Sunday, December 18, 2011


Prairie established a purchasing department sometime in the 1930's. Roy Davidson, along with Ed Kittridge and Fergus Kirk, were some of the early pioneers who started going to Calgary to purchase directly from the wholesalers, saving the school considerable money. In the beginning, Roy would take his own pickup truck until the school was able to purchase one for that purpose.

Every Tuesday evening, the school's truck and semi-trailer would return from Calgary laden with all manner of goods for the school. Office, plumbing, electrical, building and grocery supplies would all be unloaded at the various departments around the campus. The school's purchasing agents would keep their eye out for sales on furniture and other products. Tom Ewing, Walter Honecker, Warren Doud, Sam Gillespie, Buford Marsh, Hank Jaegers and Brian Bates were some of the men I remember from those years. They had a circuit they would follow to find the super deals. These were the real "bargain hunters" long before there was any reality TV show by that name.

A weekly visit to the Staff Store was somewhat akin to spinning a roulette wheel. You just might hit the jackpot! One never knew what awaited. The smell of fresh bread and earthy vegetables along with fresh produce provided a veritable cornucopia of delights for a young boy.

The store sold a great variety of items including baked goods, vegetables, fruit, tin cans of soup and some dry goods like towels, dishes, thread and material of various kinds. Big blocks of cheese were purchased in bulk and divided up into one pound portions. Milk, eggs and meat were supplied by the Institute's own farm.

Possibly the most important fixture in the whole place was the candy counter. Deep inside this glass case were Mars Bars, Hot Tamales, squares of sponge toffee, Sweet Tarts, Nibs, licorice shoe strings, Lifesavers and other delights that were sure to keep the local dentists happy and in business for years to come.

The store also had a whole section that was referred to as damaged freight. This could be anything from tins of beans and soup that had been slightly dented to boxes of cereal. There were also "mystery" cans - unidentified cans that had lost their labels somewhere along the way. You took your chances when you purchased them. The contents wouldn't be revealed until after you had arrived home and they were opened. You might get a can of green beans or cherries.

Prairie staff members were not exactly on the top of the pay scale in those days and these bargains were a real blessing and often helped staff to make ends meet from month to month. A hard working group manned the Staff Store. Goldie Lewis, Max Beam, Leonard Miner, Elizabeth Wilson, Joel Durance, Jack Whitehead, John Krohn, Merv Ratz and Gordon MacDonald were some of the staff and students that worked there. These people had the hearts of servants as they stocked shelves, ran the till and boxed up the groceries. For a while they even ran a door to door delivery service.

Jars of pre-mixed peanut butter and jelly, cases of Nestle's Quik strawberry powder, yule logs, peppermint and spumoni ice cream seemed to be in stock for months. I'm sure you've heard of pumpkin pie ice-cream? One year they had a whole shipment of that . . . I guess it had never really caught on! There were freezer loads of Creamsicles in unusual fruit flavors like blueberry and peach. Boxes of crackers, cereals of all kinds, salad dressings and cans of fruit often lined the shelves of the damaged freight section. Like the early bird getting the worm, those who made the effort to get there as the store opened were sure to find the bargains.

Up the stairs and to the left was the butcher shop. Sawdust covered the old wooden floors. There, Gus Honecker and his wife Ila, butchered and packaged meat and loaded it into the big walk-in freezers for use by the school or for sale in the store. Below the butcher shop was the pasteurizing plant, bottling fresh milk that was delivered to the staff homes, sold in the store and used in the dining hall. Bob Wunsch and Hector Hanna kept the plant humming right along. There always seemed to be a flurry of activity there as bottles were cleaned, refilled and loaded onto the milk truck for distribution.

From the school's bakery came fresh brown and white bread, buns, dinner rolls and desserts. Lloyd Christie, Albert Ehman and Harry Klosse's peanut butter, chocolate chip, oatmeal and raisin cookies and apple turnovers always made a welcome snack. Grandma's standard lunch, when we dropped in to visit after school, was peanut butter sandwiches on brown bread, an apple and a couple of Harry Klosse's cookies.

Japanese oranges or tangerines were a luxury item when I was growing up. It was very special at Christmas to have a box or two of these delicacies. Many a child and family would hope and pray that they would be able to afford at least one box at the Christmas season. In December, 1974 the purchasing department at Prairie received a call from a supplier in Calgary. An entire freight car load of oranges had been misdirected and if Prairie would send their truck and trailer into the city, they were welcome to the entire lot at no charge.

This was an incredible provision and we were able to buy the little wooden crates full of the delicious fruit, each individually wrapped in green tissue paper. The cost . . . 10 cents a box! The modest price was to help cover the cost of freight and handling. Kids and adults alike inhaled oranges for breakfast, lunch, supper and snacks. There were a lot of folk who spent considerably more time on the porcelain throne than they had planned that Christmas! Oranges were frozen, made into juice and used in jello, milkshakes and various forms of baking. A host of other creative ideas were implemented to make the best use of these juicy morsels before they spoiled.

At the staff meeting the next week, one mother stood and thanked God for providing the answer to her little girl's prayer. Another stood and thanked God for the answer to her own prayer. I, for one, will never forget "The Day It Rained Oranges".

Note: I want to thank my own Mother for the title of this story.

© 2012 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.


  1. I remember those oranges - Bible School students had them for all three meals also. Fond memories... thank you for sharing!

  2. You have described so aptly the things that went on in the staff store. Being the daughter of one of the managers, I would enjoy the stories my dad would bring home regarding the Tuesday raids that would happen once the royal door to the store opened following the shopping spree. The "damaged freight" would be gone in an instance ... catfood, et al.(in some unidentified cans - yummy, yummy). We could often figure out the individuals he talked about just by their mannerisms since he didn't spill their identifiers (names). He didn't want to gossip, you know!

    Thanks for letting a former staff kid relieve a very pleasant memory!

  3. Steve, I was going to post to the PBI Friends page about those Japanese mandarins this past Christmas. Honestly, I think of that bounty every time I peel what I consider the real taste of Christmas (other Asian mandarins don't 'cut it').
    Your memory about the names of those involved, and the items garnered for us is unbelievable. I remember the mandarins and the "Big Blue' cords and jeans (they were 2nd's I think) we got for 25 cents a pair.
    Thanks for another great story!

    1. Exactly what I was going to say about Stephen's memory for names. Remarkable!

  4. I remember those oranges. My dad was a student at PBI then and we enjoyed many of those good tasting oranges.

  5. I cannot, to this day, bear even the smell of Mandarin oranges. Once, in a class with the Alberta Arbitration and Mediation society - "From Positions to Interests", we were to make a seemingly neutral statement to our role playing partner who would then ask contemplative questions till the root of the positional statement was uncovered. Within 5 minutes he had me in tears as I recounted the year I got sick (Christmas 1974) never to recover. So the smell of Mandarin oranges was really an association to a drastic and pivotal point that would direct the course of my life from then on. Boo to those 56 boxes of oranges Christmas 1974!!!

  6. That's a great story! And, I adore those oranges every Christmas season.

  7. Oops... that was my (Rachelle's) comment, not Ashley's. Guess she was still "signed in".

  8. I think we were on staff that year. I remember taking those mandarin orange boxes and making shelves and a little stool for my baby daughter to sit on. I covered it with gingham cushion surrounded by lace ruffles. I used to have her picture taken sitting on it. Yes, the oranges were wonderful and so were the boxes. In that self same butcher shop with Gus Honecker's help we butchered a deer that my husband shot while hunting. It was the most delicious venison and we used it all that winter keeping it in lockers for our use in the butcher shop. Our refrigerator did not have a large enough place for it all