From the Chilliwack Progress Archives: Fearing fallout from Persian Gulf Crisis

In 1991, Chilliwackians were on the hunt for gas masks as Allied forces waged war in the Middle East

Since first publishing on April 16, 1891 the Chilliwack Progress has been the newspaper of record in Chilliwack.

One hundred and 28 years later the Progress remains the longest continuously published newspaper in British Columbia. With the addition of a thriving digital operation anchored by theprogress.com, the Progress delivers more news to more people than ever before.

‘From the Progress Archives’ is a journey into the past, to see what was making news decades ago.

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Headline – War: Community reacts — Sales of gas masks and television rentals are up

Date – January 23, 1991

Fear of war-related terrorism is striking close to home as some Chilliwack residents purchase equipment to fend off chemical attacks.

War is the talk of the town as Chilliwack watches the conflict in the Persian Gulf enter its second week.

Tom Wallace, manager of Vedder Mountain Field Supplies, said he could sell at least a case of gas masks if he could get his hands on them.

“I assured them (customers) in my own small way that they shouldn’t be required around here,” Wallace said. “I mean the Iraqis can’t even hit Tel Aviv accurately with a Scud (missile).”

Television rentals also boomed in the first few days of the most intensively reported war in history, an indicator of the interest in the conflict which erupted Jan. 16 when United Nations forces struck Iraq after a deadline for withdrawal from Kuwait passed.

Wallace’s customers are telling him that they’re worried about the Persian Gulf Crisis escalating into a full-scale world war.

“A gentleman came in and he wanted a half-a-dozen of them — one for each of his family.”

Wallace has been scouting around the Lower Mainland trying to track down more masks, but other surplus stores aren’t letting them go.

Gas masks are hot items across the Lower Mainland as military surplus stores are reporting record sales.

“People are buying them because they’re worried about terrorist attacks,” says Ali Motevaselan, owner of Camouflage International Military Surplus. “Some are sending them back to the Middle East for relatives who can’t get them there and some are buying them for protests.”

Wallace has handled at least four calls for gas masks himself. He’s not sure how many other calls store employees have handled.

Wallace says demand for the masks is directly related to the Persian Gulf Crisis.

“We haven’t had a call for a mask since we opened.”

The war wanes as a topic of conversation until new war developments are heard like the Iraq missile attacks on Israel and the capture of allied pilots.

Devan’s Restaurant owner Mary Baylis said patrons of the coffee shop seemed “surprised” by the outbreak of war.

“It’s getting more and more messy,” said coffee shop patron Trevor Peters, 25. “I believe they should be there but it’s going to be at a greater cost than people anticipated.”

And Peters believes there will be “ramifications” from the war ahead because the Jewish-Arab conflict is bound to be inflamed, whether Israel enters the war or not.

“But if your family is over there in Kuwait, wouldn’t you want the Allies to be there? I sure would,” he said.

Peters’ wife, Rosemary, said the war is so upsetting for her that she can’t watch it on television. But she still thinks that if the fight is for freedom, then it should be done.

Waiting for a haircut at Frank’s Barbershop in Sardis, senior Richard Hesketh said more people seem to be supporting the war now in his opinion.

“Right at the start, some people I talked to were neutral and some were against it,” he said. “Now the tide seems to have turned.”

At the Royal Canadian Legion branch in Sardis, Korean War veterans recall with bitter pride their war.

Bob Laplante still bears the scars of being taken prisoner in that war which bears similarities to the conflict in Iraq.

In Korea a United Nations force, also led by the U.S., fought the North Koreans for more than three years, although the Americans had nuclear weapons.

“I think they should drop the bomb and get it over with,” Laplante said. “Hussein is another Hitler as far as I’m concerned.”

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