They may have only become friends in recent years, but combined, Ann Breaks and Florence Wall share more than a century of White Rock’s history.
“We’re all pioneers here,” Breaks said last week, while enjoying an afternoon cappucino with Wall at Whitecliff Retirement Residence.
The afternoon was highlighted by a festive visit from Santa, but just down the hall from that action is where the stories get told.
Back in 1951 – six years before White Rock seceded from the then-municipality of Surrey and became a city on its own – Breaks’ husband, Bill, donated the equipment that was used to clear the land on the south side of North Bluff Road to make way for the seaside city’s hospital.
Wall’s late husband Art was mayor of White Rock from 1972-73, and an alderman from 1965-71.
Before that “we built the first self-serve, modern grocery store in White Rock,” Wall said, recalling long days at Wall’s Fine Foods, and laughing at how, in the beginning, “I didn’t know a pork chop from a sausage.”
“The store is still there… just off the corner in Five Corners. It’s a café now,” she said.
Reminiscing about the people and events that have shaped the Semiahmoo Peninsula is a regular pastime of the friends – who clearly also share a similar sense of humour.
“Her and I get together and talk about things… We’re talking about oldtimers and can’t remember names,” Wall laughed. “Our conversations are so free and easy because we know the same things.”
But the odd surname seems to be among few things that Breaks and Wall, now aged 94 and 90, respectively, don’t remember.
Breaks still clearly recalls falling for her husband when she was just 16 years old; the gas station/corner store his family owned at 40 Avenue and 176 Street in South Surrey; and the days of paying for groceries just once a month, when “credit” was all about trust.
“It was interesting times. Things were tough – people couldn’t afford gas,” she said, acknowledging it could be argued with regard to fuel, at least, that the same situation exists today.
Wall remembers moving to the city in 1954, when “there was nothing here, nothing on the hilltop.”
“Five Corners, there was nothing there except a couple of stores,” she said.
Today, the city is encroaching well into the airspace, with highrises that have dramatically changed the landscape – and, Wall and Breaks agree, the feel of the city.
“You don’t know anybody downtown anymore,” Wall said. “We don’t have any stores left in White Rock anymore, all we have is highrises.”
“They say it’s lonely, condos,” Breaks added.
The friends’ prominence in White Rock’s history was a driving factor in efforts by Whitecliff staffer Wendy Breaks – Ann Breaks’ daughter-in-law – to organize a festive Christmas event for all of the seniors who call the residence home.
“I just want to see them have a nice Christmas,” Wendy Breaks said of last Wednesday’s event. “I really want it to be something special for the residents.
“Some of them were just young brides when they came to White Rock.”
She said her own family’s history includes a strong connection to the Five Corners district. Up until 1998, much of the area was owned by the Breaks family, and she’d like to see it renamed Breaks Corner.
Her in-laws were “quite instrumental in a lot of things that happened in White Rock,” Wendy Breaks explained.
“If I was a little bit more in-the-know back then, I would have insisted.”
These days, Wall and Breaks are content with what they have – loving families and a place in the narrative of White Rock.
“We saw it when it was at its best,” said Wall.