LOCAL LIFE

The year 1918, was to be one of special effort towards production.  With the permission and blessing of the Government, vacant land owned by persons out of the country, could be used by residents, and so there were many pole-fenced patches of vegetables, dotting the stumpy landscape.  We had some land beyond our back gate, ploughed and fenced for potatoes.  I cut and soaked the seed against scab, and I dropped them.  Murray made the holes, and Dad covered.  The new seed went into a special corner in the fresh ground.

The next job for Mac was a pig pen and it was put at the foot of the garden,just outside the fence.  There had been a bit of argument, but I pointed out that we had no close neighbours to complain, and the pen was far enough away, not to bother us.  The pigs had to be "Jersey Duroc" , the slim, neat, copper-haired beasties, which a friend in Toronto had advised, if we could get them.  The Hughes Brothers, at Mud River, had that strain, and they delivered two choice specimen to our new pig pen.  There were my special charges, and I watched them as though they were jewels. 

Twice the sides of the pen had to be raised, and our boys were willing to take oath, that one of those piglings boosted the other up over the fence, because it was the same fellow who was always on the outside when I came home. 

The Red Cross and the Church W.A. put on a play in The Rex Theatre that year, to raise some money, and it was well received.  Everywhere, the "watchword" was work, if you want to eat!  That forthright prudence was impressed on me before I left Toronto a few weeks before. 

In the early summer of 1918, the fourth year of the First War, Mac and I were appointed to register the Man and Woman Power in the town of Fort George, and the district across the Nechako River, running west and north east.  The  town information was listed quickly, but the country detail took two days.  Mr. Jorgensen, a Danish Old Times, drove us with his lively team and covered buggy.

One bright hot morning, we crossed the wooden bridge by Li ow's house and travelled west.  We found the active settlers were few, and quite far apart, and the pre-empting bachelors had left early in the War for service.  The older people with families, were trying to raise food for themselves and fodder for their animals.  It seemed a waste of time for us to cover the ground, but the Government had asked for a record, as was paying for it.

The memory which has lingered longest with me from that trip was an attack by the largest, most vicious flies I ever saw descend, like a black cloud, on horseflesh, and to see the latter stand straight up with shock.  The driver handled them beautifully, but they were trembling and their flanks were streaming with blood.  As soon as we left the thick wood behind, the wicked horde wheeled, as though on orders, and flew back to the bush.  Mr. Jorgensen stopped his team beside a runnel at the roadside, lifted the fly nets, and washed the blood off his nervous beauties.  I complimented him for his care.  He had been a farmer in Denmark.

On the second day we started earlier, and went north east but there was little difference in the routine, except that the driving was more pleasant, since the country was open and more interesting,  The high light of that jaunt to me, was the field  of blue lupins, acres and acres of them, and it seemed almost a felony, to find that the road went right through all that beauty crushing down those lovelies into the dry, powdery soil. 

All in all, we found that at "the back of beyond", the people we met were, naturally, most concerned with rain, sun and frost, and who could blame them?  The roads at that stage of development were not good, but a gang was working near at the time; a bridge had been taken out by the spring flood.

That road was the ancient highway to the Height of Land, and near-arctic connections for trappers and traders, who plied the waterways north to the Peace River and its tributaries.  Summit Lake was the starting point, thirty miles from Fort George, and the freight teamsters would soon be using that bridge now in course of repair.  Many tons of freight have gone over that road, since the railway reached Prince George in January, 1914, when the romance of trapping and trading began all over again, by hopeful adventurous whites. 

Dinner was over when we reached the road camp, but the food was still warm, and the cook gave us a good meal.  We were hungry and enjoyed every bite.  In return, we gave them all the local news, as well as the latest from the war front, a fair exchange. 

On the way home we made a couple of calls that had been left, purposely, for return.  The two families were farming land, and had made good progress.  They were closer to the town but, they also felt that settlers deserved better roads, and our men agreed.  With poor roads, every mile takes its toll of strain, whether transport be human, animal of mechanical. 

We asked Mr.Jorgensen to drop us at the foot of the hill, as we had business in Prince George.  After riding all day, we were glad to climb the hill close to home, where we found the boys and Paddy having some cold beans and bacon, and it looked good, too.

About three months after my return from the east, I answered a knock at the front door,  It was Mr. Helm of The Club Cafe, Prince George, who presented me with a bill of $98.45.  He apologised for not having rendered it sooner; said that he didn't  know I had returned.  I told Mr. Helm that I had not known there was an account owing, but would take care of it as soon as possible.

It was a joke on my housewifely care of my men, when I went east, to leave them six mincemeat pies.  When I returned and asked if they had enjoyed the pies, the three of them looked blank.  Not one of them had remembered the waiting treat. When Mac and the boys came home that evening, I asked them about the food bill.  I didn't question the amount, but I did tell them not to charge anything more.  With me at home now, they could take their lunches with them to school, the same as they had done before I went east. I had had my holiday, and enjoyed it.  Apparently, the three of them, had also enjoyed theirs while I was away.  I asked no further questions.  Men hang together more than women do, and I respected it. 

While I was east, I had a newsy letter from Murray.  In it he told that they were training our two-year old dog, Paddy, to be a sleigh dog, and that he was loaned to some friends, who had a small trap-line.  That news worried me.  Paddy had never been beaten, and many of the trapping stories I had read, mentioned beating in the training of sleigh dags.  I wrote to Mac and asked him to get our dog home, and I wrote to Murray, in the same vein.

My men all met me at the train, when I returned the end of March, and it was plenty wintry yet, lots of snow.  They all looked well, and my first question asked if Paddy were at home.  He was in town but not at home.  He spent most of the time, with the friends who had borrowed him, so I asked Murray to bring our dog home, without further delay.  I had a  feeling that all was not right.

Next morning, after the boys left for school I was very busy in the house, but kept and eye on the road from Prince George, and saw Paddy coming our way.  He was limping, and stopped when he reach the open gate way, looked in but did not offer to enter, until I opened the door and called.  He rushed to me, leaped and whimpered,  My dog was thin, his beautiful coat rough and dirty, and sticking out of a great festered sore on his hip, was a six-inch splinter of green spruce.  I wept with anger when I saw it.  No wonder the poor thing limped.  I spent the most of the day, cleaning that brutal wound.  Paddy knew he was home to stay.

In the summer of 1918. when it was learned that the Governor General of Canada, His Excellency, the Duke of Devonshire, and His Duchess, intended to make a tour of the Country, Mr.Hiram Carney, who was Mayor of Prince George that year, immediately set in motion such wheels of action as were available. It was the ambition of the City Fathers to have the privilege of entertaining the distinguished couple, on their way east from Prince Rupert.  But, shush!  Play it softly.  There must be harmony among the Georges.  There were other ambitious towns. 

Almost before some of us were aware, there came a message to say that we could expect the visit to take place.  The Mayor had quietly hastened to Ottawa, where he was able to direct enough sweetness and light to achieve the miracle.  Mr. Carney was a  nimble, little Irishman, with wit and personality.

The ladies were to take care of Her Grace, the Duchess, and the men were to guard the health of His Excellency, the Governor General. The Ladies'programme included a motor drive to the Henderson Farm, about twenty five miles west of Prince George, where it had been arranged to have lunch.  The Hendersons were newcomers to the district, and were very modern in their approach to farming, as a definite part of the country's economy.  They had already built a find modern house, with barns and equipment to match, and they let it be know that they welcomed visitors to their model farm. After an enjoyable lunch, which was all product of the Farm, Mrs. Henderson conducted Her Grace, and Mrs. Carney, wife of the Mayor, over the premises; some of us had seen it on other occasions. 

The high point of interest for the Duchess, was the pie shelves in the bakery pantry.  Her Grace had never seen or heard of such a shelf, and frankly, neither had I.  Those shelves were very shallow, was no room for high, fluffy meringue crowns.  In the hall, there was a Visitors' Book, and everyone signed it that day, before we hurried back to the Alexandra Hotel, for the Reception and Tea, after which the distinguished visitors, were conducted to their Private Car on a siding near the station, no doubt thankful that another duty-day was safely over. 

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Even I was  a bit excited, when the boys came home from school, with a story of men washing gold on the south bank of the Nechako River, and I appealed to Mac for confirmation.  He had heard the same story, said that two men had made a crude, wooden rocker, and admitted they were getting enough gold to pay them each $7.00 a day. Like many others, they had come to Fort George in good faith, and had waited for development, which had proved disappointing.  Now they were trying to make a stake to carry them elsewhere.   

The next day was Saturday, and we all went up along th railway tracks, to the place called The Island, which is was in flood season, and was always damp around the edges, at other times.  We were after blueberries this time; there were also raspberries, and it was a favourite breeding ground for rabbits.  That is where Jimmy Spence used to get the big, fat ones he gave us. We did not stop picking blueberries, until we had filled the water pail and the ten-pound pail we had brought with us.  By that time I was wishing that some sort of conveyance would come along, and give us a ride home.

On the way back, we followed a path along the south bank of the Nechako, and we saw the two men using the rocker, and shovelling in rocks and gravel, turn about at intervals.  Either chore was not easy on the muscles; it was a tiring, monotonous exercise.  Mac bid them Good-day, but they did not encourage us to loiter in the vicinity. When we mentioned those two men to Mr. Hammond, the evening he was at our home, he told us that one could test almost any part of Fort George Townsite, and get a trace of gold, even on Central Avenue.  It had been done there, but he would not advise anyone to pin their hopes on a worth-while discovery.

Winter set in early that year, but Mac  and the boys were able to get all the potatoes harvested before they were damaged. and we sold quite a few to the grocer.   The Cobblers were splendid, clean and good size; there were almost enough to seed the newly-broken field the next year.  Then, before Mac went west with the Railway again, he arranged for Mr. Jim Brown to take our pigs up to his place and butcher them, where he had facilities for the job.  The pigs were then returned to hang in our shed for twenty four hours, and Mr. Brown came back later to cut up the meat.  It saved us a lot of work with which we were not acquainted. I had taken orders for as much of the meat as Mac thought we should sell.  At a Meeting one day Mrs. B. told the company that she had ordered early because they wanted pork; she was sure that I bathed the pigs every night before I put then to bed. The prevailing price at that time was 24 cents and 26 cents a pound according to front or hind quarter, quite a difference to prices today.

On the night of November 11, 1918, I was alone in the house and asleep, when wakened by a car full of bell-ringing people, shouting, "Get up! Get up!  The War is over!"  And they were gone before I could open the door to say, "Thank you!" The four years had seemed so endless, that the news hit me like an anti-climax and I went back to bed.  I was thankful, of course; the spirit was willing to cheer, but the flesh was woefully weak.

In the Fall of 1918, when alarming stories of flu epidemic reached us, from east, west and south, the "Georges" were still free of infection.  The first case in Fort George was a fine, young engineer, who had returned home after having finished the job he was on "Outside".  A few days after he arrived the whole community was shocked to learn of his death by flu, and a day or so later, a well-liked Belgian couple parted with their only son, almost a young men.   It was a bitter blow to the parents, who had left their old country solely to give their boy a better opportunity in the new surroundings. We had only one small hospital, and soon the sick men began to arrive on every train.  The schools were closed to teaching, but the High School became a hospital for flu only.  Hoping that he might escape an attack, I had sent Alan to join his father who was with a maintenance crew at Bednesti Station twenty-five mile away and neither of them was stricken; but Murray was not so fortunate. 

Murray was hoping to get a job at Hazelton, during the school-closing, and was downtown waiting for a telegram, where he learned that Mr. J.H. Johnson of the Alexandra Hotel, was ill with flu as well as several of his staff.  Murray offered to look after the fires that night and he called me early in the evening to explain why he would not be home.  He said that Miss. M., dean of the teachers, who lived in the Hotel, was sharing his vigil and doing what she could to make the sick folk comfortable. 

When he was speaking to me on the telephone I had a queer feeling that Murray was already infected with flu, and I asked him to be sure to come home the next morning.  By the time he arrived I had my bedroom ready for a sick man, and a good warm bath awaiting him also.  It took some persuading to convince Murray that he was a patient, but less than two hours later he was too ill to care.  I had read the instructions on dealing with flu, which many newspapers carried at that time and I only lacked a clinical thermometer.  When I called the druggist to send one, he told me they were sold out and not to worry about Murray's  temperature.  Said he, "Just keep him warm and the air as fresh as you can."  The second night he was delirious; very busy all night putting off express parcels at every station between Prince George and Hazelton.  I was busy too, keeping him covered and trying to pull the fever down.  In the morning there was a change.  No fever, but nosebleed started, and I learned that was just another development to cope with but not dangerous.

Already, the grocer had called to take orders and would deliver.  I was rather isolated with snow three feet deep, and Mr. Burden came on horseback with some fresh milk for Murray.  The same Mr. Burden who had saved our dog for us.  On the fifth day my patient was wrapped in a blanket and sat in the old arm chair by the living room fire.  He was weak but thankful to be over the worst.  Like many others at that time, I wore an Indian charm against flu; a cake of camphor with a hole in it, hung from my neck and rested on my chest.  I also chewed camphor like gum. 

One week later Murray insisted on going to the job in Hazelton but he did not enjoy the relapse which followed a trip through a blizzard on a speeder, and of which I did not learn for several weeks. Before he left home Murray had told me of meeting one of the neighbour boys, of the K. family.  That lad was just getting over flu and said that the ten other members of his family were on their way home from the prairies, where they had been visiting, and some of them were ill.  They were then living just below us, where Sheriff Peters had lived before.

As soon as I knew the family was back, I went down to offer my help with the sick.  The father was just able to get around, but refused to let me stay, as he knew that his system for cure was different than mine; he used the steam system and I the air.  As the twin babies, not yet walking were free from flu infection, I persuaded them to let me take the little girls home with me; they might escape the flu and be better for it afterwards.  It was understood that if one or both of the children did become ill, they were to go back to the family.  The boy with whom Murray had talked was better now and able to help the others. He brought a pail of fresh milk for the babies every day , and called between times to see that all was well with me and the little girls.

A week later, however, I saw that one child was showing sign of flu, and I called their family doctor who confirmed it so she went home.  At the end of two weeks, the father called to thank me and take the second twin home.  She had already taken her first steps alone and was very proud to show her Papa.  Much later I was told that the little girl who had taken the flu, never did catch up, in weight or height, to the one who had escaped it.  That family belonged to the Mennonite faith, and were fine, cultured people.  

At the most hectic period of the flu epidemic, it was the coldest most blizzardy time of the whole winter.  There were no burials.  The undertaker tagged the bodies and stored them, just as they are stored in vaults in winter weather elsewhere.  The new Mayor, Mr. Carney. was on duty at the High School hospital as orderly, and I know that he put one stretch of forty eight hours, without relief.  Many Indians were included in the score of 103 deaths, and is was learned that  of the most Royal of the Tribes of the West, there were only five members left of the Kwah family.

After the second K. baby went home, Paddy and I were alone.  I knitted up the last Red Cross wool on hand, sold the socks at $2.50 a pair and sent the money out to buy layette material.  The women belonging to the railway crews had suggested top the men to keep an eye on the settlers along the line east and west, where there seemed to be a shortage of clothing for children or adults.  Clothes lines tell a minus tale and dirt floors are chilly for little feet in winter, 

In the present deep snow, I did very little walking.  I checked clothing and other supplies and after washing and mending, everything not needed was passed on.  The women of the other two towns and The Cache were doing the same thing.  The railway men would drop notes off in passing certain dwellings along the line, and the trains would be watched for parcels.  The plan cleared out scanty cupboard space and helped someone else. One winter afternoon I answered a knock to find the manager of one of the Banks, with a beautiful, full-length, broadcloth coat, lined throughout with lovely soft fur, on his arm. It had belonged to his wife, who had died years earlier.  He had not given it away before, for fear he might see it again and recall painful memories.  "Would you please send it to someone who needed it, but far away?"  I promised and sent it to the Red Cross Headquarters, Vancouver, with definite instructions as to the disposal of the lovely garment.  The donor was  really relieved to be rid of it.  It could mean comfort to some woman for her lifetime. 

One evening when a terrible blizzard was raging, the telephone rang.  It  was Mr. Ted Flower inviting me up to a meeting at the Fort George Post Office to  discuss ways and means of raising money, to buy a piano for the school.  I told him he should have picked a better night, and that whatever the other members of the Committee decided, would be satisfactory to me, but I was not going out. When I was alone, I found it best to wash the dishes once a day.  It saved time, water and hands; a consideration in winter weather.  On this night I was washing dishes, and Paddy seemed restless, walking around.  There was only one lamp lighted, and it was in the kitchen where I was working.  As I came in from emptying the dishwater, I noticed light in the living room.  I dropped the  dish-pan and ran.  The long stretch of stove pipe from the little stove, to the hole through the partition into the chimney, was red from end to end, and that pipe was only a few inches from the ceiling,  I could see to read. The fire in the stove was almost dead but I took out a small piece of burning wood and tossed it into the snow.  Then I filled a long-handled sauce-pan with water, shoved it through the front door of the stove until it was under the pipe hole, and closed the door. Pulling on high rubber boots, coat, mitts, scarf for my head, I snatched two small bags of salt and the axe to loosen the ladder frozen to the back shed.  Up on the roof the flames were pouring out of the good, brick chimney, and I shook the salt into the blaze.  The steam from below was having effect, and soon the fire was burnt out.  Then I relaxed.

When the stove pipes cooled, I took them down and cleaned them out, outdoors, thoroughly.  They had been coated inside with creosote from the burning of pine.  Then I but them up again and wired them, as before.  I also took down the pipes from the kitchen stove and did the same with them.  There was warm water in the range reservoir, and I had a good wash before I got ready for bed.   Being tired and nervous, I thought it best not to light a fire until morning.  When I was settled in bed, Paddy came into my room, pawed up the corner of the  rug nearest to my head, for a pillow, and lay down with a great sigh.  By reaching out my hand, I could touch his head.  He was good company.  That was the worst fire-scare I ever had, and the wind was still howling.

The Pubic Schools were open again, but not the High School.  After having served as a flu hospital, it required fumigating and renovating, so our boys were still away working.  Neither of them took time to write me very often, and one fine cold day, I was surprised to receive a parcel and letter from Alan; thereby hangs the trail. With the house all to myself, I decided to give a dinner for the teachers, there was a new one for our little school, and all the regulars for Prince George.  As Miss M. whom I called the Dean of the teachers, was a lovable and popular week-ender for bridge, in the community, I invited the girls for six o'clock, Friday evening, which would leave them enough time for a later engagement if they wished. They all arrived promptly by taxi, having picked up the Fort George member, as she reached Fraser Avenue at Third.  Dinner was ready to serve and I told them that I had a special treat for them.  Miss M. began to praise the food when she tasted the soup. and teased me for not having invited her to dinner before;  she had been with us often for tea.  When  she savoured her meat, she thanked me for the sweetest piece of roast pork she ever tasted.  Cold weather excuses a rather heavy dinner, but I gave them a light dessert with the coffee.

"Now," questioned Miss M. "what did you mean by a treat?  It had all been a treat, or have I missed something?" "Maybe not," I said, "we shall see, but first, did you all like your dinner?"  It was a hearty, unanimous "Yes indeed!" "I am glad," I said.  "Now, Miss M. what sort of meat was it?" "Why, I told you", said she, "It was pork."  I shook my head and proceeded  for guesses around the table.  They named many four-legged animals, even a mountain goat, and when they "gave up", I said, "It was a young bear" and I though Miss M. would slay me!

"MY GOD WOMAN!" she dithered, "Did you feed me BEAR?"  "I did," said I, "and you liked it and so did all.  It was the treat. and I wanted to share it.  Bears feed on berries, herbage, honey and fish, when they can get them.  They are clean eaters and lookers.  Are pigs noted for being clean?"  "No", she admitted, "and I choose pork more than any other meat.  I apologize; it was just the wild idea connected with it."  "That," I agreed, "is understandable.  I tasted my first bear meat when I was five.  A friend gave Father a bear steak as a great treat, and he gave me a taste, but it must have been an old warrior, for I still remember that the meat was quite dark and very strong.  I was out at Mud River once for dinner, and the meat served looked much like what we had to-day, but it was young beaver, and it tasted like young pork, too; tender and sweet."

It was Alan who sent the roast to me.  He had been wandering around the camp, with the 22 rifle I had lent him, and on the high bank, overlooking the work, he noticed a round, black hole in a snowbank.  Just on speculation he stooped down and peered in; he smelled animal, and, away back, saw two small lights,  Then he fled, helter, skelter, back to camp to notify the official hunter there, who bagged the old bear and two cubs.  Alan was given his choice of a roast from one of the cubs. 

Telling of it sounds cold and heartless, but the War shortages were still on, and we had used substitutes for meat in the Georges, until they had lost all their novelty and appeal.  That roast was like manna from Heaven. When the boys and I first came to Fort George, Mac often used to bring home a pair of fine, fat rabbits, a gift from Jimmie Spence, who also worked at the mill down on the bank of the Nechako.  When the mill was dismantled and moved east to Giscombe, Jimmie went with it, and we surely missed those rabbits, for Mac was no hunter.