Some of Ken Morrow's books.

Nelson boyhood inspired bestseller

Dr. Kenneth Morrow, who turned his hardscrabble memories of growing up in Nelson in the 1930s into a local bestseller, has died at 83.

Twentieth in a series of pioneer profiles

Dr. Kenneth Morrow, who turned his hardscrabble memories of growing up in Nelson in the 1930s into a local bestseller, has died at 83.

Morrow was a well-regarded ophthalmologist who practiced for decades in Ashland, Wisconsin and Bellingham, Washington before becoming an author in semi-retirement. His first book, A Boyhood in Nelson, was published in 2003.

Morrow said it was inspired by his grandsons, who never tired of hearing about the pranks he and his brothers pulled as kids.

“Their appetite for stories led me to think about my family’s life in Nelson during the Great Depression,” he wrote in the foreword. “And so in other words, this book began with some dirty trick stories, and then turned into the tale of my childhood.”

Born in Trail as the youngest of four children, Morrow never knew his father, who died shortly after his birth. A few years later, his strong-willed but fun-loving mother moved the family to Nelson, where they had a modest house on Latimer Street.

The Great Northern Railway’s station was two blocks up, and Morrow and his siblings loved to help unload the baggage car — especially Friday nights when it contained gold bars — and to hike along the tracks into the mountains, where lakes, streams, and old mines beckoned.

“Our biggest fear was being trapped on Second Bridge, the longest and highest bridge, where an oncoming train could catch us by surprise,” he wrote. (Eventually they lost that fear, with near tragic results.)

The family grew a garden, raised chickens, and the boys spent up to three hours a day selling newspapers. They also scrounged the alleys for anything they could use or sell.

“Life was a never-ending struggle until the start of World War II,” Morrow wrote. “But economic hardship doesn’t affect young children the way it does adults. We children knew we were poor, but never thought we were failures.”

Busy as they were, they always found the time and energy for play. In winter they skated on a backyard rink and sledded down the city streets. In summer, they swam in Kootenay Lake and played simple games.

Morrow paints a vivid, honest picture of Nelson in the Depression, including the prejudices of the era — “some of it racial, some religious, and a lot of it just plain personal.”

Poverty was also rampant. The city was full of destitute men who literally arrived on boxcars and often knocked on their door seeking meals — which were always provided, though the family could hardly afford to do so. (Only years later did Morrow realize how the hobos knew his home was a good place for a handout: a rock balanced on a cedar fencepost was the sign.)

Morrow’s account of tasting his first chocolate bar at age 11 — eating it agonizingly slow to make it last over an hour — is particularly affecting.

The first edition of A Boyhood in Nelson quickly sold out, necessitating two reprintings. All proceeds went to the Nelson museum.

Other books followed: Leaving Nelson: Beyond Toad Mountain traced Morrow’s training at UBC and long career in medicine. Ladies of Easy Virtue in the West Kootenay looked at the history of local prostitution, inspired by his boyhood experiences delivering newspapers to Nelson’s Lake Street brothels. His final work, The Doukhobor People: A Tribute to Good Citizens, was launched in 2010 at a breakfast attended by many old Nelson chums.

Morrow died May 25 in Seattle. His wife Dorothy, to whom he was married 60 years, will be in Nelson this summer with their three children to sprinkle half his ashes from the Great Northern’s Second Bridge.

Previous installments in this series

Rudy Boates

Jean Stahl

Hank Coleman

John Hopwood

Lillian Hickey

Doug Smith

Evelyn Murray

Fritz Koehle

Bernie Czelenski

Agnes Baker

Aya Higashi

Gordon Fleming

Jake Conkin

Walt Laurie

Eric and Peggy Denny

Ray Kosiancic

Lois Arnesen

Cameron Mah

Fran Horan

Just Posted

Seven Nelson rec projects granted Columbia Basin Trust funding

Nelson’s baseball and tennis clubs were the big winners

UPDATE: Two-car accident closes Highway 3A at Thrums

Road expected to open for single-lane alternating traffic at 2 p.m.

1919: Hudson’s Bay Company gets an addition, council votes to exclude ‘undesirable enemy aliens’

Greg Scott brings us five Nelson Daily News stories from a century ago

Call a foul on cancer with the Pink Whistle Campaign

Local basketball referees are raising money for cancer research

Man found dead identified as Andreas Pittinger

Pittinger was known locally for hosting a radio show

VIDEO: Canada’s flag turns 54 today

The maple leaf design by George Stanley made its first appearance Feb. 15, 1965

Eight cases of measles confirmed in Vancouver outbreak

Coastal Health official say the cases stem from the French-language Ecole Jules Verne Secondary

Plecas won’t run in next election if B.C. legislature oversight reforms pass

B.C. Speaker and Abbotsford South MLA says he feels ‘great sympathy’ for Jody Wilson-Raybould

Workshop with ‘accent reduction’ training cancelled at UBC

The workshop was cancelled the same day as an email was sent out to international students

Former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell accused of sexual touching

Accuser went to police, interviewed by Britian’s Daily Telegraph

Judge rules Abbotsford home must be sold after son tries to evict mom

Mom to get back down payment and initial expenses

Trump officially declares national emergency to build border wall

President plans to siphon billions from federal military construction and counterdrug efforts

Snow turns to slush, rain as it warms up across B.C.’s south coast

Some areas are already covered by more than half a metre of snow following three separate storms

Father to be charged with first-degree murder in Amber Alert case

11-year-old Riya Rajkumar was found dead in her father’s home in Brampton, Ontario

Most Read