Lorne Greenaway

From Horseback to the House of Commons

Lorne Greenaway

with Kate Greenaway

A proud son of Bella Coola’s Norweigan settlers, Lorne Greenaway grew up in the Okanagan in a time when kids left home after breakfast to face the day’s adventures (and misadventures) armed only with an uncomplicated faith in their own youthful immortality.

Greenaway tells tales of his adventurous childhood in rural BC, from long days at the river with willow sticks and a hook for a fishing pole to rolling around in poison ivy just to see what would happen. When Lorne won a pony in the Red River cereal contest, a lifelong love of animals was born. After graduating from high school, Lorne chose to pursue a career in veterinary medicine at Guelph University, where his inclination toward practical jokes helped to temper the long and grueling studies of a veterinary student.

In this intimate memoir Lorne describes the humour, tragedies and triumphs of large animal veterinary practice on the cattle ranches of BC’s Interior. Not long after he had established a thriving practice, circumstances conspired to take Lorne on an eclectic journey from teaching veterinary medicine, to ranching, to exporting cattle and finally into politics. Lorne’s ten years as a member of Parliament and his subsequent time in provincial politics paint a fascinating and heartwarming picture of what one lone backbencher from the boonies can–and cannot–do.

Early Days

My father, William John Everett Greenaway, was born in 1907 in Holland Centre, near Owen Sound, Ontario, where his family owned a farm. Sadly, at the age of six, Dad was orphaned after a house fire, separated from his four siblings, and shipped out to BC to live with his uncle Dick and aunt Nellie in the Fraser Valley. He never felt welcome there. Dick and Nellie were only subsistence farmers, with their own large family to support, and resented being burdened with another mouth to feed. At some point, he was passed along to another uncle, Chris, and his wife, Margaret. Uncle Chris was the black sheep of the family, a ne’er-do-well and a drunk, but Aunt Margaret was a saint and made ends meet by teaching school. At some point, she left Uncle Chris and got a job teaching school in Bella Coola. She took Dad with her and he received most of his schooling there.

Dad was called Jack in Bella Coola, but later in his adult life, he made the switch to “Ev.” Dad had his heart set on becoming a mining engineer but, with no money to pay for his education, he left Bella Coola and headed north to take various jobs in logging camps and the like. When he had saved $1,000, he headed down to Vancouver to see if he could begin his university education. Arriving in Vancouver, he found his sister Ann seriously ill and, sadly, the money he’d saved went to cover her medical bills. She subsequently recovered, but Dad had to change direction and decided to go to Normal School to become a schoolteacher.

Dad supported himself by working nights so that he could attend school during the days; it was tough. He lived in a boarding house in south Granville, attended classes at Eleventh Avenue and Cambie, and worked at a service station downtown near the Hotel Vancouver. He frequently worked the late shift and had to walk home, which would take him about two hours, often in the rain. He persisted though, and successfully completed the two-year course. Certificate in hand, he headed north to his first teaching job in the small community of Alice Arm, and later in Hazelton and Kispiox. In the early 1930s, he returned to Bella Coola to teach.

My mother, Olivia Nygaard, was born in 1911 on a homestead near Chilanko Forks, about seventy miles west of Williams Lake. Her parents, Ole and Sophie Nygaard, had seven children, four boys and three girls. Like my dad, she relinquished her childhood name when she got married–she started out as “Livia,” but for most of her adult life she was known as “Pat.”

Mom was less than a year old when her parents decided to sell their Chilcotin homestead and return to Bella Coola. They took to the two-hundred-mile trail on foot, with three small boys and Grandma carrying my infant mom on her back in a papoose bag given to her by a Native woman. It must have taken several difficult weeks to make the trek back to Bella Coola. On the trail, they ran into the Knowles family, the people who had purchased the Nygaard homestead. Mrs. Knowles had a baby about the same age as Mom, and Grandma gave her the papoose bag as, by then, the Knowleses had a longer journey in front of them. Soon after their arrival in Bella Coola, Grandpa purchased a piece of land in Hagensborg on the Bella Coola River. He cleared the land and established a farm, but it was always difficult to make ends meet.

Mom started her education in Bella Coola and completed her Grade 12 at Magee High School in Vancouver. She went on to take a business course before returning to Bella Coola in 1930 or ’31, when she and Dad soon became sweethearts. They were married in the Hagensborg Church on June 30, 1932, by Reverend Kelly, a United Church minister, the first ordained full-blooded Haida Native. They honeymooned in Tweedsmuir Park, going in on horseback with a guide, and spent three weeks venturing into some of the farthest reaches of the park. Mom was apparently the first white woman to make such an extensive trip and Olivia Lake in Tweedsmuir is named for her. She and Dad spent that first year living with Aunt Margaret in a small Norwegian-built house. These houses were beautifully crafted and built of hand-split cedar planks with dovetailed corners.