Ferries were an important means of transportation during the early days in the North Thompson Valley. One of the more important was the ferry that ran from Blackpool to East Blackpool, and one of the more important ferry operators was Harry Fairbrother, who ran the Blackpool ferry for about 21 years until it closed in 1970.
According to information from his family and from the local history book Upper North Thompson Reflections, Henry William (Harry) Fairbrother was born July 11, 1905 in Long Eaton, England. In 1910 he immigrated with his family to Asquith, Saskatchewan. In later years he lived in Alberta and on the west coast, finally settling in Haney, B.C. with his wife Ina and their three children.
In 1950 they moved to East Blackpool where Harry became the operator of the B.C. government’s reaction ferry on the North Thompson River.
A reaction ferry is unpowered and makes use of the force of the river’s current to move from bank to bank. Today there are only two on the North Thompson River, one at Little Fort and the other at McLure.
Built in 1909, the Blackpool ferry was the first of its kind on the river, having towers higher than usual to allow steamboat traffic to pass under the strung cable.
The ferry operated from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week, providing a vital link not only for the east side residents but also for the native Indians from as far away as Chu Chua who, with horses and wagon, crossed on their way to the Blue River vicinity to pick blueberries.
The North Thompson is a very powerful river and whatever the season Harry had a great deal of respect for it. The ferry service terminated in 1970 when Harry retired. He died at home in East Blackpool in 1985.
According to an article about his death in the Times, he had been an active member of the curling club in his retirement, often curling six or seven games a week. One of the more memorable occasions was when three of his brothers curled with him in the 1979 Clearwater Men’s Open Bonspiel. Frank, age 80, Harry 74, Ed 72 and Slim 68, had a combined age of 296 years – reportedly the oldest team of brothers to curl together provincially or nationally.
Harry had married Ina in 1935. The couple had three children: Don, Betty and Althea.
Ina took over the postmistress at the East Blackpool post office when Harry became the ferryman. At one point she was also the mail carrier. The CNR way-freight would slow down enough when passing their house to drop off and collect the mail.
Ina also retired in 1970 when the government closed the East Blackpool post office. She passed away in 1990.
The family home and post office that Harry built can be seen directly across the river from the regional park at the former Blackpool ferry launch.
Some have proposed that the park should be named after Harry Fairbrother.