Generosity runs in Nelson’s Perrier family
Thirtieth in a series of pioneer profiles
Arthur Perrier was generous to a fault. During the Depression, the Poole Drug Co. proprietor extended credit to fellow Baker Street merchants, expecting them to pay him back once times improved. But his willingness to help others cost him his own livelihood: around 1931, the pharmacy went broke.
“He lost out in the end because his accounts receivable dried up,” says his son Joe. “He had a black book with so much in it that he could have retired if anything had been paid back.”
Only one man ever made good on a debt, an Ontario hobo who said: “I’m told you’re an honest man. I am honest too. I’ve been riding the rails for three years and I’m tired and want to go home.”
Arthur gave the grateful man $350. It took until 1939, but the loan was repaid, with six per cent interest.
Joe, 84, says it was typical of his father, of whom he is proud, even though his giving nature sometimes came at the family’s expense. One night Arthur asked his wife Frances what was for supper and she began to cry.
“If you can find anything to eat, I’ll cook it,” she said. The cupboard was bare. And Arthur noticed something else: his collection of gold coins was missing.
Frances revealed she had been pinching one coin at a time for three years to pay for food and other groceries. Now there was nothing left.
But just as they despaired about feeding themselves, there was a knock at the door. It was Wong, a Chinese market gardener who lived near their cabin on the Johnstone estate opposite Nelson.
Joe, only a small child, had been catching gophers and giving them to Wong, who used them for stew. Wong sensed the family’s plight and presented them with a heaping basket of vegetables.
“That was the best meal I ever had,” Joe said. “Every week after that, on Fridays, he brought the basket over and I kept trucking gophers to him.”
It earned Joe his father’s respect.
Arthur came to Nelson from Ontario in 1896 and played for the city’s hockey team that won three consecutive championships. He was also secretary of the 1909 team that won the BC title with the Patrick brothers’ help.
Late in life, he married Frances Maude Etter; he was 56 when Joe was born on Valentine’s Day 1928. They also had a daughter, Naida, 11 years Joe’s senior.
When the crash hit, the family was forced to sell their home at 813 Josephine Street and buy a smaller one at 1024 Hoover. Later, they lost the summer cabin as well, originally acquired in lieu of a drug bill. After the pharmacy closed, Frances became a housekeeper at the Annable block while Arthur worked a string of jobs before getting on with the liquor board.
“He’d get a job for maybe three weeks or a month,” Joe says. “We never saw the money, Mom and I. He paid his debt. He was that honest.”
Arthur died in 1948, as a result of being exposed to ammonia while fixing a pipe at the old curling rink years earlier. A week after his passing, an anonymous tribute appeared in the Daily News, praising his citizenship.
“He was a person of the greatest generosity and kindness,” it said. “No one ever asked his help in vain, and surely a great many people here have reason to be grateful for his generous heart.”
Perrier Road was also named after him — sort of. It was city council’s intention in 1965 to honour Arthur, a former alderman; their rationale for choosing that particular road was that he owned the Perrier mine at the top of the hill.
Only he didn’t.
“It’s true a Frenchman owned the mine,” Joe says. “But Perrier was his white horse. He named the mine after a horse.”
Joe, meanwhile, went to work at 16 for the forest service, thanks largely to a recommendation from Jimmy McGregor, an early Nelson photographer for whom he chopped wood. He also worked for the highways department and the city’s electric utility, doing everything from firefighting to truck driving to carpentry to chasing delinquent bills.
“I never had a [journeyman’s] ticket but I’ve done about 14 occupations,” he says. “Life has been interesting for me. And I married one hell of a good woman.”
He and Vivian McGillivray met on the ice at the Civic Centre in 1949, but didn’t become serious until three years later. He finally proposed in 1953.
“I went to [jeweler] Ted Allen and said ‘I need an engagement ring.’ I had $161 in the bank. He took $160.50! I wrote a cheque and wondered if it was going to [clear].
“We were going to South Slocan — I had just bought a new truck — and at Beasley bluffs, I said ‘Vivian, there’s something I’ve got to say to you.’ So I blurted it out. She dove across and gave me a kiss. Then she said ‘And tomorrow, we will talk. Tomorrow, you’ll know what I expect of a man.’“
They married a few months later and had five children.
For the last 17½ years, Joe has been caregiver to Vivian, who suffered a bad fall. She’s now at Jubilee Manor, across the street from his apartment. He visits every day.
Previous installments in this series