Robert (Bob) Nelson Richardson

March 23, 1928 - March 21, 2007

About Bob Richardson

The following biography was written by Bob Richardson in 2002 for inclusion on this website. His memoir of his time with Dawn, A Face Beside the Fire, was published in 2001 and his autobiography, Son of an Orphan, was published two years later. Bob Richardson relocated to Morse, Saskatchewan in 2003, where he passed away on March 21, 2007. He was laid to rest with his faithful dog and companion, Lady Emma, at the Memory Lane Cemetery.

Photo of Bob Richardson, 2000

I was born on March 23, 1928, in the city of Port Arthur, Ontario. The name has since been changed to Thunder Bay, but it will always remain Port Arthur to me.

I arrived on the second floor bedroom of a big Victorian home situated at the top of a hill on Van Norman Street, overlooking the bay and Lake Superior—the largest fresh-water lake in the world—with the view of many Great Lakes ships steaming to and from the Port and harbour.

The North American stock market crashed a year later and placed the continent into a severe economic depression. My father lost his job with the City of Port Arthur in 1933, so we sold our house and moved to the country, only 400 miles from the original Grey Owl country. Mother and Father purchased a 100-acre plot of land, and the family went full speed ahead in the market gardening business. There was always plenty of food but very few spare dollars, and it was during this period of my life that I learned to snare rabbits, shoot grouse and deer, trap weasels, and do my share of the country life chores. There were no class differences in the country; everyone was poor.

It was a happy period of my life, because my father taught me to be a man. I learned much from him and understood that being self- sufficient by improvising and working steadily would ultimately lead to a successful standard of life.

At age 14, I graduated from Grade 8 of the one-room school, and, as there were no such things as school buses, most fathers told their sons to get a trade and become a brick layer, carpenter, plumber, or whatever you wanted to be. I was just 14 when I left home to experience the trial and error period of a life of self-sufficiency.

Bob Richardson on the station platform at Vivian, Manitoba in 1946
Bob Richardson (left) on the station platform at Vivian, Manitoba in 1946

The whole country was my oyster, and mine for the taking.

The Second World War was flaming in Europe, and there were many jobs to be found for boys under 18. I went to work in the shipyards for 40 cents per hour helping to build the minesweepers and corvettes. I was a man at that young age, and even went into the beverage rooms without any problem, to drink up some of the ten-cent draught of good old Canadian beer.

With all the crooner singers like Bing Crosby and Vera Lynn flooding the radio waves with patriotic melodies, and the huge posters plastered on all public buildings saying "the military needs you," I immediately felt that I wanted to become a wireless operator in the Canadian Navy. I took a night course in International Morse, but when I completed it, because of my age, the only job I could sign up for on a ship was as a deckhand on a Great Lakes freighter. I sailed these freighters for the next two summers, steaming back and forth from Port Arthur to Buffalo, New York;  Duluth, Minnesota; and numerous other ports. I was 17 years of age when the war ended.

Now having to face a change in my future plans of activity, I took another course in Continental Morse Code and was hired as a Morse Telegrapher for the Canadian National (CN) Railways. At age 21, I became a Train Dispatcher (Rail Traffic Controller) and handled the train traffic on some of the busiest rails throughout western Canada. From the feeling of being a grown-up gentleman at the age of 14, by the time I was 19 I became infatuated with a young lady my own age. We married and had three children. It was really not long before we realized we came from two different worlds, and had different needs in life. We divorced and I took custody of our children, two daughters and a son. There were three more marriages in my life, and four more children.

During these years, I studied by correspondence through the Ontario Department of Education to acquire my Grade 12 diploma. I then sat in a regular classroom with the Grade 13 children to obtain my senior matriculation and entrance to university, still working night shifts as a Train Dispatcher at the same time.

Bob Richardson with one of his paintings at an art show in Mackenzie, BC in 1997
Bob Richardson with one of his paintings at an art show in Mackenzie, BC in 1997

I entered Lakehead College with the plan to major in English, resign from CN, and enter a teaching career. Shortly after the first year, however, I changed my mind, majored in Industrial Psychology, and transferred to Labour Relations with CN. A year later I had health problems that prevented me from further university work. I stayed with CN Railways as a Train Dispatcher until I had 35 years service, then took an early retirement in 1980, at age 52. At this time in my life I was married to the daughter of the world-famous Grey Owl and Anahareo.

Over the years as an adult, and even from the time I was a little boy, I was always interested in art. I studied in numerous workshops with the Federation of Canadian Artists, and took lecture tours in the big galleries of the United Kingdom and Spain. Now, nearing the age of 75, I am still painting seriously and have annual exhibitions around the country.

I have painted well over a thousand works and have sold over 800. I am still trying to create a masterpiece, but have not yet succeeded...