Wilbrod Girard, son of Joseph Girard and Maville Tremblay, was born on the 28th of October, 1919.
He was the ninth child in a family of 13 children. His family lived in Stadacona, a town in central Quebec. In 1928, when Wilbrod was nine years old and his youngest sibling, Rollande, who was not yet a year old, his parents decided to respond to the call for families to move west as homesteaders, as first generation pioneers in the Peace River region. The family settled on land just south of Jean Cote.
In this French Catholic family and pioneering culture, Wilbrod was molded to embrace the values of devotion to family; resourcefulness – making the most of very little; contribution to one’s community; immaculate cleanliness and grooming; commitment to excelling in work; a sense of style, of pride in yourself and finding joy in your day – La Joie De Vivre – that became so much part of whom he was.
He went to Grouard residential school until 12 years of age. Then he went to work for local farmers. At 16, he started working in lumber camps. He worked for the Savard Brothers in Faust and Kinuso. Wilbrod’s job was to operate a Caterpillar – he was a cat skinner – and also a driver, trucking loads of wood, four or five trips a day to High Prairie.
Then at age 21, he signed up to join the Canadian Forces. He worked as Second Battalion Royal Canadian Engineer from 1941 to 1945. He worked right behind the front lines in active battle. He was one of the soldiers trained to build roads and bridges for the transportation of ammunition, for soldiers, for food to go through, for the wounded to be looked after. He made an impression and was chosen by his general to serve as his driver – he drove the general’s Jeep wherever he needed to be.
He came home in 1946 with several medals: a Star of Service 1939-1945, a France and Germany Star, a Defence of Britain Medal and a Canadian Volunteer Service Medal and Clasp. He remained actively involved with the Veterans’ Organization and carried the wreath in the Remembrance Day celebrations many times, including as recently as November 11, 2014.
Once back home, Wilbrod filed for a homestead and became a farmer on his own land. He was married to Annette Remillard on October 28, 1953 in a double wedding with his brother, Jean-Marie and Germaine Boisvert. Wildbrod and Annette went on to have a wonderful family of seven children: Irene, Cecile, Gisele, Jeanine, Gilbert, Gabrielle and Loraine, and eventually 15 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren so far. Every one of these babies had the pleasure of dancing in Wilbrod’s hand.
Early in their marriage, Wilbrod and Annette spent several winters working together in lumber camps, in Little Prairie, until Irene started school. Then Wilbrod started working for the M.D. of Smoky River as an exceptional grader operator – he was very good at his job and very accurate. In the winter, it was not unusual for him to be 24 to 36 hours on the road whenever there was a blizzard, because he wanted to make sure that people could get through should they need to.
He had unmatched determination and resilience that allowed him to do this. In the summer, he would be busy building roads. He did this for over 20 years, retiring in 1980 for full-time farming.
He retired in 1983 at 64 years old. He rented his land, but still lived on the farm. He loved sports and games of all kinds, really – hockey, curling, bowling and especially when this included family togetherness. He delighted in family gatherings and celebrations.
He taught all his children and their progeny how to play cribbage at a very young age. He never tired of these games and each one was an occasion for teasing and varied trickery. If you played whist with him, you were sure to lose – he bid high every round whether or not he had the hand for it and he had such luck, he almost always won.
He was not afraid to try new things, even a go at laser quest with his grandkids. He got such a kick out of challenging his sons-in-law to a one arm push-up and having a good laugh because they couldn’t do it – and this was in his 80’s.
He had exceptional strength and was still picking up heavy lifting jobs at Fern’s Greenhouse in his 80’s. He would deliver big pots of flowers to surrounding communities – Annette along with him.
Wilbrod was truly happy at home and was often heard to say, ‘On est donc bein chez nous’. Their house was often full of guests – people loved to stop by for a coffee and chat or a game of cards and often a wonderful meal. He loved his wife’s cooking, especially the homemade bread, sweets, la tarte au sucre, the good farm meat and potatoes.
A role model, always ready with playful tips for the young at heart, he squeezed every bit of joy from his day. His Joie De Vivre was contagious. He loved dancing and music. He did the best French Canadian jig ever, entirely self-taught and he was on the floor at every wedding and community gathering doing his jig for us.
No matter when you saw him, you could not miss the twinkle in his eyes; he would easily draw you to his warmth and charm. He was always well dressed, elegant. He walked straight – a proud man. Un grand malcommode.
A practical joker, always catching you off guard. He even had a special handshake, reserved it seems, to trick his grand- and great-grandkids. A man his children and grandchildren, among many others, would not hesitate to describe as a great friend. He led a rich and full life right to the end.
Wilbrod passed away at the Sacred Heart Community Health Centre in McLennan, Alberta on the 17th of October, 2015.
We mourn his passing, but find comfort in knowing he is still with us and will be always, through the rich life of joy and the love we’ve shared with him. He will forever be part of our hearts. We aspire to love, laugh and live our lives to the fullest as we know he did.
Donations can be made to the Smoky River Palliative Care Society and/or the Royal Canadian Legion Branch No. 153 in McLennan.