Growing up in Grand Forks: A tale of two characters

Two of these people from my growing up years were Jim Flynn and Rattlesnake Bill, recounts columnist Milton Orris.

It just takes one person—or at least one at  time—to make a big difference, young people in a small community.  It’s not just about “doing great things,” it is also about leading a different, interesting, memorable life.

Two of these people from my growing up years were Jim Flynn and Rattlesnake Bill  (whose last name we scarcely ever heard and I have forgotten!).

Jim Flynn and his wonderful horse Goldie lived up on Rattlesnake Mountain for decades in a small log cabin. Jim had come to Grand Forks after the First World War to recover from being gassed. His English doctor said he needed to go somewhere where the air was pure, clean and healthy—Western Canada was his suggestion. How Jim ended up in Grand Forks no one knows, but here he was until his death in his late ‘70s.

He was for many years the pro at the Grand Forks Golf Club. Where was that, you ask?  On the flat areas just above the highway on Rattlesnake Mountain—where rattlesnakes were sometimes spectators (or if you weren’t careful) participate in your game.  The fairways were a little rough, and the greens were groomed smooth sand. The golf clubs were all wooden shafts and mine must have been 25 years old (about 10 years older than I was).

However, we didn’t know anything else so it was great. And Jim taught me not only golfing, also patience and self-control and persistence when I hit one of my many bad shots.

That is not why Jim was so well known. He was a pretty heavy drinker in his earlier years, and he would often come into his favourite drinking spot, the Yale Hotel, and get quite dosed up.

“Don’t worry,” Jim would say, when people would ask him how he would get home. “Goldie knows the way.” And no matter the season, through rain or blizzard, she did.

He made many famous rides. The most memorable one was on New Year’s Eve when he arrived at the hotel—and happily rode Goldie into the bar and ordered her a beer. The story is that Mr. Fedorak, owner of the hotel was not pleased; however, everyone else in the crowded bar cheered when Goldie took a slurp or two.

A few short years later Jim totally sobered up his life and rode Goldie to Vancouver raising money for health-related children’s charities, a few thousand dollars in total. He gave a lot to our community in his very own way: our local Frank Sinatra, “I Did It My Way.”

Well how about Rattlesnake Bill? He lived in a small house along the street by the Granby River. You could walk by his front yard and almost every day there was a cage beside the fence with one or more big rattlesnakes in it.  Great to look at; however, don’t get too close.

What were they doing there? Well, Rattlesnake Bill earned his living by trekking up Rattlesnake Mountain, catching rattlesnakes, bringing them home and extracting their venom into glass containers which he then took to medical labs where they turned it into anti-venom serums.

Bill was very independent and self-sufficient yet very friendly. He loved to come out when some of us would come by to look at the snakes, and tell us all about them. He loved them, he said.

And he roused our curiosity so one of our weekend adventures was to climb up Rattlesnake Mountain and look for “rattlers,” as we call them. And we did find them. My most memorable “find” was a den of 20 or more, young “newborns” and their parents. They rattled away at us as we looked over the edge of the pit. When a couple of the adults started moving towards us to welcome us for dinner, we said our hasty goodbyes and moved on.

What Bill taught us was an appreciation of everything in nature—the mountains, the creatures living there, and how every living thing contributed something to our society.

Grand Forks—a wonderful place with wonderful people.


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