‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ might be a good title for a movie if someone ever decided to do one about Chemainus’ Howie Valleau.
At 94, Valleau has just about done it all. He served in the Royal Canadian Navy toward the end of The Second World War, but that was a long time ago now and just the beginning of many adventures that followed.
He worked in the forest industry for many years, recorded three holes-in-one during his time as an avid golfer, enjoyed a long tenure in curling. Heck, he even won the lottery.
Combined with all the usual aspects of family life, he plans to keep busy and doing all he can.
“You know you’re getting old when you’ve got five kids getting the old age pension,” he chuckled.
Kaayla (yes, ‘aa’ is the way it’s spelled), his oldest daughter, is 73; son Clifford just turned 70; daughter Susan is 68; son Ted’s 66; and daughter Lori hits 65 in January.
Valleau’s prime focus this week has been Remembrance Day, as one of the Royal Canadian Legion’s representatives in the special service for invited guests only at the Chemainus Cenotaph.
“I go all the time,” Valleau said. “I stand back in the crowd.”
This time, he’ll be front and centre as one of the Chemainus Legion’s last five surviving members from the Second World War.
“I’m getting to be one of the last of the last,” Valleau conceded. “They asked me is I wanted to go to the Cenotaph. There’s not going to be very many this year.”
Son Ted was going to accompany him for the ceremony Wednesday, Nov. 11 before a much smaller gathering due to restrictions necessitated by COVID-19.
Valleau was actually born in Toledo, Oregon but “I came to Canada when I was a babe,” he said.
Six brothers are all now deceased. “Why me? out of all the crew,” pondered Valleau. “I’ve asked that question, but nobody seems to be able to answer that question.”
His lone sister is 97 and living in Saskatoon.
“I keep in touch with her on the phone or email,” noted Valleau. “She looks just like my mother. She looks really good.”
The family homestead was in Flaxcombe, Saskatchewan in the Kindersley area where it was “flat as a pool table,” according to Valleau. “Actually, around there it was a little bit hilly.”
Valleau’s dad got frustrated trying to run the farm there and moved the family to Duncan in the area between Mount Prevost and Mount Sicker in 1937.
“They called it Little Saskatchewan,” chuckled Valleau. “There were a lot of Saskatchewan people there.”
The third youngest of the clan, he went to Koksilah School in 1938 but eventually dropped out of school when he was 14.
“I was in Grade 8,” he recalled. “I didn’t even graduate. Mind you, I’ve lived a great life ever since.”
His father was working with MacMillan Export Company and Valleau followed him into the forest industry. In the fall of 1943, he was working at Camp 6 in Caycuse when it was shut down in the wintertime.
“In those days, we got snow – lots of it,” he recalled.
In stark contrast, by November of 1943 he headed off to Victoria to join the navy at 17. “I was too young, but I still got in,” he noted.
“I actually don’t know how I got signed up. They took us at 17 1/2. I was still 17. They were looking for bodies, I guess.”
Valleau spent time in Esquimalt in January of 1944 and went over to Vancouver for six weeks of basic training before heading to the East Coast. He started at Cornwallis, Nova Scotia doing more training before being literally shipped out to a ship. His whole term of navy enlistment lasted nearly a year until the war ended.
“We didn’t do much,” chuckled Valleau. “We did the odd searching for U-boats. We took trainees out, gunneries, and we escorted a few ships.”
Being on the waters of the Atlantic was an experience. “We found out how rough the Bay of Fundy was right off the bat,” he indicated.
Dead calm seas could give way to rough waters in short order.
Valleau never wound up going to Europe.
“The ship was supposed to go to the Channel,” he noted. “It was designated for the Channel and something happened and it didn’t go. We became a bull cook ship and did odd jobs.”
Valleau came back to B.C. in November of 1945 and was discharged from the navy in the early part of 1946.
“I turned my sights to working in the forest industry,” he said.
Valleau did that for 52 years.
“I did most of the jobs in the woods,” he noted. “I did a bit of falling.”
His main claim to fame came as a logging truck driver for 35 years.
Valleau moved his family to the Westholme area near the Anglican Church cemetery in 1956.
“That’s where the kids grew up,” he stated. “They never regretted it. They learned to live that way.”
Lady luck smiled on Valleau in 1998 when he collected a cool $1 million jackpot in Lotto 6/49. He kept playing for two years after that until 2000 and didn’t win a dime so he decided his lottery days were done.
“It just wouldn’t pay,” he shrugged. “You guys just lost yourselves $200 a month.”
Valleau was already saving loads of money anyway after giving up alcohol in 1981.
“I kind of had a lot of money in my pocket,” he chuckled. “I just quiet ‘er cold. That’s how I found out I had a lot of money.”
More notoriety came to Valleau through his long affiliations in golf and curling.
“I had a good career in golf,” he said. “I enjoyed that immensely. It was the challenge, same as curling.
“Out on the Prairies, we’d watch and curl out there. We were too young and besides you couldn’t throw the rocks through the frost – it was too cold.”
But he found his niche for many years with the Duncan Curling Club. And Mount Brenton Golf Course became a favourite place for his other recreational passion, with two holes-in-one on No. 14 and one on No. 11 there to his credit.
“My knee went haywire,” he indicated. “I had a choice either play golf or go curling. I knew curling was going to be painful so I chose golf.”
He ended up with 40 years in curling and continued to play golf until just a couple of years ago when he was 92.
Just like Jimmy Stewart, Valleau has long realized there’s a lot to be thankful for about his life. It just didn’t take a guardian angel to point that out to him.