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Meet Nelson’s Gyro Club iron man

Sixteenth in a series of pioneer profiles

John Hopwood was just a teenager when he joined the Nelson Gyro Club.

Today, he’s the longest serving member at 63 years and counting — eclipsing even the 57 years his father spent with the group. But it took much deliberation before he signed up.

“Ken McCrory, who owned Nelson Electric, said to Bob Emory and me ‘The Gyro Club is a bunch of older men. Would you be willing to join and bring some of your friends?’ I thought about it a long time ... Gradually we got enough younger guys.”

Much later he would become president, on the condition Emory serve as his vice-president.

Although primarily a fraternal club, the Gyros have taken on many service projects over the years, including maintenance of their namesake park and canvassing for charities.

Hopwood — recently mentioned in the Star concerning an urn that washed up on the Oregon coast with the ashes of a distant relative — has roots in Nelson dating back over 100 years.

His father Ernie came out from England as a boy to join an older brother and their father, who had butcher shops here and in Silverton. Ernie delivered meat to the mines by pack train, and later drove the last horse-drawn wagon for the Nelson fire department.

In the mid-1920s, he married Elizabeth Turner and began a long career as a Shell Oil agent.

When John was a toddler, the family moved to Trail, where two more children, JoAnn and Shelagh, were born. Seven and a half years later, they returned to Nelson.

In his youth, John spent a couple of summers with CP Telegraph as a groundsman and pole climber, earning $4.20 per 10-hour day inspecting lines from Kaslo to Retallack and Castlegar to Midway. He stayed in sweltering boxcars, slept on hay-filled mattress covers, and washed up in tin basins filled with creek water.

There was one saving grace: “We took our fishing rods. Oh, did we have some fishing.”

After graduating from high school in 1946, Hopwood decided he didn’t care for the boxcar life and landed a job with BC Tel, which paid a bit better, and led to an apprenticeship as an installer/lineman.

Like his contemporary Doug Smith, profiled in this column recently, he spent 38 years with the company.

“When I started, guys would say: ‘Kid, you’re damn lucky. You stay there.’ It was one of the prime jobs.”

In retirement, Hopwood, 83, became president of the Nelson Electric Tramway Society, and spent many hours weed whacking along the track and occasionally driving the tram.

As a kid, he rode the streetcar from his Fairview home — and also played pranks.

“It was one of our sources of amusement,” he says. “We’d drive the poor conductor nuts.”

At night he and friends would hide under the wooden sidewalk on Davies Street and try to shake the streetcar off its guide wires. Other times they took five-cent candy bags and filled them with potassium and sulfur from Smyth’s drug store.

“It made boom powder. We put it in the bag, rolled it up nice and fine, and laid it on the tracks. Of course the streetcar would come along and there would be a great big boom.”

To their further mischievous delight, the sulfur wafted up through the car.

Decades later, as he took his own turn piloting the streetcar between the mall and Lakeside Park, Hopwood spotted a man “killing himself laughing. It was Louie, a kid I went to school with. He said ‘You’re getting your comeuppance, aren’t you?’“

Previous installments in this series

Lillian Hickey

Doug Smith

Evelyn Murray

Fritz Koehle

Bernie Czelenski

Agnes Baker

Aya Higashi

Gordon Fleming

Jake Conkin

Walt Laurie

Eric and Peggy Denny

Ray Kosiancic

Lois Arnesen

Cameron Mah

Fran Horan

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