GANDER, NL — You can tell the season we are in by looking at the colour Fred Dixon’s cowboy hat. The material of each hat is suited for the different seasons.
A light colour straw hat in summer to provide some shade and cool, a grey felt for the cooler temperatures of spring and fall.
Winter will soon arrive, and Dixon will choose the black or chocolate brown to accommodate the season.
Dixon was born in the “hungry ‘30s” as he calls it, in Toronto, Ontario. He recalls watching the motorcade of the King and Queen of England in their Rolls Royce driving past their house on Elizabeth Street in 1937.
Dixon is 82-years old and retains his youthful appearance.
“I feel good, and I still give blood every three months. I look at it as an oil change – it is good for the car,” as he points to his heart, and chuckles.
Dixon was raised in a family of girls, with three sisters. His youngest brother was born 11 years later after his father finished his tour during the First World War from 1939-45.
He followed his father’s footsteps, and decided to enroll in the Navy when the Korean War broke out.
“It was on my mind at that time that I would take part and go overseas,” he said. “I never had any association with ships or anything at all. But I thought I joined the Navy and become a stationary engineer and follow my Dad’s footsteps.”
Due to a change in medical eligibility in the Navy, Dixon’s footsteps to follow his dad altered. He was allocated to a position in communications.
“My trade was in communications research. If I told you what I did, I would have to shoot you,” he joked. “We were monitoring – let’s put it that way.”
He was reluctant at first to be in communications as Fred had his mind still set on being a stationary engineer.
“Twenty-five years later, and I retired with a rank of warrant officer,” he chuckled.
Dixon’s marriage broke up in 1971 after returning from an assignment in the Northwest Territories.
“She left and I became a single parent with five kids,” he said.
Two of their older children stayed in the north to work and got married, so Dixon took the three children aged eight, 10 and 13 to his next posting in Gander. It took 68 days to travel by car from Inuvik in the Northwest Territories.
“I bought a new car and trailer, and we took our time and travelled all over and through the States,” he recalled.
Due to the extensive traveling that Dixon and his children travelled for his work, “they became good travellers, and were more knowledgeable because they travelled all over Canada.”
Dixon also has a passion to mentor young and disabled children.
“I don’t know why – maybe it’s in my blood,” as he describes his involvement in the Lions Club and the Boys and Girls Club.
Dixon co-founded the Lion’s Max Simms Camp and also the Boys and Girls club in Gander. In addition, he was active in helping children with developmental disability with his involvement in the Vera Perlin Society.
After 31 years of service in the Lions Club, he decided to step aside and make way for “some new blood to lead the team.”
Dixon’s cowboy hats are a reminder and a tribute to his time in Alberta spending time with his children.
His daughter had a quarter block of land, and there Dixon developed an interest, and later a passion in rearing horses.
“I bought one horse at the auction, then a second one, and a third, and ended up with seven of them,” he said.
He remembers his first horse, a “cross between a Quarter and a Clydesdale. It was quite a large horse, about 16-and-a-half hands high.”
Dixon didn’t have any names for his horses. They responded to “C’mere girl. C’mere boy”, he laughed.
The cowboy hat reminds Dixon of the fond memories made in Alberta.
“It is me bringing Alberta back home.”