Charlie Thomson has dedicated so much of his life to Chilliwack’s agricultural community. He is a Chilliwack native who was raised on a dairy farm. “We had about 30 head of cattle, a farm that was considered to be of an average size back in the fifties. It was then that I developed an interest in agriculture and I was especially intrigued by cows,” he said.
As he was growing up, there was an expectation that Charlie would handle his share of the chores. “It wasn’t like I was loaded down with work but I was expected to do my fair share and there was always something to do. That was o.k. with me. I never thought much about it,” he said frankly.
While he wasn’t what you would call an academic, he quite enjoyed school. Dick Hesketh, a teacher at Rosedale Junior, where Charlie was a student, inspired him to become a naval officer. “Mr. Hesketh had been in the navy before becoming a teacher and each summer he’d get involved in naval training. I wanted to do what he did. He really inspired and motivated me. Unfortunately, I needed to have a certain level of French but fell short by one credit. It didn’t work out and I moved on,” he said.
Charlie married Lorraine in 1971 and while she worked as an LPN, he got involved in the retail grocery industry. A year later, he was hired on as a sales rep at CHWK Radio and stayed there for the next seven years. While there, he started Showmart, Chilliwack’s original home and leisure show. “The show started off at the Princess Street Armories then quickly moved to the Evergreen Hall. Not long after that, it grew to the point where it was moved to the Ag Rec Centre,” he pointed out. Now while you can take the boy out the country, you can’t take the country out of the boy so Charlie decided to buy a five-acre parcel of land with the intention of eventually developing it into a farm.
He left the radio station in 1979 and along with his brother Gordie, bought the fuel side of the Husky Truck Stop at Luckakuck and Vedder. “They had been a client of mine when I worked at the radio station. I knew that the owners wanted out and my brother and I decided to go into business together. Gordie had worked in the retail automotive industry and was looking to expand his horizons and I needed to move on from the radio station, so it was a perfect fit. We ended up owning it for 26 years,” he explained.
While he enjoyed owning the business, it was the dairy industry that Charlie was passionate about, so he developed CBS Holsteins and Jerseys. He’d wake up early to milk the cows, leave for his day job and after a hard day’s work, he’d return to milk the cows in the evening. After selling the business, he concentrated fully on his farm. “I had about 70 cows which is considered a small farm by today’s standards.” He maintained the same schedule; out the door by 5:30 in the morning to do the feeding, milking and cleaning. He’d get on with the busy day and then returned to do it all over again by supper time; something that he thrived on. Today, while he still has some cows, the milking herd and quota was transferred to his oldest son.
The dairy industry may have been his passion but he was still a salesman at heart. So 13 years ago, he took on a side job with Foundation Sires based out of Listowel, Ontario. The company sells high fertility semen specifically for dairy cattle. Charlie was hired as their BC Sales Manager and enjoyed the work, including the travelling. He has recently left Foundation Sires and is now representing Transworld Genetics ST & Sexing Technologies.
From a volunteer perspective, Charlie has poured his heart and soul into the Chilliwack Agricultural Society, the group that organizes and presents the annual Chilliwack Fair. His association with the Fair dates back to 1958 when he was just 8 years old. “My father, my brother and I were showing cattle at the Fair even back then,” he said. He was involved with the organization in various capacities including being its president for many years. As of this past year, Charlie has finally retired from his involvement with the Fair after 56 years.