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Kimberley Families

The McKay Family


as told by son, Eugene

The business that the McKay family found themselves in, began with the demands of a fast growing community.

John and Ella McKay came from Nova Scotia. They were married in Springhill in 1898. Mary, their first child, was born in the fall of 1899. Mr. McKay followed the sign of the day, "Go west, young man" and came to Fernie in 1900. After the terrible fire in the mine at Coal Creek he went to Moyie in 1903, commencing work at the St. Eugene Mine. It was in 1907 that Mrs. McKay and daughter Mary came west to join him. The following year Johnny was born. During their years in Moyie, five more children were born: Eugene, Henry, Ella, Carey and Bar- bara.

With temporary closure of the St. Eugene Mine in 1918, Mr. McKay came to Kimberley to work in the Sullivan Mine. Mary came to live in Kimberley in 1919, following her marriage to Frank West, a shiftboss at the Sullivan Mine. They lived on the street now known as Boundary Street.

It was in October, 1921 that Mrs. McKay and the other children came to Kimberley. Travel was by train to Cranbrook and jitney to Kimberley. Mr. Hedley Macleod was owner of the jitney and the fare to Kimberley was twenty dollars.

Johnny and Henry travelled to Kimberley in a C.P.R. boxcar, with the furniture, the collie dog, the cat and one cow. An all-night layover in Cranbrook was necessary, as the mixed train to Kimberley was up one day and down the next, making it imperative someone tend to the animals. The cat, seemingly did not care for the idea of leaving Moyie, it disappeared the first time it was let out of doors. Three weeks later a very hungry cat was at the door of the vacant house. It is still a mystery how it found its way back there, having travelled in the box car all the way.

The only accommodation available at the time was the Ontario Hotel. Mrs. McKay rented the entire building and sub-let the space she didn't need.

Eugene was not a strong boy. At birth, he was not expected to live. It was only the perseverance of the conscientious mid-wife that pulled him through. As he grew older, the doctor insisted he have plenty of milk, hence the cow. The business venture referred to was the great demand for milk. With seven children of their own, they needed all the milk one cow was able to produce. Eight more cows were procured and a small dairy started. It eventually reached a herd of eighty to one hundred cows. Still the demand exceeded the amount produced. Thirty gallons a day had to be picked up in Cranbrook off the train, it being shipped in from nearby Mayook.

The McKays were able to purchase a block of land on the west side of the railroad tracks that lead to the Rockhouse at the Mine. To accom- modate the animals, the barn was built first. Milk was carried to the Hotel in buckets, to be bottled and delivered. From on the hill, where Selkirk School now stands, someone took a picture of Mrs. McKay, walking along the alley, with a bucket of milk in either hand. The family was told the picture was not for sale, nor were they given a copy.

When the McKays first came to Kimberley, Mr. Ben Keer from Marysville, four miles to the south, was delivering milk all the way to the Top Mine, using a team of horses and either a sleigh or wagon, depending on the season. Eugene remembers how everyone in the hotel would hang a lard pail on the verandah post outside, each family had its own nail. Mr. Keer would measure out quarts or pints from the large con- tiners, using the necessary grey enamel pitcher that hung on the side of the wagon.

Ella remembers when the Glen Cafe building was built in 1922, nearly across from the hotel - it is now the Parnell block. The Kopaks were the owner-operators of the building. The influx of men, who came for the construction of the Concentrator, were the roomers. Two of the men had contacted smallpox and were put in quarantine in the basement. Milk was an essential commodity and Ella was assigned to deliver it, with strict instructions to knock on the door and stand well back until the milk was taken in. No other cases developed in the community.

By the time the McKay Dairy was going, milk bottles were introduced as a more sanitary method of handling. This, of course, entailed proper vats to wash and scald the bottles daily. This was all done by hand. The entire family worked. The older members from dawn until long after dark, and the younger ones also had their assignments to carry out.

The home was ready to be moved into in 1923. At this time the Company was the one to see about water and electricity to the homes. There being no other families on this side of the track, the Company felt it was not feasible to put a waterline across the tracks. A standpipe was put in on the other side near where the present day Legion Hall is located. From this standpipe, water had to be carried for the cattle, the washing and scalding of the milk bottles, as well as for any laundry and all the home use. It was two years later that watermains were laid to the dozen homes that were eventually built there. Electricity had been installed across the tracks a year earlier.

Getting hay in quantity, also, had to be dealt with. The railway passed within a short distance of the dairy, which was convenient for awhile. Permission had to be granted by the officials of the C.P.R. to block the rail line for three hours while the boxcar was unloaded. When the Concentrator was started, the working hours at the Mine were changed to three shifts. This meant a greater number of trains ran between the Mine and Concentrator, one every half hour. It was now impossible to have the convenience of unloading the boxcar. It was put onto a sidetrack below the station, near where Fabco is now located. The unloading time remained the same.

The dairy herd was pastured around the area, sometimes near Eimer's farm, now part of Lower Blarchmont. Other times it was up back of the Concentrator. That is now the huge settling pond for the storing of the reclaimable iron tailings. Often it was as far out as Meadowbrook. This was done mainly by Eugene on foot. Later he acquired a horse which he took out before school and brought in again after school. Two hours milking time, morning and night, was often helped out by the many neighbourhood kids.

Before the Townsite was built up, many families lived at the Tunnel. The only way to get there was on the road to the North Star Mine, where you wended your way down to the area, or the much shorter route, a walk along the railroad to the Rockhouse, then across a narrow foot- bridge over Mark Creek. Heavy metal carriers were used to carry the bottles of milk to the twenty or so families living there.

In 1924, Mr. McKay was sent to Moyie to again work at the St. Eugene. It was about a year and a half later when he returned to Kimberley and decided to devote all his time to the dairy.

The serious, lengthy illness of Mrs. McKay in 1927 caused great concern to Dr. Green. He ad- vised the dairy must be sold. The last of the cattle was sold in 1928. Mrs. McKay passed away in 1939. She was a happy person and very well liked by all who had the pleasure of knowing her.

The family home was sold in 1945 and Mr. McKay moved to Marysville, into a small bachelor home near his daughter, Mary, who had, after being widowed in 1926, married Bill Bidder in the summer of 1927. In his aging years, Mr. McKay showed the after-affects of the rheumatism and arthritis he had had in his spine since 1922. He was badly bent over. It was just prior to 'Christmas in 1951 that Mr. McKay passed away.

When Henry married Florence Elkerton in 1935, he built a home on the property to the south of the family home. They had four sons: Allen, the eldest, lives on Wallinger Ave. Henry passed away in 1954.

Eugene built a home to the northwest side of the family home when he and Mary Merrifield married. With the threat of being flooded in 1948, they packed their possessions and moved into a tent on the property they owned in Marysville. Mary was expecting their third child at anytime and it was debatable whether they would get moved before she had to go into hospital. They have a living memory of May 24th - the worst day of the flood. Eugene and Mary lived in the tent for three months, until the basement of their home was ready to live in. From here they worked on the main part of the house. Four children graced their home: Eugenia Ann, the eldest daughter, lives on Trail Street. Eugene is now retired and enjoying his home and beautiful garden.

Johnny married Bee Wells and they lived in Upper Blarchmont before purchasing a house in Lois Creek. They had two sons: Burton, the eldest, was the optician here from 1971 until his untimely death in 1976. Warner works at the Mine and lives on the Townsite. Johnny worked as a dispatcher underground until ill health forced him to the sidelines. He passed away in 1956.

Mary and Bill Bidder had two daughters bringing their combined families to ten. Lydia makes her home at Pioneer Lodge. Louise is in Cranbrook, Dale (West) Honeyman lives in Chapman Camp. Ray West enlisted in the Second World War and he was the only boy from Marysville who was killed in action. Bill passed away in 1958, and Mary in 1965.

Carey lives in Gibsons, working at Port Melon. They have one daughter who married a grandson of former Marysville residents, the Dougalls.

Barbara and Joe Downey live in Cranbrook. They had two sons and two daughters. Joe was in partnership in Silver Ridge Sawmills Co. until it was sold a few years ago.

Eugene's sister, Ella, with her husband Bruce Waldie, has lived in Lower Blarchmont in the house they built prior to their marriage in 1937. They have five children.

The McKays came to Kimberley with seven children. How proud they would have been of their twentyfour grandchildren, fortyone greatgrandchildren and four great-great grandchildren!

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