He’s closing in on a century of existence, but it’s been only a couple of years since John Bannerman moved from his house in Cumberland to Casa Loma in Courtenay.
The 98-year-old had a bout with pneumonia, prompting the move to the seniors’ village. From the comfortable confines of his one-bedroom suite, accompanied by daughter-in-law Cindy, he recalled how it was back in the day.
“Cumberland was what Courtenay is now. I’m going back 65 years,” said Bannerman, who spent his first six years in nearby Bevan, where he started school. His parents, Dan and Marth (née Hunden), then moved to the village.
As a young man, Bannerman spent a short time in the coal mines before switching to retail. He worked in a tunnel where coal was produced, about where Minto Road is now located.
Despite being underground, he said his job was like “sitting in this room” with electric lights.
“There was a shaft that went down where they were getting the coal from,” said Bannerman, whose father was a hoisting engineer in the mines. “The coal was running along the wall, and it was cut and put into coal cars. They would haul a little over a ton of coal.”
It would be shipped onto boats at Union Bay. California was a big destination.
He said the mines attracted numerous sporting types from the United Kingdom.
“A lot of the soccer players from England ended up out here,” said Bannerman drummed in a band and enjoyed sports. His bedroom at Casa Loma is adorned with numerous medals earned from the soccer pitch, baseball diamond and basketball court.
Between finishing school and working in the mines, he worked at the Mounce Brothers grocery store. “In those days you either went to the mine to go work or to the logging camp.”
With a partner, he opened John Cliffe’s Dry Goods in the 1930s. The store had formerly been called Sutherland’s.
Bannerman was in the army but never served overseas during the Second World War.
“I ended up in Debert, N.S. When the war finished, we packed up. We had to come back to Vancouver because that was a depot.”
A recent trip to the old Chinatown and Japanese town reminded him of old friends in school and on the playing field.
“I had quite a lot of friends that were Japanese. Played soccer and played basketball.
“All my friends now … I don’t have many friends — immediate friends — but I have their families. Their children are still carrying on from what their parents did. Cindy and I always go to the Legion because that’s where a lot of my older friends, a lot of their dads used to be. There’s not many left that I went to school with.”
Bannerman married his wife Alice, now deceased, in 1934. They had one son, Ron, who is also deceased. Ron and Cindy had two children, Kim and Michael. John Bannerman also has two great-grandchildren.
“It’s getting to the age where us younger ones don’t have that connection with the early life like dad does,” Cindy said. “He’s got all the memories of what happened way back then. We can read about it but we haven’t experienced it like he has.”
Come Dec. 23, Bannerman turns 99. But who’s counting?
“I stopped having birthdays,” he quipped.