New Westminster couple celebrates 60 years of married life

Hans and Kay Mydske have been married for 60 years, living in the same house on 9th Avenue in New Westminster, raising seven children, all of whom attended New West secondary. - MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER
Hans and Kay Mydske have been married for 60 years, living in the same house on 9th Avenue in New Westminster, raising seven children, all of whom attended New West secondary.

After spending months at sea Hans Mydske would return to his New Westminster home, his wife Kay and his seven children with tubs full of fish in his car.

The word of his return, and likely the smell too, would spread throughout their Ninth Avenue neighbourhood. Children would start salivating and flock to the Mydskes’ house because they knew his return meant they’d soon be feasting on fabulous tasting fish and chips.

Kay had two deep fryers that seemed to be constantly cooking, so consequently the grease on the ceiling was thick.

The couple’s small two-storey home is still a gathering place. And it will once again be fit to burst Sunday (March 27) when the family celebrates Hans and Kay’s 60th wedding anniversary with a tea in the house they’ve lived in ever since they got married.

The ‘Big Swede’ from Norway

Hans was just five when he arrived in New Westminster from Norway with his family in 1925.

He grew up in the Brow of the Hill area where other kids nicknamed him The Big Swede.

“I hated that, I was Norwegian!” says Hans as he sits in the Mydske Fish ‘n’ Chips shop, otherwise known as Kay’s Kitchen.

“I got a few black eyes from [the name calling].”

After school he delivered groceries on his bike for $6 a week and chocolate bars. In the winter he and his friends would bobsleigh down 10th Street, flying over the streetcar tracks.

“We didn’t worry about traffic on Columbia Street, we just took our chances,” recalls Hans matter-of-factly.

During the summers he would play lacrosse and fastball.

He and his buddies also thought nothing of walking to Port Moody to swim in the ocean.

Hans had fallen in love with New Westminster and when he fell in love with Kay, New West was the natural place to put up roots.

Kay grew up in Nanaimo, where she says jobs were scarce during the war years. She moved across the water and became a Rosie the Riveter-type at a North Vancouver shipyard.

Eventually she worked in the Hudson’s Bay store in Downtown Vancouver.

Her friend Mabel’s husband, Phil, plied the fishing boats with Hans.

Phil told Hans, “there’s a pretty nice lady I know” and took him to The Bay ostensibly to buy a shirt.

“I thought this is a nice bit of stuff,” says Hans of seeing Kay for the first time. “I wanted to take her for a beer, but she didn’t want to go there.”

So they went bowling instead.

Life on the high seas

They courted during Hans’ breaks between the herring, halibut and salmon seasons.

She wrote her mother about her new tall, handsome beau. Her descriptions were so accurate that one day when Hans was on a crowded bus in Nanaimo on his way to catch a ferry the woman next to him asked, “Are you Hans Mydske?”

A surprised Hans replied, “Yes, I am.”

“I’m Kay’s mother,” she said.

Talk about meeting the mother-in-law-to-be without any warning.

Her mother liked Hans, and his mother liked Kay, especially when Hans wasn’t around. “How’s this for getting your man? I used to go over there (from Vancouver) and cut the lawn for them,” she says.

“My mother thought she was a real find for me,” says Hans. “I was known for living the high life on the ocean and she figured Kay would keep me in check.”

A 29-year-old Hans proposed to his 24-year-old sweetheart at a Vancouver restaurant. Their windows of opportunity for the wedding and honeymoon were narrow, though. They chose Feb. 17, 1951, between the herring and halibut seasons. For the honeymoon they hopped in a car and drove down the coast to San Francisco.

They paid $12,500 for their bungalow on Ninth Avenue making mortgage payments of $69 a month.

“And you know, you could hardly make [the payments],” says Kay.

They began growing kids almost immediately.

In the end they had seven in 12 years starting with David, followed by Marlene, Sandra, Phillip, Grant, Kathy and Chris.

When Hans was away the neighbourhood kids came over to have tea and apple crisp, and, of course, to peel potatoes so they could eat fish and chips.

“They were always respectful,” says Kay, nicknamed The Queen of Ninth Avenue by neighbour Ross Dewar who still visits the couple.

Says Hans, “She gets all the credit for bringing up the kids.”

“You do too,” she replies. “Somebody had to bring in the money.”

Celebration of 60 years

While Kay is the love of his life, Hans’ passion was fishing. He didn’t quit until 1996 when he was 75.

“I loved being on the ocean. I’d love to be out there now if I could stand up,” says Hans as he leans on his cane.

A drawback to his days on the water was the smell. One time Hans came home and hopped in the shower and started washing himself with what he thought was soap. Turned out it was green Comet and when he sat down to watch television he couldn’t figure out why he was itching so much. Kay thought it was so funny she couldn’t resist telling his fellow fishermen and they never let him forget his faux pax.

He didn’t forget his family, even during freezing cold days on the Bering Sea when he had to knock icicles off his nose and he would get frost boils.

Kay took the absences in stride. “I thought that was my life, I had to put up with it. I probably should have gotten a babysitter more often to give me time to myself, but I never trusted anyone else with the kids.”

The children may be grown, but Hans and Kay are still active. Hans closely follows the lacrosse careers of Chris’s four boys—Leif, Brett, Reid and Cain. Brett Mydske plays in the National Lacrosse League for the Edmonton Rush and every time they have a game Hans goes to granddaughter Heidi Hofstad’s house to watch on the computer.

In addition to their seven kids, Hans and Kay have 19 grandchildren and seven great grandchildren. That’s more offspring than there were guests at their wedding.

There was no thought of renting a hall to celebrate the 60th anniversary of that occasion. Their home has always been the gathering place for family and friends.

“It’s always so packed you get to the point you don’t notice it so much,” says Hofstad. “No one cares if they don’t have a chair to sit on ... The more the merrier.”

Hofstad says they might serve fish and chips just “for the halibut” on Sunday.

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