Arnold Ellis

A local legend

The life and times of Arnold and Emilie Ellis as told to Emile Morin.

Arnold’s father, Walter Ellis, was born in 1891 in England. When Walter was fifteen, he travelled across the Atlantic Ocean to central Canada where he worked in a bank and later signed on with the North-West Mounted Police. After leaving the police force, Walter worked a variety of jobs at Pincher Creek, Crowsnest Pass and Bull River. He finally settled on a ranch near Skookumchuck where the Tembec pulp mill is now located.

Arnold’s mother, Simone Theresa Chenuz, was born in 1901 at Montricher in Switzerland. An accomplished pianist, she came to Canada in 1918 at seventeen years of age to join her father and brothers in Skookumchuck, where she met Walter Ellis.

Arnold had one sister — Evelyn, born in 1927, lives in Edmonton — and one brother, Camille, who was born in 1933 and lives in Arizona. Arnold’s mother passed away on route to the Cranbrook hospital in 1963 at age 62. His father passed away in the Kimberly hospital in 1968 at 77 years of age.

Arnold Walter Ellis was born on February 26, 1926 in Cranbrook. He attended school in Cranbrook until 1934 and then the one-room Larchwood School in Skookumchuck. In 1941, at the age of fifteen, he completed Grade 8 and, since that was the limit of schooling available at the Larchwood School, he set out to earn his living in the world. Young and energetic, he had no difficulty finding work at the many portable sawmills located throughout the valley.

He first came to Canal Flats in 1943. In those days the countryside was overrun with wild (feral) horses and a bounty was being paid to shoot them. Arnold thought this was an easy way to earn a living and to see the country at the same time.

Arnold joined the Canadian Army at Cranbrook in the fall of 1944. He took his basic training at Maple Creek in Saskatchewan. There he had his first painful encounter with cactus, which he had never seen before. Much later he still marvelled at how sharp the spines were and how beautiful the cactus flowers could be. Later, he transferred to Calgary for advanced training at the end of which he became quite ill with polio. He was moved to the convalescent hospital in Gordonhead near Victoria. When he recovered, he was sent to Nanaimo to join the King’s Own Rifles.  The war ended about the time he decided to become a military policeman, but Arnold had no interest in staying with a peace-time army and he decided to return to his father’s ranch in Skookumchuck to help with the haying.  Although released in 1945 — too late to help with the haying — he was not formally discharged until 1946.

Arnold mentioned that every young man has certain days that are cause for celebration. For him, those days were VE Day (victory in Europe), VJ Day (victory in Japan) and becoming 21 years of age (the legal age to enter a bar).  He laughingly said that on VE Day he was in the hospital at the Currie Barracks site in Calgary; on VJ Day he was in a convalescent hospital in Gordonhead; and when he turned 21 he was in the Cranbrook hospital because he had pulled off his thumb.

Arnold and Millie Ellis were married in Cranbrook on November 14, 1948. Arnold recalled that the marriage took place on “Sadie Hawkins Day” — an annual celebration of the 1930s to 1960s when the ladies traditionally pursued the men.

Emilie (Millie) Elizabeth Schettler was from Winnipeg where she had worked in the payroll department of the famous Winnipeg Grain Exchange as a comptometer operator. A comptometer was an electro-mechanical calculator that preceded the widespread adoption of computers. She had come to Canal Flats to visit her friend Marjorie Agnew and, as these things happen, Arnold met her there and eventually they were married.

From 1948 to 1953, Arnold worked at Camp 12 near Canal Flats, twelve miles up the Findlay Creek valley. His employer during that time was Bannister and Taplin. Before he was married, he lived in a bunk house with the other crew. After marriage, he and Millie moved to a two-room cabin.

While at Camp 12, Arnold worked on the opposite end of a manual cross-cut saw with Elmer Gustavson. Elmer was determined “to do him in,” but Arnold survived. Later, he became all too familiar with the use of a broad axe to face opposite sides of a log for use as a railway tie. During this time he visited a chiropractor for a sore back.  After he removed his shirt, he was told his problem was “overdeveloped back muscles.”

Eventually he graduated to a two-man,103-pound (dry-weight) chain saw. The trees were skidded out of the bush with horses. A portable sawmill was used to cut the logs into decking for railway flat cars.

In 1953, Arnold moved to Canal Flats town site and travelled to work at a logging camp on Old Baldy (Mount Sabine) north of Canal Flats. In 1956, he started work with the engineering division of the BC Forestry Service.  Initially, he was cutting trees and clearing slash for the road to Whiteswan Lake. Later he worked on building bridges and culverts. The years that followed were filled with building bridges and other road work for the forestry service based in Canal Flats. Arnold was hired by Crestbrook in 1962 as manager of the forestry division where he remained until 1970.

For a few years Arnold also owned and operated bulldozer equipment that he used for clearing land and other ‘dozer work.

During the summer of 1976, Arnold travelled to Atlin in northwest B.C. to investigate the gold mining opportunities there. After evaluating his options, he purchased four placer gold claims during the winter of 1976-77. At the time buyers were paying a premium price of $200 per ounce for this jewellers’ quality gold.

Arnold spent the summer of 1977 in Atlin preparing equipment for his mining operations and working for other operators. The next summer Arnold retuned to Atlin to start mining his claims. Because of the frozen ground in winter, the mining season at Atlin lasted only from early June to late October. During the winter months, Arnold and Millie returned to Canal Flats where they kept a permanent home. At Atlin, Arnold and Millie’s home was a trailer.  Arnold had rigged-up a Pelton wheel that used the power of a nearby flowing creek to generate electricity for lights, which provided the added benefit of a quiet campsite at night. Some of the visitors and workers from Canal Flats to the Atlin operations were Walter McKersie, Noel Wallenger, George Engstrom and Yvonne Marchand.  Arnold normally had a crew of two to help with the mining.

Arnold finished mining at Atlin in 1993. He returned to Atlin during the summer of 1994 to sell the remaining equipment and the leases.

By 1994, Arnold was 68 years of age. He and Millie retired to their home on McGrath Avenue in Canal Flats that they had purchased in 1967. They never had children.

After retirement, Arnold started more seriously investing in the stock market. He had dabbled in the markets starting in the 1950s but membership in a Canal Flats investment club and the need for something “to keep me from going nuts” helped him develop his skills as an investor. Arnold was a keen observer of the markets and world events that influence them.

In 2005, ill health necessitated Millie going to live at Columbia Garden and later the Columbia House in Invermere. She has since passed away.

Arnold lived in Canal Flats until about 2008. Failing eyesight curtailed his activities but he still checked the stock markets daily and loved to visit with neighbours. His home was well-decorated with flowers and decorative shrubs.  Arnold had always enjoyed and taken in a deep interest in the wildlife around him. In winter, the birds and squirrels could always find seeds and bread crumbs to eat and warm water to drink in Arnold’s yard.

Arnold passed away on January 16, 2012 while living in Cranbrook in a seniors’ home. He was a little more than one month shy of his 86th birthday.