Norman “Buzzie” Sidney Cunningham was born to mother Ivy and father Peter on April 6, 1939 in High Prairie. Norm passed away with his family at his side on April 14, 2018, one week after his 79th birthday.
He is survived by: his loving wife of 58 years, Elizabeth Cunningham; his son, Norman Cunningham Jr.; daughter-in-law Trena Cunningham; grandsons Brendon Cunningham, Connor Cunningham, and Cody Cunningham; as well as numerous cousins, nieces, nephews, sister- and brother-in-laws.
He was predeceased by: his son, Vernon Cunningham in 2014; his father, Pete Cunningham in 1951; his mother, Ivy Cunningham in 2003; his brother, Peter Cunningham, in 1992; and his stepfather, Gordon Florence in 1995.
Buzzie grew up on the family homestead 15 miles west of High Prairie in the Little Smoky Settlement. He and older brother, Peter Junior, spent their summers working on the farm and swimming in the Little Smoky River. Both brothers were avid sportsmen, fishing and hunting in the summer and fall, and trapping along the creek in the winter.
In his retirement years, Buzzie really enjoyed being able to go ice fishing more. He and lifelong partner in crime, Floyd Carpenter, fished on Lesser Slave Lake while Floyd lived at Joussard, and they always seemed to bring home fish. Or have a good excuse why they couldn’t.
Floyd, I’m sure Buzzie is already looking for that ideal fishing hole just like you asked him to do.
Buzzie passed on his love of the land to his family. Weekend camping trips to Goose Lake, fishing trips to Slave Lake, chicken hunting at the farm, and elk hunting along the river, are all cherished family memories. He especially loved family time. Buzzie enjoyed barbecues at the lake with his grandsons during their annual camping trips to Hilliard’s Bay, Christmases with loved ones and family gatherings at Mae and Doug’s house. Buzzie could never say no to their hospitality and Mae’s cooking.
He liked to read in his spare time, old Westerns by Louis L’Amour in particular. He had a large library of paperback novels that he must have read twice each. One of his favourite books was The Mad Trapper which he read several times.
Norm loved to watch movies as well with his favourite actor being John Wayne. A favourite movie would be the Tom Selleck film Quigley Down Under. Buzzie did not own a copy of the move but Norman did. Every Christmas without fail, he would ask Norman, “Where’s Quigley?” Eventually, Norman gave that copy to Buzzie so he could watch it whenever he wanted.
Norm loved sports, and did exceptionally well at every one he tried. He would often hitchhike the 15 miles from the farm to town to play hockey in his teenage years.
He was a natural athlete and excelled at track and field during his school years winning numerous events. He was known as the best decorated participant with all his ribbons. When these contests were complete, Buzzie set several high school records that stood for at least 14 years. A fire at the high school destroyed all records of his athletic achievements.
After his school years Buzzie worked at various jobs including operating the ditching machine for a pipeline company, working his way across Canada as far as Kenora, Ont. with the TransCanada Pipeline before returning home to take a job in the oilfields of Alberta near Sundre. There he met Elizabeth Anne McEwen, a smoking hot waitress at the Sundre Hotel Café. That fateful morning Beth approached Norm’s table with her familiar line, “What can I get you for breakfast?” He smiled at her with that Buzzie grin and said, “You between two pieces of toast!”
And that’s where the courtship began.
They were married four months later on Dec. 29, 1959. Norm always said those three days at the end of 1959 where he got to claim single status instead of married was the only time he ever got to screw the tax man.
Their first child, Vernon, was born in High Prairie on Oct. 31, 1960. Second son, Norman Junior, was born in Olds, AB on Nov. 14, 1965. Beth and Norm were married for over 58 years.
Buzzie continued to stay active in sports, playing fastball for the Sundre Outlaws in the summer. The family traveled to several tournaments throughout the province, his sons Vernon and Norman Junior spending the weekend chasing foul balls around the ball park which they would exchange for nickels with the umpire.
Buzzie discovered a love for curling after being introduced to the sport by Beth. They joined the mixed curling league in Sundre and enjoyed playing the game together. It was a love he would carry with him throughout his life.
He became an excellent curler, winning many local bonspiels and competing in several international oilmen’s bonspiels in Edmonton. One very special winning event was a family effort: father, mother and both sons.
Buzzie almost always returned home from a bonspiel with a prize of some kind. Beth owned three of every kitchen appliance made by man because Buzzie kept bringing them home from the bonspiels.
He almost always had a funny story to tell of events that happened during the weekend.
Norm began work as an operator with Home Oil Company while still living in Sundre in 1970. He worked there for six years before taking a transfer to Federated Pipeline in Swan Hills in 1977. There he began a career as a metering and integrity expert for the pipeline that would last another 20 years.
Buzzie retired to the family farm in 1994. He then tried his hand at raising cattle which he did a wonderful job of. He raised some lovely animals which he was very proud of.
Buzzie rediscovered the game of golf during his years in Swan Hills. He was a regular at the golf course, playing whenever he had the opportunity. He enjoyed the company of friends as much as he did the game itself.
When pain in his legs prevented him from continuing to play golf, he took up bowling, having his picture appear in the local newspaper, South Peace News, for setting high scores at the Enilda Bowling Alley.
Buzzie was famous for his infectious laugh and his limitless memory for good jokes. He could always be counted on for a new story or two or three, whenever you met. Even if you had heard the joke before you couldn’t help but laugh again when Buzzie got to the punch line and started his shoulder shaking laughter that announced to everyone that he was in the room.
That fantastic sense of humour was put to the test each time he sat down to watch a Toronto Maple Leafs game. Buzzie could be heard coaching the team from the living room throughout the game, grinning happily when the game was going well, but cursing like a pirate when an opponent was allowed to walk in front of the net untouched to score.
He never lost his competitive spirit and sense of humour. In his final days when he was complimented by the doctor regarding his courage and conviction in facing his death, Buzzie smiled and shrugged his shoulders.
“Piece of cake, doc,” he said. ”No need to be afraid.”
A Celebration of Life was held for Norman [Buzzie] Cunningham April 21, 2018 at the Elks Hall downtown.