By Sue Tiffin
Guenter Horst is happy to live in Minden, happy to be in his home, with his wife, enjoying his time outdoors by taking photographs of wildlife and nature that he shares in local newspapers. Though still very active – reshingling a roof recently in his mid-70s – Guenter is in Minden after a lifetime of saying yes to any opportunity or experience that came his way.
Born in Bremen, Germany in 1945, Guenter went to school until Grade 8, the standard schooling at that time. He then learned carpentry, becoming licensed a few years later.
In 1963, he went to work as a steward for a German cruise ship company that set sail with about 500 passengers at a time.
“It was something, especially at night, the ocean was very rough,” he said. “You were scared because everything happened at night time. We tried to avoid the aftershock from a hurricane – when you have waves six and eight stories high, it becomes a little bit scary, especially at night. Your dishes and everything, furniture is just flying from one end to another [unless] it’s anchored to the floor. So, that was that.”
Over five years, he said he saw about three-quarters of the world, the longest trip being to Australia, which took three weeks, and the most memorable for him being the Panama Canal, a trip he said he would recommend to anybody.
“When there was time, we could leave the ship after our working hours, say after supper,” he said. “We went to bars and things like that, looking for girls in our younger days – I was only [a teenager] at that time.”
In 1967, Guenter’s twin brother met a Canadian and moved to Toronto with her in 1967. In 1968, Guenter followed, taking the same cruise ship he had worked on to Montreal, this time as a passenger. His brother drove from Ajax, in Ontario, to pick him up.
“We always lived in a house, so I had no idea what an apartment building was,” he said. “When we got into the building, the main lobby, I said to my brother, ‘what are all these doors in this hallway, is it like a hospital?’ I had no idea.”
Guenter had been around the world, but never into an apartment building, having always lived in the house his father and uncle built for the family.
After about a month in Canada, Guenter decided to look for work. Finding out there was a German furniture store in the High Park area, he asked there if they knew any carpenters who he might find work with, which led him to a job as a carpenter and a cabinet maker.
At that time, he could speak only some English – the numbers one through 10, and the words yes, and no.
“When somebody asked me something, and speaking in English, I always said ‘yes,’ instead of saying ‘no,’” he laughed. “I did not understand what the person was [saying.]”
Didn’t that get him into trouble, occasionally, potentially saying yes when he didn’t mean it?
“The people just look at you and don’t ask any more questions,” he said, laughing.
Guenter began learning English: from his brother and sister, from television, and by best using time spent on the streetcar; becoming familiar with words displayed on signs, and reading the paper.
“When I went to the factory where I worked as a carpenter and cabinet maker, I had to take the streetcar, which was only 10 cents to get to work,” he said. “While I was sitting on the streetcar, I looked at all the stores on Queen Street – coffee shop, restaurant, photo, furniture, you name it. I also always took a newspaper with me, or somebody left a newspaper on the seat. I looked through it and tried to look at photos and understand what it meant.”
After getting married, and living briefly near Lake Huron, Guenter saw someone on television making furniture by working with Cyprus wood from Florida. Reaching out to that person led to a job offer in Aylesbury, Saskatchewan.
“When I got to this little town of Aylesbury in Saskatchewan, I had to look twice because I didn’t see many houses,” he said – at the time, Aylesbury had a population of 86.
“I went to the old school building where this person was making furniture, introduced myself there, and he took me out, just around the corner almost, and showed me the house that was for rent,” said Guenter. “When I got into this little house, I said, you know what, for the time being, it’s OK.”
The rent was only $75, for the whole house.
A few months later, someone in town told Guenter they had a oneand-a-half storey house available for $500. He stayed in the rented house, but bought the other one – paying in cash – and on the weekends or after work, dove into renovations until he could leave the rented house for the purchased home and continue fixing it up while he lived in it.
“When there was spare time, I got in touch with a farmer,” he said, recalling his time spent working with a combine at harvest time. At the end of harvest time, three months of vacation meant that Guenter was back in Toronto, visiting his brother. Every so often, they’d go to his brother’s cottage, near Algonquin Park on Mink Lake.
“It was $9,000, what they paid for the cottage,” he said. “The monthly mortgage payment was $25, what you had to pay every month.”
When his twin’s father-in-law decided he wanted to buy a property next to Guenter’s brother and build a two-bedroom cottage, Guenter helped, building the cottage until it was complete.
“While I was living for a time at the cottage, I said to myself, I should go and look for a job in town, in Bancroft,” he said. He began working at IGA, working about three days a week, eight hours a day. He wasn’t making much money at that time, but he was living at the cottage rent-free. The owner of the IGA had a home in Naples, in Florida, and Guenter visited him, taking the opportunity to travel around Florida and also other places throughout the States.
Eventually, he found an apartment in Bancroft to be closer to work, and being divorced at that point, began looking for a social life.
“Usually when you go to Tim Hortons, it’s like a dating centre, where you meet many people,” he laughed. “I did this a couple of times in the evening and weekends and afternoon, just sitting there and seeing if I could find anything.” And then, with a big laugh: “I found something but it was not my cup of coffee.”
He phoned his sister-in-law, asking for her help to put an ad in a German newspaper looking for a partner who might be looking for a man, then aged 51 years old who “loves country music, watching movies and loves the outdoors.” Guenter said the ad specified he was interested in a woman between the ages of 45 to 50.
“I did not want a woman that was over 50, had to be below the 50,” he laughed. “I received about four letters, but the letter and picture I got from Thea, who is now my wife, was the best.”
Again, with a laugh: “She was at the borderline with the age – 49-and-a-half.”
Thea had been widowed twice, and her second husband left her a cottage in Halls Lake where she and Guenter spent a lot of time. It was while he was there, working in Minden at Home Hardware, that he found a house on Bobcaygeon Road and insisted Thea see it, though they had a house in Bramptom that they hadn’t sold.
“You’ve got to come, you’ve got to see this, you won’t believe it,” he said he told her. He was convincing, and in 2006, the pair moved in, sold the cottage, and as Guenter says, “life went on. We are now together for 24 years, and we will stay the way we are.”
Guenter said it was several years ago that he began taking photos for local newspapers, or sending in the pictures he captured on his property or throughout town. He remembers his father had an interest in oil painting, and his brother had taken aerial photos of cottage country for realtors.
“When I saw the pictures, I got myself camera equipment,” said Guenter. “Started out small and got big. I thought, ‘I can do this, too’. Maybe it runs in the family, I don’t know.”
Guenter has photographed bears and birds, deer and a wolf, and said that in sharing his photography, he hears from people that they’ve seen his work, which makes him happy. Now, although he enjoys working on refurbishing old boats and spending time – sometimes from 6 a.m. in the morning to 8 p.m. in the evening – in his heated workshop, he appreciates having time to focus on photography, too.
“All of the things I’m doing with my age, being so flexible and so ambitious, I have not seen anyone working like I do,” he said, noting he doesn’t take a break, even on weekends. “I just need something to do, and I’m just so happy where I can have my property and workshop … We are happy. It’s a nice place to be in Minden.”