The wheels on the bus have come to a stop in front of Wendy Haddock’s house.
After 46 years of driving a school bus in Pender Harbour, Haddock is officially out of the driver’s seat.
It all started as a favour for a friend, Haddock said. She got a call one day, asking if she would take on a part-time job as a bus driver for kindergarten students. Although she was told the work probably wouldn’t be steady and she didn’t plan on doing it for long, Haddock stayed behind the wheel for nearly five decades. She took on more bus routes, driving generations of students – including her own daughters and then her grandchildren – to and from school.
When she walks by the elementary school with her friends, the students by the fence will begin a chorus of “Hi, Wendy!”
Haddock laughs at the memory of her friends’ response.
“They said, ‘Oh, you’re like the Pied Piper.’”
In Pender Harbour, it’s a rare community event when Haddock isn’t recognized by her former passengers.
“[They] recognize me because I haven’t changed. They have,” Haddock said.
She’s had the unique perspective of watching the community grow up day by day. Many adults will remember Haddock for her no-nonsense approach. With up to 50 kids on her bus at a time, Haddock was never afraid to play bad cop when necessary. She’d make sure students wouldn’t smoke onboard or moon passersby (it only happened once; students were too afraid to pull the same stunt twice).
She banned any music with swearing in it, to protect young ears from harsh language, with the threat that she’d throw any offending music out the window. And she stuck to her word. Upon hearing of her retirement, one man asked if he could get a confiscated CD back. Haddock said he sure could, as long as he could retrieve it from the bottom of Garden Lake.
“They think that you were born yesterday,” Haddock said. “When you’ve been doing the job as long as I have, it’s pretty hard to pull the wool over my eyes.”
Haddock is also known as a put together bus driver, always sporting a full face of makeup and her hair done.
“It portrays that you care about their kids. And I mean, if you roll out of bed and your hair’s down and all over the place, and you go out in sweat pants and slippers to drive the bus, I don’t think that relays that you are in control. It’s just something I did every day like I was going to the office,” she said. “I presented myself as the person that is going to look after the kids. Even if it’s just from point A to point B.”
When Haddock’s bus recently broke down by the ferry terminal, many people stopped to ask her if she needed help or a lift. One of her former students asked if she needed a coffee, went home to brew some and brought a cup back for her.
“Those are the types of things in a small community that you get,” she said. “I just love it.”
Above and beyond
Those kind gestures may have been inspired by Haddock herself. There were many times when she went above and beyond the usual role of a bus driver. Haddock has lent money to kids, who try to repay her years later. She remembers one day when she dropped all of the kids off at the same stop for a birthday party – all but one.
“The whole kindergarten class was invited to a birthday party but him. It broke my heart,” she recalled. “So I took him to Francis’s hotdog stand and we had hamburgers and chips. He never forgot it and neither did I. I mean, what parent wouldn’t do that?”
For 15 years, Haddock also drove an ambulance. It could be difficult to balance the bus route and emergency ambulance driving, but Haddock said the kids’ antics were a welcome relief compared to her other gig.
When asked why she drove the bus for so long, Haddock said, “I think it was the kids. They’re very funny. When they’re not around their parents, they say things, they probably do a lot of things that their parents would be horrified by… They’re honest to almost a fault,” she said. “They’re just little kids that need your guidance.”
Now that her days of shepherding children to school are over, Haddock is ready for retirement.
“I’m not sad to be done working. I mean, I’m 72 years old. And I think it’s time to open another chapter in my life at this point,” Haddock said.
That’s not to say she won’t miss the kids. One third grade student made her a card, pleading with Haddock to keep driving the bus for her younger sister who starts school in the fall.
Of course, not everyone is as disappointed that Haddock is retiring. Her children are excited that she’ll be able to spend more time with the kids in her own family. Once travel is allowed again, Haddock hopes to spend more time with her children in Prince George, Vancouver and on Vancouver Island. Her boyfriend’s daughter lives in Bermuda, and they’re looking forward to a visit when it’s safe. Now that she’s not tied down to a bus schedule, she’ll enjoy not keeping a close eye on the time, passing the hours golfing or by a bonfire.
Although Haddock’s first day of retirement was on Feb. 16, she will continue to drive as a relief driver until the end of June. And the buses will remain parked in front of her house. On a cold day, she likes to start them up to make sure they’re warm for the new driver and all the kids.
“It was quite a ride with each and every one of them,” Haddock said. “I’m proud of their accomplishments, and I’m proud to know them. I appreciate them coming up to me and giving me a hug and telling me what a great job I did. It warms my heart.”