Saskatoon man keeping WWI memories alive through 102-year-old bike
It’s been two years since Brad Christensen took the 90 minute drive that would change his life.
A retired RCMP member and Saskatoon native, Christensen had made a hobby of collecting and restoring old CCM bicycles, when he was gifted the opportunity of a lifetime.
“I got a phone call from a person I didn’t know saying they had an old bicycle, that if I wanted it for parts to come get it,” Christensen recalled.
On a farm near Prince Albert, in barn slated to be destroyed later the next day, Christensen struck gold.
“I went up and got the bicycle, [it] was pretty rusty, but when I got looking at it, it’s a very different bicycle. Then, upon researching I found it’s a war bicycle from World War I,” Christensen said.
“There’s no way we’re using that for parts, we’re going to restore that,” he laughed.
It took months of research – working and reworking solutions, but finally this spring Christensen had restored the 102-year-old bicycle to its former glory.
“The tires were rotted off, the seat – as soon as you touched it – the leather pretty much fell apart, but the frame, the steel was there,” Christensen said.
The majority of the accessories were still intact as well; a brass pump and a telltale kerosene lamp attached to the uniquely shaped front forks were dead-ringers for the military issued bicycle.
“It was missing the bell but I was able to find a 1916 army bell from Nova Scotia. A collector had one, but was glad to part with it with this delay in mind,” he added.
For the past week the bike, along with photos of the Canadian Corps Bicycle Battalion, have been on display at Western Cycle.
“I had a lot of people come in today just for the bike and usually a good 5-10 minute conversation about the bike and the war and remembrance,” Bert Seidel, the sales manager at Western Cycle said.
“The usual reaction is how well it looks and how well it is preserved or refurbished. You point out little things and they’re like wow,” he continued.
As much as Christensen loves seeing the completed bike, it’s the conversations it creates that he loves.
“Very few people know about the bicycle battalion and it’s just through the bicycle that people are starting to learn about it,” Christensen explained.
Formed at the beginning of the First World War, the Canadian Corps Cyclist Battalion lasted just six years before they were stood down – the victims of technological advancement.
“At the start of the war in 1914 the Canadian Government started a bicycle corps. By the end of the war they had 1200 members, all volunteers from across Canada,” Christensen said.
“The interesting thing is that they have no battle honours – although they fought at every major battle,” he added.
Canada didn’t start awarding battle honours to units until 1921; one year after the unit was stood down.
The bicycle corps was part of the occupation force that stayed in Germany after 1918, but during the war they performed a variety of tasks.
Originally intended to aid the cavalry units, trench warfare – where gains were measured in inches – ensured they were bounced between jobs.
“They did traffic duties, they dug trenches for the infantry, they carried messages from command to the trenches, they gathered and buried the dead; they did everything,” Christensen said.
Finally, at the end of the war, the bicycle corps had an opportunity to do what they’d trained for.
“It wasn’t really until the last 100 days, known as the pursuit, where they were able to break though the trench line and pursue and stay in constant contact with the enemy,” Christensen explained.
“Their job was to keep pushing the enemy so they didn’t have a chance to dig in and make another line and then hold that position until they could be reinforced by the infantry coming behind them,” he continued.
As much as Christensen has learned about the corps, he’s learning more and he teaches others about them.
““It’s been a learning experience for me, as well as anyone who has used the bicycle. Pretty much every place we go we find a little more information to pass on to people,” he said.
“You find other stories of other units and you gather a good cross-section,” he continued.
Originally, Christensen had only planned for the bike to be used in the centennial celebration of Armistice Day. Now that the moment is just days away, he know it can’t stop there.
“Everyone’s told us this isn’t a one-year display. We plan on continuing to go to shows… It’s not going to be in a garage,” he said.
The next stop for the bike is Saskatoon, and the Remembrance Day ceremonies at the SaskTel Centre.
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