A photo rom the front steps of the Bella Vista hotel in 1886 shows Alice M. Probert (fourth from left), Evan H. Probert (sixth from Left) and Rebecca Probert (eighth from left). (Agassiz-Harrison Historical Society)

Kent 125

LETTER: Agassiz once a sleepy village at the end of the road

In his letter, Richard Probert shares his memories of Agassiz as it was in the ’50s and ’60s

I grew up in Agassiz in the 1950s and 1960s, when Agassiz was a sleepy little village at the end of the road.

Both my mother’s family (Hubbard) and my father’s family (Probert) came to Agassiz in the 1890s, before the formation of Kent municipality.

The Proberts build the Bella Vista hotel, in partnership with Charles Inkman. My grandfather Probert eventually owned the hotel, where he worked for more than 50 years.

SEE ALSO: Agassiz-Harrison museum gets grant to help with local with landscape research

In past decades, winters were colder, with ice on the Fraser River. My grandfather Probert took pictures of the Fraser River, in 1921 and 1929, completely frozen over with three or four feet of ice. These photos are now in the archives of the museum.

For many years, homes in Agassiz and Harrison were heated with wood and coal. Carl Inkman had a coal and sawdust business selling coal and wood to heat homes, and stoves for cooking food. The British American oil company had an office and storage bins on Pioneer Street West, on the now empty lot. The step-father, Earl Dyer, drove the oil truck delivering oil to homes.

For many decades, a ferry took people from Agassiz to Rosedale. The ferry could take three or four cars at once, running every half hour. A huge sandbar near the bridge is where the ferry once docked.

In 1956, the Agassiz-Rosedale Bridge was completed, with a toll book charging 25 cents to use the bridge. In 1974, the Haig Highway was completed and also the Trans-Canada Highway was completed between Chilliwack and Hope.

In the 1950s and 196s, I remember cold winters and hot summers. The wind blew all January, with ten foot snowdrifts, often closing schools. This was decades before computers, so kids played outside. We ice skated on ponds, built snow forts, had snowball fights and sled down the hill on Green mountain, behind the research station.

SEE ALSO: Nostalgic online home movie shows small town B.C. from 1950s

In 1972, an ice storm pulled down several transmission towers on Seabird Island, shutting power for days. The six inches of ice that formed on the wires is what cause the transmission towers to collapse.

In summer, I road my bicycle across the Agassiz bridge to the slough in Rosedale, where a sandy beach with warm water made an excellent swimming slough. Today, there is too much traffic on the bridge to bicycle across, while now the slough is stagnant and polluted, unfit for swimming.

I remember swarms of insects, when going outside after supper was inviting mosquitoes to eat people alive. I also remember seeing dozens of butterflies in grandmother Probert’s backyard. Today, the insects are gone in the village, thanks to spraying ponds with chemicals, but the butterflies are also gone.

In the 1950s, a road was built from Harrison Hot Sprign to Green Point on Harrison Lake. When the road to Green Point was completed, people started picnicking and swimming in the cold waters of Harrison Lake. This spot is now part of Sasquatch Provincial Park.

We often went picnicking and swimming at Green Point. My mother made potato salad, fried chicken, celery sticks filled with cream cheese, carrot sticks and hard boiled eggs, all washed down with Kool Aid drinks. Then we ate watermelon for dessert.

In 1959, we moved into a recently built house on Morrow Road. My mother and step-father, along with Ken Macdonald, bought five acres of land, split in two with each family having two and a half acres of field and bush. There were only about a dozen houses on Morrow Road. Today, there are over 200 houses, townhouses and apartments living on or adjacent to Morrow Road.

I soon explored the bush, finding mostly alder, poplar, birch and small cedars and fir trees. There were some wildflowers and one Gary Oak tree, as well as stinging nettles. Every year I picked the tops of stinging nettles and my mother cooked them for supper. They tasted better than spinach, especially with a dab of real butter.

SEE ALSO: A lesson in herbal medicine

When I was 14, I got a bow with six arrows for Christmas. I spent many hours shooting arrows in the back field. Once, a gust of wind took my arrow over to the next-door neighbour’s place. The arrow landed on top of Darcy Morrow’s tin shed, where he kept his gravel trucks. The arrow was sticking into the tin shed. Fortunately, Mr. Morrow just laughed and I got back my arrow.

I remember the village of Agassiz. There were three grocery stories, a clothing store, drug store, a theatre where movies were shown, a barber with 50-cent haircuts, a newspaper, two restaurants, a butcher, a blacksmith, a shoe store, a five-cent to one dollar store and a post office, where letters could be mailed to any part of Canada for five cents.

In the 1950s and 1960s, kids could buy big chocolate bars and bottles of pop for 10 cents. Comic books also cost 10 cents.

My favourite toys were toy soldiers. I had about 1,000 toy soldiers, lining them up in battle formations and fighting battles I never heard of, but which my ancestors had fought.

In the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, Agassiz was a farming and logging town. Hundreds of local men worked in the woods on Harrison Lake and Harrison Mills.

In 1965, I got a job as an axe-man on a timber cruiser’s crew at Hunter Creek, and then Harrison Mills. I then trained to be a log scaler for two months at Spring Creek Logging Camp at the head of Harrison Lake. In April 1966, I got a job as woods scaler at Harrison Mills. I got a ride every morning at 6 a.m. There were hardly any cars on the road in 1966, unlike today when traffic is busy from early morning to late night.

SEE ALSO: Resource exploitation in the Agassiz-Harrison Valley

When I was 15, I hiked into Deer Lake with Robin Davenport and Ken Johnson. We road our bicycles to the end of Kamp Road and walked into Hicks Lake, then the next day into Deer Lake. We camped at the east end of Deer Lake on a big sandbar. The next morning, a man waded into the water, casting a lure. He hooked a trout over three pounds and over 20 inches long.

Exploring the area we found a wooden boat, which we loaded with our gear and paddled down the lake. The boat leaked, so Robin bailed water while I trolled a willow leaf and worm. Halfway down the lake, I hooked a big trout over 20 inches long, as Ken netted the big fish.

That night we camped in bushes near the gravel bar, where I later caught hundreds of trout. We camped amidst trees 10 feet high. Today, those same trees are over 100 feet high. I know my age when I mentally compare the size of trees then and now.

These are some of my memories from my early years when Agassiz was a sleepy little village, at the end of the road.

-Richard Probert, Agassiz

Want to read more about the history of the District of Kent for its 125th anniversary? Check out agassizharrisonobserver.com/tag/kent-125/.


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