Flitton Family History Chapter 8
The following is a sketchy and draft outline put together by Bob Flitton in the mid 1990s.
Charlie Flitton and a couple of friends jumped railway box cars to the prairies to find work harvesting in 1926. When they returned, Charlie moved to Port Alberni. On arriving, he first slept in railway cars. The Chief-of-Police, Fred Potter, tired of dragging Charlie and his pals out of the rail cars each day, convinced them to move into a City-owned house adjacent to Rogers Creek near Lawrence and Skipsey Sash and Door, a house with no glass in the window openings.
That’s where Charlie and two buddies lived when Frank Flitton arrived in January, 1927. Charlie recalls showing a friend Pat Cummings how to flip pancakes, and on the first try, flipped a pancake through the window opening. Shortly thereafter, Frank found a room above the Good Eats Cafe on First Avenue. After a month at that location, they moved into a waterfront ex-logging cookhouse owned by Syd Mirin, a man from whom Frank later purchased his McCoy Lake Store property. Chief Potter and his partner Harry Small were good to Charlie and Frank. Frank says “Yes, except the time he fined me $10.00 for speeding on the bridge on Third Avenue. I’ve only had two speeding tickets in my life.”
Charlie and Frank asked their father GAD and mother Josephine to move to Port Alberni. GAD Flitton responded that he would if Frank could locate a store building suitable for relocation of his Victoria second hand business. When buying groceries, Frank purchased from (except milk which they purchased from the local store operated by Trevor C. Goodall on the Alberni Highway) at Stewart and Walkers on 3rd Avenue, and learned that Stewart and Walkers were closing. Frank arranged for GAD Flitton to take over the $15.00 a month lease and a new business was started in Port Alberni. Their landlord was McIntyre the Postmaster. On opening they discovered a good business in selling candy to the Japanese children. Stan Dyde was their wholesaler and a family friend.
Charlie recalls when the Flitton family left Victoria in a 1927 Chev Baby Grand touring car for their new home in Port Alberni. On each running board, they tied a bed spring and a goat.
The rabbits were in air tight heaters tied to the front bumper. Chickens were in cages perched inside the car and Frank and Charlie’s sister Agnes had two dogs on her lap. GAD and Josephine sat in the front seat with a cat. Halfway up the hump, the clutch went out, but Charlie and Jack happened along, conveniently on their way to Qualicum Beach for a swim. They pushed GAD’s car back into the Valley. Jack recalls the goats eating branches along the way. Jack and Josephine moved in with Charlie and Frank on the waterfront. GAD stayed for a time to run the Victoria store and did the buying at Maynards. Josephine ran the Port Alberni store and at the same time operated a boarding house looking after a dozen boarders. She started the first shift breakfast at 5:00 each morning, fed the kids, dressed and then went to work in the store. She ended up with a nervous breakdown.
GAD hired an East Indian with a truck, loaded furniture onto the truck and started the trek north up the Island Highway. Frank recalls “in those days you wouldn’t pass two other cars over the entire distance to Port Alberni.” The Malahat was narrow and windy, much of the road crawling along steep embankments and rock cliffs with only a single log fence separating the automobiles from drop-offs of hundreds of feet. In the twenties, a car missed a bridge at Nanaimo River (where the bungy jump is currently located) and dropped close to a hundred feet into the ravine below.
Hamsterley Outlook at the top of the Malahat provided an opportunity for a rest and the purchase of food-stuffs. The cars frequently carried tents for overnight camping as auto courts (motels) were non-existent and the infrequent Inns were costly and seldom located where night met nightfall. Popular camping spots were the beaches on the Chemainus River and Cameron Lake.
Charlie was driving the East Indian’s truck when they hit an overhead “A-frame” bridge east of Cameron Lake. Charlie wanted to stop but the East Indian said “no, keep going, the bridge is collapsing.” The furniture was badly damaged, however they went back and picked up half-a-load of broken pieces. In April 1927, Charlie and Frank went to work for Alberni Pacific Lumber Company.
The Weists operated the Two-Spot steam engine over a five mile track between Logging Camps and the APL yard. The Weists were great-uncles of Fay Robinson – nee Massey, (later Frank’s wife). It is believed that Fay’s father Jim Massey originally brought his family to Port Alberni about 1915 to work in his family’s logging operations. The Masseys were distant relatives of actor Raymond Massey and Canadian Governor General Vincent Massey. The Two-Spot was famous for two reasons, the nostalgic sounds of a steam engine in town, which every one enjoyed, and the revolutionary design which gave it traction to climb steep hills and tight turns. The Two-Spot also held special meaning to the family as they were brought from the logging camp to Port Alberni through a forest fire that threatened their existence.
Josephine Flitton’s brother Joe Davies, received a contract to build a building on Argyle Street for K. Charlie and a partner named Quayne. GAD, Charlie and Frank were all helpers on the building. Frank recalls a major event at the time was the opening of the Vancouver International Airport in 1931.
Agnes Flitton, who lived with Smith’s on Linden Road in Victoria, went to Sprott Shaw School following which she moved to Port. Charlie returned to Victoria to marry Gladys in Victoria on July 15, 1933. They returned to Port to live on 5th Avenue where he worked for the APL while driving for George Sheed. He later started Port Taxi in partnership with Charlie Farrant.
In Victoria, Charlie and Chuck Semen cut four cords of wood a day using an frame drag saw powered by a 5-horse motor. “Not many could do that today. The biggest challenge we had was to make sure we had the saw blade turning the right direction. Archie Bay operated a similar saw in Port Alberni. Dick Grandy and I went out to see why it wouldn’t cut. He was running it backwards.” Dick Grandy was in the fish and egg business with Alex McIntyre trading fish in Coombs for eggs. Dick also worked on the Two-Spot locomotive.” So did another family friend, Edna Peterson.
Jack Flitton was keenly interested in hunting and fishing (and later in the 1950’s was a well known sporting goods manager for the local Woodward’s Store). Charlie and Frank recall the day when “Jackie Boy Eddie” came struggling up 3rd Avenue with a salmon in tow. “It was as long as he was”. He’d been fishing with Herb Keeves and caught a 54 pound salmon, and landed it himself at the age of 11 while fishing from his dugout canoe.
GAD had a temper and came home one day to find Jack working on a bicycle rather than cutting wood and started to push Jack off of a balcony. Jack recalls “I landed an arm load of wood on his feet. He chased me down the stairs and I pushed over a fence and ran like a bugger. I stayed away for two weeks and when I came, I told him it had to be a man-to-man relationship. Things were better after that.”
Frank recalls dating Dorrit Paul (now MacLeod) and later marrying a B.C. Tel operator, Dooley Wilson, whom he met while working at his father’s store on Pandora. He built a home for her on her on 3rd Avenue, however after getting married, she refused to come to Port Alberni and they divorced. The divorce cost $150.00. Wilson and her father later ran race horses at Lansdowne Raceway. Frank later met Margaret Fay and Bill Robinson, parents of Norman who was born at West Coast General Hospital in 1929. Fay left Bill in the 30’s and moved to Yakima where she lived with her uncle, Roy Hill and worked in a fruit packing plant. Frank corresponded with her and convinced her to return.
Winnifred Flitton met and married Bob Beaumont September 20, 1930 and moved to Port in 1934 for Bob to take a job at the APL. He was having difficulty finding work in Victoria and Frank and Charlie found him the job. Win was a gracious and kind person and endured Bob, a man who showed little affection. She was heard to refer to him as “selfish, pigheaded bastard.” Win and Bob adopted son David shortly after his birth on July 21, 1932. They later adopted a sister and brother Mary and Roy who proved to be problematic for Win. However, they were very close to David and his wife Helen and their children Debbie and Bobby. David recalls the time he took Red Ryder BB gun and shot a robin. Win was furious and chopped the gun to bits with a hatchet.
Dick Grandy helped Jack obtain a job at Great Central Lake where he worked with Bob Eatonshore. Jack didn’t know Eatonshore’s wife, Eileen, at the time. Lillian Eileen Ingham, married Bob Eatonshore in 1933. She was born in Kamloops April 1, 1914. Bob asked Jack if he knew of a place for rent and Jack said “sure, my brother has an auto court.” Eileen and Bob and their daughter Bobbie, born in 1933, moved into Flitton’s Auto Court on the River Road.
Charlie and Gladys married in Victoria July 15, 1933 and gave birth to a son Charles Samuel, nicknamed Chub, in Port Alberni in 1934.
Article from the Victoria Colonist Newspaper, July, 1933: A quiet but pretty wedding was solemnized on Saturday, July 15 at St. Michael’s Church, Strawberry Vale, when Rev. F. Comley united in marriage Gladys Mary, only daughter of Mr. S. Ball of Strawberry Vale, to Mr. Charles Flitton, second son of Mr. And Mrs. Flitton of Port Alberni. The bride, who was given in marriage by her father, was attired in a light beige suit with fur trimming and hat to match. She carried a sheaf of lilies. Attending her as bridesmaid was Miss Agnes Flitton, sister of the groom wearing a navy blue suit and hat carrying a bouquet of pale pink sweet peas. Mr. S.W. Ball was best man. Immediately following the ceremony a reception was held at the home of the bride’s father. The rooms were charmingly decorated with summer flowers and a two tie cake adorned the supper table. The bride and groom received many beautiful wedding gifts. After a motor trip up the Island Mr. and Mrs. Flitton will make their home in Port Alberni.
GAD managed the store on 3rd Avenue with part-time help from the kids. Rather than the usual calendar as a annual giveaway, GAD gifted his good customers plates and pitchers with his name and logo. Samples of the promotional gifts can be viewed in the Alberni Valley Museum today. GAD befriended an employee in the store, Pat Fraser. Jack remembers Josephine as a “down home” woman. She often told Jack “when you are old enough, I’m leaving”, which she did, moving to California to live with a niece Theresa. The store in Port never was a great success. The brothers agree “Dad gave too much credit to anyone who asked for it, to the detriment of his family.” Frank rented a house on the site where Woodward’s parking lots sits today from Kendall “a well known, eccentric old bugger”, and Fay turned it into a boarding house. Fay drove for Frank’s Owl Taxi and fondly recalls the time she slapped the face of a burly logger who tried to get fresh. Fay could handle herself.
George Sheed had an interest in a whorehouse that was located next to a goat ranch in 1930’s. Because of the whorehouse location, it became known as the “goat ranch.” Josephine caused great laughter at the time when she went to George, an Englishman who also owned a trucking and transfer business, and asked if she could breed her goats at the “goat ranch.”
Frank saved money to purchase property for Flitton’s Auto Court on River Road and build the first two cabins. The land price was $50.00, with $5.00 down. The lumber for the two buildings was purchased from McLeans Mill at Beaver Creek. (The mill is now a historic site being restored for public viewing and the receipt for the lumber purchase is displayed by the Port Alberni Historical Society in the Port Museum.) Frank asked Jack to assist hauling gravel to build the auto court operation. Frank owned a Model-T at the time and promised to give Jack the car as pay for his help in building the auto court. Jack built six cabins while Frank worked in the bush for Nester Upgaard but says “I never got the Model T.” Upgaard ran a mill on the hump (road in to the valley) and a logging operation on the Beaufort Range behind China Creek where Frank was a Whistle Punk.
Frank and Fay moved into the first auto court cabin in 1937. Frank then approached the City of Alberni to provide two lots between the auto court and the Stamp River Bridge for a park. Frank and his friends cleared debris and growth from the park to create its first playground. The park stands today as a tribute to that initial effort. The family spent many happy times enjoying the park.
In 1937, the West Coast General Hospital was increased by 20 beds to a total of 67. Frank lived on 3rd Avenue in a room behind his Owl taxi stand. A 1929 Desoto that he purchased in Victoria was his cab. “After work, we beered-up at the Arlington Hotel in Alberni.” He remembers his mailing address was Box M, Alberni.
Frank decided to purchase a new Plymouth taxi cab. He dickered with local Chrysler dealer Carl Tederman, unable to negotiate a satisfactory price. Unhappy that Tederman didn’t have the color of car that he wanted in stock, Frank decided to go to Nanaimo to purchase a car. Frank, had been told of a new green Plymouth in Nanaimo by a friend and another taxi operator Wing Hay, who had also purchased a new Plymouth. He left the valley headed to Nanaimo to buy it. Near Coombs he spotted Tederman in the distance ahead and knew they had similar motives. Frank took a short cut over Englishman River, arrived in Nanaimo first and told the dealer he wanted the car. He was told the car had been promised to Tederman, but to come back in a day or two and he’d get the car. He purchased it, providing Owl Taxi with a brand new cab. Frank recalls while operating the taxi that the power system for the town shut down. The system was supplied by a large generator by Rogers Creek. He went to Deshaws, bought all their candles and delivered them to the hospital. Later he sold his taxi business and car, a move that he later regretted. “I changed an easy job for a hard job of longshoring.” He longshored between 1937 and 1944 where his foreman on the waterfront was Tom Watts, a well known local native.
GAD contracted asthma from opening crates of Japanese crockery packed in rice straw and died in Port Alberni from asthma complications and heart failure March 2, 1938. An obituary stated at the time “He had been in good health and his death came as a shock to his many friends.” He was a “prominent Merchant.”
Eileen Flitton had two brothers; a twin brother, John Goodrich Ingham of Victoria and Kenneth Arthur Ingham, of Surrey. John was a brother-in-law to actor John Ireland.
In 1938 Jack’s eye caught a nice looking “Babe” in a fur coat while she was roller skating in Port. He asked his friend Gordon Herbertson who she was and Gordon replied Eileen Eatonshore. By this time, Eileen was separated from Bob Eatonshore. Gordon’s girlfriend, Irene Maloney, arranged Jack and Eileen’s first date, coincidentally the day after GAD’s funeral in March, 1938. Eileen worked as a housekeeper for pineapple millionaires Lovekins who owned an estate at Long Beach and Faber Point on Sproat Lake. They invited her to world travels but she declined.
Eileen recalls she wanted to surprise Jack by setting up a Christmas tree at his home but accidentally drilled a hole through the floor. When Jack returned the kitchen table was placed in a strange spot. Eileen said “don’t move it” and refused to admit anything was wrong. Jack moved the table and found the hole.
Jeanine Flitton (Jeanine Robinson) was born to Charlie and Gladys in May 9, 1938, just prior to the family leaving Port Alberni to return to Victoria. On arriving in Victoria, Charlie installed huge furnaces in the airplane hangers at the Pat Bay Airport. “I got 45 cents and hour and my boss got $1.00. Yet I had to show him everything he knew about the job.”
Charlie later worked for Victoria Van and Storage and then Edwards Welding on Broughton Street. He eventually built and opened General Welder’s on Caledonia Street but sold that to Edwards. “The unions took a unsuccessful run at me and the City hassled about building codes so I got mad as hell and sold out. I made money on it, but I have made a hell of a lot more if I’d kept it. The building is 60 x 70 feet and it doesn’t have a support post and looks new in design today. You could park 20 trucks on the property at one time. Chub drew pictures at Victoria West School that were perfect. I remember they were displayed 5 or 6 years later and the School Board still has them. He won a CCM bike for a Redfeather Campaign Poster. The old Craigflower School was old when we were kids. We knew then it had historical significance.” Chub raced soap box derby cars in Victoria. Charlie says “he was good and won first place many times.” Charlie and Chub were later well known sprint car drivers at Western Speedway.
Jack Flitton opened a bicycle shop on Third Avenue in 1939, the year of the King George VI and Elizabeth visit the Valley. Frank and Fay were married in a quiet ceremony on June 17, 1939 in Victoria. Eileen Eatonshore became a housekeeper for Frank and was invited to their wedding but couldn’t attend as Fay borrowed her only coat for the wedding.
Fay was one of four sisters, Isla, Mary, and Helen and a younger half-brother, Delbert Boutillier. Isla, Fay and Helen were born in Bellingham, Washington, and Mary and Delbert were born in Port Alberni. It is believed their family moved to Port Alberni from Rosario on Orcas Island about 1915. Their father Jim Massey left the family when the kids were young and died in Enumclaw about 1926. Their mother remarried twice, first Delbert’s father, then to Albert Kosko.
Norman’s Uncle Jim Thompson operated a dairy farm at McCoy lake (the farm operated today by Jim’s son Bill). Frank purchased a pit pony for Norman from Sam Madill in Nanaimo in the early 40’s. A local Indian, Cultus Bob, passed the auto court each day in his canoe. He would often stop and provide weather reports which were very accurate, saying “I learn from the birds and the moss.”
In 1941 Robert Deane Flitton, a Canadian Air Force Flight Lieutenant, died during World War II in Crete. He was shot down in his Wellington Bomber while bombing an invading Germany army in an effort to protect fleeing British and French armies. The same year a newspaper obituary included the following: “Mrs. Letitia Jane Flitton, 92, of British Columbia for more than 40 years, died May 30, 1941 at the home of her son. C.N. Flitton in Los Angeles. Mrs. Flitton had made her home with her son in Los Angeles since the death of her husband a few years ago.”
After Frank and Fay moved across River Road from the auto court and into a new home, she gave birth to twins Bette and Bob on February 10, 1942, and Fran on September 7, 1943. A son was stillborn in 1941. Bette Jean and Robert Deane were named after a popular radio program at the time and Bob was the name sake of the airman Robert Deane. Deane was Letitia’s maiden-name and the “D” in GAD.
Frank, being well known in Port, on exiting a hotel bar shortly after the twins were born, overheard a native lady entering with a group of friends exclaim “Daat’s Frank Fullitton….he hash twins ya know.” The family laughed about that for years.