Residents of Cloverdale are mourning the loss of one of their longest serving neighbours and friends, Allan Dann, a former volunteer fire captain and businessman who grew up above the family shop and was a life-long citizen of Surrey’s historic heart.
Dann died on Dec. 19 at the age of 91, just shy of the three-year anniversary of his retirement from Dann’s Electronics, Surrey’s oldest, continually-operating, family-owned business.
Generations of Cloverdale residents remember buying their first 10-speed bike, refrigerator, or TV at Dann’s, a full-service appliance and electronics sales and repair shop.
The glorious neon sign with swooping red letters was a fixture on heritage-rich 176 Street along the famed Pacific Highway from the 1950s until the lights went out in January, 2013. The business had operated for 91 years.
It was started by his father in 1921, and moved to 5657 176 Street in 1932, a former Royal Bank with an upstairs apartment meant to house the bank manager and his family. It’s now a heritage building.
Ernest H. Dann’s sold and repaired bicycles but evolved into wiring homes, business and farms, too, along with selling and servicing appliances and electronics as the decades passed and technical innovation and consumerism flourished.
Ernest and Doris Dann were Irish immigrants who settled in Surrey. Allan was their only child. Growing up on Cloverdale’s main street, he forged many fond memories – and was privy to colourful language at the blacksmith’s next door, he told the Reporter in an interview in 2013.
“I was always over there, because it was interesting,” he joked. “I came back with new words.”
He graduated from Surrey High School in Cloverdale in 1942, and soon went on to serve with the RCAF as an instrument mechanic during the Second World War, a job that took him up and down the B.C. coast.
After the war, he returned to work in the family business, eventually taking over.
[Surrey Archives image 1992.036.2079Allan Dann in 1964 proving the washers sold at Dann’s Electronics could take any load.]
He was most proud of his 35 years with the volunteer fire brigade with Hall 8 in Cloverdale, serving as a captain for many years, as well as assistant chief, earning two service medals in an era where there could be three to four calls a day.
He spent a lifetime in Cloverdale, and he could recall the names of those long passed, and where former businesses used to operate.
It was a close-knit place. In Dann’s day, if a boy took the same girl out twice, the whole town knew about it.
He married his wife Brenda, a school teacher, in 1950.
Dann was also a member of the Cloverdale Masons, Cloverdale Board of Trade – the precursor to the Cloverdale Chamber of Commerce – the Junior Chamber of Commerce, and served on a host of other local organizations and service clubs.
Dann’s decades at the shop and the fact that he grew up in Cloverdale made him an information post.
Some of his memories are recorded at the Surrey Museum and Surrey Archives, which he helped found, along with the Cloverdale Rodeo.
“People will miss his stories,” his daughter Kathleen said, adding her dad was a wealth of local history.
“In November, I and my eldest walked through the Surrey Museum with him.”
Allan Dann’s expertise with a range of electronics, lawnmowers and bikes – and an unmatched array of replacement parts – made the shop a magnet for hobbyists restoring decades-old equipment.
Entering the shop and showroom was like stepping back in time.
When the TV show Fringe filmed an episode in Cloverdale, the producers didn’t change a thing, and even persuaded the MacGyver-like repairman to appear in a scene.
In January 2013, at the age of 89, Dann sold the building and closed the business. At the time, friend Alan Clegg recalled Dann delivering merchandise and making service calls on weekends, and always taking the time to talk with his customers.
“He was also one of the nicest guys you’d ever run into, so he will be missed for sure,” said Clegg, a former volunteer fire district chief who served with Dann in the 1970s.
Dann’s encyclopedic knowledge – from names of former customers to the locations of long-gone buildings – made him a valuable source.
“You could go in and see him about Surrey history at any time,” Clegg said this week. “He had a great memory.”
Dann’s gift was his accessibility.
“So many people knew him. To be able to pick his brain is what we’ll miss the most.”
Dann remained part of the Cloverdale social circle as the years advanced, meeting friends for breakfast and lunching monthly as recently as November with a group of retired local businessmen at the Cloverdale Legion.
He’s survived by his wife of nearly 66 years, Brenda, four children: Kathleen, John, Bruce and Brenda, six grandchildren and one great grandchild born in October.
A private graveside service for family has been held.
A celebration of his life is Saturday, Jan. 16 at Newlands Golf and Country Club 21025 48 Avenue, Langley, at 1 p.m.