Bruce Weech Olson
February 26, 2022
Near the end of the First World War, newlyweds Clara Jane Weech and Theodore Olson came north into Alberta in one of the early waves of Mormon farmers who understood irrigation. They saw the potential wealth of farming sugar beets and grains. Today, east of Lethbridge, along the #4 Highway, stands a giant grain elevator at Wilson Siding near where Bruce Weech Olson was born on November 24, 1919.
Bruce’s first memory was from the summer he was three years old. He and his sister
huddled with their Mother while a terrifying hail storm ravaged all it touched,
smashing windows, destroying shingles, and killing poultry. Bruce often recalled that he did not feel fear, only his Mother’s praying calmly for strength to weather the calamity; an example which served him well over his long, eventful life.
Today, we recoil at the idea that a child of six or seven – no matter how tall nor how well built – should ever be pressed to do a man’s work. And yet, there, in the mid-1920’s was a man-child stocking sheaves. A crop duster flew over from the nearby Raymond Fair, where ride tickets were being sold for an impossible fee of $5.00 for a half-hour in
heaven. Bruce raised his arm into that blue, blue sky as a little plane approached, and as if the pilot could see into the future, he dipped his wings, returning a salute to the very young fellow harvesting in the field below.
Bruce was still a teenager when WWII broke out in Europe, when Canada joined the Allies, and when the Royal Canadian Air Force began a recruiting campaign in earnest. His medical and his quick reaction tests suggested that Bruce might realize his dream of flying, but it was not until July 1941 that he donned a uniform as RCAF Special Reserve Aircraftman 2nd Class. Before the year was out, he was reclassified as Leading Aircraftman, and only six months later in July 1942, B. W. Olson was promoted to Pilot Officer.
Bruce loved to regale his friends with stories of his early years in the Air Force. At the huge celebration of the centenary of the University of Alberta in 2008, Bruce enjoyed teasing that he had been a B.M.O.C., a Big Man On Campus, marching from Athabasca to the old Normal School in 1941 during his time in Initial Training School. Down south near High River, the RCAF had constructed a small hangar and a barracks in a corner of a freshly harvested farm field. Wheat stubble about eight inches high served as a sort of wide runway with a straw stack in the distance as a reference for keeping a Tiger Moth on a straight course. Evidently Bruce had the right stuff for his time; after a mere five hours of instruction, he soloed! Born to be a pilot, Bruce was on his way to Service Flying School in Saskatoon where he earned his Commission.
Pilot Officer Olson went on to instruct other young Commonwealth recruits, then to fly heavy bombers with acumen during WWII, and, long after, in 1967, to retire as Squadron Leader Olson, having served from bases across Canada; with his NATO transport squadron from England over North Africa and all of Western Europe; and with USAF at the Pentagon doing simulator research.
Bruce then had a second lengthy career with Public Works Canada building prairie post offices with his close friend Bob Cumming. Later, he enjoyed a few years as a farmer near Leduc before he retired to life in Devonshire in 2005, first in the Mews and later in the Assisted Living Manor where he resided until three weeks before his passing at St. Joseph’s Auxiliary Hospital. Because he lived for so many years in Devonshire and
because staff and friends loved him and cared for him, Bruce is sure to be missed mightily, especially by our dearest friend and travelling buddy, Ethel Cumming.
Having lived to the grand age of 102 years, Bruce was pre-deceased by his parents, Clara and Theodore Olson and by all his siblings, including his baby sister Jane just last September. Bruce was pre-deceased by his wife of 66 years, June Olson, in 2007. They are
survived by four children: Penny Brown, Constance Haffner, Alexandria Cels, and Bruce Wayne Olson.
During all of his long life, Bruce loved to learn. He loved to learn about places and most especially about people. Bruce became a serious traveller for the last many years of his life, showing his passport in a very long list of cities and countries, including cruising to Alaska with his little sister Jane a couple of months before his 100th birthday. He liked to say that “So much of who you are is where you’ve been!” Conversations all through the dreary months of Covid limitations centered on how Bruce wanted to travel again to
enjoy the sun and sand of Hawaii where he enjoyed several Christmas house sitting gigs in the home of his Grand-Niece Fenny and her Evers family. He wanted to tramp across the Laidlaw Ranch next summer. He wanted to chow down on Asih’s cooking at Ted’s Big White House. But, sadly, Bruce has taken his last flight; he has gone Home.
Left to mourn his passing most keenly is Bruce’s dearest friend and helper, Joyce Henderson. His mantra of, “I love you, Joy!” must ever be a poignant echo in the minds of those who loved Bruce in his very senior years. A condolence note from a Niece said it best: “Bruce was such a regal, charismatic man who adored Aunt Joy in so many ways. Bruce looked at Aunt Joy in ways that most people can only wish to be looked at.” He loved, and he was loved.
Borrowing the words from pilot Magee’s poem, High Flight, Bruce Weech Olson “slipped the surly bonds of earth,” for the last time on February 26, 2022.