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.

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