Stacks Image 617

This image taken at the celebration of his 90th birthday

R. W. Shire
Monday, November 6, 2017
by: Timothy W. Shire
Mr. Shire was a long time contributor to Ensign sharing with us picture essays of museums, the rehabilitation of Wascana Lake and many other adventures.

Below is his eulogy presented November 27 in Langbank, Saskatchewan.

Friday, October 20, 2017 at 12:30 PM, with his family all there, ninety-two year old Robert William Shire, whom everyone knew as “Bert,” breathed his last breath, so ending a very remarkable and significant life.

Born as the second oldest of Bob and Edith Shire on their farm close to Kelso in September of 1925. With his sisters Beatrice, Jean and younger brother Roy, they were a tight knit family, with his mother’s family playing an intrinsic role in all of their lives. Family life with the Andrew McVicar family was extremely important and gaining skill and experience from his Uncle Clarkson that would shape many of the experiences in his life to come.

It was not easy growing up in the midst of the great depression and one skill was of vital importance and that was being able to shoot to bag a prairie chicken or a rabbit. Bert was a good shot and would continue to be a hunter for much of his youth and into his thirties when he hunted deer. He loved to go camping and developing a life long passion for fishing.

He attended Greenbank School in Kelso and was by his own account, a big time soccer player. He left school in grade ten to assist with the struggling farm and left home at age eighteen to worked as a hired man. He married Ruth Fisk in 1944 and their first son Timothy was born in Moosomin in December. In 1946 he got a job as a section man with the CNR and would go on to serve with it until he retired in 1986. In January of 1951 his son Allan was born after a dead of the night cutter ride from Kelso to Wawota, then while snowed in at Vandura, in December 1955, daughter Linda was born in Kipling, thus completing the family.

Being able to acquire new skills and with them new interests meant that throughout his life there would be many campaigns. Excelling at work meant promotion and a steady income that seen the developing of a keen interest in cars, carpentry, learning to type, photography, square dancing, cabinet making, computer technology, computer graphics, creating audio CDs and even only a month left in his life putting “Siri” to work on his iPhone.

Much of what we do in life is shaped by our environment and that means that for each of us we are pretty much a creation of where we live. Living in Kelso for six years then moving to Langbank as “first man” then as “foreman,” but before, he would have to go out “relieving” in order to earn his stripes as “foreman”. The fifteen year stay in Langbank was interrupted with a nine month stay in Vandura in his first job as “foreman”. From Langbank he went to Kipling where he began the process of becoming a relieving “road master.” Being Road master was a big step up the ladder as he moved from Kipling to urban life in Moose Jaw, then finally to the Track Supervisor engineering role in Regina. In Moose Jaw and Regina there were additional stints away from home heading up extra gangs and running a highly technical rail change out operation. At the end of his career it was trip after trip as a consultant on salvaging branch lines.

Langbank was and always will be considered the family’s hometown. The little hamlet with its eighty-four people and fourteen dogs was where they first made their home across the street from the co-op store beside the post office, then after the stay in Vandura, in the CN foreman’s house across the track from the Pool and National elevators. Bert was an active member of the community, accepting a role on the hamlet’s council and a member of the school board. When he first moved to Langbank the community was building a curling rink and this was a sport he had learned from Mr. George Dashwood in Kelso. He volunteered in the construction of the rink and was a enthusiastic curler. Langbank’s curling fraternity included Jack Knoblock, Alec, “the dirty rat” Varjassy, Stan Brown, McClements and farmers from surrounding areas.

The Shires came to Langbank in 1952. That Christmas Bert had an appendicitis operation in Wawota which went bad resulting in infection that brought him close to death and a prolonged stay in hospital. Twice after retirement the scaring caused by the infection would see him hospitalised. Health was also an issue for his wife as the nineteen fifties was the time of the polio outbreak and Ruth escaped paralysis but suffered other side affects from the illness.

It was a big step up to come to Langbank from Kelso because Jack Hurst was providing the community with electrical power meaning lights at night and a fridge. In 1956 SaskPower showed up while we were in Vandura and Bert was given the task to maintain the three street lights in that tiny community. In 1957 George McClement, then George Moore got televisions and Bert’s family proudly installed one in their living room. With stations in Regina, Minot and Yorkton pulling in a signal was no small task and Bert built a special ladder that he perched atop the section house with a fifteen foot tower with yagis pointed at channels two, three and thirteen. This was near the end of the rural “central” form of telephones and the section house was two ring one.

It was in Langbank which was about a half hour from Kenosee Lake that Bert took up fishing and developed a passion for golf. As a left handed person it was tough teaching yourself to swing a golf club and he developed a slice that was almost historic in the way the ball would head straight down the fairway then abruptly veer off to the left appearing to do so almost at right angles to its original path. However, like most things that too was overcome.

As mentioned Bert was left handed and though he did his best, his handwriting looked different. He didn’t like that and much of the communication for an advancing railroad foreman, involved written communication, he decided to do something about it and bought a Smith Corona typewriter from Sears that came with records. He dutifully went through the records to learn the keyboard, then when it came to the numbers, he figured he had it down enough and from then on memos and reports went in as typewritten documents. Though it seemed like a sensible thing at the time, the major stumbling block for people using a computer was dealing with the keyboard and with that mastered and his grandson talking computer gibberish he bought a Mac and that was that.

Square dancing was a phenomenally popular trend that developed late in the 1950s and Bert like many others was excited to be part of it and almost immediately began calling dances. The living room high fi was pressed into service and hauled to the co-op hall to provide the music and he never looked back. A Califone PA system was soon outgrown and a powerful Newcomb system with table and a record collection he travelled all over Saskatchewan, into Manitoba and kept people dancing and happy for a decade. Working each day and being on the road to club dances many nights a week, meant that he had to upgrade the car at least every year.

Throughout the years his family both extended and nuclear never left his attention so that every celebration throughout the year was a family event.

With a family that spanned twelve years, education was always at the forefront and all three of his children went through their degrees and appropriate collage careers. All of his six grandchildren attended post secondary education with the exception of one who became a professional ballet dancer. Of his three children, each had their extra curricular activities, Timothy a singer, Allan an athlete, Linda a keyboard player and they each experienced their adventures with the full support and attentive encouragement at their performances. This support continued with the grandchildren who were the focus of arena side support at hockey games, court side presence at volleyball and every possible dance recital to come along, they all knew their grandpa was there as their personal supporter.

Remember the mentioning of Uncle Clarkson, he was a carpenter and Bert latched on to the lessons and experience he could from this man. In the first years of the 1950s Canada was seeing the building of pipelines across the country. From the shipping materials that came off the rail cars hauling the pipe, there was a lot of hardwood lumber. In Kelso he gathered the stuff up and built in his back yard an amazing garage, framed in hardwood and sheathed in corrugated steel. It was a monster and when he left Kelso it was loaded up and moved to the Fisk farm. But that was hardly the only construction project. In Langbank, when it was time to tear down the old pool elevator and build a new one, Bert was up there deconstructing and with the salvaged wood built an excellent garage on the CN section house yard. All of the material in the garage came from elevator including the cedar siding which was overlapped extra to make up for its age.

You see, building things involves two things, the skill to carry out the work and the courage to begin a project. Bert had both of these and through the years he renovated, constructed, overhauled dwellings, volunteered in community building projects and put his skill to work on the job. With a bunch of surplus snow fencing available, he got himself into trouble with the railway officials, when they spotted the huge fence he built around the section house yard in Langbank. After checking it out and seeing what a fine project it was, they promptly supplied paint to finish it off. Through the years he acquired all the tools you need to do these kind of projects and in Regina, he built a complete cabinet making workshop in his Regina home basement, where he churned out everything from picture frames to patio furniture.

So far we have noted how much Kenosee Lake was a part of his life. In order to go fishing you really need a boat. Well one thing lead to another and eventually the old plywood blue bottom boat was replaced with a fifty-horse speedboat and a whole new world opened up. Keep in mind, that Bert didn’t like the water very much and did not swim. It is impossible to count the number of people Bert taught to water ski behind one of his several ski boats. The tradition of a nice boat continued long after moving into the city as he developed a semi-permanent campsite at Crooked Lake where the boating continued.

One of the things that he learned by working in various places, was that travel was a good thing and each summer, he put that to practice. A few summers were spent camping and working at Kenosee during the summer, but after that, living in Kipling meant the acquisition of a series of tent campers suitably rigged up with a hitch to accommodate the speed boat and off he and his family went exploring Saskatchewan provincial parks. Holiday time while in Moose Jaw and Regina resulted in camper trailer trips to the Black Hills, Yellowstone, Banff, and trip up the Alaskan highway and back. Travel can be an infectious thing and he and his wife enjoyed trips to both coasts by train and a camper trailer trip to Expo in Vancouver in 1986.

Bert was an insatiable music fan and in Regina and Moose Jaw he made a point of seeing as much live entertainment as possible. This also meant going regularly to Winnipeg to see his grand daughter perform each season. Though leaning toward country and western he was an avid supporter of the Regina Symphony and has had season tickets to the Globe Theatre up until this year.

As mentioned earlier, he love to support this grand children in their sports, but he was also a Rider fan and for many years had season tickets. In retirement he became a dedicated blue Jays fan even making it down to Minneapolis to see them play live. But, he was also a curling fan, especially when events were in the city and shared his wife’s passion for figure skating.

In 1994 Ruth left him after a loosing struggle with cancer and he decided to make the best of life without this lifelong companion. He remarried in 1995 but illness intervened and that marriage was dissolved. For the past fourteen years he has shared his life with Freida Paulowicz who was with him until the very end.

In the 1950s he bought a Kodak camera to document some of the square dance activity. The Kodak just didn’t cut it and he graduated to a single reflex lens Pentax which was with him at events and on the job where ever he went. Though he took lots of images to be printed, he cracked off thousands of images on slides. For him, photography was a work in progress and progress he did. When digital cameras became available and he had a state of the art computer, he switched entirely to taking digital pictures, with a series of first rate point and shoot cameras. As with everything, he took that all one step further and created Christmas cards, birthday cards all on fine paper stock using his pictures and making these unique cards right up until the point where his diminishing vision made such work impossible and that was only three years ago.

For the past twenty years the focus of Bert’s life has been on the Regina Senior Citizen’s Centre where there was dancing Wednesday and Friday and cards most other days. He kept his life full with concerts, live shows, trips, a few cruises and up until a few years ago summers at the cabin at Cedar Cove, Crooked Lake. But, old age took its tole robbing him of his eye sight and with that the ability to drive but he soldiered on until January when a bladder infection nearly ended it all. Since then life has been a series of medical appointments and procedures but those did not get in the way of Blue Jays games and the never ending amazement of the nightly news.

In Langbank he was a willing volunteer to help build an addition on to the United Church and the church played an important part in his entire life. It was though until moving to Regina that he became a regular attender of Westminster United Church and developed a solid relationship with Rev. Ken Powers who is now retired but found time to visit Bert while in hospital this last time.

Politics was never a side story around Bert Shire. Every family dinner was accompanied by intelligent discussion about the local, provincial, national and world news. He came from Liberal roots, but through the years was a vocal supporter of all regular political parties at one time, or another. For all of us, there was a lesson to be learned about everything and that for every challenge in life there was the need to take your skills and adapt them to meet the challenge.

Bert had a good life, he was proud of his family, proud of his six grand children and enthusiastic about the four great grand children and their accomplishments yet to come.

So long.