The Runacres Family

The Runacres Family​

The Runacres first came to Canada a generation before the ones who would eventually settle in Westbank. In March of 1905, William and Matilda Runacres auctioned off all their belongings and their house in Essex, England and departed aboard the RMS Virginian (famous for rescuing survivors of the Titanic’s sinking 7 years later) with 6 of their 7 kids for the for the 7 day crossing to Canada, eventually disembarking at Halifax rather than the intended destination of Quebec due to the extreme seasickness of most of the family. With their 22 pieces of luggage, the family travelled west by train, eventually settling in McGregor, Manitoba where they farmed for a few years before moving to New Westminster in 1908, allegedly because they had been told that William’s cancer would progress more slowly in British Columbia. Unfortunately, despite this alleged healing power, William passed away in August of 1909.

Now left to care for themselves and each other, many of the Runacres children got jobs of their own. Forrest, the 5th of the 7 siblings, worked at Royal City Planer Mills for $2 per day for 3 years before branching out to try several other professions, including working as a teller for the Merchants’ Bank and in a laundromat where he met his future wife, Marion White of Calgary, Alberta. Forrest married Marion on August 5, 1911, and moved to Calgary with her in September of 1911, but unfortunately she died childless just three and a half years later. Forrest found work during and after this time with the Bennett and White Construction Company doing construction in Calgary and the surrounding area.

In 1917, Forrest signed up for the army as part of the 49th Edmonton Regiment, with paperwork showing his medical exam to have occurred on November 19, 1917, in MacLeod, Alberta. He travelled to Europe aboard the SS Melita from February 19th through March 4th, eventually being assigned to Badshott camp. While there, he saw his cousins in the area and achieved a first class rating in a course on the use of the Lewis machine gun. He started in combat in May of 1918 and was quickly taken to the front lines, eventually participating in the battles of Ypres, the Somme, and Passchendaele. By the end of the war, he had gone “over the top” a total of 14 times as well as having served as a sniper. During this time, he consistently received care packages from his mother back in British Columbia, far more parcels than his fellow soldiers ever did, and dutifully sent her back each paycheque he received. He described the conditions in the trenches as awful, with lots of mud and pests and the constant reality of friends dying all around him. One notable story is that he once captured a German crawling towards his trench after refusing his request to kill him, a little while later becoming amicable enough to be drinking and joking together. At the time the armistice was signed, Forrest was in Mons, Belgium, and spent some time back in London and around the United Kingdom before eventually leaving back for Canada on May 21, 1919, onboard the ship “Celtic”.

On returning to Calgary, Forrest stayed with his first wife’s family and soon met the woman who would become his wife, Bessie Dunfield (then a stenographer at Ashdown’s Hardware store). They married on December 26, 1923, with a honeymoon that took them to Drumheller, Calgary, Jasper, and Vancouver by train before eventually settling in Vancouver where Forrest found work with Hanbury’s Sawmill in the False Creek flats. Their kids were born in Vancouver between 1925 and 1929, where they lived in a house on Dunbar between 23rd and 24th they had built for $1000 in 1926. The Great Depression of 1929 led Forrest to want to get into farming as a more secure occupation, so on March 1, 1930, Forrest, Bessie, and their 3 kids (Merle, Malcolm, and Keith) came to Westbank via CPR to Summerland and ferry to Westbank Wharf, where they met up with the Gormans, to whom they were related (Eva Gorman and Bessie Runacres were both sisters; Bessie was also similarly related to the Hussey family via Bella Hussey). They stayed for a while with the Gormans until they moved into a house owned by Grieve Elliot in the northwest of Westbank, where Forrest farmed for 2 years growing tomatoes, onions, and the like.

After 2 years of this, the family struck out on their own and moved to Penticton on February 1, 1932 for Forrest to take a job operating a milk delivery route, which he disliked so strongly that by March 1 the family moved back to Westbank into the Captain Browne house on the right of Highway 97 and Glenrosa, where Bessie washed milk bottles and pails to pay the $15 per month rent. At this time, the children began school. Forrest took whatever would he could find, including farming with Grieve Elliot and J H Griffin and doing public works projects. The family kept a cow for milk and raised calves and pigs each year for meat; Forrest made sausage, bacon, headcheese, and other preserved meat products from the latter using recipes passed down from the long line of butchers and farmers in his family. Bessie canned vegetables from their garden for use in winter, while Forrest harvested ice and the kids sledded down Main Street and skated on Hardy’s Lake.

In 1936, Forrest and Bessie traded their house in Vancouver plus a 1/3 share of the crop of the next 3 years for a 9.7 acre orchard and old house owned by a K. Iwashita located on Main Street (now the site of Westwind Village), which they moved into on March 1, 1936. Forrest whipped the ill-kept orchard into a productive and prosperous one, and the family continued to keep a cow and raise meat animals (though not chickens, for which Forrest had an intense dislike). At this time, they were managing to go through nearly 100 boxes of their own apples each winter, eating it in everything: apple pies, apple pudding, applesauce, apple slices, and the like. Such storage boxes for their own use and for shipping out were largely made by the family themselves from “shook”; as a teenager, Malcolm could make 1000 boxes a day to keep up with the demand. It was around this time that Forrest had the family’s 1925 Chevrolet touring car cut down and the chassis converted into a “Bennett Wagon” at Hewlett’s Garage, which was then used with a horse to haul fruit from the orchard to the packinghouse. Forrest also sometimes took turns monitoring the Westbank Irrigation systems, checking at 5 am and later before going to bed that water was flowing down the ditches and canals as it should be. The farm was visited multiple times through the years by the Summerland Experimental Farm (succeeded today by the Pacific Agri-Foods Research Centre) to observe Forrest’s methods and fruit.

In later years, much of the manual labour at the farm, including spraying, irrigation, and dicing was mechanized, with Forrest hiring out much of the support and setup work for these due to his lack of knowledge about and experience with machines. Forrest finally retired from the orchard in 1965 at the age of 75, selling all but a small corner lot on which he built a new house for himself and his wife. They continued gardening in this new location, with Bessie continuing to can and freeze produce. In his spare time, Forrest played the harmonica and organ, passing away on January 8, 1982, at the age of 91. Bessie passed away a few years later on June 25, 1993, at the age of 92.