George and Laura Dancer

Written by Canmore Museum

A Dream Come True

I awoke one morning from a dream. I dreamt that we had sold our house in Calgary and had moved to Canmore. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. I didn’t tell my wife about the dream but one day, I said, “Let’s take a drive up to Canmore.” We drove around, looking at the various districts; nothing was said yet, but when we got home, I said, “How would you like to live in Canmore?” She said, “I think that would be an excellent idea,” and that is when I told her about the dream.

A few days later, we came up with our trailer, spoke with a realtor and off we went looking at condos. We specified that we must have a view. For thirty-five years, we had been looking at the house across the street. It was not long until we found the place we are in now, view and all, and we like it very much.

I was an engineer on C.P. Rail, starting as a fireman, and, of course, made many trips on the (Laggan Sub) Calgary to Field. We always referred to it as the West end. The weather in Canmore was another reason for moving to Canmore. Many times I have come from Field and it would be stormy all the way from Lake Louise to Banff; often the storm would split – half would go down the Rundle Range and the other half would go towards Lake Minnewanka. Canmore would be clear and sunny. We always loved the Rockies and moved here in August, 1986.

Railroading was my life and just like any other job, it had its ups and downs, good trips and bad. Early in my career, I was involved in my first accident and it was right here in Canmore. We were going west one night, near midnight, when we arrived at Canmore. In those days, all freight trains going west stopped to take on water and coal. The procedure was to stop just short of the east crossing, cut the engine off, take up coal and water and clean the fire, then back on to the train. I was busy working on the fire when the engineer called to me, “Is it all clear on your side?” I looked out and said, “Yes, okay to go; there’s a car stopped waiting for us.” I returned to check my fire and we were now moving, bell ringing. I got back on my seat, looked out, and saw a pair of tail-lights on the front of the engine. I yelled to the engineer to stop. We had hit a car. There was no problem in stopping as we had only gone about the length of the engine. I jumped down and ran up to the car; the poor man was still holding on to the steering wheel. I said, “Are you hurt?” He said, “No, me not hurt but geez…, you sure hurt my car!” The police were there in about two minutes. We were able to push the car off the track. Of course, when we got back to Calgary, we had to make out a statement on what had happened. That’s when we were told the poor old miner was charged with impaired driving!

My wife, Laura, and I were married in 1942. We have a daughter and a son, both married, and two grandsons.

When we first came to Canmore in 1986, the population was 4,200. Expansion started after the Olympics and the town has been booming ever since. Two new schools have been built, many businesses have expanded and many new ones have started up. 

Banff National Park was a place for many holiday weekends, especially when our family was young. We started by tenting at Tunnel Mountain and Two Jack Lake campgrounds; in later years, we graduated to a trailer. 

The depression years were very hard years. I was born and raised on a farm in Saskatchewan. I had two brothers, one four years older and one eight years younger. I attended a one-room school, one teacher for all grades. We walked the one mile, sometimes in very inclement weather. I remember freezing my ears hard as boards while walking home from school when I was six or seven years old. My schooling consisted of eight years public school and two years high school by correspondence. I finished school at age fifteen. 

I belong to the Canmore Legion, the Canmore Museum and the Canmore Golf and Curling Club. I have a lifetime membership in the Alberta Motor Association; a lifetime Honorary Membership in the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and I also belong to the Canmore Seniors Association. I have a lifetime membership in the Wireless Operators and Air Gunners Association.

My favourite bear story took place between Lake Louise and Banff. Although I was not personally involved, I knew the crew members at the time. This, of course, took place back in steam engine days, probably in the late forties or early fifties. The train was stopped at Lake Louise for an inspection and it was customary that the conductor and tailend brakeman would walk up to the front end of the train. Being a nice day, they left something cooking on the stove and left the back door open on the caboose. When they arrived at the head of the train, they told the engineer that the train looked good and it was okay to proceed. They would pull by slowly so the conductor and tailend man could get on without having to stop, which they did. Unbeknownst to them, the train had started up with a jerk which caused the back door to slam shut. They opened the door to go in and what should be in there but a black bear! I guess he smelled whatever was cooking on the stove and decided to investigate. They quickly backed out and shut the door. They rode outside on the top of the caboose to the next inspection point which was Banff. Here the door was opened and the bear was let out. I guess you could say one less bear at Lake Louise, one more bear at Banff!

I joined the Royal Canadian Air Force on June 10, 1941. I took my wireless training at #2 Wireless School in Calgary and then on to Mossbank, Saskatchewan, for bomber and gunnery training. Six of my class were posted to Western Air Command for re-posting to Cole Harbour, on the north end of Vancouver Island. I was there about a year. A new squadron was formed at Sea Island, consisting of personnel from four other stations. We were then posted to the east coast to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia where I finished my tour of duty. I was then posted to headquarters in St. John’s, Newfoundland as a duty signals officer. Ten months later, I was posted to Number 11 Equipment Depot. I was there until I was discharged on November 22, 1945, with the rank of Flight Lieutenant.

I then returned to my old employer, C.P. Rail, where I remained until retiring in 1980. 

George and Laura Dancer

In Canmore Seniors at the Summit, ed. Canmore Seniors Association, 2000, p. 53-55.

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