Terry Ross, genial advisor for almost five decades on all things photographic at Foto Source – and its earlier incarnations – spent his final work day in the Central Plaza store at the end of March.
“I finally decided it was time to take that step and retire,” Ross said, noting it’s been 47 years since he first clocked in at the small camera counter at what was then Reid’s Western Drugs.
“They called it the Camera Corral,” he laughed. “They locked me in in the morning and wouldn’t let me out until I’d sold something.”
Over the years, the White Rock business has morphed – first growing to become a key component of the drug store, then splitting with it entirely in 1982 – until over a decade ago when Ross decided to join Foto Source, a marketing group with 200 affiliate stores across Canada, for which he has since served as a director and chairman of the board.
But, curiously, the majority of Ross’s working life since 1967 has been at Central Plaza – never moving more than a few hundred yards as new premises became available.
The initial offer to work at the drug store came at the right time for Ross, who now serves as president of the South Surrey and White Rock Chamber of Commerce. His working life at that point had included stints with Air Canada, with a photography studio in Vancouver and at a printing shop in Burnaby.
“I didn’t like the commute,” he said, noting working with cameras and film was a natural fit, as he’d been heavily involved in photography as a student at the old Semiahmoo Secondary.
“Me and (Surrey-White Rock MLA) Gordy Hogg were there at the same time – we had our 50th reunion last year and 65 people showed up.”
But Ross, who was born in Winnipeg and moved to the West Coast when he was just starting elementary school, said his interest in photography went back even earlier.
“I had box cameras back as long as I can remember,” he said, chuckling when it’s observed that most working in photography today would consider it a remote, historic device.
“That’s why I keep all that equipment up there,” he said during one of his final shifts at the family business, pointing to a top shelf lined with an array of outmoded still and movie cameras, projectors and other archaic equipment collected over the years.
“It’s all digital today,” he said, noting the store still handles more tactile work, including passport photos and film processing, but mostly special print orders.
“People can bring in their digital file and we can make a print or a coffee mug or a mousepad of it. And, and even though everyone’s got digital cameras, if you leave a photo album on a coffee table, everyone likes to look through the photos.”
But he doesn’t bemoan the march of technology, or the fact that many photographs today are taken with cellphones.
“People are still capturing the moment,” he said. “The only thing that worries me is that people are all interested in looking at the picture right away and uploading it, but then they delete it. There are going to be some big gaps in people’s lives and memories a few decades from now.”
But digital technology is helpful in keeping memories alive, he notes – particularly in restoring old and historic images, which has become another integral part of the Foto Source.
Just as the business has changed, the community has grown up around it.
“When I first came to White Rock in Grade 5, the shopping centre wasn’t even here – uptown was Five Corners, and we used to get our mail at a post office down by Semiahmoo Park.”
Ross has been heavily involved in his community in that time. In addition to his long-standing chamber membership, and latterly with the White Rock BIA, he spent 32 years as a volunteer firefighter.
He and his wife, Caroll, (who she cut her own hours at the store back to one day a week in recent years) have also been closely involved in Semiahmoo Secondary, which their children Melody, Michael and Marcy attended – he as president of the alumni association and she as president of the Semiahmoo Music Society.
Proving that tradition is strong in the family, Michael will take over running Foto Source, Ross said, while Melody is now a teacher at Semi – specializing in English, the yearbook and photography.
And even though the senior Rosses look forward to the opportunity to do more travelling, they intend to be very present in the community – both through their work with the chamber, and in supporting various activities and initiatives.
“We’re still around,” he said. “We like being involved.”