On the Sea Shore

By Enise Olding


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If Eric McMorran’s grandfather had decided to join his relatives in Australia thousands of people would not have danced the light fantastic while overlooking the shores of Cordova Bay under the roof of McMorran’s Beach House.

Instead Grandfather McMorran decided to take the CPR’s advice and check out opportunities offered in Western Canada, which eventually led to his son George, along with wife Ida, settling in Cordova Bay. In the early 1920s, the couple opened up a small store and a tearoom. Their son, Eric, recalls that “there were only about four or five tables in the tearoom at that time,” but people loved being there.

Eric cherishes every moment of his life there too. Growing up on the family property on and around the beach, Eric absorbed every aspect of the life his parents were building. They were innovative hard workers and the young Eric fell right into step. “Mother was strict with us boys,” he recalls. “I always wore a shirt and jacket; and she would caution us saying, ‘Boys, be careful of your carriage,’ meaning we should stand up straight,” he laughs as he points to the immaculate shirt, tie and jacket he is wearing, proving he still adheres to his mother’s strictures.

The family lived across the road from the beach property. Eric and his older brother Bruce were enlisted to help with the business as soon as they were able. It was a while before the other two brothers came along, so Eric and Bruce became very close as they enthusiastically shared many of the chores.

“In the beginning, I picked up litter around here and kept it tidy,” says Eric, “and the new tea house had a wooden sidewalk and I kept that clean too.”

Later, when he was about seven years old, Eric was allowed to look after the one-cent candy case. “My dad always said the children took a long time to make up their minds about their choice of candy, so he turned it over to me,” he laughs, asserting that he was never tempted to help himself to the wares. Within a few years, Eric served customers ice cream cones, hotdogs and coffee.

The McMorran camping facilities attracted people from Victoria and the tent platforms were filled with holidaymakers. It was rustic in those early days: campers would get their water from nearby creeks. Eventually, an auto court was built, an early version of a motel. “My brother and I would help mother to make the beds and stack the wood,” says Eric, whose role expanded within the family business. Cordova Bay was, in those days, very remote and “visitors would come by auto or by bus. The bus driver would have to stay overnight because there would be nobody wanting to return to Victoria until the next day,” says Eric, adding “this was really out in the country then.”

Having created a public access, the McMorran area of beachfront became a very popular place and was filled with guests. Eric’s dad, George, built a float and diving board for the young people, and branched out into renting boats. Then 12, Eric took over the management of the sea sleds, rowboats and canoes, which were rented out at the price of 25 cents per hour. “I had to watch the tide because people who visited did not know about tides,” he says. His responsibilities extended to checking on the condition of the boats, keeping them clean and in good working order. “I was raised to be very responsible,” he says, and was quite shocked on one occasion when later in the evening it was found that boat No. 3 was missing. “We got lamps and went out to look for it and we found it way down the beach on the rocks,” Eric recalls. He was always very careful not to scrape boats across the gravel so the lost and battered boat No. 3 really made an impression on him and his brother to be extra vigilant.

The family’s entrepreneurial spirit showed itself in Eric during the time when he was managing the boat rentals. He noticed that the flat-bottomed bench seat sea sleds were not renting as well as the other craft. He enlisted the help of his friend Freddy to go out in a sea sled and go up and down in front of the picnickers. Because there was no cost to Freddy, he was most happy to oblige. Before long, the children spotted Freddy having a great time on the sea sled and started pestering their parents for a ride. Sure enough, there was an immediate rush on sea sled rentals.

Somehow in the midst of all these occupations, and going to Royal Oak School and later Central High, Eric found time to take on a paper route, eventually earning enough to buy himself a bicycle. “I was very proud of that bicycle,” says Eric. “In fact, I still have it hanging on the wall in the garage.” On one occasion when there was a particularly thick edition of *The Colonist*, Eric had his bike stacked with papers on both the front and back but, in his haste, he missed a corner and ended up with papers strewn all over the street. Despite this setback and others, such as when a large mastiff bolted through a screen door and bit the hapless Eric, he endured, eventually acquiring a speedometre, generator light and even a radio for his treasured set of wheels.

The sea-loving Eric not surprisingly joined the navy and spent a short time at HMCS Naden before going to Stanley Park for training. “I was very regimented in my behaviour,” he says, and so the military life suited him. With the navy, he was at Cornwallis for a year and then Cape Breton before he returned to Naden. His thoughts never far from the McMorran Beach House, Eric mused that the tearoom was used as a school during the war years.

Returning to the family business, Eric assisted in the upgrading of the auto court and it was during some of his visits to pick up glass and other equipment, he met his wife Helen. “She worked at the place that provided these things,” he smiles, “and I enjoyed going there to get the mirrors and putty.” Lunch led to accompanying her to the Caledonia Society, attending church together, eventually getting married and having a son and daughter.

McMorran’s Beach House demanded a great deal of Eric’s father’s time, plus he was the area postmaster and involved in the community. So, Eric took over the wildly popular dances. He had his own ideas on how to improve the facilities and run the dances and lost no time in upgrading the floor with the finest maple available, and introducing bands specializing in waltzes, foxtrots and to, as Eric says, “keep it smooth.” He would always wear a tuxedo; black in the winter and white in the summer. People came from far and wide to the dances, which became a mainstay at McMorran’s Beach House. In the late '80s, the CBC heard about the ballroom on the beach and it was featured on the program *On the Road Again*.

Eric says he was more interested in the family business than school and says that if his family had not been involved with McMorran’s Beach House and all of its projects over the years, he “would have been a part of whatever the family would have been doing because we were very close.”

Eric is happy to share his memories about his family and the local area, snippets of local lore and anecdotes, with whomever is interested. He’s always ready with a humorous story, such as when his dad spearheaded a local drive to get hydro to the lone 15 occupants of the area by using his status as postmaster to lobby for action.

Apart from his deep love for his family, an enduring part of Eric’s life has been his involvement in his Masonic Lodge. The Lodge’s structure and the disciplined environment appeal to him. It has helped keep his life in balance.

Raised, quite literally, on the seashore, Eric has a passion for the water and fishing. Every year, he joins son Wallace on his boat and they head offshore, along with a few other friends, for a week of fishing. Wallace laughs as he says, “Dad used to be my fishing guide and now I’m his!” Be that as it may, chances are good that the lively Eric still has plenty of fishing anecdotes tucked away to share with all those on board.

 

APRIL 2010 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER ISLAND

 

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