Larry Evans: Meet you at the Midway Café

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Somewhere between 92 Street and 84 Street, 100 Avenue turns into the Airport Road. My first memory of the Airport Road was when Kenny and I, and someone else whom I can’t remember, decided to walk to the airport and back. As we lived by the bowling alley and were all of eight years old, it never entered our minds that it couldn’t be done. 

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We trekked down 102 Street, turned left at Odermatt’s Dairy and kept walking. Mom told me later that it must have been about 7 p.m. when we had made this momentous decision. It was 9:30 p.m. when they found us right about at the Midway Café. About the only thing Kenny and I were thankful for was that it was Mom and Mrs. Chase, not Dad and Mr. Chase, that found us. 

Later on, the Midway Café was a cool place to go as a teenager. We bounced back and forth between it and the Gateway Café, depending on the state of our wheels at the time. Mel Clarke and Willard Horst were the first owners of the café, which was situated about midway between the centre of town — 100 Avenue and 100 Street — and the airport, when the airport had a direct approach continuing from the Airport Road. It was also, at that time, located in the Village of Aennofield. 

I came to know both Mr. Clarke and Mr. Horst quite well. I met Mel formally through my dad, and I met Willard through his work at different car dealerships. There were other businesses on the Airport Road, such as Beacon Service, which was a gas station and garage located on the side further down, and was named after the beacon at the airport, which could be seen from town. 

There were others: Wagner’s Concrete, Hilda-Mar’s Meat Market, and the list goes on. This column is about the grand opening of the Midway Café. 

The building is still there today and houses St. John Advertising. The customer entrance door is still on the same angle as it was the day it opened in September of 1958 as the Midway Café.

The two owners, with the assistance of their wives, made a very good job of using their own labour in construction of the building. They cut their own lumber, and got it planed by Percy Prestwich. They all pooled their ideas about the planning of it, and they had a very pretty place, well laid out, roomy, and pleasantly coloured. They had a seating capacity of 26 stools around the horseshoe counters, and 20 seats in the booths, and also two tables to seat eight. The colours were coral and grey, in seating and in floor tiles, and the walls were red mahogany wallboard above, and plank board with a grey and gold finish below. 

They had fluorescent lighting, and built-in refrigeration. Also, there was a nice, roomy kitchen. They had plans for increasing the size of the building as needed. The interior decorating was beautifully done by Bird’s Painting and Decorating, which was located opposite, at the Bartell Brothers office. Territorial Distributors, of Dawson Creek, supplied the interior finishing and tile. Bruce Robinson Electric supplied furniture and motors, Canadian Propane the heating, and Helgerud Electric the wiring. Ben Thompson did some of the carpenter work, and Ed Clark of Robinson Electric did the refrigeration. Val Scheck of Val’s Plumbing did the plumbing.

Busy in the beautifully planned kitchen was Mrs. E.L. Clarke, who was Mel’s Aunt Bessie. Aunt Bessie came up from Dawson Creek to help organize the kitchen work, and she was the one for the baking of pies and such. She used to cook up the highway at Summit Lake, when the stopping place there belonged to her son. She had the misfortune to break her hip up there two years before, but you would never know it. She was as spry as anything, for all the white hair. Besides Aunt Bessie, the cooks were Mrs. Ken Clark of Vancouver and Mrs. Dumas of Spirit River. 

Waitresses were Donna Parsons, Mel’s niece from Pouce Coupe, Mrs. Tony Briltz, Mrs. Rhea Clarke, and Mrs. Lucille Larmand. Mrs. Stelmachuk helped out in the kitchen. Mrs. Horst was the bookkeeper, and Mrs. Mel Clarke appeared to be everything as needed. When first seen, she was wielding a paint brush, and the next minute she was dressed in spotless white, being a waitress.

The Midway Café was later named the Skyway Café, which eluded to the idea that you could stop there on your way to and from the airport. It was also known for many years as Ben’s Skyway Butcher Shop, which was operated by Ben Klassen. 

So, the next time you need to stop at St. John Advertising, take a moment to remember the number of successful businesses that made the building their home and especially the very popular first one — the Midway Café!

Larry Evans is a former fire chief, city councillor, and lifelong historian living in Fort St. John.

© Copyright Alaska Highway News

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