Where did your parents work?
My dad was in the automotive business. He had a garage and service station. All his life he did that. When I was born his garage business was across the road from the Civic Theatre, you know where Sid Williams Theatre is now, Mudsharks. In 1929, the year I was born, Dad bought the business that was in that building. Up to that time he had been working in it, and he jokingly said he’d never forget 1929 – he went into business for himself, the depression…and he had his first kid, that was me. He didn’t know which was worse, he said! As a child, when I got brave enough to go downtown I would go down to the garage. And I remember selling gasoline at that garage across from the Sid Williams Theatre. In 1939 he moved the business one block west, where the downtown off-street parking lot is now. That was our property until 1960, so he had his automotive repair business there.
Can you describe the personalities of your family members?
They were, in my mind and I know a lot of other people’s minds, what I would call model parents. They were loving and caring and compassionate. They were very considerate of everybody and, of course, the family. I had two sisters, younger than me. I was the oldest. They worked hard for the family, very hard. I’ve always said that my dad, I really appreciated him so much in many ways. He just had a way. It’s necessary to discipline kids, of course, we all know that. We don’t like it sometimes, but when I said what I said about the person being a dirty rascal… I never got a lickin’, only once did I get a lickin’ – a lot of people got lickin’s in those days, but dad just had a unique way of talking to me and making me feel like I had just done about the worst thing there was and I shouldn’t be doing it. He was that kind of a guy. He always was doing for other people, volunteering and giving his time. He set a good example and I try to follow that.
My mother was a schoolteacher before she got married and so she knew how to handle children. Teachers think they can, anyway. She was a fairly well-spoken of teacher. She changed from teaching to bringing up family. She cared for her parents. My grandmother was an invalid for 11 years, and she cared for her and looked after us kids as well. They had an open house. We could bring all our friends in. My sister and I often wonder how in the world mum could do all she did because we’d bring home about five or six kids and they could stay for lunch or dinner. So she looked after grandma and grandpa and all of rest, and did the bookkeeping at the garage at the same time.
Where did you go to school?
I went to school in an eight room elementary school where Thrifty’s is now, from grades one to eight. There were no junior highs in those days. And the high school, Courtenay High, was on Harmston. It’s been torn down now, but that’s where I went to grade 12. Dad said I could work with him if I wanted – he wouldn’t hold me up if I wanted to go to university. But I took a bookkeeping course for a year and then went into the garage business.
What did you do as a teenager here?
Work. My teenage years, I was born in ’29. The war started in 1939 so I was 10, and I worked at my dad’s garage after school and Saturdays and I’m thankful for that. As I got into my teens the war was on and I’m thinking, I hope it gets over pretty quick. Thankfully it did, but we had the army and navy and the air force all in the valley here and well before they invaded Europe, they did what was called ‘combined operations training’ where the landing barges were kept in the slough. So as kids, we used to go and get where we weren’t supposed to be and watch these guys go through their training on the river up behind the curling rink. They had barbed wire entanglements there. We did quite a bit of war work, picking potatoes and fruit that was sent overseas and things like that, wartime effort.
I liked basketball very much but I couldn’t play because I had asthma, so I got into scorekeeping and timekeeping for the games. If our team went to Cumberland, to play and a few places – we never went all over the country like they do now – but I would always go. I did all the scorekeeping here in the Native Sons Hall. So I was kept very busy as a teenager. Another thing, all our family were very involved in the church. My mum and dad were the first couple married in the church, Elim Hall it was called, down where the credit union building is now. I was quite involved and became a youth leader in later years. I’m thankful because they talk about teenage years as a time to get into trouble, but I was always very busy and I was always thankful for the garage because I could go down there and help and work and get paid.
Who is the oldest relative you remember as a child?
Well, I was blessed. I knew all four of my grandparents, and my grandmother Burns, when she died in 1952, was 86. All my grandparents lived to either 80 or up to 86. The oldest relative I knew, going down further, was my dad. He lived to be 102 ½. He died in that same house. He never ever moved out. Never went to the hospital and ended up dying in his own home so that was a blessing. So there’s longevity there.
Who was the first person to actually come to Courtenay in your family?
My dad’s father, my grandpa. He came here in 1885 and there was no Courtenay. He came from England to visit his uncle in Nanaimo, and he heard about how people were starting to come up here. The first settlers came in 1862. I think he maybe came up in a canoe, because there was no road and no rail. This man he was looking for, Mr. Viles, lived out at the end of Burns Road, off Dove Creek Road. And he went looking through the bush for this fellow. He found this Mr. Viles’ place and they visited, I guess he was glad to see him. Anyway, Grandpa decided to stay and he bought 160 acres, a quarter section. You could get it for a dollar from the Crown, the government, and you had to prove after so long that you farmed it and then all you had to pay was a dollar an acre, so he got it for $160.00. He staked out his 160 acres and on the map, DL154 was his farm. He was a bachelor, and started with some cows and chickens and producing. There was a swamp. Long story short, he asked this girlfriend in England to come out and marry him seven years later, and she came out and as they say, the rest is history. My grandpa came first and they had a baby after they’d been married, and then my dad was born seven years later in 1903. Dad often said, he worked a few times on the farm when he was a kid, after school and that, but he didn’t like farming and the cars were just coming out then so he got into the garage business.