“When a door opens, walk through it.” This is one of the chapter titles in Jack Boan’s autobiography, Spaces to Fill: And A Century To Do It. It’s also Boan’s personal philosophy. He’s walked through many doors in his 100-year-long life.
Boan was born in 1917, a few miles southeast of Briercrest, SK. He ran away from home at age five but returned later that day. He started selling newspapers when he was eleven, boarding the two trains that stopped at Briercrest daily. After tinkering with radios, he worked as a farm labourer, earning fifty cents or sometimes a dollar a day, good money for a fourteen-year-old.
Boan relives experiences with his relatives. One day, while enjoying a family reunion near a river, he noticed his brother’s head submerging. Young Boan was able to pull him ashore.
When World War II broke out, Boan enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force, attaining the rank of sergeant. Airsickness was a major problem for flight crews, so Boan purchased small paper bags from a grocery store for just such emergencies. He regretted not taking out a patent as airsickness bags are now a standard feature on flights.
Boan almost left one door unopened. When he asked one particularly attractive woman for a date, she declined, and Boan thought that was the end of it. When he saw her years later, he again asked her out, and this time she accepted. They were married in 1949.
As a university student, Boan was smart, but a bit of a rascal. He got an A on an essay, then next year loaned it to another student, who also got an A. The following year, he loaned it to another student, and that was the last he saw of his paper.
Assigned to the Royal Commission on Health Services, chaired by Justice Emmett Hall, Boan contributed to the formation of medicare in Saskatchewan. He also helped establish the University of Regina, previously known as the University of Saskatchewan Regina Campus, where he became a professor of economics.
Boan describes the Regina Campus in the 1960s as “a hotbed of student activism,” with students occupying the Dean’s office, demanding the right to participate in decision-making. Later, one of those students became Dean of Arts himself. Boan teased him that this was the second time he occupied the Dean’s office.
Boan devotes a chapter to his career as a spy with the Joint Intelligence Bureau, where he became an expert on Russian intelligence during the Cold War, and another chapter to his nine lives, where he faced death numerous times but lived for another day. He supplements his story with thirty black and white photos of his life and career.
Spaces to Fill documents 100 years in a life fully lived, filled with adventures, achievements, and awards. Tinged with humour, Boan’s autobiography is the story of a man carving his niche at the University of Regina and etching his mark on the soul of Saskatchewan.
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