John and Beulah Greenhough

Beulah and John Greenhough
Written by Canmore Museum

Several times in the course of his seventy-eight years, John Greenhough encountered dangerous situations and defied the odds. A survivor when his ship was torpedoed during the Second World War, he went on to face down two severe heart attacks in his forties and eventually triple bypass surgery.  Perhaps it was his ebullient, larger-than-life personality, his joie de vivre that saw him through; perhaps it was the strong, but gentle, influence of his life-time companion, his wife for more than fifty years – Beulah. 

John and Beulah Greenhough, who moved to the Bow Valley from Calgary in the early 70’s, Met as a direct result of John surviving that wartime torpedo. Born in Saskatchewan in 1922 where her father managed the local lumber yard in Aylesbury, Beulah moved to Jasper with her family when she was seventeen. Six months later, she travelled east, having enrolled in nursing training at Toronto Western Hospital. Finances allowed her no time for traveling so it was three lonely years later before she returned to Jasper to work in the local hospital as an operating room and night nurse. 

John, on the other hand, whose family had emigrated to Northern Ontario from the British Isles when he was three years old, was on his way to pick up a new ship in Victoria, after having been torpedoed on an aircraft carrier. While enroute, he developed acute appendicitis and was taken off the train in Jasper, Alberta, where he fell into the capable hands of Beulah!! It was love at first sight! John proposed within the week; she replied that he would have to wait until after the war,  to make up his mind. They were married a year later! 

John and Beulah settled in Hamilton and Toronto, Ontario, where John trained and worked as an electrician. They came back west in 1948 as John thought it would be the most wonderful place in which to live. That first year in post-war Calgary proved to be dreary and rainy. There  was no housing; all they could find was one room in premises which had been used as the Wireless School during the war. Eventually they bought a house in Montgomery, west of Calgary, which comprised four rooms and an outside toilet. 

They lived in Calgary until 1972 and had three children – Karen, now married and living in London, England, where she is dance instructor and choreographer with the London School of Contemporary Dance.

Cathy, a licenced cabinet-maker, is also married, has a son Reed, and lives near McBride in British Columbia. John and Beulah’s son Gordon, recently announced his engagement, and is a teacher in Calgary. 

John and Beulah’s decision to move out of Calgary to the Bow Valley was prompted by John’s health problems – he suffered two severe heart attacks when he was in his forties. They chose  to settle in the just developing community of Lac des Arcs, John deemed it easier to travel to his work (electrician at the Jubilee Auditorium) on the highway rather than fighting the traffic through Calgary. Also, as a keen fisherman, he wanted to be able to fish when he came home from work.  

John’s eventual decision to retire from work and to move to the peace and tranquility of Canmore, was prompted by a triple-bypass heart operation when he was sixty. None of these setbacks kept John from fishing, hiking, singing and dancing.  A prime mover in the Canmore Seniors’ Association, he eventually became a two term president. He loved acting and was a leading light in the Seniors Drama Group where he is fondly remembered for his hilarious skits. He was the clown of the club. 

Beulah recalls a typical incident with John. Several years ago they went east to attend a niece’s wedding. When the guests tapped their glasses to encourage the newly-weds to kiss, they were told that the bride and groom (both of whose names began with ‘J’) would not oblige until someone sang-a-song  beginning with the letter ‘J’. John Greenhough regaled the wedding reception from then on with a series of ‘J’ songs – Jingle Bells, Joy to the World, Jesus Loves Me. If it began with ‘J’, he sang it.

John and Beulah had a big celebration for their fortieth wedding anniversary in 1984 because they feared that with the precarious state of John’s health, they would not see their fiftieth. But John did live to celebrate his fiftieth wedding anniversary and had two big celebrations – one in Calgary and one in Canmore.

Unfortunately, the party did not last. Two and a half years ago, at age seventy-eight, John went in for another heart operation in Calgary and didn’t regain consciousness. 

Ironically, John’s last year was one of the happiest in his life. It involved his participation in the movie “Men”. His daughter, Karen, had friends in the film industry who wanted to make a movie in the mountains focusing on the lives of seven older men. When an appeal to the Banff Centre for the Arts for participants proved fruitless, Karen suggested that they enlist the help of her father. True to form, John rounded up seven men from the Canmore area and the group worked with the three women of the film crew from London, which produced the film, a pilot for the BBC. Although John did not live to participate in the final production, he described the venture as a wonderful experience which forged a deep bond between the members of the group. Though he didn’t see the project through, he had all the joy of taking part. The film was produced the year after John’s death and went on to win several awards; one in Germany for choreography and recently in Toronto for choreography and photography. “Men” was dedicated to the memory of John Greenhough. The CBC recently produced a documentary on “The Making of Men.” 

Like her husband, Beulah Greenhough has been a highly respected and vibrant contributor to the fabric of the Bow Valley community for the past three decades. An active member of St. Matthew’s Church, Calgary, and the Ralph Connor United Church, Canmore, she was also superintendent of the Canadian Girls in Training Program (CGIT) during its heyday. 

With strong feminist leanings, she is a firm believer in women’s rights and education – an attitude which, she says, stems from her own fight for an education when she was young. The thinking in the thirties, she points out, was that it was not considered profitable to educate a woman; women were expected to be secretaries, teachers or nurses, all very low paying jobs in those days, then get married. Incidentally, she was a member of a feminist group in Banff which interviewed Joe Clark, before he became Prime Minister, about his attitude towards the treatment of Native women (their loss of treaty status if they married a non-native). Beulah recalls being impressed by Maureen McTeer’s decision to keep her own name after marriage, a position that has been emulated by Beulah’s two daughters.

Beulah is well known in the community for her volunteer work. Besides her involvement in church activities, she has been active in the hospital; with the North West Mounted Police Museum; Meals on Wheels; as a tutor with the Bow Valley Literacy Group and as head of the Seniors’ Association Entertainment Committee.

Reflecting on the changes in life in the west since her youth, she recalls the time when there was no health care provision and her mother paying for major surgery in small monthly installments. She also reminisces about her family’s move from Saskatchewan to Jasper during the Depression. “Saskatchewan was grim in those days. We sold our property and all our furniture. What was left was piled on the top of our old ’28 Chevy and we headed west. The car broke down in Hinton and we had to take the train on to Jasper”

Though not averse to the inevitable modern developments in the Bow Valley since the Olympics, Beulah makes a plea for sober second thought: “It is sad to see so much, and such rapid development. One wonders how much thought has gone into it.”

She has fond memories of whist drives, local dinner parties, of home-made entertainment, a tradition which has almost disappeared in the Bow Valley. Also recalled are the dances in the Seniors Association with such local legends as Ron Marra and his Band and the Bow Valley Brass Quintet.

An avid hiker all her life, Beulah has taken full advantage of the proximity of the National Parks and Kananaskis. John and she were early members of a very active hiking group in Calgary which saw three bus loads enjoying the Kananaskis on a weekly basis just as it was beginning to be developed. Her favourite hike is along the Moraine Lake trail up to Larch Valley over Sentinel Pass and down Paradise Valley. 

Beulah has no fear of bears. When she and John were camping they ran into bears all over the place. On one occasion, on a hike over Sentinel Pass, they were eating steaks in the campground and they could hear bears at the garbage cans. They had to block the entrance to the shelter and John made a racket by hitting pots and pans and doing a war dance to keep the bruins at bay. She also refers to her Jasper days where an open dump was frequented by bears and visitors to the town were taken to the dump to view them. She also remembers bears strolling down the street in Jasper. “No one worried. We were told to drop any food we had if it looked like the bear was after us.” 

It has been a journey from east to west, back east and then west again. It involved struggle and hardship as well as great friends and best of times. For John and Beulah Greenhough, life in the Bow Valley has proven to be a marvelous adventure. 


Beulah and John Greenhough

In Canmore Seniors at the Summit, ed. Canmore Seniors Association, 2000, p. 102-105.

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