Alan Davidson, who died on July 25 at the age of 99, was a key part of Surrey’s “greatest generation.”
The term “greatest generation” comes from the title of a book by longtime NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw. He applied it to the young men and women who lived through the Depression of the 1930s, took part in the Second World War, and on returning home, had much to do with all the changes and advances that followed. Davidson qualifies on all counts.
Born in Vancouver in 1918, he grew up on a small farm in the Tynehead area, not far from Barnston Island. He came to Cloverdale to attend Surrey High School – the only high school in the municipality. He graduated in 1936, and despite it being the Depression, was offered a job as an office clerk at the Cloverdale real estate and insurance office run by Fabian Hugh and Frank McKinnon. He was their lone employee, coming in before school to light the fires, going to school in the morning and working in the office in the afternoons and Saturday. He did entry-level chores such as dusting, sweeping and learning to type.
He stayed there until retiring in 1983, taking four years away during the Second World War, when he served as a pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force. He remained a member of the Air Force Officers Association.
On his return from the war, he resumed working with Hugh and McKinnon, and was offered a partnership. He took care of the insurance side of the business, with McKinnon handling real estate and conveyancing and Hugh in charge of estates and the work they did for local dyking districts.
In 1946, Hugh was appointed as part-time police magistrate and eventually became a full-time magistrate, and resigned his position in the firm.
Davidson was heavily involved in the community from the beginning. He was a member of the volunteer fire brigade, the Cloverdale Jaycees, the Masonic Lodge and was also involved in many other community activities. He was not alone; Cloverdale was the centre of government in Surrey at the time and a major shopping destination. Many young men of that same generation started businesses, organized events such as the Cloverdale Rodeo and actively promoted both Surrey and Cloverdale.
He and his partners bought a number of lots on the east side of Pacific Highway, Cloverdale’s main street, and sold them to aspiring business people. That side of the street had been a railway line and was mostly unoccupied. Thus businesses like Venus Cleaners, the Clover Inn, Clova Theatre and new larger premises for the Bank of Montreal and Hugh and McKinnon all helped to make Cloverdale a more complete business community.
The “greatest generation” in Surrey (which also included many active business and community-oriented people in Surrey’s two other towns of that era, such as Craig Frazer in Whalley and Don Munro in White Rock) also got married and had families. Alan Davidson married Doris McBeth in 1947 and they had three children. Doris predeceased him in June – they would have marked their 70th anniversary in September.
As both business and family people, they supported school, sports, community and charitable endeavours. Many of them were busy at work every day (often including Saturdays) and at meetings and other community activities most evenings.
Davidson also played a leading role in the Hilltop Water Company, a private co-operative neighbourhood water utility in Cloverdale that successfully operated for many years until municipal water service was available there. In recent years, he donated its corporate records to the Surrey Archives.
He was very active in many endeavours until very recently, again proving that people of his generation knew how to both lead and serve. He will be remembered at a memorial service on Friday, Aug. 18 at Victory Memorial Park in South Surrey. As his death notice states, his was “a life well lived.”