My first project at Echo was producing a sample photo selection for a short history of Saskatoon that spanned from its inception as a temperance colony in the late 1800s to the 1950s. To find images, I explored the rich University of Saskatchewan archives, the Local History Room at the Saskatoon Public Library, and Library and Archives Canada to illustrate a history of “Bridge City” (named for its seven river crossings).
The research project was part of Ever Loving, the Don and Marion Wheaton family story. The Wheaton family name is one that’s familiar to many Albertans and western Canadians as titans in the automotive industry. Wheaton GM is the largest General Motors merchandiser in Canada, with 19 dealers from Nanaimo to Regina. This impressive network of dealerships began with Don Wheaton, a hard-working and creative salesman, who began his career in the small town of Porcupine Plain, Sask. As his business took off across western Canada, Don’s legendary integrity, work ethic and generosity earned him loyal customers and employees.
Later, the family business expanded into charter aviation and insurance. At home, the love of his life, Marion (née Sparling), raised a tight-knit family with three daughters and five sons. Marion was a stay-at-home mom extraordinaire, who was always calm, composed and loving. Don and Marion’s greatest accomplishment was raising eight children and helping them get a start, including giving them opportunities to be involved with the family business. Today, some of their grandchildren are in the car business, too.
Ever Loving author and Vancouver Sun veteran reporter Joanne Blain began writing the Wheaton story in 2010. In December 2011, Don Wheaton Sr. passed away, and the importance of capturing the family history became more urgent. In her research, Joanne travelled to Naples, Florida, to meet Marion, and interviewed family members, colleagues and friends from across Canada to produce her manuscript. A cousin in Nanaimo also had Don’s father’s leather-bound pocket diaries, and Joanne pored over the tiny script with a magnifying glass. “It was like a thriller I couldn’t put down,” she says. “They were so evocative for me.” With family roots in small-town Saskatchewan, too, Joanne found echoes of her story in the Wheatons’.
Last month, we were proud to deliver the books to the flagship Wheaton dealership on Whyte Avenue in Edmonton. We are truly honoured to tell these stories: one, a moving love story, and the other, the history of a notable family of entrepreneurs. On his hopes for the third generation of Don and Marion’s family, Don Wheaton Jr. says, “Whatever they do, hopefully they do it with integrity, enthusiasm and fun, those values we learned around the dining-room table.” And while there might not be a table big enough for all 34 grandchildren, we hope that the book brings the family together to celebrate and honour what makes them remarkable.