By Jennifer Cronin, Free Press Staff
For a boy born in Fernie in the late 1920s and growing up through the depression years, by today’s standards no one would consider it an “easy time.” Speaking to Patsy Caravetta about those years however, it becomes obvious, that despite the hardships, he looks back with fondness.
Patsy was born in 1929 to Italian parents in his home in the Annex where he remains to this day. He remembers that during the depression, his parents raised their family on $33 a month, which was provided by the government. To earn this money his father was required to work on the highway one month of the year cleaning grass and brush. Patsy recalls the family raising chickens and goats, and each fall a pig.
“We had a huge garden, and enough money for a couple of tons of coal for winter. Our father would get wood for the kitchen stove. It was nice and warm and mother baked her own bread and did canning. She worked very hard for her family, very hard,” Patsy shared.
Patsy fondly looks back on his early school days as a young lad at the Holy Family Catholic School, and his subsequent move to the public school. He was a hockey player in a thriving hockey community when Fernie had four teams. He laughs as he speaks of walking out to Coal Creek with his team, each carrying all of their equipment, only to be heckled by the fans of the opposing team.
“If we were really lucky we could get a ride back to Fernie on the train bringing the men home from work” he said. “If not, we would walk back.”
Patsy was also a member of the Fernie Falcons baseball team, playing in the Crows Nest Pass League, however his talent was not limited to sports. He took a keen interest in acting, joining the drama club, and his talent was recognized with the Best Actor award in the Kootenay Film Festival.
As most young men in the valley do, Patsy tried his hand at coal mining, working at Coal Creek off and on for five years until the mine started building homes in the Annex. At this time Patsy became a carpenter’s helper.
“I must have hammered a million nails,” he laughed.
In 1954, shortly after losing his father in a mining accident, Patsy was working at Trites-Wood Company when a friend who was a barber came in the store. It was then that he decided to apply to Vancouver Vocational Institute to attend barbering school.
“It was very hard to get in and I was lucky and got accepted.” Patsy recounted. With his $800 in savings he was able to pay his tuition, room and board and even buy some barbering equipment. Upon returning to Fernie, he set up shop in what is now Walter’s Barber Shop and this was the beginning of a career, which lasted until 1978. During this time, from 1961 to 1963 Patsy served as an alderman for the City of Fernie.
On a winter’s day in 1978 when the thermometer dropped to minus 45 degrees, Patsy made his way to his shop. He realized he was the only one open on 2nd Avenue.
Patsy remembers, “I was standing there and looking out the window and talking to myself and I looked in the mirror and said ‘Patsy there is something wrong with your head. Maybe it is enough.’”
Ten years as the janitor at the Tom Uphill Home followed.
When it came time to retire, Patsy laughed “I retired and took up golf. I had to decide whether to golf or fly fish. I made the wrong choice, I’m a lousy golfer.”
Patsy continues to golf each weekday and is often the first one on the course. He is an avid curler during the winter, but would like to see more people join. Of Fernie he feels that the city needs a new arena, curling rink and community centre, and when asked what is the biggest change he has seen in Fernie over the past 85 years, Patsy summed it up in one word “prosperity.”
With a kind word about everyone, Patsy is truly a gentleman. Proud of his roots, proud of his family. Truly one of the finest “faces of the valley.”