Course: Agriculture- SDA & SDD
Not long after graduation, Walter Gumprich decided to venture to North America for a ‘working holiday’ - 60 years on he is still in Canada! Walter spoke to the SRUC Alumni team about his journey to the Great Lakes, reactions to the country, its people and opportunities he encountered.
Tell us about your journey to Canada.
It was 1957 and I had decided to see the New World for two years, gain some experience in the North American livestock feed industry and travel around with my earnings for six months afterwards.
I left my home in Glasgow Scotland, survived the stormy February Atlantic in the Cunard liner Saxonia and landed in Halifax Nova Scotia on my 24th birthday – St David’s Day no less. The crossing was so stormy that we were advised not to go on deck incase we were blown or tossed overboard. My three Norwegian cabin mates did not even venture out of the cabin for four of the five day crossing, even though they all claimed to be fishermen. I ventured forth because there were so few walking passengers that I was at the captain’s table every evening. All the walking passengers fitted quite easily into the First Class dining room. The captain was not feeling too lively either!
What happened once you arrive in Canada?
Since there was no extra charge for sailing on to New York from Halifax Nova Scotia, I decided to do so, particularly since the train fare from New York to Winnipeg was cheaper than the fare from Halifax to Winnipeg, because the distance is shorter. It was as we were about to cross into Canada on the train from New York, that I was confronted by a burly official brandishing a rubber stamp with which he proposed to desecrate my British passport. I refused. Having just spent two years of compulsory National Service in the British Army, I thought accepting “Landed Immigrant Status”, would oblige me to serve in her Majesty’s Canadian armed forces for an unspecified period of time. The past two years had been a great learning experience, but quite enough. In his best English, with quite a lot of French thrown in for good measure the not so friendly giant convinced me that there was no alternative but to accept his “offer” or be thrown off the train before entering Canada. My small boat sailing experience at school camp had taught me that “might is right” and discretion is the better part of valour. Consequently, I accepted his offer. It is surprising how much more readily “Landed Immigrant Status” is accepted now days!
Who met you in Winnipeg?
My late father had a cousin in Winnipeg, one of whose sons met me at the railway station. We had no trouble identifying each other due to the strong family resemblance. I did not know of their existence until 10 days before I left Glasgow so the meeting was a real piece of luck and made my introduction to Canadian life very much easier than had I not had my cousins to initiate me.
What were you first impressions of Canada?
My impression of Canadians as taught in Scottish schools was that the country was inhabited by the Scots who survived the battle of Culloden and fled to Canada as the Selkirk Settlers; the French who survived General Wolfe at Quebec and the indigenous people who survived all those Cow Boy and Indian movies. My first encounter on the New York to Montreal train seemed to bare some of these facts out.
You had some unusual jobs when you first arrived in Canada, tell us about popsicle making in Winnipeg
Finding work was my main objective, with my arrival in March hardly being the most opportune or hospitable time of year in the depths of the Canadian Prairie winter. I was looking for work in the livestock feed industry, since I had majored in livestock nutrition and dairy bacteriology. I had little trouble finding a really menial job making popsicles at Crescent Creamery in Winnipeg where endurance was the name of the game. In my first week my take home pay was as much as my board and room for one entire month. It was big money for me, since I had no other expenses. I walked two miles to work. The beauty of this job was having every Tuesday or Wednesday and one weekend day off, since the creamery had to receive milk every day. While this might have seemed a disadvantage to some, it suited me fine, since I had a weekday free for interviews in the grain and feed industry, without asking for time off work for job hunting, which might well have resulted in my being fired. After a few weeks I volunteered to make and tender a batch of ice cream to Dairy Queen’s recipe, which was accepted for Manitoba that year, which meant I had a much better job at Crescent. When I was subsequently offered a job of my choice at Canada Packers Shur-Gain Livestock Feed division, the decision to accept was more difficult than I had anticipated, since I already had a good job with positive prospects.
How did you apply your agricultural background into the rural industry in Canada?
The opportunities lead to six years in Manitoba and 44 years in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, designing and managing livestock feed plants, their businesses, credit and sales staffs. Managing a 30 thousand per year cattle feedlot and a thousand sow piggery were other real challenges I enjoyed. Designing and managing large cattle feedlots was also part of my work and continued as a consultant on international assignments for 20 years, until my retirement at age 73. This work took me to six continents for periods three weeks to four months at a time, always involving feeding, breeding and management of livestock. On the longer assignments I was able to take my wife along as well.
What have you been up to in your retirement?
In 2006 we moved to Vancouver British Columbia to be near our four children, who had all moved to the city at various times. Now at the age of 84 I am fortunate to enjoy good health and spend time volunteering at one of the major hospitals in the city, which I find very interesting. Cycling regularly year round regardless of the weather, which incidentally is much like Glasgow’s, provides most of my exercise and is made easier on the city’s cycle paths. We also do a moderate amount of travelling.