A Nomad with a Steady Wife
André Carrel from Terrace B.C.
Aren’t they a lovely couple? André and Sue skating on a lake near Fort Nelson in the early winter of 1963. They were not married (yet) but – as André puts it “getting along quite nicely”. (All photos André Carrel)
I’m a sucker for a good love story.
Swiss born André Carrel (72) and his Canadian wife Susan fit the bill perfectly.
I mean: It probably cant get better than this.
Listen to André’s story (he talks in the local dialect of Berne where he was born) and you’ll know what I mean:
One of the first books that little André got for Christmas, was a story about a native boy named Pierre in Canada, about trapping in the North and about life in the wilderness.
André, as Swiss boy living in Andermatt, a mountain village in the Swiss canton Uri, was mesmerized. He thought: “I want to be the first white person who will travel to the far North!”
You have to forgive him his romantic views and his ignorance. He was just a boy from the Swiss alps. But don’t underestimate André. He really had a determination that is admirable.
When he went to high school (Sekundarschule in Switzerland), which was in the fifties, they had no Twitter nor Facebook or Smart Phones. Pen Pals from around the world were all the rage.
So André looked at a map of Canada and saw a place called Fort Nelson in the North of B.C. With the scraps of English that he had learned at Sekundarschule, he wrote to the mayor of Fort Nelson.
It turned out, Fort Nelson had no mayor at the time. The postmaster gave Andre’s letter to the school principal who stuck the letter to the notice board at the school.
And low and behold, André got a letter from Fort Nelson!
A girl had written to him. And note: her father had been a trapper in the Northwest Territories where she was born. That was even way more North than Fort Nelson!
The girl – her name was Sue – and Andre began corresponding. They kept it up for five years. It was then, that André decided to travel to Fort Nelson. He was 21 years old.
André with sister Madeleine and his mother in Le Havre, port of departure, in May 1963. He told them he would stay in Canada for one year only. But when he returned to Switzerland for a visit, he had a wife and 2 kids!
In May 1963, his parents drove André to Le Havre where he boarded the ship Carmania to Montreal. From there he took the Greyhound bus to Winnipeg, stayed five weeks and proceeded to Fort Nelson.
There were not even paved roads in that village. He asked people where Sue’s parents lived and knocked on their door. Sue’s father opened. “Here I am!” André said to him.
The Swiss guy was welcomed into the house and the family, and a second bed was put in the room of John, Sue’s older brother – for André.
Sue and André got married 10 months later. This year, they celebrated their 49th wedding anniversary! Can you imagine! Today, they live in Terrace B.C. because they want to be close to their grandchildren.
Five years after the wedding, the couple went to Switzerland for the first time, and there was a surprise for the parents: Their son arrived with a Canadian wife and two kids!
His wife was shocked, too: she experienced culture shock. “She came to an arch typical Swiss home in the suburb of Berne”, Andre says. “She could not communicate with my parents. It was rough.”
Many years later, André’s parents came to Canada. They took the train from Montreal to Vancouver. Andre picked them up in his car and drove them to Dawson City. It was a five-day car trip, the Alaska and Klondike Highways were still gravel roads. “They were completely overwhelmed by the size of this country”, André says. “On the third day of the trip, my mother said: We have been traveling for three days and we are still in the same forest.”
It is time to make an UPC (Urgent Phone Call) to André Carrel in Terrace.
André, did you ever think you would be married to your high school pen pal for 49 years?
No! But one of these days, I will get used to it.
It worked out – so far anyway.
What does your wife Sue say about being married to a Swiss guy?
You have to ask her. I am afraid to ask!
Was it love at first sight when you saw Sue for the first time?
I had gotten a few pictures from her before we met. So I knew how she looked like.
Well, you are young and you are in love.
We got along. It just worked out. I was almost 23, she was 21.
Did you ever make your childhood dream true and become a trapper?
No, I never went trapping! Reality is a bit different than in a children’s book.
But I went moose hunting with my father- in-law. Professionally, I worked as a handyman first, then I changed tires at a gas station for a few months and eventually got my first steady job at the gas processing plant in Fort Nelson.
The first real job in my trade (office clerk), I got in municipal administration. But that was in Fort Simpson in the Northwest Territories.
So you went even further up North?
Oh, we moved a lot in B.C. – from Fort Nelson to McLeod Lake north of Prince George, to Rosedale near Chilliwack and from there back up north to Fort Simpson NWT. Then over to the Yukon, Dawson City and later Whitehorse, before heading south again to Rossland B.C. I retired five years ago.
So with your nomadic life, you repeated a pattern from your childhood in Switzerland, didn’t you?
Yes, that’s right. My father worked for the Festungswache (Swiss military). We never lived anywhere in Switzerland long enough to grow real roots. I was born in Berne, moved to Thun, then to Bex, then to Vallorbe, then to Andermatt, and finally to Ittigen near Berne.
André says: “My only Dawson City picture, (from left to right) Bob Laking (acting mayor), André Carrel, Fire Chief Rick Rehn, and a guy from Whitehorse who delivered our brand new fire truck to Dawson City, Yukon Territory. I was the City Administrator and Deputy Fire Chief at the time. Sometime in the mid-1970s.”
My only Dawson City picture, l.-r. Bob Laking (acting mayor), moi, Fire Chief Rick Rehn, and a guy from Whitehorse who delivered our brand new fire truck to Dawson City. I was the City Administrator and Deputy Fire Chief at the time. Sometime in the mid-1970s.
What prepared a Swiss boy for a life in the Canadian North?
Not much really. Except that in Andermatt, where we lived, the roads were closed in the winter because of all the snow. We had to ski everywhere. There were no snowmobiles.
In Canada, at one point, we had cows.
The cow Vreni dons a bell imported from Switzerland. She does not know it fortunately, otherwise she would start to moo in Swiss German. Which calf Honey and Bernese Mountain Dog Barney would not understand. Near Rossland B.C., around 1983.
You had Swiss cows?
Yes, Swiss browns. I was city manager in Rossland, and we bought an acreage outside of town, 100 acres to be precise. Through a series of strange coincidences, I ended up with a few cows – Swiss browns – and to complete the “feeling”, my parents sent over cow bells, made in the Swiss valley of Emmental.
The cows are long gone, but we still have the bells!
No, I got used to the wide open country in Canada, the enormous distances, the casual lifestyle.
There is no way I could live in Switzerland again. It is too crowded, to organized, too everything.
But I keep pretty much in contact with what is happening over there.
André would like you to look at this website: