Local curling legend lived life to the fullest

Wilf Peckham was dancing until the very end.

The 94-year-old died on March 2 after a brief stay in hospital, his son Gerry Peckham said. Although Wilf, who played in a record 68 consecutive Kelly Cup men's curling tournaments between 1945 and 2013, had hung up his broom in his final years, he continued to be engaged in the sport which had been a life-long love for him and his family. Less than a month before his death, Wilf and Gerry had met in Penticton to attend the 2018 Scotties Tournament of Hearts.

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"We partied at the Scotties in Penticton for four days - with him leading the way," Gerry Peckham said. "You hear stories about people living life to the fullest, and I can assure you there wasn't a wasted moment in (his) life. He loved to dance. He and mom danced in the living room, danced in the berry patch, danced when nobody else was... first on the dance floor and last to leave."

Even when Mae, his wife of 68 years, passed away in January 2014, Wilf found a way to keep dancing, playing music, fishing, hiking and cross-country skiing, Gerry said.

"He took an amount of time to gather himself, and then he re-embraced life. I think he took mom wherever he went," Gerry said. "He couldn't quit doing the things they had enjoyed doing together. Countless hours at Summit Lake... thousands of berries picked, hours and hours spent hunting - which was mostly about walking and looking around - hiking every day, even when mom was slowing down."

Wilf was born in Reston, Man., and moved to Prince George in 1930 with his family. Other than a four-year tour of duty in Europe during the Second World War, he lived here his entire life.

"He and my mom never spent a moment on their couch, they were always out in the community," Gerry said. "He cut quite a swath, in his quiet way. Everywhere he went he got to know people and made friends. My dad had a memory like few others. He became a bit of a historian. His storytelling and ability to recount the history of Prince George and the context was fascinating."

In 1939, at the age of 15, Wilf dropped out of school and took a job at The Citizen as a printer's devil -a young assistant to the pressroom. After serving four years in the army in France, Belgium and Germany, Wilf returned to Prince George and started back at The Citizen in 1946 as an apprentice pressman.

He stayed at The Citizen until May 1983, first a pressman and later as a proof reader.

"I think it was the only job he had, after 15-16 years of age. He loved the work, he loved the company, he loved the business," Gerry Peckham said. "The newspaper business was full of rich characters, and The Citizen certainly had its share."

At the age of 52 he took a voluntary reduction to working three days a week, Gerry said. His friends called it a "Wilf Retirement Plan."

"We really loved the outdoors so Mae said she would do all the housework and gardening on those days, and we'd have four days off every weekend," Wilf said in a 2015 interview with The Citizen. "It worked good and eased us into retirement. It was a pretty good deal. Working is overrated as a pastime, you know."

His parents were never well to do and retired with "an incredibly modest bank account," Gerry said, but instead focused on the richness of life in and around Prince George.

"Somehow he'd figured it out," Gerry said. "He didn't need to travel the world, and he didn't need luxury. He and my mom spent the majority of their lifetime... within 100-150 miles of Prince George."

But Wilf was perhaps best known for his involvement in the local curling community and the Royal Canadian Legion, which was "his home away from home."

"His curling in Prince George dates back pre-war. There used to be an old, two-sheet curling club in the shade of Connaught Hill," Gerry said. "I grew up in a curling-infused family. It made up a huge part of his life, and our family life - my grandparents life. There was always curling stories, and some of the curling stories came from the people he had met and played with. He travelled all over the place to bonspiels."

Whenever the family went out of town, there were curling friends to visit, Gerry said. And when rinks from the region came to Prince George for the Kelly Cup, those friends came to the Peckham home for "food, drink, music and laughter."

"It was what we did, as a family. If you came to Prince George for a bonspeil, you were bound to end up at the Peckham house," Gerry said. "Grandma and my uncle played the piano and my dad played the guitar. You couldn't find a better guy to lead a sing-song, because he never forgot the words to a song. They would be dancing in the living room, dancing in the basement."

Wilf didn't just curl for the social life, Gerry added, he was an accomplished player who won three Kelly Cup championships. Gerry, who has served as the high performance director for the Canadian Curling Association more than 25 years and received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2013 to honour his coaching efforts, learned the game from his dad.

Growing up, Gerry said his parents lived near Ninth Avenue and Brunswick Street, right next door to his grandparents. Every winter his grandfather would flood the backyard and Gerry and his family would jam-can curl under a lightbulb suspended overhead from a clothesline.

"(Dad) was a great student of the game, and therefore became a great teacher of the game," Gerry said. "The lessons he imparted at the kitchen table or at the end of a rink I still carry with me."

When not at the curling rink, Wilf and Mae could be found at the local Legion. Both Wilf and his older brother Len survived the Second World War, and their father, Bill, was a First World War veteran.

"I've been selling poppies forever. I think I've missed one year in the last 72, and before that I was selling poppies as a kid," Wilf said in an interview with The Citizen in October 2016.

Wilf landed in France shortly after D-Day, and received the French Lgion d'Honneur in 2014, which marked the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Normandy. France presented the medal to surviving Canadian veterans of the battle, which began the liberation of France and the eventual end of the Nazi occuption.

Because of his long involvement with the Legion, a celebration of Wilf's life will be held there following his funeral service on March 17. The service will take place at

1 p.m. at the Prince George Conference and Civic Centre.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks donations can instead be made to Royal Canadian Legion Branch 43 in Wilf's name.

Wilf is survived by his son, Gerry, daughter Marilyn, foster daughter Charlene and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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