Staff at Safeway are putting together a Christmas hamper for a family in Williams Lake sparked by a donation from a man from Ontario. Monica Lamb-Yorski photo

Gratitude nudges man to pay it forward four decades later

An Ontario man is helping a Williams Lake family this Christmas

He did not receive a visit from a ghost of Christmas past, present or future, but an Ontario man said it was the summer’s wildfires that finally nudged him to give back to Williams Lake because of something he did almost 40 years ago.

From his home in Courtice, Ont., Pete Morrison told the Tribune he left Ontario in May 1978 for a job at a mill in Williams Lake.

He and his friend, Brian Hartwig, had met a girl at high school in Lacombe, Alta. whose father owned the mill.

Unfortunately, while the two friends were driving across the country for work the mill burned to the ground.

“We arrived in Williams Lake and had no jobs and nowhere to live,” Morrison recalled. “We were able to get a sublet of an apartment from a teacher that was leaving town for the summer.”

They lived there for a bit and one evening when they were away some guys they had met decided to let themselves in and party.

“By the time we got home we were evicted,” Morrison said.

Hartwig and Morrison ended up living in their 1973 Camero, which was “pretty small” for two guys, and quickly ran out of money.

“We would sleep at the cenotaph, we’d sleep at the Safeway parking lot or couch surf at a few places, but were hungry,” Morrison recalled.

In desperation they went into the Safeway one day.

They grabbed a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter and a jar of jam and made sandwiches.

Leaving the ingredients stashed behind the peanut butter and jam shelf in the store, they decided they’d return the next day if they were still hungry.

“We did this every day. We went into the store, made a sandwich and ate an apple or a banana. Looking back on it, they must have known what we were up to because we never bought any groceries.”

Two weeks later they both secured jobs at the Pinette and Therrien mill in Williams Lake and things started to improve.

They also met Troy Eccles, Morrison said, who brought them home and whose parents took them in.

“They even had four or five kids,” he recalled, chuckling. “Mr. Eccles was the principal of the high school. Mrs. Eccles made us lunch every day. You know, we were strangers — it was just amazing.”

Once Morrison and Hartwig earned enough money to pay the first and last month’s rent, they left the Eccles’ home and rented a house for themselves and in Morrison’s words, “everything else just fell into place.”

Morrison stayed four months and left at the end of the summer to go home and finish high school.

“Brian stayed for a year and a half and he met his sweetheart there,” Morrison added. “Her last name was Lalonde. Her dad had an auto shop in town.”

Morrison has worked in construction the last four decades and is a project manager for a local builder in Courtice.

A few weeks ago he was on the job site and started thinking about the wildfires around Williams Lake.

“My wife and I like to do something at Christmas so I decided to call Safeway up and let them know I’m indebted to them for getting us through that rough patch.”

He told store manager, Marnie Millership, he wanted to send some money to Safeway to help a family in Williams Lake.

Millership told the Tribune she was surprised when the phone rang at 7:30 a.m. and Morrison told her what he wanted to do.

“It’s a cool story that he would do this so many years later,” Millership said. “It was pretty crazy. We had a good chuckle.”

Millership has only been at the Williams Lake store for a couple of months so she immediately put employee Carmen Shwarz in charge.

Schwarz has worked at Safeway for 36 and half years and would know the community better and could find someone to help out, Millership thought.

Schwarz said she has enjoyed making Morrison’s $100-donation go a long way and has been receiving donations from friends so the hamper is continuing to grow.

“I’ve selected a woman who is very deserving, but the type of person that doesn’t want to ask for help,” Schwarz said. “She’s known by a lot of people in town.”

Morrison said hearing how his small donation is going to go far makes him feel good.

“Williams Lake has always had a place in my heart.”



news@wltribune.com

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