Adams, William

William (Bill), was born July 1, 1924 in Calgary, and was adopted by Urquhart and Maryle Adams, who also had a daughter, Virginia, who was three years older. Urquhart and his father emigrated from the United States in 1912 and settled in Peace River, Alberta in 1917. Urquhart cooked for Kresge’s Construction camp and then raised dairy cattle with his father, but eventually opened the Star Café in Peace River. He left the café and entered into the real estate business with a partner; however, when the business flagged, Urquhart went back to cook for Kresge’s at a railway grade-building camp at Driftpile. While there, he received word that his wife had left with the business partner, taking their daughter Virginia, and abandoning young Bill. Urquhart returned to Peace River to care for his son and re-opened the café which, through hard work and perseverance, became profitable.

Bill grew up in Peace River and took his schooling there before enlisting in the Canadian Army in Edmonton on October 8, 1942. Shortly thereafter, he responded to a November call for volunteers for the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion. Entry into the Battalion was on a volunteer basis through a rigorous screening process that selected recruits based on physical fitness and ability, but also, according to Department of National Defence records, a “high degree of stability and perseverance, and at the same time an ability to think for themselves.” He was accepted for training December 5, 1942, and qualified as a parachutist at the Battalion’s initial training facility in Fort Benning, Georgia on February 17, 1943. Of those volunteering, the initial screening, followed by a demanding training regimen, saw only 20% of the prospective paratroopers manage to complete the training.

Bill trained as a Medic, and was part of the D-Day invasion when the Battalion’s active history began as the first Canadian unit to engage the Germans – the main body jumping behind enemy lines between midnight and one a.m., preceded by a small contingent of “Pathfinders”. Of the 563 men who parachuted into action on June 5 and 6, 1944, 328 were killed, wounded or captured by the end of the war. Although widely scattered that first night, the Battalion successfully achieved all its objectives, which became a hallmark – the Battalion took every objective assigned and once taken, never relinquished them as it fought with distinction through France, Belgium, Holland and Germany.

Bill was discharged on demobilization in Calgary on September 7, 1945. Private William Adams served in the USA, United Kingdom and Continental Europe and received the France & Germany Star, Defense Medal, War Medal, 1939-45 and the Canadian Volunteer Medal & Clasp.

He subsequently returned to Peace River, hiring on with Hudson Bay Oil & Gas as a swamper on bush planes. On March 5, 1951, an usher at the Gaiety Theatre in Grande Prairie by the name of Skippy Duncan, introduced Bill to Elsie Stearn. Elsie was working at the Grande Prairie Hospital and Jess Willard, the pilot of the bush plane that Bill flew on, would ‘gun the throttle’ over the hospital to let her know that they had arrived in town.

Their relationship blossomed quickly and they married that April 6 at the Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Edmonton with the pilot, Jess, as best man and Anne Sarmaga as bridesmaid. The young couple moved to Peace River where Bill continued with Hudson Bay Oil & Gas and Elsie found work at Peace River Plumbing and Heating. Shortly thereafter, Bill and Elsie moved to the farm of her parents, Ed and Charlotte Stearn, near Bezanson in the Fitzsimmons area. A son, Stuart was born on September 7, 1952. At Christmas 1952, the family moved back to Peace River and Bill assisted his father in the restaurant for six months.

Bill returned to the oil patch in the spring of 1953 when they moved to Edmonton and he began with Halliburton. He was transferred to Grande Prairie in 1953, where
another son, Leigh was born on August 17, 1954.

Elsie’s father, Ed, died December 28, 1954, and they moved to the family farm to assist her mother, but unfortunately, the farmhouse burned in March 1956. They then moved into a trailer in Clarke’s Auto Court in Grande Prairie and Bill found employment with McCullough Tools. Elsie worked for Blackwell’s Insurance and also became the bookkeeper for Dale-Maynard Construction.

During the summer of 1957, the family moved the trailer to Edson where Elsie managed a motel and Bill worked hauling fuel. Shortly thereafter, Mrs. Stearn moved in with them and remained after Bill and Elsie divorced that fall. In the summer of 1958, Elsie, her sons and her mother moved to Edmonton. In the spring of 1960, Bill and Elsie reconciled and remarried on May 13, 1960. Bill was working for Halliburton, which transferred him to Drayton Valley, where they lived until another transfer to Edmonton in 1962.

Bill’s father, Urquhart died September 27, 1967, and the following year, Bill left Halliburton and purchased Edmonton’s first Orange Julius stand, located in Centennial Village Mall, which he operated for 10 years. During the summer of 1970, Bill and Elsie once again separated and then divorced.

Bill finished his working years in the oil patch operating his business, “B. Adams Hotshot”, where he and his dog, Hector, were inseparable as they worked around Alberta. Bill remained in Edmonton and passed away there on May 2, 1997 and was cremated; Stuart and Leigh scattered his ashes over the Peace River from the former Northern Alberta Railways Bridge, and at the Twelve Foot Davis monument. Bill had been a member of the Royal Canadian Legion, Jasper Place Branch No. 255 in Edmonton for many years.

Elsie passed away on January 7, 2015 and was cremated and they spread her ashes downstream from the Smoky River Bridge near Bezanson, and on the Kleskun Hills. Charlotte Stearn had passed away on July 24, 1983.

Interview with Maxine (Sarmaga) Maxwell
Interview with Stuart Adams (son)
Archives Canada – Service File
Smoky to Grande Prairie
1926 Census Records – date of immigration to Canada
Written by Stuart Adams with slight editing by Wanda Zenner