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Dorothy Fairbairn leaving Osoyoos 85 years after arriving as toddler
Dorothy Fairbairn still remembers her first descent down Anarchist Mountain into Osoyoos in 1931 when she was just two years old.
The family, along with grandparents, drove down Anarchist in two Ford Model A cars pulling utility trailers full of everything they could take with them.
Like many who arrived in Osoyoos at that time, the family came from the Prairies – from Star City to the east of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.
Soon Fairbairn, 87, will be leaving the town she’s always considered her home, even during those periods of her life when she lived away.
In about a week, she’ll be moving to a condominium in Guildford, a neighbourhood of Surrey.
Her many friends packed the reception area at Osoyoos and District Museum and Archives on Monday afternoon to say goodbye and to share memories of her.
Fairbairn said her vision has deteriorated and she wants to be closer to her family, for their sake as well as hers. Four of her five children live on the Lower Mainland.
When she came here 85 years ago, the Great Depression was underway and her father was unable to keep his hardware store in Star City open.
So, the family headed west.
“He laid a map down on the oil drum, hit it with a pencil and it came down at Osoyoos,” she said. “Just like that. Very scientific.”
It was a difficult trip in those days. There was no Trans-Canada Highway.
Fairbairn remembers being on the viewpoint on Anarchist and looking down.
“And my mother was saying, ‘there’s nothing there,’” Fairbairn said.
For two years, the family camped in a tent just west of the bridge. Their tent was next to ones of the mine manager and surveyors, forming a tent village.
The outhouses were tied down with ropes so they wouldn’t blow over in strong winds.
After a while, her father acquired an old log trading post in the old town, which was near the present location of the Subway restaurant. It became known as George Carlson General Store, and it was where the bus stopped.
After the new town was built along the present day downtown Main Street, the store moved to a location where Eisenhut Insurance is now located.
Fairbairn said the 1930s in Osoyoos, when she was a child, was very different from the 1940s, when the war brought big changes.
“It was an ideal life,” she recalls. “Children ran wild. We took off our shoes on the 24th of May and they didn’t go back on until the first of September. We were never told, ‘don’t do this, don’t do that.’ Except don’t jump off the bridge and don’t go to the ditch, because that’s where the snakes are.”
She recounted other memories of growing up in Osoyoos – people getting together to donate time and materials to build a community hall, before the days when “red tape” would have impeded it.
She also recalled the later destruction of the same community hall and winning first prize for her pineapple upside down cake that she dropped on the floor, but managed to recover.
She also remembered local boys, many underage, signing up to fight in the Second World War en masse.
Fairbairn used her recollections to segue into a pitch for the importance of the museum and her hopes to return to Osoyoos for the opening of its new location in 2020.
“My decade was the 1930s,” she said. “There are people here that came in the ’40s and ’50s. You have your decade. Don’t let it get lost. It’s important that we know where we came from.”
As well as being a strong supporter of the museum, Fairbairn has also been a talented artist and she’s played an import role at the Osoyoos Senior Centre.
Mat Hassen, president of the museum board, and Kara Burton, museum manager, presented Fairbairn with an honorary lifetime museum membership in appreciation for her support as a donor, director, supporter and member.
“We’re going to miss you,” said Hassen.
Hassen has also known Fairbairn as a friend and neighbour for more than 11 years.
“Dorothy has come to our place for dinner for at least two nights a week for the past 11 years,” Hassen said. “We’ve had daily contact with her. She’s been a member of our family.”
He describes her as smart, creative, fiercely independent and proud.
“She’s been a painter, a jeweler, a gardener and an excellent cook. She reads, she speaks, she thinks,” he said. “She’s a pretty significant, independent 20th century and now 21st century woman.”
Fairbairn has also lived away from Osoyoos for several periods of her life. She describes the first such experience as a “sore spot.”
In the early 1940s, a school was built in Oliver and Osoyoos children in Grade 7 and older had to be bused there.
“Busing was not a happy situation,” she said. “The students from Osoyoos – I hate to say it – but they were bullied and we didn’t have the same privileges that other students had. So, when this recent thing of busing came up, it just curdled my blood.”
The busing to Oliver became so intolerable that in the end her parents sent her away to a private school, where she spent four years.
She returned to Osoyoos for the summers.
She and her husband also lived in Winnipeg, coming back to Osoyoos to camp, and always intending to return, which they did in the 1990s.
“I’ve been in and out like a homing pigeon,” she said. “It’s a wonderful town. The best neighbourhood I ever lived in. How can I be so lucky?”