Some people take a long and circuitous journey to the place they call home. Fritz’s Ersfeld’s trek north to the sunny little cabin where he now lives with the woman of his dreams was such a one.
Born in Trier, Germany, and raised on a farm, he left for Canada at the age of 24.
He had no particular plan or ambition; he only knew he found Germany “too crowded” and he wanted something different.
The first 10 years or so found him working a variety of jobs in Quebec and Ontario. Farm work was first, followed by work in a tire repair shop. From repairing tires he moved to repairing golfing equipment, following that with a stint in a German restaurant. The latter gave him the opportunity to save money. Hard to believe now, but at a wage of 50 cents an hour, and paying $6.50 a week for a housekeeping room, he was able to buy himself a BMW motorcycle.
Work in a steel plant was next, and then a tobacco farm.
Eventually he made his way west, living in Vancouver and working for a fruit and vegetable wholesaler.
“It was the first time in my life I saw a tractor trailer load of fresh strawberries,” Ersfeld says, the marvel of the sight still having the power to move him.
“Most of what we unloaded was from California or Mexico—beautiful products.”
A year later, led by stories he’d heard about the Yukon, he headed north in his VW Beetle.
“It was the trip from hell,” he recalls. “The Alaska Highway had not been paved yet and the dust from the big trucks was awful. It took days to get from Dawson Creek to Whitehorse and when I arrived my windshield was gone and so were both headlights. I was grey-haired from the dust.”
Manpower sent him to Cassiar Asbestos, to drive trucks in the mine.
“The money was good and the food was good, but it was 100 per cent a company town and that part was not so good for me,” says Ersfeld. “The manager was from South Africa and he was the old school kind; we were treated as though we were slaves. I heard him say one time he missed the old days where if a man didn’t work out they took him behind a shed and shot him. He was angry that here they had to pay a man who wasn’t working to the management’s satisfaction.”
In 1986 Ersfeld collapsed on the job; he had a “broken-down” valve in his heart.
“I was sent to the Lion’s Gate Hospital in Vancouver for three days. They examined me, gave me medication, and sent me back to work.”
Six years later, another episode led to him having surgery; he was given a mechanical valve.
“I am on my way to becoming a bionic man,” Ersfeld says with a grin.
Declared unfit to continue working, he retired with his disability pension to a house he’d bought in Watson Lake.
Why this town? What does he like about it?
Not much, it seems.
“I bought the house when I was still working at the mine. You couldn’t buy a house there; the company owned everything. I don’t think this town is run very well, and it’s a disgrace that the water was tested and declared unfit for human consumption, but is still being used.”
Once settled in, Ersfeld became
z somewhat of a recluse.
“I stayed at home and watched TV and drank coffee,” he says, without a trace of self-pity. “And then I met Susan.”
Occasional forays to a local restaurant led to meeting the woman who was to change his life.
Susan was waitressing at the restaurant and being of a friendly and vivacious nature, she would chat to Fritz as she poured his coffee. Soon they were using every opportunity to get into conversation.
“He was smart; he had lots to talk about and I liked his sense of humour,” Susan says.
Fritz’s life to this point had not encompassed marriage and a family; he’d been a loner, thus he was not entirely certain of how to go about a courtship.
“I asked her out, finally,” he says. “And then I got invited to her house for dinner. I just made it my business to be at her place as often as I could and soon I was there almost everyday. I liked that she was tidy in her home, and I liked her cooking, too.”
Words that could be construed to be somewhat lacking in romance, but when Fritz looks at Susan his feelings of pride and delight in her are unmistakable.
They were married in 2007; this wandering man had come home.
As half of a couple, Fritz is more social; he and Susan attend events at the Signpost Seniors, go to the occasional movie and even make a trip to Whitehorse once in awhile.
Asked if he will stay in Watson Lake, Fritz says he likely will.
“I’m older now; I’m tired of moving around—I just want to sit down in one place.”
He is 74 years old now. Can he sum up his life in one sentence?
“These happy days were long in coming.”
Tor Forsberg is a freelance writer
who lives in Watson Lake.