You never know in life where chance meetings are going to take you. How meeting someone on a lonely road near the Arctic Circle would give the clues for Time Detectives to uncover a near forgotten hero’s story, from an incredible source.
In my other life, when I used to have a proper job, I was part of a small entrepreneurial team who put together a very successful software company and sold it to a big American corporation. This meant that a number of us could do our own thing once the deal was done. Amongst my other ventures I took the Time Detectives Genealogy Business to new heights, whilst my friend and ex-boss, Steve Jones (Jonesie), went off to travel the world in various adventurous ways by Land Rover and sailing boat.
During one of Steve’s sojourns, driving up from Denver Colorado to the Arctic Circle, he met a fellow traveller on the Alaskan/Canadian border of the Arctic. Steve takes up the story from his blog at the time here:
“Today I met a homeless chap who was cycling the 400 or so miles from Anchorage to the Canadian border and claimed to be the son of World War 1 pilot Alfred Atkey… He told me he makes this trip on a regular basis and although he is Canadian he never crosses because he doesn’t carry ID. Anyway he had stopped to make some coffee but ran out of water so having supplied him with some and chatting about the exploits of his famous father I took this snap. I’ll let you decide if you agree his story to be true – .”
You can see Steve’s blog here, it’s got some cracking photos on it:
and the parts relevant to this story here:
Once I spoke with Jonesie, I knew I’d have to take up the challenge of testing the story from the enigmatic traveller he had met, and so another Time Detectives investigation was kicked off.
The Atkey Family Origins
The Atkey name comes from a nickname for someone who dwelled “At the Quay” so was a waterside name for a dockworker or sailor. The name is very rare, and seems to have originated in the Hampshire/Sussex coastal area of southern England.
Our Atkeys started in the Isle of Wight, which I can actually see from the beach near my home, as the name implies, it’s a large Island off the middle of the South Coast of Hampshire in England, forming the Solent waterway between Southampton and Portsmouth, one of the busiest waterways in the world.
The earliest valid ancestors we found were from the early 1700s in Shalfleet, a rural area on the Isle of Wight. By the 1770s they had moved to Carisbrooke nearer to the main town of Newport, which had started to grow from its connections to the Royal Naval base at Portsmouth just across the Solent. The Atkeys at this time were leather workers and shoemakers.
During the Napoleonic Wars, in 1805, James Atkey was born, he followed his family as a Leatherworker and Shoemaker, and married a local girl, the wonderfully named Jane Trafalgar Grapes. She derived her middle name from the Sea Battle Admiral Lord Nelson had won against the French and their Spanish allies, that destroyed all hope of Napoleon being able to mount a seaborne invasion of England. In the euphoria that followed, proud parents would name children born in that year “Trafalgar”, Britannia really did rule the waves at the time.
Euphoria or not, in 1855 James Atkey’s, a Methodist lay preacher, followed his religious calling and travelled to Canada to take up the position of missionary and teacher for the Anishnaube and their children in the Colpoy’s Bay area with his family. He and his family lived in a Log cabin and would farm the land to support James’s missionary work. James would live until 1868.
The Atkeys would carry on as Methodist Farmers in Keppel Ontario and in the Toronto area. They also served in the Canadian Militia, ever ready to repel incursions from their potential enemy to the south, the USA, and incursions from Fenian rebels stirring up trouble along the USA/Canadian border. And after two generations of “Alfred” Atkeys we arrive at Alfred Clayton Atkey.
ALFRED CLAYBURN ATKEY was born 16 Aug 1894 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and died 10 Feb 1971. He married IRENE E MARSHALL 1919 in Portsmouth, Hampshire, England. She was born 1900 in London, England.
Alfred Clayburn Atkey MC & Bar (August 16, 1894 – February 10, 1971) was a Canadian First World War pilot.
Alfred was born in Toronto, Ontario. His family headed west to a town called Minebow, Saskatchewan in 1906. When he was old enough Alfred returned to Toronto to work at the Toronto Evening Telegram as a journalist. In 1916 he joined the Royal Flying Corps as a probationary Second Lieutenant. By September 1917, he was a bomber pilot flying Airco DH.4 with 18 Squadron. May 1918, he was flying a Bristol F 2B fighter/reconnaissance aircraft with “A flight”, 22 Squadron. Along with Lt CG Gass who was his gunner/observer, he claimed 29 aircraft shot down within a month.
In terms of number of claims, Atkey was the top Allied two-seater pilot of the war. His total number of aircraft claimed shot down was 38 (comprising 13 and 1 shared claimed destroyed, 23 and 1 shared ‘Out of Control’). Gass is rear gunner contributed some 13 of these claims (himself the most successful gunner in the RFC/RAF).
Atkey’s rank was Captain upon leaving the Royal Air Force at the end of the war.
Alfred Atkey received the Military Cross with Bar. The following was written in the London Gazette:
“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. When engaged on reconnaissance and bombing work, he attacked four scouts, one of which he shot down in flames. Shortly afterwards he attacked four two-seater planes, one of which he brought down out of control. On two previous occasions his formation was attacked by superior numbers of the enemy, three of whom in all were shot down out of control. He has shown exceptional ability and initiative on all occasions.”
MC citation, Supplement to the London Gazette, 22 June 1918
The following was written when he received the MC Bar:
“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. During recent operations he destroyed seven enemy machines. When engaged with enemy aircraft, often far superior in numbers, he proved himself a brilliant fighting pilot, and displayed dash and gallantry of a high order.”
MC Bar citation, Supplement to the London Gazette, 16 September 1918.
Alfred married Irene Marshall in 1919 at Portsmouth in Hampshire, more or less within sight of the Isle of Wight where his ancestors had emigrated from 64 years before.
The couple then migrated to the USA, were ion the New York area in 1920, and Alfred took the first steps to naturalisation in California in 1924.
Whatever the reasons, the marriage didn’t last, and in 1942 Alfred remarried to Dulcie May Boadway, they would have four children, the oldest of whom was to be Alfred (Al)Atkey.
Al Atkey; Knight of the Road
…and so we come to Al Atkey who Jonesie took up with on the edge of the Artic Circle. His stories were indeed true, and in his own way he had s lived a life full of adventure, just as his father did, albeit in peacetime rather than war
Although Jonesie isn’t adding to this particular page on his blog site at the moment, other people are, and Al Atkey keeps popping up in various meetings with other travellers out on the road, here are some edited samples of the updates:
David Hoekje July 14th, 2009 at 8:44 am
Well now a year later I met Alfred just a week ago, at this time he explained that he was an amateur musicologist traveling Canada (yes, he’s in the Yukon) collecting money for female composers of violin concerti. He feels it is a lost art.
Let it be said that he’s not only in fine condition, but that his clothing is only more delightful than when you found him. He is wearing one rubber boot and one tennis show. He is also wearing every item of clothing that he owns such that he appears like a cartoon character with his little head popping out of a mound of clothes; I’m not sure how he can move.
I gave him $20 on general principles, and a cup of ice since it was a hot day. A bit up the road I stopped in at Jakes Corner in Yukon (Jakes crossing) and spoke with a couple waitresses at this must see gallery / restaurant / ? After visiting with the eccentrics at the lunch table I asked on a whim if any of them knew Alfred. They burst into laughter and said he’d spent the afternoon at their place a few days before. Apparently he’s using the bicycle more as a luggage carrier than for himself. They agreed that he was a delight, remarkably clean and alert for a man living outdoors, and somehow seemed to avoid the numerous human predators such a man might fall victim to.
Susan Hoefner July 19th, 2009 at 8:30 am
Al Atkey was part of our lives from 1980 until he was deported.
Linda M November 23rd, 2009 at 4:44 pm
re: Alfred Atkey: I’m a school teacher in a small community in the Yukon whose husband works in Whitehorse and lives near Marsh Lake. Ron got to know Alfred last spring and he hired Alfred come to do odd jobs around the place. In early September, after having to cancel his plans to travel on his bike all the way to Edmonton he showed up at our place and my husband took him in for the winter. He is warm, cozy, well fed, and happy. So, all of you out there who might have been wondering about his safety and well-being for the winter, worry no more. Of course, I can’t say where he might be as soon as the highways are free of snow in the spring.
David Hoekje April 29th, 2010 at 8:18 am
I just heard from a man who saw Al last Sunday. I’ll post his message below without his email address or name.
“Hi Just a quick update on Alfred. As of Sunday April 25th he was in Fort St John. I saw him on the road side making little to no progress so I stopped and asked him if he was alright. What a delightful experience that turned out to be. He was fine, as it was evening and he had no place to stay I put him into a motel for the night. He said he was headed to Red Deer to stay with a brother. I told him if I could talk to his brother I would put him on the Grey Hound. Haven’t heard from him so I imagine he’s on the road south. What a character.”
Donna Atkey May 14th, 2010 at 2:55 pm
I just read about my brother, Alfie, known in the north as Alcan Al. I am his younger sister, he also has a younger brother George and a little sister, Susan, who just passed away.
Just wanted to set the record straight that my father’s first wife was not our mother. She ran off on my father and when he didn’t hear from her for many years, he went back to the homestead near Lone Rock and worked on his music career.
He enlisted in the second war, was assigned to Downsview, Ontario as a link trainer for new pilots. It was in Toronto that he met our mother, Dulcie May Boadway. They married in August of 1942 and had five children. The second child, George Vaughn only lived two weeks. They lived in Toronto, Edmonton, Yellowknife, Whitehorse, Lloydminster, and finally Toronto again where my father passed away at the age of 76 in 1971. Mom followed at the age of 59 in 1975. They are greatly missed.
Ken Atkey December 15th, 2010 at 10:08 pm
Alfred Atkey also worked at a creamery in Didsbury Alberta where he met my wife’s uncle Bob Dunkley. I believe he was based near Calgary for a while during the war.
My father who was injured in a plane crash in July 1918 met Alfred and his first wife in Toronto. According to the stories I heard from my mother she became restless and went on tour as “Billie Atkey” with a rollerskating act. She invited my father to a performance in the mid or late twenties at the Orpheum or Strand theatre. He went and took his oldest son who was three or four years old with him.
Chuck-Mary Clarke November 14th, 2012 at 4:19 pm
We met Al Atkey biking thru Fruitvale in the snow last night. We brought him home for the night and dropped him off in Salmo this morning to continue his trip home to Ft St John. He is healthy and in good spirits, anxious to get home to his camper in FSJ. We enjoyed his company and tales of his travels and dreams. We’re praying he makes it there safely.
Paul November 23rd, 2012 at 12:58 am
Hi everyone, Met Al last night at the Petro-Canada on Hwy 1 west of Calgary. We talked for a while in the restaurant there. As I am truck driver now, and a bike courier from a long time ago, we shared a few stories of cycling and life on the road. He told me of his father, and I shared some of my west coast pilot stories. He seemed very interested in the history of Blatchford Field(City Centre Airport -Edmonton)I worked there for a while at the Edmonton Flying Club. I told him he should write a book of his life and adventures, he seemed to smile at the idea. Who knows…………..you might see Al some night on lonely highway…….safe travels Al.
Jon Levesque October 15th, 2015 at 8:57 am
Hello. Just shooting everyone an update that I’ve had the great opportunity to meet Al here in Fernie. He’s staying with us until he decides where the open road will take him.
He sends his greetings to everyone.
Pat Ferris February 20th, 2016 at 9:56 am
Alfred was living in Fort St. John, BC, up to a couple of months ago.(as of Jan 2016) He does go on journeys on his bike to Alaska or Edmonton but has been here for the past 3 years or so. He was in good spirit and health. Cheers.
Ramada Hotel November 6th, 2016 at 10:07 am
We have Mr. Atkey staying with us here at the Ramada Hotel in Penticton, BC. He is in good spirits and seems to be doing well in his travels.
Monica Mikolas November 24th, 2016 at 5:28 pm
I just met Alfred Atkey tonight walking in Stony Plain, Alberta. He is a plesent man to talk with and he is very proud of his father and has such a beautiful demenor … November 24, 2016!
Cam Todd February 7th, 2017 at 9:16 pm
Fri. Jan 27 , 2017 6:30am. Intrigued by the orange bicycle helmet my buddy Wordie and I stopped on the roadside in Crow’s Nest Pass to aid a fellow traveller . Fortunately for us the gent regaled with tale after tale for miles on end ! The last we saw of him he was in a Walmart Parking lot heading for a CIBC. Some days later we discovered we had been in the company of a truely unique Canadian !
Geminy Hansen June 21st, 2017 at 1:59 pm
we recently encountered Mr Atkey in Grimshaw Alberta! Today we were having a staff lunch and he was in the cafe! Intuition told me to ask him his name. My co workers bought him lunch and gave him some cash.
Kory Kopf July 10th, 2017 at 3:58 pm
Just dropped Al off in Mayerthorpe Alberta. He was the highlight of my day!
..and lastly a message sent directly to me I received recently:
Just wanted to let you know that this morning I had the privilege of meeting Alfred Atkey as he passed the small town of Devon, Alberta, Canada on one of his many treks (this time on an old bike with numerous bags of stuff tied to the handelbars) on his way “south” for the winter (south means southern Alberta and B.C.).
I bought Alfred a coffee and breakfast at the local A&W, which is apparently his favourite haunt when he is on the road.
What an interesting guy! I spent several hours with him and gave him a few things that he needed for the road, namely a can opener, a pair of winter gloves and a few other items that he needed to replace. The best thing that I gave though was a copy of his family tree from your website (I found it online and printed it off when I went home to get the can opener and gloves).
He was so excited to see the names of all of his ancestors and to read a bit of their histories! Just thought you might get a kick out of this. Alfred is now 74 years old and shows no sign of slowing up as he continues to move from homeless shelter to homeless shelter and to rely on the kindness of strangers. Alfred told me that someone he met on his travellers had created a Facebook page for him, but I have not yet attempted to find it.
Alfred is very inspiring and very humble. He mentioned several times that he could never be as great a man as his war hero father. I disagree.
Humbled and Sincere,
Bon Voyage Al!