July 22, 1925 saw the arrival of Jack Andros Vivian O’Meara to a farm in the Prairiedale district of Vanderhoof, BC. Jack was the only son of Alf and Dorothy O’Meara, whose family eventually grew to include a daughter named Eilleen who most know today as “Bunny”. It was on this farm, and the surrounding trails and fields, that Jack lived his younger years – trapping muskrats, hunting, horseback riding and all other things outdoors – as well as a bit of grade school when absolutely necessary. It has been said more than once that Jack was the “fastest thing on two legs” in the Vanderhoof area; a story that was recently recalled by his school teacher Lil MacIntosh. Jack kept in contact with Lil throughout the years as one of many links that he would maintain with Vanderhoof and its people.
Through his developing years during the 30’s, Jack spent times living on the farm and with his relatives, the Androses. He often travelled by saddle horse to Fort St. James during the summer months to spend time with his dad who worked there as a Forest Ranger. It was this background of a farm upbringing, a developing area and summers with his dad on the northern waterways, that formed the base for a love of the outdoors and horses that would stay with him forever. It was also during this time that a lifelong bond was formed with cousin Cliff Andros that undoubtedly saw many an adventure and escapade unfold – we are sure.
After some experience on a local haying crew, the early years of the 1940’s saw Jack hired on with the Canadian Mining and Smelting Company as an assistant to one of the company’s geologists working the Takla Lake area. He occasionally mentioned that he “felt ten feet tall” in his new cork boots as he rode one of Hoy’s scows up the Tachi and Middle River water system to his new job in the north. Common to many youth of that era, 1943 saw Jack quit high school at age seventeen and he and his cousin Cliff joined the Royal Canadian Navy at HMCS Discovery in Vancouver, BC, where they undertook basic training. The pair soon separated as the navy took them to the east coast and Jack took further training to become part of an engine room crew on various warships. War service took Jack onto the North Atlantic with convoy escort duty, where he served on the destroyer HMCS Qu’Appelle as a stoker first class. It was during these years that Jack picked up a tattoo that some of you will recall upon his left forearm as he often wore his sleeves rolled up to the elbow. With the end of the war in Europe, Jack came home for a brief rest while volunteering for the Pacific theatre upon the Corvette HMCS Lasalle and eventually the cruiser HMCS Uganda. However, as we know, the war soon ended in the Pacific. With the end of hostilities, Jack was tempted to stay on with the peace time navy until becoming aware that the “higher ups” had immediate plans to strip the wartime paint off of all the ship’s brass work and he figured – as an ordinary seaman – he wanted no part of that.
The mid 40s saw Jack back in Vanderhoof where he pursued an opportunity to join the Canadian National Railway as a station agent. Jack moved up and down the line as the job required, and one of these postings brought him to Burns Lake where he happened to make the acquaintance of Virginia Keefe during a badminton match at the old community hall. As Virginia would later say, their courtship was brief – for those days – and they were soon married on June 27, 1947. As a married couple, the two moved up and down the rail line with stops in Albreda and later in McBride where their first son, Michael, was born in 1950. Further additions to the family occurred in 1952 and 1955 with the arrival of Donna and Graham, who rounded out an active family then posted at the station in Endako. One of Jack’s strengths was administration and training and he gained a reputation in the CNR as a top notch station agent and trainer of new operators. Occasionally his duties required him to track down a new operator at the Endako Pub and make sure such operator was primed with coffee and ready for duty.
However, as good an administrator that Jack was, the lure of a life tied closer to the land remained and they left the security of a CNR job in the mid 50’s when an opportunity arose to purchase a farm at Francois Lake. The O’Mearas left seven day work weeks at the railway for seven day work weeks on the farm which was to remain a constant theme from that point forward for Jack. Many were the hours that Jack, Virginia, and the kids devoted to building the farm; the many days of haying and the late nights of calving. In a pattern familiar to many even today, Jack often worked at other activities to support the farm which found him in the employ of BC Hydro and a period of time as a bus driver for the Catholic school. While farming necessitated the usage of many pieces of machinery, it is fair to say that Jack’s love was not for things mechanical, but for those things that were alive. Simply put, if it had hair on it, he could cure its ills and mend its ways, but if it ran on gas or diesel… look out. It was also in Vanderhoof during the 50’s that Jack began a long association with the Masonic Lodge which would carry on for all of his remaining years.
The 1960s were a time of change for all and the O’Meara family was no different. They were joined by their third son Garth in 1964 and eventually the decision was made to sell the cow herd and start a new chapter in life. They left the farm and moved to Burns Lake, and Jack put on yet another hat – that of a life insurance salesman with Great West Life. This was also a time that Jack was busy with the local Rotarians, the Lakes District Cattleman’s Association and – for fun – participating in local gymkhanas. After a few years, a decision was made to move to Prince George where Jack and Virginia built a new home and Jack shifted to Manulife as a salesman in their PG office. Once again, Jack’s skill as an administrator and his commitment to people’s needs resulted in a successful tenure as an insurance salesman. However, a true love of the land and family ties couldn’t be extinguished for Jack and Virginia, and the family left a secure future for Francois Lake and the farm once again.
The 1970’s, 1980’s, and 1990’s saw the rebirth of not only the farm, but several births of grandchildren and great grandchildren that sprang from the union of the O’Meara children with other families. Jack and Virginia’s life now entered the grandparent and great grandparent stage. To support the farm through it all, Jack worked hard to provide for his family and once again the many hats of farmer, janitor, cat skinner, timber scaler, logging supervisor, and safety manager were to be worn for companies such as Babine, Eurocan and West Fraser. One enjoyment that Jack mentioned more than once was his time at Eurocan Andrew bay where he had the opportunity to be in a remote area, work with the loggers and woods staff, and travel through forest lands of the Tahtsa and Andrew Bay areas. As mentioned occasionally from others who worked for or with him, Jack maintained a reputation of being a man who operated with a strong sense of integrity founded upon values higher than those of a company line or the dollar bill alone. Perhaps this characteristic was the foundation for his commitment to the Masonic Lodge which led him to serve in the many roles of the organization and that was recently reflected in a 50 year service plaque and the presence of those Masons here today.
But though work off and on the farm kept him busy, Jack was also instrumental in resurrecting the local 4-H beef club where many farm kids as well as his own were able to enjoy the benefits of such a program. Some of you here today will recall Jack’s commitment and belief in the Lakes District Fall Fair, and he seemed in his element at Fair time working with others to make it a success. Realizing the pace of progress, the 1970’s also saw Jack spearhead an effort to set aside the Red Hills area as a park for future generations, as he sensed the special nature of the area while moving cattle along the Anderson trail. However, as is often the case, timing is important and the concept of a park required periodic effort with others until the late 1990’s when Jack’s dream came to be with the creation of the Red Hills/Uncha Mountain Park.
The 80’s and 90’s were also a time of adventure as Jack and Virginia travelled to Europe and Eastern Canada. Jack always had a pull to the remote areas of our country and travels eventually took them to parts of Alaska, Whitehorse, and on to Dawson City, where they kicked up their heels at Diamond Tooth Gertie’s, dined at Klondike Kate’s, and Jack enjoyed a horseback ride along the Yukon River. You could always tell when he had a good trip, as he would record the details in writing or on his old, manual typewriter with his characteristic “hunt and peck” fashion.
The 1980’s saw the development of a series of challenges for Jack, beginning with a serious accident in 1981 and progressing through other health issues over subsequent decades. Yet these weren’t years of challenge alone, they were also years of reward and memories made as the family expanded and friendships flourished. I think that many of us here today would agree that Jack was a fighter – in the character sense of the word – as he ultimately alone overcame these challenges and maintained his path in life. Of course, the past few years posted the most significant obstacles that Jack faced, and they were to challenge his reserved and character, and test the strength of his relationships. Throughout Jack’s final few years, it is important to recall the whole of his life and remember that smile, his enjoyment of a good sneeze, his fondness for a slice of pie, his feelings for nature, the presence of the Red Hills/Uncha Park, his closeness to family, and his long running relationships and associations made over eight full decades of life.