Ferry Park Road in Blackpool should be re-named to honor Harry Fairbrother, say members of the Fairbrother family.
“Of course I’m prejudiced, but I would like to see the park named after my father,” said Betty (Fairbrother) McDermid. “I don’t know if he operated the ferry longer than anyone else. However, I’m fairly certain that, of those local residents who still remember the ferry being in operation, he would be the ferry operator they would know.”
Fairbrother operated the ferry from 1950 to 1970. The reaction-type ferry (similar to the one still operating at Little Fort) connected the ferry slip in Blackpool with a similar one in East Blackpool across the river.
Born in England, he came to Canada with his family when he was a child and settled in Saskatchewan.
For an account of Betty (Fairbrother) McDermid’s first year in the North Thompson, see the story below.
Betty (Fairbrother) McDermid
All the long drive up from Haney I thought of the ferry my father would be operating. The only ferries I knew previously ran from Vancouver to Victoria and back, so I was pretty excited.
It was dark when we arrived at our new home so I was told I had to wait until morning before I could see my dad’s ferry. At first light, I scrambled into my clothes and down to the river. After looking up and down, all I could see was this wooden structure attached by wire to another heavy wire that stretched across the river. I finally realized that this was the ferry my father would be operating.
We had left Haney, B.C. rather quickly. On Aug. 26, 1949 we purchased our new home. Mother applied for the postmistress job Aug. 27 and our furniture arrived Sept. 3 just before the start of school.
Our new home and surroundings soon filled my thoughts. There wasn’t any electricity and I was introduced to our ‘two-seater’ outhouse. The house was small with one room for four beds in a row and a living room with a wood stove that took up most of the space. In the winter to come I’d realize the importance of that wood stove. Father would sit up at nights in front of it, until mother would take her turn around 1:30 a.m. With it hitting 40 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, we would not have survived otherwise.
Dad would start the day at 6 a.m. making coffee and porridge on the stove. He started work on the ferry at 7 a.m. and ended at 7 p.m., seven days a week. We all watched for passengers throughout the day. The post office was another little room in the house where the residents of East Blackpool came to get their mail. It didn’t take long to get to know everyone and they got to know us.
It was too late in the season for a garden but in subsequent years dad took great pride in growing our wonderful produce. I still remember the large blemish free potatoes, and the cabbage which my dad and brother, Don made into sauerkraut. Mother canned vegetables to her heart’s content.
Dad built a stone boat that first fall. He rigged up a big saw and two sawhorses. It was a family affair to haul the logs to the sawhorses, feeding them to the big saw where dad would cut them to stove lengths. We would need quite a few cords of wood for the winter ahead. We stacked them neatly and covered them against the oncoming snow.
My brother bought his first rifle that fall and the first day he had it, he shot a grouse, which mother cooked for supper. In the years that followed Dad would take me hunting up the steep hill beyond our place. I carried the .22 carefully in the manner I was taught. We found a lake that Dad named Betty Lake.
We hauled water from the river by pail and cream cans for drinking, washing, and bathing – using the sleigh in winter. We made quite a few trips each washday. Heating the water on the stove was an all day chore once a week. I still have that little washboard.
Dad was still running the ferry on Dec. 9 but that didn’t last long. He then used the boat until all traffic was halted.
Although Dad had been the ferryman since Sept. 17, 1949 just after we arrived, it wouldn’t be until Dec. 5, 1950 that mother wrote, “Harry signed the oath as ferryman over the river in Blackpool at Elizabeth and Walter Ward’s.” Walter was our justice of the peace. Even later, on March 30, dad sent in his application for ferryman and on April 12 he received his first cheque for $75.
When the river froze over and was thick enough, dad would take his pike pole and make a preliminary trek across to Blackpool. With residents and students needing daily access it required his constant checking on conditions. When he felt it was safe, he would walk each person over singly or spaced about 15 feet apart for safety.
Mother noted one particular day that winter, “Harry made 11 walking trips across the river.”
Toward the end of January, Les Bishop, came with his team of horses, clearing the road as he came. He continued on to the river clearing a space for a skating rink. The Ray boys and Arthur came down the road and we all got a chance to skate.
By the end of March there was water on the ice so crossings stopped for awhile.
April 25 that spring the pontoons were being put in the water in preparation for the first crossing of the year. The reliance of the residents in times of sickness, just for necessities of life, for school, and in the case of the Indians, for their fall trip for blueberries to Blue River, all became apparent.
It seemed that no sooner that the ferry was operating again, then the spring thaw would shut it down. Mother wrote, “The river rose eight inches in 24 hours on May 5 so Harry had to pull up the ramps.”
By May 15, the river was bank to bank.
By the latter part of May, dad would be taking 13 school children over the river to catch the school bus, driven by our ever-patient driver, Mr. Mattenley. From the Golden Spur Store, my aunt and uncle’s store, they would be taken to Clearwater school and back every day.