McBride Centennial celebrations, reminiscences

It seemed entirely appropriate to start McBride’s official 100th year party with a similar meal to one that could have been served on the same spot 100 years ago. Former residents arriving on the train and visitors from literally all over the globe helped to create a memorable birthday party. Breakfast was a full house in the Elks Hall, and the hard-working Library and Museum Committees presented the foundation for the weekend’s conversation and memory sharing.

With chef services supplied by the Library and Museum Boards this event raised a few dollars and perhaps more important set the tone for a wonderful couple of days in McBride.

This writer spent time with Keith and Sheila Tanner from Bragg Creek, Alberta (west of Calgary), who left Prince Rupert a few days ago on a cross-Canada bicycle tour. With Keith on the bicycle and Sheila providing support and a nightly respite in their 27ft. trailer, the pair is taking the summer to travel across Canada to celebrate Keith’s 60th birthday. After spending a lifetime serving in the Canadian Air Force the pair are enjoying a leisurely schedule as they follow the Yellowhead route. The lucky travellers recently sold their Bragg Creek home and were on the road when the spate of floods hit the area. Their old home escaped damage but one of the nearby bridges was completely swept away. It is their intention to take until near the end of the year before finding their next major stop in which to settle for the balance of the winter.

Another visitor, this one a former forester raised in McBride but now a resident of Victoria, was Ray Travers. Ray was one of our special guests who arrived on Friday’s train that came in from Jasper, bringing many stories and reflections from his years here in McBride. On Sunday afternoon he led the storytelling event that took place in the warm sunshine of the village park. Amongst his stories was a reflection on the whole-day trip that was necessary to get from Jasper to McBride prior to the 1960’s highway completion. This gave me personal cause to recall the Jasper Skytram and the construction of what we lovingly refer to as Robson Pass, which consumed the summers of the early 1960’s. Next came discussion about a horse falling into the sewer near Main Street and 4th Avenue. This particular story seemed to trigger several other reflections about the floods that inundated the village on that particular occasion. Conversation even got into how our hometown narrowly came to be called “McBride”, named after a former premier who apparently never came here, and not “Bowser”, after an Attorney General who did visit our village. When talk ventured onto the plumbing (or lack thereof), things got a little risqué. Turns out one of the doctors had a propensity for ‘Looking Up You’re a**’ to determine potential remedies. He was referred to as Dr. Lucas. As stories went around the circle we heard about regular school trips up Teare Mountain to the half-way post which also was the forestry point where the viewing and telephone station was based. Roger Wiltsie, among others, spoke about making their first phone calls from that location.

It was the stories about the steam whistle clock keeping everyone on time that I found particularly interesting. First at 7 a.m., the wakeup whistle started most school days, followed by another at 7:55 which was a firm reminder to speed up and get into school, which started at 8 a.m. Lunch was whistled promptly at noon and the children were warned to be home for supper by another whistle at 5 p.m.. Thus the whole town went through their daily schedule based not on a watch, a radio, or a television but based on the steam whistle. Interestingly the town’s power was turned on Monday morning to do the washing, while Tuesday before noon was reserved for ironing clothes. After that the power was saved until nightfall. Many jokes were told about whether things had improved over the years…

While there was no steam whistle the event broke up just prior to 5 p.m. because several folks had to run to the local grocery store to get last minute necessities for supper.

Story and Photos by: Chris Parker