Home News Kahnawake’s longest-serving bus driver retires

Kahnawake’s longest-serving bus driver retires

Up until last week Billy ‘Whooper” Meloche was driving students from Kateri and Karonhianónhnha. Courtesy Brandi Meloche

After 38 years of driving school buses in Kahnawake, Billy “Whooper” Meloche is finally calling it quits. It’s been a long journey, the 73-year-old said, but it’s one he said he’d do all over again if he had the chance. 

For the first 17 years of his career, he drove Kahnawa’kehró:non over the Mercier Bridge to private schools in Montreal. Up until last Wednesday, he drove local routes, bringing elementary students to Kateri School and Karonhianónhnha Tsi Ionterihwaienstáhkhwa. 

“The thing I will miss the most are the children. They are the future of Kahnawake. They’ll always be on my mind. I will always remember them, and I will always wonder where they are and how they’re doing,” Meloche said. “The one thing I will not miss are the cold winter mornings starting up that bus.”

He was in between jobs in 1979 when he decided to reach out to Kahnawake’s bus manager at the time to ask if they needed any drivers. For him, it was the perfect job. Between the morning and afternoon runs he would work as a tree climber, severing limbs off trees for clients across Montreal. From 1980 to 2006, he also worked as the general manager of the Royal Canadian Legion Mohawk Branch 219. 

“Once I started, I realized that you could do the school bus run and then you could find work in between,” Meloche said. “I said ‘I got to hang on to this to support my family.’” 

That wasn’t the only reason he remained committed though. He loved the job, and said he was blessed to have been given the responsibility. It may seem like an easy job, but it’s not, he said. And what made it challenging was also what made it meaningful. 

“You have to maintain your attention on the road. You have to maintain your attention when you’re picking up these children, when you’re letting them off – you can’t drop your guard,” Meloche said. “You have a full busload of children, and it’s all on you to keep them safe.”

What touched him the most was getting to see “the circle of life,” he said, like when mothers would wave and tell their own kids “Billy was my bus driver too.”

“That was something. It was just a moment in time that I’ll never forget,” he said about the first time it happened. “I actually came full circle.”

His daughter Brandi Meloche said she’s been overwhelmed by all the kind words coming in from his past colleagues, parents, teachers, and others since her father decided to take his retirement. 

“He truly cares about his community and any job he does he gives it his all,” she said.

“I was glad to see him get to shine, because he is humble, and much of his dedication to things goes unnoticed – or so we thought.”

He drove both her and her brother Shaun during their youth. She always sat behind him – from her first day as a seven-year-old at her new school in Montreal until her graduation at 16. And when her brother had children of his own, Billy drove them too. 

“He has the most years behind the wheel than anybody in history that we know of,” said his manager Spencer McComber, who takes care of daily transportation for the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK). 

McComber started out as a bus driver and worked alongside Billy for 12 years before becoming his manager. He said Billy was always a wealth of knowledge. 

He said if it wasn’t for him, he would have never known you’re supposed to listen for the engine of the diesel buses rev down before turning it off. It’s a process that can take up to five minutes, but it prevents damage to the engine. 

“He was very easy to talk to. And anything that he’s learned over the years, he shares it,” McComber said. 

Asked about what’s to come next, Billy said he plans to be at the golf course more often. He’s also looking forward to vacationing – Vegas is one destination on his bucket list. 

“It’ll be interesting to do what I want with my time – that’ll be different.”  

miriam@easterndoor.com

This article was originally published in print on January 26, in issue 33.04 of The Eastern Door.

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Miriam Lafontaine is a reporter with the Eastern Door. Her work has appeared in Le Devoir, CBC Montreal, CBC New Brunswick as well as the Toronto Star.

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Miriam Lafontaine is a reporter with the Eastern Door. Her work has appeared in Le Devoir, CBC Montreal, CBC New Brunswick as well as the Toronto Star.