PIONEER HOMES

When Mac went down to the house on Saturday afternoon, he took the boys with him, and on the way he bought a rake and sundry other tools we would need.  He let the boys use the rake in turn to gather up the chips and bark left from the building job, while he worked inside.  The men were there and promised they would be finished on Tuesday, to that we could move in.

We women did not go to church on Sunday but Mac and Alex went and took the children with them.  Dinner was to be served at 1.30 p.m. sharp and it would take every minute to get things ready.  Jessie was partial to chicken and she had cut up two for a grand pot-pie with flaky crust.  The old man at the Foothills had brought in some of all the vegetables he had ready; new potatoes, carrots, peas and green onions.  There was Saturday's new homemade bread, fresh-in butter, lemon-snow and a chocolate cake for dessert, with coffee of us and klim milk for the children.

The guests arrived punctually, Jessie's friend and classmate, Mrs. Hammond, with her young son the age of Murray and a mutual friend, Dr. Perry. who had just paid a flying visit to the new town and was leaving the next day by boat down the Fraser. The strangers asked kindly about my trip but I did not take much part in the table talk.  I remember that Jessie asked Dr.Parry if he had called on the three doctors established in the town, and he said that he had enjoyed a chat with each of them.  Then Alex asked, naively, what he thought of them.  The doctor hesitated a moment, then said quietly, "I think that that young Dr. E. will wear well."  Nothing more.

I filed away in my mind the name of the young Dr. E. for future reference.  Now I can tell, that young Dr. E. wore so well, that only last year, 1947, he left the district on account of his own ill health, and his leaving was much regretted. When I finally left the table, I told Jessie that Mac and I were going to clear away and do the dishes, and there was to be no argument, though she did protest.  I wanted her to enjoy her friends while they were there.  The three boys had been freed already to play under direction of Bob Hammond, who had been living with his mother in Fort George during part of the summer.  It was understood they were to play within sight of the house, as I did not want our young hopefuls to get ideas about going to the river for their entertainment later.  Water seems to have a hypnotic attraction for children.

When Mac and I finished our job we joined the company on the verandah and soon after the visitors took their leave.  Later, we Mackenzies all went to church.  I had already met the young Presbyterian Minister, Rev. C.M. Wright and his friendly young wife, when they were in Toronto on a well-earned vacation.  I liked them both. Tuesday was a busy day for us newcomers, and Mac took the afternoon off from work.  The Steamer B.X. had brought all the Fort George freight around from South Fort George, up the Nechaco to the warehouse near the ferry, and Mac was having our pieces delivered that afternoon as well as the other purchases he had made in the town, to be held until needed.  It was our intention to sleep in our own home that night.

Jessie had insisted on our having supper with her and Alex that evening and the boys and I stayed with her during the day, as Mac thought they might be in the way of the workmen down at the new house.  When he arrived for supper he reported the builders gone, all the freight in and apparently intact, the house locked up and the kitchen stove ready to light a fire in.  To me, a fire means home! When we had thanked Alex and Jessie and said Goodbye, we did not visit them again as a family until the following New Year, when we had dinner with them, but we knew all about each other every day.  In a small friendly town, good news or bad news is everybody's business, and sympathy or rejoicing is free, full and unrestrained,  It was that way in Fort George. We left Alex's immediately after supper.  On the way down we bought two loaves of bread and a pound of butter, also a roll of mosquito bar for the windows.  I knew that there would be thousands of flies and other pests in the house, and I intended to smoke some of them out before putting up the screen material.

I found that the freight had come through splendidly; nothing damaged and my sewing machine was in perfect order.  It meant a lot to me and I felt confident I could cope with anything that might turn up from then on.  We were all together again and the future looked bright.  The rest was up to us. I had packed one large, metal tub with a clothes wringer and cooking utensils, and they gave plenty of use in the years that followed.  That night I set bread in the mixer and I am still using most of the Everware aluminum pieces. Through the log beams I could see on the temporary floor of the attic, nine bags of flour, two bags of sugar, one bag of beans, fifty pounds of rice and fifty pounds of tea. Hanging from the ridgepole were five hams and eight sides of bacon.  There were also several cases of canned vegetables and milk.  I still prefer canned milk in my tea and coffee.

Mac had bought the supply of grocery staples from the freighters who brought their goods down the Fraser on scows and saved the steamer freight rate.  He was a good forager for, in spite of scarcity of house furnishings, he had been able to buy one double bed, (iron, enamel and brass) with a good spring and mattress, another mattress and spring for the boys, a very useful chest of drawers and a closed in washstand,with the usual equipment of granite ware.  (On account of the low winter temperatures, granite ware was used instead of china), also a large bevelled mirror.  These items had all belonged to friends of Jessie who were glad to sell them as they were returning to Vancouver where they had  permanent home.

We found two old metal pails and made a good green smudge in each.  There was a fine discouraging smoke for the pests, and as they fled out of both the doors before us, we soon felt more comfortable inside the house. I suggested to Mac that he knock something together for a table, before we started another job, and in a few minutes he had found two pieces of wide board, four feet long, not new, joined them together and, with the help of a small,straight birch which he found made a cross-leg table for the kitchen.  We used that silly table for years.

When packing my trunks I listed the contents, so when we needed a pair of scissors, I knew where to get them and       we commenced covering the outside of the windows with the green mosquito net.  The boys had been helping by gathering thin pieces of wood which we now used to nail the net against the window frames, the wooden strips holding the thin material firmly.  It was only a makeshift for present comfort; next year we would be able to get proper screening after the railway arrived.  Haphazard freight rates were still excessive.

Before opening the windows we carried fresh smudges through the house and hoped for a quiet night. There was a new metal barrel with a cover in the shed, and it was full of fresh water delivered that afternoon,  Jessie had given me a couple of small lard pails so I put the butter in one and hung it inside the barrel.  We took two large pail of water inside. 

Mac had remembered to get coal oil so we filled a lamp ready for lighting. I later found, after all the unpacking was done, that the only casualty in the breakables, was one lamp chimney which had been packed too tightly with a teatowel inside it; the barrel of dishes came without a crack in anything, likewise all the small pictures I had brought to make home more like it had been in the east.

I had heard tales about the bush rats and the damage they could do, but I hoped that they had not heard of my arrival;  I loathe rodents, especially in connection with children and food. Mac had hoped to be able to make the foundation box for the boys' bed, but they could manage on the floor for this one night, and have their own bed tomorrow.  We laid the spring and mattress in one corner, made up the bed with blankets, and after the lads were washed and changed, they said their prayers and were soon snoring.  It did not take us long to follow them.  We put our bed together, but I insisted on sheets which meant opening the big packing case.

Instead of going to sleep sensibly like the boys and Mac, I was lying awake planning my work for the morrow, but finally the night caught up with me.  By and by I wakened with a feeling there was something in the room.  I heard soft, quick padding around and immediately thought of the children.  The moon was shining through the front windows and then I saw them, two rats running here and there scouting.  I shook Mac awake and he was not pleased.

"What a fuss to make about a couple of bush rats.  You might as well get used to them, they are part of the country," he tossed off airily as he snuggled down again.  "Not for me, Mac," said I, shaking him firmly, "I didn't come three thousand miles to share my home with bush rats, so just get up and do your stuff, whatever you used to do at Alex's place."  I'll bet he was sorry that he had told me so much.

He lit the lamp and set it in the middle of the floor.  Then he got a few sticks of wood and began aiming sliding shots at the rats.  They leaped and ran right over the boys' faces and they screamed.  Finally Mac brought both rats down and finished the job, but he was still grumpy at being disturbed.  He explained that the rats are attracted to a light and the plan is to stop them on the way to it with a side swipe.  Well, it worked and we were never bothered with rats again.

It was the smell of bacon that twitched my nose in the morning.  Mac was up early and brought me a cup of tea with bread and butter; no time for toast.  He always got his own breakfast while living with Alex and Jessie, but didn't wait to wash his dishes.  Mac said he would be home for dinner at noon and would order some meat and potatoes from the butcher by telephone from the mill.

The house was cool and there were very few flies about inside but there was a hum from a horde of them outside.  About fifty feet from the house there was a herd of cattle in a corral where they spent the nights for milking, but they were moved from there entirely a few days later and most of the flies seemed to go with them. I found an outfit to work in and got the boys up so that we could have breakfast together, after I had scrubbed the new table, which I should have done the night before. Out behind the house on the grass I applied a broom and half a pail of precious water towards satisfying myself that the table, top and bottom, would be fit to eat from and then I stood it up in the sun to dry.  No rain had appeared yet. 

With my first bread facing me, I felt like a nervous pupil in front of a strange teacher.  Poor Mac!  He had no idea of all the jobs I would be finding for him, in addition to those which belonged to him as house-finisher in chief.  I needed a bread board this very morning but would manage with some clean wrapping paper sprinkled with flour, on the soon-to-be-dried table. Mac had eaten his breakfast while sitting on an upended piece of peeled log so the boys and I did likewise.  Later as they wanted to pick blueberries I gave them each a tin cup, sent them across the road to the other townsite where I was sure they would find some and warned them to stay in sight of the house.  In regard to the boys I had only one fear- the River. We had no chairs yet but one of the stores imported knocked-down chairs and put them together after delivery.  Mac had an order in for some and I was not surprised to see him on the path by the Manse with two chairs on his shoulders, when he was coming home for his dinner.

The butcher had sent some round steak and I had made hamburg with brown gravy.  I had brought a meat-grinder and found it another precious article of value in the new country.  We had potatoes boiled in their jackets and I opened a can of corn.  The boys had found enough blueberries for their dessert, and Mac had brought some cheese with him so he and I had a cheese sandwich for our dessert, with a good cup of tea.  It was beginning to feel like home again. 

After letting the bread rise twice, I took it out on the floured paper and moulded it in loaves.  It made four and it was with prayer and hope that I finally put it in the oven after testing the heat with my hand as I had done in the east where I used coal instead of wood. I have never forgotten the first biscuits I made for Mac down at the Beach in Toronto.  If he had not praised them as the finest ever, I would have been so discouraged, I might never have tried again.  He could have thrown those biscuits over the roof and they would have landed without a dent in them, but I was glad that he had told me a lie; it helped me a lot. That is why I always have sympathy with the bride whose husband thinks it smart to make fun of her cooking efforts.  She may smile at his joke but it hurts just the same, and is poor propaganda for happy living.

When I took the bread out of the oven it smelled all right and looked the same, so I rubbed a piece of bacon rind over the crusty loaves and stood them on end on a clean tea towel.  I was sure it was cooked and that was the main point.  They would have to eat it anyway,  I had to learn.  Even the bachelors on the pre-emptions were baking their own bread in those days, and one woman whom I met, boasted that her husband made better bread than she did.

The builders had laid the rough board floor throughout, and Mac was to lay the dressed tongue-and-groove flooring himself, also the floor for the attic, which would be the ceiling of the lower part of the house, and laid smooth face down. In order to avoid moving the heavy range twice, Mac, while he was at the house Saturday afternoon, had laid the second floor on that part which would be the kitchen.  The workmen then helped him to place the stove in the exact space he and I had agreed on, with a large, zinc-covered board under it and another one between the stove and the log wall behind, for fire protection. He planned to build a cupboard for dishes, supplies and utensils, and the space was being very carefully doled out.  The men cut a hole in the roof and attached collars for the temporary stove pipe; the bricklayer could not come to build the chimney for two weeks.  

With all the lumber inside the house to keep it dry, it was a problem to decide where to start in order to avoid handling things over and over again.  We wanted to get the boys' bed built, to ease my mind as to the rats returning.  I couldn't bear to have the children on the floor another night, so that job took priority after supper was over and it was finished before dark.  The bed was full size, the same height as ours, and with plenty of room to tuck in lots of winter covers.  The boys were delighted and offered to take a bath in the big tub when they saw the fresh slips and sheets going on.

There had been no divisions into rooms until the second flooring was all laid, and I suggested to Mac that, if the bedroom space were floored, we could rig up a clothes cupboard under a little stair he proposed to build from our room up to the attic.  There was no place to put things when we unpacked, time was passing and much to be done before winter overtook us, but every day saw something definite accomplished.

When Sunday came 'round again, I found that it meant church twice for the family; it was an established routine.  The Mackenzies were used to it but I was not, being a rather independent Anglican who preferred evening service to the morning one.  Not to be contentious, however, I complied, though it frequently meant cold meat for Sunday dinner. I had met a number of the townsfolk at church that first Sunday evening when we went with Alex and Jessie, and was thankful I had remembered their names when I met them again this Sunday morning.  There was quite a wind blowing and I was told it was a chinook.  I had always associated the word "chinook" with a gentle zephyr that flirted softly with the leaves and blossoms or the curls of a pretty girl.  Now I learned that it was a force which more or less tried to remove one's back teeth and any hair, hat or clothing, not firmly nailed on, just a forty mile an hour breeze!

A few minutes after we reached home, we were startled by an ear-splitting crash.  One of the tall jackpines at the back had fallen on the shed, cracked at the roof edge, half of it tearing into the doorway and the other half falling at the back of the building.  Fortunately we were all inside the house when it happened, but with the three other trees of the group swaying threateningly, we did not feel very safe. Mac went out the front door for a young neighbour, a woodsman, who came with his axe.  He cut through one tree and it lodged in the one next to it; so it ended with his dropping the three trees at the same time.  It was a clever feat in such a wind.  The neighbour, Harry West, was Australian and we learned to know him as a very fine person. I was told that jackpines are inclined to topple when they are left in thin groups; they need the support of many to withstand the winds, because they have only one tap root going down deep, the other roots being close to the surface with little  purchase in the ground.  Mac and the neighbour removed the broken first tree and next day put a new door on the shed.

We were late in getting dinner, and by the time it was over, no one felt like going for the walk we had planned before the fall of timber.  It looked like rain that evening but we went to church anyway, and we arrived home again before the downfall started.  Thus ended the first Sunday in the new house. There was so little that I would do towards settling the home until Mac's essential saw and hammer work was finished, that the boys and I did a lot of tidying up around the property outside, which had been the site of the first hotel in Fort George, a huge tent one, I had been told. After the new hotel was built and the people and equipment moved up-town, there had been a lot of cleaning up and clearing away by burning, but there were still many remnants of old clothes, shoes and other debris to be gathered up and disposed of by fires. We wanted to plant a garden next spring. 

One evening when Mac was helping us, we had thirteen collections raked up, smoking and smelling.  The mosquitoes were out in millions, and I had pulled an old pair of white silk stockings up over my hands and arms fastening them on the shoulder with safety pins, tied a bandanna closely around my neck and another over my head to protect my ears.  There was a disagreeable job to be done, but I saw no reason for adding personal discomfort to it.  My house dress was clean and tidy.

Suddenly Mac grabbed me by the arm, "Get into the house quickly," he hissed, "Mrs. P. and Mrs. B.. are coming up the road."  He was serious! I raised my head and saw two women about two blocks away and I laughed. The ladies were out for a walk, presumably, and, it may be, they expected to see a woman at our house as they passed, but my husband was not going to let them get their first glimpse of me in the outfit which was so suitable for the work I was doing.  For myself, I would not have minded it in the least.  I was amused and still an every time it occurs to me.  It was a reminding touch from Mac's boyhood in a small. fussy village:  Always be prepared to receive company.

Near the end of the second week, I was told that the bricklayer was coming on Sunday morning, and that we would not be going to church.  He was a tall, lanky, happy-faced coloured man with a white man for assistant and they lost no time in getting on with a smart job.  Mac helped where he could, as the chimney was being built on what they called a step made of three-inch plank to support weight and save bricks, which were very scarce.  Later we used the recess under the bottom of the chimney as a cupboard wherein to hang cooking utensils on nails driven into the logs.  After whitewashing the interior, we could pick out a pot or pan in the dark. With a proper chimney prepared for two stove pipes, we were ready for any sort of winter.  I noticed that all the hastily put up shacks had only a stove pipe sticking out of the roof or side, and I had a great fear of fire in the town.

The boys were supposed to report for Sunday School after church service was over, but since we would not be there to introduce them to the teacher, they were excused, and watched with wonder and delight the work of making a chimney out of bricks and mortar.  What a clever man was Larry Gaines, the dark boss! Yes, of course we all went to church that evening, and everybody seemed to know why we had not been there for the morning service.  They understood, too, why smaller special jobs have to be done on Sundays.  Our new friends were glad to know that our house was being readied for the winter.

I had no intentions of trying to dress up the windows until after they had been painted inside and out, and that was a job Mac could not stop to do until the floors, walls, stairs and clothes closet were complete. This week the boys and I were going across the river for vegetables and after the trip, we hoped to scout for some blueberries.

Our visit to the garden was timed so that we should meet Mac when he was coming home, about five, then he could carry the loot.  The old ferryman knew who I was and called me by name, although I had never seen him before.  I suppose that I was tagged in the town as "the new woman with the two boys." The walk to the garden from the ferry was longer than I had realized but finally across a field, we saw the blue and red paint-trimmed house by the river-side.

The pretty woman I had seen on the day we arrived, was working among the rows of carrots.  She was neat, bare-headed, wearing a clean, crisp print dress and a dark apron which she removed when she saw me; a snowy white one was under it and she came forward.  "Hello, Missis, I saw you one day," she said, with a warm smile, "are these both your boys, please?"  I told her they were, introduced them and asked if she had any vegetables to spare, and she nodded.

But, first she pulled two nice carrots, twisted the feathery fronds off, washed them in the irrigation ditch beside the path, and gave them to the boys who did not forget to thank her; they loved raw carrots.  Then she collected for me a cabbage, onions, potatoes and carrots.  We had a bag and string with us and a stick we had found along the way.  I tied the top of the bag, divided the weight and laid it across the stick for the boys to carry.  That was something new to them, made them feel kin to the country.

I had noticed a dark-haired man moving about at the back of the house, watching us, and presumed it was her husband.  After I had paid Mrs. H. she seemed reluctant for us to go, wanted to talk and I sensed that she was lonely for other women, she did not belong among the women of the town.  A loud shout stopped her like a bullet, and she turned back with a goodbye wave of the hand.

When we returned to the ferry landing, we had to wait as a team and wagon were going aboard on the other side.  It was quite a thrill for the boys to watch and they would have liked to travel back and forth with old John, the ferryman, who told them that their Dad would be along in a few minutes. I decided to wait for him there where we crossed, and we sat down on a log until he joined us and relieved the boys of their load.  He usually had a ride up the hill at noon and at night, but had let it go owing to the arrangement to meet us.  Before Mac had come west, we used to take long walks with the children, but I had been too busy after he left and was now sadly out of practice.  It would come back, of course, but when we got home that evening, I was ready to call it a day.

Jessie had seen Mac that noon and asked him to remind me of the regular meeting of The Women's Association of the Church on the following Thursday.  I had already joined the W.A. of which Jessie was the current president.  It was a good oganization for a new town or any town.  It fostered neighbourliness, and took a live interest in any problem affecting the people individually or as a whole, as well as earning money to further the work of the church.

In Fort George there were persons from every state of the American Union, every province of Canada, and from Great Britain, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, South America and many Europeans. There were not women from all these places, but there was enough variety of clan and culture to tap a mine of information in relation to the necessities imposed on the newcomers to this strange country.  Just let them get together and tell how things are done " at home" and the way they manage to cook or sew when there are certain shortages!  I picked up a number of good habits and economics from the new countrywomen I met.

When I broached the question of going berrying with the boys, Mac turned thumbs down on the project.  It seemed that Jessie did not go berry picking and neither did a number of other women whom he mentioned. "For heaven's sake," I burst out, "are you going snobbish on me?  I picked berries as a child no older than Murray: I am the same person and I enjoy picking berries.  What is wrong about it for me?  I came here to live a normal life, not one dictated by other people." He pointed out that we could buy all the fruit we needed this year, or he could help out by picking some himself on off time. To me that was a vain hope, with the staggering programme of work still to be done at the house, but I let it rest for the time being.  I was becoming an appeaser!

Little by little the flooring was all finished, downstairs and up.  The small stair was an accomplished fact, even though it was a peewee.  A platform two feet by two feet at the top of the stair formed the last step and the ceiling of the clothes closet.  There was a shelf under the stair and not an inch was wasted.  The living-room wall of double dressed pine extended from behind the front door to the doorway of the bedroom, and it ended a foot below the ceiling for circulation of heat.

We had no doors except at the front and back of the house, and we used drop curtains for the bedrooms.  The wall between the living-room and kitchen, went all the way to the top, with a doorway into the kitchen.  There was a solid  wall between the boys' room and our, but he wall dividing their room and the kitchen, was a foot below the top for heating purposes, with a centre doorway in to the kitchen.  Mac made a smooth bench, three feet by ten inches, for the boys room, with wash basin, jug, soap-dish and towel bar, for their own use.  It was beginning to feel cold washing in the shed of a morning, now that the leaves were colouring and the geese honking southwards.  And for fear of being caught short by an early winter, he built a small, covered porch facing south, to protect the front door.  A verandah, right across the front of the house, was planned for next year.  Then came his masterpiece, the kitchen cupboard, and it had everything I wanted.

It was September now and most of the flies were gone, so I asked Mac as a favour to paint the outside of the windows, which was the last job we would attempt.  We could take our time doing the rest of the inside work.  I knew that he was anxious to have all the chinking and brown staining finished before Thanksgiving, and I was to help him with that and the window painting as well.