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.

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