Marion Sharpe will always remember the festivities when she first arrived in Mission as a 10-year-old girl in 1926.
"It was May Day and there was a big parade with the young men in the militia and a band," recalled Sharpe, now 96.
"Everybody had to go to the parade."
And the community is readying for a celebration again as Mission commemorates its 120th birthday this Saturday.
Sharpe, a long-time member of the Mission Historical Society, took the opportunity to share her recollections with the Times about Mission life in the early 20th century.
Her father, Alexander Clark, brought his family from New Westminster to Mission where his brothers, Silverdale pioneers Mark and Bill Clark, had settled. The village of Mission was a far cry from the bustle of the Royal City.
In 1927, the population of the Mission township was estimated at 1,000 people and the whole municipality probably encompassed a total of 5,000 residents.
"Mission was only three blocks long," said Sharpe.
And any new faces in town didn't go unnoticed.
On her first day of school, a contingent of kids was waiting on the street for her and her siblings to introduce them to their teacher.
The beginning of the 20th century, between 1911 and 1929, was considered the town's 'golden years' and many of Mission's heritage buildings were constructed in this era. In this period, the Mission Memorial Hospital opened at Fifth Avenue and James Street in 1925.
Many residents owned land and farmed berries, vegetables and dairy cattle, said Sharpe. She, her sister and three brothers would visit their uncles' farmsteads and load up on produce.
"Everybody had food growing in those days," she said.
Especially berries - Mission was dubbed the "Home of the Big Red Strawberry" in the '30s, she said.
"They were growing all over the hillsides and railcar loads of
strawberries were sent out [of Mission]."
As a result, a thriving canning industry developed and local high school students worked in the factory at the height of the season, said Sharpe.
"I don't think there was a kid in Mission who didn't work there," she said.
"When the whistle blew it meant there was a load of fresh fruit and everybody threw on their uniform and ran down to the factory near the tracks. We earned 33 cents an hour."
Dances with live music in community halls all over the Fraser Valley on Saturday nights was the de rigueur form of entertainment in her youth, said Sharpe.
In fact, she met her future husband, Paul Sharpe, at a dance in Hatzic when she was 16.
"He was a beautiful dancer," she mused.
"Young people now don't know what they missed."
The couple would marry four years later in 1937 and go on to have six children, three girls and three boys.
After the start of the Second World War, her husband, a wireless operator, was based on Vancouver Island.
Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 strict blackout rules were imposed in Mission, said Sharpe.
"There were fines if you didn't obey them," she said. "We didn't know what was going to happen next."
What happened was the federal government mandated the relocation of people with Japanese ancestry living within 100 miles of the coast to the B.C. interior. This seriously impacted Mission as the bulk of the community's strawberry growers were of Japanese origin.
In the end more than 600 Japanese Canadians were sent to work on sugar beet farms in Alberta and the property and buildings of 125 Mission families were seized.
After the war, the Japanese community didn't return, said Sharpe.
"They didn't get anything. They never came back in the same numbers and it was never the same."
The end of Mission's Japanese community also led to the end of the city's reputation as a berry capital.
Sharpe and her family left Mission for a number of years as her husband's job with the CPR took them to a variety of communities.
But they returned to make Mission their home base in the mid '50s.
In 1965, Sharpe applied and obtained a job as a librarian in the building that currently holds the Mission Museum.
She worked at the library for 20 years, which she felt was the "heart of the community."
"I couldn't have imagined anything better," she said.
"I loved books and liked people and enjoyed children."
She also worked and still works with a number of community organizations, including the Lifetime Learning Centre.
A charter and lifetime member of the Mission Historical Society, Sharpe is proud of the organization's work.
"We try to gather up the pieces of Mission's history," she said.
- WITH HISTORICAL FACTS FROM THE MISSION MUSEUM WEBSITE.
- Mission holds its 120th birthday celebration on Saturday starting at noon at the Mission Heritage Park Centre, 33700 Prentis Avenue. See Ken Herar's column on the next page for more on this free community event.