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.

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