If a survey engineer hadn’t noticed the 16-year-old boy, Don Huntington’s life might have turned out very differently.
“I was working on a crew building a dam in Alberta as a labourer and the survey engineer felt sorry for me being a kid and asked me if I wanted to go on the survey crew. So I moved out of the circus tent and into a hotel in town.”
The next two summers Don worked for the Department of Highways in Alberta, and then he moved to B.C. where he also got a job with the Department of Highways. In those days, a person could become an engineer with field work and writing exams twice a year. Don worked his way up to resident engineer.
“I had very interesting jobs from Bella Coola to the Yukon boarder, including Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwaii). I was in a plane two to three times a week.”
This wasn’t the life he envisioned coming from the small farming community of Kelvington, Sask..
“My dad was a farmer but he went into the Second World War, was injured and then went to work on the railroad. We moved to Prince George in 1942. I was eight-years-old when we left Saskatchewan. We always lived in railroad towns.”
Don married Betty (they are celebrate 65 years this year) and they had two daughters, Pat (Ballard) and Terry (Wallenstein). They were living in Prince Rupert where Don had the job of assistant engineer but they were wanting to move south.
“We came to Salmon Arm by chance. We wanted to move down here and a family friend was coming down. I said, ‘If you see a job down there let me know.’ He told me he had seen an ad in the paper but by this time it was a couple of weeks old so I went to the bus depot and dug out the ad.”
The job was for a planner. Don got the job and when the family moved to Salmon Arm in 1969, most of the roads were still dirt and population was just under 6,000.
“The one thing I found is that people in Salmon Arm expected more and were more demanding for services than people in the north were,” says Don smiling. “And there were a lot of characters in Salmon Arm.”
He remembers one lady who was upset with the snowplows leaving snow in her driveway and she came to city hall. He could hear her coming to his office, walking with her cane. She pointed it in his face and yelled, ‘You!’
He laughs at the memory, “And she was very much opposed to changing the road names to numbers. She said, ‘Anyone who needs numbers is too stupid to take direction.’”
One of the first big jobs he had was downtown revitalization in the mid 1970s.
“They paved the roads in 1922 and we dug them up. We put telephone poles on both sides of the streets and storm drains. That was good concrete – it was still damn hard.”
While Don was here, the Village of Salmon Arm and the District amalgamated. He became the superintendent of public works and retired in 1990 as operations manager.
During that time the city built the recreation centre.
“We built that on a day-labour basis. We hired all the men on an hourly basis. We had no contract. We hired a manager to look after construction. The sub-trades were local and the work was done by local suppliers. That was a big job without a contract.”
He praises the wisdom of past councils in buying land that the community enjoys today: the land for the recreation centre and arena, Blackburn Park and the fall fair grounds.
One of the major jobs the city undertook was to develop a road plan. Don will be speaking on this subject at the Okanagan Historical Society’s Christmas gathering in a few weeks. His topic will be, The Roads of Salmon Arm, a subject he knows very well. Don retired 28 years ago, and jokes, he hasn’t “had a bad day since,” but he looks back at his career in Salmon Arm with gratitude and fondness.
“I’m very fortunate. The councils I worked for in Salmon Arm were very reasonable and good people to work for. In my opinion, most of the aldermen (councillors) ran for the good of the community and they had the good of the community at heart.”
Don Huntington will be the guest speaker at the Okanagan Historical Society Christmas gathering at 2 p.m., on Sunday, Dec. 2, at the Seniors’ Drop-in Centre at 31 Hudson Ave.. The public is invited. There is no charge, but baking donations for the tea afterwards would be appreciated.