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.

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