There must be in this book, a place for one of my favourite English Gentlemen, John Flower, father of Ted, who had taken the boys camping. Mr. Flower did not come to Fort George until after the First War was over, then he brought with him, his younger son, Frank. When I met them, Frank's wife and child were there also. Ted welcomed his Pater to his neat little home, and his brother rented Jessie's house.
John Flower was a gentleman of the Old School, with family and money. He was a member of the London Stock Exchange, at the time a scandalous swindle in worthless stocks was uncovered, and traced to one man, a fugitive who was later apprehended, and sentenced to a term of prison, which he never served, thanks to his precaution fo have about him, a cigar with deadly poison concealed within.
When the Stock Exchange decided to right the wrong done to investors, John Flower turned over to the loss, everything Pioneer Pickings at Fort George he had but his passage money to Fort George, and an annuity paying $50.00 a month to support him. His son Ted had received his portion when he was twenty one, and that was the time when he roamed far places. While he was living in Fort George, Ted substituted as Junior Ambassador, once or twice, during a friend's vacation from a small post down in lower Mexico.
Mr. Flower, like most Englishmen, was rather autocratic. My Father was English and Cambridge; I know the breed. The old gentleman had the idea that his grandchild was under Flower Senior's guidance and orders; it was hard on the young folk, especially when he bought a couple of goats, and insisted that the child be fed on goat's milk and farinaceous foods, as he grew older. A herd of goats had been imported by Mr. Moore, and when milking time came, they might be on the top of the old hotel roof, or eating the clothes on some person's line. To say they were a bone of contention in the town, is putting the matter very mildly. Finally the younger Flowers went back to England.
Mr. Flower had made up his mind that, what he called poverty, was not going to take away all his pleasures in life. Every Christmas time, he used to reserve for the full week, one of the nicest rooms in the Alexandra Hotel, where he dispensed the gracious, courtly hospitality he had used to offer on a much broader scale, in the good old days of his prosperity. It was just a gesture, he was wont to say, but he had to make it and his friends enjoyed it.
One of the nicest things to happen to Mr. Flower, was a little legacy of two hundred pounds, from one of his special friends, in the Old Country. The instructions with the gift, stipulated that every farthing was to be spent on the pleasure he wanted most at the time. He went to Vancouver, in their Springtime, like England's, lived in one of the small, most discriminating family hotels, and loved every moment of it. He was able to get over to Victoria also, for a few days.
It had doubled the gift to come so unexpectedly, and I was as glad for him as though it had happened to one of my own people. When he came to see us after his return, he said, "That holiday was good: made me feel human again." We thought it added years to his life.
When Fort George became a near-ghost town, the men remaining there, assumed responsibility for the maintenance of the water system. That meant the taking of their turn, for such services as were necessary, to keep the water tower functioning.
One cool night in the Fall of 1919, the engineer pro-tem, put on a healthy fire and, when things seemed to be settled for the night, he went home. Unfortunately the fire was too robust, and burned down the water tower, leaving no convenient water service for the balance of the winter.
It was hard on the families with children, but the Nechako was still flowing, and the men with teams could haul the water barrels, the same as they had before. In the meantime, the tower was being patched up, and a message in large letters was painted on its side, first in Latin:
" R E S U R G A M "
and below in English:
" I SHALL RISE AGAIN"
It was cheering to see that promise, and we knew how much it meant for those who depended on the convenience.
It was one of the women down in Prince George, who said in my hearing, after this second fire: "The Lord must love the Fort Georgians, despite the fires, for it is said in Holy Writ: "Whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth."
Fate, fortune or something impish, plays queer pranks on us humans, for instance: Later in that winter, at our Red Cross Meeting in Fort George, Mrs. B. then President, and always thoughtful neighbour, arrived rather late, and was jokingly chided by her friend Mrs. R. Mrs. B apologised to the members, and explained that she had been nearly ready to leave home, when she heard a commotion on the steps leading down to the river.
Some person with two pails of water, had slipped on the icy steps, both pails had sloshed and clattered to the bottom, and the man skidded half-way after them. He went carefully down the rest of the way, filled the pails again, came up and again lost one pail, completely and half the water in the other. He didn't try again. Needless to say, he was interestingly vocal, not singing, but it seemed to ease his frustration.
As he reached Mrs. B.'s home, she saw is was her neighbour, Judge R. and she offered to fill the pail he carried, and to let him have another pailful, if he wanted it, from a fresh barrel which had been delivered that day. At the distance of thirty two years, we may laugh at it now, but on that day, I would have dared anyone to laugh. He it was who had built the last fire in the water tower.
After the influenza epidemic was over, I began to notice our boys talking about a power boat, being built for our neighbours, the K. family. The oldest boy, Peter, had a job in hand, and he worked with the detailed instructions, put out by a reliable firm.
Of course, there were the usual critics and wiseacres, ready to "throw cold water" on any new enterprise, but Pete K. just went ahead, according to plan. It was when he installed the engine from a motor car, in his boat, that the real criticism broke forth. "Wait until that old engine stalls, on the way up to the Mill." Yes, it did stall, sometimes, but Pete was patient, and finally he announced that his boat was a success.
As soon as school vacation began, Murray had gone to Hazelton, with the engineers, and Alan was waiting to go with this father to Alberda, nearly two hundred miles east of The Georges. The Indians had already arrived to collect their end-of-June Treaty Money, It was the wild, high-pitched wail of their keening, that sent me flying in to Mac, who had been napping after a Sunday dinner.
"Someone's in the River!" He started on a shout that ended in a white-faced whisper. Alan had been motor-boating on the river that morning, with Pete K., unknown to me or his father, until he came home for dinner.
Mac ran up the dusty road, and I after him, in a soiled house dress and a floppy sun hat. I had been weeding in the garden. I stopped a man I knew, who told me that two of the K. boys, the oldest and the youngest, had been drowned in the Nechako. Terrified, I moaned, "My God! How awful!" I ran down the Fraser Avenue hill, and near the bridge, I found the ten year old girl, who had been in the boat with her two brothers, and I took her with me. She told me that her Papa and her Mama, with the rest of the children, were on their way to go boating on the river, so we hurried. It was my sad duty, to break the news to them, as we reached the top of the hill again.
There they came, that close-knit, affectionate family, laughing and happy, with wraps and baskets, and smiling Papa ahead. I felt a bit ill, but I put up my hand and spoke low, "It's bad news, Mr. K.; the boys are in the River." He changed colour, and quietly ordered his family back home, with: "The boys are in the River."
At their door I asked, "Can I do anything, Mr. K.?" and he, quietly, "No, thank you." As I turned away, the door closed, and I heard the stricken father say firmly to his family, "On your knees!" There was Faith and Hope, but I knew that the load would weigh heaviest on the Mother.
The story which we heard of the final ending, was pathetic and so needless. After Alan came home to dinner that day , Pete had taken his ten year old sister and his four year old brother, for a ride up the river, while waiting for the rest of the family to join them. On the way down, the boat stalled just over the bridge, and drifted against one of the V-shaped rock-filled cribs. Peter quickly picked his sister up and placed her on the crib, then put the small boy beside her, but the child was frightened, and as Pete tried to clamber on the crib, the little one threw himself into Pete's arms. The boat rolled over and drifted away.
Pete was swimming strongly on his back, the child on his breast, arms around his neck. Already the Indians had launched a dugout and manned it, passed the swimmer, and as one strong Indian leaned over the back end, he caught Pete and the child, but the strength of the under-current, wrenched them from his grasp. They never appeared again.
When we questioned Alan again, about the behaviour of the boat, while he was in it with Pete, that morning. Alan admitted that it had stalled twice up the Nechako River. Mac and I both warned him not to go in that boat again, no matter who owned it.
Mr. K. hired Indians to patrol the Nechako and Fraser Rivers, for many weeks, hoping the bodies might rise, but nothing was found. The Indians always said , that whatever went into the Fraser River, remained there, and the same applied to the Nechako.
Between two and three years later, Mr. K. came to tell us Good-bye. He said that he and his family had loved the Fort George Country, but the noise of the River worried his wife, and he should have taken her far away after the tragedy. That it had been cruel of him to keep her there, within the sound of the ruthless River. They went to Oregon, and our boys corresponded back and forth for several years.
When I answered the telephone that winter morning, it was a strange, lilting voice what greeted me, with an invitation to a Tea. I had heard of Mrs. George McLaughlin, of South Fort George, her husband had been in the Yukon during the gold rush, and was also an early arrival in the Fort George District, where he now had a large, busy sawmill.
I had not met the lady, but I knew that she was a flower lover, and she had heard that I was another garden fiend. That seemed to be sufficient introduction, and I thanked her for the kind invitation. Transportation was always a problem in the Georges, especially in winter, but in this case is had already been taken care of. Mrs. McLaughlin told me that if I could make my way to the Alexandra Hotel, there would be a place for me in a car. It was four miles from my home to hers, and it was a woman party.
Our hostess was a petite brunette, with sparkling eyes and swift movement, She received us in an attractive, all-black dress, ankle length, lace elbow sleeves, and a very modest lace neckline. Her cheery welcome and bright, log fire, belied the bitter breeze outdoors. The house had a furnace also, for comfort, a real luxury in those days.
I met a few new people, and many I already knew, but when the teachers from the school arrived, the large living-room, was cosily filled. Soon the weather was getting another conversational "beating", luckily, it never wears out. One of the guests I had met for the first time was Mrs. Daniel, an artist in landscape and miniatures. I had seen her work and admired it. She was elderly, handsome, with wavy white hair, like a crown; very dignified. The word "matriarch" came to me, as I noticed her erect posture and discerning eye.
As the party progressed, no cocktails, just tea and coffee, with much delicious food, one of the younger guests asked our hostess, as a special favour if she would dance for us, and she did. She put a record on the Victrola, and danced as daintily as a butterfly among the flowers. She had been a dancer before her marriage, and I loved to watch her graceful movements. Not so the elderly guest. Disapproval was on every line of her face and form, and those who applauded were made to feel uncomfortable. A generous, pleasing hostess, and one unbending stickler for "her own good form". In my mind that day, I questioned the goodness of it.
Several months later that year, I had Tea with Mrs. Daniels, at Mrs. Johnson's apartment, in the Alexandra Hotel. We were knitting when she arrived, and she was in very good humour. When she kept an appointment with the dentist, just across the street from the Hotel, he told her that every one of her teeth was in perfect condition; she had never lost one. Mrs. Daniels said that she felt she had cheated the dentist, in making the appointment, and she asked him to at least polish her teeth, to square her conscience. At that time she told us that she was seventy six, and that she was from Devon, England. Said she, "All Devon people have good teeth. It is well known that they can chew chicken bones." That was a record we had never heard before.
Being an artist, Mrs. Daniels was interested in flowers and she inquired about my garden after the hard winter. She had a small garden, so I suggested that she enter her best flowers, at the Prince George Fall Fair, and she did. She won first prize for her Stocks, and was delighted to be a winner, though the cash prizes were not large, the town was too poor. It was the Community interest that counted.
On a bright May morning, I was coming through the rear gate after inspecting the potatoes in the back lot, when I heard a friendly yodel from the road. It was Mrs. McLaughlin in a taxi, on her lap a fish-flat filled with gorgeous, blooming pansy roots, all for me. They were the giant type, and the gift almost left me tongue-tied, but I managed to convey my thanks and appreciation, to that very thoughtful lady. She had raised them from seed, and said she had millions of them.
My garden was not very forward yet, but the annuals would be a good show later on. Mrs. McLaughlin asked if I had any rose bushes, and I told her that I never thought of roses in that climate, though the wild variety seemed to thrive, and perfume the air quite strongly. The she told me of her rose experience:
"Of course," she said, "I have no patience. When I had a special bed and soil prepared for three dozen rose bushes, from the Coast, then following the directions for planting, I expected them to take hold and grow. Every two weeks I pull them up and examine them, and not one of them shows a green shoot yet. You can have them or I'll toss them into the Fraser."
When I stopped laughing, I tried to explain that she should treat rose bushes like a hospital patient, and stick to the rules for rose care. No pulling them out of their appointed beds any more. Eventually, she could boast of her rose garden. Patience had been working overtime.
In 1920, as soon as the schools closed, for the long vacation, my three men left for their summer work. Both the boys went west, and my husband went east, leaving me and Paddy to take care of each other.
Ever since the Nechako wooden bridge had been built, in 1916, more women had come to Prince George with the Indians, when they came at the end of June to collect their Treaty Money. The Indians had never annoyed us in any way, at any time, since we settled in the Country, and usually they left their dogs at home, up at Willow River.
I used to keep my dog in the woodshed, if there were any Indian dogs around, as they always camped on the high bank, overlooking the Nechako River, about one hundred yards from our home.
In Canada it was an offence against the Law, to sell or supply intoxicating liquor to an Indian. It steals their mind and judgment. That year there seemed to be more noise than usual, from the Indians, and about midnight I was awakened by womens' screams and shouts of "murder".
I telephoned to Prince George Police, to come and stop the disturbance, explaining that I was alone and nervous. It seemed evident there was liquor in the camp, and I wanted protection. Fort George was just a ghost-town now. I was blandly told that, since I was living in Fort George, Prince George had no responsibility to take any action to protect me.
To that I pointed out, that there were Provincial Police to maintain order, and if one did not arrive within ten minutes, I would telegraph to Victoria without warning, In less than ten minutes a car whizzed past my gate, There was some more shouting, but it was soon over. I did not blame the Indians. To me they were God's children, much wiser than we whites, who, to our shame, are willing to corrupt them for money.
Red Killoran would always buy tickets to the Dances in Fort George, and frequently gave them away, because he was too tired to attend. He was the good neighbour to any of the women whose husband was overseas, or out of town on a job. As Red was far too old to enlist, he felt it his duty to look after the women and children, especially as to wood and water.
Though Red was always busy with his own team, he took time out to build a simple but serviceable snow-plough and used it often to the grateful thanks of the entire town. There was nothing stingy about the snow-falls in that part of the country. Breaking trail meant work!
Several of Red's women neighbours attended most of our public dances. They had all come down the Fraser River the same time, were good dancers and popular. Usually a non-dancer would look after all the children in one of the homes; no children were ever left alone at night in Fort George.
One dance evening, when I was posted to kitchen duty, and fervently hoping for a good crowd, we always needed money for something. I watched the arrivals before the music began. Winter or summer they usually opened the dance with a set of quadrilles, as a sort of welcome and get acquainted.
The dance hall was long and fairly wide, built for a grocery store but never occupied up to that time. Plain, smooth benches lined both sides and, like the sheep and the goats, the ladies gravitated to the north side and the men to the south. There were no sitting rooms, they looked after their own wraps, and there were plenty of hooks in both the long walls. The front of the building was all windows, and the kitchen took up the back.
Red had arrived in his neat, gray suit, white shirt and well-tied four-in-hand. He was scrubbed to the blood, his wavy, sparse, reddish-gray hair, standing up like a baby's from the bath, as he made his way to his nearest neighbours, to ask for a dance from each. I saw them both refuse him and,after asking another girl he knew well, he got the same treatment. Red never asked me for a dance in his life, but I felt apologetic for those neighbours.
I had noticed quite a few strangers among the men already there. Red's girls were waiting for younger partners, and Red was hurt. His lips held the smile but his eyes were puzzled. The floor was full of square sets, he was down at the ladies' corner now and he was embarrassed.
Just then, Fred Shearer, the M.C. called out, "One more couple for this set." And I signalled him. I reached Red in one movement, took his arm with, "This is ours, Red," and we were in the set, and "honouring partners" blithely, before Red recovered. It didn't bother me for Red Killoran to dance in brown kid Romeo slipper, with his thick, hand-knitted gray sox wrinkling over them like a concertina. I just wanted him to forget that nasty snub.
The music was good and the M.C. called-off well. Red knew every change, and he helped the strangers in the set through the figures so smoothly, they thought he was marvellous, and so he was. When the time came for the wild swinging, the boys and girls enjoy, Red did not attempt to swing, he turned me as courtly, as though we were treading a minuet, and I as fragile as an egg shell.
When the set was over, Red thanked me and was leading me to the ladies' corner, when I told him that I was on kitchen duty that evening. I hate to see a beaten look in a man. He seems so defenceless.
Since leaving the West, I've often thought, that many a good yarn could have been told, of the ways and means used by the mill boys, east and west, to allow their attending a dance at one of The Georges, and enable them to be on the job next morning, when the whistle blew.
There must have been a bit of "finagling", with slow freights and borrowed hand-cars, but never a whisper leaked out. They worked hard and played hard. Those were good days! The local Papers were always generous with publicity, for any affairs in the district, and we always sent in the notices early, with an eye on the attendance.
I might not have known about Fort George's mystery man, if I hadn't heard my husband warn our boys, against trespassing on John Ovasco's property, Mr. Ovasco had arrived at the townsite in 1906, and he had bought farm property below the Foothills, near the Nechako River.
When the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway was being built west of Prince George townsite, the engineers found that the Ovasco property, would have to be split to let the railway through, according to the plans. That brought bitterness on the part of the farmer. The first station west was Otway, right on the land which Mr. Ovasco claimed to be his, and it was. He had to be compensated, but he still felt bitter.
I never saw the man close enough to see his features, but he must have talked to some of the settlers, for information leaked out, and it added up to history and romance. One of the Old Timers told me that Ovesco had been a member of the Prussian Guard, when they entered France during the Frano-Prussian War, in 1870, and that as soon as he could free himself of military service, he left Europe. The Prussian Guard was one of the proudest regiments in Europe, but when Ovasco had enough soldiering, he finally picked a place where he could be alone. This was it.
Once I was with three neighbour women, picking raspberries along the railway track near the Ovasco farm. I could see a man watching us, but what particularly caught my eye, was a small field of bright red poppies near his house, and I could not help wondering, if they could mean more than beauty to him. I do know that other Europeans also, cultivated poppies.
When our Paddy came home one afternoon, with a bullet wound clean through his left shoulder, I checked with Mrs. Burden by telephone, and learned that her dog, Laurie, was not at home. In my family, we had heard of one man only, who might shoot a neighbour's dog, if it intruded as a nuisance. Later that evening, Mr. Jim Brown and his son, Eddie found Laurie Burden lying on the roadside leading to the Ovasco farm.
He was still alive and they picked him up carefully laid him on the small load of wild hay they were taking home, and delivered him to the Burdens. They knew what to do for Laurie, and he lived. My dog Paddy, had lost a lot of blood too, but he stood quietly and licked my hand as I clipped away some sticky hair, and cleansed the hole in his shoulder, then he lay down on a clean sack I spread for him. He was a strong dog and the injury healed quickly.
In 1914 before the snow was gone, the wood for next winter was all in, sawed and piled. Then, as soon as the frost was out of the ground, we had the garden ploughed, and on a warm Spring evening, Mac and I began work on the five-pole jackpine fence, to finish enclosing the property.
He had already cut and trimmed the poles, measured the spans and dug the post-holes. I had been able to convince him that, if I steadied the poles for him to drive the nails, we would get along faster. Mac was tamping down the soil around a post, when a cheery voice called from the road, "Hello, Folks. I see you are not letting the grass get a start on you."
It was Jack Masson, one of our acquaintances from the small business row on Hammond Street. Turning to me he asked, "Has George taken you out to the Andrews farm yet, Mrs. Mackenzie?" I was the only person in the district, who called my husband Mac.
"No, Mr. Masson," I answered, "and you are the tenth person, who has asked me that question. I have heard that the Andrews farm, home and other buildings, are the finest in the District, and that the boys Dick and Miles, are young, good-looking and popular." "Yes, they are nice, friendly boys," said Mr. Masson.
"That may be so," I admitted, "but the main attraction, seems to be the rhubarb wine they make for their own consumption. I am told that on weekends, there is a procession of friends calling to inquire for the health of the crops. Of course, after the long walk from town, they are thirsty. Quite truthfully, though, I am not interested in the wine. Up to now, the most potent drink I have tasted, has been raspberry shrub, and I know there is no headache in that." Both the men laughed, and Mac confirmed what I had said. The boys arrived from the playground, and our neighbour continued his evening walk.
Time passed, the World War was on, everybody was busy and worried, One day, after the news came of Miles Andrews' death in France, I met his brother Dick, who had been rejected for overseas service. Dick had been down town, overtook Mac on his way home and drove him to the door. Those who knew the two brothers well, felt that it had been a mistake to separate them. They had counted on enlisting together, and the slight thyroid condition, which barred Dick's application, had never bothered him during his whole life.
Several years later, when I began to tour the townsites with my black bag, begging money for this or that organization, Dick Andrews if he met me, always said, if you folks will come to the house for a meal or a glass of wine, I will give you some money for the Hospital or the Red Cross. His uncle, Mr. Moore, was living with Dick, now, having rented his own farm and home.
It was at least three miles from our house to the Andrews house, and a six mile walk was too much for me, three miles of it climbing towards the Foothills. Dick had promised to give $20, and said his Uncle would give $10. There came a time, however, when I was offered a drive out to the Andrews Farm. When I told our friend, Mrs. Gaskill, that I had been promised $30 for the Prince George Hospital, she said, "Of course we will take you out to get it. Dick could have given it to you anytime you met him in the Post Office, but men are very funny, some times."
They called for me and Alan one evening after supper. There were Mrs. Gaskill, her widowed daughter, Rose with her little on, Bobbie, and the older Gaskil son, 'Velt, who was driving. 'Velt Gaskill was named for the United States President, who was affectionately known as "Teddy" Roosevelt, and 'Velt Gaskill, as a youngster tried hard to emulate the proficiency of his popular hero, when he took to the cowboy and wild animal adventures.
When we came to Fort George, 'Velt had quite a reputation, as a sort of Peck's Bad Boy, but it was just an excess of juvenile exuberance. He loved to leap on the back of horses, with a rope halter, and whoop it up, like a cowboy and Indian, to the terror of other youngsters, and the fury of timid neighbours, but he meant no harm, just letting off steam.
Despite due sympathy, however, and broad understanding, I was glad that his mother was in the car. Having Rose and the Baby with us, was another reason I felt they might be able to hold down 'Velt's craving for speed.
We arrived at the Andrews' gate, which would let a broad load of hay through, and Alan got out to open and close it after us. When we stopped opposite the house path, Mrs. Gaskill asked 'Velt to turn the car, so that we could get away faster; it would be the Baby's bedtime.
There was quite a stretch of land between us and the house, which they, wisely had built under the shelter of the Foothills. The Andrews' boys had been accustomed to comforts in their American home, and when they found on their land a clean, cool spring, they conditioned and covered it, then piped the sweet water to their back door, and put a real tap on it. There is was, for the convenience of man and beast.
Those boys had done all their own cooking, and the baking, also, when they were not too busy on the farm. Their best paying crops, were alfalfa and white clover, but they had to raise oats and hay for the horses, and vegetables for themselves and the chickens.
I had been warned to watch out for the snakes, and I never did get the history of them. They were a matched pair, Romeo and Juliet, and they were about forty inches in length when I saw them. They were slim, striped with bright scarlet, crossing soft green and pale yellow. They looked like a girl's satin hair ribbon, as they lay stretched along the wide, inner window sill, in the warmth of the setting July sun. I had been told that there were no pests in that house: No mice, ants, flies, spiders, moths, or mosquitoes. The snakes took care of them all. I like comfort, but I would prefer to bear with the pests, if I must.
Dick and his Uncle, Mr. Moore, greeted us on the doorstep, with smiles and a firm hand clasp, but Dick jibed, "You sure took your time to get here." And I countered, also with a smile, "Yes, and I would not be here now, if I hadn't been given a ride, and the Hospital in desperate need for funds." Dick had no one to support but himself. If he were taken ill, he would need the care given by the Hospital. I felt no apology in asking such men to support the local Hospital. It was a duty. I gave my time to collecting. There is no competition for such a job.
I entered the donation in my little record book then made out the two receipts, one for $10 to Mr. Moore, and one for $20 to Dick Andrews. As Mr. Moore offered me an eight ounce glass of the notorious rhubarb wine, I asked him to give me half the quantity, but he laughed and assured me, that it was just as mild as sweetened apple juice. I thanked him ,tasted it,and the flavour was very innocent, seemingly, but I should have been warned when I saw the twinkle in that old man's eye, as he said, "There's nothing to it. A baby could drink it."
Of course, anyone could drink it, but the delayed action was dynamite, when it arrived. I knew that both the boys had, at least one glass of the wine, and 'Velt would be driving. His mother would not thank me, if anything happened on the way home, so I hastened our departure, in company of Dick. The ladies chided us gently for staying so long, and for not bringing them a treat. I apologised for the delay, but allowed our host to speak for himself, and he did. He just hadn't thought of it, and that was not diplomatic, to say the least.
My nerves were twitching like the tail of a scared cat, when 'Velt started for the gate, as if he either meant to lift the car, as he would a horse to the jump, or just pretend it wasn't there, and leave Dick to pick up the pieces. His mother spoke firmly, 'Velt slowed down, and I wanted to get out and walk, but I didn't say so. Alan opened and closed the gate again, and we started for Fort George. Mrs. Gaskill was a perfect "brake" until they dropped me off a block from home. Alan stayed with the party; he and 'Velt were going to a movie.
Paddy was home, heard our voices and came leaping down the road to meet me. I was dizzy and resented it. When I reached up to get the house key from the hiding place, I was sick, deathly sick, and furious!
In February 1921, Mac received a letter from his sister, living in the old home at Toronto, telling of the serious illness of his brother, Alex, who with his wife, Jessie, had returned to the East soon after the beginning of the First World War. As the letter was peremptory, we wasted no time. Fortunately, the Fall before, I had been able to collect some money due to Mac for work, so I just put it in the Bank, and mentally marked it "for emergency", and here it was! On the second morning after receipt of the bad news, Mac left Prince George on the seven o'clock train from Prince Rupert, with a return ticket in his pocket and a reservation through to Toronto.
Alex's condition must had worsened sharply, since Jessie's letter to me in January had not indicated any special alarm. When I saw Alex last, about the end of March, 1918, he must have weighed well over two hundred pounds, She would need help in moving him as required, and Mac could assist with that at least, and in many other ways. I learned afterwards that, until Mac's arrival Jessie would not allow anyone to help her; she wanted to do everything for Alex herself.
I was glad that the three Mackenzie boys would be together, whether the time be long or short. George, (my husband, Mac) was the eldest son, next Archie, (Dr. A.G.Mackenzie, Dentist) and Alex, (Kenneth Alexander, a Civil Engineer) and the youngest of the family. I knew that they would spend all the time Alex wanted with them, but he only lived five weeks after Mac reached him. Three families of the Mackenzies, and my own family, lived on the same street, three blocks apart, but Mac stayed at Mother's home when he was not needed with Alex, and he left for Fort George two days after the funeral.
A few hours after leaving Parkdale Station, Toronto, his train narrowly escaped destruction just beyond Huntsville, Ontario. They were heading for a culvert and trestle which had been washed out that afternoon by a spring flood. An old farmer who was rounding up some neighbours to attend a meeting, saw the danger and heard the train coming. He ran so hard to stop the train that he collapsed, but he saved the train. He was taken aboard and returned to Huntsville, where the train was re-routed, The passengers took up a collection and presented it to their old hero before they continued their journey.
Due to the near-accident, Mac was delayed and missed his connection at Winnipeg, but he finally arrived home in time, to get a job in the Prince George Post Office, for which I was truly thankful. Murray went west on the train which brought Dad home, but they saw each other briefly. Mac looked well and said that he felt well. He told me and Alan all about his double trip, the news of the families in Toronto, and the prospect of his nephew, Kenneth Dyson, visiting us soon. Murray was back home by April 9th, when Ken arrived, and we were all glad to see him.
Ken had come through War 1 almost without a scratch, and he had added pounds to his weight, with inches to his height, since the boys and I had seen him, before we came west in 1913. Of course, he got a surprise too, when he saw how much we three had changed, Even I, the thinnest one in the family, had put on a few pounds.
At the end of four days, Ken moved on to Prince Rupert. "Lucky fellow," said our boys. Kenneth had a "pass"over the whole Railway system that Spring, and, in addition to the scenic beauty of Canada, he would see many of the wonders of the United States, before he returned to Toronto. We all wished him an enjoyable trip and "safe home".
While Mac was working at the Post Office in Prince George, he frequently took lunch at the Pat Louis Restaurant, down the street a bit, especially since the Postmaster, Mr. Pooke, had not been well, and the two assistants had to "hold the fort." On day the Chinese proprietor asked my husband whether I was canvassing Prince George for Red Cross membership. The friendly man had not been approached,and he wondered why.
I explained to Mac that since the other two "Georges" had made their own arrangements as to the War Work and Red Cross, we in Fort George did not intrude. We could not work very well as one group, we were too scattered and there was no cheap transportation between the "Georges" at the time, but we all helped each other in money-making schemes.
When Pat Louis offered to canvass all the Chinese in Prince George if I approved, I sent him membership buttons and a Memo book for names. When he had collected $28.00, he returned the unused buttons with the money, a list of names and a letter to me. His Mother had died and there was a period of mourning to be observed; he could not continue with the canvass which he regretted, I went down the Prince George to thank him for his help and assured him, of my sympathy in the loss of his Mother. Mr. Alleyene Wright was kind enough to take over the canvassing of the remainder of the Chinese citizens in Prince George, and sent the money to me. I have always found the Chinese generous and eager to take their part in any Canadian social endeavour.
In the Spring of 1921, we decided to tear down the shed at the back and build a log addition to our home. I wanted a larger kitchen, and the boys were growing so fast that they needed a larger bedroom, with separate beds and a stove of their own for comfort. We left a note for Mr. Yeats in Fort George Post Office asking him to come down and see us about it.
While waiting for Mac to come home at lunch time, Mr. Yeats told me that he had worked all through the winter, cutting wood on his property and he sawed and piled to the cord measures. I asked if he had a sale for it, and he said, "No, I did it for the exercise to keep me in health, otherwise I would be soft now, and in no condition to take on a job." He was seventy that year. He had offered the wood at $1.50 a cord, to customers who had bought vegetables from him., and they asked if he would deliver it at that price, which was ridiculous. No one else would offer such a bargain, and he had no horse or conveyance to deliver wood anyway, so he told me to spread the news to our friends, to help themselves at his woodpile.
When Mac came we all sat down to lunch together, and when the two men had discussed price and time, we asked Mr. Yeats to take the job, and had no trouble in having the work done as planned. The new kitchen would have two windows; one north and the other south, and the bedroom, the same lighting. There was a small cellar under the centre of the kitchen, and then the shed was rebuilt at the back of the addition.
While the old man was working for us, he gradually unfolded to me a dream he had been building in his mind. He wanted to find and adopt an orphan girl as his daughter; educate her and make her heir to whatever he had to leave when he died. I shocked him by pointing out that he would not be permitted to take a young girl into his home unless there was a suitable, mature woman there to mother her. He glared at me as though I had insulted him, but I explained that the law was made for all; good and bad, and he saw the equity. When I suggested that he adopt a boy, he said firmly, that he would never put another boy in the place of his dead son.
He did not take into account the glaring fact that his own appearance was not attractive to young people, the wen, the whiskers, the loss of teeth and I saw an opportunity to, as Burns said, let him "see oursel's as others see us!" "Mr. Yeats," I asked a bit diffidently, "why don't you have that wen removed? It is a very simple operation, and it would cost only a little. I know a woman here who had two removed from her head quite recently. The doctor did the operation in her own home. Just to have that conspicuous growth removed, would give you, right away, a fifty percent lift in your own mind. You could go to church twice on Sunday if you wanted to, and every evening when there is a social gathering, Isn't that worth something?"
He went back to work without a word but after mulling over it for twenty four hours, he decide to ask Dr. E. to do the job, and when we next saw him, his shoulders were even straighter and his chin higher. At a later date, however, I was told that since the surgery had taken such a few minutes, Mr. Yeats told the doctor that he ought to be satisfied with half the price he had asked for and rather than argue, the doctor accepted the cut. Mr.Yeats had forgotten how long it takes to learn a trade or profession.
That was the year that the Red Cross was making a special drive for membership and after we had straightened up with Mr. Yeats, for the work he had done, he handed me back $25.00 for the Red Cross. As I thanked him for the generous donation, I pinned a membership button on his old, woollen sweater coat, and he wore it proudly.
We wakened one morning in June to a tattoo-like the chatter of a telegraph key, and saw two bluebirds pecking furiously at the window. They seemed determined to get in; Mac and I thought they were fighting their own reflections. They finally flew away.
The next morning I noticed the birds in the boys' new bedroom by the rear corner post. There was a space between the logs and they were intent on building a nest, on the two by four over the head of Alan's bed. The chinking would not be done until the logs had settled and shrunk.
With my Irish ancestry, there was a superstition against a wild bird coming into the house, and I tore the nest down twice before Mac came home for lunch, He was sympathetic. "Leave them alone, Nell," he suggested, "such fast workers won't be there long," and Paddy took the same attitude. He just watched the birds as though they belonged like himself.
When I found five youngsters in the nest, heads all centred, tails touching the rim of the nest, I thought, "What a job for the parents, to feed that family!" I had seen Mother mix corn meal with sour milk, for young chicks so I prepared some in a time lid, and put it on the rafter near the entrance to the nest, then watched the outcome. Soon Mrs. Bluebird arrived with food, took one look at my gift with her beady eye, and deftly stepped on the dish dumping it to the floor. It was a plain, "Mind you own business, Mam" for me and I heeded it.
Those birds were bringing food from day break until ten o'clock at night, and one cloudy morning we found one lonely birdie fluttering in the bedroom. I looked out of the window and there were the parents with the other four of the family, ranged along a low fence dividing flowers and tomatoes. A gentle shower was falling and they were enjoying it. The old birds flew to the telephone wire but the youngsters stayed on the fence. They were waiting for the laggard.
On the same fence rail, were two young woodpeckers from the cottonwood tree, at the bottom of the old corral. A bit later I heard a disturbance; the old woodpecker had arrived and was pecking at the young bluebirds, jealousy, I presumed. Like twin rockets, the parent bluebirds swooped from the wires to protect their young, and Mrs. Woodpecker took her big fluffies away.
I was able to catch the odd bluebird in a paper bag, and, as I released it outdoors, it was a revelation to witness the twittering welcome by the family. They flew to the birch, rested a while, then off on their further adventures. I had forgotten all about the "bad luck" angle.
Between five and six o'clock one fine morning in August, that year, I heard a queer, creaking noise and so did Mac who asked, "What on earth can that be?" But I guessed. "Quick Mac, get up and slip on your bathrobe," I said, as I did the same. "It's Mr. Yeats on his way to the station, that's the noise the old wheelbarrow makes." That wheelbarrow was a museum piece, he made it himself. It was all wood, the wheel was fashioned from a piece of broad three-inch plank, rounded by cross-saw and jack-knife; the tire was a barrel hoop nailed around the centre of the tread, and the squeak came as the wheel turned on the ungreased wooden spindle. It was a weird baffling noise; truly, like nothing on earth!
The last time I had seen Mr. Yeats, he told me that he had made all arrangements for the sale of his farm at the Foothills, and had left his affairs in the hands of the Bank Manager. He said that he yearned for his homeland. "I feel," said he, "that I have at least ten years' good work in me yet, and when I get off the boat, I'll want to kneel down and kiss the sod of Scotland." He had a parting gift for me, the old soft-metal silver teapot, in which he brewed his tea at the fireplace, and it was black with smoke. "That came from Scotland, Mistress Mackenzie, and you can clean it," said he, "And here is a copy of Shakespere's Historical Plays; I had the mate to it, the Comedies, but lent it to a man in Alberta, and it was lost when his house burned." I thanked him sincerely for his gifts, knowing how he had valued them for many years.
We both shook hands with him, wished him good luck and a safe journey, and asked him to write. Mac held the gate for him and asked with a twinkle, "Who gets the wheelbarrow, Mr. Yeats?" He laughed as he answered, "I'll leave it at the station; the first who get there and wants it, can have it." It was loaded high with three sacks containing his better clothing, he said, blankets, and food to last him to Montréal, where he might have to stock up for the boat trip. We watched him to the brow of the hill, where he stopped and waved, and we waved back. Then he headed down the steep old hill, and a long, long mile beside the railway tracks to the station.
I received one letter only from him; it was written in December 1921. He said that he was very happy, in business again and very busy, working hard. As there were some instructions about Bonds, I typed a copy of the letter, took it and the original to the Bank and had the Manager compare them, then left him the copy, pointing out that Mr. Yeats needed capital for his new business, and to give it attention as soon as possible. Then I wrote to Mr. Yeats, explaining what I had done about his request and sent him a newsy letter, together with some copies of the local paper, but we did not hear again from our old friend.
After the 1921 Fall Council Meeting of the Red Cross in Vancouver, I was notified that I had been appointed a Member of the Council for the Fort George District, which had a well scattered population. I acknowledged the honour with thanks; and promised to attend the Spring Meeting in February, 1922. My travelling expenses only, would be paid, and due to the distance from Fort George to the Meeting, they happened to be the highest of any member attending. I arranged to stay in Vancouver as a visitor, with my friend Mrs. Whittaker, who had refused to let me pay my way, bless her generous heart!
Of course, I was excited to be going to the Coast for the first time. Winter was still more than three feet deep in the "Georges" when I left on the train for Jasper, where one changed for Vancouver. "Now," I thought, "I shall be able to see the Thompson River and follow it down," but there was too much snow until we got well down towards Kanloops, where the River was running free.
At Vancouver the Spring flowers were in bloom, crocus and snow drops, and the shop windows on Granville Street were gorgeous with huge sprays of golden mimosa, the first I had ever seen. Great cases filled with pots of rainbow cyclamen, were standing outside the florist stores and my Council partner and I were nearly late for the official luncheon, due to my dawdling along the flowery way. I loved it!
I enjoyed meeting various Members of the Council, and listening to the reports on the work. There were a number of photographs thrown on a screen, and it gave me some idea, of the heavy, Outpost work, undertaken by the organization to which I was proud to belong.
Vancouver had a surprise winter, while I was there that trip. Seven inches of snow fell and four hundred men worked all night with trucks and drays, carting the "beautiful" flowers elsewhere. The lawns were awash by noon, and later in the day, I got wet feet trying to reach a front door where I wanted to call;I had brought low rubbers only with me. That house was festooned with ivy in bloom, a dainty, greenish-white cluster. I hadn't known that ivy had a bloom. I was easily persuaded to spend a few extra days with my friend, Mrs. W. before starting for home, where I found Winter still holding his grip.
My family met me on arrival, and I had brought a satisfying gift for each of them, to excuse the extra days I had spent in Vancouver. My men could understand the attraction and temptation of summery weather, and the cheerful profusion of Spring flowers at the Coast, when contrasted with the still husky five-month winter condition I found at the "Georges".
We had been hoping for an early Spring, but with the run-off ahead of us, only a hardened prevaricator could pretend to enjoy the sloppy season. All of us wore knee-high rubber boots, but the women didn't wear slacks in those days, skirts were a provocation. No one enjoyed the mud and slush but the youngsters, who came in wet and cold, then kept the mothers up most of the night while the juniors barked with croup.
On a very nasty day of deep slush, but bright sun, I noticed a beautiful horse and rider, coming up Fraser Avenue to pass our door, and across the Nechako River. When he came abreast, he was swaying proudly in the saddle to which a very small parcel was tied; on a travois attached to the girth, a bag of flour was fastened on a crossbar; the squaw walking had the papoose on her back and a large bundle in her arms. Even the dog had a tidy package in his back. I noticed that the mother was wearing the soft, deerhide moccasins, and her feet must have been very uncomfortable, It's a man's world!
I always looked from my north window, across the Nechako, for the first sign of the pale, gray-green stems of the young birch and cottonwoods. I likened them to slim young girls, on the threshold of life, and when the tender, green buds began to open, I knew that Spring was here.
It was April 30th, 1922, Murray's birthday, and the boys were going to watch the first baseball game of the season, at Prince George field, Since Mac had been working at the Post Office, he had to be on duty Sunday mornings to sort mail, so on this date, we did not wait lunch for him and I put the food in the oven to keep warm. I had promised to make a cake for Murray's Day but that could come later. In the meantime, I wanted to examine the potatoes in the little cellar under the new kitchen. There was reason the fear they might be damaged by frost, but we had another ton and a half in the old cellar.
Mac was lucky in getting a ride home, and as soon as he finished his meal, he took some fresh newspapers he had brought in with him, and lay down on the couch to read. When I had washed the dishes and tidied the kitchen, I took a look at Mac who was sound asleep with his glasses on. I removed them and spread a blanket over him as there was a chill in the air. Then I went down into the cellar and found plenty of frozen potatoes to throw out on the compost heap. I had hoped to sell some of those spuds for seed.
About an hour later, still sorting and discarding, I heard Mac get up and he was stumbling and muttering some meaningless words. I was afraid he would tumble into the cellar and hurt us both, as he came out of the door, so I asked him gently to go back to his chair, and I would be with him right away. If he fell I could not handle him. I had seen his eyes and face and I knew at once what had happened. He could not swallow the water I brought him. I asked him to rest while I called our doctor, and the poor fellow said quite thickly, "Don't call Doc, that will worry George!" He, himself, was George. When Mad had complained of a queer headache on the Friday before, I begged him to see the doctor who had his office in the Post Office Building, just one floor up but he didn't go. That attack might have been averted.
I got Dr. E. on the telephone, and he was with us in a few minutes. Mac had made his way to the couch while I was speaking. It was a cerebral haemorrhage, of course, as I had known, and my world seemed to have tumble about me. The doctor said that Mac should go to the hospital, but I vetoed it. I could give my husband constant care and quiet, but I did ask what his chances were, and I made it clear that I wanted the truth. I was not surprised when he said, gravely, "If it does not clear up within a week, it may be a long, long time," and I said "Thank you, Dr. E., now I know exactly where I stand, and it is poor footing."
After the doctor left I telephoned to my friend, Mrs. Johnson, told her what had happened, and asked if there were any person at the Hotel who might be able to get the boys home from the ball-field; I needed them. She drove them home herself, but Alan would not enter the house. The shock of his Father's collapse, was too much for his adolescent sensitivity. He asked permission to go back with Mrs. J., then he would walk home the long way and get a grip on himself; he was all right when he got back.
In the meantime, Murray and I gave Dad a sponge bath and got him into bed. The doctor had given Mac an injection before he left, just to ensure all of us a quiet night. By the third day his blood-pressure had dropped thirty points. It was a complete blackout for Mac for three weeks. He never opened an eye or spoke, and none but ourselves and the doctor saw him for nearly three months. By that time I had been able to teach him to walk again, and to use the table cutlery. It had not been easy to keep cheerful, while watching a man trying to find his own mouth with a spoon.
Little by little, speech and habit came back and memory followed slowly. Every day I massaged his back for a half hour, and after that he would sleep for two or three hours, I was grateful to old Mr. Hagar, the German Missioner, who came one day and told me of his own son, who had suffered a similar attack. Mr. H. told me never to argue with my husband, no matter how wrong he was in his statement. That is was part of the illness, for the patient to take a contradictory attitude; one had to accept it, and those they cared for most, had to suffer most. I had already been surprised and annoyed at Mac, for contradicting me before some strangers a few days before. From now on I would just ignore it!
When I noticed that Mrs. Hagar was standing outside the gate, I went out and invited her to come and sit with me on the verandah, while her husband was visiting mine, but she declined. Then, in a queer outburst of confidence, I had not met her before, she told me that she was Swiss and her husband was German. "It doesn't matter, Mrs. Hagar," I said. "the war is over, and we here, must help each other over the hard times. None of us has any money."
Then she asked if I had noticed her husband's suit. I knew that it was old-fashioned, European cut and good material, so I just said, "Not particularly. He is always neat and polished." "I washed that suit," she said, a bit pridefully, "turned the cuffs of the coat, and the hems of the trousers, bound all the edges with new braid, then pressed the suit and sewed on now buttons."
"That was a painstaking job for anyone to do," I declared, "I like sewing, but I would never attempt that chore. Your husband is lucky to have such a clever wife. Nowadays, not many girls are trained to sew, even a little bit, but my Mother taught me." "Do you know," asked my soft-voiced visitor, "the amount of salary my husband gets?" And I admitted that Mr. Hagar, himself had told me that he only received $500 a year, as Missionary in charge at Fort George District, and that his small congregation, had little to spare for their church.
Quite early after my arrival in Fort George, I had been told that the Hagars were expected also, to take care of any adherents, who happened to be travelling though the district. It would appear that Mr. Hagar and his wife, had been sent into the wilds, to do the Lord's business on a shoestring, and they were not young. Of course, there was plenty of room in the building they occupied, but visitors also require food and service.
As soon as supper was over on the day of Mac's seisure, I wrote to his Sister at home, and to my family, telling them the plain facts of his illness, his present condition, and the doctor's opinion. Later I received a letter from Mac's brother, Archie, asking if, "I wanted him to come out to see George". In answering that letter, I explained that George was still unconscious, that it would be folly for him to leave his practice and spend money to come all the way out there, to look at his brother who would not know him. I referred him to Dr.E. for an official report which I felt, at the time, he might want. I did not hear from Archie again.
Mac was improving steadily. He had a good appetite and I was able to get plenty of fresh milk and eggs now. In the beginning of the illness, the doctor had banned even tea and coffee, much to the regret of Mac's friend, an Italian named Frank, who said that he imported his own supply of good Italian wine from Italy, and he coaxed me to, "let Mac get back his strength with wine," but the doctor had said "no stimulants of any sort".
I encouraged Mac to use a strong walking stick and to walk , first as far and the River Road, later up to Central Avenue for the mail. Pretty soon he found his Father's hammer, and he began hammering nails, just to get the feel of it in his hands again. Letting him poke around the place himself, I felt sure that memory would make its own way, with association of the tools which he had used so often. I did however, watch closely for callers who might ask him questions about his illness. I had not told him about the death of Mr. Pooke, the old Post-master at Prince George, but some person uptown had, and he was very upset when he got home. Another day he found a letter in our mail box in his sister's writing and opened it. The letter was for me, and in it she referred to his illness as a "stroke"; he was scarcely able to get home after the shock it gave him, but I still insisted that his illness had not been a stroke. I had to protect him from thoughtlessness.
One day the grocer asked Mac if he would like to go down to Prince George; he might be able to get a ride back, too, and he asked if I would mind. "Not if you are careful, Mac," I warned, "don't walk too far any time until you are stronger." When he came back two hours later with the same grocery driver, he was quite excited. Mac had seen so many of his old friends, that their kindly good wishes on his recovery gave, him a big lift. He told me that there was going to be a big Agricultural Fair that Fall and if he were able to take it, there might be some work for him. "That is good news, Mac," I said cheerfully, knowing what it meant to him, "you just take it easy. I think that you are putting your weight back already," and he nodded.
A bright spot in the clouds that summer was an invitation from Mrs. J. to spend a few days with her and Virginia at Christy's Lake across the Fraser River and a few miles east. They told me we could fish anywhere along th Lake shore, and I would enjoy that. Mac said that he and the boys would be all right without me, so I went.
On the second day, Mac arrived with a car full of company for dinner, and handed me a telegram from a young man we had known in Toronto, now a widower in Winnipeg. He and his small daughter, three, would arrive next morning from Prince Rupert to visit us, a complete surprise! They had been visiting in Victoria. So I went back home to welcome them, much against Mac's advice. He had never pretended to care for that young man and wanted to meet him at the train, tell him that I was out of town, and that he was just getting over an illness. In other words, to suggest that the visitor "keep on going."
Before the week was out, I knew that Mac had had the right idea in the first place. The child was pretty and charming, as I remembered her Mother to be, and she behaved beautifully when alone with me, but as soon as her father came into the house, she became quite the reverse. He was an irritant to all of us, including the child. I had, however, made it clear when he arrived, that I would have them for one week only, as I was too busy and too tired, to give up more time, and they left on schedule.
Already I had been casting about for some work to help out the income, but there was none in sight within the "Georges." A former Mayor of Prince George told me that he had marked a five dollar bill one day, and within a month it had come back to him twice. There was not much folding money floating around since the War was over.
Alan had earned enough during the summer to pay his way to Toronto, and my family would look after him from then on. I knew that they wanted Murray to go back and finish his schooling too, then they felt sure that Mac and I would soon follow. I could see their reasoning, but made no move to hasten it. Mac was happy with the light work he had been promised in connection with the Fair down at Prince George, and I was busy finishing up some knitting for Alan before I closed his small trunk. He said that his School Records were all in order and he just had to say his farewells to the playmates he had enjoyed for nearly ten years. We all went to the train and found that Jack Daniel, an Old Timer newspaper man, was leaving the "Georges" for greener pastures too. Alan would have company at least part of the way.
The Fair was a big success and most of the exhibitors of fruit and vegetables gave their show stuff to the hospital, which was a bit tight for funds at that date. One fine little farm woman, down the Blackwater Road said I could have her two dozen eggs and two pounds of butter as well as the vegetables and canned fruit for the hospital. When she came to look for the eggs and butter, they were gone, but she located them later being packed up by a winner of thirteen first prizes. He was not giving us anything for the sick folk. Mrs X. flew at him like a bantam whose chickens were being threatened by a hawk, and what she said made his ears burn. It was my first experience of an incident of that type and I am not referring to the lady.
When I received the Notice of the Red Cross Council Meeting that Fall, it reminded Mac that he had a message for me. There was a sick veteran down in Prince George, with two children, aged one and three, and he had not been able to secure any help for himself or family. I found the people in a poor small dwelling and the man in a condition prejudicial to his wife and children. He definitely should be in hospital care! I made a note of the particulars, and assured him that I would take his case up with the proper department in Vancouver when I went down later.
It had been suggested by my family, that on my trip to Vancouver, I should go by way of Prince Rupert. I knew that it would be more restful, so it was arranged, My bag was packed and my tickets in my purse, when disaster threatened me. A strange kitten got into the house, dashed upstairs, and into the dark attic over the new kitchen. Frankly, I am not fond of cats, so I ran after the pussy and stepped on one of those large, flat-headed nails used in roofing. It went through the shoe sole and the foot, emerging just between the third and fourth toes.
I managed to get the foot out without cutting the shoe to pieces and after soaking it in a hot solution of salt, boracic acid and baking soda, I set a pad of old linen hanky under and over the X spot, then drew the stocking on carefully and, put on a pair of soft moccasins for my journey.
My friend, Mrs. J. sent the car for me and as I left home, I picked a can of hot antiphlogistine off the stove, wrapped it in a towel and was ready for anything! On the train the berths were made up and I soon had the hot poultice arranged on the foot, where it stayed until I neared Vancouver.
There were quite a few tourists on that train and next day when we stopped at Kitwanga, the Indian Village, a couple of them insisted that I join the party, so with the help of a green stick, and one on each side, I managed to see the totem poles, but declined further adventure on the lame foot. Both of our boys had worked in that vicinity during vacation, and I was interested, but not to the point of spoiling my enjoyment in Vancouver later on.
At Prince Rupert we found that the boat was late in coming down from the North, and it was a weary wait, but I found another "friend in need". A nice business girl from Montréal, who had been sharing part of a long seat with me in the station, managed to make more room and insisted that I lie down, with my carry-case for a pillow and my long coat over me.
I slept nearly two hours before she wakened me long after midnight to go aboard the S.S. Prince George. Once aboard, I stayed in my cabin, and took all the service I could. My first meal in the dining-room was a late lunch, on the day we docked at Vancouver, I stowed my moccasins and wore my high tan shoes fairly comfortably, when met by the young son of my friend Mrs. W. He was then and still is the sort one calls "the salt of the earth." After dinner that night, my friend and I had a good talk-visit about the "Georges"; her father and brother were living there and many other friends in whom she was still interested.
The Council Meeting and Reports did not take up much time and as soon as I could get the special information on care for veterans, I started out. The first Military Official I called on was an under-forty handsome, smug and cold type. I introduced myself and my errand, and a large "NO' appeared in his face before I had uttered more than three words.
His argument was that there was no proof that the trouble with the veteran had originated while the man was in uniform. Said I, "As far as the cold record goes, one had to accept the findings, but only God knows whether they be correct, and you are not God! The record also shows that this man's Country used him for four years of War, and his condition is jeopardising the health of his family."
I was dismissed with a chilly smile, but I had other roads to try, and at last found one with hope, if not definite promise. When I got back home, there was a telegram for me to say that "the man would receive $105.00 a month until other arrangements could be made," and I blessed the humane organization which had made it possible. It wasn't all spit-and-polish. It was the women of the Country who had inaugurated the "AID" that took care of all those special necessities, which do not come under strictly cast-iron classification.
Among the families who had lived down at The Cache, near Prince George, was a nice English couple named Patton, both very blonde. Mr. Patton had been a Banker in the Old Country and later an accountant for some of the prominent contractors, in charge of building the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, to Prince George B.C.
Mrs. Patton was the gentle, friendly type and quite artistic in her hobbies, which included painting and, or course, music. That was before colour photography was far enough advanced, for every enthusiastic to indulge his whim, but Mrs. Patton told me that, if I could get a good photograph of our house and garden, on the proper paper for the job, she would like to colour it for me. The finished picture was like a very attractive water colour and as she had time on her hands, I asked if she would take a commission for a half dozen so that we might send them to our friends in the East for Christmas. None of them back there had any clear idea of how we were living. The pictures were very successful, took in all the family and the flower garden in front, with the log house and jackpines for background. It identified our surroundings perfectly and the friends were delighted.
The Patton's first child, a fine boy, was born at The Cache, on a hot Sunday afternoon when my family had gone down to see a baseball game. When they returned , my husband told me that there was a new ball player down at The Cache, named Patton and I was glad that he had arrived safely. After the big railway job was finished, most of the builders moved out. Their departure just meant: Hail and fare thee well! Few kept in touch with their town acquaintances, but news was always passing back and forth, so we learned that the Pattons were happily settled at Ocean Calls, on the Pacific Coast below Prince Rupert.
In October, 1922 on my way back from a Red Cross Council Meeting, in Vancouver, I had decided to stop off at Ocean Falls and try to find the Pattons, if the ship was busy long enough to give me a chance. I hunted up the purser, who told me that there would be a thirty minute stop-over. I asked him to "cross his heart" on that and he did. He also assured me that the whistle would blow three times before casting off.
I was the first passenger off the boat, and I raced along the dock. The first person questioned, pointed to the Patton home, on the first street on my left. Luck was with me so far, but when I rapped on the door, there was no answer. As I turned to look farther, a handsome, blue-eyed boy came along, a young man of the house. the "ball player," who opened the door and invited me in. He had seen me at the door and ran for his mother, who was visiting a neighbour on the same street, a few doors away.
When she arrived we embraced affectionately and I insisted that she sit down and talk, instead of wasting the precious minutes in getting tea. She had three children now. "It's your story," I urged, "please get along with it. You know all that's happened in The Georges." And she told me all about her life since they had left The Cache.
As I stood up to leave, Mr. Patton arrived from the mill across the bridge, the same courteous English gentleman, maybe not such a dandy as when I first saw him. But I like to see a man look like his work, and a Paper Mill clinging to the side of a mountain, did not then, demand the same nicety of dress, as a city office and I knew something else. By the time Patton Senior had his cup of tea and a shower, he would be on his flower-decked verandah in flannels, enjoying the latest papers from "Home". No one can separate an Englishman from custom. I wished them all good health and good luck and hurried towards the S.S. Prince Rupert, blaring her second warning. I was glad that I had come.
The Ocean Falls Pulp and Paper Development was the result of two hardrock, cone-type mountains, deciding to sit down cosily side by side, and hold back a lake, while the Pacific Ocean rolled in, inquisitively and mightily to lave their feet. The Northern mountain was chosen for the homes, and streets were led across the in-let, out-let, to the Mill and the second mountain.
It was a Company town, which provided housing, heat, light, refrigeration and telephones. Many of the verandahs only partly covered some of the rock, just as nature left it, but soil had been brought to ensure that anyone who wanted a little grass plot or flowers, should not be denied, and with the glistening white-painted houses, dressed in lacy vines and blossoms, it looked like a fairyland to me, but the residents would be happier with less rain. My friends told me that the year before, they actually had three days when not a drop of rain fell.
I know that if I should go back to Ocean Falls now, I would not recognise anything there but the everlasting Mountains, and the above is the picture it presented to me in October, 1922.
As I neared Prince Rupert, I recalled Alan's first vacation work with the engineers, at the time they were taking soundings in Prince Rupert Harbour, from a wooden float or raft. Alan was rodman. One day the float they worked from happened to be bumped by some of the water traffic, and Alan disappeared, While the crew fussed about the accident, Alan popped up on the opposite side of the float, rod in hand and hat on head. No damage. Murray was with a different staff, down near Hazelton, but he heard of the incident, by the usual grapevine, and I was not enlightened until they returned for school opening. It was just as well, saved me some worry.
The train was waiting for the boat when we reached Prince Rupert, so there was no delay in going aboard, and dinner was ready too. It was such a perfect Autumn evening, no rain for a wonder, that some of us preferred to sit out the back of the observation car a while, to watch the tidal River Skeena, the flow now level with its banks.
Soon the engineer began to toot, toot, toot, and then we laughed at the picture on the opposite shore. Two little black bears leaning over the water, clinging tightly to branches, as they scooped up fish and tossed them on the bank, until they were really scared by the whistle. They tucked their little tails down tight, and scooted into the bush fast. They were so small, to be so adept in catching their own food, that I scarcely believed what I was seeing. Animal mothers train their families early, to shift for themselves but we human mothers, too frequently err in the opposite direction. More is the pity.
To a busy housekeeper, who does not travel much, train meals seem to consume a lot of time but pleasant company is helpful, and when we left the dining car, it was time to say Good -night. The train was on time, and I had to be up early in the morning. I knew that Mac and Murray, maybe Paddy too, would be at the station to meet me. Alan was then in school in the East, at Toronto.
On the second Saturday of December, 1922, there was a pre-Christmas Bazaar and Tea down at the Ritz Kifer Hall, Prince George. I was present when a strange, nice-looking woman asked it I were Mrs. Mackenzie of the Red Cross, which I admitted. She had something to tell me, and could we find a quiet corner? We did.
It was a sordid, heart-breaking story. The day before, the mother of nine children had shot and killed her husband in self-defence, and was now down in Okalla prison, My new acquaintance was the wife of the Provincial Policeman who had taken the woman to jail, and he had sent his wife to me with a suggestion that the women of the "Georges" might like to help that mother, by circulating a petition to secure her release to return to her children.
Naturally, it was a touchy business to interfere with the course of justice, especially in such a serious case, but according to the facts given by the mother, and the opinions of the railway men who knew the father, his taking off was overdue. I promised my informant to work quietly and as fast as I could. I had some long paper brought up from the store below, headed three of four sheets, kept one and sent the others out with willing grownups, after giving them few of the most convincing reasons why we should get that woman back to her children. The nearest neighbour was a mile away; there were animals at home to be looked after, and a baby in arms as well as two or more toddlers. The two oldest of the family were girls, seventeen and fifteen, who had been doing men's work in the bush, making railway ties with their father.
On the following Monday, I sent the petition of a couple of hundred signatures and a letter to the Attorney General of British Columbia, with a full report of what led to the shooting, and urged that the mother be released forthwith, on her own recognisance, until the case be called at the Spring Assizes.
On my way down to Vancouver a few weeks later, one of the train crew pointed out to me the house of the tragedy. In such a dreary setting, anything could happen. At the Spring Hearing, the mother was acquitted.