One man has lived and entertained the people of Vanderhoof for several decades. Oscar Walstrom is a big part of the community and an excellent musician to boot.
Walstrom is “86 years young” said Debra-Ann Bishop, Seniors Connected Coordinator, but he is a very busy guy and even Bishop doesn’t envy his schedule.
Walstrom lived on a ranch near Mapes for 40 years, which he said was some of the best times of his life.
“It’s the perfect job,” said Walstrom. “You don’t have anyone telling you what to do, you are your own boss.”
He moved there from Stettler, Alberta to find work, much like many of Vanderhoof’s residents, but where Walstrom really wanted to make his money was in his music.
He has been in so many bands over the years that the Omineca Express couldn’t get an exact number of them, but take a man who taught himself to play guitar before he was a teenager and has been playing in bands for over 70 years and one begins to have some idea.
One of Walstrom’s earliest musical influences was Canadian country music legend, Wilf Carter, Canada’s first country music star, Canada’s first country music star. He also loves Johnny Cash and a lot of other bluegrass and country musicicians.
When Walstrom used to perform at Mapes Hall, he would bring along his wife and children, his wife Dorothy being his biggest fan.
Dorothy was born in Vanderhoof and she and Oscar have been married 63 years, quite a feat these days.
“I’ve played for a lot of weddings,” said Oscar Walstrom. “Actually probably several hundred. A lot of people aren’t married this long. The quickest one I think was three weeks.”
Walstrom has always encouraged his children to play music too. His son plays the bass guitar and his daughter sings.
“She’s been playing with us for years,” said Walstrom.
They had their daughter sing with them when she was a child and people used to give her money for it. This continued up until she started asking for more money at the performances at which point Walstrom shut her down.
His kids used to fall asleep sometimes when he played at Mapes, and they’d pick his guitar case out as the perfect place to sleep.
The hall where he would often perform, Mapes Hall, was actually built by Walstrom himself.
“Every week we’d go to somebody’s place,” said Walstrom. “Pretty soon the houses got too small. So we finally decided we’d build a hall, so that we did.”
Thus was the Mapes Hall built for those residents living about 20 minutes east of Vanderhoof.
Last year, Walstrom won the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal in 2012, a photo exists of MLA John Rustad handing Walstrom the medal. The Diamond Jubilee medal is awarded for anyone who “has made significant contributions to Canada,” according to the Government information site.
The award came as a complete surprise to Walstrom, who couldn’t say what particular contribution led to it.
“I’ve played for dances most of my life,” he said. “I started playing at them when I was 14.”
When one enters Walstrom’s house on Speedway Road, one must walk through the music room on the bottom floor. This room is filled with guitars of all shapes and colours, but Oscar Walstrom’s favourite guitar is upstairs, getting the most use of it.
When he bought that guitar, many years ago, he paid $11 a month. This was back when he would maybe get $1 for an hour of playing.
A few years ago, Walstrom used to play music for seniors at the Stuart Nechako Manor beside the hospital, but when his sister passed away Walstrom stopped playing there.
He has played at Riverside Place for over 20 years including when it was called the Omineca Lodge.
“It does two things,” he said. “It keeps me in practice, and entertains the people. And they like it.”
Walstrom is also the president of the Friendship Society of Vanderhoof. He’s been in that position for 18 years, since his sister as a secretary there, introduced him to it.
As president, it’s his job to organize all the events at the Friendship Hall, but if there’s music to be played, he will often use another band, country if he can get them, to play in his stead.
Walstrom doesn’t play as much music anymore, unfortunately his hearing has become a little impaired which makes it difficult to play for long, but playing in his band, and keeping up the visits to Riverside Place ensures that he can still play the guitar like a country star.
Walstrom has recorded many CDs. He records a lot of his own songs, and then once he gets 10 or so together he has them put on a CD.
There are untold treasures to be found in his home. So much independent musical history can be found that a whole book could be written on Oscar Walstrom’s career. A career that spanned across the Central Interior of B.C. and beyond.