Moving To British Columbia

Ken Warren

June 6, 2013 Victoria, BC (ISN) – Welcome to the fourth article of Ken’s Blog, where historian Ken Warren takes us through some of his childhood memories, sharing with us the lives and times of his sports oriented family growing up in Saskatchewan and Manitoba in the 1900’s and beyond. In this article, Ken and his family take us to British Columbia where the family settles in.

When we first got together in BC, we met at Irene Tracy’s farm up a mountain on Promentary Heights near Chilliwack. Irene had been Mom’s Maid of Honour. She and her daughter Sharon were going on a month’s holiday and she was leaving her place for us to look after while she was away. It gave us a lengthy time to look for a place to rent in Chilliwack. Besides being a railway worker at Port Mann, Dad did part time work joining Mom and I at Fraser Valley Frosted Foods.

You grow up with a mother who is a housewife and you don’t know her other skills. I never saw my mom play the piano or organ until the church in Lestock needed an organist. I was surprised at her skill. Then I worked with her at Fraser Valley Frosted foods and was surprised at her endurance. But most of all, it’s when she started teaching in BC that we realized how accomplished she really was. We knew that she had taught our dad’s brothers in Isabella. Here’s a picture of the CGIT group she led in Isabella. At least one of my aunts is in the group, and most of the girls look as old as my mom. Mom, incidently, is in the precise middle of the seven ladies in the front row.

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This is my mother’s old CGIT Class that she led; many of the girls she also taught in the school – Photo courtesy of Ken Warren (ISN)

One weekend, Uncle Austin and Auntie Florence and cousins Joyce and Lorraine, and Joyce’s boyfriend, Clive came from Kelowna; and Uncle Jasper Merrick, Auntie Mildred, and cousins Betty Ann and Warner came from Penticton to visit us at Irene’s farm. Warner, Clive and I slept in the barn’s loft, since there were another eleven sleeping in the house. That was a great welcome-to-BC weekend.

I had a tryout with Chilliwack Monarchs of the Dewdney Baseball League. Since there was no Vancouver Mounties at the time, the Dewdney was probably the best baseball league in BC. Other teams included Mallairdville, Haney, Port Coquitlam, Port Moody and Abbotsford. Anyway, they signed me up and the manager Gordie Binns had the news on the radio hourly, and the Sports Reporter there was Gary Zivot, who grew up with me in Kindersley, so he did a mammoth write-up for the local paper that even included us being in cub scouts together in Kindersley. My brother Jim told me it was not wise to be touted as great before you’ve even started. “It puts pressure on you to live up to that billing,” he said. “Better to say you’re not very good, and then they’ll be happy if you’re just okay.”

I wasn’t the only kid 17 on the Monarchs. There was a kid named Pat Cameron, a lanky guy who signed a contract with the Boston Red Sox and left us for a double A team in the U.S. Even though I lost my first game with the Monarchs, I managed to strike out Johnny Kabatoff twice. I didn’t know it until I read Gary Zivot’s story the next day that Kabatoff was the league’s top hitter. During the game, it was more fun striking out Al Rollins twice, because I knew he was the Chicago Blackhawks goalie. I told the team I was going to the BC Lions camp in Kelowna


Anyway, I had called Annis Stukus, coach of the BC Lions, and asked him for a tryout. I had quarterbacked many small town high school teams in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and BC, from Kindersley to Chilliwack, so it was of little concern to me to convince Stuke to give me a shot at trying out for the fledgling BC Lions in 1955 at their Kelowna training camp. Gerry James was only 17 when the Blue Bombers picked him up for their playoff run in 1953. Why couldn’t I do the same at 17? I had never lost a game.

I found out why I couldn’t do the same as Gerry James the first day I was at the Kelowna camp. Gerry had his father, Eddie ‘Dynamite’ James’s legs, and I had Earle Warren’s chicken legs. Billy Bye, a skookum back from Oklahoma, ran over me and almost killed me. And he never even made the team. Primo Villaneuva, a qb/half back, led me by too much on his passes. Not his problem; I was simply too slow. I didn’t have to be told that they weren’t interested. I was no longer ready to be a sacrificial lamb to my foolish dreams. Anyway, at camp I met a kid named Bobby Ackles. He was the waterboy and he was dating my cousin, Lorraine Warren. Since I was staying at my Uncle Austin’s, Lorraine’s father, I saw quite a bit of Ackles even after practise.

“One day, if I can learn enough, I may end up coaching this team,” he told me, “or at least managing it.”

I kinda smiled, because I thought he was dreaming, just like I had been–thinking I could make the team. But little Bobby Ackles wasn’t dreaming. He became the best known executive in CFL history, and if not so in the NFL and XFL’s history, then at least the only person to be an executive in all three leagues. He returned to save the BC Lions in 2002 and became the team’s President and CEO. No, Bobby wasn’t just dreaming in 1955, like I had been.

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Photo courtesy of Ken Warren (ISN)

Since I’m on football, let me get ahead of myself again with a sad story that should be placed in a football setting. By the time August ’56 rolled around I had learned that I would be joining the RCMP August 27th. My dad, knowing that my next railway pass would be the last he’d ever be able to get me, asked me where in Canada I’d like to go before I joined the Mounties. I chose Hamilton, where my Blue Bombers would be playing a pre-season game. When I got to Hamilton, I found out what hotel the Bombers were staying at and hung around the foyer, but never saw any of the players. Wandering around and finally going into a restaurant down the street, I recognized Leo Lewis. He was sitting with another black fellow much bigger than Leo. I said hello to Leo and told him I’d been a longtime Bomber fan, and a recent fan of his. He introduced me to his partner, Calvin Jones. I knew immediately the story on Calvin, Heisman Trophy Lineman of the Year. They invited me to sit down and I was in my glory. I told them about joining the RCMP, but mostly, I gave them a history lesson on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Remember, I had years of Jack Matheson’s football columns to fall back on. Calvin was so impressed with hearing stories of the new team that he was going to play for that he invited me to sit with them on the Bomber bench the next day at the game, and I did.

The next time I saw Calvin was in Regina during league play against the Roughriders. We went to a restaurant and had burgers. It was a long time ago, but it must have been after the game, because he had three burgers and fries. He said he wanted to come out to Depot Division next time he was in Regina and have a look at the training. He was interested in seeing the horses, and fellows training for the musical ride. Calvin made the Western All-Star team in ’56 as an offensive tackle. That meant he would play in the Shrine Bowl game in Vancouver against the Eastern All-Stars. It was the last Shrine Bowl game ever played. Tragedy struck the Western team after the game. Four Saskatchewan Roughriders and Calvin Jones were killed when their TCA flight crashed into Mount Slesse near Chilliwack. The Roughriders were Mel Becket, Gordie Sturtridge, Mario DeMarco and Ray Syrnyk. All 62 people aboard the flight were killed, including Don Holden, my first baseman with the Chilliwack Monarchs on his way home to Winnipeg for the Christmas holidays.

I was devastated with the news of Cal missing, and then the plane being found with no survivors. Don’s name never came up until the entire list of passengers became public. Since I was training in Regina, one can imagine how devastated the city folk there were with the loss of their star players and friends. Gordie Sturtridge’s wife was also killed in the crash. Bomber coach Bud Grant woke Cal up earlier in the hotel and told him it was time to catch the Bomber’s flight back to Winnipeg.

“I’m going to catch the later one with the Roughriders,” Cal said.

Two years later when I was a Winnipeg Tribune sports reporter, I renewed acquaintances with Leo Lewis and I got a chance to talk with him about Cal Jones’ tragedy. One day Leo really surprised me. Seeing me on my lawn, he pulled over to the curb and asked me if I wanted to go uptown with him. On that day, just prior to opening season, the Tribune had featured a large picture of Leo with small head and shoulders shots of several other players in a circle around his big picture. The story was that Leo was the main man in the up-coming season. So, what surprised me? In my view, Leo had been the Bombers main man for so many years that to buy 20 Tribunes to send to his mom in Nebraska seemed to make this super star just a human like the rest of us. You gotta make Momma proud. Leo Lewis had two sons in professional football, one with Ottawa, and another, his namesake, Leo Lewis, with Minnesota Vikings. With all due respect to the sons: THERE WAS ONLY ONE LEO LEWIS, and I’m glad the NFL never got to see him play.

My brother Jim Warren, an orthopedic surgeon, was in medical school with three Blue Bomber stars at the University of Manitoba: Dr. Tom Casey, Dr. Normie Hill, and Dr. Jim McPherson. Since they were all players on the same Bomber team, did the Bomber executive really need to bother hiring a team doctor?

I rudely interrupted 1955 Chilliwack with quite important football stories. Sorry. Now we’re back in Chilliwack, having just moved to BC. It was in Chilliwack that I met Hank Huth. He was a tough kid, my age, but much tougher than me. Coming from the Prairies, I was getting to see a wilder part of life. Hank and I were in Chilliwack Secondary together. I don’t honestly remember if Wayne Aitkenhead was in school, but anyway we were all together twisting wrists with Wayne laughing at how easily Hank put me down. “Don’t laugh,” Hank said. “Ken’s left-handed.” So Wayne said: “Let’s see you do left hands, then.” I should have refused, because Hank put me down just as easily with his left. Two guys I didn’t know rolled up beside us in a ’52 Ford and said “C’mon, we’re going to get a burger.”

Hank and Wayne jumped up and ran over to the car. Wayne hopped in. Hank turned to me and waved me to come. I went over there and told Hank I had no money. The driver said:”Hey, Guy, I’m buying.” We went to the Dairy Queen drive-up and in total they ordered about five burgers, six hot dogs, five shakes, and 5 fries. After the girl brought everything, the driver said: “Where’s the coffee, cream only?” The girl was stunned. “Well, get it please.” As soon as she disappeared from the window, the car pulled out with the guys in front laughing their heads off. “Did you know they were going to do that?” I asked Hank. He shrugged his shoulders. “Eat up,” he said. So I did.

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Four Warren Brothers In Vancouver, 1955 – Photo by Ken Warren (ISN)

Before long my family moved to Vancouver. My dad was now in the CN station there and we lived in the East End. I was enrolled in Britannia High School. What a place that was. There were constantly fights after school, and pretty well everywhere else that you went. I felt like James Dean in ‘Rebel Without A Cause’. I’d come from some pretty tame Prairie schools and here I was in a place where the guys smoked and drank from mickeys hiding around corners of the school building talking about who they’d screwed at parties. George Puil was our teacher then in 1955. I think he was still on the school board or city council in 2010. The only reason these guys let me live was because they knew I was a reporter for a little weekly paper on Commercial Drive and they thought I was going to come out to one of their rugby games and write some glowing crap about their play. I had actually gone to the paper to see if I could get a job, but the owner said he didn’t need anybody right then. So I guess I lied to the boys a little, but at least I was still alive. Barely, though, because I was averaging about 15% in my science and math courses, and 40% in my arts courses, thanks to a good mark in English. I quit that school of nonsense and went working for the CP Express.

I often wondered if and when Arnie and I would ever be together again. Who’d have guessed this closest friend of mine would rob and murder a storekeeper in Vancouver within two years of our leaving Lestock. We’d been together daily for six years. We did everything together: playing all sports, building tree forts on the Reservation, collecting beer bottles, hitchhiking to play pool because we were underage, hitchhiking to Regina, swimming in dugouts and sloughs, rafting, threshing and stooking, playing spin the bottle with girlfriends. We may have smoked a few cigarettes, but we never stole or vandalized, or committed any crimes.

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Arnie and me in Vancouver, August 1956 – Photo Courtesy of Ken Warren (ISN)

In early 1956, we were living in North Vancouver and Arnie called me up. He too was living in Vancouver. We got together weekends because I had a job at CP Express. When we got together I asked Arn how long he had been in BC. “I’ll tell you a secret if you promise not to tell anyone,” Arn said to me. “Okay,” I said. He told me that when he first came to BC in 1955, he was living in a hotel that people he knew owned in Bralorne, a mining town. However, the mine petered out, so the miners left and the hotel was losing money. It was set on fire to collect the insurance. I guess I just thought well, that kind of stuff happens all the time, so I never told anybody, and soon forgot about it. Meanwhile, Arn introduced me to Red Robinson, a young but already successful radio disc jockey. We also spent a lot of time trying to pick up girls in Stanley Park. While we weren’t together every weekend, we were together often. It was a great summer. The only thing that seemed changed in Arn was his constant questioning: “How come everybody’s got a car but us?” By late August, 1956, I had to say goodbye to Arnie again. This time I was off to Hamilton to see a Blue Bomber pre-season football game and then to Regina to join the RCMP.

It wasn’t until I was attending UBC in 1958 that I heard of Arnie again. My sister-in-law Joan called me up to say that she was reading in the Vancouver Sun that Arnold Nofield has been charged with the murder of Low Gum Chew in November, 1956. The Chinese man was an old grocery store owner whose head had been bashed in by a pop bottle. A small amount of cash and cartons of cigarettes were all that was taken. This was definitely not the Arnie that I knew. This murder happened less than three months after I said goodbye to Arn. I went to Oakalla Prison to visit with him. We talked on phones through solid glass partitions.

I attended all of Arn’s trial dates and soon learned that when you have a bias towards the outcome, the bias influences your judgment. I thought Arn might win his case, but that was because I was putting too much stock in the defense. He was found guilty and was guilty. I believe his accomplice actually carried out the violent part and that Arn simply closed the window blinds. Nevertheless, he was there, a 17-year-old, to rob the poor man, so he is considered as guilty as his friend. His friend incidentally has never been identified. I worked very hard at finding out who the accomplice was and turned a name over to the Victoria police. I have never heard if they ever contacted the Vancouver police.

Several years ago I also contacted authorities about the burning down of the Bralorne Hotel because I learned from checking back files at the Vancouver Sun that a man died in that fire. That too is murder, since it was an arson fire. Something Arn never mentioned to me when he told me the ‘secret’. Lastly, in their search to find Arnie’s accomplice, police asked family and acquaintances of his what friends Arn had that might have been with him the night of the murder. They were told his best friend was Ken Warren, so they went searching for me. When they discovered that I had spent the entire month of November, 1956, training with the RCMP in Regina, they dropped me as a suspect. I had to see that for myself, so I went through Arnie’s file at the Vancouver Police Station. Sure enough, it was in his file.

Arnie wasn’t the only friend who called me up in Vancouver in 1956. Hank Huth, from Chilliwack, called me up and he had moved to Vancouver too, so I joined him some weekends, but also some late afternoons too because we joined a senior men’s baseball league together. Since we had to walk down Hastings St. to get to our practises, we made sure that all the so-called tough guys there noticed that we were carrying our metal-spiked shoes one in each hand in case we had to use them to fend off any smart asses. Unfortuneately, the smart asses were Hank and me. We found an empty wine bottle and both pissed in it. Then we gave it to a rubbie who cradled it, thanked us, and found a doorway to hide in to knock it back. After his first chug-a-lug, he spit out hastily and looked around for us. We were across the street laughing. He swore mightily, and threw the bottle onto the sidewalk. Although that was fifty-seven years ago, I still regret it, and probably Hank does too.

Since I was soon gone to Regina to train in the RCMP, I didn’t see Hank for another ten years. I know that he starred with the Vancouver Blue Bombers Junior Football team after I left Vancouver, and then was a linebacker with the Calgary Stampeders. With Calgary, he was nick-named The Monster because of his hard-hitting play. I’ll mention later about meeting him in the Stampeder dressing room in Ottawa.