Stan McRae: Miner. Woodturner. Environmentalist. Irascible man. Born Dec. 10, 1931, in Winnipeg; died June 14, 2020, in Parksville, B.C., of cancer; aged 88.
Stanislaus Charles McRae was the third child of Philip McRae and Caroline Kent. He grew up in a strict Catholic home and from a young age he exhibited a rebellious and fiery spirit in contrast.
When Stan’s father came home battle-scarred from the First World War, he worked as a signalman for CP Rail – a job that required the family to move across Canada. By the time Stan was 5, the family – his parents and siblings, Philip, 12, and Margaret Anne, 13 – settled in the town of Orillia, Ont., where they joined generations of McRae relatives.
Growing up, Stan was an avid hockey player. He competed in Junior B throughout Ontario, hoping to make one of the six NHL teams. He didn’t, but did become a miner working in hard rock underground mining in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia. Stan was a tramp miner, a special breed needed when a new mine is opening up. Tramp miners sink the shafts, drive the drifts and find new ore bodies. It was hazardous but highly paid work.
In the 1960s, illegal wildcat strikes protesting poor working conditions were held at mines in Ontario and B.C. Stan would organize the miners to revolt against the weak union negotiation progress with management. During that rough and tumble time, Stan was known for his camaraderie, drinking, brawling and hockey playing; he always joined the mining hockey teams.
In 1965, Stan and his crew survived one of the largest mine disasters of the era at the Granduc copper mine in northwestern B.C. A huge avalanche tore down the mountain and swept away part of the camp, killing 26 miners. Stan was safely underground that day but worked hard with the union to improve working conditions before it reopened.
When the mine resumed operations there were new safety rules and off-site camps for miners; conditions in base-metal mining were slowly improving.
Around the age of 40, Stan’s lungs said “no more mining,” and he settled for surface blasting. He travelled to the Yukon, the Northwest Territories and northern B.C. to build roads. He continued to fight for the rights of the working man.
In 1971, Stan married the love of his life: Maxine Quamme. Their different temperaments balanced the other. They bought a home on Gabriola Island, B.C., and since Maxine didn’t drive, he drove her around in his old Ford pickup. They purchased 20 acres across the road from their home and worked with Islands Trust Conservancy to ensure it stayed undeveloped and available for public use.
In retirement, the couple became committed volunteers for the New Democratic Party and Stan took up a passion from earlier in his life: woodturning burl bowls. In the summer, they spent every Saturday morning at the local farmers market selling his creations and her artwork.
But most of the time it was just the two of them in their one-bedroom cabin, curtains drawn and content together. They might have forgone a meal for themselves but always had pails of feed for their wild turkeys and lots of wood for their stove.
Health issues and a few accidents over the past decade took a toll: Stan had cancer and Maxine had dementia. Together they did their best to look after one another, most often too proud to accept any outside care.
When Stan died, Maxine moved to Ontario to live with her niece. But not for long – she joined her beloved Stan a month later.
Ellen McRae is Stan’s niece.
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