From plunging the depths of the Arctic to herding chickens in Comox, Ian Hopkins has done it all.
He’s now been officially recognized for some of his efforts and is acknowledged as one of the oldest members of the Submariners Association of Canada.
Hopkins, now 94 and living in Parksville, once spent more than 30 days in a submarine in the Arctic with 64 other people from the British Navy. He was born in a small town in Ireland called Wicklow, and joined the Navy as a young man. He then spent seven-and-a-half years serving in the Royal Navy — on land and on the sea.
During boot camp training, Hopkins said he had to get creative to get by. He said he got paid three shillings a day when he first started out in the Navy.
He said one day he offered to cut one of the other men’s hair at boot camp, even though he’d never touched a pair of hair-cutting scissors in his life. He said the man liked his haircut and gave him a hefty tip, so he continued to do it for other people at the base.
“My father had retired, but I said to him if you ever come across electric hair clippers, please get them for me,” he said.
He said his father ended up sending the clippers over, but with a bill for 39 pounds attached to it — nine months pay. Yet, Hopkins said it was worth it.
“This is the only thing that saved me in the Navy, I couldn’t have existed on the original pay,” he said.
But the real adventure came when Hopkins joined the submarine branch of the Navy.
Before he knew it, he was off on an expedition to the Arctic. One that lasted more than a month.
The weather was bad and the water choppy. Hopkins said even as they went down as far as 80 feet, they were still rolling about eight degrees with every wave. One day, they had been underwater for about 17 hours when they realized the oxygen generator and CO2 absorption unit weren’t working. He said that was only one of the mishaps that happened during the expedition.
“We didn’t have a cup to drink out of, we didn’t have plates, they were all smashed into the bad weather,” he said. “We just had to use what we had —the condensed milk tins… that was our cup.”
After his experience in the Arctic, Hopkins eventually made his way to Canada. He started up a woodworking business in Comox and then moved onto farming. At one point, he was raising 3,000 meat birds and supplying 60 dozen eggs a week to local restaurants.
And now, 75 years after his experience in the Arctic, Hopkins spends his time in Parksville retired, but still busy. He’s written about his experience in a 143-page book he put together, titled ‘My Longest Journey.’
“I’ve probably been to the moon and back,” said Hopkins.