There had been various interruptions with my part of the work since my arrival, such as a very enjoyable picnic across the river, to the home of one of the members of the church, who had a pre-emption about five miles west of the ferry landing. They were a kindly family who liked to have visitors and they would be glad to welcome and help any neighbour to their vicinity. Their flower, vegetable and small- fruit acreage could have served as a demonstration plot for the country, and it would be a credit to a much older settlement. We had left a small but complete garden in Toronto, and I greeted the flowers in this out-of-the-way part of the world, almost in tears. Spring varieties were past blooming, of course, but all my favourites in annuals and perennials were there in profusion, encircled by a wall of spruce and pine. The delphiniums, hollyhock, asters, and sweet peas especially, had put on a wonderful display for the picnic party.
On such outing occasions the men of the town owning horses and vehicles, were most generous, and enough transportation was offered to accommodate the children as well as the members of the W.A. The hostess provided tea, coffee and milk. also all the salad we could eat. The visitors brought the balance of the food and we used the dishes belonging to the church. It was my first real western outing and I enjoyed a grand day. My boys, too, had relished the party with other inquiring young folk. My sympathies are always with the hosts. Some persons should be given medals for forbearance.
When Alex and Jessie had come to Fort George in 1912, it was with the blessing of the Townsite Company which looked to them to take a lead in welcoming newcomers and in social and church activities, and I know they did their best to make strangers feel at home in new surroundings. I met a number of new arrivals in their home, usually at a tea party. They had taken up a pre-emption quite near the site of the picnic I attended, and spent most of their weekends and holidays there in a small cabin they had built. They were trying to comply with the regulations as to occupation and improvement, so that they would be able to buy the land at the specific price. It was indication of their faith in the country and its prospects. But, trudging five miles through bush, often wet and usually dark, and carrying their food, weekend after weekend, did not appeal to me, even in those days of my health and ambition. I was enjoying and satisfied with the brand of " roughing it" we had encountered since I arrived.
The Fort George Annual Fair was held in September, 1913, in a large tent, when the vegetable and grain crops would be at their best. Settlers from thirty miles away, came in with their families and finest contributions to the Show. In those early days good cash prizes were given to encourage competition, and there was a friendly interchange of news and gossip, among people who might not see each other more than twice a year. The Presbyterian W.A. was asked to arrange a tea with refreshments on the one day of the Fair, and I was asked to assist and bring two cakes. That morning I had made the cakes which my family liked best, and arrived in time to do my share of waiting on the patrons. It was my first public appearance in the town.
Like the proverbial new broom, I was dashing around to see that no one was neglected, and, when none of my cake had appeared by the end of the party, I mentioned it to Jessie who went scouting. Contributions belonged to the Church. She found the cakes not cut, brought them out and offered them for sale, the usual procedure for leftovers, but no person wanted any more cake so she asked for a bid and someone called out "four bits each". She bought them herself, gave one away and took the other home. I didn't ask any questions, but she knew I felt miffed at their not having been used and she just said, "No , it wasn't one of those things, Helen, so don't feel hurt."
It seems like disloyalty not to have mentioned before, that the town supported a weekly newspaper, The Fort George Tribune, published every Saturday and sold at ten cents a copy. Mac had sent some copies to me in Toronto to let me get some idea of the town and activities. Just before we left Alex's, Jessie had asked me if I intended to allow the boys to sell papers, saying that other boys in town were doing so and making quite a lot of money. She wondered how I would feel about it.
"It is a new question to me, Jessie," I said, " but I will take it up with Mac before saying anything to the boys. They are here to take their place with the other children, and I don't want them to get any stuffy ideas of superiority, also they might as well begin to learn the value of money, and the fact that it doesn't grow on bushes." Mac admitted that the other boys sold papers, and he saw no harm in our two trying it if they wanted to, he would take them himself and introduce then at the newspaper office. The boys, however, had anticipated permission and arrived home for supper that Saturday with jingling pockets and wide smiles. They had done very well. thank you, and had been given papers on credit, so their faces was their only guarantee. From then on they built up their own list of customers, and saved their earnings to send out an order with mine to Eaton's Winnipeg Store, which paid transportation charges. We borrowed a catalogue and, in turn, pored over it to choose those things we wanted to get before the snow fell.
Bulking largely on my list was khaki flannel for shirts for the boys, brown corduroy for their breeches, sheepskin-lined coats with fur collars, heavy mitts, sweaters, stockings, moccasins, rubber boots, wool underwear, and flannelette to make pyjamas for the three men in the house. The sewing machine would justify my determination to bring it with me. The boys, of course, wanted hockey sticks, pucks, skates and boots, also games and a Boy's Annual each. There was no rink in the town yet, but here and there was a slough (pronounced sloo) which provided ice until too much snow made it useless. We didn't worry about it; we felt sure there would be ice in season for skating. I had brought my skates and boots with me and so had Mac the year he came.
My bread-making lost the uncertainty with which I had started, and the product improved in quality as I became better acquainted with my stove, and added some shortening to the dough for a more eatable loaf. Then I experimented with some brown bread which was quite successful; a little molasses helped. When the W.A. decided to ask that the members each earn $5.00 Talent money, I made a batch of brown bread every week and sold the loaves at two bit each (25c). Some of the Bank boys supplied their own food and were steady customers. Plans had already been completed and work started on a large new modern church, wooden of course, and it was expected to be finished early in the Spring of 1914.
In the meantime the women of the church had ideas and plans of their own. They envisioned a well-equipped kitchen off the full-sized basement Sunday School and recreation room of the new building, and hoped to extend the work and influence of the Church in the larger, more convenient quarters. Members of the W.A. had also discussed and agreed that a bazaar should be held early in December, and began to make their plans relative to the part each wished to take for work and booths.
Soon after I arrived in Fort George, I had been impressed with what I called the freemasonry of the three congregations in the district. At any bazaar, Tea or other money-making endeavour, you would find members of the other two churches present in force, in addition to having contributed in other ways to the success of the effort. It was the spirit of the country, each for all. The storekeepers, also, were very thoughtful and generous. Among the interesting characters we met were two new neighbours, who had built a neat, wooden cottage on our street, just below the old cattle corral and, behind their house, a large tent stable for horses and a pet bear. They were Americans, not young, who had met in the klondike, joined forces, and when the fever of the gold rush was over, had been attracted to the new railway, like other opportunist, ourselves among them. They had helped build the railway from Edmonton, then had come down the Fraser from Tete Jaune Cache on scows, with all their goods and chattels and planned to stay.
We felt that Shorty was the senior partner but it was tall, talkative Steve who made the first move to get acquainted. Afterwards I sensed that it was shy Shorty who had sent him. Steve was well over six feet, slim and muscular. His fine features and blue eyes would stamp him as a heart rouser in his day. He later told us that when the " wild called him" he had dropped everything including a wife and five children, and had spent one winter with Rex Beech at the mouth of the Mackenzie River by the Arctic Ocean.
Shorty was inches below five feet, with dark hair, kind, dark eyes and a soft slow voice, but he was a giant to depend on. Since they had to haul water for their horse and there own use, they had offered to fill a barrel for us any time they went to the river, which could be approached at the end of Fraser Avenue down a 45 degree grade. We insisted on paying but the refused to accept the regular tariff. Kindness and courtesy were the most noticeable attributes of those two men and they always left us feeling their debt. Shorty's proper name was Oscar Huff and Steve's was Radey, but both had especially asked that we continue to call them Shorty and Steve.
There were other close neighbours just two minutes walk through the jackpines beyond the back gate. The husband and father had been in the country for nearly a year, with his fine team of horses, wagon and sleighs. He had been a farmer in Ontario and was now engaged in freight and cartage work. Tom T. had built for himself a small, unpeeled log cabin, about ten by twenty feet, and on the door he used a padlock which had been on his barn back east. His wife held the second key. When this man's wife and four children, one in arms, came west to join him, they came down the Fraser River the week after we did, on the last trip to be made. That ended steamer service from Tete Jaune Cache. The family was fortunate, however, in having been put ashore at Fort George instead of at South Fort George, where we disembarked; their home was just a few minutes drive from the dock. For safety, the mother had the three older children roped together and attached to her leather belt, while she carried the baby. She told me later that this was the only way she could account for them on the boat while they were awake.
Like myself, Mrs. T. had not been met by her husband, who had crossed on the Fraser ferry at Old South Fort George, an hour before the boat arrived. A friend delivered the family at the cabin before he started to overtake the man of the house, who had a business call to make on the east side of the Fraser. The wife used her own key, and when friend husband tuned up, she had a meal on the table ready for him. I was to see a lot of this family in the years that followed, although they made about a half a dozen moves in the interval. In my own mind I called the wife "Mrs. Courage", and the children called me their fairy godmother. They were nice children, nicely trained, for their mother did not allow them to forget that she belonged to Loyalist stock, and they had a tradition to uphold.
Among the materials I had brought with me, were figured, cream net for the windows, and some gay chintz for drapes and cushions. While Mac painted the floor, I made curtains and cleaned windows which were all painted ivory shade. The front ones were double casement, opening inward, with wide inside sills enamelled. I had also brought all the brass rods we would need. By the time the floors were dry, I was ready with my part of the finishing. Mac had been gathering more furniture, and the living-room now boasted a sturdy brown, waxed-pine, oblong dining table to seat eight,and a smaller one on the same plain design,also a large, dark leather-covered couch, with a big lay-back arm-chair to match. We already had ten straight chairs spread though the rooms and when I brought the two reversible rugs, made from my old Toronto wool carpets, one for my room and the larger,a soft dark green tone, for the living-room, I summoned the family to admire our home.
It was nearing supper, both fires were crackling, and the glistening, brown log walls, hung with pictures from home, the dainty net curtains flanked by the straightm colourful chintz drapes, all in the glow of the tallest coal-oil lamp, made the picture which we had been waiting to see, and it was good. Though we ate in the kitchen that night, as usual, the food had a better flavour. We could have eaten with a rug under our feet if we chose. After the boys went to be that night, Mac and I sat in the living-room enjoying the snapping and heat from the small stove, and I introduced the need of a cellar. No provision had been made for one when the house was built, and it could have been done so easily, before the under floor had been laid. Now we had more than fifty glass jars of canned fruit to protect from the frost, plus five bags of potatoes and other perishable vegetables. We had been able to buy two pails of raspberries, and Mac had gone with a friend one afternoon to a good blueberry patch and came back with ten quarts.
A few mornings later he met some Indians from Willow River at the ferry landing and was lucky to get fifteen pounds of huckle berries from them. The huckles are larger than blueberries, darker in colour and richer in flavour. With plenty of rhubarb offered cheap by old-timers, and an abundance of saskatoons and high-bush cranberries on the townsite, we should have enough fruit to give some variety to the winter desserts, but I still hankered for the fun of picking the wild fruit.
I was inclined to be a bit critical about the lack of a cellar, but when the pros and cons were exhausted, it was decided that we lose no further time in getting to work on it. There was quarter-inch ice on the rainbarrel every morning lately and there had been one or two light threats of snow already. I realized that Mac had been working very hard and steadily since I had arrived and I did not want him to do the digging, so I suggested that he ask our neighbour, Harry West, if he would take it on.
When I got the boys off the school the next morning, Mac marked on the kitchen floor the best space between two foundation logs, for the cellar opening, to get the most benefit from the heat of the small stove, and as near the centre of the house as possible. Then he sawed the piece out of the double floor and went over to see the neighbour, whom he found at home in his neat, little, peeled-log cabin. Harry was glad to help and brought a shovel with him; we had one spade which could be used after they got below the foundation logs and into close quarters. Two large, steel buckets with ropes on the handles, were used to haul the soil up and it was dumped out of the kitchen window where it helped to bank the rear of the house.
The men, themselves, decided to change about in the digging and hauling, and I kept Harry for a good hot dinner with us. He was able to do for himself better than most of the single men, but I wanted him to have the same rest at noon as Mac would have, he needed it. The boys were interested in the cellar and hurried home from school that afternoon in time to see the last two buckets of soil hauled up and dumped. The rectangular hole was six feet deep, six feet wide and eight feet long, extending well under the living room as we had planned. The dirt walls and floor were as smooth and flat as if a spirit level had been used, and Mac felt as proud of the added convenience as I did.
The mill was closed for the winter so he was not working regularly now and, fearing a sudden, tight frost, I suggested that he ask Harry right away, to help with the very necessary banking of the house; it was too much for Mac to do alone. The men went out together, Mac going uptown to get a pair of hinges for the cellar door and a ring and staple to lift; Harry's cabin was on the way. Next day after the two-by-four steps into the cellar were firmly in place, we moved down all the valuable supplies, and breathed many sighs of relief, especially the housekeeper. That evening, neighbour Harry came over to say that he had a two day job to do elsewhere immediately, but would be back the beginning of the week to get on with the banking.