Oddly enough for Doug Robinson, his brother’s untimely case of the measles likely saved his life.
Robinson, who was born in Nelson but moved to Golden at a young age, immigrated to North Queensferry, Scotland with his family during the Great Depression. When World War II became an increasingly dangerous threat to their children, Robinson’s parents decided that Doug and his brother should be sent back to Golden to live with their grandparents. North Queensferry’s bridge made it a particularly dangerous place to live.
“At the time that was a very vulnerable bridge because on the riverside of the bridge was the British naval repair depot for all the warships,” Robinson said. “So the bridge was the first target the Germans went after when they went after Britain.”
The people of North Queensferry had to be prepared for an attack at all times and the Robinsons had a bomb shelter and gas masks as part of their preparations.
“Being in that kind of a precarious place there, my mom and dad decided they wanted us kids to get back to Canada,” Robinson recalled.
Travelling overseas was extremely dangerous at the time with the presence of German U-boats all around the British Isles.
Doug and his older brother were preparing to board a ship for Halifax when his brother came down with a case of the measles. Because of his illness, authorities decided that Doug could board the ship but not his brother.
“My mother said ‘either they both go together or they don’t go’,” Robinson said.
The Robinson brothers had to wait for the next ship, which turned out to be a massive blessing in disguise when the boat they were supposed to board was sunk by a German torpedo.
The Robinsons eventually made it safely across the Atlantic on the next boat (amazingly, the boat that followed theirs was also torpedoed) and took a train from Halifax to Vancouver where their grandmother picked them up to bring them to Golden. As it turns out, that process was less than straightforward as well. Before Doug and his brother could be released, their grandmother had to answer a few questions about where she was taking them. Through questioning, their grandmother told the authorities that her home in Golden had well water and an outhouse rather than indoor plumbing.
“They said ‘We can’t hand these children over to you, you don’t have all the facilities that the kids need,” Robinson said.
After she was denied, Robinson’s grandmother got some help from two of her sons who were stationed in Vancouver as members of the Air Force.
“She walked into [the government] office and she pointed to these two big strapping officers. She said ‘I raised these two on an outhouse with no water pump. They’re good enough to fight your war, I’m good enough to look after my grandchildren’ and she walked out with us,” Robinson laughed.
Robinson never saw his father again as he was killed during the Normandy invasions of 1944. Doug wasn’t reunited with his mother until 1946 when she moved from Scotland to Golden.
Robinson attended Lady Grey School and enjoyed his upbringing in Golden.
“It was a good place. I was always fishing…all the kids in town played together,” he recalled.
Robinson spent much of his time outdoors and after his grandpa taught him how to set snares and skin rabbits, he gladly put his skills to use by putting food on the table.
After finishing school, Robinson worked in the lumber industry in Donald before earning his mechanics license and working in Calgary.
Because of a desire to go to Switzerland, Robinson and a friend decided they would both cross North America on their motorbikes before taking a ship from New York to Europe.
“We were in the lunch room one day and we didn’t have enough money to go and we were talking about it and we referred to our motorcycles as bikes,” he said.
One of their co-workers, thinking they were talking about riding their bicycles across North America, exclaimed his disbelief that the pair could make it. In defiance, Robinson and his friend sold their motorcycles and bought bicycles instead. Initially they went west so that his friend could pick up some things from his parents’ place in Victoria before they turned around and went east.
“We went from Vancouver to New York on our bikes in 27 days,” Robinson laughed. “That’s the way I am, don’t tell me I can’t do something.”
The bicycle tour continued across the pond before he eventually arrived in Switzerland. Robinson worked for a ski club in Switzerland for 18 months before eventually moving back to Canada.
Robinson later became a ski coach and worked in that industry for many years. He earned the Banff Sportsman of the year award in 1970 and was inducted into the Banff Sports Hall of Fame in 2008. He had six children with his first wife, Carmen, who lost a battle with cancer in 1985.
Now, Robinson lives south of Golden with his wife Marijke and enjoys skiing in the winter and sailing in the summer. He spends much of his time in his workshop, a place he refers to as his “playpen”.
Suffice to say, Robinson has led a wonderful life, a life that could have been cut short if not for his brother catching the measles.