In reflecting on Allan Crawford’s life and family’s, we see a remarkable story.
“I just find it amazing,” he says “that here we have, basically, Northern Alberta children, who grew up in the bush in a log cabin, who went on to reach high levels in their professions. I am very proud of my entire family.”
For himself, Allan planned to make his career and living as a lawyer.
It didn’t quite work out the way he planned. When he wrote the entrance exam for the University of Alberta, he missed the cutoff marks needed to get in by one percentage point. That one point ended up changing his life for twenty years.
Allan had a choice of taking one course over, which he figured at the time would bump his average by five per cent. That would be more than enough to get into law school. But, after taking academic counselling, he decided to head in a direction, a direction that would lead him to becoming a teacher. This proved to be a rewarding decision. And, as it turned out, Allan is a prime example of a young person from a small, rural area who left for higher education, and returned to make not one, but two careers where his roots were planted.
Teaching and Sports
To help pay for his schooling in Edmonton, Allan applied for and received a High Prairie School Division Bursary. This Bursary came with the condition that Allan teach for one year in the Division’s region, which stretches from Girouxville in the west to Slave Lake in the east a distance of about 170 kilometres.
“I taught for about 20 years starting out in Faust, Alberta. Then it was E.W. Pratt High School in High Prairie. Then I became the principal of Kinuso School and after that, it was teaching in Slave Lake,” says Allan.
“I worked hard at teaching and many of my students did very very well on provincial tests. I must say however, these students would have done well with any teacher. That is what good students do.
“My best students ( just a few of many and who were all way smarter than me ) were Laura Hamson, Neil Decorby, Tracy Morton and Mary Anne Taylor. And by the way I want to retroactively change the grade I gave to Laura Hamson in about 1969. She wrote a beautiful paper for Grade Ten Social Studies. It was amazing and easily up to first year University of Alberta standards.
“It was truly excellent but I went through it and took off one small grammatical error and gave her 99%. Laura went on the get a Masters degree in French history, went to law school and received the Gold Medal for Law.
“Laura, wherever you are, I hereby change your grade on that paper to 100%.”
Allan is modest when it comes to his athletic abilities, claiming he was not a very good general athlete. Even so, he wrestled on the University of Alberta team, and won a City of Edmonton and a Northern Alberta Championship. He enjoyed sports and tried to pass that on to his students
“All the coaching and refereeing I did was simply based on motivational factors. Once a student shot put thrower in High Prairie, Barry Daviduke, said to me ‘You don’t know anything about actually throwing the shot put, but when you talk about sports you make me feel like getting out there myself.”
There were star athletes in Northern Alberta in the Crawford years.
“The best basketball team I ever coached was the Kinuso Knights. This team went all the way to the Provincials in Lethbridge and won the Sportsmanship trophy.
Allan coached many school basketball teams including the above Kinuso team.
“The best athlete I ever coached was James Sartorious. He broke the Provincial record in the 440 only to come in second to a kid, last named Lange, who also broke the Provincial record. The best relay team would be a Relay Team that won second in the Province. That team had James Sartorius, and also Glenn Buchta, David Marx and Bernie Poloz.”
Sports memories are not the only memories of Allan’s teaching days.
“My best memories relate to students who were struggling. I always stayed on their case and encouraged them to take the next step. I really tried to motivate my students. I was probably very demanding too. Like, for example if I was teaching Grade 10 students, I would try to have them thinking at a University level. I wanted them to learn as much as they could, not just what the school system expected of them.”
In the mid 1980’s, Allan says he needed a change.
“There are some teachers, like Ed Pratt, who can keep themselves motivated all the way to retirement. That’s why they get a high school named after them. But after 20 years of teaching, so many will start just going through the motions. I needed a change to keep motivated. I always had an interest in law. I applied, was accepted, and earned my law degree.”
Life in the “Banana Belt”
Allan grew up in a small rural farming district about 30 kilometres south of High Prairie known locally as “The Banana Belt.”
How it got that name has something to do with many stories told how it was always warmer in the Banana Belt than a few kilometres north in the main High Prairie area. This really wasn’t true, but it made for good story-telling in the old days.
One story was, people who didn’t live there called it the Banana Belt because it was so far south of the rest of the High Prairie area, High Prairie folks said it might as well have been in the Tropics. Another story was a group of folks were together in High Prairie, and one of the people there said about the small community south of High Prairie, “Yeah, it’s just like a Banana Belt way out there!”
Whatever the reason, the name stuck and to this day the area is still called “Banana Belt.”
Allan says “Life as a child in the early years of Banana Belt was actually idyllic. This was from the 1920’s all the way to the 1960’s. When I was born there were only two or three families. There had been about five other families prior to my birth but when the Depression hit in the 1930’s, a number of families simple could not make a living and had to move away. Names that come to mind having moved away are Kelly and Hall.
“The early community in the 1920’s was organized and progressive. The Stockman School District was formed and certified teachers taught in a one room school and lived in the community. The burning down of this school had something to do with some families moving away but the advent of the Great Depression was probably the biggest reason. In those days ‘relief’ was given out by the police and it was very hard to get.”
Here, in 1945, Allan was born to Bates and Margaret Crawford (nee Walters).
“When I speak about the Banana Belt that I remember,” Allan relates, “I am mainly speaking about the river quarters between Mike Kalitas place, settled by the Kelly family and some people still refer to the creek, where the County (district government) mercilessly fights beaver, as Kelly’s Creek, along the West Prairie River as far as where the Babkirk family now live. This is about 20 kilometres to 30 kilometres south of High Prairie.
“These quarters are blessed with about 10 inches of black dirt and were the first ones filed on by the settlers, which is how people thought of themselves. A number of those quarters were originally owned by members of my family in the years between 1945 and 1955.
“As I said, during the Depression and years after, families had moved away. But, by about 1955 some families had moved back and there also began an influx of new people. Two names of families that had moved away but came back would be Babkirks and the Monteiths. Also moving in were Vandermark, Talbot, Lauck and Williscroft. So by about 1955 there were probably about 8 or ten families.
“We were fairly isolated but there was nothing backward about the early Banana Belt. We just lagged about ten years behind in getting a graded road and replacing horse drawn machinery with tractors and combines etc.
“At the time about 1955, not many families had more than one quarter section but a very good living was made. Families were almost completely self sufficient. I remember that we had a huge garden and a cellar with bins for potatoes, beets, onions, carrots, turnips and all the vegetables necessary for a healthy meal. Now these vegetable would be considered organic and would be expensive. Farm animals included chickens, turkeys, hogs, cattle and horses. Most families would have a team of horses that pulled all the farm implements. This included plows, discs, harrow seed drills and binders. Most families had at least one rifle, usually a 30 30 Winchester or 30 30 British or 303 Savage. So with hunting, farm equipment, large gardens and a lot of resourcefulness each family was pretty well self sufficient.
“On Sundays during the summer the Nazarene Church would attend and hold church services at the local school, which at this time was another community built log building. Mainly the mothers and children would attend with the fathers staying back to take care of farm business. The Preacher would be against work on Sunday but I suspect most of the fathers were sinning a bit in this particular situation.
“On Sundays when there was no Church, though the kids had Sunday School. There were often community picnics. Everyone would bring lunch and someone, I think usually Vandermarks, would crank up a home made ice cream machine and everyone would have a treat. If I recall correctly, this would mean someone would have to provide ice from a root cellar to cool the ice cream machine.
“There was always a fun game of softball with all the kids and adults taking turn at the plate. From time to time there would be a dance at the school. A real school was built by the High Prairie School Division about 1955 and the school became the focal point for all local activities. “The dance would be highlighted by local talent. My Dad would often play fiddle as would Sam Lauck. These men were excellent musicians and could play any kind of music from waltz to fox trot to the seven step but always highlighted by a square dance or the Virginia Reel. James Babkirk would actually call the dance. He would call for a square dance or fox trot or ladies choice and if it got too slow he would put on a tap dancing exhibition. Later there would be either a pie social or a box social and Floyd Smith would auction off the pie or box.
“Floyd was magical and humorous. Even back then I can remember him getting 40 dollars for one pie. You see, if you bought a pie you would get to share it and dance with the bringer of the pie whoever that was.
The Banana Belt community continues to evolve and, as far as I can tell, from the isolated community that I recall, it is now one of the most prosperous and advanced farming and ranching areas in the Province. The transformation of Banana Belt is amazing.
There used to be box socials in the school. Now there are major lobster fests in the hall and it is darn hard to get a ticket. Years ago we had a 1949 Ford car which was the only car in the community. Now when I drive out there I meet BMWS, Hondas, Toyotas and all kind of $40,000,00 vehicles. I pass farming operations where each tractor in the field is probably worth six figures I think.
“Considering the original river quarters owned by Mile Kalita, Peter Tindall, Vernon Lauck, Gary and Gerry Williscroft, Bob Tindall and the Babkirk family I see what I believe to be some of the best operations in the Province be it grain, cattle, or purebred horses. Sometimes, I wonder what the original settlers would think if they could see it now, they having done so much work to open the area which is now so modernized. They would be darn proud for having been early contributors to such a dynamic community. They would consider the torch as having been passed on.”
The Family Crawford
“I am very proud of my own family,” relates Allan.
“There was my Mom, Dad and four children. I did correspondence until grade four when the school was built and teachers were once again assigned. This was after the community log school burned down, and before the School Division built a new school.”
“In Grade Nine I was bussed to town to go to school at the old Prairie River School. My older brother Charles did correspondence all the way through school because he was very short sighted. Charles wound up getting a PhD. in psychology, with only about 10% of normal vision. He has spent his career writing books and being a full professor at Simon Fraser University. Next in age was David who retired from the Royal Bank as Head of Commercial Lending for the City of Edmonton and Northern Alberta. My sister Mary didn’t do a career due to a handicap but put two welders, one civil engineer and one Crown Prosecutor through school.”
The Crawford children 50 years later in 2005. Left to right: Allan, Mary, David and Charles.
So we did well, but we were not part of the modernization of Banana Belt. We just hung onto the home quarter and still do.”
For himself, Allan has attained a Masters Degree in Education, and built a second career as a lawyer. Allan was married, and divorced twice, over the years. His first wife was Grace Gould. His second wife was Debbie Touraugeau.
He says he views his own life as being in three phases. His first phase was growing up in the Banana Belt, and finishing his Grade 12 schooling in High Prairie. His second phase was raising his first family, and his teaching career. Phase Three was raising his second family, and his law career.
“With respect to my first family, I was blessed. My children are Clayton, who now teaches power engineering at SAIT and stays active as a second degree black belt in Karate. Second is Gary who is a civil engineer and electrician in Edmonton. Charlene is a massage therapist and home maker with two youngsters who are my first grandchildren. Mother Number 1, Grace, and I are separated but have always co-operated in bringing up the kids.
“My second family with Mother Number Two, Debbie, a teacher in Slave Lake, is also blessed. Evan is a talented musician doing shows in Edmonton and working on his Arts degree. Andrew is an Honour student in Slave Lake and already has scholarships to study medicine at the University of Alberta. Please note, I do not give myself any credit for the academic abilities of my children. Both mothers are admittedly smarter than me. I do believe however that they may have obtained the work ethic from the Crawford side of the family!”
Allan says hard work and stubborness are part of the “Crawford Ethic.” But he admits that “maybe stubborness can be a handicap, like when something turns out stupid, but mostly it means we just can’t let go of something. We will keep on and on at it.”
Left to right: grandaughter Sasha, son-in-law Andrew, son Clayton, grandson Harrison, grandaughter Tessa. son Evan, grandaughter Lily, daughter Charlene, son Gary, daughter-in-law Marce, son Andrew and Allan.
Life as a lawyer
Allan made the decision to change careers in 1985.
Fourteen years earlier, in 1971, after about five years of teaching in the region, he decided to run for provincial political office as the local Member of the Alberta Legislature (MLA).
“In those years, the province was run by the Social Credit Party of Alberta. which had been in power for decades. I had thought about running against them, and finally announced I would run as an Independent. At that time, the Progressive Conservative Party was just forming. Local riding president at the time, Larry Shaben, heard I was running and asked me to consider trying for the Conservative nomination. I decided to stay Independent.”
Faust Hotel owner Garth Roberts became the Conservative candidate in the general election of 1971. Dennis Barton of Slave Lake held the riding for the Social Credit Party, defeating four other candidates. But, the Conservatives swept to power province-wide under the leadership of Peter Lougheed. This began a 44-year dynasty of Conservative rule in Alberta. In the next general provincial election, Larry Shaben ran in Lesser Slave Lake for the Conservatives. He defeated Barton, and held the position for 17 years until another Conservative, Pearl Calahasen, replaced him as MLA. That was not the last time Allan considered politics and it may be something in his future.
Meanwhile, after moving to Edmonton in 1986, Allan entered law as an adult student, age 41, at the University of Alberta. He says the transition from a life of teaching to life as a student hard to make.
“I have to tell you I found first year law school quite difficult. The approach is just different than any other subject matter. I just passed my first year. In second year I started to figure things out and received fairly good grades. By third year I had learned not to read every case from beginning to end but, like the younger students, just get a summary and read it. After that, I obtained very respectable grades.
Allan with his son Evan learning to play guitar at age two. He is now 22 and has an album out on ITunes, Evan Crawford Clockwork Heart.
Allan graduated from law school in 1989, and was called to the Bar in 1990.
“I articled with Campbell and Company in Edmonton and for Harry Jong in High Prairie. No local lawyer is ever given enough credit but I can tell you that Mr. Jong is a very good general practitioner. I learned a lot from him.”
In 1991, Allan opened his own practice in High Prairie. About ten years later, Allan moved to Grande Prairie. He continues to serve clients across the Peace River country, from Grande Prairie to High Prairie to Slave Lake.
“Since my move to Grande Prairie, I have only done criminal law instead of civil law and other legal duties. I find criminal law by far the most interesting. I also do not do family law cases now but I am doing family mediation.
Life as a lawyer – Family Mediation
These days, Allan is concentrating on solving family disputes through talking things through. This ‘Family Mediation’ is an area in which he specializes. Over the past years, he has helped bring sides together in over 400 cases.
In Allan’s words, “Everyone in the family will probably feel better if the issues can be settled in a co-operative manner.
“Co-operation will lay the foundation for a positive long term relationship between the various members of the family. The children will especially appreciate an amiable settlement between their parents and, if the parties agree, could even have input by discussing the situation with the mediator.”
For more on this, see Allan’s website at www.gplaw.ca
Life as a lawyer – A few Stories
Allan says his career in law continues to be interesting, and is always a great topic of conversation with people he meets.
“I have to tell you, the question most frequently asked a criminal lawyer is ‘How can you represent these people?’
“People almost always assume that since a person is charged by Police with a crime, they must be guilty. This is not the case at all. My answer to this then – It is not the police that decide who is guilty. The Court decides. The system means Police lay charges. The Crown lawyer or lawyers prosecute. The Defence lawyer or lawyer defends the person charged.
“Could you imagine a society where the Crown prosecuted the case and there was no lawyer to defend? The Defence lawyer makes the Crown prove their case. Everyone has to have someone to make the Crown prove the case. If the worst serial murderer does not have a right to a defence, then nobody has that right.”
“There are a ton of ‘war’ stories I could tell but I’m going to limit this to two, each of which I consider to be hilarious situations.
“First, a fairly large guy from Grouard got me to help him with a matter in court. The result was successful and I billed him $500.00. Despite a few calls and a letter he did not pay or even answer. About two years later he was in court again.
“He says ‘Crawford, could you help me out?’ I replied ‘What about that 500 dollars you owe me?’ So he replies to me, ‘Oh that. Don’t worry about that 500 dollars. I’m not worried about it all!’
“The second situation, I go to court in Valleyview where a Newfie is being held and charged with assault with a weapon on a police officer.
“The man was arrested for public intoxication but he had a large dog with him. The police didn’t know what to do with the dog, so they put the dog in the next cell to the Newfie. In the morning they checked on the prisoner, and then stepped into the cell with the dog to see how the dog was.
“Just as the mountie enters the dog’s cell the Newfie yells out, ‘Get him Boy!’ The dog attacks the officer by the arm and starts pulling on his shirt. Anyway, it turns out if you sic an animal on someone, that constitutes assault with a weapon.
“The officer involved graciously agree to make the charge into a lesser charge of Mischief.
“By the way, I don’t believe citizens from Newfoundland mind being called Newfies!”
So what will Allan be doing in the future?
“I don’t really know. I may retire when I am 75, which would be about 2021. However, I am stubborn enough to just keep on going! The ‘Crawford Ethic’ at work!
“These days, I hope to get a small band together and play in venues frequented by people over 50.
“I am also trying to get certified to fight in Seniors MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) events which are held in Singapore. I know this is laughable but I am actually looking for sparring partners!
“If you creep my Facebook page, you can see a recent video I posted. I encourage people to view it and offer to spar. Or, just Facebook me and let me know how big a mistake I am making!
“On a more serious note, I always thought we have good representation in politics, but I may make another stab at that.
“Right now I am not a big fan of the NDP but who knows, they may learn. If they do not, well, I might consider running as an independent or with one of the more conservative parties.
“In the meantime, do you think someone could get me a ticket to the next Lobster Fest at Banana Belt?”