Clara and Art Nolan are like a living history book. To sit at their kitchen table, drinking coffee and eating Clara’s homemade cookies, listening as they talk and laugh, sharing some of the events of their lives, is to marvel at the resiliency, the amazing adaptability, and the spirit of the human race.
They grew up in Doe River, on the BC side of the border, and attended the same school. Art was on his own at age 13, working and going school when he could, between jobs.
“I worked on farms, driving horses, and I worked skidding logs, again with horses,” Art says. “When we were kids the grain from the farms was hauled in wagons, by horses.”
Not only did Art work with horses, his play time involved horses. He was a rodeo rider; bucking horses and bull riding were his favourite events. He raced his own chuckwagon.
“We were kids in the Dirty 30s,’” Clara says. “No one had any money and if there was work, there were lots of people lined up for it.”
In 1944 they married, moving to a small farm on the Alberta side – East Doe River, and started their family. Over the years, they had eight children, six boys and two girls. At Clara’s insistence, Art gave up his rodeo hobby;
Clara had witnessed a really bad accident at a rodeo and didn’t want to have to worry about her husband getting killed or maimed while “having fun.”
Art drove the school bus and drove trucks. “The school bus job paid $132 a month,” he recalls.
“We had everything we needed,” Clara adds. “The only food we had to buy was stuff like flour and sugar; we had cows, pigs, chickens, and a big garden. You can’t get food that good any more. It was a good life and good for
As the children grew up, Clara, too, worked outside the home, taking over the school bus route as well as becoming a driving instructor.
“I loved that job,” she says. “I loved teaching driving. I sure didn’t want to leave when Art wanted to move north. He’d been driving truck at Summit Lake on the Alaska Highway. I went there for two weeks to check it out and it
was OK, but I didn’t want to leave the farm, and my job.”
“The work was steady, and the pay was good” Art says. “To me those were good reasons to move.”
There were two children still living at home when they came north. Art was working at Iron Creek by then, and they bought a place in Watson Lake so the kids could go to school.
Again, Clara worked. On the highway, she was labour foreman for a few years, and helped out in the lodges at Summit Lake and Iron Creek. In Watson Lake, she worked clerking, in restaurants, and at the hospital.
“The kids still like to go to Summit,” Clara says. “It was a beautiful place to be. We hiked all the mountains around there and enjoyed the wilderness. It’s a special place for us.”
In 1980, they went into business for themselves; Nolan’s Trucking was born and carried on till just a few years ago, providing steady work for Art.
Along with surviving tough economic times when they were young and raising a family, they have had more than their share of tragedy: one of their boys died at age eight, and two sons died of cancer in their 50s. The pain of
those losses never goes away. “It’s just not right for parents to have to bury their children,” Clara says. “You never stop missing them.”
They are retired now, in the way that people of their generation retire – staying busy maintaining their two properties in Watson Lake, doing community work, and travelling to visit friends and family, particularly family; they
have over 50 grandchildren and great grandchildren.
The family, and access to them, is Art’s reason for saying he would move from Watson Lake, going somewhere less isolated, somewhere where he can go and see people without such a long drive.
Clara doesn’t want to leave the memories of her adult sons who died.
“They are all around me here,” she says, gesturing to the property adjoining theirs. “Dennis did all that landscaping and fixing up the place.”
Art still drives an old truck one of his boys rebuilt, the vinyl interior is now faded and peeling but the fancy windshield trim still glitters with sequins, and the engine sounds smooth and strong.
Art distinguished himself in 2008 by being, at 84 years old, the oldest participant in the Emperor’s Choice cross-country race in Tumbler Ridge. It’s a grueling 20-kilometre trek with creeks to ford and some of the climbs so
steep in spots one needs a rope. He did it the year before, too, and did both races under the five hour limit.
When asked his training routine, Art said, “Well, I shovel snow in the winter; I chop wood and I walk every day.”
Asked about how they feel about their lives to this point, did they live their dreams? Art wishes he’d had more schooling, though he acknowledges he did well with what he did have, running his own business.
“We didn’t think about travelling to other countries, or being movie stars – stuff like that;” he says. “You just wanted to be able to have work and take care of your family. We did that.” He looks fondly at his wife, “I had a good
“We don’t want to go anywhere exotic,” Clara agrees. “We like to visit our kids when we leave here. And in town, we have friends over and we go and visit friends.”
This comfortable couple had modest dreams for themselves, and they accomplished them and are content. They have all they need and their children are doing well – what more is there to ask for?
Their steadfastness, their commitment to one another and to achieving their goals are qualities rarely seen in these new, faster times of big dreams and small efforts. Clara and Art remind us of the quiet pleasure, the
satisfaction, of a job well done.
Tor Forsberg is a freelance
writer who lives in Watson Lake.