Shirley (Benson) Ballum, a 74-year-resident of Prince George, was born in Kamloops in 1941. Her parents had relatives in Prince George so the young family moved here when Shirley was only two years old.
If you know Shirley you could just about picture her going through the terrible twos; a normal stage of development in a child trying to express her growing independence and wanting to make her own decisions; the terrible twos are followed by the terrific threes when a child’s personality starts to develop.
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Shirley reflected back and said, “I was probably about two years old when I first visited the WM Ranch which was managed by my uncle and aunt, Ivan and Pat (Spiers) Wayant. They managed the ranch for 25 years for Mrs. Mitchell, the wealthy owner from the U.S.
“From that time on this beautiful place would become the love of my life and the teacher of nature’s wise lessons. Many summer and winter holidays were spent out at the ranch and all of them were good. Along with my cousins and friends we experienced the freedom to ride our own horse over that vast, beautiful expanse of land, watching the sheep, cattle and horses graze and coming in close contact with wildlife and never feeling threatened.”
There was the time when Shirley rode her horse named Kitty 25 miles into town from the WM Ranch which is now, in part, the Huble Farm. She explained, “I rode my horse down Third Avenue, tied her up outside of the Jimmy James ice cream parlor and went in for a banana split.
“The ride into town took five hours and I only stopped for oats and water for my horse and a chocolate bar for me. Then we rode to the fairgrounds and I entered her in the show horse category for the upcoming Prince George Fair and then I rode home to where I lived at my Grandmother’s house (Laverne Reaugh’s place) on 11th Avenue.
“Kitty spent the night resting in the front yard and in the morning she woke me up with her special good morning whinny near my bedroom window. We saddled up and started the long ride back to the ranch. She was sure glad to see those big green fields and called to her friends as we drew nearer to the hills overlooking the Fraser River where the home place was located.
My father was a jockey and I am built like him; everyone said that I looked like an elf on the back of my horse.
“Those were wonderful days and I have such fond memories of it all.”
Shirley was raised and schooled in Prince George and said, “My school years were most enjoyable. I participated in school sports and the school’s student council. It involved volunteer work and I love it all.
“At the age of 15 I really started to get into the music scene. It started with the popular jive dancing and I mean we really knew how to swing it.
“I played the guitar and later it was my privilege, along with Bev Smith, to be a back-up vocalist for the popular singer Gary Fjellgaard who is honoured in the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. Ron Sutton was our bass player and he provided the rich bass tone that we needed. We opened shows for performers like Johnny Cash, George Jones, Faron Young and Stonewall Jackson. We were invited by George Jones to come to Nashville to begin a career but we all agreed to turn down the offer.”
Shirley married Arnold Ballum in 1963 and they just celebrated 56 years of marriage.
Shirley said, “I met Arnold when my stepfather brought him home for dinner from a construction job; time went by, our friendship grew and the rest is history.”
They had three children Barb, Jason (Jeoungwha) and Chris and they now have four grandchildren.
Arnold was born in Prince Edward Island in 1935 and served in the navy. He arrived in Prince George in the early 1960s looking for work and he has been here ever since.
He first worked for McDermid and Lofting Logging and later he worked for Ben Ginter as an equipment operator. He worked on highway construction projects and on the Peace River Dam and also the Mica Dam project north of Revelstoke.
He worked as a heavy duty mechanic the rest of his life, a job that nearly wore him out until he retired at the age of 65.
Shirley graduated from high school and first worked in investigation and reporting for the local credit bureau, then the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and finally a dental assistant and receptionist until she got married and started her family.
She has volunteered extensively starting with the Canadian Red Cross in their medical equipment loan service department.
She said, “We started the department with only one broken down pair of crutches. The local service clubs came to our aid and donated new wheel chairs, walkers, crutches and all of our other medical equipment. The service is still available and going strong – just check it out at the Canadian Red Cross office on Sixth Avenue.”
Shirley concluded by saying, “I am a descendant of Donald McLean, a Hudson’s Bay factor who started the Hat Creek Ranch as a stop over for those headed to Barkerville to seek gold. The provincial historic Hat Creek Ranch site is located this side of Cache Creek and offers a rare opportunity to explore the original buildings used by the Gold Rush travelers of the 1860s. There is quite the family pride in the site and in its history.
“I have lived in Prince George for 74 years. I grew up and attended high school here so I guess I can be called an old timer and I would have to say that I am extremely proud of that and very proud to be a Canadian.”