By Mel McConaghy
At the beginning of World War Two, Prince George was just a little sawmill town.
Then, the federal government decided to build an Army base for training here, on the west side of town. Everything west of Central Street, where the bypass is today, to the bottom of Cranbrook Hill, became part of an army camp.
There were barracks built to house the soldiers, dining halls constructed to feed them, and wet canteens for their leisure and entertainment. There were rifle ranges, mortar ranges and artillery ranges, all to prepare them for the war that they’d eventually enter. At the end of the war, the army base was closed, leaving hundreds of buildings sitting empty. The people of Prince George immediately saw potential in these ready made homes, shops and offices. The warehouses that lined First Avenue are an example. Today, the last one that remains standing is still being used as a bottle return and recycling depot.
Now, when you drive down Fifteenth Avenue, between Carney and Central Avenue, you’ll notice a long wooden building, that architecturally, looks a little out of place. This building currently houses the Community Arts Council. From what I can remember, this was the motor pool for the army base, and was at the time, more or less sitting on the isolated dirt road that eventually became Fifteenth Avenue. If you pull over and take a closer look, you can still see the outline where there were once garage doors. When the army pulled out in the late 1940’s, the British Columbia Forestry service bought the building from the federal government, and right up until 1962-63, it was not uncommon to see drying fire hoses hanging on the building that once was the heavy machinery shop, behind the main office buildings. Then, in 1963, the city of Prince George bought the buildings, and the Community Arts Council have made it their home every since. Now, an ugly old army base building that once housed machines of war, first against foreign enemies, and then against the fiery destruction of mother nature, houses the creativity and beautiful art of local artists and artisans.
When the army base shut down, a lot of citizens and businesses took advantage of the bargain basement sale on buildings. Many were moved onto city lots for use as homes and businesses. The first Overwaitea store, at Victoria and Third, was a barracks moved onto the property. The original civic center, that was the old main drill shed, was removed and rebuilt on Seventh Avenue. The curling rink was in the basement. If you listen closely to a few of the old army base buildings left around town (like the big PGX building), you might still hear ghostly Sargents shouting out phantom close order drill commands.
My Life Through a Broken Windshield by Mel McConaghy
Mel McConaghy is a retired trucker and author from Prince George, British Columbia. Mel’s tales are his views of life “through a broken windshield”. They are entertaining and humorous in a folksy style.
Visit Mel’s website at www.melmcconaghy.com