Twenty-fifth in a series of pioneer profiles
To know Mavis Stainer is to know Ainsworth’s past.
Her father, John Bradley (Pop) Fletcher, died 40 years ago, but thanks to Stainer and her siblings, his name is perpetuated in large letters on his old general store.
Fletcher came with his family from Ontario to Fort Steele, where his mother ran a boarding house, then joined Fink’s mercantile in Cranbrook. In 1912 he swapped positions with J.P. Fink, who worked at Henry Giegerich’s store in Ainsworth. Eventually Fletcher bought Giegerich out and put his own name on the building.
In Ainsworth, he met and married Gladys Currie, who came from Regina to visit her uncle Jim, a local miner. The couple had five children including Stainer, who today lives next to the hot springs in the family home her father acquired as payment for a debt owed to the store by a California mining engineer.
In 1926, a primitive road was blasted around the Coffee Creek bluffs, at last linking Ainsworth to Nelson and Kaslo by means other than sternwheeler. The ribbon cutting was one of the biggest events in the community’s history.
“I can remember the celebration,” says Stainer, who recently turned 90. “My sister Eileen and I were all dressed up. They had a big archway. Oh my goodness, it was just packed with people. We weren’t used to so many. The store was full.” She also recalls an “old fellow with a white beard” orating from the store’s porch. That was Premier John Oliver.
Stainer went to school until Grade 8 in Ainsworth, then took correspondence courses. For a few summers, she was a chef’s helper and chambermaid in the Silver Ledge Hotel, the first of several now-vanished hotels she worked in.
The second was the Outlet Hotel at Procter, where she toiled long hours — sometimes from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. — for $30 a month and quit once she saved enough to attend hairdressing school.
Another was the Hotel Castlegar, which she and husband Paul owned for a decade. Back then, the SS Minto still plied the Arrow Lakes, and they got a lot of boat trade.
They also helped run hotels at Kamloops and Williams Lake before taking over Nelson’s Villa Motel. Stainer returned to Ainsworth when her mother’s health failed.
Her father, meanwhile, worked in the store practically until the day he died at 88. “He never retired,” she says. “That store was his whole life.”
He usually opened at 9 a.m., but they never knew when he would get home. He worked six or seven days a week, and hated closing on holidays — he couldn’t resist opening for at least a few hours in case someone needed a loaf of bread.
He had no staff, but often enlisted his family’s help. During the Depression, his wife and son Jack looked after the Ainsworth store while he worked at Fink’s in Nelson and roomed at the Strathcona Hotel with daughters Doris and Corinne, who attended high school.
The store closed not long after Pop died in 1973 and sat idle while Stainer, who inherited her mother’s interest in local history, formed the J.B. Fletcher Restoration Society. In 1988, the refurbished store re-opened as a museum.
With all its original fixtures, it looks much as it did when Pop Fletcher arrived in Ainsworth a century ago, and indeed, when it was built in 1896. The store has an ancient cash register, medicine bottles, canned goods, and old cereal ads, among other things, all in worthy tribute to a pioneer merchant.
The museum is open this summer Thursdays through Mondays, 1 to 5:30 p.m.
Previous installments in this series
Eric and Peggy Denny
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