Denis Weicker has seen it all: World War II, the 1950 flood, a visit from Queen Elizabeth II, and the arrival, departure and subsequent return of the Winnipeg Jets. The Actionmarguerite St. Vital resident, who was born in October 1918 in Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes, has witnessed almost a century of history in the making.
Denis Weicker’s family originally hailed from Europe. “My grandparents came from France and Luxembourg, and my parents were born here. My father died in 1927, and my mother remarried two years later. While French was my first language, I started speaking English when I was a young boy.”
The resident grew up on a farm and has many memories of his childhood. “Things were so much cheaper then. You could buy a pig or a cow for less than $20! When I was young, my school burned down, so I started going to Jeanne d’Arc School. The teacher made $16 a month. The school was right across the street from the farm. I attended school until the seventh grade, when I started helping my mother with her restaurant in Notre-Dame.”
In 1940, Denis Weicker joined the army. “I trained in Brandon and Vancouver, in the 28th Pacific Command. I was released from the forces in 1943 when I got rheumatic fever.” He was married on September 22, 1942, and moved to Winnipeg with his wife, who was from St. Lupicin, Manitoba.
“I started working in hotels. I served beer at the Mall Hotel, at ten cents a glass. Then I went to the St. Vital Hotel, where I manned the bar and cash register.” His oldest daughter, Denise, remembers: “My sister and I spent every Sunday at the hotel, running around while our parents worked.”
Denis Weicker went on to operate clothes washers, and later became a milkman. “On Saturdays, he would take us with him,” Denise recalls. “Back then, milk deliveries were made by horse-drawn wagons.”
Weicker had to deliver his milk by boat during the Red River flood of 1950. “When I saw the water level was really getting high, I sent my family to Notre-Dame, and I stayed on in Winnipeg,” he says. “I continued delivering milk to the flooded areas in a boat, which was also a water taxi.”
In 1963, Denis Weicker became a steward for the CNR railway. “I travelled to Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Churchill… ” When Queen Elizabeth II came to Manitoba for the Centennial of the province’s entry into Canadian Confederation, Weicker worked in the train carrying the monarch.
“I had to take courses for working around the Queen. We weren’t allowed to speak to her. There were two trains: one for the royal family, and one for the reporters. I was assigned to the reporter train, but I still saw the Queen. She looked so young!”
Denis Weicker later opened his own hobby shop on Taché Avenue. “My father-in-law was a carpenter, and I had started making things at age 21. I also did hand needlework in my shop. I built bird feeders, clocks, troughs, and I did some engraving. I was good at manual work, and I received two ribbons at national woodworking competitions.”
When he retired, Denis Weicker moved in with his daughter, Denise, where he stayed for 12 years. “On Fridays, he would go to Centre Taché, now Actionmarguerite St. Boniface, to exercise,” she says. “We also set up a shed in the garden so that he could continue his carpentry work.”
Denis Weicker moved to Actionmarguerite St. Vital on January 11, 2018, seven years after his wife, who has Alzheimer’s. “I celebrated my 100th birthday in October!” says the resident. “I watch a lot of sports, especially wrestling and the Jets. I eat lots of chocolate, and I love soup and A&W root beer.”