by Milton Orris
We arrived in Grand Forks in November 1942 from a little 750-person town in Southern Alberta called Champion. My dad had run the Champion Chronicle weekly newspaper for two years, then came the opportunity to buy the Gazette and we were on our way by train to my new home.
We had no place to live on arrival so we booked into the Grand Forks Hotel. You can imagine how exciting that was—get up from my private hotel room in the morning and have for breakfast whatever I wanted, then off to school with a lunch they prepared for me (my menu), then back for supper, again whatever I wanted, then to bed. Unfortunately this only last about two weeks, before we moved into the home of the previous Gazette owner and MLA for the Boundary Country—Thomas Love, right next to the United Church on Winnipeg Avenue.
That too was very nice, especially as Mrs. Love had a large quantity of peaches she had canned. I had never had those before, and when I made friends with Don Reid and some others in the neighbourhood, I showed the display to them.
“Let’s try some” was their immediate response. “Why not” was mine—so we did and they were so delicious we made a habit of having a jar full every other day or so (without my parent’s knowledge of course).
When the Loves returned home a few of weeks later and Mrs. Love went down to get some peaches, the result was my first unpleasant memory of Grand Forks. I “paid the price” for enjoying my first memory of peaches.
About a month later we moved into the home we had bought across from the school grounds. It had a raspberry patch and an apricot tree and a wonderful garden at the back of the house: paradise. And being right across from the school was great as well—one very big playground.
The only drawback I remember was that it was a corner property and when it snowed, guess who shoveled the sidewalk after a quick lesson on how to do it from my dad. I also had to light the furnace with chopped kindling (which I did) and then stoke it with coal and keep it going all winter. I was so well trained I thought I could become a railway fireman.
Good memories: having our milk delivered in glass bottles at the front door early each morning by Mr. Glanville, who owned the local dairy. On cold days the milk froze and the thick cream at the top had pushed its way out the bottle before we got out to get it. I think the price was 25 cents a quart.
Not long after we moved again, to the Almond Home just down the street at the corner of 13th Street and 73rd Avenue—a large and beautifully built home where our family lived for the next 40 years or so.
I was so impressed at how my dad negotiated the purchase: we loved the house and wanted to live there; however, Mr. Almond, the former government agent for the Boundary Country, was still alive So Dad went and asked him how much he wanted if he was to sell his home, which he told my dad he didn’t want to do. He did give Dad a price, however, and they agreed—after my father told Mr. Almond that he could live there rent free until he passed away, which he did about two years later.
The relations of the community with the Gazette were quite different as well. I remember going to the OK Bakery to get some bread for my mom, so I picked up some bread and some other treats and asked how much it was. You don’t have to pay, I was told. So I thought, “They are being really nice to a newcomer in town.”
Later my dad told me that because they had an ad in the Gazette each week and hadn’t paid their bill for a while he went to collect and the response was, “We don’t pay to advertise, other than you get all the bread and buns you want at no cost to you.” I had been introduced to the barter system.
A few months later I arrived home from school and my mom said, “You have a chore right now. There are three chickens in the back room, you have to do something with them.”
I could hear them clucking away so I opened the door and there they were alive and just walking around. “Where did they come from?” I asked. “One of the local farmers said this was how he paid for his subscription to the Gazette for the year,” she replied.
Was I going to kill the chickens—NO. So I caught them and put them in a potato sack and rode my bike downtown to the butcher shop that Mr. Patrick ran and asked him to do what was necessary so we could cook them—and happily he did it all! And that was how we got sacks of potatoes and other produce often—no cash needed to change hands!
At the end of the first summer school start-up for Grade 6 to Grade 12 was delayed for two weeks so we could help with the harvest, many of the young men being away at war. My first harvest job was picking onion seed, cutting off the heads and putting them into a big bag tied to my waste. Each time you made the cut there was a spray of onion juice. When I got home and entered the house my mother said stay outside and a couple minutes later came back with some of my clothes.
“You don’t smell good. Take off all your clothes on the porch then come in and have a shower—and do that every day!” she ordered. So I didn’t smell very nice.
My next harvest job was better that way: picking apples on top of a 15-foot ladder, getting paid by the apple box full. Scary, hard work yet fun. However, I did get 25¢ an hour for picking or 25¢ by full apple box and in the two weeks saved over $40 and then went to Mr. Morrison’s jewelry shop and bought my first watch.
More about working in those days later. There was always so much to do; I was never bored, always with something that was fun to do and always felt surrounded by people who cared about me.
We truly had moved to paradise!