Bill and Jean Slaght

Jean and Bill Slaght 1968
Written by Canmore Museum

Bill Slaght was born and raised in small-town southern Ontario and from an early age, was involved in a variety of competitive sports. Restless at seventeen, he quit school, lied about his age, and enlisted in the Royal Canadian Navy, serving in the Battle of the North Atlantic. After his discharge at war’s end, he upgraded his high school education and embarked on a university geology program.

In contrast, Jean Van Patter grew up in the city of Montreal, involved not in sports, but in music, drama, debating and student council activities. At seventeen, she graduated from high school with a scholarship to McGill University’s Faculty of Arts and Science.

Our initial encounter was in the back row of a musty old room in McGill’s biology building, at a lecture in botany. This was a compulsory course for me, a first year science student, and one of choice for Bill who figured that a future geologist should know something about plants. It goes without saying that we learned more about each other than about flowers!

Our relationship blossomed over the next four years. Bill pursued graduate studies after earning his initial degree, while I obtained a Bachelor of Science in biology. Immediately upon graduation in 1951, we announced our engagement to our suspecting parents and proceeded to plan a Christmas wedding. During the six months waiting period, Bill was gainfully employed at $325.00 per month with Shell Oil Company in Calgary. I remained in Montreal in my parents’ home, taking lessons in cooking and sewing at a local convent, preparing myself for a life of domestication. 

The day after we married, we boarded a Trans Canada Airline Northstar and winged our way to a new life, two thousand miles away from everything and everyone familiar. Calgary was then a city of about 140,000, at the threshold of the oil boom, an exciting place for a young couple to begin a new adventure. We embraced it wholeheartedly, establishing our home, making new friends and revelling in our independence.

During the first decade in Calgary, while Bill learned the ropes of the oil industry and I practised my cooking and sewing skills, together we produced a daughter and three sons, Nancy, Darrell, Warren and David. Every two years, we packed up the kids and headed for Ontario and Quebec for several weeks, to encourage the important relationships with the extended family, particularly those doting grandparents. One very special trip was by train to Montreal’s Expo, celebrating Canada’s 100th birthday. Within weeks of that adventure, sadly, we lost both our fathers.

After fifteen years of being a stay-at-home mother and thoroughly mastering domestic skills, I decided to enroll in the University of Calgary’s newly established after-degree program in education. I spent a wonderful and challenging year, recharging my brain cells, relearning how to think and study, and most importantly, how to teach elementary age children. I began my teaching career on a part-time schedule allowing me to continue my studies toward a BEd degree and to look after my family. After graduation, at the age of forty-four, I assumed a full time teaching position, with a special interest in instrumental music at the elementary school level and a particular involvement with handbell ringing.

Bill continued his work in exploration geology in a variety of capacities and companies. From the time the boys could lace up their skates or kick, throw and hit a ball, Bill was involved coaching, refereeing and / or managing their team sports. He was a cub pack ‘Akela’, leading his troop through their activities and on parade, competing in chuckwagon races. We encouraged family piano, guitar and ski lessons, supporting our offspring in their many school and community activities.

As the years passed, the kids grew up, completed their education, married and left the proverbial nest, leaving us the time and financial resources to undertake more extensive travel, on and off the continent.

In 1976, we purchased our first house in Canmore, spending our weekends reading, walking, gardening or skiing as the seasons dictated, and generally, recharging our batteries after busy and often stressful work weeks in the city. We grew to love this community in its beautiful mountain environment. After ten years of devotion to two homes and upon retiring from our professional lives, it became our permanent residence. We sold both houses and settled into active retirement in a picturesque log home in southeast Canmore 

Still not quite ready to give up teaching music, I spent my last paycheque on a three octave set of handbells and introduced handbell ringing to the Bow Valley. My first bell choir consisted of twelve adults with an age span of about fifty years and a wide range of musical experience. This was followed by the establishment of two student bell choirs at Lawrence Grassi School, an involvement which brought me pleasure and satisfaction for several years. Bill and I became active participants in the Canmore Seniors’ Association. Bill served as an officer of the Three Sister’s branch of the Royal Canadian Legion while I worked on the FCSS and Ralph Connor United Church boards and as a part-time employee of Mountain Avens Gallery. Our volunteer involvement with the 1988 Winter Olympics was a highlight. Bill has continued to work with the stadium crew at major ski events at the Canmore Nordic Centre and with contruction crews at Centennial Park each year at Canada Day and the Highland Games.

No longer involved in handbell ringing, I am the pianist with a local seniors’ chamber music ensemble (we call ourselves the Poco Rit Ensemble, translated meaning ‘a little bit slow’). Curling, golfing, skiing and hiking continue to be active interests and enjoyment of cultural events in Calgary, Banff and Canmore remains a priority.

Now the proud grandparents of four grandsons and three granddaughters in Alberta and British Columbia, we thrive on family events and visits. Bill and I travel often and enjoy participation in Elderhostel programs in Canada and abroad.

Canmore has undergone remarkable change in the twenty-four years since our arrival. From a small coal-mining town of 1200 or so, where everybody knew everyone, it has evolved into a bustling almost-city with a pace of development that leaves us fearful that the sense of familiarity may be lost. However, the lasting beauty and opportunities of the Bow Valley have attracted active and interesting new residents who have enriched the fabric of our community and our lives. It’s a wonderful place to call home!

Jean and Bill Slaght 1968

In Canmore Seniors at the Summit, ed. Canmore Seniors Association, 2000, p. 264-266.

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