Norm Boulanger, who turns 80 next May, comes from Seattle, but most of his free time since childhood has been spent roaming the wildernesses of Interlakes, after his family found Sheridan Lake in 1943.
Norm retried here in 1986, and became a Canadian citizen soon after.
His career was in theatrics — college, university and professional — but he credits his naval training with his ability to map trails, 200 kilometres of which he did, first by triangulation and later by GPS, throughout the Interlakes area.
In 1950, after high school, Norm became a United States naval reservist. One of his many stories involves being on a destroyer escort going to Vancouver. They decided to go through the whirlpools under the bridge between Anacortes and Whidby Island.
“You had to make only about seven or eight miles an hour to get through this huge whirlpool, very treacherous with rocks on both sides. We actually travelled at about half a mile an hour and it took us several hours to get through, whilst being seriously thrown about.
“So we arrived very late in Vancouver, and of we went to a movie. We paid for the
movie, went in and sat down, then midnight came, they played God Save the Queen and that was that, so we ended up back on the ship without seeing a movie.”
When the Korean War started, men were drafted into the military with no choice of service, he explains.
“No way was I going into the infantry, so I volunteered for the navy. I was a radar man in charge of working various radars we used in the Combat Information Centre.
“By a dumb stroke of luck, I enlisted two days before we had to serve six years, so I was able to serve only two years, after which I married and went to university. I was discharged out of Treasure Island, where they held the World’s Fair in 1939 and which had reverted to a naval base; I took my radar training there.
“They tried an experiment to save money and started feeding us goat meat. It wasn’t young kid either, but awful grey stuff.
“At the U.S. service centre in San Francisco, they had hostesses, and it was illegal to date, but what the heck, I was in the navy, so I dated a girl whose father was a German confectioner who made wonderful cakes and cookies. He’d won the prize at a World’s Fair for a six-foot tall parrot carved from butter.
Naturally, I chose his wonderful creations, anything to avoid goat meat.”
Another of Norm’s stories involves being way up north.
“It was a beautiful clear day, Arctic weather, so clear we could see the smoke coming out of Vladivostok, which scared the heck out of us. We were in international waters but back then, if the Russians felt threatened, they would attack.
“We were cruising around doing nothing one night when a radar blip came in a perfect 85-degree angle, ideal for a torpedo boat attack off our starboard quarters at some six or seven thousand yards. We opened up everything we had, firing at it like crazy. Half an hour later, the captain called a halt, as we didn’t seem to be under attack.
“The next morning when we woke up, the sea was covered with dead Canadian geese, some so impacted by concussion from the shells that it took the feathers off. Not just hundreds, but thousands of them.
“Just happen-stance that they were coming in just as we were firing. So the cooks set off in motorboats and picked up a bunch of geese, which we enjoyed a great deal.”
Norm recalls another specific incident. “Meals were served buffet-style in the gallery and the tables weren’t chained down so they could clean the floors. We were eating this wonderful lunch when we were suddenly called ‘to arms, all hands to battle stations.’
“About 45 minutes later, we were secured because the [Japanese fighter planes] seemed frightened of us and wouldn’t come down, and our fire power couldn’t reach them. By then, the cooks had made sandwiches to deliver to battle stations. So we returned to the galley only to find that our tomato soup had been displaced and the entire mess hall was pink. The cooks sent us away with the sandwiches while they cleaned up.”
Norm admits to having many more stories and a bunch or medals, including for the Korean War and for being an expert marksman.
“Of course, they gave medals for everything at that time.”