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In 90 years Nelson's Alan Ramsden has seen it all

Bruce Fuhr
By Bruce Fuhr
April 15th, 2016

He’s seen 16 Prime Ministers lead the House on Parliament Hill, 17 different Premiers preside over BC from Victoria and more than 10 Mayors steer what was known as the Queen City of the Kootenays, including his younger brother Bill, through goods times and bad.

He witnessed first hand how the Great Depression crippled the country, lived through the second World War, observed how the mighty Sternwheelers brought communities on Kootenay Lake together and watched Nelson grow from an industrious community to a city nestled in the rugged Selkirk Mountains of southeastern British Columbia focused on tourism and its Victorian heritage.

Thursday, April 14, 2016, Nelson-born Alan Ramsden celebrated his 90th birthday.

And by the looks of this Heritage City resident, he’s ready to start the push for 100.

“I just think I’ve been very fortunate . . . and also very fortunate in sense that all of the medical advances that have come along during my lifetime have benefited my health,” Ramsden told The Nelson Daily from his home in Fairview.

“I’ve got both hips replaced. I’ve had cataracts in both eyes done, I’ve had other health issues . . . all successfully taken care of, so I guess that’s one of the reasons why I’m still here,” Ramsden adds with a laugh.

Alan Ramsden was born in Nelson on April 14, 1926 to Wilhelm and Rose Ramsden.

Those early years were enjoyable as his father was a very successful businessman in Nelson.

But Ramsden did get his eyes opened to how difficult life was for friends during the Dirty 30s.

“We were okay, but some of my friends would have boiled oatmeal in the morning for breakfast, and then fried oatmeal for lunch, so those were very tough times,” he explained.

However, it wasn’t very long after, when he was 10 years old, his father died and he assumed the position as man of the house.

With his younger siblings Rose (Buddy) and younger brother Bill, he and his mother, Rose, built the family.

Ramsden attended public school in Nelson from Grade 1 to 13 — Grade 13 in Canadian Public Schools was called Senior Matric, where students continued on for another year in high school following Grade 12 graduation.

Growing up in Nelson, Ramsden didn’t have access to a smartphone or video game.

Instead, he and his many friends kept themselves busy playing around the neighbourhood in Uphill.

“There were a fair number of us . . . six or seven always played together,” he said.

“And we could go everywhere without anyone worrying about us.”

“We didn’t bother anyone . .  . we were so busy having fun doing neat things playing Cowboys and Indians a rolling a worn out tire full of sand down the street.”

During his high schools years, Ramsden was a King’s Scout in Boy Scouts of Canada, part of Nelson’s air raid patrol during the second World War, was an Air Cadet as well as a very good outdoorsman and fisherman — hiking and experiencing most of the lakes and mountain peaks in the Nelson area.

In Grade 9, at the age of 14, Ramsden earned national fame when his chemistry project not only turned out to be a hit with the class teacher, but his design for a heat-seeking bomb using a photoelectric cell was forwarded to the Federal Government for use in the war effort.

Ramsden, who was recognized by the Canadian government for his idea, found out in 1948 that the United States government used the technology to develop a bomb during the war.

Ramsden joined the workforce, first working at Nelson Transfer, a local car dealership before taking on summer jobs with the BC Forest Service.

While still in high school Ramsden got into radio, getting baptized into the on-air scene by fire.

“I was called to the office during school . . . I didn’t know what I had done wrong but when I got there, Frank Payne, the publisher of Nelson Daily News (and owner of the Nelson radio station) was talking with (principal) Mr. Rogers asking if I could be excused a half-an-hour early today because he wanted me to fill in,” Ramsden tells the story of radio in Nelson.

“(Rogers) said “Alan is a good student” so it was okay.”

“When we went to the station there (Payne) introduced me to Jean Roll, who occasionally was on the air making station breaks,” Ramsden continued.

“I went into the control room for a station break and when I came out to ask how I was doing, I looked around and there wasn’t a single person left in the building, so there I was running the station.”

Ramsden worked at CJAT in Trail from 1947-51 before concluding his career in radio in back in Nelson as the station manager.

He then worked at the Civic Centre as the manager of the facility before completing his career in workforce at the BC Liquor Store.

In 1949, Alan Ramsden tied the knot with Evelyn Houde, and the duo raised five children — Martin, Eric, Janice, Douglas, and Cheryl.

Ramsden volunteered many hours with, Nelson District Boy Scouts, Nelson JC’s (Junior Chamber of Commerce and Chamber of Commerce, Nelson and District Arts Council, Kootenay School of the Arts, Regional District of Central Kootenay Recreation Commission and well as countless hours at the Nelson Museum.

The work at the Museum earned Ramsden nomination, and selection, as Nelson’s Citizen of the Year in 2002.

During his retirement, Ramsden lived in Fairview with his love of his life, his wife Evelyn before she passed a way a few years ago.

“Probably the best thing in my whole life was finding Evelyn . . . raising our family and having a wonderful bunch of kids,” Ramsden said with a crackle in his voice.

His daughter Cheryl, predeceased wife Evelyn.

Ramsden’s children will join many friends and relatives at a birthday party this weekend at the Fairview homestead to share a few old stories and talk about life in general.

“Some people say when you get older you get wiser,” Ramsden said.

“Some people say you get thoughtful and intelligent . . . and that experienced people have wisdom.”

“But I don’t think I have wisdom,” he adds.

“I still think I make the same foolish mistakes I’ve always made. But what I do know is I’m more accepting of what happens in life and by accepting life it has made everything a lot easier.”

“If you’re given a bunch of lemons, make lemonade; instead of taking that sour taste attitude.”

Happy Birthday Alan Ramsden. And many, many more.

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