A century later: Remembering, reminiscing and reassessing

By Merna Emara
Staff Writer

He served five years in the Second World War, spent 60 years being an active member of the Kiwanis Club and 47 years owning and managing a local business – all adding to his 100 years of success, community involvement and wisdom.

“There were not many cars when I was a little kid,” 100-year-old Bruce Murray, born in Crozier and raised in Fort Frances, said as he recalled some of his fondest childhood memories. “Everything was done by teams of horses. We used to play hockey on the road in the wintertime. No one complained. There were so many rinks in the backyards. We had an awful lot of fun here.”

Murray was eight years old in 1929 when the ripple effects of the Great Depression reached Fort Frances. Although a child, Murray sharply remembers the financial struggles his parents went through to make ends meet.

“Nobody had any money,” Murray said.

Yet despite Murray’s sharp recollection of the scarcity of finances, he said he never felt neglected or not looked after.

“I do not know how my mother managed to keep good food on the table with the little money,” Murray said. “We played softball and never did anything that cost any money. We just made our own fun.”

Simple, minimalistic and fun, was Murray’s life as he progressed through school, while simultaneously being involved with sports such as baseball and football.

When Murray was old enough to work, he was bottling Coca Cola and washing bottles at the Royal Bottling Works, owned by Stanley Marsh. Every Saturday night, Murray reaped the benefits of his labour in the form of a cheque – $9.60, 20 cents an hour for the 48 hours he worked during the week.

“We also made 12 other drinks besides the Coca Cola,” Murray chuckled. “I used to learn how to mix those drinks and I was very happy to be there.”

It was not long after that when Murray joined the Air Force in 1940 after he got the message to go to Thunder Bay, then Fort William, along with four others.

Murray went to Toronto and Brandon, Manning Pool, before they finally went to Jarvis, Ontario. Station Jarvis was a bombing and gunnery school that Murray and a few others were stationed at for a couple of months. They were on guard duty while also getting trained.

Bruce Murray looks back on 100 years of life, love, and Coca Cola. The Centenarian has packed a lot into 100 years, including a depression, military service, a small business and a happy marriage and family. – Merna Emara photo

Having a knack for mathematics, Murray was trained for 12 weeks to be a navigator.

“I went back to Jarvis for four weeks to learn bombing and gunnery,” Murray said. “From there we went to Rivers, Manitoba, for night fly and night navigation. We then went to Halifax to go overseas.”

Two years after the Second World War started and the war broke out between the United States and Germany Murray found himself in Gander, Newfoundland, flying between Newfoundland and Iceland in the North Atlantic Squadron.

“Then I got posted to be an instructor and helped out in the West Coast,” Murray said. “In the last nine months of the war I was instructing out in Pat Bay, just outside of Victoria. I enjoyed the squadron very much. I couldn’t have asked for a better bunch of fellows. They became almost like family.”

Although Murray only spent five years serving in the military, the war had a lasting impact on him.

“I felt like I grew up during the war,” Murray said. “I went when I was 19 years old and left when I was 24. I could not forget about the war. It is something I would not want to go through again. I put in 1,500 hours over the Atlantic and had 96 trips.”

After five years of serving in the military, Murray returned to Fort Frances in 1945 and decided to try his luck with a small business, Murray’s Music and Gift Store.

“I always liked music,” Murray said. “It was a little store, 15 feet wide by 30 feet long. Things were tough. I think we put on four or five additions to that store.”

A few years after returning to town and opening his business, Murray met his wife of more than seven decades, Barbara, in 1946 after she came from Simcoe to teach physical training at the school.

“I met her at the Anglican Church,” Murray said. “We got along together very well. The most important thing that happened in my life is the fact that I married Barbara. “She has always been with me.”

Together they had their four children: Joan, Ian, David and Robert. Murray said all of his children have done well in their personal and professional lives.

Being honest and having high ideals is the one advice Murray said he would give to younger generations.

“This is how our marriage succeeded,” he added.

It is a good life that he has had, Murray said, but if he could go back in time, he would reconsider devoting 47 years to owning a business.

Instead, Murray said he would have considered going off to university and getting some education prior to opening a business, if that was the plan after graduation.

“It’s such a tough business. You’re under the gun all the time,” Murray said. “That’s about the only job I had. I didn’t do anything else except be a storekeeper. You got to be on top of everything.”

Although there is no escape from reassessing the what ifs in life, Murray looks back fondly to the time Fort Frances had very few vehicles, to the time he would play hockey on the road unbothered by oncoming traffic and to the time he bottled the best Coca Cola in town.