He was the man on top of the snowbank.
On the flatlands of the prairies during the 1960s, Ol’ Man Winter had to push the mercury down to -20F, or -29C for the unfarenheited, before young hockey players were dragged kicking and screaming from the outdoor community rinks that dotted every town, village and city east of the Rockies.
During every wintry Saturday, wee Todd would suit up for the South End Community Centre for a game of tyke hockey. It wasn’t unless you reached the city championship or the ripe ol’ age of 10 did you get to play games in one of the fancy indoor rinks.
The South End rink was on Ninth Street in Brandon, Manitoba and just a good slapshot away was his small wartime house. Every Saturday I can remember, there he was standing on top of one of the huge piles of snow overlooking the rink. The snowbanks made up of drifting snow and the scrapings from the rink made a natural spectator area for those hardy enough to head outside to watch the kids play rather than the many who chose to huddle around the woodstove in the community centre.
Despite the wind, despite the cold, there he was cheering on wee Todd.
I vaguely remember walking up the driveway with him standing behind me proudly showing off my first fish. It was a little goldeye, something no B.C. angler will ever catch.
And I’ll never forget the one evening in the late ’70s sitting in the rec room of his new Christie Bay home drinking a pic-a-pop.
I didn’t know of, and he hadn’t talked to me about, his days in the service. He was born in 1922 and when World War II broke out, he immediately enlisted and joined the signal corps. That night, he recounted several war stories I’ll never forget. From the stories it was clear, he was certainly not part of the rear echelon, but in each he was deprecating, humble and did not glorify the war or his part in it. He was just doing his job. Doing his duty.
He just wanted to get it done and get back home. From the stories he relived, he was lucky to get back home.
I remember being awe-struck that evening as I listened. How could this nice, humble man, who helped me catch fish, watch me play hockey, tended a garden, played golf and sang in a barbershop quartet could have ever made it through that hell.
After the war, he worked for Manitoba Hydro until he retired in 1979.
On July 31, 2013 he passed away peacefully in Brandon.
He was interred in the Veterans Section of the Brandon Cemetery.
On Monday, Nov. 11 at the Prince Rupert Cenotaph I will remember him and all of the great Canadians who served so honourably. But most of all, I will remember that kind and gentle man who would cheer me on from the top of that snowbank.
He was my uncle. He was Lorne Hurd.