Rene Archambault

Rene Archambault – Interviewed December 16, 1993

My name is Bonniw Ward; 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?

RA: Yes.

BW: First of all, I would like your full name and the correct spelling.


BW: What year were you born?

RA: 1923

BW: Were you born in Castlegar?

RA: No, back east.

BW: What year did you come to Castlegar?

RA: I first came to Castlegar in 1946.

BW: How old were you when you came?

RA: To Castlegar? I was twenty-three.

BW: Were you already married?

RA: Yes.

BW: Where did you meet your wife?

RA: Vancouver.

BW: Did you grow up together?

RA: No, I was working in Trail before that and I left my wife in Vancouver and I was working at St. Paul’s hospital, a boilermaker and she was a nurses’ aide. Then I left from there and then I came back in 1944 and then we got married in 1945.

BW: How many kids did you have?

RA: Six.

BW: Six! And they’re all still living around here?

RA: They’re all coming home next week but none are around here. They haven’t been together for about twenty years. Not all together.

BW: That will be nice, then. What did you do for work when you first came out here?

RA: When I first came here I was working for Cominco.

BW: I heard that you were Fire Chief for a while.

RA: Yes, I started out as Fire Chief. It was called Kinnaird then and then after the amalgamation I became chief. I was Fire Chief for about twenty-five years.

BW: That must have been an interesting job

RA: I was in the department for about thirty-some-odd years. I was retired in 1981.

BW: Were you on any of the City Council Boards?

RA: No, I was on the Recreation Commission. Insert from Mrs. Archambault – We kept pretty busy. It was all a volunteer fire department.

BW: I guess that you have seen a lot of changes in Castlegar then.

RA: Yes, there wasn’t anything in this area when we came here except one little house. There was nothing in this area.

BW: You lived in this house since you came here?

RA: Yes, I built this house.

BW: You did a good job this is a nice house.

RA: It’s big enough. We bought the lot in 1945 and then I started to build in 1946.

BW: So you have had everyone just pop up around you then?

RA: It used to be a regular routine around here on Saturday morning. You have to have somebody to pour your cement for a new house. There was a lot of cooperation I tell ya. Life was different than it is today, but it was good.

BW: With all of those kids it must have been hard to keep track of them.

RA: They weren’t so bad. Then I worked for the City a little bit. Pretty near of volunteer, too, on that end until it was amalgamated. It was the Village then. I chopped all the trees down for Mile Stone Road. I bought this property originally from Dr. Goeresky; I went to his office. It’s where the Bank of Montreal is now. That was his office. Anyway, I went to see him and I was into his office and there were a half a dozen patients in there and he stuck his head out of his room and, “Paul,” he says, “did you has an appointment?” I said no, I was interested in some property. Come on in he says and I told him about this lot. “Sure,” he said and we went out back to have a look at it and he told me about all the property they were going to divide.

BW: So, he owned all this property?

RA: Yes, he owned a lot of this property. At that time I think that I paid $400.00 for this property from the road right to the railroad track.

BW: That’s not much!

RA: No, not for what it is now. They were divided into an acre and a third so you could build under the D.V.A. and you needed just over an acre to be able to build on land. That’s why there were lots like this, so that the veterans could build.

BW: When the area got my populated, did crime go up?

RA: No, it wasn’t too bad really. There was hardly any except the Russians, you know the Sons of Freedom. I was Fire Chief at the time and I had a lot of problems there.

BW: Bill Waldie mentioned something about the Robson Co-op. They had burned it down three times or so.

RA: Wasn’t there a car that blew up on 6th Ave.? They were going down to set a bomb at the Post Office. I got called in on that, too.

BW: That must have been a sight to see.

RA: One was killed and I had to take him to the hospital.

BW: Do you remember when they put the dam in?

RA: Oh yes, you mean the Hugh Keenleyside. I used to spend days up there fishing. It has sure changed a lot. I knew every creek that came into that lake, I used to go and spend four days there without coming home, just fishing up there. It was great fishing.

BW: You can’t find spots like that anymore.

RA: Not like that, no, although I think that the trout and char fishing is not as good as it used to be, but I think the kokanee fishing in the Arrow Lakes is better. I still do a lot of fishing.

BW: You go have to go up past the dam for that.

RA: Yes, past the dam.

BW: My parents fish for trout past the dam.

RA: Where do you live?

BW: Co-op Apartment.

RA: I remember them being built. I inspected them.

BW: So, you had a hand in that, too, then.

RA: Yes, and the Kinnaird Hall and the old swimming pool. They built the pool after Bob Brandson drowned.

BW: Was Ootischenia all settled in with Doukhobours when you came here?

RA: Oh yes. There was just the old house over there, the old Doukhobour houses and there were no modern house like today, and the only way to get there was to go around by the old bridge.

BW: You mean the one under the Brilliant Bridge?

RA: Yes, that was the only way to get there. You used to go across on the ferry, then back, I can’t remember if the bridge was built before the dam or not.

BW: No, I think the dam was built first.

RA: You know, though things have really changed, there was no houses down below? No, there was nothing and none up above. The only houses were on Columbia Avenue.

BW: Dr. Johnson lives up there by the school (Kinnaird).

RA: There was no road. You could go up a trial, but there wasn’t anyone living there.

BW: Did you have many problems with forest fires around here?

RA: Not a lot. We had some, but I remember when I was in the Fire Department we had a fire up above, but nothing really serious. I remember when Mt. Sentinel was on fire. That was a big one.

BW: How long ago was that?

RA: 30 years ago at least.

BW: Did anyone know how it started?

RA: I think it was someone trying to clean up some brush just above the old school there, Pass Creek School.

BW: So, were you Fire Chief of the whole area?

RA: Not Robson, just Castlegar. After Castlegar and Kinnaird was amalgamated, then a couple years after.

BW: So, Robson had their own?

RA: Robson didn’t have one. They started after. About 12-14 years after that, they started to build a fire hall. He retired from the fire hall because they wanted a full-time fire chief and he didn’t want to give up his pension he had too many years at Cominco. It was too much to look after both places as a volunteer and work full-time. You would get called in the middle of the night for fires but Cominco was very good. They always knew if there was a fire or something like that you know. If you were late for work and you had something to do with the fire, they didn’t say too much about it. Cominco was really good to the community in those days. More so than they are today, but things change.

BW: Did you have a car when you started working at Cominco?

RA: Yes, I had a car; I had to have a car living out here. The road wasn’t that great, not from Trail in those days, when I first moved here.

BW: You didn’t have to take the bus or anything?

RA: To work?

BW: Yes.

RA: Oh Yes, we started the Co-op Transportation Society. I don’t think it’s any better today than it was then, but you know in those days it was tougher getting to work because we used to get more snow than we do now. And the roads weren’t quite as ploughed as they are today. It was an experience going to work everyday in the winter months.

BW: I guess sometimes you didn’t make it to work.

RA: No, I always made it. The odd time maybe I was a little late, but I never missed a day and I worked for Cominco for 43 years.

BW: Was there a lot of trains coming through here at one time?

RA: Oh yes, there used to be a passenger train everyday, and that used to be the way you’d go to Vancouver, take the train from Castlegar. We used to take the train to Nelson or when there was a hockey game on. But that was when I was living in trail. And we used to have our company picnics out there. That was a long time ago. That was before I went into the army.

BW: Did you go overseas when you were in the army?

RA: Yes, I was with the Royal Highlanders.

BW: You got to see some different countries, then?

RA: Oh yes, I was on the continent I believe it was in June, then got wounded in October and came back home in December.

BW: Then it’s good that you came back home.

RA: Yes.

BW: Were you involved at all with helping to move the old train station?

RA: No, I was here then but I didn’t take part in it at all.

BW: Where exactly did they move it from, do you know?

RA: Well, it was just over from where it is now, about 30 or 40 yards. It was right beside where the railroad is now. There was the station, the platform, and the railroad and that’s where it was.

BW: How long ago did you retire?

RA: Oh, it’s been about 13 or 14 years since I retired from the Fire Department.

BW: But did you enjoy being Fire Chief?

RA: I didn’t mind it, you know, it was something to do. Until the end, then it got to be too much work because I had a full-time job at Cominco, believe me. I was the supervisor in maintenance and I used to get called out a lot at night. Then I’d come back and get called out on a fire. It really got to be too much, especially when you get older.

BW: Where did you go to school?

RA:I went to school in Creston, I went to high school in Creston, then I came out here into Trail first in 1940. Then I came out to work for Cominco in 1941, and then I left and went into the army.

BW: So, what did you do for entertainment? Or did you have time for it?

RA: In those days, I had lots of stuff to do. Well, I used to play ball, and play hockey I liked to go hiking, and fishing. And I coached ball out here, I had three boys and three girls and when you have kids, you’ve got to play ball.

BW: How long was the old drive-in there before they closed it down?

RA: I don’t remember just how long it was there. I remember going there a few times, but it’s been closed down for about 10 years now, I think. But they had to close it for a while every spring anyway because the water would come up so high that it was up to the top of the speaker stands, so they had to close it down until the water went down again. That was before they built the dams, you see.

BW: Do you have any brothers or sisters living around here?

RA: Well, my brother was here he was my younger brother, and he died two years ago. I have an older brother that was here he works for the City and he’s on the Island now. Then I had another older brother and he died.

BW: And where were your parents from?

RA: Québec, they came out here in 1934 and before that were living in Manitoba. I was born in Ontario.

BW: What is your favourite memory?

RA: I remember being this time of the year the fire department used to have some real dandy Christmas Eve dances over in the hall. That was always a good time, and then New Year’s Eve dances. But you know the cooperation was different in those days. People already knew everybody in town. You never had an address. You already knew where they lived.

BW: Was there a lot of orchards over there?

RA: Well, there was more than there is now. I’ll tell you where there were a lot of orchards was up in Renada. We used to go up there and pick cherries all the time, but when the dam came in it all got flooded out.

BW: How much did you have to pay for a big box of apples?

RA: A dollar probably. Couldn’t have cost more than that.

BW: Wow, that’s not very much.

RA: No, it’s not. And then we used to go camping up at Deer Park every weekend with the kids, and coming back on Sunday night. We had to wait for about three ferry loads before we could get across to the other side. Sometimes we never got home until ten or eleven o’clock at night.

BW: Was that before they put Syringa in?

RA: Yes, it was

BW: So, then, where did everyone go camping?

RA: Oh, we had a campsite up at Deer Park, and it was a good spot, it wasn’t an official campsite like they are today but it was crown land.

BW: Was they a lot of food stores in town?

RA: Not a lot of stores, you used to have to go to Trail or Nelson to do most of your shopping. Woolworths was there, and Erimenkos was that little store across the bridge over by where the old Castlegar News was. Erimenko had a little store in there, then they built another where Fields is now I believe. And then out here in Kinnaird there was Trischuck’s where Chicken Time is that used to be a grocery store.

BW: Was IGA there?

RA: Oh no, that came after, and then the service station was there. The fire hall used to be right where the community hall is. And the fire hall in Castlegar was right across the street from West’s where that vacant lot is in there.

BW: And what about the R.C.M.P.? Where were they?

RA: They were down by where they are building the new bridge now, I believe the Heritage Society wants to hold onto that now don’t they?

BW: Yes, they’ve moved it over beside the train station now and they are restoring it.

RA: Well, that used to be our police station.

BW: How many policemen did they have in town?

RA: Oh, I think there was only one at that time. Have you talked to Steve Jankola?

BW: No, I have him on my list but I haven’t been able to get a hold of him yet.

RA: Well, he was out here before we were, so he could probably tell you a few things.

BW: I have one more question for you. What would you have liked to have seen not change around here?

RA: Well, I think the dam. Everyone else wanted it but not me. That’s something I could have lived without although it was great for flood control, but it changed the lake so much.

BW: You liked the lake the way it was before?

RA: Yes, the way it was before is the way I liked it. But you got to go with the times.

BW: Well, thank you very much for allowing me to come here and interview you today.

RA: You’re welcome.

Interviewed by Bonnie Ward