Sunday, 31 July 2011

Two Hitchhikers

In my mind, my trip to Australia was to be a 'working holiday' so, after 16 months, I noticed an advertisement in the paper - an orchard owner in Tasmania was looking for pickers. I responded and was invited to come down to Port Arthur and go to work.

I resigned from my position in the office of the newspaper and, with a New Zealand acquaintance of one of my roommates, left to hitchhike around the southern part of Australia including Tasmania. The Kiwi's name was Brian.

One Monday morning in February we took a suburban train to the outer suburb of Liverpool and the highway. Hitchhiking in Australia was relatively easy and, except for the remoter areas, rides were fairly easy to come by.

Australia is an 'old continent' in a geological sense. Therefore the 'mountains' are relatively low while much of the topography is either flat or gently rolling. Therefore rides usually were easy to come by - even for two young men bearing knapsacks. Quickly we traversed the territory from Sydney to beyond Wagga Wagga. The name of that town is Aboriginal in origin. In that language - to signify more than one - a word is repeated. 'Wagga' is the word for crow so 'Wagga Wagga' means many crows!

Near there we camped on the side of the road near a service station and house. The owner invited us first to move our 'camp' to the lawn in the back of the house and then, in the morning, to come in for breakfast. To me 'breakfast' always meant bacon and eggs with toast (or pancakes/French toast etc.). We weren't served these but lamb's fry and bacon on toast (the lamb's organs sauteed with bacon). Wow - was it ever delicious - and I learned something new!

The route we were following did not pass through the Barossa Valley where most of Australia's medal winning wines are produced but, as luck would have it, one of our 'chauffeurs' made a detour through there so we could see it. Very beautiful!

After a few days on the road we arrived in Adelaide, South Australia - a lovely and orderly city. Not long after I arrived in Sydney I heard a little jingle that has stayed with me. It is a description of the ethos of Australia's state capitols. Most immigrants/visitors arriving by sea arrive in Freemantle - the seaport for Perth, Western Australia - and the jingle begins there.

In Perth the first question to a stranger is, "Where are you from?", in Adelaide it is "What church do you attend?", in Melbourne it is "What do you do for a living?" In Sydney it is "How much money do you make?" and in Brisbane it is "Come for a beer!!!" For some reason, Hobart is not mentioned.

Back in Sydney I had met three young English women and one of them had friends in Adelaide who supervised the School for the Deaf. I had been given their address so Brian - the Kiwi - and I went there and were warmly received. They took us driving all over that very neat and clean city.

As time was getting near to when I was expected for work at the orchard in Tasmania we continued on. We hitchhiked for two days to arrive in Melbourne and went to see friends of Brian who lived on the eastern edge of the city. Melbourne is huge - second only to Sydney in size. Also, like Sydney, it had a good transportation system so it was relatively easy to navigate. We stayed with the friends for a long weekend and then took the overnight ferry from Melbourne to Devonport, Tasmania.

As there was still some time before I was expected at the orchard, we did a bit more touring. Devonport is a relatively small town so it was easy to reach the outskirts where we began hitchhiking towards the eastern coast (traveling along the north coast of that island). One of our first lifts of the day was very memorable.

An elderly couple stopped to pick us up. The car was a relatively small one with no room for us and our backpacks in the back seat so the gentleman got out to put them in the boot. Suddenly I saw an enormous spider running up the lintel post in front of Brian. The wife calmly said, "Dear - there is a tarantula in the car"! This was a misnomer - while the spider was mildly toxic, it was a huntsman and not a tarantula. Each time I watch "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" and see the spider king (Aragog) I think of the huntsman. The gentleman opened the door and, using his hand, knocked the spider to the shoulder of the road, got back in the car, and drove on!

Eventually we made our way back to Devonport and on to Launceston for an over night stay and then south to Hobart. We caught a trolley bus out of Launceston and were sitting in the rear seat. A lady riding beside us saw our backpacks and asked where we were from? When I replied, 'Vancouver, Canada" she mentioned the name of a nephew who lived in Toronto and asked me if I knew him!

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Sydney - Theatres, Important Sites and Tours

In 1960 Sydney was already a huge city - bigger than any that I had been to before - and, with a large population, there were more attractions than I would find in Vancouver.

The John Fairfax Pty Building (Sydney Morning Herald) was within easy walking distance of Central Station where country trains intersected with suburban ones. Very close to there was one of the 'live' theaters. When I arrived a production of "The Music Man" was playing. On Friday afternoons there was a 4 o'clock matinee performance which I took advantage of. I enjoyed the production - but was not overwhelmed by it.

A production of "My Fair Lady" was playing at another theater but there was a wait of a number of months before a ticket could be used. My roommate and I went to see it but I was not terribly impressed. It wasn't until after I had seen an amateur production of "Pygmalion" that I went with a friend to see "My Fair Lady" again. I think that it was the same cast but this production was in Perth, Western Australia. I was sitting between my friend and three young Roman Catholic priests. All four of those guys were wildly enthusiastic so I enjoyed the production much more than I had the first time.

Back in Sydney - and while waiting for the night to come when we were to see "My Fair Lady" - my roommate and I went to see "West Side Story" which had replaced "The Music Man". My friend had seen a production in Miami, Florida but, for me, this was brand new. I was blown away!!!

The most mind blowing theatrical event, however, was being able to attend a performance of Paul Robeson's 'Farewell Tour' concert at the Sydney Town Hall. Paul Robeson was my Dad's favorite singer so I was very familiar with his best known songs ("Water Boy", "Old Man River" to name two of them). When I was a teenager, Paul Robeson - because of his outspoken political views - was not allowed out of the United States. However, the Vancouver Labor Council sponsored a picnic and concert at the Peace Arch Park between White Rock, B.C. and Blaine, Washington on a Sunday afternoon. At that time our family did not have a car so we were unable to attend.

When I arrived in Sydney the shell of the iconic Opera House had been erected. Paul Robeson visited it - and put on an impromptu concert for the construction crew.

I would say that the most impressive feature of Sydney is that incredible harbor. The "Iberia" had sailed up to the cleft in the cliffs along the coast and sailed through to an amazing sight. The harbor extends for miles with many coves and promontories. The Harbor Bridge joins the city center to the northern suburbs. But a shorter and lovelier route across is by one of the numerous ferries.

North of the North Head is Manley Beach. The ride across on the ferry was about 20 - 25 minutes followed by a short walk along the Corso to the ocean beach. I was there more than once and the most memorable occasion was to a beach party on New Years Day. The sky was overcast, the weather was muggy but I was pleased to witness what is a fairly regular event. Suddenly the shark alarm sounded and everybody quickly left the water. There was no shark - only a group of dolphins or porpoises gamboling out where the waves were breaking. Nobody took any chances when that alarm sounded though!

While on the subject of sharks, there was a sad item in the newspaper. A young man from England was staying with an uncle and an aunt whose property fronted the water. He was mowing the lawn when the aunt came out of the house to call him for lunch. She went back inside but he did not appear. It was assumed that, since he was warm from his exertion, he decided to dive into the bay to cool off before eating. The authorities assumed that he must have dived right where a shark was lurking and had no chance.

Also a ferry ride from downtown Sydney is the Taronga Zoo. There was a fifteen minute ferry ride to get there. It was a good-sized zoo and I enjoyed it very much. Also, it is the only place where I have had the opportunity to ride on an elephant!

One of the smaller of the World Religions is B'Hai. There was a B'Hai Temple located in one of the northern suburbs to which I was taken twice (as a tourist - not as a worshiper). The building had nine sides - important to B'Hai's - and the roof was a beautiful blue while the walls were pure white. Very pretty.

Later blogs will tell of my travels to other parts of Australia but, before I leave the subject of life in Sydney, I will briefly share about two short excursions outside of the city.

One weekend two friends and I motored down to the Australian Capital Territory. We visited the Capitol in Canberra (this was almost 50 years ago so the Capitol Building that I saw was not all that impressive - I understand that it now is) and the Anzac Memorial (the National War Memorial which is a very impressive structure).

We over-nighted in the smaller city of Queanbeyan and then motored over to the coast and then north back to Sydney.

Another weekend excursion was up to the Blue Mountains. We saw the Jenolan Caves near Katoomba (the first cavern that I ever visited) and were taken on a drive through those 'mountains' which are visible from Sydney. The next day the bus took us on to the coal mining town of Lithgow and then to Bathurst which is at the eastern edge of the Outback.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Sydney, NSW, Australia - Boarding Houses

Here I was in a strange city and a very unfamiliar country. While on board the ship I had become friends with a few younger male passengers. All of us were 'strangers in a strange land' so we stuck together until we became oriented and then went our separate ways.

A fellow who had been a table companion at dinner each evening of the crossing quickly found accommodation in a boarding house in the Elizabeth Bay area (an upper middle class residential area just below Kings Cross and a short bus ride from the city center). The house was owned by an older European gentleman and managed by a very warm woman - Mrs. Fox. I enjoyed staying there but, as the 'tariff' was fairly high, not for too long.

In the meantime two other guys, Ted and Dave, had been staying at the 'Y' and needed to find something else more permanent. By reading the want ads in a newspaper they found a boarding house on Vernon Street in Strathfield and they invited me to go look at the place with them. Strathfield is about 15 minutes by train from Central Station in downtown Sydney and, as the tariff was reasonable, I signed on.

I will return to the housing thread in a moment but, first, let me say that I found permanent employment fairly quickly in the office of John Faifax & Sons - the publisher of the Sydney Morning Herald as well as sundry magazines. Having a steady income again freed me up to be able to look at various housing options.

The house was owned by a relatively young widow woman whose youngest daughter lived there too. The girl was a little sweetie but her mother was something else! She had loved her husband dearly and expressed it in an annoying way. At some time in her life she had taken voice lessons (her voice was pretty good) so she would go about her tasks singing two songs, "Hello Young Lovers" and "True Love". While I love show music, those two songs over and over and over again became a bit much!

Ted and Dave - the other two lads - became close friends and hung out together a lot .

Back in New Westminster, B.C. a woman who worked in the same office as I told me of relatives who lived in an outlying suburb of Sydney. She gave me their address and telephone number so I called them. This family was very warm and so I accepted an invitation to come to their place for Christmas. In the meantime Ted and Dave decided to spend Christmas Day out on Sydney Harbor shark fishing! Coming from a home where Christmas was a warm gathering of family and friends, that did not appeal to me in the least so I declined the invitation to join them. The landlady overheard our conversation and berated me - 'Christmas was a time for family only and strangers did not belong there!' She had been building a total of strikes against me from the start. Another gripe was that I continued my friendship with the owner and manager of the first boarding house. Usually she answered the telephone when it rang so she knew who was calling. The fact that Mrs. Fox invited me for lunch one day absolutely infuriated her! How she, Mrs Fox and the owner of the Elizabeth Bay house knew each other I never did learn.

Also, a young Chinese fellow - who was another boarder - and I had gone to the local Presbyterian church a couple of times so, when the minister and his wife received a second gift of poultry for Christmas, the minister decided to come over and invite us for dinner on Boxing Day.

That was the last straw - the landlady was a 'Good Catholic' and NO Protestant clergyman should ever darken her door! She evicted the both of us on the spot. Instead of visiting with us our host spent most of that afternoon telephoning around looking for vacancies. He found spaces for both of us - but in separate houses.

I relocated to what looked like a large mansion on Strathfield Road (about the same distance from the train station as the house on Vernon Street). I cannot remember how many rooms there were nor who were my roommates. However, while the food served was adequate and the place was clean, there was constant tension. He was a Jehovah's Witness while she was a Christadelphian! He never preached to us but she convinced one or two of the other boarders and I to go with her to a 'Bible Study' one evening. I found the theology of the leader strange to say the least!

A delight for me was a friendship with a group of lads who were recently arrived from Belfast, Northern Ireland. They had met and become bosom friends while working in the shipyards but, as some were Catholic and the others were Protestants, they could not be buddies away from work so they migrated to Australia. Often they would invite me to go with them into downtown Sydney for a movie. They were a crazily happy lot so there was much laughter - particularly when they went into a 'Milk Bar' (sort of a convenience store which mainly sold ice cream, candy bars and cigarettes). Usually these shops were staffed by young immigrant girls - a lot of them were from Malta - for whom English was a second language. These guys were often laughing and the poor girls could not understand them so I acted as an interpreter.

I wonder where they are now?

Two men whom I met at work - along with a third fellow - decided to rent a two bedroom apartment in a newly constructed building perched on the top of a cliff at Tamarama Beach which was about a mile south of the famous Bondi Beach. We had two single beds in each room. The one who was my roommate - Bobby - owned a car but never seemed to have enough money to pay for the upkeep. At the same time he was a sleep walker. One night I was startled awake by thumping noises coming from the closet. Bobby was throwing shoes around. I asked what in the world was he doing? "I am looking for my brakes!" was his reply. My response to that was "Turn the light on and you will see better". He did - and woke himself up!

The apartment building was at the end of a street a block from the bus stop. In the autumn often there were thunderstorms late in the afternoon. I remember riding home on the bus during one of them, getting off of the bus - and being drenched before I could get under a store awning. I still had to walk the block to the building.

On many a sunny morning I looked out of the kitchen window down to the beach and watched the Australian lifesavers going through their drills.

A friend heard that I had moved. "Where to?" he asked. "Tamarama Beach" I replied. "Oh" he responded "that is where you go into the ocean for a swim and end up at Bronte" - the next beach two miles to the south. The undertow at Tamarama was notorious.

More about Sydney and environs in the next blog.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Across the Pacific

When I was a boy our family would go to Bowen Island for our summer vacation. We kids would be looking forward to time at the beach across the bay while Dad would be looking forward to the hours spent in a boat fishing for salmon, sea trout and cod. Although I did not enjoy this activity, it went without saying that both Alda (my oldest sister) and I would have to spend one day each in that boat.

I remember one afternoon sitting in the boat bored (not even one nibble at the bait) and looking across Georgia Strait towards Vancouver. While I was watching a P & O/Orient Line steamship hove into view. Oh how I wanted to be on that boat and sail away across the Pacific.

Approximately ten years later on September 16, 1960 I did just that - I was aboard the steamship "Iberia" on my way to Australia. Being able to afford only the lowest fare, I had a top bunk in a six berth cabin on the lowest passenger level - "F" Deck. Once out at sea with the ship rolling somewhat in the swell the porthole in our cabin resembled the door window in a washing machine! Fortunately, I have good 'sea legs' and never get seasick.

This photo was taken when we were greeted at the dining room door by the Captain. The man shaking the Captain's hand would become my roommate in the boarding house in Elizabeth Bay, Sydney. I am immediately behind him.

Five days later the ship was obviously slowing down when I woke up so I went to the porthole, looked out - and saw Diamond Head! We were docking in Honolulu.

Thanks to Michael W. of Vancouver I am posting two of his photos. This is Diamond Head but from a different angle than I am used to seeing this view.

                                                           Waikiki Beach

Like on any cruise we were given a choice of 'shore tours' to choose from. I opted for the Oahu Island tour. This included Pearl Harbor, Waikiki Beach, Diamond Head and a circle of the island. While crossing back across the island we stopped at a pineapple farm and I had my first taste of that fruit freshly picked and sliced. Oh was it ever good!

Our next port-of-call - five days later - was Suva, Fiji Islands. Again we were offered a choice of tours and I opted for a day in a village quite a few miles away from Suva. There we were entertained by musicians and dancers and treated to a feast. The meat was cooked while buried in the middle of hot coals. It was very tasty. My most vivid memory from that outing was the Fijian elder who was sitting cross-legged with a bowl of liquid in front of him. Those of us who agreed to do so were invited to sit cross-legged in front of him and ceremoniously accept a bowl of that liquid - fermented kava. Rather musky tasting but I felt honored to have been there.

Leaving Fiji it was ten days at sea before we arrived in Auckland, New Zealand. In the meantime we were told that we would pass close to Midway Island (we never saw any island but then the ship was shrouded by misty rain) and crossed the equator.

In the ship's dining room. My roommate to-be is to the left and I am seated to the right. Who the other two were I can no longer remember.

We sailed into Auckland on a Saturday morning which was bad news. Then, on Saturdays, all of the shops closed at noon. By that time one of my cabin mates and I had become fairly chummy so we went ashore together. We should have taken one of the shore tours!

Life on board ship was not without its moments. One day while we were at sea one of the other cabin mates told the rest of us that he would be hosting a party that evening so we would have to remain out of the cabin. When the hour approached midnight we wanted to go to bed so we found our cabin steward (a gentleman from Goa, India named Mr. Menzies) and told him. He was furious so he stormed into the cabin, ordered all of the guests out and gave the 'host' quite a tongue lashing. I remember going to bed that night with the bunks all ruffled and the pillows smelling highly of perfume. Yuck!

On Tuesday morning. October 4, 1960 we sailed through the Sydney Heads, all the way through that magnificent harbor to the west end to the P & O/Orient pier. Our voyage was over - but ahead of me lay a little more than five years of adventures.

N.b. I took hundreds of slides during those years. However, when I left Victoria, B.C. to drive to Toronto I had no room in the car for the large carton containing the slides. A friend, George Ledig, offered to store them in the spacious basement of his house (which was off of Admiral Road and faced onto The Gorge Waterway). Upon settling in Toronto I wrote to ask for the box of slides to be sent but was informed that George had gone to San Diego where he died suddenly. If anybody who reads this has any idea where my slides might be, please let me know so that I may reclaim them.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011


Before I go very far with stories from my life experiences, I should write about something that has marked my life since the very beginning.

In February 1936 an ice storm struck the Fraser Valley in B.C. At that time Mom went into labor and a neighbor drove her and Dad the seven miles into Mission and the hospital. I was born in the early hours of February 17. From what I was told, my birth was usual and I was a healthy baby.

However, two and a half months later I became very ill and was diagnosed with severe sinusitis. Again a neighbor with a car came to the rescue and I was rushed to the Vancouver General Hospital where I remained for four months. My folks lived in Ruskin, some 35 miles east of there but, fortunately, Granddad's youngest sister and husband owned a home in North Vancouver and Mom was able to stay there for much of the time.

The illness pushed my left eye part way out of the socket leaving the left side of my face disfigured. In 1943 our family moved to the Dawes Hill area of Coquitlam from where there was a commuter bus line that took us into New Westminster. Mom and Dad were referred to a Dr Bowles - an eye, ears, nose and throat specialist. I was examined and it was determined that plastic surgery could be undertaken (this was during World War II when many of the best surgeons were in Europe with the army) and, perhaps, the sight in that eye could be restored.

There were four operations undertaken at the Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster. I underwent these operations between 1943 and 1945. I missed a lot of school but still passed each of my grades!

Yes - I loathed the ether used, was not at all impressed by the pain and discomfort, but I do remember some amusing incidents.

That was when the wards were huge rectangular rooms with the beds arranged along each side and in an oval across the far end. On two occasions my neighbor was the same boy - he kept falling out of trees and/or haylofts breaking an arm each time!

My baby sister, Babs, was born at the end of 1943 and Mom called upon both Alda and I to help her. Sometimes I would feed Babs her pablum or jello and would carefully copy what I thought that Mom did when she fed her. Mom always tested the food for heat by putting the spoon to her lips before giving the contents to Babs. Therefore I did the same - only I put the spoon into my mouth first much to the horror of a nurse who caught me!

After I came home from the first operation all the neighborhood kids came by
to see me. Unbeknown to everybody, there had been a chicken pox outbreak in the hospital so, unwittingly, I gave each of these kids the germs - and a brief vacation from school!

After the fourth operation my face was still disfigured and remained that way until after I graduated from high school and became an articled student in a Chartered Accountant's office. This was in New Westminster. The principle member of the firm was Howard Chadwick who, due to his position in the community, served on the Board of a few community groups one of which was a private medical/dental insurance company. Also, his firm did the auditing and I was given that society as one of my 'clients'. I would go there for a week or so each month reconciling bank accounts and preparing the books for the monthly financials. I really liked the woman who managed the organization and she me. Also, our family physician served on that Board as well. It was proposed that, while the insurance company did not cover 'cosmetic surgery', they would cover the cost of further surgery for me. I was referred to a plastic surgeon in Vancouver and he agreed to do two operations (one each summer during my vacations in 1958 and 1959).

The experience was not pleasant but did produce some funny incidents. During the first operation (in St Paul's Hospital in Vancouver which, at that time, was operated by an order of Roman Catholic nuns) it included a bone graft from my hip to below my eye. This was painful, A day or two after the operation the Mother Superior came by with some reading material by which to occupy myself while in my hospital bed. One of these was a Readers Digest magazine containing a condensation of Farley Mowatt's book "The Dog That Wouldn't Be" which is a hilarious story - but, laughing hurt like heck! I believe that that was why the good nun passed me that magazine - it was part of the healing process!

The second operation consisted of skin grafts to my upper cheek and just below the eye. The scar tissue was quite raw looking.

I became friends with another younger male patient who was recovering from broken bones. One evening neither of us had visitors so we decided to go for a stroll in the entrance hallway downstairs. It was near the end of visiting hours but we encountered three young men who were hurrying in to see a friend. One of them stopped us and exclaimed, "What the 'H' happened to you guys"? My companion snapped back, "We had a fight!" We didn't notice a group of nuns who were on their way to Chapel. They overheard the exchange and one of them, in passing, smiled at my companion, patted him on the arm, and said, "God Bless You!"

When I visited my grandparents home my Granddad would challenge me to games of cribbage and I became quite a good player. While in St Paul's I played cribbage a lot. During one of my stays one of the nurses came by to play. As she was supposed to be on duty she always pulled the drapes around the bed. Usually I won but one day the cards went her way. As she moved her peg into the last hole she let out a whoop of delight. The curtains were whipped open and there stood the crankiest of the staff physicians. Glaring at the poor nurse he bellowed, "Don't you ever let me hear you say that you have too much work to do!" She looked as if she wanted to crawl under the bed and hide!

Many of my friends probably have never noticed the scar tissue around my left eye but - to me - it has always been visible.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Family Tree

I know that these posts will be, in all likelihood, read by many people. While my kid brother and I have no direct descendants, my two sisters do. Therefore I want those nieces and nephews - and their descendants - to know more about where we (the Brown and Lacasse families) came from. Thus this post - and if any readers should know more about our history, please feel free to share!

Our Dad, Daniel Charles Lacasse,  was born in the village of Billings Bridge which is now a part of the City of Ottawa. He was the youngest child of Charles Lacasse and Alda Martin. I know little about those grandparents - they both died while Dad was still a boy. However, I do know that Grandmere Alda was of Acadian descent and from New Brunswick. She had been married before and the surname of my aunt and uncle from that union was Cadieux.

Dad had three siblings - an older brother Lionel and twin sisters Mouisa and Cecile. Upon the death of Grand-pere Charles, Grand-mere moved the family to Montreal. Grand-mere found a position as housekeeper in the boys' orphanage which was run by the Roman Catholic Church. The boys remained with her while the twins were placed with the Grey Nuns. When they reached maturity they professed their vows and never left the convent. Sister Cecile remained in Montreal for the rest of her life while Mouisa (known in the convent as Sister Marie-Anne) was sent to the Mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories where she was a housekeeper for a series of priests.

  Myself, a friend and the Twins at the 50th Anniversary Celebration of the Profession of Their Vows

Mom was an only child. Her maternal grandparents were sur-named DeLacey/Hollis Her grandfather was from Ireland and an officer in the British army. Her grandmother's first name was Leah and she was of French and Jewish descent and was a concert pianist. Grandma remembered traveling with her mother to European cities on tour. Grandma herself was born in Bombay (now Mumbai), India where her father's regiment was posted - she was the eldest of a large family. I was told that it was a difficult birth and great grandmother was in danger of dieing so the nurses named the baby "Queechee" which Grandma always hated. She went by the name of 'Queenie'

Grandma was both a very beautiful woman and a very strong willed one. She scandalized the family by meeting and eloping with a Cockney soldier by the name of John Poulter. He took her with him when his regiment was posted to Hong Kong. Grandma was carrying Mom when her husband was killed while playing in a game of cricket - he was accidentally hit on the head by a bat.

Grandma made her way back to London and went to her parents' home only to have the door slammed in her face because of "the disgrace that she had brought upon the family"! She had no option but to go to the home of her sister-in-law in the Bow E3 district of the city (the Cockney area). Mom was born in St Bartholomew's Hospital so Dad teased her that she was a 'Cockney' too which Mom always denied hotly!

Grandma had to work to support herself and the baby so she became a dancer on the London stage. Ernie Brown - whom I knew as Granddad - was raised in Saskatchewan and, when World War I began, he enlisted in the Canadian army and was sent to Belgium where his unit was gassed while in a church. Granddad was sent to London to recuperate and, while there, he took in the hit show "Chou Chin Chow", was smitten by a gorgeous chorus girl, met her and married her - Queenie Poulter! He arranged for Mom and Grandma to sail ahead of him from England to Halifax where they boarded a train and rode to the village of Theodore, Saskatchewan. Great Grandma Brown, a good Methodist lady, was horrified that her only surviving son had married a CHORUS GIRL!
My grandfather (Ernie Brown) on the left, his mother in the middle (floral dress). Mom to her left and Grandma at the end of the line. The others are some of Granddad's relatives who were visiting circa 1939/40.

A short time later Granddad's regiment returned to Canada. Granddad de-listed, went to Theodore, packed up Mom and Grandma and moved to B.C. He was able to purchase an abandoned homestead in Ruskin where his family lived until the fire.

Dad is the man standing to the left, next to him is Mom, her cousin (Clare Robinson), Great Aunt Emma Mc Ilwaine,  Granddad's nephew (Bobby) and his Mom - Great Aunt Alma (the surname has been lost to me - all I know is that they were visiting from Chicago). Standing in front of Dad is Alda, next is Great Aunt Edith Robinson with daughters Lois on her lap and Gladys to her left. That is me leaning on Grandma's lap.

My maternal grandfather, Ernest Clarence Brown, dressed in his regimental uniform.

Granddad was gassed while serving in Belgium during world War I and was hospitalized. I presume that this photo is of the nursing staff among the soldiers. That is Granddad in the middle of the front row and reclining on the floor.

I have returned to this blog to add one more photo. This is a photo of my Dad with a calf (presumably my Granddad's) and that is me at about 1 1/2 or 2 years of age.

Our Japanese Neighbors

It was a warm afternoon in late August, 1942. I was six years old and I was bored so I walked along the path that went through the thick grove of evergreen trees in front of our house to the road.

The only people whom I saw were two Japanese matrons who, in passing each other, had stopped to chat. They were too far away for me to hear what they were saying and, if they  were speaking Japanese, I would not have been able to understand anyway.

However, I did not have to understand to guess what the topic would have been. They and their families were only days away from having to board special trains which would take them to internment camps in the Kootenai Region - hundreds of miles from the Coast.

The Japanese were good neighbors who worked in nearby saw mills, fished for salmon on the Fraser River and worked small market gardens growing vegetables, strawberries, raspberries and like food crops.

The community was Ruskin in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia midway between the larger communities of Haney and Mission. The community was bounded to the west by Whonnock Creek and, to the east, by the Stave River. A mile up that river was the newly completed Ruskin Dam and power generating plant. Two or three miles up river from the Ruskin Dam was Stave Falls and another power dam. Ten to fifteen miles west northwest of there was the Allouette River Power Dam. The authorities believed that, as these dams provided the bulk of the electricity for Vancouver and suburbs, they would be prime targets for any bombing raids from Japan.

My Dad and maternal Granddad were dismayed by the forced evacuation of our Japanese neighbors as they were good and industrious settlers. That sentiment was not shared by Grandma who, as British born, did not trust anybody who was not British.

About eighteen months before the evacuation of the Japanese, Granddad was working at the dam site on the graveyard shift as a security guard. Grandma was at home alone when she was awakened by smoke and the crackling of flames. She gathered up the dog and ran outside. Soon the house was completely gutted and her beloved cat had perished.

Down at the dam someone alerted Granddad to the red glow above the tree tops high up on the plateau. He knew instantly that, in all probability, the glow was from his burning house.

The route home for him was up a path that was so steep that a staircase had been cut into the clay and dirt face so that climbers could have traction. The foreman at the dam regretted not having sent another workman with him but realized that no one could have kept pace!

From the top of the climb the trail wound through the forest and around a cranberry bog. Soon, though, he came out of the forest, saw the glowing embers of his house and, with his heart in his mouth, saw Grandma sitting beneath a Douglas fir that stood beside the lane that led from the house to the barn. Grandma was hugging the dog - a Jack Russell Terrier - and crying.

As Grandad had been approached by the authorities to listen for any subversive talk among the Japanese,  Grandma was convinced that the loss of the house was the result of arson. A cursory examination of the ruins showed another cause - an over heated pipe from the living room space heater (a wood burning stove) to the chimney.

There were very few telephones in that community in early 1941 so we were unaware of the fire until later in the morning. In the meantime, Dad had gone to work in a saw mill on the Stave River. Upon arriving at work one of the Japanese men approached him to express his regret at the loss of our house in a fire. As Dad knew that our house was still standing when he left for work, he was nonplussed. Then he remembered a cultural error. As Mom was an only child, in Japanese culture, Dad would have assumed her surname upon their marriage. It wasn't his house that had burned but his in-law's.

At some time in the afternoon Grandma was brought to our house where she remained until Granddad was able to build another house. This was not up on the mountain - he sold that land - but in a lovely little valley which was just behind the community built for the power dam employees and their families to live in.

Mom belonged to the Ladies Auxiliary of the local Red Cross chapter. I remember being with her at a gathering of these women and watching them knit squares for afghans that were to be sent overseas to the troops fighting in Europe. These women were dismayed by the loss through the fire - and especially all of Grandma's possessions - so they organized a shower. What amazed Mom was that I - aged 5 - and my sister - aged 3 - breathed not a word about this to Grandma!

The shower was camouflaged as a Red Cross meeting at the Community Hall. Grandma was completely surprised  - especially when a few of the Japanese ladies came forward with gifts of linen. I have not forgotten the sight of Grandma leaning against the upright piano and sobbing into her folded arms.

Around the time of the fire and the shower there was fear of a possible air raid by Japanese planes so there was a black out. At that time we lived  a few houses further to the west and next door to an elderly English couple who boarded one of the school teachers. It was dark out and the teacher dropped by for a visit with her flashlight covered except for a tiny pinpoint of light to show her the way. That house was not in the woods but out in the open so our windows were covered by heavy material blocking all the light from being seen on the outside.

I remember, too, a Monday morning when kids were walking by our place on their way to school. The day before the entire world had heard of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. I had a difficult time in getting my mind around the idea that all of these Japanese children were now our "enemies".

There was a Japanese Community Hall nearby and a Japanese-Canadian woman operated a kindergarten there. She and Mom were good friends and I was supposed to be one - if not the only - Caucasian child to attend. Unfortunately, the outbreak of the hostilities put an end to that idea. Always I have regretted that.

A few months after Pearl Harbor we moved to the property which I mentioned in my opening paragraph.  This was immediately across the road from the Public School. Our driveway connected with a path that led to a farm high on the hill behind our place - the farmer had a Japanese tenant family. The two kids from this family would stop to play with my sister and I while on their way home from school. They were fun - except that there isn't an "R" sound in the Japanese language so the boy would address me as "Oinie" which I hated!

As Dad was beyond the age of those who were conscripted for the armed forces, he joined a local militia group who were to be some sort of 'Home Guard'. The plan was that, if the Japanese army invaded, the women and children were to be loaded into boats and ferried across the Fraser River to the south shore from where we were to walk the ten miles or so to the American border. I am grateful that that never happened!

As well as the farmer who lived on top of the hill above our house, another family who lived just outside of Mission also had Japanese tenants. On visits to both of these properties we were shown the Japanese houses and their bathing facilities as if they were curiosities. These people were our neighbors and, therefore, NOT curiosities!

I did not meet anybody of Japanese heritage until 1951 and in Grade 9. A new student in the class was Toby Nakamura whose brother-in-law had graduated in dentistry and was opening a practice in our community. By that time we had moved from Ruskin to Coquitlam.

In the latter 1970s Mom received an invitation to the 80th birthday party for an old friend in Ruskin. The party was held in the Community Hall. In attendance were two Japanese women who were among Mom's best friends when she was a teenager. These women had "come home".  .