Toni Lapuschuk. (Tom Roper photo)

Toni Lapuschuk. (Tom Roper photo)

The woman behind the man behind the book

Tom sits down with Toni Lopuschuk

If you get an opportunity to read the book, “They call me Lopey” grab it. This book is available in bookstores around town and the local library. It was written by a very well-known bush pilot, Bill Lopuschuk. His adventures are legend, but I was always wondering what kind of a wife could live with this character. So I contacted Bill’s daughter and arranged a tea and interview with her mother, Toni Lopuschuk.

Some may not be aware that Bill has since passed on to the great bush skies above. He made 93 and I’m sure that could be a record for a bush pilot. Toni has moved to town and is quite comfortable in her new apartment. I started by asking my sort of go-to question, how did you get to the Bulkley valley and this is how it went.

“My Father had a military career in the RCAF and our family lived in way too many places across Canada while I was growing up,” said Toni. “I was actually born in Ontario. I don’t remember all the schools I attended but I do remember the last.

“Dad had reached retirement and decided he had never lived in B.C. He wanted to be somewhere close to the bush and after studying the map he chose Burns Lake. Just like that, we were on the road in 1949 heading to the Lakes District. As you can imagine it was quite an adjustment for my mother and siblings. For me, though it was just another adventure.

“And would you believe it, Bill had his own float plane and was flying for Alcan during their development of the Ootsa Lake dam project. We met, fell in love and so began a continuation of my past life moving from location to location as Bill worked for various companies.

“It did not seem like a difficult adjustment and very similar to my childhood. After the Alcan project, Bill needed to transfer to the Lower Mainland to work for Pacific Western. Our son was born in Vancouver while we were living on Lulu island.

“Then it was Port Alberni when our daughter and second son came along. Next, it would be Prince George as Bill got himself a survey job with a contractor to fly the area slated for the WAC Bennett dam. He was carrying sophisticated equipment attempting to read the mineral content of the land to be flooded.

“I continued to raise the children and had to be pretty independent. Those were the days when the breadwinner had to work long hours to keep the wolf from the door. Bill, of course, missed a lot of those growing-up moments the kids have, but that’s just the way it was.”

Eventually, Bill found his way to Telkwa and got together with Bill Harrison out at Tyhee lake.

“We felt this could be a place to call home and get the kids settled into a permanent school,” Toni said. “Bill was able to fly out of Tyee lake and I could go off to Prince George and take some training for my hospital job as a lab assistant in Smithers. Would you believe I got 23 years in before retiring early so Bill and I could enjoy some travel of our own?”

“We also became very involved with the Telkwa Seniors building project and had several years participating in the Seniors games. Back then there was a category that included one act plays. We had so much fun.

“I also got to take a painting course from my neighbour, Brenda Mallory. She was an amazing lady and gave me lots of encouragement to keep at my passions. Life in this valley has been wonderful and I have been so lucky to have my family and friends close at hand.”

Thanks for this Toni, I countered, it does seem like you have been fortunate to find the Bulkley Valley.”

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