Wilf Peckham lived a life filled with music, dancing, fishing, curling, skiing, and picking huckleberries and he did it full-throttle, with much laughter, with his family close by and his Prince George sweetheart by his side.
Always smiling, the owner of a great sense of humour and a firm handshake he held until the day he died on March 2 at age 94, Peckham was remembered Saturday as a father, grandfather and great-grandfather who put his family first and his friends a close second. His devotion to those who were close to him set the gold standard.
Peckham married his dancing partner Mae, the girl he loved to twirl. He adored his wife and together they made a great team. Soulmates forever, they had a son, Gerry, and two daughters, Marilyn and Charlene, and left a legacy to their seven grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
At Saturday’s Civic Centre gathering, Gerry Peckham told the story about a day his dad spent in the hospital with Mae, who died four years ago, and how he wasn’t happy with the care she was receiving from her doctor. It was one of the witty “Peckisms” which made Wilf the indelible character he was.
“After the doctor had left the ward, Dad went to the nurse’s station and told one of the nurses: ‘I don’t know if you’ve noticed but there’s a guy here wearing a white coat pretending to be a doctor. I can assure he’s not doctor.’”
Wilf was a great storyteller who loved newspapers and he had a great memory to dig up all kinds of anecdotes about some of the city’s more colourful pioneers, the likes of Sour Bean Mackenzie, Johnny Leroux (also known as Johnny the Jew), Seven Fingers Gus and Cucumber Slim. In 1939 started working as a pressman at the Citizen, a job interrupted by years of service in the Canadian army during the Second World War when he left in 1942 to fight in Europe. His father Bill signed the papers so an underaged Wilf could join the same unit as his older brother Len.
Until the day he retired, for 40 years of his working life, no matter if the weather brought rain, shine or bone-chilling cold – from his house on Kenwood Street or later at Queensway and 20th he made that walk to from the Citizen offices at First and Brunswick.
Away from the job, he and Mae never wasted a chance to go exploring the great outdoors. Using their cabin at Summit Lake as a base, when they weren’t fishing for trout or hunting they got in the habit of setting off on a long hikes which would take them to their favourite places - like the top of Teapot Mountain to see the rising sun or to find a hidden lake behind a hay field. In winter, when they weren’t at the curling rink or dancing up a storm in a community hall, they liked to go out breaking fresh ski tracks on an abandoned logging road to take them places where they could observe nature, sometimes scaring up a moose or a bear. He and Mae would find spring snow and ski for weeks after the rest of the city folks had long packed away their gear for the season.
At home, their TV set was rarely on. They were too busy doing things that involved their family or friends. They’d rather listen to music, with Wilf on the guitar and his brother Len or mom Ella on the piano for singalong sessions and their house was a magnet where everybody gravitated for a good time. Every night was date night and they spent many a night with their extended family at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch No. 43, wear Wilf and Mae always felt at home.
Wearing his Tam O’Shanter cap, Peckham was a fixture on the local curling scene and his record of playing in the Kelly Cup tournament, the Brier of Prince George, every year from 1945-2013 is record that will never be broken. After being the Kelly Cup runner-up in 1956, Wilf skipped the winning team the following year, playing with third Harold Dornbierer, second Craig Smith and lead John Warner. Wilf went on to win it twice more playing with Ted Moffat.
Warner and Peckham became close friends and at the service Saturday he told the crowd Peckham could have easily found a place on a championship-calibre team but placed more value on maintaining his friendships.
“He kept asking me to curl with him and we never had another sniff at the Kelly,” Warner said. “Wilf was always the same, he was competitive on the ice, he wanted to win that game, but when the game was over that was it, no finger-pointing.”
Well maybe, occasionally, that finger of blame came out. It happened the year after Peckham had stopped curling, when he was asked to throw the ceremonial first stone at the 2014 Kelly Cup, with Warner down at the other end of the ice holding the broom to help him hone his radar.
“I held the broom and Wilf threw that rock and landed it right on the T-line, a little bit wide and it didn’t land on the button,” said Warner. “The story from Wilf forever after that was if I had put the damn broom in the right place he would have left it right on the button.
“Well for once, I’m going to have the last word. He chucked it wide, he got his elbow out.”
Wilf kept a treasure trove of poems and song lyrics stored on his “iPeck’ and later in life put his strong singing voice to use with the Forever Young Chorus. His “country cousins” from the choir group sang one of his curling-themed originals which repeats the chorus:
“Over the hog line and down to the tee, that’s where I know my rocks will never be, we’re out at the bonspiel now.”