Alouette Squadron History


In April 1995, in preparation for the annual change of watch dinner, Anne MacDonald wrote our charter commander, Roy Hales, to invite him to the 37th Anniversary dinner, and asked him if he would supply a history of the early origins of the Alouette Squadron. Roy explained that, due to recent illness, he would be unable to attend but would prepare an audiotape of his recollections and send it to her. It should be explained that Roy Hales, who now lives in retirement on Gabriola Island, was the first commander of Alouette in 1957-58, served again from 1962 to 1964, and was the third commander of Pacific Mainland District in 1960-61.

At the end of April Anne received the audiotape from Roy, and the following is an attempt to transcribe Roy’s words on to paper. I am afraid it will be rather difficult to capture just the right sense and balance of nostalgia and enthusiasm that comes through on the tape, but we will try.

Roy Hales calling from Gabriola Island. It was sure nice to receive your invitation to the Power Squadrons party. I’m afraid I won’t be able to make it. I am a little under the weather and that is why the delay in answering your letter. It is now April 24th. Your letter brought some pretty happy memories back. I can remember a group of young nurses, trying to teach us Power Squadron types first aid. You weren’t married to Glenn then. The location was somewhere around the Lougheed Highway and, what we knew then as 3rd Avenue. I don’t quite remember where it was, but it was very nice anyway, and you taught us quite a bit, you and the young ladies helping you – all nurses. Then there were picnics and swims up to Pitt Lake. I remember our paths crossing then. I don’t believe you were in Power Squadron then either. Then, when you were in, there were those wonderful parties we had after our graduation ceremony, when we would all go up to Whitebone’s funeral home and take the organ out of the chapel and go upstairs and have a real party. It is a good thing that the dead can’t talk.

As far as your request for a little history of the beginning of Alouette Power Squadron, I will tell it as I recall it and it is some time ago so there might be some gaps. It began about 1956. I checked this date out with my membership certificate, which is dated February 1957, so I am probably right in saying it began about 1956. I had a twelve-foot little outboard boat that I used to fish with in the Interior, and along the coast, I had an awful dose of two-foot-it is. About that time, small outboard cabin cruisers were coming in and on those little boats you could cook, and sleep, and live. Sometimes it might be a little cramped but in those days it was a wonderful thing and I had an awful dose for this, and I just had to have one of them. One day I went to town and I would up buying one. It was a real super salesman who sold me the boat. He not only sold me on the merits of the boat, but he sold me on the dream of wonderful cruising, and places to visit, and anyway I wound up buying the boat off this fellow, and incidentally his name turned out to be Tommy Pakenham. They delivered the boat out to the Pitt River. I enjoyed using it up and down the river and Pitt Lake.

It soon became apparent to me that I had to learn something about navigation, and boat handling, and customs and etiquette, and laws, because I yearned to cross the gulf and see the Gulf Islands. Anyway, about this time I was looking in the paper and here there were a couple of beautiful sailor girls, in a large picture, and here in between them, who of all people was Tommy Pakenham. It was announcing that Vancouver Power Squadron had a class going. Jus the thing I wanted to learn and the enrolment so far was 450 and they were closing it off, and anybody who wanted to get into it had better get in fast. Next morning, I drove into town and went and saw Tommy, as he was apparently running the course, and said. “Tommy, I want to take this course. You sold me this boat and now I need to take this course so I know how to run the boat.” Tommy said, “No way, the course is full up and we’ve got a waiting list. There is just no way we can handle you.” And no matter how hard I argued Tommy said, “No. But there is a way out. You put on a course.” I said, “Hey Tommy, I want to learn. I am in no position to teach.” But he was persistent and said, “Look, you put on the course and what you people can’t teach yourselves, I’ll send people out to teach you or I’ll come out myself.” And so I went out with my tail between my legs, and when I got out to Maple Ridge, I got a little more nerve and got on the phone and started phoning people. Finally, I got on to John Scott, who was director of night schools in Maple Ridge at that time. I found that he wanted to put on a boating course, so we got discussing it and he finally agreed that we would put an ad in the paper and see what kind of a turnout we could get, and in addition to that we would start phoning around. Well, we got, I think, around fourteen people, so we decided to put on the course, called the gang together, and figured out who could teach what portion of the course. There were certain portions we couldn’t handle, customs and etiquette. We couldn’t handle navigation. We didn’t know anything about the laws and rules of the road. So I got hold of Tommy and said, “Here it is Tom. We are putting on this course and you said you would give us help. These are the areas in which I need help.” He said, “Well, I’ll get fellows together and you let us know when you want us.

And so the course started and we bumbled on, teaching the best we could and then it came time to – Oh! Tommy came out first. He taught customs and etiquette. He did a fabulous job. We enjoyed it thoroughly and understood it thoroughly. Then came rules of the road and he sent out some Navy type. He was dressed in a Navy uniform. He had a copy of the Canada Shipping Act, and he was expounding from that. He forgot all about the Small Vessel Regulations, he had us so deep in confusion that we didn’t know whether we were coming or going. However, we bore it out and the next thing to import from Vancouver was a chap who came out to teach us navigation-piloting. Well sir! He was another Navy type. He taught us piloting. He taught us Advanced Piloting and he taught us Celestial Navigation, all in one night. We were so confused it was just hopeless. So we had him out again the next week and the same confusion existed, so we had little groups amongst ourselves and tried to teach ourselves, but it was pretty well hopeless.

We got through the course, that is, the learning part. Tommy came out for the review and luckily he straightened us out on the rules of the road; he got us into small vessel rules, rather then great ship rules. He helped us out tremendously on the navigation end, and we were starting to gain a little confidence, and then he came out again the next week and gave us more and we were starting to gain a little more confidence. You’ve got to remember, and maybe you don’t know that in those days the course was just an outline; it didn’t go into any detail as to why subjects should be covered in a certain period. Our handbook was “Piloting and Small Boat Handling”, written by Charles F Chapman, a fabulous book and we relied on this a lot for our instruction in teaching the class too. Tommy went along with his reviews and he said, “I think you’re ready. We’ll have the exam next week.”

Well of the fourteen, ten turned out if my memory serves me, and Tommy brought a couple of imports – a couple of chaps from Westminster that had missed their exam and came out to have the exam with us. These two chaps, Rick Foote were one and Harland Olsen was the other, were destined to become members of our Squadron.

Well we wrote that night and we waited, and we waited. Finally (and this would be the beginning of February), I got on the phone and started bugging Tommy, and he started writing East and didn’t get any reply. This went on and on and we couldn’t find out a thing and finally in august Tommy phoned me up. “Roy, I’ve got you examination results.” He named eight, as I remember it, local members who had passed, plus the two members from New Westminster, Rick and Harland and he said, “You should form a squadron, or decide to form a squadron.” (He outlined the responsibilities that a squadron had) “And then go ahead and elect yourselves officers.”

And so I called a meeting….

The two chaps from New Westminster weren’t there, but the eight of us decided, Yes! We’d have a shot at this, and we discussed who would be what. The gang wanted John Scott, who had done a lot of work in organizing the whole course. They wanted John to be Commander but John didn’t want to be Commander, He wanted to be Training Officer. So finally I took on the job of Commander, Henry Sutton became Executive Officer, Bill Dickie became Squadron Treasurer/Secretary, John Scott became training officer and Lloyd Capling became, I believe Medical Officer. That was the basis of how we started.

I phoned Tommy and gave him the results that we were going to go ahead. He pointed out that there had to be ten to form a squadron, and this was why he was taking the two out of New Westminster who had written the exam with us, and that would make up the ten. It wasn’t legal but nobody back east knew what was going on so we would get away with it. On that basis we went ahead and he said. “Well Roy, the next thing that you have got to do is have a graduation and installation ceremony. I’ll help you to arrange that. I’ll bring a crew out and we will install you.” I said, “O.K. that’s fine. Give me a format, what’s the procedure? I’m not aware of the protocol.” He said, “It’s your squadron Roy, and you run it the way you want. I won’t have anything to do with that stuff.”

I called a meeting of the boys and we decided we would pattern it after the Rotary meetings I attended, starting with, of course supper, then the introduction of visitors and guests, and then the installation of officers and the presentation of certificates and then an entertainment for the night. That was our format. In addition to that, I’d been a little cautious as to how long this thing was going to be. With people coming from out of town I wanted to make it a full evening. So I asked a number of people who I knew were going to be there as guests, and people who were going to be members of the squadron, to bring their musical instruments along and keep them in the trunks of their cars, and keep it quiet. So this was done and we called the meeting. I guess there were forty or fifty including outside guests that attended this installation ceremony. We had a little bar set up in the corner and the evening went very nicely.

We had a very serious installation and then, for a program that night, I called on a friend of mine from Vancouver who’d just purchased a very large yacht, and he’d entered this yacht in a combined U.S. Canada predicted log race, quite a prestigious thing. This fellow was Les Simmers. He was a tremendous speaker with a fabulous sense of humour. He could find the funny side of anything. Well anyway, Les could be very serious too, and he’d gone to Power Squadron types (he was in Power Squadron too) and he’d got the best to run his ship for him as crew and to navigate it. He wanted to win this trophy. So, I had him out to tell the adventures of this race as it happened.

The boys ran his ship on a sandbank and they called the U.S. coastguard to rescue them. The coastguard had come along and, in an attempt to get them off the sand bar, the coastguard pulled all the desk hardware off their ship and they had to retreat with their tails between their legs. They sent out a bigger ship, and when the bigger ship pulled all the hardware off their deck, the Coast Guard suggested they get a private salver to come and get the ship off the sand bar. Well, the skipper wasn’t going to have any part of that, and the next morning they got out there with shovels, and literally dug a moat around the ship, and right out to the water, and when the high water came in they floated the ship off.

Well, as it happened, his crew, or some of his crew, were the same chaps that came out to teach us navigation, and rules of the road. The guest speaker didn’t know they were going to be there, and they didn’t know the guest speaker was going to be a guest speaker. So, the evening turned out hilarious. We were rolling in the aisles; tears streaming down our faces. It was a tremendous program that went over marvelously. A short intermission was called, while the bar was opened and our selected gang went out and got their instruments and came in and started to play and we had a dance, a very informal dance. Then, low and behold, our out of tow guests called for a bar break and they went out to their cars and brought in a “plumbers band” made up of copper and brass pipe, all plumbing stuff, but it was a brass band that really worked. They started to entertain us with the brass band and our gang joined in. Well, the party ended at five in the morning at our place for “eggs in the hole” and that was the launching of Alouette Power Squadron. Perhaps I should say it was phase one of the launching of Alouette Power Squadron.

In phase two of the Alouette, Anne, I found a more serious situation. Tommy was either forming, or going about forming, new squadrons all over the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island and he wrote back to headquarters in Toronto, and wanted to form us into a District, the same as they’d done across the border in the United States. Tommy had formed a very close liaison with the U.S. Power Squadrons, because of our inability to get materials out of the East and answers out of the East. He found it easier to just phone down to the States and one of his buddies down there would give him whatever he wanted. Our course materials were actually American course materials, just changed for our laws and the same for our exams. Anyway, Tommy wanted to form districts and when headquarters in Toronto said flatly “No”, Tommy went ahead and formed us unofficially into a district out here and he called the first district meeting, to which I was invited as Commander and John Scott as Training Officer. Well, John couldn’t make it and I went to this first meeting and, Oh Golly, I was swamped. Vancouver had some 450 active members, I think North Vancouver had a hundred, Burnaby, I don’t know, somewhere around fifty and likewise New Westminster around fifty. These people talked about training aids and the rules and regulations of the organization. Quite frankly, I didn’t know what to make of the thing. I wondered what in the world we had gotten ourselves into, us eight little fellows. So I went out and told a meeting of the sturdy gang of eight. I explained it to them and said, “Maybe we should consider whether we want to carry on with this thing or not, or maybe we should consider – we will seek out their weak point and make it our strong point. Now, for starters, they’re having an installation and graduation meeting over in Nanaimo next week. I understand that six are going, representing Vancouver Squadron. I suggest that we go over there, all eight of us, taking our wives. That will make sixteen. If each of us take a guest couple that will make thirty-two. We’ll just go over there and show them we’re around and that our little eight is a ‘mighty eight’”.

So, we did that. We didn’t get our thirty-two. We turned up with about twenty-five, and we just amazed everybody with our vim, vigour, and vitality. Of course they didn’t know who was Alouette and who wasn’t. We all went as Alouette and that was the beginning of a new path we took. Number one, we decided that whatever we did we’d make it fun and from then on we had parties at the drop of a hat and we had fun. We undertook every dirty job that had to be done at this so called district level, and did it to perfection. For example, they called the first district conference and no one knew what to do for entertainment, and Alouette undertook it. I’ve forgotten what we did, I remember us ‘might eight’ showing up with a snake line of about twenty-five going through the Georgia Hotel at the District Conference. I remember we did the decorations and I think we put on one of our famous pari-mutual boat races for entertainment that night. I’m not sure. We did so many zany things. We had boat races. We had plays we put on. Every crazy thing we could think of.

We became, as we hoped we would, known all over Canada as a “going squadron. Of course, before long in our own area our enthusiasm and the wonderful parties we had got to be known and our membership doubled and doubled again very very quickly. This is how Alouette went on. I can remember an official district conference at which the chief commander from Toronto was invited to attend, and he did attend and he made a special point of wanting to know, and wanting to meet the members of Alouette. They had heard back East what a huge squadron we were and what a wonderful job we were doing. At that time we put on a piloting course and had 100% pass, and we put on a seamanship course and had 100% pass. That, plus our zany antics and the crazy things we did. I don’t know where we got all the ideas from, but there was always somebody to come up with an idea at the last minute. He just wanted to meet this squadron and find out just what made us tick… and for all of us it was one of the highlights of our time in Alouette.

I remember that one year John Scott came up with an idea for a boat race. We built three little boats out of 3/8” plywood. Basically it was a six-foot double-ended boat with sides about eight inches high. The boat was about eighteen inches wide and flat bottomed. On the flat bottom there was a long rocker installed fore and aft and another rocker installed athartships, and the idea was to get this darn thing on an even keel and to move it along in a race. We sold pari-mutual tickets, with so much for the people who guessed who was going to come first. This was a great hit. We used it at our graduation ceremonies. We used it at formal district conferences. All the squadrons borrowed our boats. Eventually the boats went across the border and, when they got into Oregon, I lost track of them and they never did come back.

Another year we were called on to put on the entertainment at a district conference and we were getting a little worried, as we were starting to run out of ideas. Avis Capling came up with a ply, and the idea of putting on a play didn’t go down very well with some of us. Anyway, she sold us on the idea of taking this play and presenting it in a hilarious manner, and we grabbed it and ran with it, and again we had them in the aisles laughing. Another victory for Alouette! Oh gosh, the things we did went on and on and on. We had all kinds of different boats. We even had submarines with periscopes on them for races. It was just a grand experience. We were laughing and enjoying it all the way. Nothing became work. Even teaching and learning became fun.

Well, as time progressed, slowly, slowly Alouette started to go down hill and there came one sad day, when we called a general meeting to elect new officers and nobody wanted to have any part of it. We talked about disbanding. At that sad date we’d forgotten, or Alouette had forgotten, how to laugh. I can remember going around the room, asking various people if they would stand for being commander and nobody would accept, it seemed. Then there was a little fellow sitting in the corner who had just graduated from our first course and I turned to him and said, “Would you like to have a crack at it?” He said, “Yep”. I said, “Beg your pardon?” He said, “Yep”. And so right away he was made commander. I can’t recall who his officers were but, from that day on, I can tell you Alouette has never looked back. That little fellow’s name is Lorne Riding.

Past Commanders

HALES, Roy 1957-58
SUTTON, Henry 1959-60
CAPLING, Lloyd 1960-61
DICKIE, Bill 1961-62
HALES, Roy 1962-64
GIBSON, Les 1964-65
WOOD, Jack 1965-68
CLARKE, R.R. 1968-69
ALTENREID, Eric 1969-70
REED, Wilf 1970-71
RIDING, Lorne 1971-73
KILLERICH, Alf 1973-74
EXNER, George 1974-75
APPLETON, Vee 1975-77
MILLS, Ed 1977-78
CROOK, Les 1978-79
WORRALL, Bob 1979-80
HARRISON, Len 1980-81
EGAN, Don 1981-82
PICTON, Jim 1982-83
HARRISON, Norm 1983-84
NYKOLUK, John 1984-85
DIBNAH, Chris 1985-86
DIBNAH, Sue 1986-88
PREDDY, Hugh 1988-89
MACDONALD, Anne 1989-90
DIXON, Bill 1990-91
BIRKENTHAL, Kurt 1991-93
BISSON, Maureen 1993-94
VANDEN-BRINK, Michael 1994-95
WATSON, Dan 1995-96
BARLEE, Debbie 1996-97
BRADY, Lorena 1997-98
DIXON, Mike 1998-00
CARLSON, Bob 2000-02
GREGSON, Dianne 2002-03
BRADY, Lorena 2003-05
BAUMANN, Thomas 2005-07
SLATER, Alan 2007-09
ROBERTS, Doug 2010-2011
OVERMAN, Arron 2011-2012
PAULSON, Roger 2012-2014
ROBINSON, Richard 2014-2018
GRUND, Burns 2018-____

RIDING, Lorne 1992
MILLS, Ed 1993
APPLETON, Vee 1998
MACDONALD, Anne 2006
BRADY, Lorena 2008