Monday, 8 April 2013

Part Time Work

Throughout most of my growing up years I earned a small allowance by bringing in the wood needed for the stove (before we switched to an oil burning range). If I remember correctly, my 'wage' was $.25 a week. However, upon arriving at the ripe old age of 13 or so, I was given the opportunity to earn more based upon how much I accomplished each day. The two 'jobs' of which I am thinking were picking strawberries for Tom Wesley and picking raspberries for the Smith family.

Later on - while in Australia - I picked apples, pears, grapes and watermelons and I have commented upon those experiences in the blogs about life in Tasmania and in Goodnight, N.S.W.   This blog is about the summer jobs I worked at while in High School and - later - in between steady work.

One summer - during my teenage years - I was hired by our neighbor and friend, Jim Mackie, to help him with some yard work. My memory of what I did for that money is dim and I do not believe that I did much. Jim knew that we were poor and my 'hiring' was just to help us out.

Back before the '80s there were no 'Dollar Stores' but '5 and Dime' stores instead. There were three of them in downtown New Westminster and one of them was a branch of the Woolworth chain. I was hired as a 'stock boy' (another term for 'gofer') - worked there for a few weeks - and hated every moment of that!

My Dad was a millwright at the Capilano Timber Shingle/Shake Mill. On a couple of occasions I went to the mill with him to help in clean up work and, when I was in my later teens, as an employee on the afternoon shift. My task was to stand beside the conveyor belt which was taking cedar shingles through a machine which was spraying them with paint. I had a stick in my hand and, if I saw a shingle or two which were not aligned with the other shingles, I had to poke each miscreant into line. Lord - I hated that job!

Working the afternoon shift meant that I was not finished until midnight. The last bus out of New Westminster which serviced our neighborhood was at 11:15 PM but one of the city transit buses went out to Fraser Mills shortly after midnight so I would catch it to where it turned down into the mill. From that point it was about an hour of walking along the shoulder of the highway and then up the hill  to our house. One evening I witnessed a 'spooky' event in the eastern sky - a full eclipse of the moon. I had not heard that an eclipse was expected so that surprised me!

This photograph (taken recently by a friend who lives in Vancouver) shows the view down the Fraser River to New Westminster. Below the hill (and where mooring logs can be seen) was where Fraser Mills was located. To the extreme right of the photo you can see two green residential towers. They have been erected where the large B.C. Prison was once located and , below that on the banks of the Fraser, was Capilano Timber.  The next paragraph is about my working at the Royal City Cannery which was immediately on this side of the bridges shown in the background.

Royal City Cannery processed vegetables - mainly peas - (as well as fruit like strawberries and raspberries) for sale in supermarkets all over the country and abroad.  This cannery was a great source of summer employment and, during the summer following my stint at Capilano Timber, that was where I worked.

The cannery was an older ramshackle building perched upon the river bank. One evening during that summer - 1954 - a fish boat moored up near the community of Port Kells was destroyed by an explosion and fire. Unfortunately, a teenage deckhand lost his life in that accident and - a few days later while we were eating our lunches - we watched a police boat (which was moored right beside the railway bridge) fishing the corpse out of the river. Not a pleasant view while one is digesting lunch - and was much on my mind a day or so later when I went out on the tiny verandah, slipped upon some green peas which had been spilled there and was lucky to be able to grab a railing - otherwise I would have been another victim of that turgid water!

One of my tasks in the cannery was to team up with another fellow to hoist a heavy tray of filled cans into and then out of the oven. In that part of the cannery there were rails upon which dollies were rolled towards and out of the ovens. I was walking backwards when I tripped over one of those rails and fell backwards upon my tailbone. That hurt but I did not bother to go to the first aid room. Dad chewed me out about that - if there were recurring problems I would have no recourse for legal action against the cannery! For years the bruised tailbone bothered me but it seems to have healed itself.

The work at the cannery was not all that pleasant but it did give me the funds to spend on new clothes for school and to afford a ticket on a Greyhound bus up to 100 Mile House, to attend the wedding of Roseanna Poirier, and to be a part of the incident involving a fishing trip out on Canim Lake when a sudden thunderstorm nearly sunk our rowboat!

During the winter of 1954/55 I attended Senior Matriculation at the Duke of Connaught High School in New Westminster and then had to wait until a position opened in the office of a Chartered Accountants' firm. In the meantime I found a part time position in the office at Essondale - the Provincial Mental Hospital - about a mile east of where we lived.  There I handled the patients' "comfort money" accounts as well as meal tickets to the cafeteria for other employees. I had been to Essondale numerous times before but working with and around mental patients was daunting at first. That is - until I discovered how sweet and non-threatening those people could be. Particularly, I remember one middle-aged woman who would wander the grounds and be in and out of the 'Tuck Shop' singing 'tra la la' and telling everybody about the kittens born to her cat - "They all had such beautiful blue eyes!"  Yes - she was 'nuttier than a fruit cake' but she was so sweet.

It took me a while to land a position with Chadwick Potts and Company and, in the interim, there was one more part time position. That was in the Sears mail order warehouse in Burnaby. My task was to load the parcels being shipped to people who lived all over B.C. As I have had a lifelong interest in the names of people and of communities I enjoyed the work.

The Lower Mainland of B.C. is usually free of major snow storms - but not that year. One of the other fellows who was working at Sears drove a car and lived east of where my family lived. The drive home with him on that snowy evening was a tense one - but we made it. Naturally, I would not allow him to attempt to drive up the hill to our house - I slogged up Hillside Avenue on foot! 
Hillside Avenue as it looks today. On the evening of the snowstorm it was no more than a rutted laneway leading up from the highway at the foot of the hill. Now vehicles must turn onto Montgomery and then descend on one of the three other roads.