Mother Olive

Mother Olive

Remembering the life of Eric Griffiths

The colourful history of a longtime White Rock resident

The death of longtime White Rock resident Eric Griffiths at the age of 91 marks the close of another, earlier chapter in the evolving history of the city.

His passing was marked only by a quiet ashes-scattering ceremony at Victory Memorial Gardens on  Aug. 4 – it would have been his 92nd birthday – attended by relatives of his late wife, visiting from Wales, and a small coterie of surviving friends.

In recent years, most locals encountered him as an affable regular at Semiahmoo Shopping Centre’s food court. Widowed, with no children, and long-retired, Griffiths lived, latterly, at Bayview Chateau on Blackwood Street.

But White Rock residents with longer memories recall Griffiths as one of the proprietors, with father Walter, of Midway Motors – a landmark Johnston Road automobile sales and service operation from 1947 until 1973, so-named because it was located midway between the then King George Highway and the beach.

Like his father, Griffiths was known as an enthusiastic, if not-too-skilled, member of the city’s boating community in the decades following the Second World War;  he and his father bought their first boat, a 34-foot cruiser christened the Wallerdeeno, in 1952, and he became the first commodore of the White Rock Yacht Club, from 1953-’56.

Indeed, at one time, the Midway Motors building (at 1549 Johnston Road, near the current KFC franchise) was virtually headquarters for many Peninsula boaters; an upstairs clubhouse served as the venue for meetings and dances for the club.

White Rock historian Lorraine Ellenwood said the dances were legendary as riotous affairs in which restraint in imbibing was not notable.

“It had an exterior staircase and I’m surprised, from what I hear, that any of them made it down to the street safely after the dances,” she said. “I would have liked to have been around to see that.”

After White Rock’s breakwater proved inadequate for mooring, and members tried unsuccessfully to form an alliance with other yachting groups, the club closed in 1961. Griffiths became one of the founding directors of the White Rock Power Squadron the same year, and Midway Motors’ clubhouse, in turn, became the venue for squadron activities.

At that time, according to a 50th anniversary history compiled by squadron member John Toews, the Griffiths owned two vessels moored in Blaine Harbor, Wa., the 100-foot wooden Lady Valentine, of 1914 vintage, and the 65-foot Vantonia.

Griffiths, who had been a director of the Kiwanis Club of Peace Arch, was also active in the Masons, serving as worshipful grand master of his lodge.

“He was a strong part of the community,” said Wilf Price, a former employee at Midway Motors.

Stubbornly self-reliant to the end, Griffiths succumbed to a heart attack after being rushed to Peace Arch Hospital on July 26, just days after returning home following surgery for a broken hip.

“He was a very strong-willed man,” said longtime resident Mary Beals. “He was determined he was going to walk again, and he did.”

She recalled Walter and Eric Griffiths first arriving in the city in 1945 – along with Eric’s mother, Olive, and his Welsh war bride Dean (Deanie) – following both men’s service in the war.

Father and son were also Welsh by birth, said Bob Haining, who befriended Eric Griffiths some 10 years ago and compiled a family tree for him. Walter was born in 1900 and Eric in 1920, and the family emigrated to Canada in 1926, Haining said.

Walter Griffiths had also served in the British Army during the First World War. Both he and his son enlisted in the Canadian Army at the outbreak of the Second World War, serving together in England. (Eric Griffiths, first a gunner, and later a lance-bombardier with the Third Canadian Field Regiment, saw active service during the invasion of Sicily and the French and German campaigns).

Ellenwood said the pair were noted at the time as the youngest father and son serving with British forces, and the pair had the distinction of being presented to King George VI in February 1940.

“Eric was very close to his Dad,” Beals said. “He worked with him and for him, and (Dean) did the books for Midway Motors for years and years. They were a very close family, all four of them.”

“They lived in the same house on Marine Drive and Eric and Walter came to work together every day,” Price remembered.

Price, who was first employed by Midway Motors on the lube rack in 1963, spent a decade working there – mostly in the parts department.

The Griffiths’ originally sold and serviced Austins, but by 1953 the company had switched products to become a Chevrolet-General Motors dealership.

“I bought a car from Midway and I think my dad bought his Austin from them,” said local history buff Dave Henderson, who added that Griffiths later gave him some of his early photographs of the dealership.

(Both Haining and Price remember Griffiths as a keen amateur photographer who retained a lively interest in changing photo technology. After Dean died in 2001, Griffiths bought a computer and used it to digitize his photographs. “He went from never having turned a computer on, at age 82, to becoming very proficient in Photoshop,” Haining said.)

Although the senior Griffiths was more the imperious boss, according to Price – “Walter was the owner and everybody else knew that – you didn’t cross Daddy” – he viewed both father and son as “excellent people to work for.”

“They were people-people – they liked meeting and talking with you,” he said.

Walter died in 1971, passing the reins to Eric. After the business folded a few years later, Griffiths devoted his time to caring for Dean, who was in declining health.

“He kept a sharp eye out for her and made sure she was enjoying herself,” said Merv Lowen, who has happy memories of the couple accompanying her, and her late husband, Leo, on numerous post-retirement vacation trips to Palm Springs.

“We had a motor home and they had a Cadillac,” Lowen said. “Dean was a very lovely lady, always so proud about the way she could dress, and she made friends so easily. They were a very close couple. And Eric was so well liked – when he had the car dealership he sold lots.”

Price said he also got to know Griffiths well over their 10-year association at Midway.

“The thing I remember most is his presence,” he said. “He was always friendly – he’d stop on the street and talk to everybody.”

“He was a short man – like a banty rooster,” said Haining, who remembers Griffiths seeming to know everyone at the Semiahmoo Shopping Centre food court, where he had coffee at least three times a week.

“You didn’t want to back him into a corner but he had a wonderful sense of humour – he was liked by everyone.”

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A Morgan Creek resident has filed an official complaint against a blueberry farmer in the area. (Google image)
Morgan Creek couple files official noise complaint against blueberry farmer

Pair who recently moved to South Surrey say blasting fans keep them from sleeping

Volunteers from Semiahmoo Secondary joined with members of the Lower Mainland Green Team and the White Rock and South Surrey Naturalists Wednesday to remove invasive plants from White Rock’s Ruth Johnson Park in March. (Contributed photo)
Green Team, South Surrey students mark Earth Day with invasive plant removal

Volunteers to be on site at White Rock’s Ruth Johnson Park

Surrey forest trail, on Surrey Mound. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
OUR VIEW: Surrey should celebrate Earth Day every day, every week

Today – Thursday, April 22 – is Earth Day

Film crews took over Hawthorne Square Dec. 14 to shoot scenes from the TV series Flash. (Photo: Malin Jordan)
UPDATE: Cloverdale ‘Flash’ episode airs

TV series ‘Flash’ transported 176th Street back to 1998

This map illustrates the number of active COVID-19 cases in Greater Vancouver from April 11 to 17, 2021. (BC Centre for Disease Control image)
Active COVID-19 cases in Delta down from previous high

241 cases April 11 to 17, second most since BC CDC began releasing weekly city-level data

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden smile as they say farewell following a virtual joint statement in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pledges to cut emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030, short of U.S. goal

Trudeau announced target during a virtual climate summit convened by U.S. President Joe Biden

Shannon Zirnhelt, from left, her son Lockie, 3, Julia Zirnhelt, 13, and Ella Krus, 13, co-founders of Third Planet Crusade are featured in a music video set to air on Earth Day, April 22, 2021. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
WATCH: B.C.-made music video launched in time for Earth Day 2021

Singer songwriter Shannon Zirnhelt worked with Third Planet Crusade on the project in the Cariboo

Ambulance crews have been busy with a record number of emergency overdose calls this Wednesday, April 21. (BC Emergency Health Services)
B.C. paramedics responded to a record 138 overdose calls in a single day

Wednesday’s calls included 48 in the Vancouver Coastal Health region and 51 in Fraser Health

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. COVID-19 hotspots targeted as AstraZeneca vaccine runs low

17,000 appointments booked the first day for people aged 40 and up

(File)
Two injured in rollover crash near Agassiz

One treated for serious, non-life threatening injuries

Dresses hang outside Nelson city hall as part of the REDress Project by Métis artist Jaime Black. Photo: Bill Metcalfe
B.C. red dresses symbolizing missing, murdered Indigenous women vandalized a 2nd time

Nelson’s REDress Project was vandalized along with an outdoor installation on Vancouver Island

A nurse loads a syringe with a vaccine for injection at the Victoria Clipper Terminal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout not enough to bring back normal life by fall: report

Only 51% of the population will be protected under B.C.’s current rollout, SFU professors say more vaccinations are needed to achieve herd immunity

Most Read