Fred Fomenoff – interviewed Sept. 9 1993
Would you consent to be interviewed by me on this basis?
FF: Yes, I do.
NB: Your name is?
FF: Fred Fomenoff.
NB: The interview is September 9th, 1993. Mr. Fomenoff, can you tell us when and where you were born?
FF: I was born in Castlegar September the 1st, 1923.
NB: Can you remember Castlegar as a young child?
FF: Well, no that young. I would have to go back to ’82, four or five years. At that particular time there wasn’t too much to Castlegar. There were only a few residences. Initially, my dad and mom and brother and sisters shared a home with another family where the old Castlegar drive-in is, in that vicinity. From there we moved to where the present Cross Roads Printing is located. We built ourselves a home and a business and a general store. We started out from there. There was no water supply; there were no facilities of any kind at that time. We had to carry all our water for drinking and personal use and gardens from the C.P.R. depot. That was only pressure feed water from the stream up from Korko’s Flats. The only stand pipe in town where most people could get their water.
NB: You had to carry it across town?
FF: Yes, I recall that very clearly. My dad had one of those U’s that went on his back and he took two pails of water, one on each side, years ago before there was running water. The four of us children had pails that were according to our own size, me being the youngest and the smallest. I had the smallest little bucket. We all made a procession down to the C.P.R. depot twice daily to bring out water supply in. As years went on we turned to other water supplies. It was sometime later that my dad had managed to build a water wheel and buy a pump, which was based on the Columbia River below the C.P.R. bridge and run a water line up to the property that he had. Shortly there after he did build a ten thousand gallon storage tank, which supplied two or three other residents in the area and that about covers the water system for a number of years. When the town started to grow a bit they decided to put in a water system.
NB: How many brothers and sister do you have?
FF: I had one old sister who today is Mrs. Popoff, my brother Bill Fomenoff and my sister Ann who is Kootchen now. My brother passed away and my two sisters still reside in Castlegar.
NB: Everyone pretty well stayed in the area?
FF: Everyone stayed in Castlegar.
NB: So, you like it here?
FF: I like it very much here. I spent many, many years here. As we grew older, at the age of 5 or 6, we started fishing and doing many, many other things that there was to do around here for the youngsters. As time went on my dad’s little general store progressed enough. It seemed to be between the C.P.R. station and my dad’s store was the meeting place for everybody in the area. The store had a veranda there and the younger people would gather there for sporting activities and little sing songs. There were benches and tables and swings that everyone enjoyed. The main attraction was the east-bound and west-bound C.P.R. train coming through. Everybody went down to the depot to meet that.
NB: Did you go down a lot?
FF: Yes, I never missed a chance. We always managed to go to the cook house on the sleepers and see if we could bum a piece of pie or a cookie or something. We thought that was very neat.
NB: Were you able to travel the trains at all?
FF: Yes, I travelled the train a fair amount to Vancouver, the Coast area and I made one trip to Calgary, going east.
NB: Did you go on the small routes to Nelson and Trail?
FF: Yes, that was a common occurrence because they had quite a few sporting events that took place in Nelson at Lakeside Park. They used to run a special from Trail. For a matter of 50 cents you could get a return ticket to Nelson.
NB: That was probably a big event.
FF: That was a big event for us to be able to go there. You had 50 cents spending money. Things were sure great.
NB: Can you remember first starting school and where your first school was?
FF: Yes, I enrolled in school, which was at the present works yard next to where the court house is in downtown Castlegar. At the age of 5 I went to that school up until I was in grade 4 and 5. Then we were bussed over to Kinnaird because there wasn’t sufficient room in the school here. I had a two year stint there and I can never forget the Killoughs, Joe Killough and Jack Killough. They were our bus drivers. The highways we had then, we spent most of the spring and the fall pushing the bus out of the mud holes. In the wintertime it was just the opposite. It was snow drifts. The heat for the bus the Killoughs used to heat up some bricks in their ovens at home and put them in gunny sacks and put them in the aisles. That was your heat; mind you our winters were much more severe than they are today. The waters of the Arrow Lakes used to freeze over two, three feet with ice. That used to be our pastime for the winter, skating.
NB: Lots of hockey?
FF: Lots of hockey. We’d go to the mill ponds. They had a boom dock for us to use as a skating rink, the Waldie brothers. We used to go down there all the time on the weekends, especially from morning to night.
NB: Did you go to high school in the area?
FF: I went as far as grade 10.
NB: Was that up in Kinnaird still?
FF: That was in Castlegar and Robson.
NB: You were telling me before that you went o Russian School with Mr. Zuckerberg.
FF: That is right.
NB: Was that a good experience?
FF: That was quite an experience. You put in your day going to English classes and did your chores at home. Then you go to your Russian classes from 5:00 to 7:00 in the evening for the younger students. It was time to unwind and I think we took it out on Mr. Zuckerberg. We were sent into the corner, spent a little time there. All in all, he was a very good tutor and we did learn our basics or reading and writing, which helped a great deal.
NB: You knew Mr. Zuckerberg on a personal lever?
FF: Yes, I did.
NB: You came to the Island?
FF: Yes, I came onto the Island many times and we used to do this shopping at my dad’s store all the time. We were in contact with the Zuckerberg family.
NB: Was he a very outgoing man?
FF: Yes, he was a very nice man. He would stop anything he was doing and sit there and talk to you, which was very nice.
NB: You were ally involved with the store, even at a young age?
FF: Yes, we were. The whole family was involved. We used to take out turns tending the store. My parents were doing other thing. Then as we grew older the trucking business was there and I had the choice of going to school or going to work for my dad driving truck. I had been driving previously in the logging camp at the sawmill we had up Pass Creek. I was fully qualified to get my driver’s license when I 16. I could go to school or start driving truck for $60.00 a month. I thought, “Well, $60.00 a month, that is something,” so I popped it out for the driving truck. I carried that on right until my retirement days here a few days ago. I worked for the school district for 13 years driving school bus. I was on construction for over 20 years driving.
NB: Did you marry in Castlegar?
FF: No, I married my wife Ann. She was a resident in Saskatchewan, just out of Saskatoon at Tagman in 1947.
NB: Did you travel to Saskatchewan for any reason?
FF: My parents, who originally came from Russia, settled in Saskatchewan and we had many friends there and relatives so we used to travel there quite regular. We did know my wife’s parents quite well and her parents knew them. One of our trips some of us boys got together and we went on a trip and I had met her down there. We corresponded and decided, “Why don’t we get married?”
NB: Did you live in Saskatchewan at all?
FF: No, I lived nowhere else but Castlegar.
NB: Did she like moving to this area?
FF: Oh yes, it was quite amazing. When we had our service there getting married we went down she decided to show me her Saskatoon Dam. We went down to the river and all I could see was a little ripple in the river about a foot high.
NB: When you were young, did the train bridge have a walkway?
FF: Yes, the train bridge had a walkway. All the employees at Waldie’s Sawmill it was right where the lagoons are now that worked over there. There were a few that lived there but not too many. They did have houses for keepers and they had little houses for some of the employees.
NB: Was Waldie’s the main employer at that time?
FF: Yes, Waldie’s was the main employer and the C.P.R.
NB: Did you have a lot of people coming into town and staying for a while and the leaving with the station there and people travelling through?
FF: People who were travelling through, there weren’t that many who would come in and stop. The one that did, they knew about the boats. They would certainly take that boat trip. It was great; take that boat trip to Nakusp. There weren’t too many stopping. I recall the big sales groups and different companies that were in operation and still are. They would come to my dad’s store. I kept telling him, my father, that Castlegar was going to be a big place. You looked at it and you though, “When is Castlegar going to be a big place?” Then they would explain to you what the situation was and where it is situated it is a natural to become a big city. Today, we are seeing the difference with the improvements and expansions. I am starting to wonder if it is time to move on.
NB: I agree totally.
FF: I worked in many areas and I always found this to be home.
NB: It is beautiful here.
FF: Many, many people that left are coming back now after years and years.
NB: It is a special place. I was wondering if you remember getting your first car.
FF: Oh, I sure do. I was working with my dad driving. I was putting in a lot of hours afterwards I got to be 18, 19, there were four of us boys went down to Vancouver during the war. I was about that age to enlist. I didn’t pass my medical so I went to work for Boeing Aircraft for a while. My dad kept phoning me to come back. The trucking business was right downtown; he couldn’t handle it. He made a suggestion that he would give me half interest in the business if I could come back home and get it back on track. He agreed to it so I quit my job there, which I did have a very good job. I came back home and started to put in long hours and we were hauling as far as Passmore to Trail. Then we had out own sawmill going, two timber lots and I was putting in a 12-hour day, 6 days a week. We managed to do fairly well there. I recall at the age of 20 I managed to get enough money together to buy my first car in Vancouver, a two-door coupe, Dodge. That was something because the younger set around here didn’t have a car, especially a new car. It was quite a deal to be out there scooting around on the gravel roads. It was very exciting actually. We were involved in sports. We travelled around quite a bit. I put in two years junior hockey in Nelson and 2 years intermediate in Nelson. Also played softball in the Castlegar Scout Hall for years and years. Nick Oglow and I took a team down at that time they called it “The Team.” That was really exciting. We always kept very busy; there was no time for mischief.
NB: There wasn’t any problems with crime?
FF: The biggest thing that ever happened would be Halloween and there would be…
NB: Some eggs where?
FF: Well, we didn’t have enough eggs to throw around. Eggs were only seen on Sunday morning for breakfast. You couldn’t afford them otherwise. That was in the younger days. The mischief end of it was knocking over the outhouses.
NB: That wasn’t really harmful.
FF: Well, when you had people gardening they sit inside the outhouse and you sneak up on them and knock them over with the people in them. That was about the amount of damage, or take a picket off a picket fence maybe.
NB: Was there a police force?
FF: Yes, there was one policeman at the time. That was the last Mr. McAndrew. I have to say that I will never forget him. He caught me driving on the highway one time. He wasn’t sure if it was me or not driving. His flashlight didn’t have very good batteries and we switched drivers by the time he got up to the Model T we had. He had my license for about six months. He said, “You tell me who was driving and you could have your license.” I guess fun and games.
NB: There was no hospital in Castlegar for quite a while?
FF: There wasn’t any hospital. There was one doctor over in Robson. Everybody had to go to Trail or Nelson. It seemed we had to go into Nelson every time because all the wholesale places and warehouse were located in Nelson.
NB: Nelson was quite a busy area.
FF: Nelson was a very busy place. It seemed to be.
NB: Was there a fire department in the area?
FF: There wasn’t for many years, then finally they did buy an old truck that was fixed up and after a number of years, I joined the fire department and got quite involved and interested in working with the fire department. I learnt different courses and I went through the ranks and I ended up with Assistant Fire Chief for a while. I did put in 20 years with the volunteer fire department here in Castlegar and I feel that enough was enough. I had all night calls and I decided to give that up and live a more casual life and I did. I was busy working on construction travelling to Hydro jobs and Hydro asked me to be the Fire Chief on the Revelstoke Project and security which I looked after for the time I was up there. It is quite a change now, I still have a friend of mine that is a fire chief, Jerry Remple. I know him through his dad when they lived at Renata. It sure is a far cry from what we went through. We were just in the process of getting radios at the time when I quit. What was the difference, but the basics were still there. That was quite a change there. Your Public Works Department was certainly a big change and I don’t know if it is for the good or not. Not in my views, because there was too much off times in all their workings. We used to be able to go union. I don’t have anything against unions more or less, but you have to work to get the work done. It was very interesting to sit back and watch all these developments downtown and see different things that are getting people contractors from out of town and getting them locally. I still think you have to get the best shot for your dollar whether it is local or otherwise. I was watching the construction of the bridge. All you can do is hope they will be diverting traffic which is something unheard of. The town not having a second highway through their road allowance in emergencies; it is unreal. We have just been plain lucky. Fortunately we will have that remedied before too long. As of this interview, all I can say is I am still involved in many things in town. I am with the junior hockey,
NB: Good, we need people like that.
FF: The AA program, you name it. I am busy with volunteering.
FF: It is just nice to be here. Trying to think back many, many years, I am sure I could be here for the next two weeks.
NB: Thank-you very much for coming in and sharing your memoirs with us and your time is very much appreciated.