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Kimberley Families

The Dickson Family
as told by Ruth

In 1910, Mr. and Mrs. John Dickson came from Montreal with their three children: John, Ruth and Olive. Mr. Dickson had been a cutter in a clothing house in Montreal.

They made a brief three week stop at Grassy Lake, Alberta, but did not like it there, so came on to Wattsburg (Lumberton) which is now a ghost town. They were there barely a year when they moved to St. Marys Prairie, onto property owned by Mr. Herb McClure. It had formerly belonged to a Mr. McDermit.

They lived for a short time at Wycliffe before the bridge was built over St. Marys River, the bridge at the St. Eugene Mission was used until the one at Wycliffe was erected, around 1912.

They moved to Kimberley in 1918,and lived in an unpainted house in the vicinity of the Taylor Mill site, on Sullivan Creek.

The Mine was really beginning to expand by this time. Son John worked as a motorman and a miner. The Sullivan Mine tunnel was only a mile long at this time and Ruth remembers the whole family going in as far as the face to see what it was like. After that they ran into extremely wet conditions and the workers wore double slickers and high rubber boots, but still came off duty soaked to the skin. They figured there was an underground watercourse someplace.

In 1923,Mr. Dickson built a house of their own just behind Handley's Hall on Wallinger Ave. Just one street over was the Hedley Macleod house. Near this was a little log house that was claimed to be the first one built in Kimberley proper. Both are torn down now to make room for modern business buildings.

On the corner of Deer Park and Howard Streets stood the first Rexall Drug Store, now the Canadian Hotel parking lot. This store was owned and operated by Norman Burdett and in one corner was a wicket which represented the Bank of Montreal.

In 1919, a young man, J. J. O'Neill, came to work for Mr. Burdett. He came from Labasheeda, County Clare, Ireland. Mr. O'Neill had studied to be a druggist in Innis, Ireland, before coming to Canada. He worked as a purser on a boat in the Yukon and, for a short time, for R. R. Burns in Vancouver before arriving in Kimberley.

Margaret and John Dickson.

One evening in 1919, Mrs. Grace MacLeod had a party in her home and started to introduce the stranger, Mr. O'Neill, to her guests. Just before she reached Ruth Dickson, she had to excuse herself and never finished the introduction, so Ruth tells everyone she was never properly introduced to the young man that later became her husband. They were married in 1922. Over the years they had four children.

Mr. O'Neill started his own drug store in 1924, in what used to be the old Post Office on Spokane Street, and is now Weir's Flower Shop. His dispensary was the small space now used as the entrance to the stairway leading above Fred's Store. The next year he moved to a place on Deer Park, between Crowe's Grocery, now Macleods Store, and a clothing store run by Woodlock and Rutherford. He stayed there until 1943,when he moved to the center of the main business block on Spokane Street.

He was often referred to as Doctor O'Neill. Many people who didn't have time to see a medical doctor would drop in and ask what to do for this or that, and he would advise them and invariably his diagnosis was accurate.

He was a chain smoker and everyone who knew him, saw him with a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth, never having time to flick off the ash. People wondered how he could talk to them and still not lose the ash which was often longer than the remaining cigarette.

In 1920, Mr. and Mrs. Dickson rented a square mile of lake shore property on the south end of St. Marys Lake, just over the bridge. They built a summer cottage, a kitchen and screened-in dining area. This was the first tourist accommodations anywhere around. Then in 1934, they purchased eighty acres about half way up the lake on the near side. This used to belong to Paul Handley, later owned by Tom Caldwell and Dick Burke. For some unknown reason this property still has two titles. Since Mr. and Mrs. Dickson died, Ruth inherited the property. Today both the logging road and the power line are on it, plus a few summer cabins.

Ruth remembers an incident in connection with the big fire that swept over the North Star Mountain and threatened the town in 1919. They had been told they must evacuate and Mr. Tom Summers was coming to pick them up. Ruth didn't want to leave as her father was away fighting the fire, but her mother gave orders to put the cat in a sack, tie a rope on the dog and gave Ruth the axe to cut off the chickens' heads. Suddenly the wind changed and drove the fire away from the town and Ruth was spared the task of killing the chickens. Olive's recollection of the fire was an episode up town. Dick Burke had a small confectionery and he kept asking what the situation was. Finally he was advised to evacuate, so he started doling out ice cream cones and bags of candy to everyone in sight. Naturally Olive was on hand to get her share.

Jack O'Neill passed away in 1953 and for seven years Ruth carried on a small business, but gave up the drug dispensing. The upstairs was used as a rooming house. She still owns the building.

Jack was a very community-minded person as well as being a sports enthusiast. He was instrumental in raising the funds for the first arena, the golf course and the curling rink. Many people will recall his generosity, especially during the depression years. He helped many needy families who needed drugs and could not afford them.

His wife tells an amusing story about one summer when she and the family were up at the lake. He did not want her to come home, but after a few weeks she came down with a friend only to discover he was building a boat in the house. Good thing she did come down, for if he had completed it, they would have had to remove the roof to get it out. It was dubbed O'Neill's Folly. It didn't even float.

Once while wearing a brand new suit, he went hunting with a friend in a small punt. When the punt capsized, they were dunked in the water and Jack came home with his trousers shrunk almost to his knees.

On the corner of Wallinger and Howard, the first Sacred Heart Catholic Church was built in 1922.Although it wasn't finished in time for Jack and Ruth to be married there, they did attend the first mass which was held on the return from their honeymoon. This church later became the Presbyterian Church after the present Sacred Heart Church was built on the hill overlooking the business section of Kimberley.

Before Don Revie started his Star Stages to and from Cranbrook, there were three Jitneys out of Kimberley, one operated by Paul Handley, one by Hedley MacLeod and another by P. Louis.

People made their own entertainment in those days, with dances in Summers Hall located above the store which had an outside stairway. Mrs. Dickson was an accomplished pianist and played for dances, concerts and evening singsongs, and also played for different church services. She was a very talented and versatile woman. One year a teacher in Marysville had to leave before her term was up, so Mrs. Dickson filled in for a few months. She was co-ordinator for the Red Cross during the war and gave piano lessons and coached soloists preparing for con- certs.

Christmases were real community affairs. Handley's Hall would be filled to capacity and after a concert, every child in town would receive a gift from the huge tree, handed out by Santa himself.

Jack and Ruth's children are Marnie, Jack, Mona and Jimmy. Marnie married Herb Sullivan and they have three children. They now reside in Kelowna. Jack has eight children and they live in Kamloops. Mona married Max Sykes, who has been the administrator for the Kimberley Hospital for many years and they have eight children. Jimmy works at the PUlp Mill and they have three daughters.

Ruth lives alone in the house on Thompson Street, but with two of her children and her many grandchildren in town, she manages very well. She is still active in community affairs. Her sister, Olive, Mrs. Grennie Musser, is also a busy person with all her activities.

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