Anyone seeing Barb Behr hard at work in the bakery at Super A or visiting her at her mobile home might not imagine how different her real life is, the life she and Dick, her partner of 21 years, will be returning to next year.
She grew up in Kamloops, BC, the only one of five siblings to leave BC and go north, though the journey didn’t happen overnight.
Edmonton was her first stop after graduation, the plan being to work and save money for college. Her adored grandfather taught accounting at Vancouver Tech and Barb’s dream was to become a certified accountant.
It didn’t happen. Soon after she got to Edmonton, she found she was pregnant by her high school sweetheart who’d jilted her when she chose to stay in Kamloops and graduate rather than follow him to his new job in Alberta.
Back to Kamloops she went, to raise her son, Cory, with her parents’ aid, until she went to Prince Rupert to a job in hotel management.
By the time she’d opened her own restaurant on the golf course, she had a husband and a daughter, Dawn Cherie.
The marriage ended and, once again, Kamloops became home. This time Barb was resolved to work, raise her kids and forgo romance.
She was working in an electronics store when Dick met her and instantly began an assiduous courting of this determinedly disinterested woman. She thought he was some sort of bum; he seemed to have the time to do nothing but hang around the store when she was working. Later she found out he owned a vending business and was having his secretary call him when he was needed.
It took him four months to get her out for dinner, during which she told him if he wanted to be friends that was fine, but not to look to anything else happening between them.
Dick agreed, and set to work to win over her kids. He took them out in his speedboat; he took them fishing; he taught them to hunt and to drive his pick up; in the winter they went sledding.
The kids had never had a man in their lives who was interested in them, let alone a man who enjoyed and sought their company, so, after a year and a half, when Dick suggested to the kids they and their mother could move in with him, they were all for it.
Barb finally agreed, but she would pay half of all expenses; she would be sort of ‘renting’ from him, she said, and there would be no formalizing of their relationship.
During the next 15 years, the family (for family they were, despite Barb’s edict) came north every year to hunt and fish, learning to love the North and all it had to offer.
In 1995, the family, now including Michael, the orphaned son of friends, voted unanimously to move north. Dick sold the business and the family moved to Fireside on the Alaska Highway. Dick drove highway equipment and Barb was a flagger.
The supervisor for White Bear Industries was a friend and had been after them for years to come north and work for him.
Cory stayed behind in Kamloops to graduate, coming up later to drive a gravel truck on the highway. Dawn Cherie was 13 years old and Michael was 15 when they moved; both had been hom e schooled and continued with their studies at Fireside.
In l998 Barb and Dick bought a trapline. It was a fly-in only place; they spent from September till early January trapping, coming back to the highway to work.
Many times Dick ‘popped the question’ and each time Barb was adamant in her determination not to marry again. In 2003, he tried a new tack: he told Barb he’d arranged for them to fly out to Stewart Lake where Don Taylor would marry them. He told her in front of a group of their friends, thinking she could hardly say no in such circumstances. They got married.
Seven years ago they moved out to the trapline full time, building their dream home with all the modern conveniences one could wish, an arduous and expensive process, with everything other than the plywood and metal for the roof being made by themselves, and everything other than the logs having to be flown out to the site.
Asked what the appeal is about living in such an isolated place, Barb says, “Peace—no schedules, no stress, no phone calls. Lots of time to read, bake, and just sit on the deck with a cup of coffee.”
Last year Dick and Barb bought their mobile home in Watson Lake.
“We needed a town base, and my mom, Joyce, needed a place to live. We’re here this winter to fix the place up, renovate a little, and make sure it’s all working smoothly for Mom when we go back out in the bush for good.”
Meanwhile, Dick works on the house and Barb works in the bakery; this is not a couple who are good at sitting around. Their choice of a bush lifestyle may well be peaceful, but it takes a lot of work to achieve and maintain that peace and well-being, and those comforts of home.
At the end of the interview, a surprising side of Barb is revealed.
This woman, who still plans on becoming a CA sometime, and whose mother describes her as being ‘loving’ and easily ‘moved to tears,’ is an avid fan of boxing, a passionate devotee of the sport.
Even ‘cage boxing’ is not too much for her.
Barb wants to see a live match, in Las Vegas, and with DelHoya as one of the fighters. If women had been allowed into professional boxing as they are these days, says Barb who would have had to have been in the ‘featherweight’ class, that would have been her career choice.
Why boxing, of al l things?
“I have a bit of a temper,” she confesses, reluctantly. “When I worked as a flagger I got a bit physical sometimes. There was a guy on a motorcycle in my line one time who got too sassy and, well, I kicked him and his bike over … I guess boxing is a sort of safe release of that energy in me. The job of flagging was really aggravating that way; lots of annoying, ignorant people to be dealing with everyday.”
There is not likely to be much of ‘that energy’ for Barb to discharge once she is back in the bush with Dick and living the life she loves.
Tor Forsberg is a freelance writer
who lives in Watson Lake.