In the past 40 years Wendell Johnston has held numerous jobs in a variety of careers, but one constant has been the place he calls home.
Wendell and his wife, Shari, arrived in Golden in the summer of 1972. They had been living in the Toronto area previously and were looking for a change of scenery. Their original destination was Vancouver but after stopping in Banff they fell in love with the area. When they visited a friend of a friend in town, they knew immediately that they had found their new home.
Wendell had previous experience as a painter and began working in that field again when he arrived. He has worked on and off in that capacity over the years and owns and operates his own company now. Because of a busy schedule, Wendell will often get a job set up and ready to go before turning over the bulk of the painting responsibilities to his employees. After all this time, painting remains one of his biggest passions.
“I enjoy the thrill of going into someone’s house that needs a paint job, and explaining to them about colour and what we’d like to do, and having them just stand in awe after we get it done,” Wendell explained.
When his friend Jim Oseychuk opened the Madtrapper Pub in 1976, he hired Wendell to build the interior. His work at the pub included building the bar and tables and finishing the wood. When the pub opened, Wendell became a manager and minor shareholder. He sold his share of the pub in 1981 because he was tired of the business.
Next, he started an air service called Golden Airways. Wendell had bought a Piper J-5 in 1978 and with his new company, he started to earn money as a scout for forest fires and by working for the RCMP on air patrol. Speeders who were pulled over would sometimes question whether there was an actual plane in the sky. That’s when Wendell would get to really have some fun.
“I’d put all the lights on and I’d just come screaming down. That was fun,” he said with a big laugh.
Occasionally he would fly tourists over the national parks.
“That was very satisfying because people just wouldn’t stop clicking their cameras. What you see from up there, you can’t appreciate it from down here.”
It was an enjoyable business for Wendell but it became a tough way to make a living and he had very limited work in the winter. Eventually, he had to go turn back to painting in order to supplement his income from flying.
An unfortunate incident would eventually lead to yet another business venture for the Johnstons. One day when Wendell was home with his daughter, Robin, Shari and their two older boys came home and remarked on an unusual fog around the roof. As it turns out, it wasn’t actually fog.
“It all happened quick. I got an extension ladder and I went up on the roof and I could smell smoke. I thought, ‘we’re in trouble here’,” he said.
In the rush to save whatever property they could from the fire, Wendell did something that any good cook might do.
“It was really stupid…I had been making spaghetti sauce all day. I make a slow, really good spaghetti sauce. So I saved the spaghetti sauce,” he said, laughing at the memory.
Their house and most of their property was lost and because they were under-insured, it left the family in a very difficult situation. Their insurance was able to get them a small home in town and they lived there for a while, but when Wendell saw a sign for a bed and breakfast in Banff, he got an idea. He immediately called his wife and had her make an appointment to see what is now the Country Comfort Bed & Breakfast. They got the place in the spring of 1991 and were in business by June of that year. Wendell is involved in the operations of the B&B but says that Shari handles the majority of the upkeep.
Now, Wendell spends most of his free time golfing and says he has golfed over 100 rounds this year alone. He is happy to have landed in Golden and says that living here is like being on a holiday compared to living in Toronto. For a painter, carpenter, pilot and father of three, it has certainly been a working holiday, but a holiday nonetheless.