Gus was born in Cotswold, England. He attended a school in a high-class spa resort of Bath, but, even then, much of his time was spent out in the hills trapping moles for fun and for profit. At age 20 he took ship for Canada and left his fiancée, and, enduring a rough 10-day crossing to land in Montreal with 10 cents in his pocket. “A cup of coffee took care of that,” he says, leaving him broke.
He jumped the train to Winnipeg, MB, and worked there for a while. Soon he was in Saskatchewan where he stopped long enough to get engaged, again, to a girl in Watrous, SK. He left her to try his luck at homesteading in Peace River country, but had little success. Finally, the fiancée departed and found someone else. Despite these drawbacks, Gus claims to have enjoyed the Depression years more than any since. “I had no money, but I always had enough to eat,” he says.
The crops kept failing, and finally he abandoned the homestead, and moved to Fort MacMurray area where he went trapping squirrel. He made $80 the first season and immediately lost it when he sank his boat in the Athabasca River. Stranded, he walked 70 miles into Fort MacMurray where he found someone to buy him a meal, and then befriended a policeman who, he claims, looked the other way while he helped himself to a summer’s grubstake from the local Hudson Bay Store. In 1950 he moved to Goldfields along with a woman from Fort MacMurray and her five children. Eleven years later he married the oldest girl, June; a shortlived marriage which got him convinced that there was no love in this world and the most you could hope for is companionship.
His store at Goldfields prospered and made $4,000 a day before moving in to service the great uranium developments at the tent town of Uranium City. Gus was the first trader there. Gus’first store in Uranium City still stands where the original log building stood and now covered with plywood facing. He has steadfastly, refused to make any improvements, arguing that he couldn’t see spending money for a high-class store when he wouldn’t get anything out of it. “I might die the richest man in the cemetery, but that’s no advantage to me”.
Along with the regular store business, Gus was always interested in buying furs. Today the furs form the bulk of his trade and sells little of anything else except to the oldsters who are his regular customers. But he turns over $200,000 worth of furs every year, complaining all the while he’s losing money and being robbed blind by all and sundry. He won’t hire an accountant because “you can’t trust them”.
Gus Hawker has had his ups and downs. He has been very poor, and very rich. But he does not believe in hoarding his wealth. Twelve years after he thumbed his nose at his prosperous family and left England, he chartered a plane and went home. He has done this three times since, once the much-reported occasion when he took his entire family to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, and delights in pointing out to his “gentleman farmer” brothers that he’s thrown away more money than they’ll ever save.
He has written a book expounding all his views on life and detailing his criticisms of almost anything. He calls it “The Undaunted North, or Blood, Flesh and the Devil”, and it is his life story and his truth. There is only one problem – no one will publish it for fear of lawsuits, since he is very specific in what he says. He himself describes it as “pretty erratic”, which might be a good description of his life.
Gus is an old man now, over 70 and in poor health. He gets upset about a lot of things, including money which he says he doesn’t care about. He buys most of his fur from the indigenous people. “Used to be they’d take what I paid,” he says, “but now they’re telling me what to pay for it.” Gus Hawker has led enough lives for half a dozen people, but for all that he feels that he has had a rough deal. “I’ve so much against this world”, he says. “I’m a little like Churchill. He’s prepared to meet his Maker but he wonders if his Maker is going to be prepared to meet him”.
Before we left Uranium City in 1982, I paid Gus a visit in the store that he built in the early 50’s. His face was as grimy as the floor, creaking down the ladder from his living quarters above. He sits awhile, halfway down the stairs, to complain about his sore knee and why the doctors could not help him. Gus concluded in 1957 Uranium City, SK. had a population of 10,000 people, “today it is a ghost town”.
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