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Putting service before self

Meet Art Ritchie, Salmon Arm pioneer, orchardist, forestry worker and much more.
Pioneer couple: Art Ritchie

Meet Art Ritchie, Salmon Arm pioneer, orchardist, forestry worker and much more.

Well, come to know him through his daughter, Mary Ritchie Wetherill, whose article is the basis for a vignette Peter Molnar will perform on Sunday as part of a multi-venue, Walk Down Memory Lane.

Hosted by the Okanagan Historical Society and the Salmon Arm Community Heritage Commission, the event features a barbershop quartet and silent movie, The Great Train Robbery, at the Salmar Theatre; a tour of a heritage home; a musical presentation and tea and desserts at the Salmon Arm Art Gallery.

The “walk” begins at the Salmar for the barbershop and movie, with background music provided by Jim Johnston. Following that, participants will be split into groups to continue the rest of the tour.

The vignette will be presented in the Seniors’ Drop-in Society, where the life of Arthur Brown Ritchie’s will unfold.

Now in her 80s, Wetherill remembers her father, who served many years as an MLA and on local council, as a compassionate man, who stuck up for the underdog and yet expected everyone to keep a stiff upper lip, get on with the job and stop whining.

“I think from the time I was old enough to read a newspaper, my father was in the news, in the Observer,” she says, noting that she would have liked to have been a politician but became a teacher instead. “I grew up reading newspapers and when it came time for my career I had to move away from town so I didn’t trade on his reputation.”

The vignette about Ritchie is set in 1952 with a script that is, “plagiarized greatly from the article Mary wrote and a collaboration between Mary and myself,” Molnar says. “It was the election where whacky Bennett became the premier and Art had been the MLA and was running again for a third term.”

Ritchie was a coalition (Liberal-Conservative) member for the first two terms under the leadership of Byron Johnson and Herbert Anscomb, who had a falling out.

Ritchie said he wouldn’t run unless both men wanted him and, when it came to the nomination, somebody nominated someone else for the Liberals so Ritchie had to go as the Conservative candidate.

Ritchie also served his country overseas, at Vimy Ridge, Ypres and the Somme in the First World War, and receiving a number of medals. His service in the Second World War happened quite by accident, laughs Wetherill of her father, who was 55 at the time.

“I don’t know whether his country, the queen or his family came first, but I think when the forestry crew at the district office found out there was going to be a forestry corps organized to go over, they were talking over who could go and represent Salmon Arm,” she says. “They finally decided dad could do this, probably over a couple of drinks, then they drove him to Kamloops to enlist.”

Wetherill says it’s the only time she ever remembered her mother and father “having words.”

Ritchie ended up in Scotland, where the forestry corps was disliked intensely because they were felling trees in order to secure timber for the war effort.

“My father did many unusual things and got away with things you wouldn’t get away with today,” Wetherill says. “My father had a good sense of humour, a wry sense of humour, that brouhaha in Parliament, (“Elbowgate”) he would have settled them all down.”

“A lot of licence has been taken on this the life of Ritchie, who lived from 1885 to 1977,” interjects Molnar. “He was a man who wanted to be involved in everything.”

Walk Down Memory Lane organizer Patti Kassa says learning about the man who served 33 years as a councillor and eight as an MLA was fun and interesting.

A Walk Down Memory Lane takes place from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, June 5. Tickets are available (cash only) at Bella Designs on Lakeshore Drive.