Gilbert Fowler

Gilbert Fowler – Interviewed in 1994

My name is Nicole; I am the researcher for the Castlegar and District Heritage Society. It is the hope of the Society that by recording interviews with the pioneers and those familiar with the history of our area, the society will create a permanent historical record for all to enjoy.

Would you consent to be interviewed by me on this basis?

GF: Yes, I would.

BW: First of all, I need your full name and correct spelling.

GF: Gilbert Fowler. G-I-L-B-E-R-T- F-O-W-L-E-R

BW: What year were you born?

GF: 1910.

BW: Where were you born?

GF: Nelson, B.C.

BW: What year did you come to Castlegar?

GF: 1939

BW: How old were you when you came to Castlegar?

GF: 18.

BW: Were you already married?

GF: No, I was 29 when we came to Castlegar. Yes, we were married. May 1939.

BW: How many kids did you have?

GF: We didn’t have any.

BW: What were things like in Castlegar when you first came here?

GF: There was very little here in ’39. The pavement was just put in from Trail to Castlegar. We were working for Cominco in Trail. The Trail employees were moving out to Castlegar and building their houses here.

BW: Was there more room here than in Trail?

GF: There was fresh air, and you could have you on little garden. It was a lot nicer to live in Castlegar than living in Trail. They formed this Co-op Transportation, which was an item that had people moving out here. We got a seven-passenger Plymouth and nine men would go to work in that car, and nine men would bring it home. They worked three shifts, so the cars were full both ways all the time. The Castlegar Co-op, there is a story that should be told, too. When I came out and a lot of the other Cominco men came out here because there was good transportation formed by the number of men. Gus Detrich, Nels Hanson, Loi Watson, and Bob McGee formed the Castlegar Co-op Transportation System. We had three cars when I came, but the men kept moving out from Trail and we needed more cars so we all mortgaged our houses and bought new seven-passenger Plymouth cars and after Brian took a dozen of those and still getting more passengers, we bought a thirty-passenger bus and then the transportation grew from there.

BW: When did they stop running the transportation?

GF: It is still going, not as much. Now these new cars run good gas mileage; they run their own cars. Castlegar was just starting to grow up when I came out here. They just formed a water system. The town was just subdivided into lots. You could buy a lot for $30.00 in 1939. There was no pavement on the streets and Main Street and Maple Street were pretty dusty from cars going back and forth. There weren’t many cars in those days. In 1939 I think there were only four cars in Castlegar.

BW: Whenever a car went by, you knew who it was then?

GF: Yeah, we had a little Chev. roadster. My wife being a nurse, the little car went out on quite a number of missions in the middle of the night. Someone going to have a baby or someone had to go to the doctor.

BW: She worked in the hospital in Trail.

GF: Yes, we had the one doctor here, Dr. Goresky. When someone was having a baby he used to send the husband around for Alice to come and help him with the delivery.

BW: When they built a hospital here in Castlegar, did she come and work in the Castlegar one?

GF: No, she never worked in the Castlegar hospital. She used to drive that road winter and summer to Trail.

BW: Was it a lot harder to get through on the roads?

GF: We didn’t have as good roads. Genelle bluffs were really narrow and icy. Oasis used to be the narrow bluffs along in there, too. So, the roads have really improved since those days.

BW: It never bothered her to drive that every morning?

GF: No, it never did.

BW: Gee, that would scare me. Do you remember when the dam was put in? What kind of difference did that make?

GF: The High Arrow Dam? The only difference it made to Castlegar was the number of employees that they had. There was a lot construction and people moved to Castlegar to work on the dam. They got settled here and stayed here while they went and worked on other construction jobs like the Revelstoke damn and the Pendoreille so that is something that made Castlegar grow. Construction workers settled here.

BW: Was Celgar here before the dam went in?

GF: Yes, Celgar Pulp mill and the sawmill were both here before the dam was put in. When I came here the Waldie Sawmill was across the river. Celgar bought it and tore it down and built their own mill on Westly.

BW: What was downtown Castlegar?

GF: West’s store, another little store where Bob’s Pay and Take It was, there was just a little store there. That new building was built right over top of the old store. That store that the health food people are in, Max and Brian Brown, that has been built since I came here in ’39. Across the street, those store have all been built since ’39. When you go up the other way on that street, those buildings weren’t there in ’39. They have all been built since. The Neos’ house used to sit out in front of the doctor’s office. You move around the corner and there’s an apartment house there now. You know the little store that the Salvation Army is in, well behind that sat an apartment house. Well, that was Eremenko’s house. It sat right in front of the doctor’s office. There wasn’t even a street there so they moved that and opened the street up.

BW: It is hard to believe that things have changed that much. What was over where the plaza is now?

GF: Nothing. It was just a ranch; there was just one house that was there. Frank Kreegan bought it. He lived there. Woodland Park was a little farm down there. Patty Kougan sold that out and subdivided it into lots.

BW: Do you remember what year it was when they put did put that plaza in there?

GF: No, I really don’t.

BW: How long was the train station downtown in operation? From the time that you got here, anyway.

GF: Probably about 1908. They had a railroad from Trail to Robson. Then they had barges to take the train and cars across the river, then they had a railroad down to Trail to the smelter. That is the way they operated until they built the bridge.

BW: I didn’t realize that. You grew up in Nakusp then?

GF: Yes.

BW: Did you finish school?

GF: I left Nakusp and I went down into Moscow, Idaho, and I took a mechanics course. I came back to Trail and worked in a garage in Trail for four years. The men up at Cominco were making more money than me. They worked for 15 days on and then 5 days off. I was working pretty well every day of the month. So, I left the garage and went there.

BW: So, you decided you liked that better, then.

GF: Five days off sounded pretty good to me.

BW: It was just like a holiday after every 15 days. They don’t work it like that now, do they?

GF: Yes, think they do.

BW: What year did you retire?

GF: 1970

BW: What did you do for work after you finished at Cominco?

GF: Well, I was on a tugboat here for a couple of years. I went to work at the C.P.R. station down there.

BW: Oh really? That’s where I work now.

GF: I worked there for 15 years. I was assistant agent for the C.P. Express and then they decided to start the services. They built that building at the back, and notice that building around the outside of the C.P.R. yard, they built that. There was merchandise services they moved over there. Then they closed that down, then they went to Trail and Tadanac.

BW: Did you live in the same house for most of the time?

GF: No, I bought a frame of a house across from the theatre. I bought that when I first came out here and finished it off myself. It was just the outside frame, no partitions or floors or anything in there. I finished that myself. I built it into three apartments and we rented it out for years. We started this trailer park and hauled all my tools out here to work on this and haul back there. We decided to move out here so I wouldn’t have to haul my equipment back and forth. My wife liked it so much out here; there’s a beautiful view. The river down below there and Selkirk College and the airport, so we decided to stay out here and we sold the house downtown. The trailer park is easier to look after than the apartments with the renters you get nowadays. I think that is about all I can think of.

BW: Well, thank you very much for agreeing to let me interview you.

Interviewed by Bonnie Ward