Recent History – 2000
Dec. 7, 2000, By Mark Nielsen, Daily News Staff
Turning 100 years old is a remarkable feat, but Frank Speer had extra reason to celebrate his birthday Wednesday. Born on Dec. 6, 1900 in Springfield, Manitoba, Speer can truly be called a 20th century man.
The resident of Rotary Manor has seen a lot of change in arguably one of the most tumultuous centuries in the history of humankind.
Still bright and alert, and with a sense of humour, Speer has taken it all in stride. “I’ve seen a lot of change,” he agreed. “So many that I can’t name any of them. Everything has changed.”
He also gave an honest answer when asked if he ever thought about what the world would be like as we entered the next century. “No, I never did,” he said. “I never looked ahead. I took it one day at a time.”
Speer also claims that he’s never led a very interesting life. But a short account compiled by his children and grandchildren shows otherwise: “When we think of life 100 years ago, what comes to mind may be old-fashioned dances, barn raisings, riding everyday on a horse and buggy.
“These events were a fact of Frank’s life.”
Even the donkey he rode when he was a kid was a part of Canadian history. “Jack” was one of the many pack animals used during the 1898 Yukon Gold Rush, and had lost his ears to frostbite.
And the Model T was invented by one of Speer’s cousins — Henry Ford.
Speer grew up before radio and television took hold, and he went to school in a one-room school house. After school he had the chores of a typical farmer’s child: splitting wood, feeding the chickens, cleaning the stables and milking the cows.
Beginning in grade 10, Speer went to college in Winnipeg and studied accounting. He though of a medical career but got side-tracked by the First World War.
“Although he was too young for service he still tried to enlist but when his age was discovered, he was sent home Ñ much to his chagrin and his mother’s relief!”
He continued to help on the family farm, but eventually his wandering spirit emerged. He decided to see the west and took farming jobs throughout Saskatchewan and Alberta.
He also saw an opportunity with the advancements in farm machinery. He worked as a mechanic on the larger farms until he got married in 1927 to Agatha Blackstock in Rosedale, Sask.
It just so happened that Agatha grew up in Dawson Creek, but it would be some time yet before they moved to the Mile Zero City. Upon getting married, Speer got a job working for McLeods, thanks to his brother, and was soon the manager of the first McLeods store in Melfort, Sask.
He stayed with McLeods for 19 years, but eventually decided to move on. “I got run-down because of the inside work,” he said.
They moved to Dawson Creek where Speer became part of building the Alaska Highway. His knack for management showed through once again, and he quickly became a foreman.
He stayed with that job for 20 years, and when he quit, the Speers moved to Whitehorse where they had bought a convenience store and operated that for five years.
Then, at age 65, the Speers returned to Dawson Creek, bought land and began farming again. After five years of running a successful operation, Speer retired.
By that time, they had raised two children, Bill and Millie. Speer now has four grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
The Speers moved to White Rock where they lived for 20 years. During that period they did a great deal of travelling: Holland, Germany, Italy, France England, Ecuador, Libya, Malta and many parts of the United States.
When Agatha began to have heart problems, they returned to Dawson Creek, and in 1991, his wife of 63 years passed away.
Speer has lived in Rotary Manor for four years now, and credits his longevity to eating properly, having good clean fun, and walking at least a mile each day.
Even at 100 years, Speer continues to go for walks, no matter what the temperature is. “The cold doesn’t bother me,” he said.
If it’s icy, he has special spikes that he can slip onto the bottoms of his shoes and onto the end of his cane.