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Photo by Mark Newman

Photo by Mark Newman

Jack Wilkinson with the book he wrote for his family.

Farm life, civil engineering and Howard Hughes

Jack Wilkinson writes colourful memoir for his grandchildren

 By Mark Newman, News Staff 

It would be an understatement to say that Jack Wilkinson has led an interesting life.

Growing up on an east Mountain farm, serving in the Royal Canadian Navy during the Second World War and building satellite stations around the world for a variety of clients (including quite possibly one reclusive multi-millionaire) are among the subjects 91-year-old Jack Wilkinson writes about in When We Remember, a self-published book he wrote in 2012.

“I made this for my family,” said Wilkinson last fall as he relaxed in a big chair at his north-central Mountain home. “This is all part of Hamilton’s history.”

While not available for sale, the eight or nine copies Wilkinson has printed for his daughter, two grandsons and future generations offer an amazing and colourful look back at his life and life on the Mountain.

Wilkinson was born on May 28, 1925 on a 21 acre farm on Upper Sherman Avenue about a quarter-mile south of Mohawk Road.

He grew up there along with his parents, five sisters and a brother.

“A farm is a wonderful place to be raised on,” Wilkson states in his book. “Everything was natural and down to earth.”

Among the neighbours was the Burkholder family.

The Mountain south of Concession Street or the Stone Road as it was then known, was pretty much all farmland in those days.

Wilkinson recalls playing in the hayloft of the barn and paddling on the big pond on the west side of the farm property as a boy.

Other childhood memories include the large, wood burning stove in the kitchen of farm house, helping churn their own milk and buttermilk and his father trapping and shooting weasels, which were preying on the hen house.

Wilkinson said his first experience at school was as a five or six-year-old at SS #7 on Upper Gage, south of Fennell.

There were students from grades 1 to 8 in a single classroom and Wilkinson figures he lasted one day at the school before being kicked out for unruly behaviour.

“I guess I was a little bastard at the time,” he said.

Wilkinson noted his expulsion forced him and his siblings to attend SS #4 at Upper Ottawa and Stone Church Road.

He would later attend Peace Memorial School.

After working at a variety of jobs in his youth, Wilkinson got employment at Hamilton Bridge Works where he was apprenticed in civil engineering.

Then the Second World War intervened.

Wilkinson noted after war was declared in September, 1939 he wanted to join the Royal Canadian Navy.

“I went to the Naval recruiting centre two blocks away and inquired about joining the naval forces and was informed that Canada had no ships at that time, but (I) would be called up when the situation changed,” he writes.

He got his call-up on Feb. 3, 1941.

Wilkinson has written about his naval experience in the book Big Dipper Little Dipper that was published in 2001.

Following the war he married Dorothea Blake (she died several years ago) and purchased a 1929 Ford Model A Roadster.

Wilkinson came out of the navy with some mental scars at a time when post traumatic stress syndrome for veterans was virtually unknown.

He notes in his book he left home four or five times as he wrestled with those mental horrors.

With civilian life proving difficult, Wilkinson writes he sought some regimentation and joined the Hamilton police force.

He noted things were going well until he saw a homeless man get run over by a streetcar at King and James and the war flashbacks began.

“His brains were hanging out,” Wilkinson said. “I had to stay with him for four hours until he died.”

That was the end of his time as a police officer.

Back to Hamilton Bridge Works, Wilkinson resumed his training in civil engineering.

His trade took him to Standard Steel on the Welland Canalin Port Robinson, to Nanticoke where he worked on the construction of the massive hydro station and to Trentonwhere he worked on a variety of projects for Toronto-based TIW Central Bridge.

Those projects included overseeing the construction of satellite or earth stations inVenezuela, Guatemala, Guam and in Denver, Colorado in the late ‘50s or 60s.

The client in the Denver project may have been the Hughes Space and Communications Company, owned by then multi-millionaire recluse Howard Hughes.

“Nobody believes me and I kind of disbelieve it myself, Howard Hughes phoned me,” Wilkinson recalled. “He says ‘Mr. Wilkinson, I’d like to thank your for the good job you did on my two stations, thank you very much, goodbye.’”

In his book Wilkinson chronicles of a variety of moves and the building of three family homes, including a house on three acres of land in Nanticoke.

Wilkinson’s last job was in the engineering office at Erco Industries in Port Maitland.

He retired in 1984 after the plant closed.

“I started working in 1937 and finished in 1984,” Wilkinson states in his book. “I must say that I have had a very interesting life and a very healthy one at that. I have ho regrets whatsoever and a five year and a little more war time that I came out in one piece…not bad for an old goat and that is something we did not have on the farm.”

 

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