We humans are social creatures.
After months of lock downs, social distancing, and self- isolation, we want to go back to the way it was.
Many of us miss, most of all, the casual, informal chats with friends at local coffee shops.
And that’s ironic because, when these fast food eateries first opened, they’d have met the social distancing guidelines.
The A&W, first of its kind, came to Canada in 1956. It offered no indoor dining nor drive through.
It was drive in only. Patrons drove to the restaurants, parked in designated rows, waited for a ‘car hop’ (always female) to come to their car, take their orders and payment, return to the kitchen, then bring out their orders on a metal tray. The driver then rolled down his/her window a bit, the tray was clipped on to it, the driver handed out individual meals, and munching began. When the meals were finished the same car hop returned to take back dishes. Businesses which followed A&W adopted the same format.
Any socializing was in the car. Expanding one’s bubble had to be done elsewhere. In the park, maybe, or at a dance later.
The A&W and its successors were immediately successful. ‘Take the family out for lunch without everyone dressing up? Of course!’ ‘Take a girl for an affordable meal before a movie? just you two? Sure thing!’
One difficulty: customers had to have cars.
Except in Kamloops, B.C. When the first A&W opened in 1963, in Valleyview, it also served customers who arrived on horseback.
In 1963, Kamloops was still a semi-rural town, surrounded by apple orchards, market gardens and hop fields. Just beyond them were some of the finest ranches in B.C. Where there are ranches there are horses. In fact, many town residents had acreages large enough to stable and pasture their own horses at home.
That’s how fourteen year old Kerri Colquhoun and her mare, April Hannah, came to be steady customers at the A&W. April, and another horse had been traded in on a truck at Dearborn Motors. Gordon Gamble, owner of the dealership, remembered Bill Colquhoun was looking for a horse for Kerri and called him. Interested? Kerri had to be asked only once. They were off to see the horse. April, was a registered three quarters Arab and one quarter hunter thorough-bred with a sense of her own worth.
Kerri’s dad put her up on April’s back. “She crow-hopped and I went flying.” Kerri thought her mother would say that was the end of it, but she didn’t. April was a lady-like horse.
“If she saw we were headed for the A&W, she relieved herself before we got there.”
Kerri, her friend Rae Campbell and their horses became familiar figures at the A&W.
“No one ever questioned our mode of transportation.”
It certainly helped that their mutual friend Carole Bellos, a car-hop at the A&W, was from a ranching family. The Bellos family owned the Willow Ranch located between Kamloops and Merritt. Along with cattle the Willow Ranch raised quarter horses.
When the Bellos family sold the Willow Ranch and bought property in Knutsford, Mr. Bellos brought the whole horse herd down the highway to their new home outside Kamloops.
Carole’s ranching background meant she was perfectly comfortable in her new job as car/horse-hop with customers who were astride horses instead of secluded in automobiles. Kerri remembers, “We had no trouble being served our usual hamburger and mug of root beer while on horseback.” One out of town customer had never seen such a sight. He insisted on a photo of Carole taking their order in front of the restaurant.
Years later the A&W and similar restaurants offered inside dining rooms where people have become used to mingling, being part of a group of friends who might not even live in the same neighbourhood. It’s added an important option for society.
No wonder we miss each other. (The drive-through isn’t the same. Food doesn’t replace conversation.)
Will we go back to the way it was? Probably not with horses, though one should never underestimate horses nor their riders. These restaurants are important to the social well-being and happiness of many Canadians.
We look forward to their coffee & our chats.