60 miles (96.6 kms) to the south east. Bonnie and I would wait with grandpa for their return from the city by the pantry window watching for their head lights coming from Strath to the north. We could see the IH sign on top of Austin Garage in those days as the maple grove north of the house wasn't quite as dense or tall in those days. Mom always brought treats like Cracker Jack (the prizes in the boxes in those days were a lot of fun) and candy for us. A special treat was balloons for us to play with -- bouncing up against the kitchen wall as we kept them airborne.
Bonnie and I played and enjoyed life on our mixed farm. We were fascinated by the midway that used to set up on the fairgrounds for the summer fair. I never dreamed that Sue-On and I would work closely with various large midways during our summer Canada and US music tours a few decades later. I converted the large dark space under the verandah into my own midway: games of chance, house of horrors, etc.
I loved to climb trees and beside a clearing in the south-east field by the ravine I used my dad's hunting knife to cut saplings, poles and twine and tie them into a tree house supported by four trees.
I found that one type of willow down by the ravine made an excellent bow and fashioned arrows using chicken feathers and metal tips attached to carved wood strips. Dad went along with my interest in home grown "archery" by constructing an "arrow gun" similar to the one he had used as a kid in Elrose. He cut wood into a rifle shape with a ridge/groove along to top where an arrow was placed. Attached to it was a heavy rubber band at the front that could be pulled back to a trigger mechanism. The trigger would release the rubber band which would launch the arrow. I was so proud of this . . . but I don't know what happened to it. Gone. . . like so many things from my youth.
Dad used to sell the wool from our sheep. He would shear them with a big clipper and pack the wool in giant, long burlap sacks in basement. The lambs were fun to play with. Bonnie and I used to feed an orphaned lamb with milk a from beer bottle with an attached nipple. My collie dog pal was named Nipper by my dad. There were always cats around and we even had a young pet deer for a while.
Years later when Sue-On and I started performing and recording we called our record label MAPLE GROVE RECORDS.
I have such wonderful memories of my parents and grandparents -- they were all very warm, gentle, talented and hard working. I had the sad experience of witnessing my grandfather Campbell injured in falls. First was a fall in the old stone barn and second when he was nailing boards on the side of the new hen house that dad was building. I remember him hanging by his knees on either a siding board or the scaffold. In both cases I had run for help. He spent some time in a wheel chair after that second fall broke his hip. I also remember him reading to me from a story book and being the first to expose me to numbers and the alphabet. He planted many of the spruce trees that are still standing to the west and north of our home. Jack was an active member of the Foresters and very involved in community and church work. He was also very involved in sports -- baseball, curling, etc.
Grandma Katie Campbell married Jack relatively late in life as she spent many early years tending her invalid mother McKay. I treasure the large oval framed photo of Mother Annie McKay -- just one of a great many family photos I've inherited. The Campbell newlyweds honeymooned in Long Beach, California where one of her brothers lived -- they were also accompanied by her father. She told of the countless oil derriks there and also the temptation to buy property in the area. They returned to farm the original Campbell homestead where they lived in the large stone house until she designed the new brick house that they and Alf Sparks built in 1920. She raised Donald James Munroe (b.1914), Louise Marie (b.1918) and William Gavin (b.1921). She was a hard-working farm wife who tended the chickens, turkeys and ducks as well as developing a dairy enterprise that served Strathclair. Nannie survived abdominal cancer and the early dangerous radium treatments.
EARLY YEARS PHOTOS
Because we were so close to our maternal grandparents and were with them every day we didn't know our paternal grandparents -- Robert and Jane (Robinson) Hillman -- quite so well. They visited us a few times but Grandpa Hillman was in poor health, suffering from Parkinson Disease. It was such a treat to visit them in the house and town in which dad and his five brothers and two sisters were raised -- Elrose, Saskatchewan. They had emigrated from Ontario around the turn of the century. They were hard working, honest and moral people. They seemed to be closer to the church than my Campbell grandparents and this had the effect of Dad largely turning his back on religion. I have hardly any memories of attending church although Mom made sure that I attended Sunday school a few times and a boys' club, the TYROs (Try Your Reach Out) hosted in the church basement by Reverend Harland. The only time that Grace was spoken before meals was by Grandma Hillman during their visits.
Dad and Mom were very hard working -- and like many mixed farm families they never had the luxury of a "getting away from it all holiday" -- only a few medical or business trips to Brandon or Winnipeg. I remember, though, a rare trip to Elrose in the '50s. It was a thrill to explore the attic of the old Hillman house and finding so many treasures. I was able to bring home a few Big Little Books that I had never seen before. Grandma Hillman's brother Alf and sister Mercy were very colourfull and friendly people.
Some of these memories along with photos are mirrored in our Strathclair Section
1950s SCHOOL DAZE
Strathclair school was an imposing building built on the east side of Strathclair in 1917. My Mom, Louise, and her two Campbell brothers, Don and Bill, had graduated Grade XI from the school back in the '30s depression years -- Grade XII wasn't offered there at that time. I spent my 12 grade school years in that building and looking back I have many good memories of the experience.
Dodge Ball was a great school sport in the early and middle grades. The playground was SW of school. I remember helping the janitor to make the dodgeball ring with a lime applicator. I loved the sport and was pretty good at it. We had no gym but the playground was very large. In the early years even the dense hedge that ran all along the south side of the grounds was fun to play in. The twin swings SE of the school -- very tall wooden poles with large ropes -- were a real attraction. We would stand up on the seats and pump to see who could swing the highest.
While in some of the lower grades I had played some Little League baseball coached by Louis Molgat. We would gather in the basement of his department/grocery store at the west end of main street. I remember when I started that I guess Molgat wasn't too impressed with my playing and sent me home. I was kinda hurt and embarrassed to be cut and walked over to Grampa's house by the United Church. Grandpa knew Louis well and went over to talk with him ... got me back on the team. I was serious about playing and put in a lot of time bouncing and catching a ball off the south brick wall of our house. Playing improved so much that I got to play third base for the men's team when I was still in grade 8.
Later on, softball was a major sport during recesses and noon hours. In the winter because I was a football fanatic, we played "tackle" football in the snow covered grounds. Many of the girls also came out and played . . . fast runners and great sports. Of course we also played in summer and fall. We even played against a few other schools -- Elphinstone and Newdale -- a little safer "Flag" version. I was quarterback for the high school team even though I was only in grade 8. I remember how some of the Indian guys from Elphinstone were super fast. I had learned to make up and diagram some plays from a coach at Air Cadet camp at the RCAF base in St Jean, Quebec
Students were given free dental care and a wandering dentist, Dr. Frankenstein, showed up every year to terrorize the young 'uns. I remember how he used to examine our teeth in front of our classmates -- embarrassing. He reported that my teeth were very soft and started filling and pulling a few -- with very little freezing. Then said these fillings would last until I was old enough to have them all pulled out for false teeth. I fooled him. . . still have enough of my teeth to require only partials. Horrible memory :( Bonnie who was four years younger still had her baby teeth. He pulled many of these out so that the permanent teeth would grow in better. Scary and painful, but it actually worked and her perm teeth grew in perfectly.
I was a quiet, shy kid in elementary school. A bully kid sometimes gave me a hard time. . . called me "Cookie Face" -- mom had always packed home-made cookies in my lunch kit. His favourite trick was to push Cookie Face's face into a snow bank. . . until Cookie fought back and got even by shoving his head into a snow drift -- he was a tattle tale :(
Another older bully used to throw pebbles from the parking lot in front of the school at me . . . eventually I threw a handful back and he ran to the teacher in tears. . . I took the heat. The same punk pushed me around in the classroom during recess. . . again I wrestled him down. Teacher came in while I was on top of the scared bully. . . again, I took the heat. When the report card came out my parents were shocked to read "Billie's bad conduct is a problem". . .
The teacher had lessened the blow somewhat by inserting "occasional" above the space between "bad" and "conduct".
Other than these three "memorable" incidents I enjoyed my school years very much with many pleasant memories and many friends. Living on a farm a mile and a half from town - Strathclair - I didn't mix much with town kids and my circle of friends were all the classmates I saw in school almost every day.
I was very close to my family: Nana and Grampa -- Katie and Jack Campbell ... and my Mom and Dad -- Louise and Jerry Hillman .. . and my little sister and favourite playmate, Bonnie Lou (Louise)
My Grandparents slept in the upstairs south bedroom (I would move into this room when they built a house in town, between hired man Bill Shearer's house and the United Church.) --( In the '70s son Ja-On moved into this room)
Mom and dad slept in the main floor bedroom beside the pantry (this was the first bedroom that Sue-On and I slept in after our marriage -- and later moved to my old bedroom upstairs -- and later to the major addition we built in the '70s
Bonnie and I slept in the upstairs north bedroom (later this was Bonnie's room -- and still later in the '70s our kids Robin and China-Li moved into this room with bunk beds)
THE ROYAL CANADIAN AIR CADET YEARS
Adapted from www.hillmanweb.com/cadets
I joined Strathclair 317 Air Cadet Squadron when I was 11 years old, as a Jr. Cadet, back in the early '50s. For the next eight years the Thursday evening parade was a regular event. Being a farmboy living in the country, this weekly event was a social thing I looked forward to. WWII hadn't been over for too many years, so much of our evening agendas involved instruction via wartime training films, newsreels, aircraft recognition cards and films, training handbooks, propaganda films and posters, etc. We were issued old WWII RCAF uniforms with rows of brass buttons that had to be polished each week. Our instructors were all WWII vets and we were thrilled at some of the tales they shared with us. Our shooting range was in a crawl space under the Legion Hall. It was here I practised marksmanship which served me well on the farm where I honed my shooting skills by shooting gophers in the pasture. Eventually I even went on to win shooting trophies. I was dissuaded from applying for the Air Cadet pilot training course by my parents and grandparents who were still mourning the loss of my pilot uncles in wartime RCAF missions. Later, my plans to join ROTP/RCAF for help with my university courses were also thwarted -- I was colour blind.
I looked forward to the weekly drill practice and marching sessions -- especially when we were issued rifles for rifle drill. We also had classes in bugle, photography, radio and morse code. This really stoked my interest in old time radio broadcasts and in later years I amassed a huge collection of OTR shows and videos on tape, disc, and computer. Another lasting interest came out of our sessions in develping film in the dark room above the butcher shop. I still have some of the cameras from that time as well as many of the photos we had developed. Many of our Cadet classes were held in the Strathclair School where I also attended grades 1-12 -- a few years later I even returned to that school where I taught high school classes for 30 years. Interestingly, my principal for many of those years, E.G. Morris, was also the 317 Sqd. Commanding Officer.
Our school didn't have a gym at that time so we looked forward to our regular trips on a military bus to CJATC Rivers -- a nearby Air Force Base where we spent many memorable hours. The visits to the Rec Hall were a favourite because it was our first exposure to a real gymnasium. We spent many enjoyable weekends practising drill on its huge hardwood floor as well as playing volleyball, Bordenball, and other gym sports. The building also housed a bowling alley, rifle range, snack bar, and an area for films. Later, in the early '60s, while earning tuition money for university, I worked summers on the base in the CE section painting PMQs, hangars, fuel tanks, etc. I boarded in one of the barracks and but for many nights I climbed onto the military shuttle bus to Brandon -- guitar slung over my shoulder -- to play with one of the country, rock or TV bands I was playing with at that time. Still later, in the late '60s, my wife Sue-On and I performed many times in the various messes and clubs on the base.
The biggest thrill during our Rivers visits was the opportunity to fly in some of the aircraft based there. Taking off and flying over our local farmland in Dakotas, Flying Boxcars, etc.was a real experience, but the craft I remember most was the Bell helicopter. Sitting in the glass bubble of the craft as the pilot went through maneurvers was akin to flying like a bird. We landed the chopper on a small-topped drumlin near the golf course and the two of us ducked down as we stepped out to look over the countryside. I was saddened to hear that later the pilot had left the force to work in the logging industry and had been killed by a helicopter blade when he hadn't stooped low enough while leaving the cockpit on uneven ground. A few years later my uncle Jim Grant took helicopter training on the base and surprised us a few times when he landed in our farm pasture.
My first RCAC camp was at Saint Jean, PQ.
Two other highlights from the Air Cadet years were the sessions at summer camp:
* We boarded a train at Strathclair RR station which took us to Winnipeg where we were boarded a C-119 at the base there. The train ride was a thrill because it was powered by one of the last runs of a steam locomotive.
* The "Flying Boxcar" flight was also provided a bit of excitement after I got over the air sickness. We lost an engine and had to make a forced landing at Toronto.
* Since St. Jean is only 40 km from Montreal we were shown all the city's tourist sites -- even Saint Helen's Island. My wife Sue-On and I saw tremendous changes to this island which was the site of Expo 67 that we visited 10 years later. The next time we saw the island was on the tele in our muscians digs during our 1976 music tour of the UK -- the area had been transformed into the Summer Olympics site.
* The other memory that stands out from this summer camp was the jam sessions I had in the barracks with another cadet. We were both just learning guitar and shared licks -- a few of them still creep into my playing today.
My second RCAC camp was at Sea Island, BC
*Sea Island was an RCAF base and airfield which later became Vancouver International Airport. We travelled in class to this camp -- the first ride I remember in a commercial airliner. There are a number of stand-out memories from this adventure.
* HRH Princess Margaret landed on the Sea Island airfield for a Canadian visit and I was chosen to be in the colour party that greeted her on the tarmac.
* Later we had the choice of attending a stock car race or serving as ushers for a BC Lions football night game at Empire Stadium. Since I was a devoted football fan and player and since I had never seen a pro game or been in a stadium with lights, the usher option was the obvious choice.
* Another of the events while in BC was to swim in Empire Pool -- an olympic-sized pool. This was another first -- my previous experiences in water had been at Henderson's Beach at our nearby Salt Lake. Empire pool was a tad different for this farm boy.
* We were given a number of flights in military aircraft while at the Sea Island RCAC camp. The best one was the flight in a Beechcraft Expeditor that took us over Vancouver Island. This was made even more memorable since the pilot invited me up front to sit in the cockpit and even let me take the controls for a bit. We survived ;)
My eight years in Air Cadets provided many experiences and memories that have stayed with me through my eight decades. I attained a rank of WO2 -- the highest offered by our squadron -- and this helped teach me many skills in leadership and instruction. The experience also helped build confidence which served me well in my lifetime occupations as a teacher, professor, stage performer. . . and husband and parent.
Click for full-size photos
The Cadet years also helped to provide an appreciation and respect for our military heritage. I have spent countless hours researching and creating Military Tribute sites.
F.L.A.S.H. Monthly Webzine Since 1999
XII Manitoba Dragoons
Edgar Rice Burroughs: War Years in the US
1950s SCHOOL DAZE
MEMORIES and PHOTOS
2023 - Bill and Sue-On Hillman