FORT GEORGE

Despite the shock of the First World War, and the frenzied flight of some folk, who had been hopeful builders of another city, there yet remained enough cool heads in the district, to guide the new City of Prince George, along straight pay-as-you-go lines. A Mayor and Council were elected early, and the necessary Debentures arranged.  Rivalry does die hard, and although it was admitted, with less than good grace, there was no point in arguing that the district at that time, could support more that one town, namely, Prince George. 

South Fort George would not be affected.  It had stood the battles and the breezes for a hundred years, where the Fraser lapped its friendly hills and glades. So much building began along the principal streets that it echoed like a colony of angry woodpeckers. 

Up to this time the only water service was by haulage from the Nechaco River.  Now, plans were made for a water system and fire protection.  The pumping station was built near the south bank of the Nechaco, just below the Fraser Avenue hill, near our home.  My husband was given a job of time-keeper and "straw-boss", of putting in the water system.  He had had some experience in the East, on that type of work.

The main business thoroughfare was George Street, extending south from the Prince George Railway Station, and passing Connaught Hill.  The second street in importance was Third Avenue, which right-angled from George Street, west to the boundary of Fort George.  Building was being rushed on Third Avenue.

The J.H.Johnson fine, new brick, Alexandra Hotel, on the south side of Third Avenue was finished and open for business in 1915.  On the opposite side of the street, was the first City Hall for Prince George.  It was built of wood, and was burned down one sunny day in 1916.  With it went a real and favourite antique, Art Bothwell's Old Yellow Jacket, automobile, named for a specially vicious hornet, though the car never deserved the name.

There was a substantial, brick block on Third Avenue, north side, to accommodate a Post Office and large grocery store, with business Offices and living apartments above.  The commodious Alhambra Theatre was on the south side of Third Avenue, west of the Alexandra Hotel.  It seemed that everybody who owned a lot, made a special effort to erect a building, and put it to use.   

After considerable work had been done, to give Connaught Hill a safer approach to George Street,  the City Fathers built their new City Hall on the lower corner of the Hill, bowered in scenic beauty, thereby satisfying all the tax payers in that part of the City. 

        ---------------------------------------------

Noon dinner was ready when Mac arrived, one early summer day, in his hand a salmon, weighing about seven pounds. "Let's have this for dinner, Nell," he said, "and save the stew for to-morrow.  One of the men clubbed it in the Nechaco shallows, near the old pipe line."

 I took one look at the fish and asked, "Why didn't he let the poor thing die quickly?  Don't you know that it has come all the way up from the Coast, without taking any food"  It was on its was to the spawning waters, probably Mud River.  You don't want to eat that fish, Mac; it would taste like sawdust, and I will not cook it.  The man who killed it knew that, else, why didn't he take it home for himself?"  Mac had no answer. Of course, I knew that the native Indians catch the salmon when they come up to spawn, stop them on the way, and waste millions of fry from the economy of the country. 

When the boys came in, they too, wanted me to cook the fish, but I persuaded them to take a snap-shot of it instead, to prove that it had nearly reached home, to the water in which it was born.  Being a woman, I felt like weeping, to think that the salmon, had been prevented from bestowing its precious gift to the waters.. so near, and now.. offal!

A few days after the fish incident, Mac telephoned to me from down town.  He asked if I were very busy, or would I care for a drive out beyond the Mud River.  I had planned to do some washing, and the clothes were in the tub soaking, but a drive on a sunny day, did not come very often for me.  Our friend, Mr. David Perkins, was Inspector of Fisheries for the District, and he had received an urgent message, to say that the Indians had several traps in the river, to prevent the fish from going up to the spawning waters.

He usually took Mrs. Perkins with him, but on this day she was busy with a Bridge party, which could not be cancelled, and he hated to go alone.  I told my husband that I would be glad to take the drive with Mr. Perkins, provided he told Mrs. Perkins of the arrangement he was making, before we left town, and I could be ready in half an hour. 

Dave Perkins was the first real, Old Timer my husband met, when he reached Fort George in 1912, and we all liked him.  He knew the country and the people, up and down the Fraser River and the Cariboo Road.  He told me that he had taken his share of gold, from the waters of wealth and hard work, and had enjoyed the spending of it.  Mr. Perkins was fond of dancing and one evening at a dance, he told me that he did not know one tune for another, but his feet seemed to find the rhythm, smoothly and sure.  One of his men friends said in my hearing, "It's a pity he would ever die!"

When we reached the steep hill, leading down to the Mud River Valley, Mr.Perkins just drove carefully to the bottom, then crossed a heavy log and plank bridge, and up the other side.  Beyond the Valley, there was beautiful, level country like a park, with poplar, birch and willows, as well as the pines and spruces.  A well-defined road led away into the distance.  That was the road to Vanderhoof, the name which another Old Timer, a woman, used to say, always sounded to her like a Dutch cow. 

Suddenly Mr. Perkins edged aside and stopped.  "Here's the Weekly Province I got this morning," he said. "Just stay in the car, there's nothing here to bother you, and I'll be back in a few minutes."  With that he dashed down the hill on my right, like a five-year-old, while I called after him to take his time.  The traps were in the River, all right, four of them, and the Indians were there also.  Mr.Perkins destroyed those traps he could reach, and ordered the Indians, whom he knew by name, to destroy the others, while he watched, and then set them afloat down the current. 

As Mr. Perkins said on the way home, you could threaten punishment, but the Indians just went on setting more traps.  They felt that they were the people of the Country, who had the right to take what God had given them.  They were not interested in the economy of the Country, as such, their first concern, always, was food.

      ------------------------------------------------

It was August again and when Mac came home for lunch one Saturday, he suggested that we take some pails and go up towards the Foothills for blueberries.  "It would be a good chance," said he, "for you to see Mr. Yeats' house, if he happened to be at home."  The War and a thinner payroll, had changed Mac's opinion about my going berry picking. 

There was nothing to hold me at home that afternoon.  The boys and I had lunch early, so that they could join their pals in some ball practice, before the oldsters arrived for a game, and shooed them off the field.  The youngsters would then watch from the fringes, absorb pointers and comment without restraint.

Surprisingly, when we arrived at the berry patch, there did not seem to be any others picking on the flats, which gave the appearance of a periwinkle-blue lake, backed by the dark green of lodgepolle pine and cedars.  We found the best berries in the partial shade of the trees, and it did not take us long to fill the two ten-pound pails, which we set down inside the Yeats gate, while we went up the slight grade to the house. 

There was smoke from the chimney, and Mr. Yeats greeted us at the door, with, "Come in, come in, it's good to see you."  He had been looking out of the window.  I was given his homemade armchair, and Mac sat down beside the old man on a bench.  A second window gave a view over Fort George townsite, and the iron bridge across the Fraser River, until blocked by the Cariboo Range of Mountains. 

Since it was my first visit, I looked around to note the work and the quality of it, all done by our host with no other help. The house was gabled like our own, with an attic reached by a narrow  stairway against the east wall.  The main room was about ten by twelve feet, and there was a small room at the back.  There was no stove.  A fair sized fireplace with fender and good chimney, of field stone and cement, was all he had or needed, he said, for cooking and heating.  It was primitive but it suited Mr. Yeats, since it seemed to be a link with his old home in Scotland.  The house was built of peeled logs, chinked with moss and mud, and he told us that it was weather- proof, never a leak no matter how hard it rained.

How had he done all that work himself, with only an axe and a cross-cut saw, I'll never understand.  For instance, consider the hoisting of the logs up to the second story!  Try to hammer six-inch spikes with a heavy axe in one hand, and steady a log with the other, at the top of a rickety pole ladder!

I told Mr. Yeats that he had been very lucky, in his building job.  It could have been a bad matter if he had suffered an accident, with no one living near if he had called, and he just smiled, as though he knew his own strength and judgment, and I knew that he was humble enough to pray hard in a pinch. 

When we rose to leave, I told our old friend that I was glad to have seen his home, it was a credit to his training and determination, and he had every reason to be proud of his home.  As he thanked us for coming, I knew that he was pleased,  Then, he asked me what vegetables we were lacking, he knew we had plenty of potatoes, and he had a second crop of beans, beets and carrots.  I asked if he could spare some of the new crop and he nodded.  He picked up a sack and gathered enough to do us for several days, but when I asked Mac to pay for them, the old man was hurt.  "These," said he, "are a gift.  Your visit today means more to me than money.  You and your family have been kind to me."  And we both thanked him. 

He walked down the path with us, and when we reached the gate where we picked up our blueberries, he told us that he had twenty quarts put away already,and intended to pick a lot more.  He cooked them well, but added no sugar, said it was too expensive, (it was 16 1/2 c a pound then) and the berries didn't need it.  We bade him Good-bye and remind him to call any time he was down our way, especially when coming from Prince George.  ( A cup of tea and some new reading matter would help to shorten the road home.)

As we reached the edge of the second bench near The Manse, we could see our boys on their way up Fraser Avenue.  When they spotted us, they hurried to beat us home, and of course they did, Mac and I were both fagged.  We had covered more than seven miles that afternoon, with trampling and picking, and the day was not cool.

      ------------------------------------------------

Among the early arrivals in Fort George, was Mr. F.P.Burden, a surveyor-engineer who, in January 1908, and the depths of winter, walked the eighty five miles from Quesnel, and carried his instruments to plot the new townsite.  His attractive, young wife, Jane, joined him in 1910, by which time they had a dog-team to help winter travel.

The Burdens were both dog lovers. his favourite breed was Airdale and hers Collies, the light liver and silver.  Laurie was a beautiful, haughty lad, and Mrs. B. had warned me not to try to pat him, though it was all right to say Hello.  Our Paddy was only a mongrel, but he had some Collie in his ancestry, and, though he had a thick, smooth coat, he had the same colouring as Laurie, and the two of them were good friends, out together often.  They might have been forty-second cousins. 

At our Red Cross gathering one winter day, during the tight times of the First War, Mrs. B. told us that her dog Laurie, had brought home that day a brace of grouse, and laid them at her feet.  They were said to be plentiful across the Nechaco.

"That", said I, "reminds me of yesterday.  I saw Paddy's head bobbing up and down as he came along the sleigh tracks from the Hill, and, as he turned in the gateway, I saw a long strip of flank beef (plate) hanging from his mouth, and he was stepping on it.  No doubt Paddy meant well, but his loot must have come from some meat-bank in The Cache.  I hung it high and will give him a piece each day, but I hope that he doesn't get caught while thieving."

On a quiet evening in the Autumn of that year of 1916, we were all in the living-room; the boys were at their lessons, Mac reading the home papers, and I was knitting when Paddy outside, commenced a frantic barking and racing around the house,  We could hear some 'body' banging against the logs, and the boys were sure a bear was after their dog.  No!  It was a much smaller enemy who had vanquished him and got away.  When they brought Paddy in, they found that his face and mouth were filled with porcupine quills. 

Mac examined him and shook his head, saying, "There is only one man here who might be able to help that dog, and that's Fred Burden."  Both the boys choked up, and I said quickly, "I will call him."  I knew that Mr. Burden was the kind of neighbour to call in almost any emergency.  He answered the telephone, and when I explained the trouble, he advised me to put a leash on Paddy, and send him up with Murray at once.  Those quills travel so fast, especially in soft tissue, such as mouth and throat, and they set up an infection so quickly, that frequently dogs are destroyed to prevent their suffering. 

When the telephone rang I was almost afraid to answer it, but I was there first, and it was Mr. Burden.  "I got Paddy's mouth and throat clear of the quills, Mrs. Mackenzie," he said, "but there are three or four in the face, which will work out with no damage.  I am glad that you called me, but I would just as soon try to tie a wild cow-pony to the table as Paddy.  He has wonderful strength, but with Murray's help, we finally got him roped so that I could work on him." I thanked Mr. Burden and so did Mac, but there are no words to express the gratitude one feels in such a situation.  Mr. Burden had just given us back a beloved member of our family!

Early in 1916, the Government had recognised publicity, that the ferry service on the Nechaco River at Fort George was outdated, and about June 1 work began on a wooden bridge, to cross the river just west of the Cutbank, to a point opposite the foot of Fraser Avenue Hill.  That bridge was completed and officially open for traffic on November 15,1916.  Walking traffic had been going on since the first foot-path crossed the river.

One afternoon on my way home from a visit to a sick friend, beyond the Cutbank, I was picking my way around the workmen at the Fraser Avenue end of the bridge, when I saw and heard a little, old Frenchman, arguing about who built the Canadian Pacific Railway across the continent.  He loudly challenged any person within hearing to "deny that Laurier and not Johnny Macdonald, built the Sippy-Arr (C.P.R.)"  He was very old, and one could respect his loyalty, so I did not take up the challenge, but I could have told him, that no one person was accountable for that job, although, according to the records, much credit did go to Macdonald, thanks to the loyal faith of his many friends and his own persuasive personality.

Supper was just over, one evening in October, 1916, when the telegrapher at the railway station read a message to me over the telephone.  It was from Mary H., an old school friend, to say that she and Jim, her husband would be passing through Prince George in the morning, and would like to see me. That was only half of it.  We, all of us, would like to see them, too, and we did. 

Smart and dapper, they stepped off the last pullman, and we separated, male and female, to parade for the half hour stop.  I was acutely conscious of my 1913 outfit, but our friends were not assessing my clothes, they wanted to know if we liked the place, and were going to stay here.  As far as we knew then, we were. 

Since my people had visited us in 1915, they all had a better understanding of living conditions, and the problems of the country.  We chatted and exchanged messages to and from the families, but with the first stentorian note of "All Aboard", the porter arrived with a little stool, so we said our Good Byes and wished them a safe journey home.  The four of us were a bit quiet, as we made our way to the taxi.  Homesick?  Could be!

The wood-road hill across the Nechaco, was very tempting, once hard winter set in, but we never allowed the children to go over alone, and the oldsters enjoyed is as well as the smalls and teens.  From high above Li Kow's gardens, the bob-sleighs and toboggans would wind down the long curve to the ferry landing, where the wood-sleigh crossed from the first, tight freezing, until the Spring threat of breakup.

After the wooden bridge was built near the Cutbank, in 1916, there was more fun and less strain.  We reached the hill faster, enjoyed ourselves until we had enough, then sometimes, had time for a hot drink and a snack at our place before the others dispersed to their homes.  Exercise is good, if you can take it, and fresh, clear air induces sound sleep. 

On Alan's birthday, March 4,1917, we invited some of the friends to the hill across the Nechaco, but Alan managed to avoid getting into the picture which was taken.  It shows Dad steering the Bob, and Murray waiting for the company on the toboggan.  Paddy was with us and Mrs. J. took the picture; her young daughter was steering her own sleigh. 

In the Spring of 1917, with the certainty of a Federal Election in the Fall, the population of the "Georges" was courted by the blandishments of a Third Party, Socialist. There were two weekly papers now, carrying propaganda, and the New Party did not use the one I favoured, though I read both. 

After reading a very patronising appeal to the women of the District by "A Mere Man", I swore my family to secrecy and in answer, sent the letter following this approach.  When it did not appear in print, nor any reference to it, I telephoned to the editor of the opposition paper, who said crisply, "Just send me a copy of your letter; I'll print it."  One or two other women had sent critical letters to the Star Newspaper, and theirs suffered the same fate as mine.

No one suspected me when my letter came out in the other paper, and I had a lot of fun listening to the comments and guesses as to who wrote it. Here it is:

 April 23rd, 1917.

Editor Star:

In a recent issue of your paper, appeared a letter from  "A Mere Man" concerning women voters.  His modest signature ill accords with the nerve and temerity displayed on offering  wholesale, unasked advice to the newly enfranchised women of the province, and, had he not invited discussion, I would hesitate to answer his letter for, "the fool rusheth into print, while the wise man hideth behind the woodpile."

To begin with, where there is value received, one does not speak of credit or obligation.  The women earned the vote, they got it; common honesty did it, and one ought not put a premium on honesty, it is expected. 

Women voters are politically ignorant, it seems.  Yes a lot of us are but, in that, are we better or worse than hundreds of men voters who, for years, have gone to the polling booth, and carefully removed from a convenient pocket, a facsimile of the ballot, marked as they have been instructed and warned, and oft times paid to mark the ballot submitted to them?

We are liable to fall into a rut.  NEVER!  Not in this district, where we have witnessed the agile movements of certain political performers, who blithely started in as Conservative, sidestepped to the Liberal Party, and gracefully chassed to the Socialist, all in a short half-season. 

Also, we should not form separate associations because women are sure to squabble among themselves!  Far be it from me, to deny the soft impeachment, but no womens' organization in this province, could ever hope to serve up a more varied assortment of "squabbles', than the local political clubs have treated the community to in the last two years; and we are naively invited to come into the fold with the male political lambs, and learn how to "baa" properly.  What paradoxical advice in view of their wolf-like propensities!  It is to laugh.

Women originally asked for the franchise in order to reform man-made laws, and to promote other forms for the progress and well being of humanity in general.  The strength of the woman voter lies in separate orgaizations, not necessarily affiliated with any political party.   To be a mere echo of a  Conservative or Liberal husband or brother, is to dilute the power given us.  I am not offering advice, merely making a statement, think it over, "Mere Man."

 

                            (signed)  A Woman