By Terry Groves
This month we continue our series to honor the veteran members of Branch #191, and will acquaint you (or reacquaint you), with Comrade Howard Valleau
From his impeccably neat and tidy home in Chemainus, Howard spoke about how his father, a WWI Veteran, worked hard in Kindersley, Saskatchewan to raise a family of eight children in the dustbowl era of the thirties. Frustrated by watching his crops wither in the dry heat or blow away in the constant wind, he finally let the winds blow the family all the way to the Cowichan Valley.
Third youngest, Howie watched his older siblings drop out of school to go to work to help support the family. Even though he was the third youngest, he doesn’t think he was spoiled because there wasn’t enough slack in the budget for anyone to be spoiled. Dropping out of school in grade eight, he had managed to achieve more education than most of his siblings.
Howie headed into the woods, following his father’s example to work the lumber industry. His father worked building roads for MacMillan Export Company (eventually MacMillan-Bloedel) where he earned an instant promotion to head mechanic because he was able to repair a key piece of equipment, a fortune tractor. Howie loved working outdoors, doing some falling but mostly working on the rigging of the spar, hauling the cut logs out of the woods.
When war broke out in Europe, he watched three brothers join the army and a sister join the air force. Being too young, he could only do his best to help support the family. When he turned seventeen Howie joined the navy. He figured that was fastest way to get overseas to reconnect with his siblings there.
He ended up stationed on a minesweeper out of New Brunswick, employed as a gunner, working convoy and U-boat patrols off the east coast of Canada. Howie quickly learned a respect for the Atlantic. It could go from dead calm to violently rough in a mere two hours. He was thankful for his hammock bed where he slept surprisingly well. Had he been in a conventional bunk, he would have been tossed out by the sea state. He learned too, that sailors in the North Atlantic could depend on two things, cold and wet. Sometimes it was colder and wetter but it was always at least cold and wet.
Howie never made it to Europe and didn’t reunite with his siblings until after the war. Fortunately, all of them returned. He maintains friends from his navy days on Canada’s east coast and made regular pilgrimages there.
Following the war, Howie returned to lumber on Vancouver Island where he ended up working for a total of fifty two years. In the latter years of this career he began driving logging trucks. Despite the massive loads and abysmal roads he had to drive, Howie is proud that he never so much as dented a bumper.
He considers himself fortunate that he was able to return home most nights, helping to raise his three daughters and two sons. The have since headed off to their own careers, one son in the Crofton mill, a daughter in Edmonton, another son works for the government in Ottawa, one daughter works in the movie industry in Vancouver and one daughter is an office manager in a medical office in Duncan.
Howie gained some notoriety with his curling where he represented the Duncan Legion and The Seniors as the BC representative at the Canadian. He typically played 2nd or 3rd and even had the good fortune to have Glen Harper, for whom the Duncan curling centre is named, for Skip. Both Howie and Glenn were named to the all-star team that year.
He still likes to golf and boasts that since the age of 65 (if you don’t include 66) he has been able to shoot his age every year.
Howie lost his long-time companion to cancer a few years ago and from that experience offers this advice: “Don’t worry, it is better to spend the time enjoying life because it tends to be too short.”