Steve Jankola

Steve Jankola – Interviewed January 5th, 1994

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

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

SJ: Yes, I certainly will.

BW: Could I have your full name and correct spelling?

SJ: Yes, my full name is Steve Jankola. I was born in Phoenix, and I don’t mean Arizona. I mean Phoenix just outside of Grand Forks on May the 23rd, 1919.

BW: When did you move to Castlegar?

SJ: Well, the funny thing is we moved to Trail in 1919 because my dad worked at the mine in Phoenix and it collapsed, so he had to start working for Cominco. I went into the army in 1940 and when I came back for a visit my folks were living out here in Kinnaird. So, I’ve been here since 1946 when I got out of the army.

BW: Were you already married when you came here?

SJ: No, I got married here. I married a Crescent Valley girl.

BW: What is your wife’s name?

SJ: My wife’s name was Helen. (Helen died years ago.)

BW: How many kids did you have?

SJ: Three.

BW: All boys or all girls?

SJ: No, two boys and a girl. The funny thing is the girl is in Toronto working for the Royal Bank and my youngest son is working for Cominco and my oldest son is manufacturing speakers and sound equipment. He just moved from Vancouver and he is living in Genelle now.

BW: In Genelle?

SJ: That’s right.

BW: So, you’ve still got two here, then?

SJ: That’s right.

BW: So, you were on the Kinnaird council. How did you get involved with that?

SJ: Yes, they way I got involved with that is I was working for Cominco and I went to Kimberley and built an acid plant. I was there for a year and a half or two years, then I came back here. They had an election here and I decided to throw my name in the hat and, by golly, I got in. I was in Kinnaird when it was a village, then when it was a town, then when it went into amalgamation with Castlegar. So, I got on the council in Castlegar. After ten years in politics, I decided it was enough. My main object had been to get the sewers in Kinnaird and we got them. That’s when I quit.

BW: So, you seen a lot of changes in Castlegar, then?

SJ: A terrific amount of changes, not what it used to be.

BW: What do you remember was the biggest change?

SJ: Well, the biggest change, especially with councils, was we used to build things and pay as we went. You would never try to run a debt and we always tried to keep our taxes low. Believe it or not there was a lot of times in the winter when we were so short on funds the alderman would go and run the graders and the pay loaders to clean the streets. Can you see that being done these days?

BW: No. Was there a lot of change with the sewers and stuff when the dams went in?

SJ: Well, when the dams went in I think the north end of town had sewers with the lagoons down across the tracks by Waldie’s Mill where Waldie’s Mill used to be. Out here in Kinnaird we had septic tanks and they were big headaches so there weren’t too many changes. Then a lot of people come in but Cominco was still there big base at that time. Good God, the Co-op Transportation Society had, I think, about 8 or 9 busses. And I mean busses, Greyhound busses and stuff like that, plus a bunch of cars. They must have had about 10 or 12 cars, nine-passenger cars; that was our fleet here.

BW: I heard that there was more snow back then. Was it a problem to get back forth to Cominco?

SJ: Let’s put it this way, it seemed seasonal. There was a time, sure I remember the snow right here, when I could walk right off the roof onto a snow bank out on the driveway. But the next year there wasn’t any snow. I’ve seen it out here then there was no snow until January the 1st. So, it’s seasonal.

BW: Have you lived in this house ever since you got married?

SJ: No, I live with my parents. They were two doors down here and they had a little shack in the back, so when we got married we lived there. Then we built our own house here and I’ve lived here ever since.

BW: So, you built this house then?

SJ: Yes, that’s right. Those were to the days.

BW: And you worked for Cominco?

SJ: Yes, I worked for Cominco for forty-one years. I served my apprenticeship there and I worked there until I retired.

BW: Do you think the growth of Castlegar had been fast or relatively slow?

SJ: I’d say it’s relatively slow. It wasn’t too fast, I know at the time that we amalgamated we said that there were about ten thousand people here. I think somebody crossed up in their figures. I don’t think there was more than seven or eight thousand here just like there is now. And at that time I’d have sooner seen it go into a district municipality where we would have taken in Ootischenia, Robson, Castlegar and Kinnaird and made one great big place.

BW: What do you think they should change about Castlegar?

SJ: Right now, it’s a hard thing to say. There is all kinds of things but I wouldn’t want to commit myself.

BW: What would you have liked to have seen not change?

SJ: Not too much actually. The only thing I would like to have seen is our tax base. Instead of chasing the people out of town, why not keep them here? The old-timers here don’t make them move out of here, but they are making it so it’s impossible to stay. I say we should pay as we go whenever we build anything. If we can pay, we can afford it, but don’t put ourselves in debt.

BW: With the college coming in and all the people coming from everywhere, hasn’t that created more of a problem in your opinion?

SJ: No, I don’t think so. I think that’s been a real good thing, especially with all these students coming from out of town and the other countries. That’s a great big asset to this area. I firmly believe that, too.

BW: Did you ever take the train from here to Nelson?

SJ: Oh, that used to be a dandy, especially on New Year’s Eve. There always used to be a special train running from Trail to Nelson for the hockey game. After the hockey game, it came right back again with the train. I still think that they should have left the train here as a heritage. One of the organizations should have taken it over and run it on the weekends or something like that, especially from here to Grand Forks. To me that would have been a fantastic trip. Now, we’ve lost it all.

BW: What do you think is the biggest factor is Castlegar’s growth and the relationship with Trail?

SJ: Well, let’s face it, Castlegar is the hub of the Kootenays. The centre, it is the centre point between Castlegar, Grand Forks, Nelson, Nakusp and Trail. This is the hub and this is why I’m quite surprised that there hasn’t been more industry come here. But I think you’ll see them eventually as long as the politics don’t get too bad and we accept these people and don’t chase them out.

BW: Do you remember when the Sons of Freedom became active?

SJ: Do I ever because I was in the fire department here in Castlegar, in the north end. In fact, I was in it for thirty-one years. I remember one night the alarm went off and I went and took a look. We thought it was down at the plaza at first. Then we saw that it was across the river. So we decided that since we were up we might as well go over and see it. At that time there was a ferry so we got across the ferry and they stopped us and asked us where we were going. “Oh, firemen, well you guys go right ahead.” So we went across there and we could understand why they were stopping people. The R.C.M.P. said, “Good, we’re glad to see you guys,” and they put us to work. They were burning their own stuff down and blowing up tracks. That was something. But one good thing: they didn’t know how to use dynamite so they didn’t do too much damage.

BW: How did people get around in the winters when it was really snowing and how were the cars able to get around?

SJ: Believe it or not, they used to get around; I mean the Department of Highways used to do a fair job of cleaning the roads. Sure there were a couple of times that we couldn’t get to Trail to go to work, especially on that Trowlex hill. You just couldn’t make it. But within an hour or two, the Department of Highways had it cleared off.

BW: Has the road always been on that way?

SJ: Pretty well. Originally the road used to come from Genelle down on the river side below the track and come out at Fairview up that bank. But that was a great road. If there was a car coming, you waited at one end because there was only one-way traffic.

BW: If there was a car coming, could you see them?

SJ: Yes, you could pretty well see. Usually you used your horn to let somebody know that you were coming. But there’s been a lot of improvement in the roads. They have been terrific.

BW: They are talking about expanding the airport. Do you think they should?

SJ: Certainly, I think they should. That the only airport in the Kootenays. Everybody says you can’t land here but you talk to the pilots and it’s not that bad. I’ve seen them land here when they couldn’t land in Penticton and they couldn’t land in Cranbrook. But they landed here.

BW: Do you think there should be a new access road into Castlegar?

SJ: Definitely there should be. You’re talking about the north end?

BW: Yes.

SJ: Then definitely, especially with these chip trucks and even right here, through this end, there should be. But I don’t know, there’s all kinds of possibilities for places they can go through. In fact, over here, I don’t see why they don’t open 6th Avenue and use it for one-way traffic and use Columbia for one-way traffic. I’ve had to sit in my driveway for ten of fifteen minutes just to try and get out.

BW: I guess that’s different from when you first came then?

SJ: Oh, you’re not kidding. You didn’t see cars for a long time.

BW: Were there many houses around here when you first came here?

SJ: Well, when my folks first came here there were two houses. In fact, where that plaza parlour is, next door to it, that big building, that was the school house for the kids. Then the Kinnaird Hall, that was built by the community, all the people here, and they had some fabulous times there. They had dances in the hall; it was really nice. I hate to see it going to a union hall now because I was sure (I was a council member at the time) that when they decided to turn it over to the city on the condition that it never be sold but left as a community hall. Somewhere down the line, I don’t know the agreement; everything was lost so the present council decided they should sell it.

BW: What was downtown Castlegar?

SJ: Originally there was a community hall down there where the present Co-op garage is. That used to be a big community hall. They used to have an outdoor skating rink out there; it was beautiful out there at one time but, like I said, those were the days. Where the present drug store is, that used to be a garage and taxi. Nick Oswald used to own that. And then where the police station is going now, that used to be Doctor Gresky’s clinic, house and clinic and real estate office. If you went to see Gresky, it was a question about buying property or if you were sick. If you were buying property, boy, you got served right now.

BW: So, you were saying that you were a volunteer in the fire department?

SJ: That’s right. In fact, I organized it. We had it organized when we first moved out here and there was about 20 to 25 people in the area. We canvassed them; we got five dollars apiece from them and built a fire hall just out by the community hall. And then we got an air raid siren from Trail. In fact, the siren we got is still up here in Kinnaird.

BW: Do you remember the old R.C.M.P. office?

SJ: Oh, yes, Taburt used to be the magistrate there.

BW: Was there much crime in those days?

SJ: No, there wasn’t that much, not like at the present.

BW: What is your favourite memory?

SJ: From the old days?

BW: Yes.

SJ: That one is a hard one to pinpoint actually. There are all kinds of things that used to be good. I used to like the fellowship. Like, you take right here in Kinnaird, people would be building a house just about every Saturday and we had a work party and would go pour basements. There would be fifteen to twenty guys with wheel barrows out there and they’d mix in those days. You used the old cement mixers. That used to be a lot of fun. You don’t see that now anymore.

SJ: Do you think people were a lot friendlier then?

BW: They were a lot more friendlier then and, I don’t know, they seemed to take a lot of interest in each other.

BW: When they moved the train station to where it is now, did you think it was a good idea?

SJ: Yes, I think that was a very, very good idea.

BW: Have you been down there?

SJ: Oh yes. In fact, the Lion’s Club donated a lot of the lumber that went into that.

BW: We’re restoring the old jail house right now.

SJ: That’s right. There was something in there that we were going to get the C.P.R. to donate one of the old diner cars and a car, a caboose, and the tracks and ties, and we were going to set it up in there. And that was turned down by the Society at that time?

BW: Well, I think what the problem was is that we didn’t have the tracks sitting there and somebody backed out because they didn’t like the agreement that the C.P.R. wanted or something. I’m not too sure on that but the money apparently is still there.

SJ: Well, as far as I knew the C.P.R. was willing to donate this to them and they were going to give us a hand to put the tracks in. But what our idea was to eventually make that diner car into a coffee shop so that would have gone really nice there. And right now they are getting rid of all that stuff and you won’t be able to get it so, I don’t know.

BW: Well, we’re restoring the old jail right now and we would be interested in your opinion of it. We are just waiting to find some bars for it now.

SJ: Well, don’t forget that was a jail and a courthouse and everything in there. Alex Bordula, he was the policeman there at that time. He was pretty good. When I was on Civil Defence here, we organized the first Auxiliary Police in B.C. We had about fifteen or twenty here and we got them all a uniform. I’ve got a uniform that I will donate to them, too, to put in there.

BW: I’m sure the Society will appreciate that.

SJ: Corporal McDowell was in charge of it and back in those days it was a very good jail. In fact, we had two ladies who took it and after they took it they used it to escort female prisoners to Vancouver. But they were on the road quite a bit and, in fact, one of the finally quit because her husband was giving her hell because she was away too long. But I think that you guys are doing a fantastic job there and I hope you carry it on, too, and I’m glad to see that the City finally has been agreeing with you guys. For a while there seemed to be a little bickering on that, but I’m glad to see they’re going ahead with it.

BW: Well, thank you very much. I think that’s about all the questions I have for you and I really appreciate you taking the time out to answer them.

SJ: Oh, that’s no problem. I might have some pictures; when I find them I’ll drop them off down there for you.

Interviewed by Bonnie Ward