Walter Leslie Preedy
October 30, 1929 ~ March 26, 2013
On March 26, 2013 in Creston Valley Hospital at 8:30 pm after a period of failing health, Walter Leslie Preedy of Creston passed away.
Les Preedy, was born on October 30, 1929 in New Liskeard, Ontario.
When Les, whose nickname was “Chubb” in Ontario, was 16 he left home and headed west where he found work as a farm labourer. He went back east a little over a year later eventually ending up in Toronto working in a nut and bolt factory, a job that he found to be tedious, and boring. He then headed back to Calgary with an eye of finding work in the exploding oil patch. Times were tough the first year although he had the will to work, he lacked the experience. He was small for his age and the oil companies tended to write him off. He survived a cold Calgary winter between working on farm jobs, accepting odd jobs and to conserve what little extra money he had, spending many an evening camped under one of Calgary’s bridges. He headed up to the Leduc oil fields and landed a job with a pipeline operator who desperately needed welders. Les lived in a camp near the town of Calmar where he worked every day increasing his welding experience working on the pipeline.
On a blind date he met a young New Brunswick girl by the name of Irene, who was the private secretary to the general manager of the Alberta Dairy Pool. This was the fall of 1950 and Les and Irene were engaged at Christmas and were married in Edmonton in the spring of 1951. They were married for 58 years.
His next move was to Redwater, Alberta where they lived in a skid shack next to an oil well. Les kept busy welding. During 1952 work started slowing down for welders so Les and Irene moved to Calgary where he got a job as a surveyor, which meant that he spent a lot of time away from home. In 1962 they sold their Calgary home and moved to British Columbia where the Preedys bought a large cabin cruiser to haul tourists around Shuswap Lake. This proved to be a challenge so the next year they opened up a trampoline centre at Sandy Point. Their next move was in the fall of 1963 where Les became the plant manager of a manufacturing plant in Weyburn, Sask. However the company hit tough times and went bankrupt in 1965. He moved down the road to Estevan working as a welder.
In 1966 Les took his mechanical and welding skills up north to The Pas, Manitoba where he became the welding instructor at the brand new Northern Manitoba Vocational Centre, which eventually became the Keewatin Community College. By this time, Les had become an excellent welder. Les was somewhat of an independent thinker, one who wasn’t afraid to try new methods and ideas to accomplish his daily tasks. His colleagues and superiors quickly picked up on the value that this man brought to the table.
There was a housing shortage at the time in The Pas. The new college and the soon-to-open pulp and paper mill made it difficult to find a home. A developer was planning a downtown shopping mall with two department stores and a major hardware store as anchors. They purchased a block of property but there were still homes on it. Les approached the developers about the empty houses. He then would submit a bid of $1,500 for a large two-story home that once belonged to a prominent merchant. His friends laughed at the low bid, but he felt that getting the houses moved was a bigger priority than haggling over real estate prices. The developer accepted the offer but Les would have to incur costs of making the move. He could also live in the house until his lot and basement were ready. He also put a bid on to demolish another house on the site and haul away the materials. His price was around $1200. The lumber on the old house was shiplap and he hired his two oldest children to remove the nails out of all the boards. The lumber became his main source for building his summer cabin. Meanwhile he had purchased a lot and found out that he would have to build a basement. He used wood; something he had read about and this became his prototype. Wood would keep the basement cool in summer and warm in winter.
In his first year, he decided to build a snowmobile. He made the toboggan in the sheet metal shop and found an old engine that with some tinkering he could rebuild. He needed a certain type of screw or bolt but couldn’t find one. “No problem, I will just make one,’’ he said as he turned on his bench grinder. This quick ability to make his own bolts proved that his stint in that Toronto nut and bolt factory wasn’t such a waste of time after all. The snowmobile was finished for Christmas and while it certainly didn’t set any speed records it proved what you could do with a little ingenuity. The engine was placed in the middle of the toboggan, apparently to balance the weight of the machine, but this limited the passenger load.
He was promoted from his welding instructors job to that of Chairman of Trades in 1977. Not used to wearing a suit to work, he found out that being the boss wasn’t what he had hoped it would be. Many of the people reporting to him had been friends, and some resented his success. Les wasn’t happy and he aged over a two year run when he suddenly resigned in 1979. “I had to get out of there; it was getting to me,” he told friends. Following his early retirement he continued to build houses. His most unique one was an environmentally sound one. Instead of concrete he went for a wooden basement which held the heat in. He installed a series of wood stoves to heat the home, and even ran a pipe from the hot water heater to the wood stove to give him hot water. His summers were spent gathering and cutting wood, but he had cut his power bill in half. He was ahead of his time as this was the seventies, not the 21st century.
Other accomplishments included the odor-free outdoor toilet that he built for his cabin at the lake. He made a sheet metal toilet that fit in the “hole” and then he put a sink in the wall. Next came an outdoors water tank that was attached to the outside of the outhouse. Then he installed eaves that emptied the rainwater into a pipe that flowed directly into the water tank. You would go to the bathroom, turn on the water to wash your hands, and then pull a cord to flush the toilet with the rainwater. Thus you had an odor-free toilet. He was asked to patent his idea but never got around to it. He also built and designed canoes, boats, and a fiberglass camper cab for his truck that were functional and efficient.
The key technical workers at the new pulp mill in The Pas came from Finland. The one thing that they missed from home was the saunas. Suddenly a sauna boom was on. Les got into the sauna frenzy but he needed something to provide power to the rocks. He went on a scavenger mission to the local dump where he found two laundry dryers. He hauled them back to his shop, removed the motors, rewired them and there was his sauna power source.
Les was a keen sportsman. He loved a good game of golf and for several years was a member of The Pas Golf Club. He was always an avid curler both in the men’s club and in the mixed with Irene. He also served on the club executive for a while. Les also belonged to The Pas Toastmasters club for a year or two, and was a member of the Elk’s club. Les also had a love for music. From writing folk songs, to playing his guitar, banjo and fiddle it was all a challenge. He built his version of a steel guitar, which he called a “Wood Duck” which sat in his living room, and many a visiting musician sat down to play it. He also fell in love with the mandolin and spent one winter building and testing one. It was a qualified success.
In The Pas the annual Trappers Festival had a strong music side to it. He became the stage manager of the Stage Show that brought to town name entertainers like Catherine McKinnon, Ryan’s Fancy, Tommy Makem, Valdy, the late Stan Rogers and his brother Garnet and the late Blake Emmons. The Preedy house became a drop-in center during the festival for visiting musicians who along with local musicians would hold a post show jam that went until the wee small hours.
Since moving to Creston in 2005 Les was a regular visitor to the Wynndel Coffee House. He idolized the guitar and singing of Bryan Ferguson, and other favourites like Peanut Butter and Jam. Both Les and Irene never missed the opening shows of the Blossom Festival. Before his health suffered he was a regular visitor to the Creston Public Library, always taking home an armful of books both fiction and non-fiction, especially science fiction.
Probably the most dangerous and most unusual thing Les attempted was to show up in Alberta at an old friend’s place in St. Albert one winter day with a simple request. Take me to Wizard Lake. They were flying ultra light aircraft and he was convinced that he could be up and flying that same day. His good friend shook his head and wasn’t surprised when he was told that he would need several hours of instruction first. Knowing full well about the tenacity of Les, within two hours Les was up and flying. He bought the plane and arranged to have it hauled north to The Pas. He could be seen at different times flying around The Pas, and yes, some of his critics thought him to be a crackpot or was that genius?
Les was always leery of politicians but one day he decided to pen a letter to the Premier of Manitoba via the editorial page of the Winnipeg Tribune. He told the premier that the province’s greatest asset was its huge power resource. More water was pouring over the dams each day than we would ever need. Power was a renewable resource, Les explained, and the untapped market was the use of electric heat. It was environmentally friendly but its downside was cost. The only hydro company in Manitoba was owned by the government, so all they had to do was lower the rates of electric heat. More people would turn to the cleaner electric heat and the province could sustain itself forever. You can become a hero Les urged. Since then Manitoba has added many dams to its northern rivers but they don’t need coal or diesel to keep operating. They can draw from their own natural power source. Les waited and waited, but Conservative Premier Sterling Lyon never answered the letter from Les. Sterling went on to lose the next election, making him a one-term premier. Meanwhile, the forward thinking Les who wrote his letter of 1978, never wrote a politician again.
Les was predeceased by his parents, Walter William Preedy and Barbara Lillian MacLachlan from Glengarry County; and his wife Irene on July 23, 2009.
He is survived by son Shane (Deb de Tremaudan); grandsons Rory, Erik, and Ryan of Rossland, BC; daughters Nadeen (Jeff Person) of Grindrod, BC, and Janis (Gordon Kelly); and granddaughter Ann, The Pas, Manitoba.
We lost a remarkable Canadian on March 26.
He will be missed.
There is no funeral at Les’ request.