What do you know about your parents’ lives before you were born?
My dad, William John Wright, was born to John Alfred [Jack] Wright and Isabella Elizabeth [Bessie] Wright [nee Clubb] on December 8, 1923 at Rouleau, Saskatchewan (now known for the TV series, “Corner Gas”!), weighing in at 7 1/2 pounds “dressed.” The family moved to Bayard, SK in 1925, then to Mortlach SK in 1927, where dad’s sister, Betty June (after whom I am named) was born. Dad entered school there in 1930. Dad’s sister, Audrey Jacqueline, was born in 1933. In February 1935 the family moved to Port Mann, where my grandfather bought a small 9 acre farm, “Broadview,” across the Fraser River from New Westminster. Dad went to Port Mann Elementary School. Later that year, my great-grandparents, the Clubbs, also moved to Port Mann, and my grandfather built them a little cottage on the property. The children attended a Nazarene Church Sunday School. After grade 8, Dad started taking the school bus to “Surrey Center” school (a branch of Surrey High School) in Cloverdale, where dad and some friends started a stamp club. He went to Surrey High itself in grade 10, where he joined the photography club. Grades 11 and 12 were at the new Queen Elizabeth High School in North Surrey, where dad learned to type.
Dad had a paper route those two years, and used his hard-earned money to buy a new bike, and his first camera, a Kodak Baby Brown, and in Grade 12 he became the unofficial school photographer, printing his own black and white pictures himself. He also sent in weekly news from the Grosvenor Road area to the Surrey Review. After Dad went to war, my grandmother took over the column and did it faithfully until her death many years later. Dad also had a weekly column of his school’s events, that was printed in the Vancouver Province. Also in grade 12, Dad won first prize from the BC Department of Education for a drama he wrote, “Victory on the Home Front.” He had also previously won several awards for stories and poems.
Dad happened to take a book-keeping course in grade 12, and loved it. He decided it would be his career. When dad graduated in June 1942, there were so few students (the Japanese-Canadians had been moved to the interior, and many students already had left for the war or to work in wartime factories) that instead of a formal graduation party or dance, the students went to Stanley Park for a picnic. There was a graduation ceremony the last day of school, and Dad was valedictorian. Until dad turned 19, he took a night-school course in Book-keeping, as well as working.
As soon as he finished the course, dad headed off to Maple Creek, SK, with his long-time buddy Bruce Chilton — exactly 8 years to the day since he had arrived from Saskatchewan. There they took the two-month basic training course, and while there, Dad met some boys he had attended school with in Saskatchewan. Dad got sick the last week of basic training, and ended up having to do it again. But that gave him the opportunity to take NCO training to become a lance-corporal instructor. With his new stripe, Dad went home for two weeks leave, surprising his family whom he had not warned about his arrival. Back at camp, Dad ended up re-training several soldiers of higher rank — he really enjoyed drilling a sergeant, for example! Then he was moved on to Shiloh Camp for Advanced training, and then to Winnipeg for clerical training. He met and dated his primary-school girlfriend, Gladys, a few times while he was there. One last visit home, on Embarkation leave, and then a 3 day train trip across Canada, and onto the “Ile de France” troop ship traveling a constant zig-zag course across the Atlantic to avoid submarines, since the ship was traveling alone, not in convoy. Seven days later they disembarked in Grenock, Scotland, in May 1944. They took the train to Edinburgh, and then south to Nottinghamshire, England. Later they moved farther south, where dad met some of his relatives. Then Dad was notified that he would be a reinforcement for the Calgary Highlanders Regiment of the Second Canadian Division.
On July 2, D plus 26, his group crossed by steamer to France. Between July 3 and Sept 10, his company moved from Arromanche in Normandy, to Bourbourg (near Dunkirk). During this time, he was a regular infantry soldier, as there was a shortage of reinforcements. Then, between Sept 18 to May 7 1945, they moved on through Belgium and Netherlands, going as far as Rodenkirchen in Germany, where they heard a news flash that Germany had capitulated. The following day, May 8, was officially VE day. In June Dad’s company was sent back to Holland. During this time Dad had a chance to go to England and meet more of his relatives. Dad expected to be able to head home in early November, but because clerks were needed to administer the repatriation, he had to stay for awhile longer. Dad had just been notified that he would be receiving a promotion to sergeant, but then it was finally time to head home. On Feb 13, 1946 Dad sailed from England to New York on the “Queen Elizabeth” with 10,000 other soldiers. He crossed Canada by train, arriving in Port Coquitlam on February 24, 1946, and on April 3 officially became a civilian again.
Dad went back to the job he had after high school, and bought himself his first car. Dad convinced my grandfather to finally put electricity into the house so Dad could listen to his radio and gramophone. They had hooked up to running water during the war, but still had no phone, washing machine, or indoor bathroom. Because Dad had a car, he was popular, and had lots of friends to hang out with, and got to date lots of girls!
Taking advantage of financial assistance to veterans, Dad signed up to attend UBC, and signed up a bunch of guys to car-pool with him to cover the gas expenses. One of them would end up being my high-school math teacher many years later. Another, Bruno Gerussi, would end up being the star of a TV series, The Beachcombers. Unfortunately, Dad’s eyes gave out on him, and he had to take a break from his studies.
In the spring of 1950 Dad’s old car finally died. The next spring Dad took a job with a carnival, Crescent Shows, and travelled with them as far north as Ketchikan, Alaska, working as “third man” on the ferris wheel at $40 a week, (he eventually was promoted to “first man” at $50 a week) in which he had to climb the ferris wheel and put it together.
In September 1951 Dad decided to go to Normal School. He rented a small basement apartment near the school. Part way through the year he noticed a pretty student teacher, but was too shy to ask her out. A friend of his invited him to the Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship club, and there she was! Then Dad was sent to practice teach at Charles Dickens Elementary in Vancouver, and she was there, too. So he got to know Marjorie Mott, but could not work up the courage to ask for a date, though he hinted around a lot! Finally, he got up the courage to ask her to the grad banquet, and she agreed — because she and a friend of hers both needed a ride, and because mom figured maybe she could encourage Dad to become a Christian by being nice to him! Mom tried to discourage dad by “going out with” another boy (who really was her sister’s boyfriend and later, husband). Finally, dad also got up the courage to ask mom out for a date the week before the graduation. He attended the graduation with two girls — mom and her friend! After graduation, Dad was offered a job teaching high school commerce at Delta High School in Ladner, but since he wanted to teach in a one-room school, he told the school inspector about mom, who had taken a business course and worked in offices for 3 years, and so she got the job. Dad meanwhile got a job in a rural school at Gillies Bay on Texada Island.
Meanwhile, during the summer after Normal School, mom invited dad up to Summerland, to meet her family, and to go with them to a Bible Camp at Conconully, Washington, where God really spoke to him. Arriving back in Summerland, dad gave his heart to the Lord, with total commitment. Also that summer, Dad paid for his folks to have an indoor bathroom, finally. At his little rural school, Dad had 18 students from grades 1 to 5. He also started a Sunday School and soon had 30 children attending regularly. Dad lived in the school, and ate his meals, for free, at the nearby mine, so he was able to save $600 towards buying a new car, a Vauxhall. Dad went home for visits as often as possible, and took mom on dates, but when he told her how he felt about her, she told him she was only interested in friendship to encourage him spiritually. However, she still went out with him sometimes, and he went to the Free Methodist Church with her, and read his Bible a lot.
Mom and Dad both took summer school courses the next July, and then Dad managed to get to Summerland to see her, by offering to bring up her sister and nieces in his new car. All the time Dad felt hopeless that he would ever have any romance with mom. Finally he prayed and gave it all up to God. Next day my grandfather sent the two of them down to the orchard to pick some fruit for grandma. There he felt God speaking through him, and he told her how much he loved her, and in that moment God gave her love for Dad also. That was August 14, 1953. Dad taught the next year at Cumberland High School on Vancouver Island, as the Commerce teacher. In November they picked out an engagement ring. On August 14, 1954 they were married in Summerland BC.
And within a couple weeks they were on the way to their new home and new teaching jobs on the Queen Charlotte Islands. They were to teach in Queen Charlotte City, but just after they unpacked, they had to pack up again and go north to Masset, as the man hired as principal there arrived, looked around, and decided he wanted nothing to do with it. So suddenly Dad was a principal of a grade 1 to 12 school, teacher of grades 9 to 12, and mom was the grade 7-8 class. There were 2 other teachers for the elementary grades. And sometime during that school year, the students noticed that Mrs. Wright was definitely pregnant, even though she was trying to hide it! On July 24, 1955, I joined the family.
My Dad loved to write, and left us an extensive autobiography. So if you want more details, just let me know! And now…
Marjorie Victoria Mott was born in Edmonton, Alberta, on February 25, 1926, to John Sears Mott and Emily Mae Mott (nee Clemons). A few days later they took her home to their little house in Magnolia, 62 miles west of Edmonton, to join her sister Emily, who was just over a year older. John Mott, my grandfather, was a Holiness Movement Church minister, and mom’s earliest memories are of sitting next to her sister Emily in the front row of the church, watching her dad on the platform and her mom at the piano. Mom had an amazing memory, as she could recollect quite a few details of life in Magnolia, even though they left the town shortly after her third birthday.
My grandmother, Emily, was not well, so grandpa took a leave of absence from the pastorate, and moved the family to the Okanagan, hoping the climate would be good for grandma. Traveling short distances each day in their Model T Ford, because of grandma’s poor health, the trip took 2 weeks, and the family arrived in Penticton on June 3, 1929. At first they lived in the parsonage of the Holiness Movement Church, which was not being used at the time. Then in March 1930, they moved to Kaleden to live in the house of one of grandpa’s aunts, Janet Preston, and help her operate her little store. That summer the whole family spent quite some time living in a tent in an orchard across the lake, where grandpa had a job thinning apples. To make extra money, grandpa would catch rattlesnakes and take them into town (alive) to sell to a Chinese gentleman who liked rattlesnake meat. On June 19, 1930, little Laura was born at the hospital in Penticton (which later became Haven Hill Retirement Home, and Taryn, my daughter, worked there in about 2004! It was torn down and replaced by a new facility this year, 2007). When the Great Depression hit in 1929, many small churches had to be closed down, so my grandpa had to leave the pastorate permanently.
In March 1931, the family moved to Summerland. Grandpa worked as an orchardist in the orchard of his aunt and her husband, Judge and Mrs. Kelly. Mom started grade 1 that year, even though she was only 5 years old. There was a lack of grade 1 students, so Emily and Marjorie started school together. At first the family rented a house, and then bought one, but the Judge foreclosed on them when it was almost paid for. He did this with many people, so that he owned much of the town.
On March 18, 1938, the family left Summerland to move to Glen Ewen, Saskatchewan, where John and his brother George were going to be partners on the farm owned by their uncle Daniel, who was retiring. They stayed there for a year, but the partnership did not work out, and on March 11, 1939 mom’s family arrived back in Summerland. For many years, Grandpa planted peas on that date, even if there was still snow on the ground! Again they rented a house, overlooking the lake, and lived there the four years that mom attended high school. Those were also war years, and mom was in Cadets, learning to shoot a rifle, and earning the rank of Quarter Master Sergeant. Grandpa was very ill with pneumonia, and was not able to work for quite a while. Finally he got work at the Experimental Station in Trout Creek, where he cared for the flowers in the summer and worked in the office in the winter. During those years the family attended the Summerland Free Methodist Church, and their minister was Rev. C.P. Stewart, after whom my brother Stewart was named. The District Quarterly Meetings (DQMs) were a highlight, and I can remember DQMs when I was a young girl, but they were replaced by camps later on.
Like Dad’s graduating class, mom’s class was very small as most of the boys had already left for the war. So they did not have any fancy graduation, other than a school banquet. However, near the end of the year, when the teacher left the room, all the girls (except Emily) jumped out of the window and hid by laying down behind the hedge!
After school, mom worked full-time in orchards, packing-houses, and pitting plants to earn money. Emily had received a scholarship to take nurses’ training at Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster in the spring of 1944, and in February 1945, mom and her friend Dena also went there for training. Shortly after mom left for nurses’ training, grandpa and grandma bought the “Lipsett house” which had been built in 1907, and it was there that my mom stayed, in summer 1955, while she waited for my birth. I have so many wonderful memories of that house and orchard!
Mom was very popular with the boys all through the years! Ask her brother Preston for details! The summer after graduation a young Air Force man carved his initials, HW, and mom’s initials, MM, in the clay cliffs between Summerland and Penticton. Several years later, 1954, after my parents’ engagement, my dad climbed the cliff, and changed the “HW” to “BW”! I know the carving was still on the cliff in 2001, but have not been able to find it recently.
The nurses’ training was very difficult. Because of the war there was a shortage of nurses, so the nurses-in-training also had to act as nurses’ aides and also do quite a lot of the usual nurses’ work. They were also put on strict diets, and mom did not have enough to eat, as well as having to work so hard, and in the end her health gave out, and she had to resign from her training at the end of October 1946. She returned home, and after she regained her health, she worked at various jobs to earn money to go to Business School in Penticton, from Sept 1947 to Spring 1948. She then got a job in the office of the Summerland Packing House in August 1948 and worked there for almost 3 years. Meanwhile, mom’s sister, Laura, had gone to Normal School, and was now teaching. So Laura got application forms, filled them out, and got mom accepted to Normal School. Mom found the training very easy, and so most of her memories are about her social life! She was very involved in the Teachers'(Inter-Varsity) Christian Fellowship Club, and was assigned a student to pray for. She had his name, but had no idea who he was, but prayed for him nonetheless. After Easter Break, she was practice-teaching at Charles Dickens Elementary School, and so was he, so she got to know him. She didn’t realize it, but he had had his eye on her for quite awhile, and as soon as they actually met, she realized he was really interested in her. But she was only being kind to him because she was praying for him! As you have already heard, Bill was not about to give up on Marjorie, despite her attempts to discourage his interest!
Meanwhile, on graduating from Normal School in June 1952, mom got a teaching job at Delta High School in Ladner, and was able to board with a special friend, Valmai, after whom my sister, Marilyn Valmai, was named. In January of 1953, mom started having bad pains in her side, and ended up having an appendectomy. Although she was not romantically interested in him at all, she allowed Bill to continue to visit, so as not to discourage him in his new Christian stand. In July 1953, mom went to summer school at Victoria, and dad went to summer school at UBC. Later in the summer, mom went home to Summerland, and Dad found an excuse to visit by bringing Emily and her daughters there. Well, you have already heard the rest of the story! A year later, after both again going to their various summer schools, mom headed back to Summerland to get ready for the wedding. She gave Dad orders not to show up until the day before the wedding — which he reluctantly obeyed! And so they were married on August 14, 1954, went on a “camping” honeymoon south of the border, and then headed to their new teaching jobs on the Queen Charlotte Islands. And of course, a year later, on July 24, 1955, I arrived on the scene.
Mom, under strict orders from Dad, did write an “autobiography” about this part of her life, which is quite interesting, with many amusing anecdotes. Also, my sister Marilyn, working with mom while she could still remember things, has filled out a “Grandmother’s Book of Memories” which also contains many interesting details. It was receiving this book from Marilyn as a Christmas gift this year (2007) that has inspired me to write down some of my memories before it is too late. Hope you enjoy them! But don’t feel “obliged”!
Posted: Dec 28, 2007