|Bonnie Joy Gavin,
in Kamloops, ready to see the Queen, July 1959.
In 1949, Alex ran for the District Council of Quesnel
and won a seat. Jack Rome was his opposition. In those days the
senior elected official in town was called a Reeve. After H. J.
Gardner died, Alex became Reeve. Later, the title of this position
was changed to Mayor. Alex was the senior elected official in Quesnel
for twenty years.
Being the wife of a politician
Gertrude remembers that the early days as a Councilman kept her
husband occupied. "I remember that Alex was always busy. Since
he was raised in Quesnel, he knew what he wanted to get done."
Gertrude took her husband's new role as a politician in stride.
"He's elected, and you're not. I don't remember any changes
in my life because he was in elected office, except that I used
to go out with him a lot to different functions."
Perhaps because she was from a small town as a girl,
and because she was used to the Quesnel community where everyone
knew each other, Gertrude did not feel that her life was negatively
affected by being more in the public eye after Alex became an elected
official. She did not seem to feel the pressure to which today's
political families are sometimes subjected.
Alex Fraser, and Prince Charles on a B.C. Ferry.
She said, "People knew me because I was Alex's
wife. I tried to help him as much as I could. Once in a while, you
felt that you had to do things that were a bit much, but you were
young, so it didn't bother you. I was in public life in nursing,
meeting people all the time." Gertrude chose not to elaborate
on what she meant by "things that were a bit much," although
in another conversation detailed below, She did mention her feelings
acting Alex's voice during his battle with cancer.
Gertrude and her mother in law worked the political
parties in Quesnel, raising money for the constituency. They would
put on events like cabarets.
While Alex was Mayor, "We were privileged to
receive a number of distinguished visitors to Quesnel. We met Governor
General Massey and his family, Lieutenant Governor General George
R. Pearkes, and Princess Margaret. We also met Queen Elizabeth when
she visited Kamloops." Later, during Alex's years as an MLA,
the couple met Princess Diana and Prince Charles.
A strong team, a unique partnership
Jesse Ketchum, Alex's assistant while Minister of Transportation
and Highways from January 1978 to June 1983, feels that Gertrude's
support was invaluable for her husband as a person and as a politician.
According to Ketchum, Gertrude was involved in politics with Alex
from his first position on Quesnel district council. He said, "She
was Alex's closest political adviser, bar none. In later years,
I always thought that I was very close to him, but he depended
Gertrude an awful lot. I think she had a keen political sense.
People are political animals, or they're not. She definitely is.
what is a political problem, what is a political opportunity, and
she always has."
visit to Quesnel, June 17, 1958. Names, L to R: Gloria Barclay,
Miss Quesnel; Alex Fraser, Mayor; Gertrude Fraser; the Princess's
Secretary; Princess Margaret; Lt. Gov. Frank Ross; Ray Williston,
MLA; Sue Speare, wife of MLA Bill Speare.
Gertrude really kept him going. And it was extremely
important that he had Gertrude to go home to. People in the Cariboo
don't even realize how successful Alex was, how influential he
was. He accomplished an awful lot (in provincial politics). I
always looked at Gertrude and Alex as a team, and she was a big
part of his accomplishments. I want to make it clear I'm not taking
anything away from Alex, I loved him dearly; this was a very unique
circumstance. I know many marriages disintegrated because of political
life. In politics, Gertrude seemed to be able to move in whatever
circles Alex had to move in, and I think she was a keen observer
of people that Alex had to deal with. I do know that Alex's view
of many people was first determined by Gertrude's impression.
He trusted her women's intuition. She was a filter. Gertrude knows
a lot, has seen an awful lot, including some political intrigue.
Bonnie Joy Gavin says that her father "was very
respectful of my Mom's opinions about health and social services
issues. He trusted her completely when it came to medical things.
He always asked her opinion." She noted that Alex came from
a family of strong women, and adds, "If it weren't for my
Mom, I don't think he would have been as successful as he was."
Muriel Smith, Alex's secretary during his tenure as
Minister of Transportation, agrees that his wife was an asset for
the politician. She said,
She was a wonderful partner for him as far as constituency
work was concerned. People would speak to her just as easily as
they did to him. She was outstanding for that type of political
life - she was always there to help him and was happy to do it.
She enjoyed meeting the people, and they enjoyed meeting her as
well. I don't think you could ask for a better partner in a political
life. Any discussion they might have had about people would have
been private; it would have been between the two of them. He valued
her opinion, there's no doubt about that. Because she was so personally
interested in people and had a big concern about their troubles,
and it wasn't just a casual 'OK I'll do it because I'm here,'
she was interested in what people had to tell her and how she
could help them. You have to have humour and tremendous flexibility
to do what she did for all those years and do it at her age and
for as long as she did.
Mrs. Smith noted in 2002 that as recently as four
or five years ago, more than five years since Alex passed away,
Gertrude phoned her to see if she could help a Quesnel resident
with a concern.
The Minister of Transportation was frequently on the move
|Alex Fraser, August
1986. This photo was taken the day Alex was sworn in as Minister
of Highways at the Parliament Buildings.
While Alex was Minister of Transportation, he traveled
extensively all over the province. The Social Credit party had its
own planes and pilots so that its ministers could travel with ease
to various areas in the province. Alex may well have traveled more
than any other minister, because so much of the province's highway
and bridge infrastructure was built during the years he held the
portfolio. He was known to have driven over just about every stretch
of public road in British Columbia at one time or another while
His wife explained his extensive traveling
took place because Alex "wanted to see (the construction) for himself,
because the government in Victoria didn't always feel that they
were being given the right information," and he couldn't always
travel by car from Victoria. Gertrude cautions that this need to
see what was happening with Ministry projects "wasn't because
he didn't trust people. It was such a big Ministry, with people
in every town employed in it."
His wife reports that one of the things
that Alex made sure his Ministry did was to build or upgrade
all over the province so that air ambulances could land. The Anahim
Lake airport was built because of Alex's initiative. His wife
that "Every year, he tried to get 20 miles out from each small
place paved, because "he knew what the side roads were like."
Gertrude frequently joined Alex on his travels if
there was a free seat on the government plane. She remembers the
trips fondly. She said, "I always felt that Alex liked me to
be with him." Never one to enjoy being idle, Gertrude would
try to keep occupied on these trips. "If he was traveling and
attended meetings, I'd scribble notes if he didn't have his executive
assistant. I didn't want to stay in the motel room. Sometimes he
depended on me to remember things, since he had so much on his mind."
On occasion, she said, "I used to think, 'Oh, dear, another
weekend I have to go away.' But you have to take it all in your
stride." This travel schedule would often involve two weekends
in a row out of town, the next weekend in Victoria, and the next
weekend traveling again.
christens the B.C. Ferry "Quintsa."
Muriel Smith enjoyed spending time with her boss's
wife. "Talking with her was very easy, very pleasant, and certainly
she was a lovely lady for me to be with when we went on trips. She
was always careful to make sure that I was comfortable and always
feeling a part of what they were doing at that time. She was wonderful
in that way. We were in Altin once and Mrs. Fraser and I were walking
around the town when Mr. Fraser was in meetings, and we walked into
a church and she played the organ, and I found that to be a really
lovely time. She is so comfortable, such a motherly person. If we
were going to Williams Lake, she would always take something for
her daughter Bonnie, buns or cookies or something she had made the
A Great Sense of Humour
Many of Gertrude's friends and relatives fondly recall her strong
sense of humour. Jesse Ketchum remembers,
With Alex, we were always in a hurry.
One day, we were down in the Okanagan and going to meet the
in Kamloops. I was always running late with Alex because he always
wanted to continue meeting people; you couldn't stop him. Gertrude
was in the passenger seat, Alex was in the back. I was pulled
over, and got a speeding ticket. I get my ticket, take off,
down the highway about 20 miles, and then get pulled over again.
The cop who stopped me said, "Who do you think you are, Phil
Galardi?" Galardi was a former Minister of Transportation
who was infamous for getting speeding tickets. He didn't realize
that the current Minister of Transportation was in the car. Gertrude
said, "Oh, Jesse is much faster than Phil Galardi ever was."
A partnership and a love story
|Gertrude and Alex
in his office in the Legislature, Victoria, November 1987.
Gertrude and Alex had an extremely close
marriage. Their daughter Bonnie Joy says that "for him, the sun rose
and set on my Mom, and she felt that same way about him." Their
closeness appeared to extend to Alex's political work. However,
when asked what role she thought she played in relation to Alex's
elected positions, Gertrude replied, "I don't think I had
a role (as part of his work.) I helped him out when I could."
About being a political wife, Gertrude
have to put up with a lot, but you don't let it bother you. If he
has some criticism, he has to answer for it, I don't
never had too much criticism, because I don't know why, but he always
tried to do his very best. He spent a lot of time with people, helping
people with their problems. There was always something (to work
on)." Gertrude also remained the same gracious person from
Bienfait that she always had been. She said, "I didn't think
I had a different social standing than anyone else in town. We
all friends, you knew everyone."
Apparently, Alex didn't have support
from absolutely everyone in the riding. Gertrude remembers one
evening when Quesnel
New Democrat Party supporter Steve Hilbert "came over to our
house with a bottle of Pouilly-Fuisse wine. The reason was that
one of the Socred Cabinet Ministers had recently been in Whistler,
and entertained a number of people and served him that wine, which
was expensive, I guess. He lost his cabinet portfolio over that.
So Steve Hilbert brought the wine over to Alex. I still have that
Jesse Ketchum tells a story that he
believes illustrates Gertrude's unflappable, take-things-as-they-come
style. One day,
as Jesse, Gertrude, and Alex were driving from Quesnel to Vancouver,
rocks from the top of a Ministry of Highways dump truck flew
their windshield with such force that it smashed the glass completely.
The three passengers were quite shaken and covered in glass.
they pulled over, Gertrude said, "Do you think we can go back
to Williams Lake and get it fixed, or will we have to drive to
|Alex and Gertrude
enjoying Billy Barker Days, Quesnel's family festival.
Towards the end of Alex's life, Gertrude's
function as a spouse took on an unexpected and weighty turn.
In 1986, Alex's
voice box was removed as he fought throat cancer. That year, in
his last election campaign, Gertrude spoke for Alex at meetings
or public events. She recalls, "I felt a lot of pressure
when Alex lost his voice. He would write out the answers to questions,
and I would read them."
Victoria political writer Jim Hume's
look at the legend of Alex Fraser" gives insights into Gertrude's
character as she helped Alex win this last election. The Premier,
Bill Vander Zalm, had promised Alex that he would retain his position
as Minister of Transportation if he won the upcoming election. Hume
wrote, "Alex, so his indomitable wife Gertrude informed the
world, took the promise seriously, and entered his name yet one
more time as the MLA for Cariboo. She never left his side during
that voiceless campaign. She traveled with him, spoke for him and
he won again, some 6,000 votes ahead of his nearest rival." Hume
notes that Vander Zalm's promise was forgotten after the campaign,
and Alex was not retained as Minister of Transportation.
Nephew James Watt feels that his aunt "always
played a supporting role as opposed to a principal role in the
arena until the 1986 election. At that time, she had to play a
larger part, but was only doing so in support of her husband.
normally step forward or stand out, that wasn't her personality.
When she was thrust into that position of speaking for him, I'm
sure it was very difficult, very foreign and very uncomfortable."
Political ambitions of her own?
When asked if she ever thought about going into politics herself,
Gertrude replied, "Oh, no. When your husband's in politics,
you see how much pressure is on them. Especially Alex, because
knew everyone. People would ask him to do things for them, and
he would, so he had much to do."
The opening of the Alex Fraser Bridge
The opening of the Alex Fraser Bridge was a wonderful day for the
Frasers, their family, and friends. It was not long after the Premier,
Bill VanderZalm, had relieved Alex of his duties as Minister of
Gertrude has a lovely photo of her and Alex
during the Bridge opening. Gertrude, in a royal blue suit, is reading
Alex's speech and smiling. As he stands by her side, Alex watches
her. The two of them, married 44 years, are holding hands. Their
expressions and contact appear very genuine, and do not look like
they were posed for the camera.
|A pass that was
given to Gertrude to be in the official party accompanying HRH
Princess Margaret, July 17, 1958.