My father, William Argan, was born in Regina, Sask., Feb. 7, 1921, 100 years ago today. The oldest surviving son of Ukrainian immigrants from a part of Bukovina which is now in Romania, dad’s birth name was Wasely Arganiszczuk. The names of the family and its members were changed following the Second World War.
The passport photo below shows my dad at age five in the top middle with his father Michael and mother Lena. The bottom row shows his younger brothers, Mike Jr. and John. John died of diphtheria when he was about five while Mike had a successful career as a businessman in Regina. He died in 2005.
The passport photo was necessary because my grandfather (Geida) and grandmother (Baba) decided to move back to Romania in 1926. The return to the old country lasted only about 18 months before the family returned to Regina.
At a young age, Dad became interested in drawing and painting. His passion developed rapidly, and over the years he accumulated more prizes for his artwork from the Regina Boys and Girls Fair and Provincial Exhibition than any other person. He kept the cardboard box filled with dozens of ribbons and other awards for many years.
During the Depression, the family never went without as Geida was a strong and prodigious worker who always had a job. However, family life for Dad was unhappy. Conflict with his father began at an early age and did not end until Geida’s death in 1985 when he was 94.
After high school, Dad was employed as a graphic designer at the Regina Eaton’s store, employment which ended when he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force to serve in the war. Most of his years in the air force were spent in Calgary where he designed visual training aids to instruct navigators in the British Commonwealth Air Training Program.
Following the war, he returned to Regina where he soon met my mother, Helen White, from the town of Nokomis. They decided to marry, and Dad chose to become a Roman Catholic. The latter decision enraged Geida and, as Dad put it, at the age of 26, he was “kicked out of the house.” Mom and Dad moved to Winnipeg where they married on Sept. 6, 1947. Mom worked in a hardware store while Dad carved out a reputation as the city’s most accomplished billboard designer.
Mom had a number of miscarriages before I was born in 1952. A year later, Geida phoned Dad and encouraged him to return to Regina. Mom would have preferred to remain in Winnipeg, but Dad wanted to establish a normal relationship with his father. Nevertheless, the relationship was always tense and became unbearable after Baba’s death in 1980.
Dad worked in Geida’s carpet business for about five years and then became a commercial artist at CKCK-TV. He worked there for 30 years before retiring in early 1986. He won several national and international awards for his artwork which was also featured in a series of articles in an American trade publication, Signs of the Times.
He and Mom had two more children, Carole born in 1957 and Darrel in 1966.
Dad became deeply involved in the Knights of Columbus beginning in 1957, rapidly rising through the ranks until he became state deputy for Saskatchewan in 1966-68. It was the focus of his life for about 15 years. He was a sensitive man, easily excited and easily angered. Then, his dedication to the work of the Knights left us children semi-fatherless for a lengthy period. My teenage years were especially difficult.
I only began to develop a deeper bond with Dad after he became less involved with the Knights, and he began to think positively of me for my studies in philosophy and later for my work in the Catholic press.
Dad was an extrovert, someone who had to be out in the community, meeting people and regaling them with his stories. Mom, an able seamstress, bolstered Dad’s physical presence by making him suits with flamboyant fabrics which attracted still more attention from others. Dad was especially known for his blue tartan tam (or beret) which he wore everywhere.
In retirement, Dad did not slow down. He took on numerous volunteer projects, often centred around his artwork. He wrote several books of local history which he meticulously researched and illustrated. It took him 25 years to complete his first book, a history of the Knights in Saskatchewan. Once he got the knack of how to do historical research, the books flowed out of him like a river. Best known was his series of Cornerstone books, which told the stories of Regina’s oldest buildings. Many of these had been torn down, but Dad always managed to find a photo and some details about the uses to which the building had been put.
Once he hit 80, life slowed down. Mom was in poor health, and Dad focused on helping her in her last years. She died in 2005. By then, Dad already had early signs of dementia. After her death, he lived alone in the family home on Wallace Street until the following spring when he needed surgery for an abdominal aneurysm. The general anaesthetic used in the surgery sped up the pace of his mental decline, and he moved to a nursing home. He lived there for three years before dying Sept. 3, 2009 at age 88.
Dad was an amazing man, one who lived simply. Bill Argan dedicated himself selflessly to numerous community projects, seeking no remuneration for the vast amount of artwork he contributed to his city and church.