Hunter, trapper, world traveller, passionate Western Canadian. BornSept. 20, 1923, in Red Deer, Alta., died Feb. 1, 2012, in Stettler, Alta., of heart failure, aged 88.
No one really expected Lex Edward Bickle would live when he was born in Red Deer, Alta., on Sept. 20, 1923, weighing only four pounds. But Lex never met a dare he didn’t take.
His father, Thomas Bickle, worked on the Canadian National Railway in Stettler and his mother, Laura, and two older siblings Bruce and Gladys lived just half a block from the tracks in a house that is still there today.
Lex grew up playing hockey, trapping muskrat and weasels and summering at Buffalo Lake, northwest of Stettler. As soon as he was old enough, he went to work delivering groceries on Friday nights to the big barn at the dairy where the farm families parked their horses and wagons while they socialized and shopped.
Lex never settled in at school, but it didn’t stop him enjoying himself. The school toilets consisted of a series of holes in a board set atop a sloped trough and separated by stalls – boys upstream, teachers downstream. One day, Lex and his buddies set fire to some paper and floated it downstream just as a particularly unpopular teacher was relaxing in his stall.
At 16, Lex ran away and joined the army to fight in the Second World War, but his age was discovered and he was sent home. He joined the navy instead and spent the war on a minesweeper on the West Coast.
After the war, Lex went to work in the North, up on the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line. He learned the local Inuit language and hunted caribou.
Returning to Stettler in the 1960s, he bought three businesses: an insurance company, a real-estate company and a travel agency. He toured the world as a travel agent, collecting mementos from every continent. In Paris, he went to a famous restaurant and ordered the beef. But when it was served to him very rare, he sent it back to the kitchen with the comment “I’ve seen steers wounded worse than this recover!” The chef roared out, cleaver in hand, and threw Lex out of his restaurant.
Although Lex married once, briefly, his most beloved companion was his black lab, Jack. When Lex wasn’t working, he and Jack were out hunting in the foothills beyond Rocky Mountain House.
When he retired, Lex bought a piece of land on Buffalo Lake where he had spent his summers as a child. His house was filled with books and music, as well as his Inuit artifacts and travel mementoes.
When Lex was nearly 70, we became neighbours. At our house on Sunday nights, he told my four children stories of the old days in the West. He showed them the old trails and where the natives had camped. He taught them how to recognize birds. He told them of the coming of the railway, and what life was like during the Depression and before universal health care. Even though he had no children of his own, he taught another generation what it means to truly be Canadian.