Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Prince Rupert and Barkerville

Possibly readers who know the geography of British Columbia will be scratching their heads after reading the title of this blog. Prince Rupert is a few hundred miles west of Prince George while Barkerville is about 100 miles south and it is found east of Quesnel. I have combined the writing about these two places as I visited them on two short trips and neither of which merit a separate blog.

With the advent of Canada's Centennial Year, I booked a trip by train to Montreal in order to visit Expo 67. A challenge from a friend and mentor persuaded me to change plans and to enroll as a student at Union College, U.B.C. instead. There will be more about my university experiences in other blogs - now I am writing about how I spent vacation days in lieu of a train trip to Montreal.

I left my position with the Canadian Credit Men's Association at the end of April, 1967 but I could not shake the office as I was frequently called upon to answer questions and to give guidance all the while that I remained in and around Prince George.

Ever since I was a child I had heard of the fabled northwest so, when my scheduled duties at CCMA ceased, I kept a few days for myself and drove west on Highway 16 through Vanderhoof, Burns Lake and a number of other smaller communities. For me, the "Awe!" moments began at the busy town of Smithers. The land west from Prince George is a plateau but the topography undulates - until Smithers which is dominated by the magnificent Hudson Bay Mountain.

At Smithers the highway begins to follow the Skeena River watershed. Not far north of Smithers is Morricetown at the edge of the Bulkley River Gorge. This community is primarily First Nation and, while passing, I did see native fishermen who were standing on scarey looking platforms built out over the torrent. In their hands were nets (like the ones fishermen carry to assist them in landing salmon or trout - only larger). These men were waiting for spawning salmon to leap up the waterfalls so that they could snare some of them. You could not pay me enough to stand on one of those slanting platforms over white frothing water while attempting to snare a salmon!

Not far past Morricetown are Tsimshian villages which are famous for their totem poles (New Hazelton, Kispoix, Kitwanga, Kitwancool). Those names are poetry to me and, as I approached each village, I saw the magnificent totem poles each telling the story of an ancestor by means of carvings and painting. Again I was awed.

At the end of the drive for that day I arrived in the larger town of Terrace and looked for a motel. As I was booking into one the door to the manager's office opened and out came Johnny Carlson. Johnny and I attended school together from grades 2 until 12 but had not seen each other after graduation. While I had been lousy at Industrial Arts, Johnny had excelled at those. After graduation he went to work for a building contractor who had a beautiful daughter. He married her and inherited the motel!

A branch highway leaves Highway 16 at Terrace and heads south to the relatively new communities of Kitimat and Kemano. The communities were built shortly after the end of World War II in order to harness hydro power - generated from the tumbling rivers - to power an aluminum refinery. Raw bauxite ore was shipped in from Jamaica, turned into aluminum and then shipped out to the rest of the world. Kitimat is where the mill is located while the port and the power plant are a few miles further on at Kemano.

From Terrace the highway continued on down the Skeena River to Prince Rupert - a major seaport on the B.C. Coast as well as the terminus of the original Grand Trunk Railway.

Prince Rupert has one major distinction (in addition to being a ferry hub for boats from Alaska, the Haida Gwai - formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands - and Vancouver Island), that is not likely to be found in tourism brochures - it is said to be the community that receives less hours of sunshine than any other larger town in the world. A number of years ago a family from South Africa was in the news because the husband suffers from a rare allergy - to sunshine. South Africa has too many hours of sunshine in a year for the man to be comfortable so they migrated to Prince Rupert.

I am glad to say that the 24 hours or so that I spent there were dry and sunny.

I looked up another acquaintance while there - Arnie had been an articled student at the same Chartered Accountants office in New Westminster where I had articled. It was Arnie who followed me to the Fraser Valley Medical Dental Association that had been one of my 'clients'.

As I left Prince Rupert I had the car radio tuned to the CBC and I listened to the game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens - the last time that Toronto won the symbol of hockey supremacy - the Stanley Cup!

Upon arriving back at Smithers I took a detour route in order to see the large Francois Lake. It was worth the detour just so that I could say that I was there!

Barkerville, being closer to Prince George, was a day outing. Throughout much of the nineteenth century explorers went everywhere opening up the magnificent continent of North America to exploration and to trade. Among those hardy souls were many prospectors. One of those was a man named Billy Barker who found a lode of gold in the hills east of the town of Quesnel.

His find was a springboard for at least two events - a Gold Rush and the construction of a road through the Coast Mountains to the Interior. His find happened less than ten years after the find that gave birth to the California Gold Rush. It continues to amaze me how news traveled in the days before modern communications. Disappointed 'miners' from California heard and rushed north to B.C. - the same that they did a decade or two later when gold was found in the Yukon. This gold rush spurred the construction of the Cariboo Highway and, especially, the Canyon Highway. Before the construction of the more modern highway through the mountains the old canyon highway was a hair raising route for the inexperienced to drive. While driving the new route one can still see parts of the old route along the edge of the canyon walls.

Also, the building of that road cost the lives of many men - especially Chinese coolies. Life was cheap back then - and especially for those who were not white Anglo-Saxons.

The Cariboo Gold Rush did not last very long. However, instant towns sprung up along the creeks. As well as miners, this bonanza attracted other characters - the best known of them being the legendary Judge Matthew Begbie who is remembered by the sobriquet "The Hanging Judge". One of the towns that sprung up at that time still exists as the community named Wells - while Barkerville is an historic park.

When I was there I was far from being all alone - there were hundreds of other tourists present as well. We got to see both Billy Barker and Matthew Begbie - the 'Hanging Judge' - reenacted.

I love history and the stories which historic places bring to life.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Alda's Family

My older sister, Alda, met her husband-to-be when she was a bridesmaid at a friend's wedding in the hamlet of Forest Grove (near 100 Mile House, B.C.) in the late 1950s.

The bride was Roseanna Poirier whose family had lived up the lane from us when we first moved to the Dawes Hill area.

All of the Poiriers - except their mother, Albertine - had moved one-by-one to the Cariboo. When they came down to The Coast for vacation or on business they always crashed at our house so our connection with them was strong. Indeed, at one time, Mom had some medical problems and it was Albertine who came and looked after us during that interim.

Leo, as the oldest son, had left school before we moved to Dawes Hill and had followed some of his friends up to the 100 Mile House area where he established himself in the forestry industry.
               Mom and Dad with a beloved Pomeranian pet visiting Alda and Leo

Alda and he married each other in October, 1956 and had five kids - Donna, Mark, Shane, Todd and Karen. As I have mentioned, Leo worked in the forest industry living in fairly remote bush camps near Canim Lake (actually - for the longest time - at an unorganized community named Eagle Creek). We - individually and as a family - went up there to visit as often as we could. While I was in Prince George I drove down to Eagle Creek on a number of occasions. My nephews and nieces and I got along famously. My diaries record that, often, I was awakened by my nephews piling on top of me for a roughhouse while their Mom was preparing breakfast.

Occasionally the scanner increases the size of the photo - but not the content! Here is Alda's tribe - plus neighbor kids - on top of the knoll looking down on Canim Lake

At the back of their house was a steep and brush covered knoll. The kids and I would climb to the top from where we could see over the trees to beautiful Canim Lake. Also we dreamed up a game involving frisbees. We would begin in a circle and toss the frisbee to each other. Often our aim was not all that accurate so we would have to move to catch it. The rule was that we had to remain where we caught the toy and toss it to the next in the circle from there. This led to improbable and hilarious situations - and we had a ball.

The photo above is of Canim Lake while peaceful.


Returning to that wedding weekend many of the group - and especially Dad - were avid fishermen. The day had been hot and the thought of a couple of hours out in a rowboat on Canim Lake was very appealing. Six or eight of us drove down to a resort on Canim Lake where we rented a rowboat and went out. The lake - never more than a mile wide (if that!) - wound through the high hills. Suddenly to the west of us huge thunder clouds appeared. We could see the lightning and hear the thunder so Dad turned our boat around and headed for the shore. Unfortunately, where we were the shore was lined with big rocks so we couldn't land safely and had to keep going back towards the resort. With pandemonium all around us suddenly a motorboat appeared heading up the lake to the saw mill community at the far end. We were not sure if the guy in that boat saw us or not so Dad had to row hard in order for us to be out of his path. Thankfully he missed us - and, as far as we knew - reached his destination safely. That lovely lake nestled in the valley in the low mountains is known for being deadly under certain conditions.

When we reached the shore Roseanna's youngest brother - Roland - said that he had left his fingerprints embedded indelibly in the side of that rowboat!

A few years later we all went up to visit Alda and Leo during the May long weekend and, then, the current logging claim was well back in the bush. There was no room for me to sleep in their home but, as it was a long weekend, the single guys had gone out to civilization for the holiday so I went to sleep in the bunkhouse. As soon as we were all bedded down Leo went to the gasoline operated power generator and shut it off. I have never experienced silence like that before or since - I could hear nothing except the air passing over my ears!

Leo's most endearing trait was that he could be embarrassed very easily and his face would turn beet red. One incident of that was told to us when we met him. One pioneer family in that area were the Sandbacks who were looked upon as the 'rich people'. There was a community hall in Forest Grove where they brought their movie projector and rented films for movie nights. Especially when the movie advertised was a Western, Indians from the local reservation (The 'Rancherie') would come en masse. Leo's task was to string out the sound cord from the projector to the amplifier and, while he was doing that, one of the Indian tykes ran to him, threw its arms around one of his legs and loudly said, "Daddy!". Everybody present roared in laughter while Leo blushed.

A number of years later Alda and Leo were with friends in the pub in the hotel in 100 Mile House. Whereas there had been separation between single men and 'Ladies and Escorts' in alcohol serving establishment in B. C., that rule had been revoked. However, the Indians still followed the old rule - the women were in the 'Ladies and Escorts' part while the men were in the part originally reserved for males only. When it was time for them to depart one of the men came over to where he could see into the other section and signaled to the women that they were leaving. The women arose and, while passing the table where Alda, Leo and their friends were sitting, one of the Indian women put her hands on Leo's shoulder and said, "I'll be waiting outside when you want me!". Alda and the rest of their party roared while Leo giggled and turned crimson. Alda teased Leo about that incident for a long time after.

On one of my visits to Eagle Creek, Leo woke me early one morning - he was having an appendicitis attack. I arose and took him in my car on the fairly long drive to the hospital in 100 Mile House, saw that he was being attended to, drove back to Eagle Creek where Alda had arranged for a neighbor to look after the kids, and took her out to the hospital. Alda had not yet learned to drive but now she drives all over the place to visit her extended family.

Leo and Alda did build a house in Forest Grove and then, when he retired, they bought a newly constructed house in 100 Mile. Leo passed away in August 2004.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Prince George, B.C.

With this blog I am returning to my 'travels'

First, though, I will comment about memory. Recently one of my readers commented on how impressed she is by my memory. Yes - I do remember a lot of things that many others may have forgotten - but, for this blog, I had to reread my journals covering that period of time. There is so much of what happened in PG between January, 1966 and May, 1967 that I had completely forgotten - only to remember by reading those journals.

When I arrived home in Vancouver on December 19, 1965 I had to adapt to climate change - from sub-tropical Brisbane in summer to the damp climate of a West Coast winter - only there wasn't much rain but lots of heavy snow flurries! Also, my kid brother - Dan - was not yet old enough to have a driver's license and I had not yet learned to drive, therefore I had to rely a lot upon infrequent suburban transit or the generosity of friends in order to get places and to do things.

First, of course, was the family celebration of Christmas. As Dad was no longer there, this was especially hard for Mom. However, she was happy to see me again and wanted to ensure that the family, as it now consisted, would still celebrate in the Lacasse tradition.

Grandma had moved to a seniors' apartment in the New Westminster/Burnaby area and the Gibsons (Babs and her husband, Hubert) had purchased Grandma's house a block down the road from our family home. Grandma, Babs, Hubert, Danny, Mom and I were there as well as an old friend of Dad's - George Hunt - who was an elderly bachelor and who had not yet heard of Dad's passing. We celebrated as best that we could with the the usual roast turkey, stuffing, gravy, Brussell sprouts (Mom was English!) followed by carrot pudding with vanilla sauce.

We enjoyed ourselves - but that was the last time that we ever saw George Hunt.

My first task was to secure employment. I found an advertisement for a Collections Manager in the Prince George office of a Credit Manager's Association and I was hired. After a few days of orientation in the Vancouver office I had to catch a Greyhound bus for the 12 hour ride north.

Prince George is approximately 500 miles north of Vancouver and in almost the dead center of British Columbia - up where the winters can be harsh and the summer evenings nearly destroyed by voracious mosquitoes while sunset lingers in the northwest sky until nearly midnight.

Prince George was a fur trading post from early in the history of British Columbia. It is located where the Nechako River flows into the Fraser. Only a few years before I went up there, the pulp and paper industry decided that PG would be a lucrative site for pulp mills which would be fed by the vast forest of spruce trees and turned into paper products. In early 1967 there were three mills operating - or near completion - along the banks of the Fraser. Over time these two rivers had cut relatively steep valleys out of the rolling terrain. As anyone who has been near a pulp mill can attest, the odor that comes from those mills has a pungent sulphurous smell so, as the air often hung still over the valley, the smell lingered.

The office where I was to work was in a fairly new building downtown in the city and the corridors reeked of the smell from the mills. I heard some folk exclaim. "I smell money!". I smelled rotten eggs!

While I had experience in managing accounts receivable files - that was my job while I was in Brisbane - I really am not hard-nosed enough to chase defaulters. Yet - I had to take some clients' customers to the Small Claims Courts which meant filing a claim, appearing in court for the judgement, and taking the legal paper to the miscreant.

There was one fellow who had welding machinery in the back of his pickup and who left no paper trace as to ownership of the machine, his vehicle, nor his house. I would have to drive out to his place with the court document, knock on the door and, when his wife opened it, throw the paper past her onto the floor, return to the court and swear out an affidavit that the document had indeed been delivered. Of course she knew who I was and what the document was for so she would refuse to take it from my hand. I hated that part of the job - and, also, running into a slime ball of an attorney who did represent many of the defaulters.

A number of years before, while working at the chartered accountant's office, I had uncovered a theft from the till of a client. A young woman who worked in that office was proven to be the thief - and I recognized her name when a client, who lived in the town of Terrace, asked that a young woman out there be pursued for a bad debt. Sometimes it is indeed a 'small world'.

My social life in Prince George was much lighter than my job and I do have some happy memories.

Downstairs below the office where I worked there was a clothing store for men which was owned and operated by a man named Bob Hamilton. Somehow, Bob was talked into taking part in a fashion show being sponsored by a women's group. Both my boss, Doug Morgan, and I were cajoled into being two of the models. I was outfitted with a pair of slacks, a dress shirt, a tie and a sweater that was made from synthetic material - except for the front which was suede.

I was as nervous as a kitten until I went out onto the runway and then down into the audience to sashay past the women sitting at their tables. I was highly amused when one woman reached out to pinch the fabric covering one of my legs. Yes, Lady, it is real!
The St Andrew United Church Choir (the Rev. Newton Steacy is standing to the left of the organ with Bob Hamilton to his right and I am on the extreme left of the front row). 

As a fund raiser the church choir decided to put on a concert calling it "St Andy's Dandies Centennial Capers" (St Andrews United Church was where I worshiped and 1967 marked Canada's centennial as a nation). A few weeks before this event I attended a gathering at another church where I met two young Mexican men. At that time work on digging a pipeline to carry natural gas from the wells near Dawson Creek down to Vancouver was being mapped out. The owner of the company contracted to build the pipeline had been down in Mexico where he had interviewed some graduates from the School of Engineering at a Mexican university. One of these young men was Manuel Vasquez.

Manuel knew how to strum a guitar in the Mexican way and he had a fine singing voice. He and I became friends and he played and sang for many of my friends so, naturally, he was included in our concert and was a huge hit!

Soon after settling in Prince George I made a trip down home and, with the assistance of my brother-in-law and a friend of his, I went car shopping. I bought a used 1966 Ford Falcon which a friend drove back to Prince George for me. I went to a driving school and, within a couple of weeks, I had my first driver's license and began driving everywhere - even out along the back roads.

The Fraser flowing through the canyon, the brown color of the river is due to the silt collected further upstream.


This is the foot bridge which connects the Canyon Highway to a railway community which belongs to the Canadian National Railway.

Not long after the concert in which Manuel performed, I was down in Coquitlam visiting my family. Manuel journeyed down with me and, while there, we visited a man whom he knew and who had married a Mexican girl. They invited us to join them for lunch in Chinatown. This was Manuel's first experience of Chinese food and we had a good laugh when Manuel picked up his tea cup, received a whiff of the tea, put it back down while saying "Eeet steenks!"

A short drive from the town were lovely rivers, lakes and ponds. In the summer months there were picnics, swimming and water skiing while, in the winter, there were skiing parties, sleigh rides, tobogganing and skidoos with which to have fun.




On a cold wintery Saturday afternoon we took the church cub scout troop out to a Beaver Dam on the Nechako River. The Rev. Newton Steacy with one of the cubs standing on the dam.


Already I have mentioned the summer phenomena of a picnic by a lake where, at midnight, there is still a glow of the sunset in the western sky. There was an awe inspiring winter phenomena too. On a clear cold day without a breeze blowing sometimes one can see 'sun dogs'. Although the sky is clear, there are ice crystals hanging in the air. When looking towards the sun one can see one or more 'other suns'. These are reflections of the one sun by those ice crystals.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Schools and Teachers

Before I return to my "Travels" I would like to share with you something about the people who helped to shape the adult that I have become.

I attended Grade 1 at the school in Ruskin which was directly across the road from where we were then living. This was a small two-room public school. The Japanese had been forced to move away so the school population had shrunk from around 50 students to 11 spread over six grades.

Our teacher was Miss Johnson. I believe that she was from Vancouver - she boarded with Mr. and Mrs. Bartlett who lived just along the road from the school.

How she managed to teach we 11 kids (three of us in Grade 1 and the remainder in grades 3 through 6 - there were no pupils in Grade 2) I have no idea.

I sat in the front desk with Bobby Sidwell behind me and Bobby Fraser behind him. I do not remember all that much of Bobby Fraser but Bobby Sidwell was different - he bullied me all year long!

            This Community Hall is two lots east of where we lived while I was attending Grade 1.

My friend, Michael W., drove out to Ruskin and photographed the Community Hall as it looks today. I remember a plain clapboard building with no color at all! 


The following summer - 1943 - we moved to Dawes Hill in Coquitlam. There were a number of kids living near us so, as we went to school together, I was not alone.
Since Alda was entering Grade 1, Mom was with us that first day.

Millside Public School had six grades with around 35 students each. Grades 1 and 2 met in two separate buildings across the school yard from the main building. Grades 3 to 6 had classrooms on the second floor of the big building. The first floor was at ground level and consisted of two large rooms with the furnace room in between. One of those rooms was for the boys to use while the other was for the girls. On nice days we were out in the large school yard and played inside only when the weather was unpleasant.

The Grade 2 class at Millside Public School in 1943/44. I am in the second to last row and the second  child in from the left hand side.


There were two features of the school yard that were any kid's dream.

Up on top of the ridge was a pond of water (Como Lake) which was drained by School Creek. The creek tumbled down the slope through the forest, flowed through a culvert under the road, and then across the school yard.

Playing in or beside the creek was forbidden but, in the autumn, salmon swam up the creek on their way to spawn and what kid could resist trying to catch the salmon? More than one boy tumbled in, was reprimanded, and sent home to change clothes.

There was a footbridge across the creek - which could be an intimidating stream when it rained - to a playing field for ball games. Beyond this field was swampy land covered with thick brush and skunk cabbage. At the edge of this 'wilderness area' was the stump of a large tree that had long since been cut down. Notches for toe holds had been cut into the side and the top was relatively flat and smooth. I remember one noon hour when I was up there and I heard the hand bell being rung for classes to resume. Always I have been afraid of heights but I had no choice but to jump - it would have taken me too long to try to get down via the notches carved into the side. I jumped, landed - and wasn't hurt.

The teacher of the Grade 2 class was Miss Atkins. I believe that she had taught at Millside for most of her career and she was a gem. She prepared interesting lessons and was much respected by the students so she rarely had to punish anyone.

One day, though, one of the boys kept misbehaving so Miss Atkins felt that she had no option but to administer the strap. Usually, when this happened, the miscreant would mutter about "that old bag" - but not this time. Later Joe commented to the rest of us, "I deserved that!"  demonstrating the high esteem in which Miss Atkins was held.

When I reached Grade 5 Miss Atkins had retired from Grade 2 and was our home room teacher again. That was her final year of teaching - she retired in June.

She lived by herself in a bungalow close to the final 'pick up' stop for our local bus route thus I saw her a number of times after I ceased being one of her pupils. Always she remembered my name. Indeed, many years later, I was at the bus stop in New Westminster waiting for the bus out home and chatting with a neighbor who had graduated from Millside before I moved there. Miss Atkins approached the stop and, seeing us she did not miss a beat but said, "Hello, Ernie! Hello Albini!" She remembered both of us.

In Grade 3 I did not fare that well in who our home room teacher was. Miss Goyer taught us for a few months, got married (becoming Mrs Grimble - and some of the boys substituted the 'i' with a 'u') and then took sick leave in order to give birth to a baby. The substitute teacher was a Mrs. Knight and, as she seemed to take an instant dislike to me, my life became miserable. Also, this was when I began missing school in order to have surgery. I missed a lot of school but was still able to keep my grades up. I wonder why she disliked me - was it because of the ugly scar tissue on my face?

The teacher in Grade 4 was Miss Gardner - ironically, she was one of the daughters of the head gardener at the Colony Experimental Farm. Miss Gardner's sister had a lovely singing voice and she would sing at every school event. Her signature song was "It's a Grand Night for Singing" which I do not recall hearing again until a friend opened a concert a number of months ago with that very song.

Our class teacher in Grade 5 was Miss Atkins again and, in Grade 6, it was the principal, Mrs. Davis. I encountered somebody else years later who attended Millside and she commented on how much she disliked Mrs. Davis. I was surprised to hear that as I found her, while strict, a good teacher.

To explain the next item I will relate some history.

Included in the original settlers of New Westminster were some British Army Sappers. It fell to them to give the new community a name but they could not decide between Queensborough or Queenborough. They wrote to Queen Victoria asking her to decide for them. As the monarch didn't want to take sides  she gave the request some thought while standing at a window. She looked up and saw Westminster so she suggested that this new town be called New Westminster. A part of New Westminster is across an arm of the Fraser River on Lulu Island and it is known as Queensborough.

From then onward the slogan of the community has been "The Royal City" - a title claimed by Guelph, Ontario as well - but for a different reason.

While New Westminster is a separate city, it cannot help but fall under the shadow of Vancouver - it's younger but much larger neighbor.

One of the British customs adopted by New Westminster - and, later, by most of the satellite communities - was the annual festival of crowning a May Queen.

Coquitlam followed that tradition as well. Early in a new year each public school in the district nominated a girl as a contestant for the title. All the public schools participated by nominating their own queen candidate and an election was held. As Millside was the largest of the public schools - at that time - our candidate was the winner. The two 'Maids-in-Waiting' were girls from two of the competing schools.

The May Day was held on one Friday in May (before the May long weekend) in Blue Mountain Park - the largest park in the municipality. Preparations meant that all of the classes learned various dances which were performed for the large audience. Grades 1 and 2 learned the Mexican Hat Dance, 3 and 4 the traditional Maypole Dance while grades 5 and 6 - the big kids - learned a Square Dance.

I was in either grade 3 or 4 when the ribbons on our pole became hopelessly entangled. I was told that it was my fault so I burst into tears - It WASN'T MY FAULT! I have no idea if I was at fault or not but I never forgot the embarrassment.

The Maypole Dance. I do not recall in which year this photo was taken - nor where I might be in the photo. In the background is the band shell where the Royal Party was seated.


The Square Dance. Again I have no idea in which year this was - nor where I may be in the photo.


My earliest memory of a May Day celebration superceded the Coquitlam experience. The daughter of Mom and Dad's good friends in Mission was elected "Queen of the May" for their celebration so we all went. My memory of the fair grounds and the displays are dim but I vividly remember what happened in the evening. While Dad and Albert Copeland went somewhere else, Grace Copeland and Mom took us to the Junior May Day Dance. When we left the hall to return to the Copeland's home we encountered two soldiers staggering home from the pub with their arms linked and loudly singing "Roll Out the Barrel" - and very much off key!

In 2007 or 2008 Millside celebrated the 100th anniversary of its existence and I was able to attend. Some of the school was still familiar - but much had been added onto and turned around. Instead of the creek coursing across the grounds, there was no sign of it (all buried?) and an industrial area came right up to the back fence - no old stump nor skunk cabbage covered swampland. In a bustling metropolis things cannot be expected to have remained the same.

In Grade 7 I was now in high school. At that time Coquitlam High was old and overcrowded. As well as the main school there was yet another annex. My Grade 7 teacher was Miss Rumsey. I remember her as being a nice person - but little else. By this time - 1948 - the war was a few years in the past and we were receiving an influx of male teachers - returning servicemen who used their discharge monies to go to university and become teachers. Some showed promise while others were dreadful! Miss Rumsey was not one of those!

I am delighted by how frequently old photos are popping up! The above photo is of the Grade 7 class at Coquitlam High School. I have no idea where I was when the photo was taken!

My Grade 8 home room teacher was Miss Bisshopp ("Two esses and two 'Ps', boys and girls!"). She was middle-aged and always had heavy pancake makeup on her face. Later we learned that she had been in an accident at some time in the past so, under the makeup, there were ugly scars.

She was our art teacher. The dictum that has always remained with me was "Boys and girls, there is no such thing as a purple mountain!" Years later - in Alice Springs - the mountains frequently looked purple in the light of the setting sun.

Each year Miss Bisshopp decided upon an art project in which all of the class participated. That year it was the Cinderella story told by using puppets. We each made our own, learned how to manipulate them, and became an integral part of the School Concert. I was assigned to create and operate the puppet which represented the fat ugly step-sister. In my nervousness at the performance I could not get the puppet to sit firmly upon the little chair so I expected a reprimand.

Instead I was complimented - I showed just what a fuss-budget was that ugly sister!

                                     Mr Green and Mr. McBay cutting reunion cake - 2004



Our math teacher was Mr. Green - a tall lanky man. Back then the teachers always dressed formally and Mr. Green always wore a suit. Naturally, while writing on the blackboard, he would start at the top. While working his way down towards the bottom he never stooped but spread his feet outwards so, when the bottom was reached, he was doing 'the splits'!

This is Alda's story of when he was her home room teacher. One day he showed up wearing a brand new blue suit. The wags in the classroom began chanting, "Blue and green should not be seen with out a color in between". He never wore that suit again.

I do not remember who my home room teacher was in grades 9 to 12 - but I remember great educators.

Mr Sankey taught math. Each day he assigned homework and, whether or not you had completed it, your homework was always checked. Math was not one of my good subjects so I struggled with it. Mr Sankey understood and would devote time before school and after - as well as lunch hour - to coach pupils who struggled. I really admired that man!

Mr. Ennis taught science - another course at which I struggled. Like Mr Sankey, he was also a patient man.

Mr. Sheeley taught history - a class which I thoroughly enjoyed. Those who did not do so well in that course called him "the commie" behind his back. Mr Sheeley believed in debating ideas so he would play 'the devil's advocate' just to spur discussion. No he was not a Communist - just a darn good teacher and debater.

We had three different English teachers - two were good while the other, unfortunately, was laughable. I remember with respect Miss Leslie who was fond of telling her classes about a Scottish ancestor who was hung for cattle stealing! Mr McBay - seen in the photo above which was taken at the 50th Reunion - whose classes were interesting. However, Miss McPhee was something else. She loved to regale her classes with farfetched stories about being sick with dysentry while traveling in Mexico and about being chased by a rhino in South Africa. All of us fervently wished that that rhinoceros had been faster on its feet! Also, she drank and smoked and tried to cover the resultant odors with excessive use of perfumes.

French was taught in grades 11 and 12 by Miss Elmore - who was from Alberta and was not French at all! Oh well!

Upon graduation from Grade XII - and to continue our education - we had a choice of enrolling in a university or to move to a school which offered Senior Matriculation (Grade XIII). Neither I nor my family had the funds for tuition at university so I opted for Senior Matriculation at the Duke of Connaught High School in New Westminster. There were two high schools in that city - Connaught and T.J. Trapp Technical School. The teachers at the former taught academic subjects while at T.J. Trapp High trades subjects were on the curriculum.

That was the first time that I struggled academically. The teachers knew the subjects that they taught but they - and especially the math teacher - had the bright students sitting at the front of the classroom and we - for whom the subject being taught was difficult - sat at the back. I doubted that I would be able to pass the Math but I received just over 50% on my final exam so matriculated. I was always pretty good at arithmetic but not the theoretical subjects.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Summer Vacations

After my family moved to Coquitlam and my Granddad built a new house to replace the one destroyed in the fire (see "Our Japanese Neighbors"), Alda and I began to spend a week or so of vacation at our grandparent's place.

The property that he purchased was in a cleft in the ridge that extends for miles north of the Fraser River to the mouth of the Fraser Canyon at Hope, B.C. In that cleft there were two natural springs which formed two small creeks which merged into one near the lower end of the little valley.

The two story house (which was situated about half way up that valley) was roomy and Alda and I each had our own room where we stayed for a week to ten days.

Granddad had planted a garden in which he grew vegetables and raspberry and boysonberry canes - the latter were, seemingly, a cross between raspberries and blackberries. They - along with the raspberries - could be surrounded by pastry and baked into wonderful pies.

At the spring closest to the house Granddad had planted some watercress, I can still hear Grandma's voice calling us in for lunch and adding, "Ernie - go to the spring and pick some fresh watercress!" My mouth waters at the thought of those watercress sandwiches followed by still warm raspberry or boisonberry pies!

The driveway crossed the creek and then a rail line which was used solely by a tram that came down once a day from Stave Falls to the highway at Ruskin and then returned to Stave Falls. After crossing the tracks the drive went past our neighbor's home on one side and the housing settlement for the power workers on the other.




The houses in which the hydro employees lived were all painted green. This is not the clearest photo as the houses were set on immaculately mowed lawns. The Spencer family lived at the end of the row of identical houses. On the river side - and between the houses and the paved road which connected Stave Falls and Ruskin - was vacant land covered with shrubs called 'broom trees'. Great for games of 'Hide-and-seek'.


In the first BC Hydro house lived the Spencer family. The oldest son was Ronald but he and I rarely hung out together. Instead I hung out with his younger brother, Gerry, who was a bit of a dare devil, an avid fisherman - and a lot of fun.

Probably there was rain from time to time but all I remember were beautifully lazy sunny days. Gerry would get his fishing pole and we would angle in the creek for trout (the water was so clear that I could see them) or we would go down to fish in the bigger and more turbulent Stave River. If memory serves me correctly, Gerry used flies for the river fishing. I don't believe that we caught much, though.

One morning we had walked up to and over the dam to the other side to fish. We forgot the time until we heard the noon whistle at the power house. Gerry's parents were fairly strict and he had to be home for lunch at noon so we took off. Instead of climbing up over the dam he cut through the power house - thinking that no one would see us - but a voice roared, "What are you boys doing in here?" Gerry knew that we would be reported to his parents but there was little time left before he had to be home so we ran on through the building and out the other side.



Thanks to Michael, this is an up-to-date photo of the Ruskin Dam and Powerhouse. The newer part to the right must be a new addition. The doorway which we ran through would have been to the right of the last window. In the 1940s there would not have been any central air so the open door would be to catch a breeze.


One time before that I had been in there but in the company of Granddad and on a sanctioned visit. Both times I noticed an ache in my left arm. My reaction to electricity in the air?

Also, I remember a summer afternoon when I was still young, Mom took us on the tram up to Stave Falls where the wives of the hydro employees had organized a garden party. The highlight of the day? The ride to there and back on the tram!


Gerry was disciplined for the prank while I was talked to by Granddad about the danger to we boys being in that place without authorized company.

One of Mom's girlfriends lived with her husband and two sons in a house which was situated about half way between the dam and Ruskin. One summer evening Mom, Alda and I visited the Nelson's and we were invited to join that family on a trip to a favorite swimming hole on the bank of  the Stave River but on the other (Silverdale) side. We all climbed into their 1930s model car with we boys riding in the rumble seat. What fun that was!

An aerial view of the Stave River Valley. The community in the right foreground is Silverdale. The Stave is the river flowing into the Fraser on the left side of the photo. If you click on the photo to enlarge it, you will be able to see the Ruskin Dam in the middle of the photo and Hayward Lake behind it. Near the top of the photo is Stave Falls and Stave Lake.

Iron Mountain - at the foot of which was Granddad's homestead - is the elevation to the left and above the Ruskin Dam.


When we were taken to the river beach for a swim, Mr Nelson drove up the valley to the Ruskin Dam and down the other side to where there was a beach.

In 1948 the snow pack in the mountains was much larger than usual so, during the spring run off, the Fraser River flooded all the way down to where it emptied into the Strait of Georgia. Grandma's birthday was on May 29 which fell on a weekend. As it was her 60th the family planned to be there to celebrate. With trepidation we caught the bus to Ruskin. We could see in places where the river was high but it had not flooded the highway as yet. Over the weekend we paid attention to the news and, on Sunday, we heard that the water was still rising and that some dikes were in danger of breaking. The 29th was Monday but, in case we became trapped, we didn't dare stay on - instead a neighbor drove us to the Ruskin crossroads and, much to my parent's relief, the bus did come.

Part of the road out was submerged as well as a few places along the highway. Fortunately, the flood waters were not too deep to drive through on either road and - to our great relief - the bridge over the Pitt River had not washed away (nor did it).

On the bus were some women and children whose homes had been flooded - they were going to the safely of Vancouver. For years afterwards, when we drove up to Mission, we could see a few farm houses where there was a high water mark left on the house by the flood waters.

At home we could see where the river had completely covered the flats and had seeped through the railway embankment and flooded a couple of acres of Tom Wesley's lowest lying property.

There had been a major flood at some time during the 1890s . The 1948 flood was not as damaging as that one and, while there have been threats, there have been no floods of that consequence since then.

We spent a few Christmases with Grandma and Granddad. As a kid I was quite a bookworm and I remember two books which I received as gifts - and read before we returned home. One was "A Dog of Flanders" and the other was "Dave Dawson in the Everglades" The first was the story of an heroic German Shepherd in Belgium during World War I while the second was an adventure story. I have always been a hopeless sentimentalist so I bawled all the way through the first book. The second story was really exciting and I hoped to see the Everglades some day. I did in the early 1980s - but that is another story.

One year Dad was not with us at our grandparents but had accepted an invitation from a workmate to have a fishing week on the 'salt chuck' which gave berth to our subsequent vacation plans.

Again - many thanks to Michael W. for permission to post the above photo. The nearer forested ridge on the left side of the photo is a glimpse of Bowen Island. Around behind Point Atkinson (on the right) is Horseshoe Bay and a ferry terminal. From there large car ferries sail over to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island and to the Sunshine Coast/Powell River situated on the far side of Bowen Island - as well as foot passenger ferries across to Bowen Island.

An older English couple had a summer cottage on Bowen Island (which is situated at the mouth of Howe Sound) and had erected three other cottages which they rented out during the summer months. We went there for our vacations beginning when I was entering my teen age years.

Mom and Dad would make a trip into downtown Vancouver a week before our vacation was to commence. They would go to the Woodward's Department Store (which disappeared many years ago) and purchase the food basics that we would need on the island. The store staff would pack the purchases and the boxes would be on the same sailing that we took over to Bowen.

Another long defunct business on the West Coast was Union Steamships which carried passengers and freight to many isolated communities. One of these boats - usually the Lady Alexandra - sailed north on Howe Sound delivering passengers, mail and groceries all the way up to Squamish and returned to Vancouver the same day. The boat called into Bowen while sailing in both directions. When our vacation ended we would return to Vancouver on the same ship.

The Union Steamship pier was towards the east end of downtown Vancouver. Once away from the pier the ship turned west and sailed out through First Narrows and under the Lions Gate bridge. When the ship passed under the bridge the captain would blow the ship's horn scaring the daylights out of Babs when she was still a little girl.

At Bowen Island the ship pier was in Snug Cove where we would disembark. From there we would either walk around past the resort hotel and along the north side of the broader bay to above the Fletcher's property and then down to the cabin. Or a rowboat would have been brought to the other side - to the pier that was beside the swimming beach - and tied up waiting for us.

We went to the beach frequently but I never learned to swim. However, I did learn how to row.

This was during the early 1950s when flying saucers were big news items. While sitting on a beach towel one day, I noticed a round object moving fairly swiftly through the sky from the southwest to the northeast. A flying saucer? In retrospect it could have been an errant weather balloon. I remember what I saw - and the awe that I felt - vividly.

On a number of mornings the tide would be out so we would put on old sneakers and take a bucket with us down to the rocks which had been bared by the receding water. We saw starfish and jellyfish carcasses which we ignored as we searched among the damp and algae covered rocks for 'sea worms'. We would pick up these and place each in the bucket with a little sea water and some seaweed.

When we returned from the beach we would take a sea worm - carefully as the head had pincers which hurt - put it on a hook and lie flat on the float. Below us we would see small flat fish named "shiners" who were greedy for the bait. When caught each was placed into another bucket of sea water and left until after supper.

Then the entire family would climb into the rowboat and Dad would row along the shoreline to a rocky outcrop. We would then bait our hooks with a shiner each and drop it into the water.

Down near the bottom lived an ugly fish called "rock cod". When one bit I thought that I had snagged a whale - those cod had tremendous strength for their small size. Once in a while we would be luckier and hook a ling cod. I am not a fish lover but the others said that the fillets of each, when fried, were delicious.

Dad spent most of his free time out fishing in deeper water for salmon and/or sea trout. Each year Alda and I would go out with Dad on one day each. I never enjoyed that - and never received even one bite - but Alda enjoyed it more and did hook one salmon.

Years later the rest of the family were at Bowen Island while I was working in town. On one weekend my best buddy and I went over to Bowen. My friend had grown up on a farm - it was his parents who owned the dairy where we would go for our milk - and liked horseback riding so he talked me into going for a ride. There was a public riding stable not far from the hotel and that was where we rented the horses. The woman who was running the business asked if we knew how to ride? My friend replied: "I do - but he doesn't!" While he rode on a relatively spirited steed I was given a plodder. We rode along the main road (there was very little traffic) and, every so often, we would encounter a family out for a walk. Invariably any kids with them would yell "Look, Mom. there's my horse!" pointing at the one that I was riding. Somewhat embarrassing.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Dawes Hill - Part 3

There are three items that I should have added to the previous blog - I will include them here.

One year Tom Wesley painted his living/dining room in preparation of June's birthday celebration thereby horrifying his older daughters. The room was a long rectangle with a drop light in the middle of the ceiling. What Tom did was to paint in a different pastel color out from each corner. At the drop light he moved each color one space to the right. The pastels were rose, mauve, green and yellow. I - and some of the other guests - found the new color scheme (the room was drab before) quite delightful.

Also, at the local Ratepayers Association, Mom and Dad met a couple who owned a few acres up beside the rear gate to the mental hospital. On that land they had planted a number of raspberry canes and they needed pickers. I was in Junior High by this time and needed some money to buy new clothes for the approaching school year (as did Alda). When I received my pay I went into New Westminster to a men's clothing store where I purchased what I considered to be a very smart outfit. Now I wouldn't be caught dead in that style!

As I mentioned in the Family Tree blog, my Granddad - Mom's step-father - was raised in Theodore, Saskatchewan. Not long after the end of World War II he and Grandma took a trip back there to visit a cousin. This cousin's youngest son was a teenager, no longer in school - and at loose ends - so my grandparents invited him to come out to B.C. Dad was able to secure a job for Hubert at Capilano Timber and he boarded with us.

Before Hubert arrived his dad's second wife, Alice, and daughter, Yvonne, came out to the Coast. They stayed with Grandma and Granddad and used our place as the jumping off point for visits to Vancouver and North Vancouver.

In those days the easiest way to get to North Van was by a car ferry from downtown Vancouver. Grandma took them over there to visit with great aunts Emma and Edith. When they returned from that visit we were amused by Yvonne's description of the outing. They had crossed on the ferry which she described as 'that huge ship'! Being from Saskatchewan she had never seen a ferry before.

Hubert's oldest brother - and his hero - joined the Air Force in World War II and his aircraft had been shot down somewhere over Europe. When Hubert had had enough of the mill he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force too and was sent to Trenton, Ontario for basic training. We went into New Westminster to see him off.

The oldest trans-continental railway in Canada is the Canadian Pacific which follows the southern route. Later the Grand Trunk Pacific was built and, when it showed signs of failing, the Canadian Government purchased it and it became known as the Canadian National. As that was the railroad that the Government owned - that was the railroad that Federal personnel rode on - so that was the train that Hubert boarded in order to travel to the Air Force Base at Trenton, Ontario.

In B.C., the CPR used the northern route through the Fraser Valley while the Canadian National traveled along the southern shore, When the train pulled out of the station we left for home. On the other side of the river there were a number of grade crossings at which the train blew its whistle. As - by that time - we were living up on the hill again - we could hear the sound of that whistle for a long time. Such a sad sound.

The house that Dad had agreed to build around us was not proceeding very well so, when he learned that former neighbors up on the hill were trying to rent out their original house, he made inquiries and was successful.

Although it is much remodeled since we lived there - this is the Finnegan House as it looks today (June 2014). Again - many thanks to Michael W. of Vancouver who drove out to Coquitlam the other day and sent me 4 or 5 photos of the 'Finnegan House'. It has been much remodeled and the porch which extended from the back door around to the corner seen in the photo has been removed (or  completely enclosed). The window on the second floor and at this corner of the house is in my former bedroom.


These neighbors, the Finnegan family, had built a smaller house for themselves (they were 'empty nesters') two lots down the road. Our 'new house' was larger and roomier than the previous houses in which we had lived. The main entrance off of the driveway was through the kitchen door which opened into a cavernous room. To the right was a dining room, a left turn there led one into the living room. Immediately on the left of that doorway was the staircase that led up to four bedrooms and the bathroom on the second floor.

The only fixture in that bathroom was the bathtub. As an 'after thought' the original occupants had converted a pantry off of the kitchen into a toilet with a wash basin. As in many homes, the kitchen was the main gathering place so the proximity of the toilet made for interesting conversations!

Mr and Mrs Finnegan wanted to sell the house and asked only $2500 for it. Dad and Mom visited the financial institutions in New Westminster looking for a mortgage. Coquitlam was an organized municipality by that time but the banks refused to extend credit to people who lived outside of the city.

That was the one time that I saw Dad crying - he so much wanted a house for his family but was being denied. Our friend, Jim Mackie, heard of our predicament so he went to his bank, used his securities as collateral and was able to hand the money to Dad. All Jim required was that the principal be paid back over a period of time - he absorbed the interest himself.

Now we had a grand house - in size that is - and it soon became Grand Central Station! By this time all of the Poirier family - except for Mrs. Poirier - had moved to the Cariboo. Their Mom had sold the original home and had moved into an apartment so we became their stopping place on visits to The Coast.

Sometimes they arrived with friends who had never been to the 'Big City' before and this generated a lot of hilarity. One of the Poirier girls - Roseanna - brought a girl friend down with her. One of Roseanna's errands was to visit an office in New Westminster's tallest building. This meant taking an elevator up and the girl - who had never seen an elevator before - screamed! Also, they took in a movie and the guest was overwhelmed by all the 'little movies' which accompanied the main feature.

We moved into that house in March, 1951 and owned it until 1966 - just after Dad died.






We had a large window in the kitchen of this house and, as the house was on the brow of the hill, we had a glorious view of some of the mountains. This double peak is called Golden Ears and it is located in Garibaldi Park north of the municipality of Maple Ridge. The reason behind the unusual name is - when viewed from the west - the two peaks appear to be closer together and they look like two ears of an animal and the 'ears' appear to be in an upright position. In the light of the setting sun they are golden in hue.   


Also we could see Mt Baker - one of the volcanoes found in the northwest. It is in northern Washington State and south of the B.C. city of Abbotsford. We knew that it was an active volcano but I never saw any proof until I was on a flight from Vancouver to Chicago. On the south side of the main cone is a smaller peak and, at the base of it, is a rent in the snow over which we flew. It was brown from the escaping vapors. Like all but one of the peaks in the chain - that one is Blackcomb up near Whistler - it is a dormant - but not dead - volcano.

I do not remember when - exactly - the Port Mann Bridge was erected but it crosses the Fraser River at the bottom of the hill below the 'Finnegan House'. The road which crosses the river at this point is Highway 1 - the Trans-Canada Highway. Once again I want to honour the generosity of Michael W. of Vancouver for giving me the privilege of being able to post this photo. Yes, the mountain seen in the background is Mt Baker,



We  could not see Maillardville nor Fraser Mills although we could still hear that booming whistle.

In closing, I wish to thank Michael W. again for sharing his photos. The scenes that I have posted above were taken by him from the Municipality of Pitt Meadows some ten to fifteen miles east of Dawes Hill.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Dawes Hill - Part 2

On December 30, 1943 my youngest sister, Gladys Jean, was born. Dad chose to name her after Mom so, to lessen confusion in the household, he gave her the nickname Babs. My story cannot continue without acknowledging her part in it.

On November 4, 1949 our baby brother, Daniel George, arrived. Unfortunately, he died suddenly in May 2008.

Also, important to my story, I must mention the four legged members.

As Dad loved hunting, for his birthday in 1942, Mom gave him a cocker spaniel pup who was jet back and was named - I am embarrassed to say - 'Nigger'. He (along with a cat named Blackie) moved from Ruskin with us.

Shortly after we moved to Dawes Hill a complaint was received that the dog was chasing a neighbor's animals. Dad wrote to a long time friend in Mission who was an avid hunter and who agreed to take the dog. Within a week or so of Nigger moving to the home of his new master, we received another complaint about him chasing animals. Wrong dog - the culprit belonged to neighbors who lived a couple of blocks from where we did.

Around this time Dad bought Mom a Pekingese pup as a Christmas gift. It was a sweet animal but, unfortunately, it came down with a disease (indigenous to that breed) that left it blind and so it had to be destroyed.

Meanwhile, Blackie - the cat - lived on and, whenever she could, she would crawl into the bed with me. Mom's ritual at bedtime was to put the household pets outside for the night. Always she would find Blackie sleeping under the covers on my bed and down by my feet.

One day an Irish setter followed Alda home from school. While she was a beautiful dog, she was sadly short on brains. Living not far from us was a man who, like Dad, loved hunting and he owned a kennel of English hunting dogs. One day a Great Dane appeared. The English dogs took exception to the intruder and fights broke out which the Great Dane - because of his size - always won. Therefore Mr. Booth wanted to get rid of the interloper and Dad offered to give him a home.

Dad sharpened the neighbors' saws for them (he had a vise on the back porch railing for that purpose). On the same day that the Great Dane arrived Dad went out on the porch to sharpen saws and the new dog went with him. The Irish Setter was there as well. Babs was still a toddler and was knocked down by Lady (the setter) jumping up on her. Dad hit the dog and told her to stay down. However she jumped again and the Great Dane (who had witnessed the reprimand) rose up with a growl in his throat, hit the setter with his shoulder knocking her away and then settled back for his nap. The setter didn't jump up again.

After Dad went to work and we went to school on Monday, Mom put the Great Dane outside. He took off and headed back to where Dad had found him - more than a mile away. We never saw him again.

The neighbor at the other place (Mr. Boisse) owned a herd of sheep and raised Border Collies. Dad got a pup from him and we called him Lad. He was a beautiful dog but an inherent trait undid him - he loved to herd. If it wasn't the milk cows belonging to our landlord - who wasn't amused - he would go to the other side of the highway and 'herd' passing cars. He was hit once, was nursed back to health, and then disappeared. Mom and Dad felt that, since he was a pure bred, was handsome, and was friendly, some motorist picked him up and took him to another home.

Alda has a much clearer memory of this than I do but, in late 1945 or early 1946, the landlord (of the house situated on the brow of Dawes Hill) moved another family in with us. We had no choice but to move ourselves.

Another one of Dad's workmates, Clifford Picton, began building a second house on the eastern side of his property which was down on the highway on the south side of the hill. Dad moved us there under the condition that he would continue to help Cliff build the house around us. That place never - to me - had a 'permanent feel' to it. However, we lived there for the following five years.

The downside of this situation, for me, was that there were no other boys around my age living in the vicinity. But there were a couple of truly remarkable neighbors.

Across the road from the Clifford Pictons lived Tom Wesley - the very first black man that I met. He had been married but was separated from his wife who lived in Vancouver. He had three daughters and a son living at home with him. The apple of his eye was the youngest - June.

He had a few acres lying below the highway and extending to the railway tracks (a spur line belonging to the Canadian Pacific Railway extending from Port Coquitlam into New Westminster)  The main line passed to the north through Port Moody and along the south shore of Burrard Inlet to Vancouver.

In front of that property were old disused gasoline pumps and a tumble down cafe. Tom devoted a small field to the cultivation of strawberries (my first earnings came from picking those berries for Tom). The berries were displayed in front of the cafe so passing motorists would stop to buy some. During that brief period each summer - if my memory is serving me correctly - the 'cafe' also sold ice cream bars and milk shakes.

As I mentioned above, June was her dad's pet and he would celebrate her birthday each June by hosting a strawberry social to which all of the neighbors were invited. I loved a 'strawberry stew' that was created each year - and, Yes!, the birthday cake was a classic strawberry shortcake with real cream icing! Tom had a few dairy cows as well.

The other memorable neighbor was Jim Mackie - a World War 1 veteran who had worked for years for the Canadian Post Office and was a sorter in the mail car attached to transcontinental trains. Now that occupation is certainly an anachronism!

Jim was a widower with no children. He lived in a lovely bungalow about a quarter mile east of where we lived. Over the years he had accumulated an impressive library - consisting mostly of non-fiction works. Mom and Dad met Jim through the local Ratepayers Association and became the source of an invitation to Alda and I to come by for an evening of reading. Jim would read to us.

This invitation existed for a number of years - even extending beyond the years when we lived just down the road. From that house on Pitt River Road we moved to another house back up on Dawes Hill. Alda and I would walk down to Jim's and he would walk with us on our way home. In August are the meteor showers and there would be a competition to see who could spot the most meteors streaking through the skies. Alda always won - she has very sharp eyesight - and I always came in third.

We read many books together but the only one that I remember with clarity was Xavier Hollander's "A House Is Not a Home". Why is it that I remember that one above all of the others?

This house (which we were renting) was about a mile and a half west of Essondale - the Provincial Mental Hospital. The grounds of that institution were beautifully landscaped and were pleasant to stroll through. Much to Dad's horror, Cliff Picton's twins (Connie and Clifford) enticed us to go to Essondale on two raids - for tulips in May and cherries in July. They were a few years older than Alda and I.

Across the highway from Essondale - and connected to it - was the Colony Farm which was the Provincial Agricultural Experimental Station. We loved to go there on hikes (we used a path that passed through the scrub lands of the flood plain between the railway tracks and the Fraser River). A big attraction was to visit there a month or so after our birthdays as the calf pens had labels listing the genetic pedigree of each calf - mostly Holsteins - as well as its date of birth. We were looking for our 'twins'!

Next door to our house lived the Knapps. They had lovely flower gardens which I enjoyed weeding. This caused Dad some anguish as he had planted a vegetable garden which needed weeding as well. To me weeding flowers was much more fun than hoeing vegetables.

In B.C. only the public schools were financed by municipal taxes - religious schools had to be paid for by the parents. Coquitlam had a fairly large population of Roman Catholic people. In the early 1950s a population boom put extra strain upon the public school system so the Roman Catholic School Board went on 'strike' trying to force the Public Board to give in to their demands. The Public Board was obligated to reply so they put in place a 'swing shift' system. The senior students (Grades 10 through 12) began the school day at 7:45 AM and returned home shortly after noon. The junior kids (Grades 7 to 9) left for school just before noon and returned at the supper hour.

I was the only kid my age in our immediate neighborhood (the Picton twins went to a high school in New Westminster) so I had to amuse myself. It was spring and the great outdoors beckoned. Behind our house was the forest that extended for miles along that slope of the ridge. I tramped all through those woods and made a point of visiting a few large ravines (there were a handful of ponds scattered through those woods and the drainage was by creeks which, over time, carved those ravines).

When I was in Australia I was asked about 'bush walking' in Canada. I told my interlocutors that I loved hiking and often tramped through the woods. "Wasn't I afraid of bears?" I never saw any!

However, there was one plant found in some of the ravines that gave me pause - devils' club. It is a plant that sends up large stalks covered by spines that could be toxic. I knew how to recognize those plants and gave them a wide berth.

Dad's 'building the house around us' idea did not really work out all that well so, when we heard of a house up on the 'Hill' that was for rent, he jumped at the opportunity to move us back up there.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Dawes Hill - Part 1

Most of my entries to date have been about my travels 'Down Under'. More travel entries are forthcoming but, before that, I am returning to my/our childhood years. This yarn begins where "Our Japanese Neighbors" left off.


For a number of years during the 1930s and the early '40s, Dad had not been able to find steady employment in one place. However, in 1943, he found work at the Capilano Shingle Mill in New Westminster. For many months he boarded at a home in New Westminster while the rest of us continued to live in Ruskin. I attended Grade 1 at Ruskin Elementary School across the road from where we continued to live. Dad came home on Friday evening via the country bus and returned on Sunday evening. Then one of his workmates heard of a house that was vacant on Dawes Hill. Dad went to see it, found it to be suitable, so Mom, Alda and I moved there in August. My youngest sister (Gladys but known to all as 'Babs') was born near the end of December in that year.

'Dawes Hill' is not actually a hill but part of a ridge that extends all the way from Point Grey in Vancouver to the city of Port Coquitlam which lies near the east bank of the Coquitlam River.

Before I proceed further, here is a short history.

Early in the 20th Century, Fraser Mills was created and it grew to be the largest lumber mill in the British Commonwealth and, in size, second only to a mill in the State of Oregon.

The mill needed employees so, shortly after its creation, a Father Maillard brought a group of Quebecois settlers out west and formed the community of Maillardville. As these folk were French, the community followed the French/Canadian plan for a town. The church - Our Lady of Lourdes - was erected in a town square with the settlers building their homes - and the Catholic school - around it. By the time that we arrived in the area that community had grown and the 'Main Street' had shifted a couple of blocks to the south. That was where most of the shops, the public school, and the Municipal Hall were located.





                          Our Lady of Lourdes Roman Catholic Church in Maillardville

A friend who moved from Toronto to Vancouver - and who reads my blogs - drove out to Maillardville and to Dawes Hill with his camera. He took a number of photos of the old neighborhood of Dawes Hill (much changed from when we lived there) and I am adding three of his photos to this blog. 

Actually, the main street became a part of a highway from Vancouver heading east through the northern part of the Fraser Valley. The stretch through Maillardville was Brunette Street, Pitt River Road further along and then the Lougheed Highway. Where one part of the named road became the next one I never did determine!

We lived about a mile east of the public school (which was at the eastern edge of Maillardville). Most of our neighbors were employees of Fraser Mills with two or three others working where Dad did.

The house which Dad was able to rent was situated just across the road from the brow of the hill and we had a panoramic view of Fraser Mills, most of Maillardville and we could see down the Fraser River to the Patullo Bridge that crossed from New Westminster to Surrey.

The view from the brow of the hill - but two blocks from where we lived. Fraser Mills is now no more but it was approximately where the log booms are located. Also gone are a Swift Meat Packaging plant, the Capilano Shingle Mill (where Dad worked) and the Royal City Cannery where I worked during one summer before my last year of high school. The Capilano Shingle Mill was about a mile east (this side) of the Patullo Bridge while the cannery was practically beneath it.


Fraser Mills had a huge smoke stack and attached to it was a deep booming whistle. If there was an emergency there - like a fire - the whistle would blow repeatedly and everybody would rush to where they could view the valley. Thank God, there never was a major fire.

Our walk to school and back each day was down the hill, across the highway and along the shoulder (our left facing oncoming traffic) to where it became Brunette Street and the school. The walk home every afternoon was, of course, the reverse. We kids - there must have been a dozen or more of us - never had an accident. However, a neighbor boy (who attended the Catholic school) was killed one morning when his bicycle arrived at the highway - he braked, his bike slid on some loose gravel and he was thrown beneath a car. He was our paper boy and a very popular lad. That accident happened more than 60 years ago but I still think of him - Marcel Dolbec.

If you click on this photo it will appear enlarged and in another window. When I lived there that road was gravel and the hill seemed to be much steeper than this photo suggests. The home which my folks were renting was to the left of the stop sign at the top of the hill and on the upper side of the road (Montgomery Avenue).


Years later I lived for a while in Prince George, B.C. during the boom years of that city. To the north of the town was an unorganized area referred to by some wags as "the dog's breakfast" - there were no building codes and anybody could build whatever he or she wanted. Dawes Hill, on the other hand, was a part of the Municipality of Coquitlam but our unofficial village was a 'dog's breakfast' as there were no building codes that I was aware of either.

Our house was up from the road with a full basement and the main floor and upper floor above that. In front of the house - and sloping down to the road - was a small orchard with cherry, apple and plum trees, To the upper side of the house was a grape arbor and, below it, a vegetable garden. In the summer and autumn months we did not lack of fresh fruit and vegetables. There was a chicken pen so we had fresh eggs and, occasionally, a roast chicken dinner. For fresh milk we walked up a lane beside the house (past three other houses), through a fence and to yet another house. Those people had a few dairy cows.

World War II began when I was 4 or 5 years old and lasted until I was 9 - the years when I had a very vivid imagination. Somewhere across the Fraser River there was a searchlight that, during late autumn, winter and early spring evenings, penetrated the night sky. Our evening walk to buy fresh milk was in the direction of where the searchlights were coming from. Instead of making me feel secure it frightened me - I thought that bombers were on their way.

Four roads led down the hill to the highway - Dawes Hill Road, Peterson, Wiltshire and Hillside. The latter was no more than a lane while Wiltshire was the shortest route down the slope and was the only one that was paved. Our most direct walk to school was down Dawes Hill Road which was no trouble in the morning but seemingly a long hike up in the afternoon.

We lived in that house from August 1943 until March 1946. In autumn in B.C. torrential rains can come. On one of those autumn nights the heavens literally opened with downpours. The next morning we discovered that run off water had carved a gulch down the middle of Dawes Hill Road. It was rumored that army motorcyclists came to use that road during the storm so they could gain experience in riding over shell pocked terrain at the European front! In retrospect I think that this was more an 'urban legend' than reality.

Our experience one day during our walk home was real - we were met by an army convoy traveling along the highway. There were no military bases anywhere near where we lived (that we knew of) so we boys and girls were awestruck.

We seemed to have had more than our share of eccentric men living near us. There was Harold Escott who was a "Remittance Man" - an Englishman who was paid to stay away from his home in England. Originally he had gone to the West Indies but, having become ill with malaria, he moved to the cooler climate of the B.C. Coast. His cabin (shack) was in the bush. He was a nice elderly gentleman - although a bit odd. I understand that he had a large - and valuable - collection of books which he willed to the Library at the University of British Columbia. Unfortunately, the dampness of his simple dwelling in the forest damaged many of the books.

Not far away was the other Harold - (Harold Crewdson). This gentleman had fought in World War I where he had lost an arm. He used his military discharge money to purchase a few acres of land and built a beautiful house. There had been a Mrs Crewdson who had died before we moved into the neighborhood and there were children who were married and lived in Vancouver.

The property had been cleared and a fairly extensive orchard planted. Mostly proper 'farmland' did not exist - just 'rock farms'. Mr Crewdson's property had been cleared of rocks which had been left in huge piles. He purchased some hives of bees which pollinated the fruit tree blossoms and then he collected the honey. With the fruit and the honey he made wines and mead which Dad claimed were among the finest that he had tasted. Mr. C's favorite storage places for the bottles of wine were under the rock piles. When he wanted to open a bottle he would have to go look for it but he could never remember which rock pile was which so some of his beverages aged wonderfully well!

An older couple lived three doors north of where we lived. Mr. Durr had served in the British Army in India and he gave Alda and I names that he claimed were from India. While I have no recollection of what Alda's nickname meant, mine was said to mean 'wild man of the bush'! I am not sure if that was a compliment or not! This gentleman's son was the man who had told Dad about the house being available for rent.

Next door to us (over the back fence) were Mr and Mrs. Boisse and their son Maurice who was reported to be an orphan of the Spanish Civil War. Mr. Boisse worked somewhere in the forestry industry, raised sheep on his few acres, and rode a motorcycle which had a sidecar. He was quite involved in union work and I remember a few Sunday afternoons when he loaded his son - Maurice - Alda and I into the sidecar and took us into town. While he attended to union business we three kids amused ourselves on the streets of Vancouver or New Westminster. In the 1940s the downtown areas of Canadian cities were deserted so there was no perceived threat to our safety. Those outings were fun.

Across the road from us was a French Canadian family who were quite lively and entertaining. There was a son and two daughters who were a few years older than Alda and I. The mother was warmhearted but she could be coarse - and gave us a lot of amusement. One afternoon their yard was in an uproar. The boy had put on one of his sister's dresses and the girls were chasing him and screaming at him in anger, He was afraid of what they would do if the caught him. Watching was lots of fun.

At the top of the lane - next to the fence surrounding the dairy farm - lived the Poirier family. The father had joined the Canadian Army and was serving in Europe leaving behind his wife to raise seven children. The oldest son had moved to a community in the Cariboo and I did not meet him until the wedding of one of his sisters where he met my sister, Alda, for the first time. A few years later they were married, beget five children, worked hard and were happy until he passed away in August 2004.

The Poiriers were always part of our family's existence until all were married and living in various parts of B.C.

World War II came to its bloody conclusion in August of 1945. When the news came over the radio that the Japanese had surrendered, Dad came out onto our front porch with his shotgun. He aimed it at the sky and pulled the trigger. Mrs. Emond (across the road) was out congratulating with the neighbor lady on the other side. At the sound of the 'boom' she jumped and screamed, whirled around and shouted every profane word that she knew - and there were a number - at Dad while we laughed.
 Daily Vacation Bible School (circa 1944/45). I am the boy standing in the front row and second from the left side.
Mennonite Sunday School class posing in our front yard. The teacher (at the back of the group) was Jake Loewen and I am the shy little kid on the left.The camera was an old Kodak Brownie. Behind the group the view from the hilltop is vaguely visible and it is the community of Maillardville.


Some Mennonite folk had come to Ruskin and set up a Sunday School in the Community Hall. Alda and I had enjoyed attending and missed it when we moved. So Mom wrote and invited them to come to Dawes Hill and set up a Sunday School there. They met in our small living room for a while and then a neighbor - with a larger living room - offered her house. That Sunday School moved to other houses and lasted for about fifteen years. The highlight of the first couple of years was the summer Daily Vacation Bible School. Two young men came and pitched a couple of tents in a vacant lot. We would go for lessons in the mornings and then these young men would lead we boys on merry romps in the woods. The week ended with an evening 'concert' which our parents attended. Those are wonderful memories.

For the sake of some brevity, I am going to break this narrative into three segments.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Home to Canada

In September of 1965, the fifth anniversary of my trip to Australia came and passed and I began receiving hints in letters from Mom that it was time that I returned home.

At that time all of the banks had an in-house travel agency so I made inquiries at the bank that I used and was directed to their travel department. What was shown to me was very intriguing so I booked a fare on that trip and began paying for it by installments.

The itinerary was a sailing from Sydney to Manilla, Hong Kong and Singapore, train travel to Bangkok, a plane over Burma to Calcutta, a trip up the Ganges to Benares and then across to Mumbai (with a stop in Agra along the way). In Mumbai I would join a bus camping trip through Pakistan, Iran. Jordan, Syria and Lebanon to Turkey. In Istanbul we would have boarded the Orient Express for the ride to London. From London by ship to New York and then by train to Montreal and across Canada to New Westminster. In the Middle East I would have seen Isfahan, Qom, Petra and the Arab controlled portion of Jerusalem. A dream trip to end all dream trips!

I was at work on November 17 when I received a message that there was a telegram waiting for me at the boarding house. I telephoned there and asked Fred Carroll to open and read the contents to me. It contained the news that Dad had died suddenly. He had not been well earlier in the year and I understood that he had recovered (he had returned to work). During the earlier illness the doctor had discovered an aneurism in his body but the technique had not been developed by which to excise it.

He had been at work - on the afternoon shift - the day before, had come home and went to bed. Mom and Dad had an appointment in New Westminster the next morning so she got up early to go downstairs to put on the coffee and to begin breakfast preparations. She went back upstairs to waken Dad and discovered that he was dead. My kid brother, Danny, was sleeping in a neighboring bedroom so she woke him to ask him to check what she had found was correct. Dan, who was just a teenager - 16 years old (he passed away suddenly in 2008) - confirmed what Mom had discovered to be true.

When I read the telegram I remembered a dream that I had had the night before. In my dream I had gone to the home of friends where I visited frequently. In the dream I was alone in the living room when there was a knock at the front door. I opened it, Dad was standing on the stoop, wordlessly we hugged and the dream ended. A few years ago I was in correspondence with a Canadian author whose books are compilations of Canadian 'ghost stories'. I told him my story and he replied that that phenomena is not at all uncommon.

Word of my news spread rapidly through the office and the Office Manager urged me to go home for the day. At the boardinghouse I read the telegram and then I went over to Kedron Methodist Church where I saw the Rev. Mr. Morton. Upon hearing my news he immediately (as there was no hope of me being home for the funeral) began planning a Memorial Service to be held on Saturday morning to coincide - as close as possible - with the time of the funeral at home. There were about 50 people at the service (including a dozen or so from Dunlop Rubber) and I was very touched.

My first task on Monday was to go to the travel agency to cancel my reservations for the overland trip and to book an air ticket home. However, as I could not make it in time for the funeral, I delayed my departure until Friday, December 17. In the meantime I was feted by various groups of people and given a number of lovely gifts. I will be forever grateful for all of that love.

Jets were a new means of transportation at that time. Trans Australian Airlines had purchased some 'Whispering T-jets' which were the latest wonder. I flew on one of them from Brisbane to Sydney. The word 'whispering' was an anomaly - they were, with the engines located above the back of the plane, very noisy.

As jets that were able to fly nonstop for long distances had not yet been created, I had to travel 'hop, skip, and jump' to Vancouver. My flight on to North America did not leave Sydney until Saturday evening - which was the first of two Saturdays that I lived through in 1965. I spent the day by visiting all of my haunts when I lived in Sydney. "Down Memory Lane" so to speak.

The Qantas flight left Sydney late Saturday evening, landed at Nandi International Airport in the Fiji Islands for refueling (and the Duty Free Shop) and then went on to Honolulu. Shortly after leaving Nandi we crossed the International Date Line and landed on the second Saturday morning (I had lost a day while crossing the Pacific on the SS Iberia in 1960).

In Honolulu we had to clear US Immigration and Customs. As luck would have it, we landed around the same time as aircraft from Manilla and Tokyo so had to queue with passengers from those aircraft in order to gain clearance to enter the U.S. In front of me was a late middle-aged American woman who was attempting to bring home, from Tokyo, what looked like the contents of a nursery. Naturally, practically all of the shrubbery was banned from the United States. The woman was so indignant - after all, she WAS an American!

In Honolulu I had an entire day to kill so I took a tour out to the newly completed 'Polynesian Village' on the north side of Oahu. The village - built by the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormon) - was a collection of 'villages' depicting all of the island cultures to be found across the Pacific. It was fascinating.

My flight onward was supposed to be a Canadian Pacific Airlines flight from Honolulu to Vancouver. However, it was outbound from Amsterdam via Toronto and Vancouver to Honolulu and was delayed for upwards to twelve hours. As I had written home the details of my itinerary I was concerned that my folks would be at the airport to meet me at the time I mentioned in my letter to them. Therefore I arranged for a different flight.

This one was via Northwest/Orient Airlines to Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington (the aircraft was going on from there to Minneapolis and New York City - talk about a milk run!) and then another transfer to a United Airlines flight for the final hop to Vancouver. When I arrived in Seattle, I telephoned home - and learned that my letter containing my itinerary had not arrived. Dan was not yet old enough to drive so they had to scramble to find somebody else who could drive them to the airport. They located two cars and drivers so they could meet me and bring me and my hand luggage home.