THE WAR YEARS

Of course I knew that Mother and Jack would be talking us over the next day, and wondering what the future would bring.  They knew that we were all happy here, and, though practically living from hand to mouth, we had plenty of company in similar straits, and few were downhearted.  In fact they talked  openly of their circumstances, and made no pretences.  Their honesty made for better feelings among friends and neighbours, who also were bearing the effects of the War, even as early as  end of the first year.  Apart from the railway and a few small lumber mills, there was no payroll to take care of those left in that part of the country, so we, like other, just decided to sit it out.              

No matter in what direction one looked, there were thousands of acres of green timber.  Some day the "Georges" would wake up to the wealth on their doorsteps, and the faith of the Old Believers would be justified!      

Time took wings after my people left Fort George, but, with Mac's help, I was able to house-clean and get the boys' school-clothing ready by the date Mr. Flowers brought them home from the camp, where they'd had a happy time.  The boys were sorry it was over, but I did not ask Mr. Flower's opinion,  He had my sympathy and grateful thanks for one week's grace!

We hoped to have enough potatoes to carry us over the winter and, before school opened, Mac and the boys had the crop safely in the cellar after the first "black frost".  We had several hard frosts before the first snow fell on Mother's Day, October 8.  It was a light fall, dry and feather, but it stayed.    

On a bright morning in November, I was watching Mac hurrying across stumpy, vacant lots on his way to work, when I heard the telephone.  It was a relayed message, to say that there was a smooth sheet of thick ice on Carney's slough and a full moon that night.  What would I think of "spreading the news and gathering a crowd for a skating party!"  Of course I was 100% in favour!  In the Georges and The Cache, they were all good sports when it came to fun, and the plans were completed before noon.          

Mrs. Al Johnson and her two boys, brought a noble delegation from South Fort George, and they used the old Indian Trail across the slough beyond Connaught Hill.  It was a long walk for them to the Carney Slough, which was part of the other "George", but they never whimpered.  They were welcomed by three, large, bright fires spaced along the west bank, and all their neighbour skaters.

We had brought the church dishes, fresh water for coffee and the big can we use for dances.  There was plenty of easily-handled food for all.  One resourceful mother, with a large, fun loving family, brought cans of pork and beans, which she heated in a pail of hot water beside the "kitchen Fire", and also a gallon thermos of hot soup; that was the apex of luxury!

It was a glorious night.  The dark, blue sky was studded with thousands of twinkling jewels of every hue, and the Man in the big, golden moon, could see his face in the clear, sparkling ice; he seemed to be enjoying it too. When they banged the "come and get it", eighty-six lined up.  A hot drink and a handful of something to eat then off up the ice and back for more of the same later.  All too soon for the youngsters, fires were doused, Good Nights were said, and the parade for home began. 

I had been sweeping fresh snow off the steps, and was still wearing my coat and hat as I had to take some letters to the post office, when I heard sleigh bells and a roaring "whoa"!  It was Red Killoran with a small load of wood for someone, and, of course,of all things, the church dishes.  It was three weeks to the day since the skating party. Red found them sitting by the roadside, packed neatly, waiting to be picked up.  "Isn't that just like Ben Gregory?" I jeered to Red.  "Always so willing and helpful, if there was any chance of taking a girl home from a party.  He never thought of those dishes, once they left his buggy.  I wonder who the girl was."  Red smiled but he didn't tell.  "Better take them to The Manse, Red," I said, " and I'll ride that far with you."

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Mac and I wanted to keep our family united, as long as we could.  All too soon, children are grown up and away, leaving the parents groping to follow their wandering trail, and full of worry lest a foot should slip.  It is natural.  Parents cannot forbear sending absent treatment through the ether, to their bairns.

On a bright, frosty Sunday, after Church and Sunday School were over, and we still at the dinner table, the boys remarked to each other, "If we were back in Toronto now, we should be going for a walk, and Jack would be with us."  Jack was my foster-brother, and Murray's  God-father. "Well," said their Dad, quietly, "is there any reason why we shouldn't have a walk this afternoon?  I would like to see the well that Alex Stremenski is digging, farther down Fraser Avenue, and we can all go together.  I have been told that it is a fine piece of work." "And shall we go down as far as the Slough, too, Dad?" they chorused, and their father nodded.  The slough promised good skating that winter.  Alex Stremenski was a Hungarian, and he had clever hands, as his neat, peeled-log house testified.  But the soul of an artist, spoke in the work of that well-cribbing.

The well-mouth was protected by a four-foot high, four-foot square crib, above ground, to be roofed later.  The lumber he had used was choice, and smooth as satin, and the cornices mitre-locked,  He had done all the digging himself, and the well and cribbing both tapered as they neared the bottom.  It was perfect.  Very proudly Alex told us, that there was water coming in, and he felt that he must be at the level of the Nechaco River, but to be sure, he had decided to go down another foot or so.  It was 87 feet deep then, he said. 

While Mac was busy with the Prince George water-mains, he hired Alex Stremenski to hoe our potatoes, and split a supply of stove wood.  He noticed some peculiar poppies in my garden, of seed from the Canadian prairies, and Alex told me that in his Country, the mothers made a syrup from poppy seed, and gave it to the babies, to keep them quiet, while the mothers were working in the fields. That man had been very excited, when the news of the World War reached Fort George, in 1914, and he came up to our home to talk with my husband, about it, said how terrible it could be.  Alex blamed the War on the Serbs, and cursed them for touching off the "powder keg of Europe." The lonely patriot brooded over the War so constantly, that it finally affected him mentally.  The Provincial Police took charge, and Alex was taken down to the Coast, where he could receive the proper care and treatment.  We never heard of him again.   

The three bachelors of the Cunningham Ranch, Mud River, were all invited to spend Christmas Day that year, 1915, in Fort George, where they always received a hearty welcome.  We were expecting Ralph Johnston for noon Christmas dinner and, after delivering Wallace Cunningham and Charlie Stone to their respective hosts up town, Ralph arrived with the team and a big box sleigh filled with hay and blankets, as we were all going over to South Fort George later, to watch a hockey game. Ralph covered the horses, and I hurried the dinner.  This time we had a nice young hen turkey, with all the trimmings.  The bird cost Mac ten cents, at a "draw" down in Prince George, at least that is what he told me, and I believed him.  I am sure he didn't steel it, he was brought up too carefully.  

We did not wait to do the dishes, but wrapped up warmly, as it was getting colder every minute, and we reached the outdoor rink at South Fort George, just as the teams went on the ice.  Watching that game, was the coldest entertainment I can remember. At four thirty the score was a tie, and they called the game.  It was then thirty below zero, and we started for home.  Ralph had an evening dinner date in Fort George, where he would stable the horses for the night, and he hurried to make them comfortable.  When we reached home, our thermometer registered forty below.  For the record, the temperature did not rise above twenty below, for six weeks, when a Chinook arrived. Three days after, I was on the veranda knitting with bare hands, and the snow water was running off the roof.  As the warm wind blew through the snow piled against the pole fence, at the foot of the garden, I watched the white banks sink form bar to lower bar, as though melted buy live steam. 

In 1914, Mr. P.E. Wilson from the southern part of British Columbia, arrived in Prince George with his wife and children.  Mr. Wilson's reputation as one of the cleverest lawyers in British Columbia, had preceded him, and his children soon established their own reputation, as clever students and leaders in fun.  Their home in The Cache soon became the Mecca for the young people of the "Georges", including our own sons.  

One of Mr. W's successful cases which has stayed in my mind, was his diplomatic handling of a sort of Comic Opera Tong War in Prince George, many years ago.  Mr. W. had a favourite Chinese interpreter, who always seemed to do the right thing at the right time.  If Mr. W. needed time, his interpreter would take twenty minutes to answer a "yes" or "no" question. After the case was closed satisfactorily to all concerned, Li was heard to say to a group, in his own dialect, that he intended to have all his sons educated as lawyers, as "That just meant, plenty much talk, no work, but lots of money." And how true, sometimes!

 Judge H.E.A. Roberston, from Vancouver, was appointed to the Fort George District, and arrived with his family and a governess, in 1915.  Later the children of school age, were sent to private school at the Coast.  Mrs. Edith Robertson, was unanimously chosen as the first President of Fort George Red Cross Branch, 1915, and she fitted the office with grace and ability.  She was an accomplished pianist, and always accompanied her husband, the Judge, when he contributed to a concert programme; the Judge really liked to sing and he was generous with his gift. One evening at an affair held in the Alexandra Hotel, Prince George, His Honour, Judge Roberston, took the part of Madame Butterfly and sang it very creditably,  He was dressed, coiffed, painted and powered fit to kill, and his beautiful hat, dripping with willow plumes, allowed a tantalising glimpse, touch-and-go, of the rose petal face. 

After the show was over, Madam Butterfly wandered into an ante-room, where a group of men friends had forgathered,  They instantly rose, embarrassed, and were stunned to see the "lady" hoist her hip on the corner of a table, and say, gaily,, "Come on, boys. let's have a drink!"  The Judge enjoyed that one!

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The Fort George Hotel fire marked FINIS to any hope of Fort George's survival as a town.  As the situation was described by one Old Timer, who had been a ball player: The station disappeared, the World War, and last the fire, meant "three strikes and out." Mr.J.H.Johnson, who had lost his hotel, moved his family to The Trust Building, down near Central and Third Avenues, which could take care of them, until a new hotel which he planned to build on Third Avenue, Prince George, where he had property, could be completed. Various business men began to plan for an early move to the other town, and dwellings were ready to step out on rollers, to join the housing rush about to spread over the Railway Townsite, Shorty's house among them. Prince George had been incorporated as a City in March, 1915, and by the end of 1916, Fort George presented a perfect picture of The deserted Village!

Russia, with other European countries, was in the news in 1915, to an unusual extent, and when South Fort George folk made it known that they were going to have a skating carnival early in the New Year, I decide to be there as a Russian.  The rink over in South Fort George, was an open one, and I would need a warm costume.  I had an old pair of sage-green woollen serge curtains, which had seen their best days, long before, and there was enough for a long Russian blouse, shirt and high boots (over my own).  With the help of a lot of old fur, I made a very presentable costume, and I had a wonderful time until the judging was over.

Then a newcomer to Prince George, whom I had met before, asked me to skate,  He was from Toronto and we talked of the rinks back home, and the bands we liked, but he wanted to speed.  I told him that I was a slow skater, had never tried to speed, that before I was married, my husband and I used to go on the ice at eight o'clock in the evening, and stay there skating in rhythm until the band played Home Sweet Home at ten o'clock. "You are going to speed tonight," announced my young partner, masterfully, and the next thing I knew, two men were pumping my arms, and I was asking a circle around me as I lay on the ice,"What happened?"

"YOU FELL!  THAT'S WHAT HAPPENED!" Came from Mac in a condemnatory accent. I glimpsed Murray's tear.  He was remembering the six months he had spent in bed, after a fall on the ice.  Mac was not thinking of my physical condition.  I had just made a holy show of myself and family, careering around on skates, with a good looking young student preacher, who also should have known better! Denouncing me in public!!!!  Not in words, of course, but manner and looks.  I closed my eyes and went back to oblivion, to wake up later in the dressing room, where I had been carried. 

Some person telephoned our doctor to meet the sleigh at the Hotel on the way home, and Red Killoren rounded up the load he had brought over.  I thought the bone under the left eye was broken, but the doctor said it wasn't.  The knee was to be bathed in hot water for at least a half hour and bandaged. I could not tell anything about the accident.  It was thought that the point of one of my hockey skates, had struck a hole where a goal post had been earlier in the afternoon.  I had no recollection or sensation of what happened. It was just a blank.   

It was a mild, contrite young man who called before noon the next day, to offer his apology and regrets for his rashness at the Carnival.  He had worried, and was feeling quite deflated.  I was told that he had fallen across my head, and he could  hear the broken ice grinding under my face, as the speed carried me forward after we fell.  It made him ill and he was hanging over the back fence for quite some time. I had darkened the windows in the living-room as I could not bear the light on my eyes.  Impulsively, my caller raised the black-out curtain and when he saw the havoc of my face by daylight, he went white.  Both eyes were black and swollen closed, the left cheek was like hamburg, and my lips thick and bruised. To cover his embarrassment I said, lightly, "Cheer up!  It could have been much worse, there are no bones broken," but I knew that he would not be able to escape criticism, and that might be what he needed.  I told him not to worry, that my appetite was quite normal, and I think that he left in a better frame of mind.  What is done, IS DONE!

Just before the boys came home from school that afternoon, I heard bells outside and then a gentle knock, so I called a "Come in."  The knob turned softly, and Red whispered, "It's me, Mrs. Mackenzie."  Red's approach was the acme of respect used when attending a "wake" and viewing the "remains". To lighten the gloom, I laughed.  " 'pon my word, Red, I think I'll charge a fee to see my face, but you may have a look for free.  Just lift that curtain". Red knew all the choice Irish curses in the book, and he called down a load of them upon the hapless head of "that spalpeen", who caused so much damage and suffering.  The arrival of the children was a diversion, and when Red left I thanked him for calling, and hoped to be a good as new, very soon.  He was a kind thoughtful neighbour.

There is something about a tent that appeals to children, especially boys, and when Mac was offered an old wall-tent, he accepted it with alacrity.  True, its skirts were somewhat bedraggled, but the roof was still waterproof.  He planned to put a four-foot wall of cheap siding around the outside, and that would hide the chinks in its armour, and make it warmer for cool nights.  I think that every boys in our school and some from Prince George, came to watch the raising of the frame work, especially the ridgepole.  There was enough siding left over to floor half the space inside the tent, so that the boys could undress and go to bed without carrying sand with them.  There were nails for their clothing but no stove and no lights, except a flashlight.   

In turn, their friends were invited, one at a time, to spend the night and have breakfast with us.  The bed was  big enough for three to sleep very comfortably, and our boys used the tent from May to November for nearly three years, when a big wind wrecked it completely. 

It was Sunday morning in late June, 1916, and the boys were still asleep in their tent.  Mac was sweeping the paths from the front to the back, but since the day he had weeded our garden in Toronto, and thrown out all my young perennial seedlings, as weeds, he had strict orders to touch nothing inside a border.  I was making my bed when Mac appeared outside the window screen, saying, "Nell, come out and meet Monte Fraser, you remember my speaking about him?"  I did and I wanted to meet him. 

Standing at the front gate I found a handsome, smiling man, with dancing dark eyes, short black wavy hair, well brushed, sparkling teeth and a complexion any beauty might envy.  He was spotless in a white singlet and khaki slack, and as we shook hands, I got the sort of grip I appreciate, not a moist, limp one which I loathe.  He might have been a Boston Cabot, his voice and manner so courteous and correct, and why not? Monte Fraser, a descendent of Simon Fraser, the Explorer, from whom the Fraser River was named, had lived next door to my husband's family during the four years he attended Toronto University, and after he was graduated, he had been sent to Europe to take the grand tour.  When he had complied with all the "musts" included in his education, Monte returned to Canada and the West, which he loved.  I had seen his lovely, dark-eyed wife, Good Eye, ( English translation), and their two beautiful children, boy and girl.  He was on his way that morning to bring them home from a visit to friends at Willow River. 

"Would you like some Toronto papers, Mr. Fraser, Saturday Night or magazines?" I asked.  "Oh, please, yes,  and thank you," he said eagerly.  As I turned to get them, I noticed his bare feet, the toes wriggling in the warm sand, and he burst out laughing,  "I can wear proper clothes in winter, Mrs. Mackenzie," he admitted, "but, when summer comes, I go all Indian,"  When I handed him the magazines and papers, which I had just folded flat, he thanked me and, as he glanced at them. a puckish smile turned his lips.  "With these," said he, "I am liable to lie down under a tree and forget where I am headed,"  and we could understand.  Toronto did have some memories for him.