The smell of Douglas fir always brings Patty Klack back to her father's workshop.
The daughter of former St. Albert resident Leo Nickerson says her father would often carve furniture in his workshop above the garage during the 1950s, filling the room with the scent of fir.
"I remember what an amazing craftsman he was."
Nickerson did all the cupboards in the home by hand, Patty says, and would make Christmas gifts for his kids. At home in the outdoors, he would often pick wild strawberries for homemade ice cream and take the family camping.
She recalls one time when he brazenly fed a bear.
"We were on holiday in Banff and saw a bear on the side of the road," she says, so she, her brother Clinton, and her dad decided to feed it a cookie.
A black-and-white photo in a nearby display case depicts the result: a clean-shaven Nickerson all smiles for the camera as a child-sized bear on its hind legs, its viciously clawed forepaws wrapped around his wrist, eats out of his hand. Patty and her brother Jim can be seen clinging to Nickerson's legs.
Patty's sister, Holly Nickerson, laughs in recollection. "God was looking after us, I tell you!"
Patty, Holly and their mother, Sylvia, were at the St. Albert Public School District Office Thursday to open a new exhibit on Nickerson and the school named after him, Leo Nickerson Elementary. About 60 people attended.
Nickerson was a Cub Scout leader who died trying to save three drowning boys in 1961.
The district named that school after Nickerson 48 years ago so that it would exemplify the values of kindness, respect and community service that he embodied, says Joan Trettler, chair of the public board. "I think it is truly wonderful that those values are there for the students of Leo Nickerson School."
The new exhibit is part of an ongoing series of school profiles put on by the Historical Foundation of School District Six, says Trettler. The foundation, which she chairs, has previously profiled Sir Alexander Mackenzie, Sir George Simpson and Paul Kane.
The exhibit consists of two cabinets and many glass-topped tables at district office that contain photos, articles and artifacts related to Nickerson and his school.
Leo Nickerson opened in 1964, Trettler says, and was the fourth school in what was then the Protestant school district.
"It was the first school to be named after someone from St. Albert," she adds, and was named in honour of Nickerson's heroic acts.
There was no French immersion or Logos Christian programs at the school when it first opened, Trettler says, and just 225 students.
Girls had to wear dresses back then, Holly says, and boys were not allowed to wear jeans. The girls had to wear slacks under their skirts in the winter to keep from freezing.
Nickerson the man was born in Armena, Alta., in 1925, according to the exhibit. After serving with the air force in the Second World War he married Sylvia in 1948 and moved to St. Albert in 1952.
A carpenter and member of the Royal Canadian Legion, Nickerson was active in his community, helping to construct the United Church building and leading a Cub Scout troop.
On July 14, 1961, he and his troop went on a trip to Lake Wabamun. "It was a hot day," says Sylvia, so the kids didn't want to come out of the water. "Then the storm came in."
According to newspaper accounts, a sudden squall sent large waves crashing over the lake, endangering a group of Cubs. Nickerson hauled two of them to safety and went back for more.
He had one child on his back and two in his arms when he and the kids were swept to their deaths. He was 36.
Nickerson received several posthumous awards for his actions, including the gold medal of the Canadian Humane Society.
Sylvia later laid the cornerstone of Leo Nickerson Elementary in his honour. "I was pretty proud they were naming the school after him," she says.
The exhibit runs for the rest of the school year at district office.
The original version of this story described a black and white photo of Leo Nickerson and his son, “Clinton,” feeding a cookie to a bear. This was based on information from the exhibit, which was incorrect. The son’s name is Jim. The Gazette apologizes for the confusion.