The name Jerry Gauthreau may not ring a bell, however, when I mention that Jerry is the owner and operator of the downtown Steve & Sons Shoe Shop Ltd. you will likely know who I am writing about - especially if you needed to have any leather or shoe repair work done in the past 20 years.
Jerry one of five children, was born in Jogins, N.S. in 1942 where his father worked as an auto body mechanic. When Jerry was six months old, his father moved the family to New Brunswick for work in the coal mines.
He said, "My father worked underground with a pick and shovel as a water well digger. He worked in the coal mines for 10years and during that time there were events of roof collapses, wall bumps, explosions, blackdamp (a mixture of unbreathable gases left after oxygen is removed) and coal dust in the lungs of the coal miners. No one ever grew old working underground. It was dangerous work along with a lack of safety measures. My father used to wear a carbide head lamp that produced and burned acetylene gas. This was a dangerous and inefficient method of light that did not get along well with methane gas."
"When I was 17, I worked part time in a shoe repair shop. I liked working with my hands, caught the bug and wanted to learn more."
In the early 1960s, Jerry headed west because he wanted to see the Rocky Mountains. He said, "When I saw Rogers Pass, I knew I was never going back east ever again. After seeing those mountains, I knew that there was a God because no man could create what I was looking at."
Jerry continued going west, passed through Prince George and ended up in Terrace working in a logging camp. He found work in the print shop for the Terrace Herald. When they sold out, he had the option of working in their shop in Prince Rupert as a printer apprentice. It was the right move because that is where he met his future wife, Irene Cameron.
Jerry said, "I was working as the foreman for the Prince Rupert Daily News and Irene was the newspaper typist. I knew the minute that I laid eyes on Irene that she would be my wife. I was hit by a bolt of lightening and for the first time I saw marriage material. That was 47 years ago. We have both gotten a little bit wrinkled and gray over the years, but I can still see the young girl in her. I didn't marry Irene for better or for worse, I married her forever."
Irene was born and raised in Prince Rupert. After high school she went to work for the Prince Rupert newspaper as their typist. It was her job to type all the pages in columns. From there her work was sent on to be waxed, assembled on each page and readied for printing. That type of work is now redundant and is currently done on a computer.
When the children started to arrive, Irene became a stay-at-home mom.
They have two sons; Paul and Neal who in turn gave them three grandchildren.
Jerry said, "Irene is the grandma and she is tied to the hip with all three of them. Two of them are seven and one is five and they all adore their grandma. Irene has always been family oriented."
Ten years later - and because he didn't like all the rain - they moved to Prince George where Jerry worked as a printer and pressman by trade for the Prince George Citizen.
He didn't like the cold weather so they moved to Penticton; that was even worse because he could not take the hot climate.
They moved back to Prince George and Jerry went to work part time for Steve Dergez at his shoe repair shop called Steve & Sons Shoe Shop Ltd.
Steve who was a master shoe maker, eventually hired Jerry full time and taught him the trade. He taught him everything there was to know about shoe repair, how the machines worked and the fact that he would have to know how to repair all the machines because the closest repair person that he knew about lived in Seattle.
Jerry bought the business off Steve in 2000. Steve had four sons who were all busy in the logging industry and not interested in the shoe shop. Steve had visions that his sons would one day take over the business so he named his business accordingly.
Jerry bought the business with no intention of changing the name.
He said, "Steve was a master shoemaker. He worked hard, earned a good reputation, treated people fairly and did some amazing work. I am a shoemaker, but not a master shoemaker. However, I am aiming for the title.
I have 55 annual city of Prince George business licenses pinned on the wall of my store. I never intended to change the name of the business but I did intend to live up to Steve's good reputation. Our motto has always been 'If the shoe fits repair it!'
"I do leather and shoe repair and I do orthopedic work for people and companies such as ICBC, workers compensation and other insurance companies that have to cover injuries to the feet and legs. Many people suffer from bunions and making life easier for them is a big part of my business.
"I am the only shoe repair business from Prince George to the Arctic Circle and from Prince George to Penticton. I have always enjoyed my job; I never hated to go to work I just hated to get out of bed. I tend to be a bit of a night (owl).
"Now that I am 77 years old, I think I would like to retire. I tried it once many years ago for a week and I was back in three days. I didn't like retirement so I just came back to my store. Now, I am thinking about trying it again. I am willing to sell my store lock stock and barrel and as part of the sale I would stay on and work along side of the new owner for one year and teach them the trade.
"It is getting to be time to retire. I have met some wonderful and interesting people over the years; I know many people but many more people know me. I have had a good life and a long life. I did everything I ever wanted to do. I have a great family and a wonderful wife. I got married when I was 26, settled down, had a family, survived cancer and I am happy and content with my life."