102-year-old Powell Riverite Relives his Childhood Bond with Work Horses
Ten days before Bob Stutt’s 102 birthday, his family surprised him by turning up at Willingdon Creek Village with a team of Percheron-cross horses.
All the way from Barriere, BC, Bob’s son David Stutt and grandson Mark Ralko hauled them into town from David’s ranch. The two French draft horses – Rasputin and Roan – rolled down the Coquihalla and boarded two ferries for the surprise.
Bob was speechless. He couldn’t stop smiling. His grin said it all.
He finally had his horses again.
Bob’s daughter Thelma Parker, who lives in Lacombe, Alberta, came to town for her dad’s early birthday ride (Bob’s birthday is Dec. 20). She explained that her father’s love affair with heavy horses goes back to his childhood.
Growing up in rural Saskatchewan, one of 14 children, he trained a beautiful team of work horses. The family lost the farm to the bank in 1934.
“It was the depression. Times were tough,” Thelma said.
Bob’s family planned to move to Hudson, Ontario – but his parents didn’t have enough money to pay for all the kids to take the train. So 20-year-old Bob sold his team of horses to his uncle, and used the money to buy train tickets for his brothers and sisters.
“You did what you had to back then,” said Thelma.
He found work as an ice road trucker, and made his way west. In Vancouver, he met Alphonse Devaud at a poker game and told him he was looking for work. Alphonse hired Bob to work on his Powell River dairy farm in 1936. While working on the farm, Bob met Freda Bauman, whom he married in 1946, after returning from five years in Europe during WWII (Bob still has shrapnel in his arm.)
He worked at the Powell River Mill in the shipping Department. He never kept horses here.
Willingdon Creek recreation worker Laurie Norman says Bob always talks about “his horses,” which he hasn’t seen in 82 years.
“He asks us if he’s fed the horses yet. He’s so worried he’ll forget them.”
But on December 10, all Bob could do was smile as he sat in the front of the wagon with Helena Bird and son David. The back of the hay wagon was filled with friends, children and other residents of Willingdon Creek Village, singing Christmas carols as the wagon circled the big lot behind the hospital.
“My two brothers, David and Fred, planned this,” said Thelma. “Everyone knows Dad loves horses and David wanted to do something special for him.”
Although daughter Jeannie, who lives in Edmonton couldn’t make it, she was there in spirit. David’s wife Cindy and Bob’s grandson Mark were all part of this special day helping with the horses and equipment as were Helena and Pete Bird, who housed the horses at their Hatch-a-bird Farm in Wildwood, which was at one time owned by Bob’s son David.
Most of us won’t live to be 100 – let alone 102, like Bob. But if we do, I’m sure we’d all like to have a family willing to haul a team of horses across the pass of the dreaded Coquihalla highway in the dead of winter, to make our memories come alive again.
By Isabelle Southcott