Jack Fitzgerald Looks Back on a Time of Hardship

Jack Fitzgerald (b. 1926 and married to Irene) worked in a Boeing aircraft plant during the War and has lived on Commercial Drive for 64 years.

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Jack Fitzgerald in 2014, age 88

When we were kids, we used to have a wood furnace and a range stove in the house. We spent most of our time cutting wood and piling it and drying it and then carting it in the house, because we had to keep feeding the stove. So a lot of our time was spent heating the house. I remember my brother and I, whenever we had some freezing weather, took shifts at night time keeping the stove going, so the water pipes wouldn’t freeze without insulation in the walls. Now, as I was saying to Irene the other day, you can just go to the wall there and push a button and you can have heat whenever you want.

 

When I was working at the aircraft plant, I lived in Marpole, and I used to ride my bike out there all the time, and the fog (from everybody burning wood) was so thick you could hardly see where the road was; there must have been a lot of people going in the ditch.

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The Vancouver sky used to be covered in smoke and fog resulted from fuel burning for 110 days/year, compared to only 10 days in the present – 1936 photo of False Creek
Image credit: James Crookall, public domain

I got married in 1951 at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre. We had a small wedding. Those were hard times in them days. We didn’t waste much money here, because people didn’t have a lot of money to spend after the War. The wages were quite low as well, so it wasn’t like nowadays when they’re spending thousands of dollars on a wedding; we couldn’t afford that big of a deal.

 

Just after we got the house, we found out that the sawdust furnace was broke, and we needed a new one, so I had to sell my accordion to buy a new furnace. I bought it at Grandview Sheet Metal works. It was quite a nuisance; a lot of times you couldn’t even get sawdust, and when you did get it, it was so wet that it wouldn’t burn right, and that was a big problem all the time. The sawdust was collected from the sawmills and packed in big sacks; then they got blowers and just blew it in through those long pipes.

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Grandview Sheet Metal Works on Venables St., where Jack bought his furnace
Image credit: M. James Skitt Matthews, public domain
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Piles of wet sawdust from a Marpole sawmill, waiting to be transported
Image credit: Jack Lindsay, public domain
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Consolidated Coal trucks being loaded with sawdust
Image credit: Stuart Thomson, public domain

During the War, I worked in a Boeing aircraft plant on Sea Island, in Richmond. We were making military flying boats which they were using for patrolling (they called them patrol bombers); they were pretty slow, mostly for patrolling the coast and stuff like that. They had big blisters on the side so they get good observation, and you could put the machine guns in there.

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Workers inside the Boeing aircraft plant on Sea Island in 1942
Image credit: Jack Lindsay, public domain
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Launching ceremony (1942) for the first patrol bomber made on Sea Island, Richmond
Image Credit: Jack Lindsay, public domain

I moved into my house on Commercial Drive in 1950, and I still live there; it’s been 64 years. The Drive was really quiet then, not as many people and stores. I planted the tree above my house; I brought the plants from a camping trip over on Vancouver Island when they were just 1ft tall.We used to go camping there a lot; the ferry seemed to be cheap, so we went there whenever we wanted to and camped on the Provincial Camp Grounds, often parking right by the seashore.

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