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The Balfour store

The following memoir by Allison Holt of Victoria looks back on the store that her family ran at Balfour from about 1913-15 and 1919-45.


Her father, Charles, was born in Bolton, England, and trained as a druggist. He was headed for Vancouver for the promise of a job, but was so astonished by the mountains around Kootenay Lake that he got off the boat at Balfour. “He never went any further,” Allison says. “He just stayed.”


Charles was first mentioned in the Nelson Daily News of April 30, 1912:

Charles Holt of Thornton-Le-Flyde, England has purchased the improved portion of the ranch belonging to Arthur G.R. Strickland at the Narrows, near Procter. He has taken up his residence there and will build a modern home in anticipation of the coming of his wife and family from the old country.

What’s odd is that Charles was not yet married, nor did he have any children!


According to Kootenay Outlet Reflections, Charles built a log cabin on the old road beside the Balfour school grounds and this became the store. Charles was appointed postmaster effective Jan. 1, 1914, taking over from Neil A. McFadyen. When Charles enlisted for World War I in October 1915, he left Wilfred Slater in charge of the store. (Despite his absence, Charles officially remained postmaster.)


Charles served with the 54th Kootenay Battalion and returned to the area in 1919. By this time the opulent Kootenay Lake Hotel had been turned into a sanitarium for convalescing soldiers. One of the nurses there was Alice Mary Jones, a Shropshire native who emigrated with her parents to Manitoba before the war. She trained as a nurse in Winnipeg and then headed overseas.


“The moment he saw her, he knew she was the one,” Allison says. They married in Balfour on Sept. 1, 1920 and honeymooned for two weeks at Pilot Bay, which “was like Shangri-La.”


Unlike her husband, Alice was not enamoured with the local mountains. Nevertheless she stayed. They had three daughters. Janet (b. 1921) and Lindsey (b. 1924) were both born at Kootenay Lake Hospital in Nelson. Allison, however, arrived early.


“The woman who mother asked to assist fainted!” she says. “So Dad had to practically deliver me.” Consequently, Allison is among the few who can say they were actually born in Balfour.


Charles enlarged the store in the 1920s and built living quarters at the back and upstairs for his family. Kootenay Outlet Reflections says he “extended credit freely to all” and in addition to the post office, the store was home to the telephone exchange, “making it a very busy centre. The school children frequented the store as often as possible for penny candy and other delights.”


Raspberry drops were five for a penny, while licorice pipes were one cent apiece. A Sweet Marie chocolate bar was a nickel.


The well-stocked store had a reputation for being able to satisfy the most obscure customer requests — best exemplified one day when someone asked if they had a birthday card for an aunt. They did!


The girls all helped in the store, where they were remembered by one contemporary as “very pleasant and rather shy.” Allison picks up the story from here.


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From left, Charles Holt, daughters Lindsey, Allison, Janet and wife Alice, ca. 1940s.


The rough-planed grey floor planks of our country store were never scrubbed. In the summer Dad took a basin of water and sprinkled these old, strong planks to keep the dust down. They withstood the stamping of snow-covered boots in the winter.


The butcher store on the eastern side had a small, wire-covered window giving a view of the Purcell Mountains over the lake, shining in their blueness with the fall gold of poplars nearby adding to the view. A narrow corridor by the butcher store gave space for sacks of commodities, dry goods, etc. In this area a pleasant aroma of these goods made the whole store an attractive place to shop.


In front of the butcher store and by a window was a small table with an upright phone and a receiver on its hook. This phone was rarely used although part of the exchange was nearby. It was once used, though, for a long distance phone call to England from a family living here. All went well through Nelson and long distance.


Then there was the store itself with a handsome large counter (I think sawn from a bar) with a splendid pair of scales and cash drawers.


When Revels were first made Dad got a small freezer. One time Mother made some fruit recipe which turned out very bitter, but with ice cream it was wonderful. Pop was in demand, kept in a large fridge in front of the butcher store. I remember Mom refusing me a second lemon pop; I got over that craving.


The mail came from Nelson every morning about the same time as the bus from Kaslo. During the winter it was a real challenge for the driver, Pat Paterson, to manoeuvre his large Greyhound bus around places like Coffee Creek. People were glad enough to get off at Balfour and the warm store.


The post office was open six days a week. Christmas Day was not a holiday unless it fell on a Sunday, which it did every seven years. Dad and I worked very well together to get the mail in each of the cubbyholes. The mail came in a canvas bag locked in a special way. It was shaken out carefully so that nothing was left in the bag by accident. At night there was a pickup by the same van coming now from Kaslo to Nelson.


In the summer it was very busy at this point with orders coming in for the weekly delivery of groceries in Queens Bay, three miles away, plus the summer visitors at the inn here and cottages. It was good to get the increase in service so we could go to high school in Nelson.


Electricity came in during the ‘30s. I remember Dad having to get under the school so they could have electricity for the Christmas concert. By the next year the school had it. The thin glass windows on each side of the door facing north let in light for the store.


Dad got his meat from Nelson through Calgary; it was very good. Butter came in wooden boxes (very precious). The company advertised their cow, Brooksie, and soon we had our own Brooksie, a Jersey who gave us beautiful milk. She, however, would not tolerate women, but mother settled that by wearing a pair of slacks. Then, she was all right.


We could never leave the store altogether as a family, but it was a privilege to serve at Balfour store and being able to enjoy the garden of fruit trees and flowers back of the store along with the large old cedar, now the only thing left. When Dad retired he received letters of commendation, especially the one from the post office which was heart-warming.


My dad had epilepsy and also two of us siblings. I think our ability to serve the public did a lot for our health and deepened our relations as a family.

Balfour, 1925-31, as remembered by Bert Crosby and published in Kootenay Outlet Reflections, showing the location of the Holt store before the present Highway 3A was built.

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In 1945, Charles and Alice Holt sold their business to Eric Garner and retired to Deep Cove on Vancouver Island. “Mother was getting tired,” Allison says. “Dad was nearly 70. My aunt sold her house to them. It was all bush, so it was just wonderful. Very good for Dad because it was countryside.”


Charles Holt died in Victoria in 1969, age 91, and Alice died the following year, also in Victoria, age 83. Their obituaries are seen below from the Victoria Times of May 27, 1969 and Jan. 19, 1970.



Back in Balfour, Eric Garner enlarged the store before selling it to John and Grace Noakes Bowles in 1946. They modernized the operation, added gas pumps, and continued with the post office, telephone exchange, and Greyhound depot.


In 1952, however, the new highway to the ferry terminal by-passed the store and business dropped off. The Bowles bought part of the old Kootenay Lake Hotel golf course and built a new store, which is still in business, after several enlargements, as the Balfour Superette.


The old store is long gone, although its exact fate is unclear. Allison believes it stood for quite a few years after it ceased to be a store. After the Bowles had it, the property was later owned by a teacher, then by someone else.


Allison is now the last of her siblings. Her sister Janet died in 2001 and Lindsey in 2018. She was instrumental in having the eastern-most ridge above Procter named Mount Hartridge and a peak above Balfour named Mount Aylmer after Henry Hartridge and Matthew Aylmer, both killed in World War II.

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