By Jennifer CroninFree Press Staff
Willie, as he was known, was born at Morrissey Mines in 1920. The plan had been for his parents to travel to Fernie for his birth, but because of the inordinate amount of snow they were unable to do so.
Willie’s father Frank was a taxidermist at Morrissey Mines, who was born in 1871 in Prague Czechoslovakia, and had travelled from his homeland to Canada in the late 1800s. William’s mother Mary (nee Donova) was a housewife whose dandelion wine is legendary.
Growing up at Morrissey Mines during a challenging time, Willie, would take his shoes off to walk to school and put them on when he got there, and remove them again to come home. He did not want to wear them out and knew he would have to take care of them as it would be sometime before he would get another pair.
Willie completed Grade 8, but was told by his father that he had to take it again. The school would only be allowed to operate if they met the minimum enrollment, and as they were one student short, it fell to Willie to keep the school running.
In 1941, in his early 20s, Willie enrolled in the Canadian Army. During training camp in Vernon, he was issued his helmet. When he inquired why he would need the helmet, he was told it would protect him if he got shot. He promptly put it on the ground and shot a hole in it.
“That got him a month peeling potatoes,” daughter Mary Jane shared.
Willie served with the Prince of Wales Rangers in the United Kingdom. The following are excerpts from letters he wrote to his sister Bessie, which all began “Dearest Sister Bessie:”
Undated: “We left Vancouver on the evening of the 24th and arrived here in Nova Scotia on the 29th. A very nice ride, I’ll say! As far as I hear, we’re supposed to be moving very soon, over the pond.”
March 25/45: “Gee it’s nearly three months now since I’m over here, it just feels like two years … Another bomb hit London again. It always seems to be that they bomb this place on a Sunday.”
April 30/45: “It [the war] shouldn’t last very long now … They’re still bringing in men from Canada. Even met a corporal from Fernie here. (Corrigan is his name). Dad knows him well.”
May 14/45: “Well sis, the war is over now, about time too. They will be sending the boys all back soon I suppose … We celebrated V-E-Day here. Shooting flares, until we burned three hay stacks down. Now the government has to pay $3,000 for them. Pretty dear eh?”
Willie would wait another seven months, finally being discharged on Dec. 21, 1945.
It would not be until 1956 that he would marry Norma Bossio, daughter of Giuseppe Bossio and Maria Anna Anselmo.
The Chudik family settled in their home at 632 Howland Avenue (4th Avenue) where their son Frank still lives today.
“It was one of only three duplexes in town,” Mary Jane shares as she shows me the deed for the house with a 1962 purchase price of $1,500.
Norma worked in M.C. Cash Grocery and the Fernie Hospital before her marriage, and again years later.
Willie often hunted deer, moose and elk, and maintained a large garden to feed his family. In 1976, Norma did a good job of contributing when she was the winner of a three minute shopping spree at Overwaitea!
Willie worked as a road grader operator with the Department of Highways, earning a certificate for coming up with the idea to paint the inside of the Elko tunnel white to increase visibility. This was back in the day when folks would leave a bottle of whiskey outside as an enticement for him to plow their driveways.
Norma and Willie welcomed four children into their lives: Marilyn, Mary Jane, Frank and Doreen.
To be continued next week …