After 41 years, fire truck goes home

Barriere's first real fire truck makes its journey home to Sooke, B.C.

(Above) The 1947 International fire truck just before it was returned to Sooke on Vancouver Island last November.  Pictured: (l to r) Barriere volunteer firefighters Gerry Wenlock and Drew McMartin

(Above) The 1947 International fire truck just before it was returned to Sooke on Vancouver Island last November. Pictured: (l to r) Barriere volunteer firefighters Gerry Wenlock and Drew McMartin

In 42 years even good memories may dim a little and details of them might not be quite as sharp any more; but Keith Moore who has lived most of his life in Barriere, enjoyed sharing the ones he has about the early days of the Barriere Fire Department, especially those memories of the department’s first fire truck.

Moore tells there was a fire department serving Barriere even before the “real fire truck” was purchased.  At that time the truck they used to fight fires was just a modified tanker truck.

“Some of our guys built an irrigation pump that was gas powered onto it,” said Moore, “It worked pretty well for what the men could do with it; and that was mostly putting grass fires out.”

He says that eventually the firemen, and other Barriere residents decided it was time to “get something better”.  But the big question was how to find the money to buy a fire truck.

“In those days there were no government grants available,” said Moore.

That was when the Ladies Auxiliary of the Barriere Fire Department stepped up to the plate. A magazine was regularly sent to all fire departments at the time, and in one of the copies the community of Sooke, B.C.,  advertised a 1947 International fire truck for sale that they had purchased from the Esquimalt Department, where it had been used primarily on the Air Force Base during WWII.

When the decision was made to purchase the truck, the women of the Auxiliary went into action to raise the funds that would make the purchase possible.

One of those past Auxiliary members is Bernie Kershaw, who says she has been a Barriere resident “for a long time”.

“We were only a small group and fundraising was hard work, but also a lot of fun back then,” said Kershaw.

One of their fundraisers was to start a community bazaar.

“We baked 160 pies for that one,” said Kershaw, “We also catered a lot for $4.50 a plate.  Then there were high school graduations we catered for,  and I can’t forget the time there was a big bake sale in Little Fort so we loaded up a station wagon with baked goods.  There was not even time to price anything; everything was sold right out of the vehicle. We raised around $5,000 over time through different fundraising events; and all of it went toward buying the fire truck and the equipment for it.”

The Barriere Fire Department closed the deal with Sooke in November of 1969 to purchase the truck.

“When the residents of Sooke found out about the deal they were quite upset,” said Moore, “They wanted to keep their truck.  There was discussion about it, but in the end they agreed to let it go; provided that when Barriere did not need the truck anymore it had to be returned to the community.”

It was a cold and rainy day in February of 1970 when four firemen, Keith Moore, Gerry Babachuck, Wally Genier and George Inouye, travelled to Vancouver Island to pick up Barriere’s new fire truck from Sooke.

“Wally Genier drove us to Sooke,” said Moore, “It was a much longer trip to travel along the old number one highway back then; but we reached Sooke without incident and the next morning we picked the truck up and headed out to catch the 6:30 Ferry. It was miserable weather; cold, windy and rain nearly all the way home.  Gerry had rigged up a tarp over the roofless truck, but that did not help very much; we were soaked and miserable.  We were back in Barriere that same night, and felt pretty good having accomplished what we set out to do; Barriere had its first actual fire truck. We did not have a fire hall back then, and until one was completed the truck was kept at Kershaw’s garage.”

Moore noted that the Barriere Fire Hall, for which the Ladies Auxiliary also raised the funds, was opened in May of 1970.

The 1947 International was an asset to the department for many years, even when it was used as a backup.  It was also a favourite entry in the annual Fall Fair Parade, and area youngsters frequently vied for who would get “to ride in the fire truck”.  Finally, when the Barriere Fire Department purchased a newer truck, the old International was retired with dignity.

Now, after 41 years of service in Barriere, the truck has been returned to its place of origin, and the Sooke Fire Department paid to have it trucked home.

The Sooke Firefighters Association say they plan on restoring the fire truck as a parade vehicle, and are hoping to have the work done by 2013 when it will be the 100th Anniversary of the Sooke Volunteer Fire Department.