MEMORY LANE: North Vancouver SOBs take care to remember local history

Who remembers there was a distillery in North Vancouver where Park & Tilford shopping centre now stands?

Or the Pittsburgh Paint factory across the road? The factory, which closed in 1978,  was replaced by Lumberland, which was replaced in turn by a big box store. 

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A S.O.B. will remember.  That’s Some Old Boys, by the way, in case the three letters raise questions
among readers.

The origins of this men-only social club vary, even according to the founders. Kiwanis guys started the SOBs, says one. Rugby players, says another. They were golfers or North Van High grads. It’s highly likely that a fair number of SOBs fit all four categories, while others, maybe only one.

What matters is that 20 or so years ago, a group of men who enjoyed one another’s company committed to get together regularly.

Their schedule is heavy. They meet for lunch once a month and enjoy an annual day at Hastings Park racetrack organized by ace news photographer, fourth generation North Vancouver native and founding SOB member, Ralph Bower.

Like most of the SOBs, Bower was born and raised in North Vancouver. He lives in the Queensbury neighbourhood, only a house or two away from the house where he was born. 

Their parents or grandparents worked in the lumber mills and the shipyards, and in the small businesses – the filling stations and coffee shops, the butchers, bakers and barbershops that flourished in North Vancouver.  They were teachers, bankers, lawyers and doctors, too, but it is more likely that their offspring, the SOBs generation, were the first in their family to complete post-secondary education.

Like most of the more senior SOBs who graduated in 1956 or earlier, Bower and every other student in the community came together at North Vancouver High School.  Four years together in high school creates bonds for life. 

Living in industrial North Vancouver, the SOBs-to-be learned how to do stuff, mainly from watching and helping their fathers. They tinkered with the jalopies they purchased with earnings from after school and summer jobs. They can pound nails and fix faulty wiring, they can build a boat or a house.  

Gottfried Pollhammer was 12 when he arrived with his family in 1954. The Pollhammers chose North Vancouver as their destination, trusting the recommendation that it was just like Austria, with big mountains and lots of rain.

“We lived for a year at the Ranch Motel at Capilano, and I went to Westview  School. When we moved to Lynn Valley, I went to Sutherland for grades 8 and 9. So I had to meet people all over again, and then I ended up at North Vancouver High school with all the others students that I had known before.

“My dad was a carpenter, and a jack of all trades. I didn’t know how good of a dad he was until I had my own children. My brother was into computers and I was interested in what my dad was doing: electrical, plumbing, carpentry. When we built two cabins at Mount Baker, my dad turned the reins over to me.  Passing on his knowledge and then his trust was a big thing for me.”

Gottfried remembers the Park & Tilford scotch whiskey distillery and the Pittsburgh paint factory: during one long hot teenage summer, Gottfried painted its exterior. 

His main summer and weekend job at the Lynn Valley Theatre, where he rose from usher to projectionist and manager, led Gottfried to his career in technology. He graduated from Vancouver Vocational Institute and went to work for BC Tel in 1964. By the time he retired, the company had gone digital and changed its name, and Gottfried was teaching the new systems to staff and to companies all over the world.

He has been an SOB for about 15 years, and co-ordinator for about five years since he inherited the role from Jack Keast, a founding member of the SOBs.

SOBs like Keast, or Ralph Bower, like Larry Reda, or Bucky Ellison, carry the story of North Vancouver in their hearts and in their memories. That story, back to its origins, is still within living memory, if stories told by the parents and grandparents who built the community are factored in. Story and memory are the gateway to our past and the SOBs, with their shared experiences and history, are keepers of our heritage.

The SOBs welcome new members. To become one costs three dollars. Get in touch with Gottfried at pollhammerg@telus.net.

Laura Anderson works with and for seniors on the North Shore. Contact her by phone at 778-279-2275 or at lander1@shaw.ca.

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