A WOMAN'S LIFE

Frequently on those occasions, when we women were planning some money-making scheme for our various activities, one of the Old Times present, would hark back to another Old Timer, "Will you ever forget the First Dance in the Log Schoolhouse?"  And we later-comers never failed to regret, that we had missed the fun. 

The Schoolhouse was a quite large building of peeled logs, and it was used, also, for Church services, Board of Trade, political meetings and dances.  Wood stoves supplied the heat, but the well-laid, whip-sawed green plank floor, betrayed its purpose for dancing. It was winter, and the men arrived wearing hob-nailed long boots, mukluks or moccasins.  The music was always acceptable, no matter who happened to be performing, and a dance was the favourite medium to raise money; it never failed.  For the first dance they were lucky to have a harp and violin.   

To the eight white women, who had loyally accompanied their husbands into the wilderness in 1910, it seemed that they were in duty bound to attend that first dance, but the prospect of trying to please what appeared to be "thousands of men", was worse than "The Charge of The Light Brigade."

Jimmie Maclean was operating a sleigh taxi, and he liked to dance too, but he couldn't dance in woollen underwear, too itchy.  So after each load was delivered, Jimmie changed his undies and sneaked a dance, then changed over, and went back to camp for another load of eager partners,  That vicious system of "tagging" the men, had been imported to the North, and the eight women were "dead on their feet." The casualties were numerous, including the plank floor, which was cut up with the calks, and the calks provided the splinters, which crippled the feet in lesser protection.  That was a dance to remember!  And I wasn't there..Alas!

The parents of the Secondary School "prospects", were very grateful to Mr. Wm. Bell, our teacher, for piloting the children through the Spring term before he joined up for Overseas Service.  He was confident that they were ready for the Entrance to High School examinations, and that they would come through safely.  There were six boys to take the tests, no girls.

I expected that such examinations in the West, would be conducted along lines similar to those used in the East.  That is, pupils would be assured of a quiet room in which to write, and, of course with a strange teacher presiding. There were eleven subjects to be written off in three days, June 25th, 26th, and 27th, 1917, and the Fort George boys wrote at Prince George Public School.

I stayed around home the first day, hoping the boys might call me at noon, but they didn't.  About four o'clock the telephone rang, but it was not my sons, it was Mrs. D. the mother of the other boys writing with them. and she said that her sons were both home and quite upset, due to noise disturbance while they were writing.  I was told that, "in addition to the pandemonium during recess period morning and afternoon, by the regular pupils, the presiding teacher had used the telephone to order her groceries and other supplies, to the utter dismay of those nervous children, trying to concentrate, and found themselves writing down "butter and eggs etc," instead of the proper answers to the questions."

Mrs. D. made the complaint to me, the Secretary of the School Board, and she expected me to do something about it.  She had looked over the examination papers, and was confident, without the disturbance factor, her sons "could have swept the boards."  After explaining that my boys were not home yet, and I had not heard from them, I promised to question them about the noise. They would be just as susceptible to disturbance as her sons and just as indignant.  I telephoned the mother of another boy, explaining what I was doing about the reported disquiet; his father was a member of the Board.

In the meantime, I would speak to the Secretary of the Prince George School Board, and draft a strong letter to The Department of Education, Victoria, B.C., pointing out that the named candidates, were not granted the measure of quietude to which they were entitled, when writing their examinations, and that the conditions prevailing, were definitely prejudicial to their results. My letter probably reached Victoria before the examination papers, and when the results came out in the local paper, they showed that all the boys had passed.

It was nice to have fresh water from a tap, even though the tap was a block away, but when the summer was dry, and one's few vegetables and flowers were withering, it was a real chore to carry water when there were no men around.  When Prince George put in a water service in 1916, Sheriff Peters lived just below our home, on the Fort George side of the street, same as we did.  The tap was midway between us, and we both used it.  I was very thankful, for I had missed Steve and Shorty after they moved to Prince George.  They didn't haul water from the Nechaco any more.

1917 was a heavy year for me.  In addition to the land around our home, I was cultivating an abandoned double lot on the Prince George side, with permission, but it was a dead loss.  The ploughing cost $5.00, the green vegetables were no use, and we did not take out as many potatoes as we put in for seed.  That was a bad investment!

The Red Cross work was steady, I had no typewriter then, and I wrote to as many of the boys from our town as I had addresses, their parcels of tobacco and clippings from the newspapers to get ready and mail, the inquiries from relatives of various foreigners, who had once been in the district, to be dealt with, by sending out feelers which might bring some news for their people, I had luck with those, and home sewing was always nudging my conscience.  

My family was suggesting that I come home for a rest, and though I knew that we could not afford it, the hope of a fairy took root and grew like Jack's bean-stalk.  To cap everything, I had a repeat of the old trouble I brought with me from the east, and it meant surgery later. 

When good-looking, young, Dan Pedannic started his dairy in Fort George, the majority of the town folk reside within whistle distance, and brought their little, empty lard-pails for their orders, but when the telephone service was established, the customers expected the milk to the delivered to the door.  This, of course, meant more work and expense to Dan, so he just added the cost to the pints and quarts and went on smiling.

Dan's cottage and barn, were only a short block from Central Avenue, the main business street, and all sorts of people passed up and down that thoroughfare, especially on nights when the Movie Theatre was open. 

Our dog Niggie, was about two years old, when she indicated a conspicuous interest in Dan Pedannic's horses and cows.  We had alway noticed that Nig was gentle with children, but to me "mothering" cows and horses, was going too far.  We were afraid she might get her brains kicked out.  Not so, however, Dan, himself, had noticed Niggie's proprietary air, and one day he called on me, to ask if he might borrow her for a watch dog. 

I spoke about her hanging around the horses, and he assured me that they liked the dog, and would never hurt her.  I knew that Dan would not abuse her,so we let her go with him.  Dan never locked his door; and wanted Nig to guard the house while he was out delivering milk.

One fine morning, one of the best customers, who lived quite  near, went to Dan's house for the usual two quarts of milk for breakfast.  The bottles were on the table ready for him and, as he started for the door, Niggie arrived like a gale.  Eddie Brown was a school pal of our boys, and Nig had known him from when she was a puppy, but she bared her teeth, and kept the lad inside the house, until Dan got back from his first delivery.  She was not allowing Eddie to presume on friendship.  Dan was delighted, but Eddie was late for school that morning.

Within a year after Prince George was incorporated as a city, Fort George had lost all semblance of a town, and soon only a handful of Old Timers were left there to mourn their hopes.  All the Fort George businesses, were striking new roots down in the new city, but Dan Pedannic decided to "sell out" and get out of the country.  He just dropped out of sight.  Mr. Clement Deykin and his friend Mr. Bishop, took over the dairy business, expanded it and began to manufacture a special ice cream called "Frozen Bliss", which was later exported successfully, East and West by rail.

One of the Railway Builders of the road from Edmonton, Alberta, to Prince Rupert, was Mr. Harry Carleton, whose amiable personality impressed all and sundry.  He had brought his family with him to the "work, and they lived at The Cache. One day Mr. Carleton happened to be down in San Francisco and, while talking to friends, in the rotunda of one of the swankiest hotels there, he was amazed to see Dan Pedannic and a man named Mills, enter the haughty menage, leading a couple of dancing bears. 

 Dan Pedannic spotted Mr. Carleton, and shouted," Hello-o-o, Harry!!  Gee, it's good to see you!" And the Railway Builder responded in kind, for Harry Carleton was a man's man, well known and liked wherever he went. For Dan Pedannic, it was like Old Home Week.  Mr. Carleton had enjoyed the encounter too, and he told of it when he returned to Prince George.

Li Kow, the busy, thrifty Chinese, who had early chosen the most favourable acreage, across the Nechako River for his vegetable farm, had also been a pioneer in the Fraser-Cariboo Country.  He had worked hard, taken his share of gold in the raw, as well as in currency, from  the "diggings", while the luck lasted.  Now he was much respected as a prosperous citizen, in the new community of The Georges. 

 I knew his children, the three oldest boys, about 7 to 12 years, passed my door every day on their way to school. Two of them always said "Good Morning" to me, but Kee, the oldest one, was too shy, though he did like to play with our boys. After the wooden bridge was built across the Nechako River, in 1916, I sometimes went over to Li Kow's farm, for the vegetables we could not raise in our soil, due to the rapacious cut-worms. 

The first time I saw Mrs. Li Kow, was on a hot September morning, and I had just passed her children on my way.  She invited me in to rest a few minutes, and I appreciated her thoughtfulness.  I had been told, that she'd had an interesting life in the Cariboo Country, so many strangers passing to and fro, so much activity and excitement, at times.  She pictured some of it for me.  Any woman would understand.  She was missing the colour and interest of the traffic up and down the Cariboo Road.  Apart from the daily duties in caring for her growing family, she scarcely saw another woman, for days on end, but she was keenly interested in the progress of her children at school.  Mrs. Li Kow knew our boys, and could tell me some of their pranks, of which I hadn't heard before.  They had worried her, as a mother, and I thanked her for scolding them, when they were risking danger.  I had admired her quiet, friendly dignity,  She must have been a pretty bride, when Li came a-wooing.  When she pointed him out, down by the river, I said Good-bye, and promised to come again.

Practically all of Li Kow's produce, was required by the hotels and restaurants, but he never refused a neighbour, if he had what they needed.  I bought carrots, parsnips, and beets, then Li game me a present of a Chinese cabbage.  They love to give a present.

Looking at the wrinkles, time and work had laid in his face, I asked Li Kow his age.  He was seventy six years old then.  "And how old is your wife?" I asked.  She was thirty five.  "Now," I asked "tell me why the Chinese men wait so long to marry, and then marry such young girls?" "That's easy," said Li.  "If young man marry young girl, they just play all the time.  Old man marry young girl, he teach her to work; he works all the time."

 On the way home I pondered.  Surely China was old enough, to know what was best for her people, but even then, 1916, I had a feeling that youth was getting ideas of happier times for Chinese boys and girls.

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I was ironing one warm close afternoon, and had placed the board between a chair and the dining table, to get a flow of air from the screened door.  The front gate creaked, I saw a stranger feather-stitching  towards the verandah, and I went to the door which was fastened, the hot old-fashioned iron in my hand. "Good afternoon," I said, "Are you looking for someone?" He gawped at me, and demanded, "Where's Peters?" as though I might have him in my pocket.  "If you mean Sheriff Peters," I answered a bit sharply, "He lives in the house below us here.  I have seen him on the street but I have never met him."

"Well." he roared belligerently, "he told me to come to him today and the ...house is locked up and it's starting to rain." "There is a verandah on that house, so there is no danger of your getting wet," I said.  "You better get along now!"  That was a body blow! "I guess you don't know who I am," he blustered, "I'm Tommy Hammit!  Everybody knows me, from here to the Coast and up to the Arctic." "I don't," I snapped, "and what is more, I never even heard of you!"

That last almost sobered him, and he began to tell how long he had worked with Mr. Peters, how necessary he was to the Sheriff etc. until I finally told him I could not listen to any more. "Just let me help you iron.  Maybe you think I can't wash and iron,"  he simpered, coyly. He was sitting on the step and I was half-way down the living room at the ironing board,  I moved up.  "You will excuse me, please, " I said firmly, "and fasten the gate as you go out.  Thank you." Then I closed the inner door.

Later I learned from an Old Timer, that Mr. Peters had been connected with the Hudson's Bay Company for many years, and that Tommy Hammit had been his Man Friday, as it were.  Apparently the Sheriff could still make use of him. 

One of the chores I enjoyed that year, was the writing of a mildly funny skit, which was a natural for some of  Red Cross and Presbyterian W.A. Members, whose organization shared the honours and proceeds.  Several were close neighbours, who could get together often for practice, and as I had made  a full copy of the script for each of them, they had a better grasp of the matter, and did not require as much instruction in their parts.

It being a womanly affair, I worked in a number of local male personality quips, which went over well, and I heard later, that some of the men in the audience, had felt neglected, because their weaknesses and vanities had been overlooked. Of course, the weight of the programme was, as usual, carried by the fine local singers and musicians, who later put on their own splendid presentation of Gilbert and Sullivan's "Trial by Jury".  On that night I was a humble dresser in the rear, but I could appreciate the singing, if not the acting, which I didn't see.  It was a triumph for the clever little lady form New York, who had given much time and patience to it.

Early in December, 1917, The Nechako River was augmented by floods and ice from the west, and the Railway at Prince George was under water and ice hummocks for two or more miles, with some damage to  rolling stock.  The ice-crown coming down the river was scraping the floor of the bridge over the Nechako, and hasty steps were taken to keep the threat moving until it reached the Fraser, where there was more spread and less danger for people and property.

The soft snow was three feet deep in Fort George, when Mrs. Oliver and I set out on the morning of Monday, December 17th, in a box sleigh with a team and driver, to bring in the Vote of the KHAKI Election, and if necessary, mind the children while the mothers went to the polls.  We even had been told, that we might be required to carry some frail voters through the snow to the sleigh, but we were lucky; we had no baby-sitting and no toting of voters.

At Mrs. O's. home. her niece had a delicious dinner ready for us at noon, and we did not have much to do in the afternoon; most of our voters were still overseas, so I went home to see that my fires were all right. After supper we Mackenzies went down to Prince George to hear such returns as trickled through, and when the margin seemed to be quite safe, we came home.  There was nothing we could do anyway, no matter how the election went, and our beds were waiting for us.  The final result suited me and my family.  We wanted to see more support sent to our men in the battle line, and that was reasonable.