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VALLEY VOICES: Ernie and Winnifred Dee were true pioneers

In about 1910 Ernie, age 15, began delivering supplies to the Moilliets’ store near Vavenby
Ernie Dee rides on the Vavenby Ferry with Tam Moilliet, grandfather of Ian Moilliet, the present owner of the Aveley sheep ranch. The truck is carrying sacks full of wool.

By Keith McNeill

Many residents of the North Thompson Valley are familiar with Dee’s General Store in Birch Island, which is run by Rick and Marie Dee.

Some might not be that familiar with the history behind the store and the family’s connection with the Valley, says Chuck Dee, Rick’s father.

Ernie Dee, Rick’s grandfather and Chuck’s father, came to Canada from England in 1907 at age 12.

Ernie’s father, Arthur May Dee, owned several produce stores in London, England, but moved to Kamloops because of his asthma.

He quite quickly started or acquired a stockyard, slaughter house and meat market in Kamloops. He also got into the freight hauling business up the North Thompson Valley.

In about 1910 Ernie, who was working for his dad, began delivering supplies to the Moilliets’ store near Vavenby. They came via the Dunn Lake Road.

Chuck Dee recalled being told by his father one time as they were crossing the Red Bridge into Kamloops about how, when he hauled freight by horse and wagon, there had been a steep embankment to go down to what was then an extremely rickety bridge. When he got to the other end, there was a spare team of horses waiting there to help pull wagons up the bank.

In another incident, they encountered a native family driving a small wagon and team on a narrow stretch of the road by Dunn Lake.

With no room to pass, the natives took their wagon apart, carried it piece by piece past Dee’s outfit, then put it back together again.

Ernie liked the North Thompson Valley so much that in 1925 he bought a place on what is now Lost Creek Road.

He took seven days to drive a tractor from Kamloops to Birch Island. It was the first tractor used for logging in the North Thompson that he knew of. Although it could only travel 2 ½ miles per hour it could pull a big load of logs with it.

The sawmill had originally been powered by a waterwheel and located next to Lost Creek north of Vavenby.

READ MORE: Area has long history of sawmilling (Sept. 12, 2011)

According to the local history book, Upper North Thompson Reflections, it had been set up in 1912 by Knute Skahl and Martin Thompson.

The mill was not a success, however, and Ernie was able to acquire it for his own use.

Ernie powered it with his tractor and moved it to near Birch Island.

One of the projects built with lumber from the mill was a school for Vavenby. Located on the south side of the North Thompson River, is is now used as a house.

Ernie Dee also provided the timbers that were used to construct a highway bridge across Mad River. It is still visible upstream from the present highway crossing.

In June of 1927 he married Winifred. She was from Manitoba and the two had met in Kamloops.

At first they lived at the sawmill on Lost Creek Road near Vavenby during the week and in an old log cabin on weekends.

They raised three children in the house Ernie built near Birch Island: Joan, Diane and Chuck.

In 1938 the family began a series of moves, mostly to operate stores. First they went to Monte Lake, then to Coalmont, then South Kensington, Port Kells, White Rock, Boundary Bay, North Vancouver for seven years, then Lone Butte.

In 1959 they found themselves living in the Jones place on the Moilliets’ ranch – a place that Ernie’s father had delivered freight to in 1908.

Two years later they were again in Birch Island, having bought 35 acres where the store is now.

In 1969 Chuck, who had been working in a bakery in North Vancouver, moved with his wife Anna Mae and their family to join his father in Birch Island and built the store.

“I wanted to get my kids out of North Van,” Chuck recalled. “The store was my first attempt at building anything. When I first saw that pile of lumber, I was panic-stricken.”

Chuck had played fastball while in North Vancouver and he found his skills as a pitcher helpful when he moved to Birch Island.

In 1976 he sold the store to Bev Goyer.

Her husband had come into the business and said to him, “I want to buy your store.”

Chuck thinks the husband knew he had only a limited time left to make sure his wife and five children were taken care of because a short time later he died of a heart attack.

Goyer sold the store to Dean Redman who in turn sold it to a person named Moores.

Chuck’s son Rick acquired it in 1990 and re-opened it in 1991.

Rick and Marie have been running it ever since. They have two children, Connor and Savannah.

Chuck’s other son, Chris, also has two children, Shanna and Terry. Helives in Birch Island with his partner, Linda Moss.

Wendy Pisarczyk, Diane’s daughter and Chuck’s niece, lives in Vavenby.

Ernie Dee passed away on Jan. 31, 1979. His wife, Winifred., lived until Sept. 14, 1995.

Joan Dee, Chuck’s sister, passed away on May 20, 2002. Her sister, Diana, continues to live in Nanaimo.

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Photo shows a school being built in Vavenby in 1929 with lumber from Ernie Dee’s sawmill. Working in the photo appears to be a Mr. Raymant. The building, which is located south of the North Thompson River, is being used today as a house.
Ernie and Winnifred Dee pose for a picture for their 50th wedding anniversary in 1977. Times file photo
A youngster plays in front of the home Ernie Dee built east of Birch Island along the road to Vavenby. Photo courtesy of Chuck Dee
Piles of cedar poles near Lempriere Creek wait for shipment.
A worker sits on a large log at Ernie Dee’s sawmill near Birch Island in 1925.