Surrey’s Alan Clegg sits down for a socially-distanced chat about his life in Cloverdale over the years

Alan Clegg sits down for a chat with the Cloverdale Reporter. (Photo: Malin Jordan)Alan Clegg sits down for a chat with the Cloverdale Reporter. (Photo: Malin Jordan)
Basketball in the Athletic Hall, 1949. Spectators can be seen observing from the balcony. (Photo courtesy of the Surrey Archives, SM57)Basketball in the Athletic Hall, 1949. Spectators can be seen observing from the balcony. (Photo courtesy of the Surrey Archives, SM57)
Breaking ground for the Athletic Hall, 1926 and 1927. (Photo courtesy of the Surrey Archives, 180.1.62)Breaking ground for the Athletic Hall, 1926 and 1927. (Photo courtesy of the Surrey Archives, 180.1.62)
Burning of the Opera House and Athletic Hall, March, 15, 1952. (Photo courtesy of the Surrey Archives, of the Opera House and Athletic Hall, March, 15, 1952. (Photo courtesy of the Surrey Archives,

Welcome to “Cloverdale In Conversation,” a monthly feature with a local personality. This month, Alan Clegg is our guest. The long-time Cloverdale resident moved here with his family from Calgary during World War II, when he was just a few months old.

Clegg has fond memories of the Clova Theatre opening in 1947. He attended Cloverdale Elementary, went to Lord Tweedsmuir in Grade 9, when the school was still located down on Highway 10 (that building now houses the Cloverdale Traditional Elementary School), and he graduated from Tweedy in 1960. Clegg is a founding member of the Lord Tweedsmuir Alumni Association and its current chairman.

Clegg chats about Cloverdale over the years, his time as a volunteer firefighter, and 1962’s Typhoon Freda.

Malin Jordan: Tell me a little bit about yourself.

Alan Clegg: I’ve been in Cloverdale since 1942. My memory’s not very good ‘cause I was this long in 1942 [holds his hands about 12 inches apart]. But that’s how long I’ve been here.

MJ: So you came here when you were a baby?

AC: Yes, my dad was in the army and he got transferred to the Seaforth Armouries on Burrard Street. Every Friday night, he’d come home on the train – then known as the Interurban, the old B.C. Electric – and get off in downtown Cloverdale and walk up to our house.

MJ: Where was your house at the time?

AC: The first house we moved into, you know where Kwantlen University is, well, that hillside used to be owned by the Shannon brothers, three brothers. And we rented a house there. With dad being in the army, he was away most of the time. He didn’t go overseas, fortunately, but being at Seaforth Armouries, he was quite busy. So we lived there a while and I went to the local schools.

MJ: Of all the places to live in the Lower Mainland, why did you parents pick Cloverdale?

AC: Well, my parents had a relative that lived here. So they said, “Come out and rent a house in Cloverdale,” and I haven’t left. I built this house [gestures behind him] in 1970. It’s on an acre of land and I bought it in 1968 – I was single then – and I bought this acre for $1,900.

MJ: What about work and school?

AC: I worked locally most of my life. I did most of my schooling here. I was 14 years at Hugh & McKinnon. I was a general insurance broker. They were right over where Ward Watkins Insurance is now. Where Ray Butchart is; he and I are old buddies. And I worked there, and then I went on the road for my brother-in-law, and I retired in 2000. So now I have 11 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren — and seven compost heaps. Have you got many old friends that have seven compost heaps going at once?

MJ: No (laughs). I’ve never met anyone with seven before today…. So, what’s your take on COVID-19 and how it’s affected Cloverdale? Have you ever seen Cloverdale in a state like this in all your years?

AC: Never. No. I went down to get some Japanese takeout, my wife wanted a break from cooking, and I was down there about 5:30. And I looked down the street. There wasn’t a soul. It was eerie. Is that a fair word? It was really eerie. Not a person on the street at 5:30. I’ve never seen anything like it.

SEE ALSO: Road markers, signs to recognize ‘Historic Cloverdale’

MJ: How are you both holding up?

AC: My wife and I are doing all right. We haven’t hugged our grandchildren for probably two months. But once every few weeks, when there’s a birthday, the family comes up here and we set up lawn chairs in a big semi-circle and we keep our distances. We order our groceries online and I drive down and pick them up. We’ve been doing a lot of gardening too.

MJ: Toughest thing?

AC: Not being able to see the grandkids. The affection is still there on all sides. They’ve learned that grandparents are the most vulnerable. So, “Stay away from grandma and grandpa.”

MJ: Do you have any recollection of 1969 when the Hong Kong flu came through?

AC: Not really, no, no. The one that I do remember fairly well was Typhoon Freda in 1962. When that blew through, that had a great effect on the whole of Greater Vancouver and the Lower Mainland.

MJ: Really? Tell me a little bit about that.

AC: Well, it was a Friday night and I was with the [volunteer] fire department. And, of course, the power all went out. The winds came up in the evening on the Friday night [90 km/h with gusts to 145 km/h]. And the whole Lower Mainland was out of power for days and days. The siren that used to be on top of that tower at the fire hall was run with electricity. And, of course, the first of the big winds came in and everybody lost power. And that was the way to beckon volunteers there. So somebody – as soon as they realized the siren wouldn’t work – had to go and start knocking on doors to get the closest guys that lived near the fire hall to go to the fire hall and wait. Of course, everybody wanted to be sure their family was settled in and comfortable because they knew they may be gone for days.

Just the telephones would work. So the radio room could phone us and say, “You’ve got a house fire or a medical call.” But that was quite a situation to go through. Typhoon Freda October 12, 1962. A Friday night into a Saturday.

We were telling people, “If you throw blankets over your deep freeze and don’t open it, you’ll be fine for at least three days.” It worked okay.

SEE ALSO: Cloverdale high school teacher chats about teaching and life during the COVID-19 crisis

MJ: What year did you join the volunteer fire department?

AC: I joined in 1961 and served 35 years. I was elected volunteer district chief for five years in a row – from 1973 to 1977. I was also elected as a director for the B.C. Fire Chiefs Association for 1976 and 1977.

We keep a group together, because that’s Fire Hall No. 8, a group of us – all has-been retirees. We call ourselves “After Eight.” It sounds like a nice little mint candy (laughs).

MJ: How often do you guys meet?

AC: Not very often. Usually at funerals. That’s the reason we set up. Guys were saying, “Hey, I don’t live that far away,” or “Old Harry died. I would have loved to go to his service.” So we have a little email list and I’m on the little committee that puts this stuff together. So when somebody does die, we let everybody know. And we maybe have lunch once a year. After Eight.

That firehall, Hall No. 8, opened in 1929 when they bought a pump out of Vancouver. The nearest firehall at that time was in New Westminster.

MJ: With Vancouver and New West being so far away, would you ever get the firefighters from Blaine driving up here to help out?

AC: Oh yeah. A couple of times. There was a Star Hotel right across from where the Clova Theatre is. When that burned, they called New Westminster and they wouldn’t, or couldn’t, come. Tried Vancouver. Called Blaine. They said, “We’ll be up there as soon as we can.”

MJ: Did you ever head south?

AC: I was down there in the ’60s. They had a big fire in downtown Blaine on the west side, on the seaward side. It started at 10 o’clock in the morning at one end of the block and it moved all the way up and burned the whole block down. We sent a pump down for that from Cloverdale.

But the couplings down there are a different thread. Part of our training here was you always got taken down to the border and were told, “See that little glass enclosure? There’s your adapters for the American thread.”

MJ: So you smashed the glass case on your way through?

AC: Yes, (laughs). That’s right.

SEE ALSO: Cloverdale’s Opera House and Athletic Hall was the place to be for nearly half a century

Blaine was up here when the Athletic Hall burned. That’s probably about 1952. The Athletic Hall was over where the old post office was. There’s a drug company in there now, 176A and 57. The Opera House was there as well. The red brick building on the corner used to be the Bank of Montreal and right behind it was the Athletic Hall.

The Athletic Hall burned on a weekend. I rode my bike past it on the Monday morning and it was still smoldering – burned to the ground.

The only water in town was from the Surrey Co-op because they had a sprinkler system for the mill and, therefore, they had a water tower. They had to lay (hoses) from down near where (Clover Square Village) is. The Co-op housed a mill, a grocery store, a hardware store, and a service station.

MJ: You would’ve been 10 when it burned down. Do you remember going to the Athletic Hall?

AC: Yeah, political rallies, had a good men’s basketball team in those days, Christmas dances, and whatever else.

MJ: What do you think the most significant change in Cloverdale has been over the years?

AC: I was afraid you’d ask that question. And I probably can’t answer it (laughs).

For me, Cloverdale always had two big deals a year: the rodeo and the Fall Fair. The rodeo started in 1944 and the Fall Fair started in 1888. And they were the big events. So one big change would be that the Fall Fair was merged with the rodeo.

SEE ALSO: 130 years of Cloverdale’s country fair

MJ: In 1996.

AC: Yes. So that’s one. The other is just how much Cloverdale’s expanded in growth. I can’t give you any more changes than that – just the growth.

When I grew up, Cloverdale probably had four or five thousand people. And you played softball locally, and went to school, and knew most of the people in the area.

But it still retains – my words are clumsy – it still retains some small town spirit, camaraderie, or whatever somebody wants to call it. It still has some of that. And that’s why I like it here so much.

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