Gus family celebrates Tseshaht elder’s 93rd birthday | Ha-Shilth-Sa Newspaper

Gus family celebrates Tseshaht elder’s 93rd birthday

Port Alberni, BC

Cody Gus sits in the comfort of his rocking chair, enjoying an unobstructed view of the snow-peaked Mount Arrowsmith. His two remaining daughters sit nearby in the home that’s been in his family for as long as Gus can remember.

“This property belonged to my dad’s brother, uncle Jimmy Santo,” Gus shares.

When he started his own family, Cody and his wife built their family home on the lot.

Gus’s family is throwing him a birthday party and invited Ha-Shilth-Sa over to hear about their father’s eventful life.

“I’ll be 93 tomorrow,” he smiles, adding that, until then, he’s still 92.

Cody was born to Wickaninnish George Gus and Gladys on Nettle Island on March 16, 1931. He said his mother was from Nitinaht and he was part of a family that included 10 brothers and two sisters. Cody is the last remaining sibling.

The Gus family spent most summers out at the Broken Group Islands in the 1930s. They paddled from place to place.

“There was no electricity, no phones and we used wood for heat,” he recalled.

When it came time to go to school, Cody said he had to do what his siblings and his parents before him did, attend Indian residential school. When it came time for young Cody to go the Alberni Indian Residential School had burnt down, so he was sent to Ahousaht Residential School for his first year. That was 1936.

Gus is the last remaining survivor of the Ahousaht Residential School.

After a period in Ahousaht he went to Port Alberni to attend the newly rebuilt Alberni Indian Residential School.

“I spent eight years there,” said Gus.

There was no high school for young Gus. Three of his older brothers had been drafted for military duty in the U.S. so Cody thought he would do the same.

“My buddy and I went down to Victoria to enlist but we got kicked out – I was only 14!” he laughed.

But, he reasoned, any place was better than the boarding school.

There was no shortage of work for a strong young man. For as long as he can remember, Gus said his family would go to Washington State during the summer to pick berries, hops, or whatever else needed harvesting. When he was older, he began working in logging camps or on fishing boats.

“I spent 40 years at Sproat Lake Division,” said Gus, both in forestry and running tugboat for a decade.

It was in 1958 that Gus met Bertha Saxey from Kyuquot. His face lit up as he remembered, “My niece introduced me to her…I fell in love.”

The couple married and had their first daughter, Gloria, in 1963. Their second daughter, Sam, arrived seven years later. The couple completed their family in 1973 when they adopted a third daughter, Angie. Sadly, both Bertha and Angie have passed on, but the ones they’ve left behind lovingly support and care for one another.

Cody Gus has been physically active all his life – he was a long-distance runner, played softball and boxed for 10 years. His friends from AIRS, Richard Morgan and Wilson Bob, would run from the 2900 block of Third Avenue (at the old Zeller’s department store) to Beaver Creek Road, where the old Alberni Athletic Hall was – a distance of 3.7 kilometers.

“Richard was in front of me and Wilson was behind me – we did it in 10 minutes,” said Gus.

“I was very fast when I was young,” Gus said with a smile.

Until recently, Cody was often seen walking on River Road during his almost daily treks from his home on the Tseshaht reserve to old Alberni, or, on his longer walk past the mill to uptown Port Alberni. But he can no longer do those walks. After two recent heart attacks, the exertion is too much. But his daughters and granddaughters take him for rides around town in their vehicles.

“We take turns looking after him,” said Gloria.

It was in 1991 when MacMillan Bloedel’s Sproat Lake Division closed for good and Cody was forced into retirement. That was the first time Gus learned when his birthday actually was.

“There was no birthdays in boarding school,” said Gus.

Needing the information in order to apply for his pension, Gus, at age 61, said he phoned down to Victoria to learn that his birthday March 16.

Since that time, his family has celebrated the occasion. They did a drive-by celebration during the pandemic. To their delight, nearly 100 cars went by, some dropping off Scratch’n’Win tickets, Cody’s favorite gift wish.

This is something that Cody misses from his younger days. Simpler times when people visited one another, and doors were always open. You don’t see that as much anymore.

But he has the love of his two remaining daughters, six grandchildren, seven great grandchildren and three great, great grandchildren.

The family will be throwing a soup and bannock birthday party for Cody at Maht Mahs on Saturday, March 16 at 3 p.m. They invite people to come for soup and chumus. And if they want to bring a gift, Cody loves Scratch’n’Win tickets.

And Cody loves to see people.

“We want people to come and see him, say what they want to say to him while he’s still here,” said Gloria Fred.

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