Eighteenth in a series of pioneer profiles
When Salmo’s Jean Stahl was born in 1929, her father cut a deal with the doctor.
Ed Avery was a butcher in Hanna, Alta. and Dr. Wallace Cross was a family friend.
“How much do I owe you for Jean’s birth?” Avery asked.
“Well, how much do I owe you for meat?” Cross replied.
“Oh, 14 something,” Avery said.
“We’ll call it square,” Cross concluded.
Stahl laughs: “He got me for the price of the meat!”
(Cross, who was also Stahl’s godfather, later became Alberta’s health minister. An Edmonton cancer institute is named for him.)
Stahl’s family — including mother Dorothy and younger brothers Lorne and Ron — later moved to East Coulee, where her dad worked for a grain elevator and drove dray for the coal mines.
In 1937, he and some friends came to BC, and found jobs in the Silverton mines. He brought the family out that September, and Jean loved it: their new house had three bedrooms, a dining room, and a bathroom to boot.
But three years later, they moved again to Salmo when her dad found work at the Sheep Creek gold mine. Mae Larson, a girl a little younger than her who had also lived in Silverton, showed her around.
“I cried when I got home,” Stahl says. “They didn’t even have a sidewalk in Salmo! I wasn’t very thrilled at all.”
However, the friendship endured: Mae is now in Vernon, but they still phone each other two or three times a week.
“When I die, they’re to take my bag of ashes, poke a hole in it, and go from the service station over to Mae’s place, back and forth, until it’s all gone,” Stahl says. “I travelled that road lots.”
Her parents bought the Esso station in 1943 and ran it for 13 years. Despite this, her father also worked for Caddie Donaldson, who had the Shell station. She was there the day a pompous inspector accidentally started a huge fire that consumed the oil shed.
“The fire truck came out from Nelson on the old highway in 27 minutes,” Stahl says. “That was quite a feat. It used to take us over an hour!”
Jean went to school in nearby Erie for a year — she has a rare picture of the building before it burned down — and then graduated from the old Salmo high school in a class of six.
She worked in the post office for a couple of years and saw the last Sheep Creek gold brick go through. She also recalls the night thieves dynamited the safe but went away empty-handed.
“There were three mines running and no bank in Salmo,” she says. “The miners used to come down and send all these money orders home. The time they blew up the safe wasn’t a payday weekend, so there was hardly anything in it.”
She later took a business course and worked in Regina for medical supplier Fisher and Burpee, but missed her mother and the mountains. In less than a year she returned home to work at the HB mine, and there met hard rock miner Kurt Stahl, whom she married in 1956. They had four children.
Although it’s been more than five decades since her family ran the old Esso, it lives on in the memories of a few old-timers.
“There’s one fellow in his 90s in Fruitvale. Every time I see him, he’ll tell whoever’s around: ‘Her mother made the best milkshakes!’ We were known for our ice cream parlour. Mom always used day-old milk. That was the secret, she thought.”
Previous installments in this series