Canada Has Been Good to Our Family
Reflections on a life lived to its fullest.
I was born on October 14, 1934, in Osler, Saskatchewan, on our family’s mixed farm located 20 miles north of Saskatoon. The CN Railway line linking Saskatoon and Prince Albert ran right between our two quarters of land. The railroad was always a source of excitement for our family of ten, four boys and six girls. I was number six.
The ancestors of both of my Mennonite parents, Henry and Elizabeth (née Wiens) Peters, were originally from Holland, living there in the mid-1600s. Later, the Peters family lived in and migrated through Germany, which was then Prussia, and later moved into Ukraine, where they remained for more than 80 years. In 1874, the Peters arrived in Manitoba and the Wiens did so in 1875. It was my “Great-Grandpa Henry” and my “Great-Grandma Susanna” who, in 1896, purchased and built up what was to become the Peters’ first true family homestead in Canada—near Neuanlage, Saskatchewan.
In 1915, my grandparents Abraham and Margaretha created a new home base for the family in the town of Osler, a few miles down the road, with the purchase of Osler House. This home came with surrounding property and was built in 1908 by J.S. Grant, who originally intended the building to be a hospital. He hoped that his son would become the local doctor after graduation from medical school. Mr. Grant’s son, however, decided to remain in Winnipeg to pursue medicine, and so Osler House was put up for sale. Grandpa and Grandma farmed the land and raised a family there until 1927.
Upon Grandpa’s retirement, the property was passed on to my dad; he and my mom farmed there until the 1950s. Most of my siblings and I were born in Osler House. As children we were taught to respect our elders and to “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”
We have many fond memories of those days. For example, during the Second World War, the federal government built a large airport for training pilots just a mile away from our farm and, for the next five years, we constantly had planes circling above us. I recall that one day a pilot, who was flying rather low overhead as we were haying in the field, dropped down a box of sandwiches for us. Talk about an unexpected gift from above!
In 1950, our parents decided to rent out the farm and move to Quesnel, B.C. We had the greatest train ride you could imagine through Jasper and the Rocky Mountains before settling into our new home. I got a job working in a plywood factory at $1.10 per hour, putting in 44 hours a week. A year later, I became a lift truck operator there, at $1.69 an hour. Things were looking up!
In 1953, my parents decided to sell Osler House and the farmland outright; the new owners had the aging home and barn taken down (the house was rebuilt in the mid-1960s). More recently, I passed along several interesting items from the original home to the Osler Museum, with the aim of helping to keep the memory of this lovely old place alive in the community.
My Teammate in Life
In October 1954, back in Quesnel, I went to my very first dance, where I met a pretty young woman named Betty Stensland. In spite of me nervously stepping on her toes as we danced, we hit it off and began to go steady. Before long, we made plans to be married on December 29, 1955 in Quesnel, and so Betty became my tax-exemption bride!
After a short honeymoon, we settled in Grand Prairie, Alberta, where I began a new job with Lloyd’s Tire. Then, in February 1962, we moved to Grimshaw, Alberta—Mile “0” on the MacKenzie Highway—where I became the branch area manager for Dunlop Canada Ltd.
In 1964, I was asked to transfer south to the beautiful city of Lethbridge as branch area manager and, two years later, I was given the opportunity to take over the company’s largest location and sales area in Calgary.
While moving from one location to the next—and indeed the work itself—was challenging, it was rewarding in so many ways. Most importantly, it provided us with the means to raise a family of our own. It also enabled us to see many parts of Western Canada and to occasionally travel further afield. In 1967, Betty and I took a trip to see Expo ’67 in Montreal and then we enjoyed a train ride to Quebec City. By then we had three young daughters, who stayed with Grandma Peters for the ten days we were away. We missed the kids dearly but really enjoyed the trip. The whole experience gave us a new appreciation of our great country and our new flag.
On a Roll
In the spring of 1968, backed by a wealth of firsthand experience in the tire and battery business, we packed up our car and went to the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, with the intention of relocating there and starting up our own tire distribution centre. By September of that year, we had settled in Vernon, B.C. Betty and I, together with my brother Alf, became equal partners in our own business. We set up shop next to the former NOCA Dairy and so “Peters Tirecraft” was born. Our slogan, and our approach to customers, was You Really Matter to Us!
My former employer Dunlop Canada offered us their line of Remington tire products on a factory-direct basis, which made us very competitive right from the start. In 1973 we purchased a prime commercial property on 27th Street and had our new tire store and warehouse built.
By 1978, my brother Alf found that the pressure of running a family business was getting to be too much, so we came to an agreement to buy out his share. We doubled our warehouse space in 1980 to accommodate a growing wholesale network of 250 dealers and six Tirecraft stores. Firestone and Dayton came to us with an exclusive factory-direct distributorship offer, which we were glad to accept.
In the 1980s, I had two opportunities to reassess my life during hospital stays for major surgery. Times were getting tough by the mid ’80s; although Tirecraft was still growing, the pace was slower. In 1988, after 34 years in the industry, including 21 nurturing Tirecraft, Betty and I decided to sell our business. We closed the deal in November 1988. I’m pleased to say that under the new ownership, Tirecraft continues to expand right across Canada.
With that chapter of our lives closed, I was able to devote more time to the Rotary Club, which I joined in 1975. In 1979, I was appointed as a special representative to form a new club in Armstrong, B.C. I also served as club president of the Vernon Rotary Club in 1982-83. In 1990, I was nominated to become the Rotary district governor, overseeing 50 clubs. While I was preparing to step into that role, an opportunity came up with Operation Eyesight Universal, a worthy cause backed by our Rotary club and Rotary International. As an incoming governor, I was invited to travel to India to visit the hospitals and eye-care camps benefiting from Rotary support. I saw first-hand how the funds raised were put to good use to buy equipment and provide medical assistance with cataract removals and lens implants, as well as the treatment of eye infections and glaucoma. Over the years, Betty and I have travelled and contributed to many Rotary projects in Canada, the U.S.A. and abroad.
Throughout it all, our crowning achievement are our three wonderful daughters, who give Betty and me a real sense of joy and make us proud. I walked each one down the aisle, first Sheila, next Sharon and then Sandra.
Our family today also includes five grandchildren plus three great grandchildren, all of whom need our love and attention. The community fundraisers and other voluntary work both Betty and I continue to do through our church and Rotary keep us active.
Canada has indeed been good to our family, and I would like to thank Betty, my love and my teammate in life, for standing with me for 63 years now. The joy and pleasure of serving is ours.
Next, find out what Prairie life was like during the Great Depression.