On a rainbow evening in April, 1912, Mac returned from the office all but emitting sparks from repressed excitement, and I bit immediately. "A raise, at last?" He shook his head but the happy grin remained. It was adventure calling temptingly from the far west. In the previous summer, Mac's brother, Alex, had moved to Vancouver,British Columbia, to engage in real estate, which we surmised was connected with the extension of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway from Edmonton, Alberta, to Prince Rupert on the Pacific coast.
On that Spring day, Mac had received a letter from his brother, offering him a job at double the salary he was drawing, together with maintenance, if he would meet Alex by May 15, in the new townsite of Fort George, B.C., which was situated at the junction of the Fraser and Nechaco rivers. Since there was another railway planned, the Pacific Great Eastern, to come up from Vancouver and cross the Nechaco to the north at Fort George, the future looked promising to the new-comers to that district.
Mac telegraphed acceptance of the offer and I got busy on his trousseau. Plenty of durable clothing would be required; that meant cleaning, mending and shopping. He had to give two weeks notice to his employers and clean up his paperwork.
We had married in a depression, against the advice of both families, and had not done so badly on a salary of fifty dollars a month. We owed nobody but, with two healthy, active boys, Murray nine and Alan seven, we needed more money to give them a chance, and we welcomed the opportunity to start afresh in a newly-opened part of Canada, which was widely published as "The Last Great West". Of course, the boys and I would remain in Toronto for at least a year, by which time it was expected that Mac would be firmly settled, and have a home ready for us, preferably a log bungalow, with enough ground for a good garden to raise our own vegetables and some flowers.
The boys and I managed to get our husband and father away in good time, and we learned later that Alex and his wife, Jessie, coming from Vancouver, had reached Ashcroft, the jumping off place, just two days before Mac arrived from the east. They had left a message for him, to follow by motor up the Cariboo Road to Soda Creek, where a paddle-wheel steamer had carried them up the Fraser River to South Fort George, which history tells us was an Indian Settlement in 1807, and that Simon Fraser, the explorer for whom the river is named, spent there part of the winter of 1808. The new Fort George was four miles across country to the west, and there was at least one roomy automobile for hire.
Mac followed the same route and arrived on the next steamer. We now leave him with his brother and sister-in-law, comfortably settled in an attractive,log bungalow, furnished completely, the owner of which was by this time occupying Alex's furnished apartment down in Vancouver. It was very convenient temporary arrangements for both families.
A six horse stage coach took care of the mail and non-summer passengers between Fort George and Ashcroft, (nearest railway connection) by way of the Cariboo Road and the Blackwater. Here it was that Al.Young, the stage driver, made a reputation as legendary as Paul Bunyan. It was Al's boast that the mail was always on time, and we had no difficulty in keeping in touch regularly during our separation.
The summer passed quickly after Mac's departure, as I was busy over-hauling our cloths, sewing, knitting and then selling off all the chickens I had raised, since I did not wish to bother with them any longer. When I paused to ask myself "what next?" we could almost smell the first snow.
On a Friday morning in mid-November, when I was seeing the boys off to school, my neighbour across the street called me to come to the telephone. We did not have one, but I had been invited to use hers anytime, and to let my family have the number, a great kindness.
It was Mother asking us to come to dinner and stay the night. I thanked her and accepted. Later I wondered why she had not waited until Sunday. It was more or less a regular habit for us to go to Mother's on Sunday or for her family to come down to us at the Beach, as the district was called. We were about a half mile from the lake.
When the boys came in for lunch, I asked them to come straight home after school, so that we might be on our way before the end-of-day business rush on the street cars. Mother was getting dinner when we arrived, and as I greeted her, I saw that she had been crying, and she was not the crying kind.
"What's that matter, Mother, are you ill?" I asked anxiously. No she was not ill, it was my sister Jane. Two years before, Jane had undergone a serious operation. Since Mother was not well at the time, I had taken her place at the hospital, and was able to convince the surgeon that I must have the truth as to whether the relief given Jane would be permanent.
He told me "No". Through fear that her trouble might be malignant, she had waited eight years before asking the doctor's advice and it was then too late. A hairlike root of the breast cancer had entered the chest wall. He gave her two years, maybe a little more.
Now Jane was too ill to attend to herself. She required hospital and nursing care, but did not want to go to a hospital nor to have any strangers about her; she wanted to be with her own kin. Jane had married a man of whom neither her family nor her friends could approve. Her action at the time caused Mother more grief than could be measured. There were no children of the union.
"Well, Mother," I asked quietly, "what is to be done, shall you nurse her?" I knew that there was a place in the picture, somewhere, for me and, as I had taken over the managing of the home once before, when Mother was ill, I thought that might be my role. It wasn't.
Mother could not nurse Jane, knowing how she was suffering. "I could do it for a stranger," said Mother, "but not for my own." She was a good practical nurse and tender hearted, too much so, that was the trouble. After dinner was over and the dishes washed up, I asked to be excused and went out walking. I walked for miles.
To one not trained in nursing, there is an understandable shrinking from contact with surface cancer, and I was no exception. I had naturally assumed that when the time arrived, Jane would enter a hospital. It was a shock to find that she was coming home and to realize that I was expected to take over the care.
Jane was nine years old when I was born and I was nine when the twins, boy and girl, were born. We then had a balanced family, three of each. It seemed that from the time I began to notice people, I felt that Jane resented me, and I soon resented her. We had never been sisterly. It was a neighbour, the same age as Jane, an only girl in a family of boys, who big-sistered me and gave me the encouragement and affection which she knew I was not getting from Jane, who had always dominated the home. This and a thousand other irritations ran through my dizzy head as I walked, until I finally turned into a small park and sat down. "Now, said I to me, "get busy! Settle this and forget it!"
I always had what is now called a complex; with me it was Mother. She was so fine, generous, and uncomplaining, that I bitterly resented any slight to her or lack of appreciation from her family, notwithstanding a definite consciousness that she cared less for me than for any one of her other five children. I had been told that I was a very poor-looking specimen when I arrived, and sometimes first appearances are prejudicial.
After having rested a few minutes, I decided that the best way I could show my regard for Mother, was to go back and ease her mind about the care of Jane, and it was a long way back, but I felt better when I arrived. When I said goodnight to her, I told Mother not to worry, that I would give Jane the care I would like for myself in similar circumstances, and would make arrangements as soon as possible.
The next morning after breakfast, the boys and I went home. We found the house warm and the fires all right. In the evening paper I saw an advertisement of someone wanting to rent a small house, nicely furnished, and answered it with the result that I rented our home to a very desirable tenant with a wife and small daughter.
I packed our clothing and sent it with my sewing machine up to Mother's, leaving the rest of our belongings to the use of the tenants. Then the boys and I went back to spend the winter with Mother, Louise, my younger sister and Jack, who had adopted my family when they first came to Toronto and he was an orphan of nineteen. The rent of my house would go to Mother.
It did not take long to re-arrange the rooms in preparation of Jane's coming. I wanted Mother to be still on the same floor, because she was always up first in the morning and the last to stop work at night. One set of stairs was enough for her. She gave up her front bedroom and we put an extra high mattress on the bed, so that Jane could see what was going on in the street.
Jane never alluded to her illness, nor the past, nor the future. She was the most cheerful one in the house and was always given the morning paper first, keen on dramatic news, tragedies, big fires, accidents; that was news. She had always been fond of bits of poetry and had kept a scrap-book, so she started another with my help.
From time to time Jane would ask me to rummage in her trunk or bags for something, a new book, some new handkerchiefs, things which had been given to her or bought and never used, and which she wanted to pass on to someone. She meant "when I'm gone," but she never said it. I marvelled at her stoic bearing and uncomplaining attitude, and I knew that I was witness to a stronger will than I might meet again. She meant to extract the best from every moment left to her.
On Christmas Eve we were down in the dining room with the door closed, filling the boys' stockings. Jane had been settled for the night. The door opened and there she stood in her kimono and soft slippers. "Please let me fill the stockings," she pleaded, "I never had anyone to do it for."
We placed her in a comfortable chair, and handed over the stockings, Louise helping. The colour rose in her thin cheeks and her eyes were shining. She was happy. When we got her back to bed I brought a warm drink with something to make her sleep, and that night she was not disturbed once.
One day, her old rector hearing that she was ill again and at Mother's house, called to see her When he was leaving I went to the door with him and he said," Jane is all right, but you, you pray hard that it will not be long". I did!
At the end of eight weeks of twenty-four-hour-day duty, I was forced to get a nurse. She was a young married woman, experienced and willing to work, but she was pregnant and told me frankly that she could not take on the dressings. She could not understand how I, an amateur, had been doing it, and I felt as though I had been decorated. Jane told the nurse that only her sister knew what to do for her, but we finally explained that I must have some sleep and she agreed.
Just one week later, Jane quietly left us, her hand in mine and her dark eyes on my face until their light faded. Mother had been fighting a heavy attack of bronchitis for days past. When I went down to her she read my face, sat down quietly and wept.
"Thank God it is over," she said. Then, "I wonder if her father will know her." Mother's faith was simple and strong. Father had died when the twins were babies.
One hour later, Mother was carried up to a bedroom on the third floor and the doctor called. She remained there for six weeks. Yes, I nursed her too, but she was not a good patient, and nearly drove the doctor crazy; she just knew that her lungs were affected, etc., but she lived to a ripe old age. When we brought Mother downstairs again, we had changed things around, and all the usual cleaning had been done. Spring was coming in the door.
I advised the tenant of my house that I would require him to vacate at the end of May. Then the boys and I went home for the month of June. While we were at Mother's, they had attended a school near-by, and now that we were home again, I arranged for them to spend the time at their old school. It would keep them from under my feet and cut the mischief while I decided what to sell and what to hold of the house affects. I was surprised to find how quickly I got rid of the not-wanteds. Then I sold the house to a nice couple from the New England States, who also bought some of the furnishings.
By the end of June we were back at Mother's packing the essentials for our move to join Mac, but first I repaid with interest, the money we had borrowed to send him to Fort George. After having experienced the winter of 1912-1913, Jessie was in a position to advise me on what goods and clothing to bring with us. I followed her suggestions to the letter and never had a regret therein.
By the summer of 1913, there was a paddlewheel steamer service on the northern-upper Fraser from Tete Jaune Cache, 240 miles west of Edmonton to Fort George; I had been advised to take that route, and I was glad to do so. I wanted to see the Rocky Mountains at close range, and I had read of the vagaries of the Fraser River in its upper reaches.
Seven pieces of freight were shipped ahead, including three trunks and my sewing machine. I could make most of my own dresses and had done all the sewing for the boys up to the time we left when I bought each of them a ready-made cloth suit for best wear. How I had appreciated the fashion of knickers and sweaters for school!
At last came the morning of departure, July 31, 1913, a blistering day, not a breath stirring. It hurt to tell Mother goodbye; we were going so far away and she was afraid the boys might be too much of a worry, trying to keep them out of mischief and danger. I should had a harness on them for the journey.
I knew that she was going to miss them, but I assured her that there would be so much new and strange for them to see, and since I had nothing to do except watch them, she was not to give it a thought. Nonetheless, I left her in tears and my own eyes wet.
A cab to the Union Station, my two best friends, Jack (Crowley) and Emily (Harmer) to see us off, and the boat train for Sarnia, 10.30 A.M. was on its way. The boys were angels. I had planned the relaxation of the boat trip to Fort William. I needed it. At 4 P.M. the train stopped at the Sarnia dock beside the S.S. Huronic, and I found that we had title for a very choice cabin, a bridal suite. The first job was a bath and change after the long, dusty ride, no air-conditioning in those days.
Only two incidents impeded me while going up the Lakes: I had taken the boys to dinner the first evening, on the first call, thinking to get them out of the way and off to bed early. I was met at the door of the dining room by one of those be-gold-braided-and -scarlet functionaries who informed me, in a spurious accent, the children ate at the second or third tables. I was surprised and annoyed, but too tired to take the argument further that night. We had first-class tickets and I was sure he was exceeding his authority. It was my first journey from home with the children along.
The other incident, which has remained with me nightmarishly, was the waking to a thick fog, the air filled with muffled blowing of ship's whistles, now on one side, now on the other, with huge,vague forms slipping past like ghosts. After breakfast, I dressed the boys and myself warmly, as it was quite cool, and hied us to the top deck, where I chose a bench in the centre of the space, with a son on each side and my arms around them.
It was weird. For a long time we watched tensely. Then I tried to play a game of finding a break in the smothering mass surrounding us, but to no purpose. Suddenly a piercing whistle, right beside the rail, and a sharp-nosed gray shape fled past us; I could have tossed a biscuit on its deck.
So near a threat left me weak, and I knew that my stiff face was white. Soon after, we found a rift in the fog blanket and all of us breathed easier. Since my sons have grown up, they have teased me about getting as near to Heaven as I could in the event of collision on that occasion.
After breakfast on the second morning, we docked at Fort William and I checked our belongings in the railway station, to be free-handed for the rest of the day. I had promised the boys to spend the time sight-seeing, with lunch at Port Arthur.
Having come from Toronto, they were a bit critical of the streetcar service between the two cities. It was amusing to listen to their boasting, which I cooled off by telling them that we were going to a much smaller town, with no streetcars and more shacks than houses, but they would like it because it would be home.
We boarded the train for Winnipeg that evening about seven o'clock, tired and sleepy. I wakened early, just gray dawn, to find Murray already with the blind partly up watching for bears or something and he was rewarded.
"Mother, Mother, quick! A wild horse!" He was white with excitement. A skinny old moose, shedding his coat and looking very moth-eaten, was crashing away from the noisy train into the misty bushes along the right-of-way. Sleepy Alan had missed the show.
At winnipeg we were met by a former Toronto friend, who took us to breakfast, after I had confirmed our reservations for the evening train to Edmonton. Later he delivered us to the home of some charming old friends from the East, who were expecting us, and we grownups enjoyed reminiscing until time to leave.
By the next morning we were on the prairies, mile upon mile of the beautiful, golden grain, ready for the harvest, and I remember hoping that it might be cut and salvaged before a storm could ruin the crops. The boys remarked on the scarcity of trees, and how lonely the houses looked, so far apart, once we had left a town.
After leaving Ontario, we had noticed a difference in the wild flowers. For instance, in the east the Indian Paint Brush is bright red, but from Manitoba west, it paled from deep rose to a soft pink, patches of it spread here and there on the folds of the prairie, like calico pinafores a-drying.
I had heard so much about the red lilies that girdle the sloughs with ribbons of scarlet in the Fall of the year, and was disappointed in that we were too early for their blooming. We were compensated somewhat, however by the sight of hundreds of young ducklings on the sloughs. The engine driver tooted the whistle and the rush of the startled floaters as they fled en masse, to the opposite side of the water, was like a soft, gray-brown carpet lifted by a strong wind. It helped the younglings to strengthen their wings.
When time lagged, the boys counted telegraph poles or the number of cars on another track. They were no trouble. I had promised that they would see some buffalo at Wainwright, and I had to watch the mileage so that they could be on the right side of the car as we approached the park."They look just like their pictures," lisped Alan, and Murray loftily added, "Of course." He had forgotten the moose who also had looked like its picture and he had called it a wild horse. To me the once-lordly buffalo looked pathetic; prisoners of progress.
I asked the train conductor to recommend a reliable hotel in Edmonton, as close as possible to the station for Tete Jaune Cache, giving it the popular pronunciation, Tee Jon. After thirty five years, I may be forgiven for not remembering the name of the hotel, but it was close to the station and very satisfactory. We arrived in time for dinner, had baths all 'round and went to bed early.
Thanks to the impatient screech of an outgoing locomotive, we wakened in time to get dressed and down to breakfast before the dining room closed, but we didn't hurry over the eating of the good food. We had oatmeal with real cream, pea-meal bacon, eggs like puffballs and hot buttered toast, with milk for the boys and a pot of orange pekoe for me. I had relaxed sufficiently by then to match my sons in appetite.
This was to be another sight-seeing day, but first we had to get our reservation for the evening train to Tete Jaune Cache, and I had heard that a crowd was expected. Fortunately, I was able to have a lower berth, so with a mind free for the rest of the day, we started for Jasper Avenue to window shop and absorb the grand,clear, sunny air, warmth without humidity. We could see for miles. Hills, houses, barns seemed amazingly near in that air, so free of smoke or mist, and the North Saskatchewan River, winding away like a great, black snake, had enough water to irrigate thousands upon thousands of thirsty prairie acres for farming.
Near the High Level Bridge we managed to slip and slide down the bank to the river's edge. It looked deep and dangerous, no shallow shore line to wade along, so we climbed back and rested at the top while I took some snaps of the boys in their cool outfits. They were comfortable in their dark blue drill shorts, blue and white half sleeve cotton jerseys, soft white felt camping hats and rubber-soled shoes.
We got on the first streetcar we met and went to the end of the line. On that morning a report had reached Edmonton of the escape during the night of five inmates from Stoney Mountain prison in Manitoba, and the car conductor jokingly asked the boys if they were part of the escapees, their stripes were a bit conspicuous. They had an alibi, however, having been on the train before the jail-break occurred.
After paying our respects to practically all the tram lines in the City, I asked where the parks were and that led us over the High Level Bridge to a sort of pasture on the outskirts, which we were advised was the only park. There was, at least, a shaky-looking bleacher so it would appear that baseball or lacrosse was played on the grounds, which were bare and uninteresting. The boys stood up on the fence posts and I took their pictures again for the folks at home.
When we got back to Jasper Avenue it was time for lunch, and I headed for the Hudson Bay Store, having told the boys something of the history of the originally chartered Honourable Company of Adventurers.
The visit was a bit flat. I think that the boys, remembering pictures they had seen, had expected the salespeople to be dressed like Indians or in the long romantic curls, swords, and bucklers of the 1700's. The lunch, however was very acceptable and that helped to discount disappointment.
Edmonton was still the gateway to the development of other distant places. I remember the 1898 excitement of the overland gold rush from Edmonton to the Yukon. Now it was headquarters for the extension of the big railway linking the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific. I considered that I and mine formed a part of the growing pains of the period, with a sort of nuisance value thrown in.
We returned to the hotel, had a bath and rested until time for dinner, after which we checked out and went over to the train which left at seven o'clock. This was to be our last train ride for some time. The long twilight enabled us to see much of the country west of Edmonton before bedtime. The westerly scenery was more attractive, lovely lakes and streams but smaller farms with here and there a lonely cabin, sod-roofed.
It was understood that whoever wakened first in the morning, should get the others up for an early glimpse of the mountains. This time it was I who raised the blind softly to find the Athabasca flowing swiftly eastward while the train hurried west. The gray-green water had a chilling look, in a misty, desolate, treeless setting, and though I had watched carefully, I did not see a bird of any sort. I was disappointed, but the conductor of the train assured me there were fine fish in the river. I didn't want to fish then; I wanted a welcome to the country, even a fleeting one.
When we finally approached the first of the mountains, I decided that the Athabasca was their true kin. With such cold, gray, forbidding pyramids for relatives, how could the river wear a warm smile? Now, conquered by man, they presented a resentful countenance, but their successors, thanks to sparkling,snowy crowns and soft green skirting, improved in beauty as we rattled along.
For sometime I had been conscious of a rustling in the berth above me, and presently I removed my hand just in time to save it from the spiked boot of a young mountain-climber, fishing for a foothold and stiff with clothes and gear. He was a rosy-faced, blue-eyed English lad, bursting with excitement at the prospect of joining a party to make a try at climbing Mount Robson. He told me that he had come all the way from England, before that, from Switzerland, so he had been travelling steadily for about a month.
Col. Maynard Rodgers was said to be official escort representing the railway company at the time, and he soon had all of us either on the car platforms, or with faces against the windows, to get a view of Mount Robson without a cloud cap, and we all did so.
At Mount Robson, the train stopped to drop off the climbing party of about a dozen including one or two women, with plenty of equipment. I was told that it was fifteen miles to the foot of the mountain, but they could hire ponies to cover that trail. The attempt was to be made in September, and I learned later through the press that they had not been able to reach the top.
Just a few miles further on, the train halted for half an hour, due to a rockslide caused by blasting in connection with the building of the Canadian Northern Railway, on the opposite side of the mountain, coming up from Vancouver. That branch of the Northern Railway later became a part of the main line of The Canadian National Railway from Moncton, New Brunswick to Vancouver, British Columbia.
It was at this spot, then called Alberda, that we caught our first sight of the Fraser River facing us as a narrow, rock-strewn, downhill, white water stream, which turned an almost square corner at the bottom of the slope as it raced on to wider spaces. I never forgot the angry plunging of that young river, as though it felt an impatient urge of the power and volume it displayed later, many miles nearer the ocean.
Shortly before noon, we reached Tete Jaune Cache, where we left the train for the Steamer B.X., awaiting us a mile down the railway tracks, along which we had to walk, after leaving our bags to go down in the baggage car.
It was at this point where I had some trouble, trying to persuade the freight handler to put my seven pieces of freight aboard the boat. He wanted me to leave them for a later trip, but I had been advised at the railway office in Toronto and also by my husband at Fort George, not to leave the freight at Tee Jon. It had been there a week already and should have been forwarded on the previous steamer. The river water was dropping rapidly, and there was no certainly of a later boat being able to complete the trip.
Someone touched my arm, with, "Excuse me, Madam, I am A.C. Frost, can I help you?" "Thank you," I breathed relievedly, "I am sure you can," and I told him the facts. I had read a lot about the dapper Mr. Frost. He was a magic dynamo of human endeavour in that part of the country.
"Don't worry," he said, "I'll get my timber cruiser," beckoning to a fine looking man about six and a half feet high, with shoulders like the door on the baggage car. "Get a couple of men and some wheel-barrows, please," waved Mr. Frost, " and put in that car (pointing) the seven pieces of this lady's freight, you will find in the car in the siding. They go down on this boat." Grateful? I could have kissed the ties on his smart, white buck shoes.
There was a straggling line of passengers ambling down the railway tracks to the boat landing and we joined them. The sun's rays pouring from a cloudless sky, caught us, as it were, in the bottom of a cup, but contemplation of the snow encircling peaks, with myriad icy streams leaping down the mountainsides, like strings of glistening pearls, failed to bring us any relief. We were definitely broiling, and took advantage of the shade the boat afforded as soon as we reached it.
I claimed the cabin reservation for which my husband had arranged at the Fort George end, and we freshened up for lunch. What a relief it was to know that this was the last lap of our long journey!
In his last letter, Mac had assured me that our house would be ready by the time we arrived. He intended to do the inside finishing himself, after I was on the spot to help plan the rooms, and the chimney, too, would have to wait for the same reason. I scarcely could wait to see our one-and-a-half-story, peeled-jackpine-log house, but after being patient for fifteen months, I surely could remain cool-headed for another day or so.
By the time lunch was over, a locomotive backed down to the boat with the baggage and freight from the steamer. Looking over the side and watching for my new suitcase, I was just in time to see my large, heavy trunk dumped on top of it, bursting the fastening and displaying my lace-trimmed camisoles and other intimates, to the snickers of the assembled company. I hurried down to the dock to rescue my busted bag and was relieved to find that the incident was merely ludicrous; the bag might easily have bounced into the river.
At last, the boat was moving and only the compass-wise could know that we should be travelling in a northerly direction for the first fifty miles of the river. I did not know that, until I had reached my new home, and was inclined to argue the truth of the statement, but found it was correct.
There were other children on board and my boys made friends with three nice youngster, two girls and a boy, accompanied by their father and he looked the right sort to take care of his family. These were the first children mine had met since leaving Toronto, and they were delighted to be invited to play with Doris, Ethel and Tom.
While the small folk were busy, I found a spot where I could watch the pilot steering the boat. His hand never left the wheel while his ship was in motion. He watched the current for depth of water and both sides of it for leeway as to rocks, in the constant zigzag meandering of the narrow river. It reminded me of a jockey guiding his mount through the intricacies of the obstacle race.
Remembering the many huge mountains around Jasper, including Mount Robson,and meeting the roughly-gouged passage of the Fraser River through splintered rock on either side, I have wondered, as we chugged along, what sort of explosion threw up the mountains, and carved the channel for the rivers. I can't associate an ice-age with it. It is more like the result of internal combustion, volcanic didoes, but I have never heard or read of any proof to that effect in connection with the Canadian Rockies, nor any other mountains, except the known volcanoes, active or sleeping.
Darkness comes swiftly in the mountains. It was a new experience to have the boat tied up, bow and stern, against a tree-lined, greenbank, where a huge pile of wood was waiting to be taken aboard for the fires, and there we spent the night. After dinner the boys and I went to bed early. So much fresh air had made us drowsy, and we forgot to worry about the bears and other wild things in the bush, until morning activity wakened us to another adventurous day.
This was to be the day we would go through the Grand Canyon, a walled piece of wild water ending in a wide spread with a whirlpool of devilish reputation in the middle of it. According to what one heard and how much of it was believed, there were hundreds drowned in those waters during 1912-1913 and never the sign of a body to show for the loss. Sifting the fiction from the fact, it really was a bad highway for any but staunch craft, and clever crews to manage and get them through safely.
There were drownings and many upsets with loss of cargo, and there really was a whirlpool which was a deadly menace to small craft, especially in high water. In the clutch of the suction a swimmer had no chance. Without doubt the whirlpool was a subterranean opening in the rock formation similar to that in the Niagara River, but on a smaller scale.
After I reached Fort George I questioned friends who had made the trip by scow, and they told me that they had seen fifty-foot trees in full foliage go down the vortex, and never a leaf left. I was eager to see the monster in action from the deck of the steamer, but I didn't.
When we reached the upper mouth of the canyon, the boat stopped and all the passengers ordered ashore to walk down the left-bank to the bottom of the declivity. I spied one old lady who slipped into her cabin and locked the door. She was going to stick to the ship and I didn't blame her, she did not weigh much and it was not a pleasant walk to face.
There had been a roadway cleared of timber and stumps along the gorge. On this day, the slashing was being burned up and a small breeze from the river below, blew the smoke in our faces, which together with the heat from dozens of fires, did a job of spoiling our usually good temper.
We had been told that the boat would be waiting for us, and it was; it had been let down the canyon backwards on a cable.
As soon as we were aboard, I tried to find some confirmation of the whirlpool. I questioned four persons connected with the boat, each of whom pointed out a different spot where it was supposed to live. Since there was no conspicuous disturbance anywhere on the surface of the water, I decided that it must be sulking. It was the purser who finally gave the correct alibi: "Low water."
My curiosity in regard to the canyon and the whirlpool had been whetted by reading a report of a hair-raising trip, made be four men before I left Toronto. According to the story, which appeared in one of the outdoor magazines, the men had built their own sturdy raft at or near Tete Jaune Cache, and had been warned there of the dangers ahead of them.
It was early in the summer when the waters were high and fast. They had a wild ride through the gorge, working hard to stay aboard, and managed to tie up at the left bank below, the only loss being one of their sweeps. Apparently the sight of the whirlpool terrified them; it was nearer the bank than they had expected, and the suction waves spread so far that it was going to be difficult to pass safely.
They made and fitted a new sweep and also managed to salvage a piece of board which could be used as a paddle to get away fast. After making supplies and equipment secure the men sat down, watch in hand, to study the time it took the pool to fill and empty, with the idea of being in a position to push off briskly after the pool commenced to erupt. They spent an whole hour just studying and checking the regularity of the action of the whirlpool. Then they rehearsed the position and work each was to assume and give all he had at the word to go.
Three of the crew were on board, ready, the fourth on shore to cut the line and jump, all tensely watching the centre of the vortex. As one voice they shouted, "Now!" and away they went, their arms working like pistons. They beat the river demon. It had paid to study his habits, and there was nothing so hazardous left between them and their port, so they could take it easy.
I was told that when they reached Fort George, the hair of one of the crew had turned quite white, and he continued down the Fraser, but not by raft. At least one of those men remained in Fort George for several years. I met him a few days after I arrived; his name was Wright, and it was he who cut and fitted the stove-pipes for our two stoves. He was a good workman and had more than one trade.
When we tied up that night, there was an air of relaxation among the passengers as they assembled for dinner, and a hopeful expectancy as to what we should find when we reached Fort George on the morrow.
I had been well briefed by Mac and Jessie but I kept quiet. It is always better to allow unwelcome things to meet you one at a time, not all at once, like an enemy battalion. I knew that many persons going into the country would resent certain shortages, and would bemoan the lack of the conveniences they had left behind, but I had made up my mind from the beginning that there would be no whining from me or my family. We would do the best we could with what the country provided. Things would improve as the district developed.
The first sound I heard at daybreak was the drip,drip,drip from the spruce and pine spires leaning over the boat, the first rain since we left home. There was no wind and it was not a heavy shower, but remembering that my new raincoat was packed away in one of the trunks, I hoped the skies would clear before we docked.
The company for breakfast was almost hilarious, too excited to eat, but mountain air needs food and we enjoyed a good meal, the last on board.
Since the river was wider and smoother now in spots, better time could be made. We reached Willow River settlement shortly after 7 A.M. and received a cheering welcome for the Indians lined up in front of their attractive, yellow frame houses, stretching along the river bank, high above the water.
By that time the rain was coming down much faster and heavier, but the Indian women, all dressed up and protected under red, white and green umbrellas, made a picture which was appreciated by the newcomers aboard the B.X. We were being honoured by the original First Ladies of the land and we cheered too.
At a signal from the steamer which stopped in the channel, a couple of canoes put out from the shore, and I noticed two men in bush outfits go over the side of our boat. One sharp toot and the B.X. was on her way again. We still had twenty miles to go, but even Noah's deluge could not dampen our spirits at this stage of the journey.
I may as well explain here, that the Railway Company had bought from the Indians, their Reservation in the Fort George District, and had given them in exchange the land on which they were now settled at Willow River, together with a new, comfortable house for each family. The old Reservation, which lay alongside the new Townsite of Fort George, became the railway townsite of Prince George.
The chugging of the engine and the swishing of the paddlewheel, must have frightened all the wild life along the river-bank, as we never saw anything larger than squirrels since we left Tete Jaune.
It was midmorning when the staunch old B.X. rounded the last bend in the river, with a prolonged triumphant too-oo-oot, picked up speed and waddled across the mile wide Fraser, through a heavy gray downfall, that matched the dirty, writhing surface of the water, which, due to undertow suctions, gave the movement of millions of gray snakes. I hated it. It looked so treacherous and left me with a fear I never felt before.
There was a short rough dock on the west side of the river, and the B.X. was soon eased in and tied up. We had arrived at South Fort George, Friday, August 8,1913. It had been arranged before leaving Toronto that we go to Alex's home first.