British Columbia

'It's kind of old-timey': Inside one of Canada's last 10-pin bowling alleys to employ human pin-setters

"This place couldn't exist without them and everybody appreciates everything they do down there," says one longtime member.

Teens earn minimum wage to place pins at Kimberley, B.C.'s 70-year-old Elks Club lanes

Janasha Brewer is one of about 10 teens in Kimberley B.C. who work setting bowling pins at the Elk Club lanes. (Bob Keating)

Lorne McIntosh strides up to a lane and confidently tosses his first bowling ball in months at the Elks Club bowling lanes in Kimberley, B.C.

His ball careens down the shiny wooden lane right on target and knocks down several pins. 

"That was good for the first ball of the year," says McIntosh. "That was a spare."

At the other end of the lane, teenagers gather the pins and set them back in place for the next ball. The 70-year-old bowling alley still employs human pin-setters — one of the last in Canada to do so.

A bowler sends a ball down one of the Elk Club lanes in Kimberley B.C. (Bob Keating)

"They sit at the back on a little bench and jump down, set the pins up and roll the ball back," says Elks manager Melody McArter.

"The kids now get minimum wage .... I talked with one of the fellows who used to live here and he said when he set pins 50 years ago he got 25 cents a game."

Two pin setters on the job at the Elk Club lanes in Kimberley B.C., the last place in Canada to use humans for the job. (Bob Keating/CBC)

​'Old-timey'

Janasha Brewer, 14, is one of the local high school students who sets pins.

"It's kind of old-timey, kind of takes you back," Janasha says.

She works alongside 10 other youths who do shifts at the club.

"I guess it could be seen as a good job, you usually make around $31 but if you get tips you can make up to $50. "

McIntosh helps run the two lanes in the windowless basement of the Elks Club just off Kimberley's German-themed plaza.

The lanes are frozen in time and McIntosh and his fellow bowlers — mostly seniors — like it that way.

They were put in nearly 70 years ago, when identical lanes were installed in the White House in Washington, D.C.

From manual to electric

But the Elks Club lanes still use human pin-setters.

"Pin boys," as they were called back in the 1950s, used to be commonplace but were slowly phased out for electronic setters.

Ray Pero, a salesperson for Brunswick Bowling — the company that made the Kimberley lanes — says most alleys did away with manual pin-setting decades ago.

But in Kimberley, the job has become part of the charm of the two-lane alley.

Elk Club lanes member Robin Ballard says the club will never put in an electronic pin setting system. (Bob Keating)

However, the number of bowlers at the lanes is dropping as locals age and fewer young people are keen to join.

The lanes are now only used by the men's league and are rented out for the odd private party.

The Elks recently refurbished the two lanes and are hoping to get a mixed league going again next season.

But 35-year member Robin Ballard says one thing they'll never do away with is the pin setters.

"This place couldn't exist without them and everybody appreciates everything they do down there," says Ballard.

"I pin-set when I was their age and I admire every one of them that comes in and set pins for us."

Read more from CBC British Columbia

now