Familiar face retiring as business closes
By Mary Giuliano
It’s said every life is a story and I have found recently that although I have known of David Gildea since moving to Fernie years ago, it’s only now that I have heard the captivating account of his life.
After more than three decades a well-known business in Fernie is closing. Cabinets Plus owner David Robert Gildea says, “I still enjoy the work but physically it was time.”
David reminisces on the start of the business that began as a partnership with friend Lorne Blakey. A struggle at first, he recalls Lorne as a kind and generous partner who often took fewer wages so as to make sure David had enough for his family. By 1986 David was sole proprietor in an amicable, mutual decision as Lorne was moving on to new ventures.
David moved the business to a space next to Falkin’s Insurance. He says “some months we were just squeaking by, but Ed Lipp, owner of the building was very thoughtful as every Christmas he would bring over a card and a bottle of wine.”
Another move was imposed when the insurance business purchased the building and gave him 30 days’ notice. With such a short period to vacate, he moved to his home location continuing till the present.
In May David celebrates a 73rd birthday. Born to Joyce Plummer of Liverpool and Bob Clarke of Fernie, he says his mother was a war bride serving in the Armed Forces when she met Bob who was overseas with the Canadian Forces.
Joyce and Bob married in 1944. Bob returned to Fernie first and a short time later Joyce and David joined him. Their time here proved short as for several reasons Joyce and Bob separated and she and David returned to England.
When David was four, Joyce married Gerald Gildea who promptly adopted him. “Those were most formative years, he had a great impact on me, I was an only child and rather spoiled, I got lots of attention. He taught me values, he built me a tree house in the back trees. When I was 10 he died from heart failure. I remember clearly when I was told that I ran to the tree house, climbed inside and cried my heart out.”
David speaks of his maternal grandfather who he was named after.
“He ran away to sea when he was 12 or 13 and joined the Royal Navy. He sailed around the world ending up in America during the Civil War joining the Confederate Army, but soon realized he was on the wrong side and switched to the Union Army. He was there to hear the Gettysburg address. He was walking along a road with another Union soldier when a sniper shot and killed his friend; somehow he was spared. He returned to England, married, raised a family and lived to 86 years old.”
Bob’s father James Clarke emigrated from Doncaster, England to make a life in Fernie.
James missed his grandson and often spoke of him. In the 1950s James made a trip to England to visit family and looked for him. In 1969 when David and Dot move to Fernie they found that James had died the previous year.
David is wistful he never knew his grandfather. In 1989 David and Dot took their two children to England for a visit. They went to the street where he used to live, visited his babysitter’s house, climbed upstairs to see nothing had changed. His home across the street was being remodelled; he asked to go in to see his room and marvelled how nothing at all had changed except the tree house was gone but the trees still stood.
Joyce and brother-in-law Jack and wife Helen had forged a friendship and stayed in touch and one day daughter Marilyn came to England. David said it was during her visit that he and Dot considered emigrating to Fernie.
David says years later he learned Dot would often sit under the bridge and cry because she missed her large family. He says, “You know I met Dot when we were 15. She was a clerk in Woolworths and I was stock boy. I was saving money to go to Switzerland on a school holiday. We went on two dates but she dumped me. I smashed a scooter, broke my arm and damaged both knees. My friend took me out and as we sat at the coffee counter my friend spotted Dot. He walked over and brought her back and “that was it.” He smiles and says it was her legs that attracted him; she wore high heels and her legs looked good.
David said, “our children were born here, our first son William Robert Gerald died at birth from the cord wrapped around the neck. Steven came next and then 10 years later Alleine came along. The name was picked from the Gildea family tree.”
Today Dot and David are the proud grandparents of five grandkids, two of whom live in Fernie and three in Australia where Steven and his wife reside.
David muses about the early years when he and Dot lived on Second Avenue above the Ski Base in the back apartment. No money and a tiny fridge that held a head of lettuce.
“We lived a week on that lettuce, we would go to bed at six in the evening so we wouldn’t have to think of food. One evening I saw a light in the hallway, heard a noise, I opened the door and nearly tripped on a box of food. It was filled with bacon, eggs, bread and other items. To this day we still don’t know who put it there. We were puzzled because we had never told anyone of our situation. Unless you have been in this state you can’t understand what it’s like.”
David’s always had an interest in politics. “Bob, my birth father was like that; he was a guide and a hunter and very politically inclined so it must be in the genes.”
In 1996 Sheriff Frank Caravetta took out a petition 50 pages long against a pay increase city council had given itself. Frank asked David to accompany him to the council meeting to present the petition.
At the presentation one of the councillors laughed at the petition and that rudeness made David angry. He was told he couldn’t speak, but he stood up and asked, “why are you laughing? This is serious and this man put lots of time and effort to get this to you; you should be respectful.”
It was this attitude of disrespect that caused him to run in the next election. He discovered he had won when names of the winners were posted on the front door of city hall the next day.
His council asked to take a pay cut but were told it couldn’t be done so for a long time he donated funds to charities. “I’m proud of what we accomplished. Our council brought in recycling and privatized waste collection by saving money, saving the jobs of all the workers and bringing in curbside collection.”
David is a member of PETA; he loves animals especially dogs, enjoys golf and woodwork. He hunted for a while until one day out hunting with a friend they spotted a huge buck, he said they fired five times at it but it kept getting up. “It crawled into a thicket of trees, I followed it and it looked straight into my eyes, and in that moment I felt a deep connection and it seemed as if he was asking me why I had done that to him? I shot him again to put him out of his misery but that experience hit me like a ton of bricks. I took my gun home put it down in the furnace room and have never picked it up again.”
David is well known for his concern over decisions that council makes that impact the town’s residents, whether they are human or animal. He makes his voice heard and over the 16 years I sat on council I received numerous messages.
I always understood that his words came from a place of deep feelings and knowledge and not just from a point of simple complaint and so I always respected his point of view and although there were many times we disagreed on issues I always responded as I did for others as well. Fernie is fortunate to have citizens who care enough to voice opinions. They need to be thanked and appreciated as the caring people they are.
Congratulations David and Dot. Best Wishes for a long and happy retirement.
– Mary Giuliano is former City of Fernie Mayor and councillor and a long-time community scribe.
Lead image: A rocking horse David made for his granddaughter Jovianna, with a photo of him on a similar horse at age three. Photos submitted