By Korie Marshall
By all accounts Les McKirdy was entertaining; often irreverent but good natured. So was his funeral.
Friends, family and local residents packed the Valemount Legion last September to help celebrate Les’s 90th birthday. They gathered again at the Legion on April 11th to remember and celebrate the life of a Valemount icon.
Many newer residents will remember seeing Les driving around on his bike, and socializing over coffee at the A&W or over a cold beverage at the Log ‘n’ Rail. A cast on his elbow, earned from a slight mishap on his bike the week before, didn’t hamper his celebrations at his birthday, and it seemed like nothing ever kept him down.
Bobbi Roe, president of the Senior’s Housing Society, wrote a letter about how Les ended up coming to live at the Golden Years Lodge about eight years ago. He just wanted to come for the winter, and wanted to be sure he could still go out as he pleased, and move out in the spring. That first spring came, with no sign from Les that he might move out, but he certainly went out every day.
Maureen Brownlee says she remembers evenings with Les when people were splitting a gut laughing, and then you would laugh even more. Others shared similar memories at the funeral, or told a funny story from Les. Steve Kolida remembers being out on a boat on Kinbasket with Les, on a really windy day.
There was a pregnant lady on board, and Les said he hoped she was going to have a girl, “because if it was a boy, these waves will shake the giblets off him!”
Les was born on the family farm to Margaret and Fulton McKirdy on Sept. 4th, 1924. Like his brothers he helped with the farm work and helped his dad on the trapline down the Canoe River. He would often spend weeks away from home, often alone, checking the traps by snow¬shoe or canoe. After finishing grade 8 he worked for other trappers, and got his first winter job skidding logs out of the Packsaddle drainage with a team of horses.
In 1942, at six feet tall and weighing only 118 pounds, he joined the army. He wasn’t considered to be paratroop¬er material, but he proudly proved he could perform with the best of them, and shipped out to England to await deployment. Fortunately, especially for his descendents, says his grand¬son Russell, the war ended and Les was one of the first soldiers to return home.
Les apprenticed as a machinist in Winnipeg, but tired of that and returned to Valemount to work in the logging camps. Powersaws were the latest technology and Les gravi¬tated to them – they were heavy and the operator needed to be mechanically inclined as well as strong. They became Les’s mainstay, but he also worked in various garages, pulling wrenches, and worked in pretty much all of the mills and contractors in the area. He also transported workers surveying the high water mark for Kinbasket before the creation of the lake. Running antique outboards in shallow rivers is tricky business and Les’s childhood canoeing experience served him well.
He married Ferne Leary in 1950, and in the early 1960’s, she returned to teaching so the family moved to the Louis Creek area. Les ran powersaw throughout a good chunk of BC, and it would be hard to find a place he didn’t have a story about, or a pub he hadn’t visited. The family returned to Valemount in the 1970’s, with the tra¬pline and logging camps now flooded by Kinbasket. But there was work to be had, sometimes captaining the crew boats through the tangled matt of driftwood that covered the lake.
Les loved to entertain, had a knack for making friends with strangers and children. His unorthodox antics would delight newcomers and embarrass his family in equal measures. Imagine sitting around a loaded table in a busy restaurant while a loud and slightly tipsy logger announces his plan to jerk the table cloth out from under the whole setting. Hilarious if you are sitting at a different table, says Russell.
Thanks to the family for sharing the eulogy, based in part on a newspaper story about Les by Charlene Chou¬nard, published some years ago.