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Kimberley Families

The James Family


as told by son Les (Sparky)

George James was born in a village ,called Patchway in Glouestershire, England, in 1876. He left school at age eleven to work on a farm for a year and then drove a horse and delivery wagon for a baker. He had many varied jobs before he married Annie Bidder of Bristol. Times were not easy in England and a few years later, a letter from Annie's brother, Bill Bidder, in Marysville, B.C., changed their lives.

George came out to investigate in March of 1906 and got work at the smelter. He bought a small log house and furnished it with second hand furniture for $30.00. Annie and his two-year-old son Les joined them in September of 1907.

A year later the smelter closed down and George went to work as a flunky at Taylors Lumber Camp at Mayook. Occasionally, in the evenings, one of the sawmill hands would play a violin for entertainment, accompanied by another on an auto harp. George loved music so bought an auto harp and spent many hours practicing and singing.

It was about this time the Taylors purchased the Gaskell Lumber Mill at Kimberley and George came to work there, where his family could be with him. One evening he heard a man play a mouth organ and a guitar at the same time, so George got himself a similar set-up, along with an instruction book on how to play the guitar. He would practice for hours and he later added a bass drum. This was to become a "One Man Band" and he was soon playing for parties and dances all over the area. His first big dance was a masquarade ball in 1913 in the Falls View Hotel in Marysville. At many a function he was the sole entertainer and Sparky can remember the many dances he played for, as far back as the ones held in the Falls View Hotel and Handley's Hall in Marysville. The pool table would be covered with coats and was used as a bed for the small children that accompanied their parents. They would sleep while the dancing was going on. Sparky was one of these.

During the dismantling of the smelter at Marysville. George became a one-man police force. Sparky was about eight years old and an incident comes to mind when his father was out of town. Sparky knew that when a man was so drunk that he was thrown out of the bar, he was to be arrested and put in jail. Sparky managed this with no trouble, as the old boy knew his rights, he was to be given an ounce of whiskey every few hours until he sobered up, also a warm bed to sleep in.

George James, One-Man-Band.

George next worked with the Forestry for six years and this covered a good-sized area, from Canal Flats to the St. Marys Lake Valley as well as the Perry Creek district. Along with this job, he took up a homestead on the Pighin road for a few years.

In 1921 he was working as an axman for the Company when they were clearing the McDougall Townsite and the site for the Concentrator. While it was being built, George served as a bull cook and worked for Bill Green and Sid Johnston for the next seven years, beginning in 1922. It was his job to sweep and clean the fiftysix rooms that housed five men each. The Company had built bunkhouses to accommodate two hundred and twentyfour men, but suddenly there were four hundred and fifty. George had to find rooms for all the incoming workers. They were sleeping under trees and in tents until a large building, that could house one hundred men was erected. This was nicknamed the "Ram Pasture".

The Company made some changes in the cookhouse in 1922 and the eight flunkies were replaced by waitresses. The flunkies could get higher wages working on the construction. George and his wife were asked to act as chaperones and to live in the same building as the girls were housed. Waitresses changed frequently, as the girls quickly met many single men and many fell in love and were married after short romances.

In 1924, the Company began building permanent homes in Chapman Camp and George was one of the first to choose a lot. The James family moved into their new home in December of 1925.

By 1929, George was employed as loader and weightman in the loading shed where he worked for the next twelve years. The Company was shipping lead and zinc in open railway cars to the smelter at Trail and it was his job to weigh them and level off the cars so that too much concentrate would not be carried away by wind. An average day was 400 tons of lead and the same of zinc. He retired in 1941 but continued as a security guard for the duration of the war. Annie had passed away in 1939.

Sparky started school in Marysville in 1912. He remembers one teacher in particular, a Jim King, who had a unique way of teaching. He would line the kids up against the board and start asking questions, if the answer was correct, that pupil went to the head of the row. This continued until all questions on that subject had been answered, and everyone knew that the kids at the end of the row didn't know their lessons.

Sparky played softball for the Chapman Camp team in his younger days and he has enjoyed the sport of curling since 1923. He hasn't missed a bonspiel and has taken part in twenty B.C. spiels and twenty-two Butterfly Bonspiels over the years.

He has worked at the Concentrator for all of his forty-four years with the Company. He married Jean Ryckman of Creston in 1940 and they have one son, Bob, a graduate of Simon Fraser University. Bob is presently working in the Mine on the pipe gang. He married Kelly Wachter from Victoria, a stenographer in the T.V. office in Kimberley.

Sparky still resides in the house that was built for his parents.

George James used to write articles for the local newspaper and has had a book published of his life in the East Kootenay "My Four Score Years".

Les (Sparky) James.

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