Syd Griffiths: May 3rd, 1924 to October 9th, 2013
I’ve said in a previous post that my father was the inspiration for my focus on the skilled trades. He was a consummate craftsman who came to Canada from England in 1953 with virtually nothing but his hand tools and a dream, and forged a successful life here. My mother joined him here from England in 1954, and they were married here in Canada, raised three kids, and lived the least 20-odd years in a quiet but full retirement. On the 9th of October, my father died after a short illness, with the family around him. I made it to Ontario with a few hours to spare. He was 89 years old, my folks would have celebrated 60 years of marriage and 60 years together in Canada next summer.
NBC journalist Tom Brokaw called the men and women who grew up in the Depression, fought and defeated the Axis powers in WWII, and then went on to the economic triumphs of the 1950’s and 60’s “the greatest generation,” (The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw, 1998). While he was referring to Americans of that era, it’s easy to argue for the inclusion of the
Europeans who faced far greater deprivation and far bigger threats during the war, and arguably were a big reason for the boom times in North America that came afterwards. Certainly in Canada that’s the case. My father was from that generation, people who took nothing for granted, who worked their tails off and earned an honest living doing honest work.
My father was a very private man, and I’m ashamed to say that I know very little about his life before he came to Canada. He was orphaned at 3, was passed between family members for a number of years, and finally settled in with an uncle when he was around 12. He rarely spoke about his childhood. I know he took an apprenticeship as a sheet metal mechanic because he didn’t get high enough marks on an exam that might have taken him into engineering. That explains why he was so passionate about education and learning, since he didn’t get much of a formal education himself. That being said, like many of his generation, his literacy and numeracy skills would probably put a lot of university and college graduates to shame. He believed in learning as a lifelong pursuit – a journey, not a destination. He believed in apprenticeship, and the value of technical skills, and his success throughout life is evidence enough that he was right.
He had the mind and the eye for designing and building. He was a helluva metal worker – I came home from a summer of training in northern Canada to find he’d hand-built a set of rocker panels from aluminum to replace the rusted out ones on my first car, a beat-up 76 Civic I had nicknamed “Fenry Honda”. I found out from my cousin in England that he’d apparently done the same thing at the end of the war for a friend who had damaged an old Austin 7 and couldn’t afford to fix it – my dad hand built the front end body panels and fenders from scrap metal using tin snips, a hammer and
After he retired, my dad took up wood carving, and continued carving birds and animals in extraordinary detail right up until a few months ago. His last two unfinished projects, a red-tailed hawk and a bull moose, are now in the possession of my nephew – a millwright’s apprentice – who intends to finish them in honour of his grandfather.
My father was from a generation where skills were honoured. Valued. Nurtured. I’m going to make sure that legacy lives on.
Rest in peace Dad. You earned it.