Lawrence and Audrey Johnson stopped in Golden in 1951 on their way to Leanchoil after a long trip east along the Big Bend Highway. For Audrey, Golden, with its pot holed streets, dusty roads and wooden sidewalks, was not the Shangri-La she was hoping it would be.
“When I first saw it, I cried it was so awful,” she laughed. “But the people were nice, everyone we met was super to us.”
It didn’t take long for Audrey to come around to the idea of living in this area and they moved to Golden permanently in 1955 after Lawrence was transferred out of the CPR’s operations in Leanchoil.
Before their move east, the Johnsons met in Armstrong, where Lawrence grew up. Both had an interest in what they call “old-time dance” and they met at a square dance outing in town.
Audrey, originally from Burnaby, was a school teacher in Armstrong, but had to give that profession up temporarily when they moved to Leanchoil.
Leanchoil was an isolated CPR residence just inside Yoho National Park. At the time, the CPR required an extra steam engine to make it from Golden up the hill to the Yoho boundary. That engine was hooked up in Golden and detached when it made it to Leanchoil. Detaching the extra engine and sending it back to Golden was the responsibility of the small crew in Leanchoil. For the Johnsons, trips to Field or Golden were necessary for many purposes, from watching a movie to buying groceries, although they would often send a list of items with an engineer on his way back to Golden and receive their items when the next train came through.
Naturally, because of the isolated nature of the residence, encounters with wildlife were not at all uncommon. One particular incident stands out for Lawrence.
“I heard screaming one day and I came out on the porch and Audrey was in the outdoor toilet with a bear out in front of the door,” he chuckled.
“I couldn’t get out…I wasn’t coming out with a bear crawling around,” Audrey said.
“I walked out and the bears ran when I went out,” Lawrence said.
When they moved to Golden there were only three houses for sale, and according to Audrey, they bought the one that was the least worst of the three. A portion of the home had yet to be finished at that time and it was a little cramped for the Johnsons and their two young daughters, Pat and Carol. They eventually finished the upstairs and built an extension, giving them some much needed extra space for their growing children.
Audrey returned to teaching and taught high school math in town for many years until her retirement in 1988. One highlight for her, in addition to teaching and working alongside a wonderful staff, included her involvement with the badminton team as a coach.
Impressively for a school in a small town, the badminton team won the B.C. high school championship in 1981 in Victoria and finished in 5th place at the national championships in Regina.
“They were all such great kids,” she said. “We’d stay overnight in a motel and I’d check on them but I never really had to worry about them getting into trouble.”
Lawrence continued his work at the CPR until his retirement in 1985, but he also started a small business on the side for a time as well.
“I got involved with wedding pictures, passport pictures, graduation pictures,” he said. Photography was a long time hobby for Lawrence that he had to mostly give up while they lived in Leanchoil, but he eagerly pursued it again once the Johnsons had more space for him to set up a dark room for developing his shots. Eventually, it became hard for him to balance his small business with his full-time job, so photography became just a hobby for him once again.
The Johnsons have enjoyed travelling, skiing and golf over the years. They have visited such far flung places as Egypt, Sweden (where Lawrence’s family is from) and Australia, among many others. After they were both retired, they took a trip across Canada, visiting every province on the way except for Newfoundland, before returning through the United States. Nowadays, Audrey enjoys playing bridge two nights a week and the couple faithfully cheers on their Vancouver Canucks, despite their collective discouragement with recent results.
Although Golden made a poor initial impression on Audrey, the town quickly became their home and upon retirement neither Audrey or Lawrence never had any desire to move away.
“I’ve liked Golden ever since we moved here,” Audrey said.