In this, Fort Edmonton Park’s 40th anniversary, we find ourselves reflective. Join us for our History Well Told series and meet some dear departed interpreters of the past. This week’s remembrance comes from longtime park interpreter John Dolphin.
Fort Edmonton Park is mourning the passing of a great gentleman, at the end of April this year. William G. Thompson, simply Bill to us, was 91. He was known to a generation of Edmontonians and visitors from around the world as the postmaster on 1905 Street.
Anyone who saw Bill behind the post office counter might think he’d done it all his life. In fact, it was only something he took on once he retired. His main career had been travelling salesman. However, as he proudly stated, he was “always home for Sunday dinner.” Bill also helped out with a family business, Beans and Barley restaurant.
As a very young man, Bill joined the war effort serving in the Royal Canadian Navy, on the corvette HMCS Orillia. The navy liked prairie boys, he said. With no experience on the high seas, they were “easy to teach”. As part of his service, Bill made it to Belfast where he met a young woman with whom he stayed in touch over the succeeding decades. He finally visited her at one point while he worked at the Park. He shook his head as he recounted how the woman had become “so old”.
Bill used to joke about “those old people” at the Montgomery Legion Place where he lived. One of his greatest gifts was the example he provided to his younger colleagues in the way he embraced his senior years. Bill had an interesting past, but he never dwelt on it. He was active and engaged in many interests, had many friends of all ages, and saw every day as a new opportunity.
One opportunity he made the most of was travel. Bill made some 17 trips in 20 years, usually carrying a backpack and staying at hostels in the manner of people one third his age. He loved Europe, travelling to Malta, Hungary, Ireland, Greece and Germany, among other destinations. His favourite place, though, was Cuba. “I love the music, the people and the rum,” he famously remarked.
He often travelled with young staff from the Park, or met them overseas when their itineraries converged. He was a reliable attendee at the Park staff’s Sunday evening social outings on Whyte Avenue. He loved listening to Jazz at the Yardbird Suite, and once even accompanied a Park colleague to a “biker bar” near where he lived, just for the experience.
Part of Bill’s job was to collect the post cards that visitors “mailed” at the 1905 Street post office, mark them with a special Fort Edmonton Park stamp, then take them to a Canada Post mailbox to send them to their destinations. He performed this personal duty with delight every day he worked at the Park. Many visitors sent the post cards to themselves, as a unique souvenir and reminder of their visit to the park, and with Bill.
He received plenty of fan letters himself, usually in the form of very favourable comments in the Park guest book, and drawings that children brought to their favourite postmaster. The children of one family that regularly visited the Park insisted on coming to visit Bill on their own birthdays. It wouldn’t be a special day without seeing someone who always made them feel special.
Bill was born in 1925, not that far off the era we depict on 1905 Street. He would have grown up with people for whom Alberta’s inauguration as a province was a recent memory. Because of that proximity perhaps, Bill’s manner perfectly summed up the spirit of Edwardian courtesy and optimism. He was always sunny and cheerful, always looking forward.
True to his nature, Bill was looking forward “ this time to another trip to Cuba “ when he passed away. The Park will have to go forward without him. Thankfully, we have the warmth and generosity of his spirit to carry with us.
Share your stories of Bill Thompson with us!