This function appeared in print in News from the Ark of Peace’ spring 2022
Every time Alex Matches smells freshly baked bread, his mind travels back through the decades to the White Rock that once was, in the late 1930s and 1940s.
He can still feel the warmth of the glorious and seemingly endless summers of his childhood, when every hour from sunrise to sunset was filled with delights and new wonders.
As a boy, he and his little sister Shirley traveled from Vancouver by train each summer, with their parents, Jack and Catherine, to stay with Catherine’s mother and father in the East Beach section of White Rock.
The Mayors, Alex and Mary had a summer cabin – named Clydebank, after their former home in Scotland – on the corner of Maple Street and Victoria Avenue, a stone’s throw from Washington Avenue (as Marine Drive was once called) .
“Just across the street on Victoria was a motor court where people were taking summer rentals,” recalls Matches, 87.
Also across the street lived Sgt. Bill Moffat of Surrey City Police who owned a 1939 Plymouth – late model cars were rare in those days.
They fell asleep each night to the whistling sound of Great Northern steam train whistles, he recalled, while the rising sun woke them each morning in the trellised front room they shared in the cabin.
So would “the unforgettable smell of freshly baked bread at the commercial bakery up the street from Columbia Avenue,” he said. “It was next to the Red & White store on the corner of Maple and Columbia – both long gone.”
Although not a bakery per se, the public could purchase some of the daily produce – and children were often sent there with a handful of loose change to buy a few loaves of bread.
Flipping through each page of old photo albums – in the house in South Surrey where he lives quietly these days with his wife Arlene – evokes another memory for Matches.
It was a lazy summer lifestyle back then, said the retired RCMP and Vancouver Fire Department veteran and author.
“We spent a lot of time at the beach. You would go to the beach in the morning and stay there all day, burned to the bone. We are berry brown in some of these photos.
His grandparents’ home was one of a cluster of small buildings and open-air “biffies” on a sandy shore overlooking Washington Avenue and the tracks, he said.
There was none of the modern traffic bustle in White Rock, Matches noted.
“The loudest thing then was the train. When we heard it, naturally as kids we had to run and see,” he added.
A diagonal route between the cabins led to a corner building known as The Nest, which provided the best vantage point to watch the trains bump along the tracks.
“When we heard a train coming, we would run to the corner of the bank and watch it rumble by,” he recalls.
“The engineer was whistling all the way along the waterfront – the lanes were a thoroughfare. People were walking on them all the time, coming up from the car parks, which were dirt. None of them were paved then.
In retrospect, times seem idyllic, Matches agrees. Even though the Second World War began when he was four and ended when he was 10, his father, as an undercover Vancouver Police Department officer, was not called, and the family was not separated like so many others were.
But the children were still very aware of the war. It was ubiquitous in the Red Cross and Victory Bond campaigns and in the presence of men and women in uniform on the streets, while the trains that passed daily often seemed laden with war material on flatcars – armaments, trucks, even disassembled. aircraft fuselages and wings covered with tarpaulins, he recalled.
At that time, the preferred mode of communication with Vancouver was by letter (“calling White Rock from Vancouver was a long distance charge,” Matches noted).
It was customary, he recalls, to send the children by “the bump” to West Beach to pick up the mail at the post office.
“It was a long walk for us kids on very hot boardwalks and then a long walk home,” he said.
However, there were trade-offs. At the time, there was a candy store on the beach side of Washington Avenue — just down the hill from the Semiahmoo First Nations Cemetery — where he could spend some of his 25-cent weekly allowance.
“We often went there for an ice cream cone after getting the mail,” he said. “We used to buy torpedo and horseshoe shaped ‘suction cups’ from the same store. If you were lucky, you would find a coupon for a free suction cup under the packaging. One day, I left the store with two free ones!
Burgers were also a big deal in his youth, Matches recalls – in Vancouver he was an early aficionado of the White Spot and The Aristocratic chains – although in White Rock “nothing beat a little cardboard tray pressed from fish and chips from one of the small shops in the area, salted and peppered and drizzled with vinegar.
As a movie fanatic at the time, it was only natural that he would head to the Park Theatre, across Campbell River Road from Semiahmoo Park, to catch a matinee including popular cliffhanger series.
One film in particular he saw at the park sticks in his mind – the 1943 Dixie extravaganza, starring Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour, which claimed to be the story of 19th-century American composer and artist Daniel Decatur Emmett.
“I remember it for the Technicolor and the song ‘Dixie’ – we kids sang it for weeks afterwards,” he said.
But they spent much of their time outside then, he recalls.
“Every time we came to White Rock, the first thing we did was rent a tandem bike from Hanslow’s Home Gas station on Washington Avenue,” he said. “We liked tandems because we could ride together,” he added, pointing to a snapshot of him and Shirley on one of the bikes in 1943.
“We were driving all over the neighborhood.
Another draw for children was the large squirrel cage next to Hanslow’s, at the foot of a flight of stairs down the hill, Matches recalled.
“I don’t know who caught and caged all these squirrels, but they were a source of fascination for all children,” he said.
Another photo, around the same time, shows Matches on the beach, delicately holding a large crab.
“One of my grandparents’ neighbors was Mr. Coughlan – an older man with white hair – who I often went crabbing with in the early morning,” he recalls.
“We were heading to East Beach with our homemade crab catchers and a pot that we filled with seawater.” The water would be placed over a small fire to warm while they crabbed, he said.
“We would flip into a pot of hot water, turn on the fire and when it was ready it would drop our catch and we would enjoy a crab feast – and the extra cooked crabs were always welcome when we came home. “
Of course, as with all romances, there was inevitably an end.
“I stopped coming here when I was around 14 or 15,” Matches said. “I had other interests at the time – mainly cars and girls.”
Adult life – with all its responsibilities and unexpected twists and turns – was fast approaching.
Little did Matches know that while he and other teenagers spent time playing pinball at a cafe near the Ocean Beach Hotel in the summer of 1949, in less than five years he would be a member of the RCMP.
“When I graduated from high school, I had no goals,” he admitted. “Joining the RCMP was the best thing I’ve ever done; it made me a man, a better person. »
Not only that, but after a few years of training he would be selected for the primary mission of donning the red serge for the RCMP Musical Ride – the force’s touring horse show team – which took him through Canada and the United States in 1956 and in England, and met the royal family, in 1957.
Meeting and courting Arlene was still in the future, along with their children Stephanie, Sandy and Ryan, as was a 33-year career with the Vancouver Fire Department when her five-year snag with the RCMP was over.
Likewise, they were writing four books, including an authoritative history of the VFD, Vancouver’s Bravest.
Although severe heart problems recently limited his mobility, he and Arlene have spent many happy retirement years traveling across Canada and the United States in their classic Airstream trailer – as well as seeing much of the world on many cruises.
“We were very lucky,” Matches said.
Turning the page of a photo album evokes another memory.
In 1949, when teenager Matches put his pennies in the jukebox at the White Rock cafe to listen to Frankie Laine sing hits like Mule Train and That Lucky Old Sun, he never imagined he would see his idol in person one day.
It happened in 1956, when the RCMP Musical Ride performed at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
After the show, Matches and several comrades found themselves with some free time.
“We left Madison Square Garden in the Red Serge complete with handguns and everything. Someone said ‘let’s stop for a beer somewhere – since we’re in the United States’.
They met at the famous Latin Quarter nightclub – where Laine appeared as the headliner.
Matches recalls the group of full-dressed constables telling the “butler”, somewhat apologetically, that they had just stopped for a beer – but he was determined to offer the club hospitality to visitors.
“He said ‘We’ll find something for you’,” Matches recalled, with a smile. “It turned out to be a table right on the stage.”