Ray Crook was born and raised in the Valley, carving his life in the hills and meadows of this pocket of the province. His father Charles John Crook came to Athalmer in 1908, and brought his bride Annie Blanchard to the community in 1910. They had two sons: Charles, then Ray, who was born September 1st, 1918.
When Ray was four, he had his first international travel, visiting England with his mother and brother.
“The writer, then four years old, was the wildest and at times expect he caused his mother a fair amount of stress,” Ray writes in a book recounting his life in Windermere.
The family lived on a farm in Windermere, “the happiest years of my life,” writes Ray, then moved to the Dominion Government Experimental Farm in Windermere. Ray’s dad moved on to look after the Red Rock Campground for Kootenay National Park. In 1932, his father made the decision to build a gasoline station on his homestead property in Kootenay National Park. By the summer of 1932, Ray and his mother were in business operating the family gas station.
“Here was this 13 year old kid who didn’t know how to count out change properly, and his 52 year old mother who was a bit shy and had no experience dealing with the public, left on their own,” Ray writes. “Dad was at his summer job in Radium looking after the KNP Red Rock Campground.”
In June 1933, they moved full time to the gas station grounds, where they worked to build a cabin camp for tourist accommodation, eventually building seven plus a log power house.
He and his mother eventually moved into Invermere, in 1954. Meanwhile, the gas station was bought out by the Crown for $25,000.
“Over the years when I should have been going to high school, I became a log builder and self taught rough carpenter. By the mid 1940’s I was working part time as assistant park warden, cutting rails, working on the telephone lines etc.”
He spent a winter working in Calgary, but headed back to his mountains after a season away, working other jobs over the years as a truck driver and grader, a carpenter’s helper, the post office and liquor store, maintenance in the parks, and manning the park gate. He also worked summers for the B.C. Forest Service until his retirement in September 1980.
In 1945, his father was killed by a falling rock while working on a temporary job near Kootenay Crossing. In
1962, his mother passed away of pneumonia following surgery to repair a broken hip.
Ray lived in the same Invermere home for 54 years. In 2007, he decided to sell the home as he was unable to look after the garden or home maintenance anymore, moving into Lakeview Manor.
Looking back, Ray has little in the way of regrets. He has loved living in the Columbia Valley, never having a desire to live anywhere else. And the lifelong bachelor does not regret staying single either.
“I just felt I never wanted the responsibility of a wife,” he says.
Ray says living to 100 is not something he ever really considered, and admits all the party festivities over the last week or so were a bit taxing. He says as long as you still have your health, it’s fine to live to the age he has, though he has no desire to extend his life beyond its natural end point.
“I have those do-not-resuscitate papers,” Ray reports.
Being considerate of his nephew, he has been working through all the papers in his home too to clear out clutter so it does not fall to his nephew when he passes away.
Ray passes much of his time reading; his favourites are autobiographies. He’s also an avid Dr. David Suzuki fan. He says the interest in Dr. Suzuki comes from his concerns about the planet.
“I realize the Earth is warming up,” says Ray. “People like Suzuki seem to be voices in the wilderness.”
He worries about the future of the planet and generations to come. But he shies away from advice for the next generation.
When asked about his longevity, Ray says he does not have a secret formula for why he has lived such a healthy, long life.
“I don’t think there’s any secret; I think it’s just a matter of luck,” the newly minted 100 year old told the Pioneer.