Fred Lightfoot was born in Middlesbrough, Yorkshire England in 1944. His hometown is the birthplace of Captain Cook, and Fred, along with his wife Sandra, share some of Cook’s spirit and appetite for adventure.
Fred first met Sandra at a bar. He was 22 and she was 20, and although she admits she didn’t like him at first, the two knew they were going to build a life together after three months.
One night, while the couple was out with two of Fred’s friends, the idea of travelling to Canada arose.
“They looked at me and said, ‘we are going to Canada, are you coming?’” says Fred. It didn’t take him long to answer yes, and the three of them travelled to town to get their visas and immigration papers the next day.
Sandy decided to join in on the journey, to the dismay of her mother, and she was the first one to find employment in Canada. They arrived in Edmonton, where Sandy taught industrial sewing machine skills for men’s suits for the Great Western Garment Company. Fred found work in Fort McMurray, and Sandy joined him in Northern Alberta. They fondly remember it as “Fort McMuddy”.
“There were no roads there,” says Fred.
The two wed while living in Fort McMurray in 1967, when Sandy was 21 and Fred was 23. They have plans to return in 2017, for their 50th wedding anniversary, and are sure the town has changed from the rugged town they remember it as.
“Canada to us, was an unbelievable and fantastic place,” says Fred. “It’s a place where they worked hard and played harder.”
With experience as a mechanical and marine engineer, Fred had a robust career, working on projects such as the first chlorine plant in Western Canada, and one of the first tar sands projects in Fort McMurray. Shortly after a stint looking for work in Vancouver, Fred’s career brought the young couple to Elko to work on the Elko sawmill in the early 1970s. They say that as soon as they arrived, the fell in love with the place.
“You know when you see the right place,” said Sandy. “People kept looking after us.”
The couple bought property in Grasmere, which they still own, but Fred’s career took them to Calgary, and then to Brooks, Alta., where he was working for the Alberta Grand Trunk Line. The work was lucrative, and they had their first two sons, Sean and Aaron, during their time in Brooks. Another two sons – Brennan and Keelan – joined a few years later.
Knowing that their hearts were in the Elk Valley, Fred and Sandy returned to the area on holiday, and said if they could find a place to live and a job, they would stay. It didn’t take long until they had both, and they finally settled in Hosmer, and have made it their home for 40 years. Fred and Sandy said it was a great place to raise a family and are happy to have made their roots in the area.
Fred’s career continued to diversify, and in the 1990s, he became superintendent with the City of Fernie. He was in charge of many projects over his six years with the City, including installing a water system in 1995. After his time with the City, he was the project manager for the then new Fernie Secondary School and Sparwood Secondary School, along with many other projects in the area. Fred continues to consult and work on projects to this day, 50 years into a very extensive and diverse career.
Sandy also embarked on a successful career, creating and writing patterns for knitting projects. Her career has allowed them to travel to conferences all over the United States.
Over the years spent in the Elk Valley, Fred says, “we’ve had an amazing life.”
“I miss the characters, the dreamers, the people with vision,” he says. “That’s what makes up the fabric of this community. It’s the people.”
Both Sandy and Fred recognize they have taken risks in life, starting with coming to Canada and embarking on a rich career. Of that, Fred has one piece of advice; “Life doesn’t belong to the faint hearted. I wish there was more dreamers.”
With an amazing career and deep love for his wife, Sandy, his family and the Elk Valley, Fred is an exceptional Face of the Valley.