A Real Old-time Character

The following article appeared in the May 27th, 1997 edition of the Ladysmith-Chemainus Chronicle newspaper

When you count the number of old time characters in Ladysmith, you had better leave two lines for Keith Gourlay’s name. Better yet, make it three because you can’t put down his name without comment.

Keith is 77 now and while restricted by a troublesome heart the past 15 years or so, he continues to stay alert and informed about what’s happening in his town. His view of a politician doesn’t get much higher than your ankles and as a result, there’s been more than one or two members of the Monday Night Talkers’ Club, both current and past, who would rather walk around the block than run into him downtown when he is on one of his tirades.

“I hate politicians because they lie,” he says.

Glen Clark’s NDP government bugs him because, he says, it lied about balancing the budget and it lied when it said it was going to protect health care.

“I don’t know how they can have regional health board members from Port Alberni to Mill Bay making a decision on another doctor for Ladysmith is bringing health care closer to home?”

He’s got a list of political decisions that bug him and unless Monday Night talkers want their ears burned, they shouldn’t ask him about traffic calming on Dogwood Drive or about the $138,000 cost of the project.

Keith was born in Ladysmith in 1919. After school he took a commercial course before going to work at the Copper Mountain mine near Princeton.

“I started as an apprentice electrician and early on I was told to go change all the street lights at the town site. This meant climbing poles but I miscued and slid down a pole, tearing the entire crotch out of my pants. You want to talk embarrassment, try walking through town like that.”

He joined the army Aug. 4, 1940, with old buddies Dave Orr and Joe Mullen. They were part of a forestry unit that trained in B.C., Quebec and Nova Scotia before going overseas to Scotland in February, 1941. Because he could type, he was soon assigned to clerk duties.

He was stationed at Inverness and it was there that he met a pretty, young lass named Ina whom he would soon marry.

Keith left Ina with her parents when he was sent to England. He was a sergeant now, but declined an invitation to officer training.

In 1944, he got to France in the stern of a torpedo boat. Only infantry men were being taken to France at that time, so he said he was infantry. He was assigned to staff duties once there.

Keith returned from the war in September of 1945, his bride arriving four months ahead of him. He affectionately referred to Ina as “the warden” for 54 years this August.

fire-department
Keith Gourlay (Front row 4th from left) with other members of Volunteer Fire Department

“Joe Grouhel got me into the Legion and this helped me get the postmaster’s job when it became vacant. But the postmaster was paid on a commission-only basis and while we got 11 months of the year, we starved at Christmas because additional staff had to be paid from my pocket.”

He quit the Post Office because he was refused a leave of absence to help out at the family grocery store, when his dad, Dave, had a heart attack. Keith stayed at the store until he sold it in 1981, on advice from his doctor following his own heart surgery.

During those 30 years, Keith was a member of the volunteer fire department and he used to run up the hill to the old fire hall when it was located on Roberts Street. He was also a member of the Masonic Lodge and served as treasurer for 38 years.

fire-department
Keith Gourlay (3rd from left middle row) with other volunteer Ladysmith Firefighters

He and Ina have three daughters and Ina was librarian here for many years. In those days the library was located only a few doors from Gourlay’s Grocery, so Ina was well positioned to keep Keith out of trouble.

That took some doing, Keith admits now, because his buddies –Bert Gilson, Frank Jameson, Jim Davidson, all gone now; and Fred Wilson and Ralph Dalby enjoyed life to the fullest. This included a hunting trip to the interior each fall.

“Ladysmith was a great place to grow up, you knew almost everyone. Today you are lucky to recognize one in five faces.”

He remembers fondly the good times at Shell Beach during the 1920’s when there were swimming and rowing races on July 1.

But he remains upset with the council of the day for not taking up a Native offer to the town to lease the beach for $100 a year for 100 years.

Has growth hurt the town?

“Overall, I don’t think so.”

Monday Night talkers should consider themselves lucky because they have to know that if Keith Gourlay had something else on his mind, he would come right out and say it.

Its’ part of what makes him a Ladysmith character.

Contributed by Rollie Rose

Images added by LDHS from their files

Keith Gourlay passed away in 1999 and Ina passed away in 2008