Tag Archives: rustic

Convincing Mother – Ch. 1

“I’m sorry. I just don’t like the sound of it!”

My mother at breakfast in 1953, in the kitchen of our one-bedroom home in Vancouver. We lived a few blocks east of Little Italy, a quaint area in the city. We kids loved to walk the 2nd Avenue hill and trudge up the other side to Copp’s Shoes, which offered the most wonderful toffee suckers wrapped in wax paper if you bought any small thing – even a pair of shoelaces. What a thrill to open the wrapper and taste that creamy caramel toffee inside!

At the moment, however, toffee suckers were off the table, as it were, since my father had just proposed that we pick up and move from Vancouver, lock, stock and barrel, to a remote logging camp on Vancouver Island. Hence, my mother’s reaction.

At the time, our tiny, stucco house felt cramped and old. Cold, too, as I recall, since it rained steadily in Vancouver and my parents had to economize on heat. However, Granny Davis, who lived in our basement suite, owned a pot-bellied stove. Her place always exuded a cozy warmth. Orange poppies bordered the cement stairs down to her door, and I remember smelling their pungent odour when we visited her for tea and cookies on occasion.

My folks were young then, children of the Great Depression, struggling to raise two kids and earn enough money to keep a roof over our heads. Times had to be tough for my mother to even consider such a drastic step as my father was proposing. The Post-War boom hadn’t yet reached full momentum, so many families still struggled as we did. Luckily, Mom had attended university on scholarships and now had a full-time teaching job in an elementary school.

Looking back at their discussion, I picture my father reaching for the sugar and stirring two lumps into his coffee, then sucking on a third in the Scandinavian way. He likely wore his Yellow Cab hat, one that he no doubt hoped to “deep six” for a teacher’s garb if he could convince my mother that this move was a good thing.

“It’s a principalship in the Nimpkish Valley!” he exclaimed. “And it’s a two-room school, so you and I would be the only teachers. We’d have free reign!”

He made it sound promising, even exciting.

“Why would you be the principal when it’s your first appointment?” objected my mother. “I’m the one with the teaching experience! You’ve only just earned your diploma.”

“I agree it’s not fair, but you know how the world works, sweetie,” replied Dad. “They always offer the men the best jobs. At least the money will be all in the family. And it’s an adventure! Think of it that way. Remember, Huey Grayson will be there.”

“Your forestry friend?”

“That’s the one. He’s stationed at Woss Camp, where we’d be living. So we’ll know someone going in.”

“Yes, I remember him. He has the thickest British accent I’ve ever heard,” said Mom.

“Well, knowledge of the Queen’s English is no barrier to a love of virgin forest. He knows they could log that area for decades and hardly make a dent.”

I can certainly understand my mother’s reluctance to move. There she sat, staring at one dependent child across the kitchen table, while offering strips of toast to a smaller child on the floor beside her. It was difficult enough to be a working mother in the city. What would it be like juggling work and family in a remote logging camp?

“Who’ll look after the kids during the day?”

“We’ll find somebody. We’ll hire a nanny before we go.”

That sounded reasonable, but I’m sure that even my father, who had grown up in mining camps as a child, didn’t fully grasp how rustic those Island logging camps really were.

“There aren’t any roads!” bemoaned Mother. “How will we get in and out?”

“We’ll go by steamship from Vancouver,” said my father. “Then they have company rail cars from Englewood to the logging camps. They call them speeders.”

speeder 121 at Woss Camp
Speeder 121 at Woss Camp (courtesy of the Museum at Campbell River, BC)

“Speeders!? Good grief. I’ve seen pictures of those things,” said Mom. “They look like big tin lozenges on rail wheels. Are they safe?”

“They’re safe,” said Dad. “Not exactly luxury travel, but they have bench seating around the walls and sliding doors to get in and out. Like self-propelled boxcars, really. And it’s only a two-hour ride!”

It was true. You could only get halfway to the logging camps by steamship or by sea plane. Then you took a long railway ride in those metal contraptions, not well-equipped for passengers. And CANFOR, Canadian Forest Products, owned it all. Or leased it, which amounted to the same thing. They owned the camps, the houses in the camps, the rail line, the speeders. And for a song, they held long leases on the forests, courtesy of the BC government.

“It’s a booming frontier!” said Dad. “They’re making nothing but money logging those mountains, so everyone who works for them does pretty well.”

Then he quickly changed the subject.

“Would you like to go on a big ship, kids?” he said, glossing over the rail car part. Naturally, our young eyes lit up. Then he sweetened the deal. “And sleep in a stateroom for a whole night?”

We were sold. Or at least, I was. My mother still frowned. She did not like that our ship would dock at a remote log dump, and that when we arrived there, we’d still be in transit. She knew that Englewood existed only to receive logs from down-Island, logs which were then dumped into Queen Charlotte Strait, tied into log booms, and towed to sawmills and pulp mills in Vancouver, Prince Rupert or Victoria. Our steamship port wasn’t much more than a huge pier, cut out of the wilderness. There was no guest house.

My mother had one final protest.

“What if one of us gets sick?”

“No problem! There’s a camp medic, and they can always fly us out to Alert Bay if they have to. It’s only a twenty-minute flight by emergency float plane.”

“Twenty minutes! We could bleed to death in that time!”

As it turned out, some bleeding did take place during our stay there, and one of us did fly out on that emergency float plane.

I’ll tell you more about that when we get there.

Paved with Good Intentions: Ruth Lake (1967)

ruth-lake-bc
Ruth Lake fishing cabin. Main lodge behind.

For about 20 years, my uncle owned Ruth Lake Lodge, an off-road fishing place, rural and inconvenient. It had four spartan cabins and a warm kitchen in the main building, which was always under construction. Despite my relatives’ warm hospitality, I didn’t enjoy our visits much, as we sometimes had to camp out or sleep under bare roof beams in some half-built room.

Also, the Lodge was difficult to get to. Set half-a-mile off Forest Grove Road,  just north of tiny 100 Mile House, the lodge’s only vehicle access was a hand-hewn path through the bush, a path barely wide enough for one car. It was a veritable  obstacle course.

One spring stands out. There we sat, a family of four, in our low-slung Rambler Rebel, halfway down Forest Grove Road, with no habitation in sight, just an endless line of birch and alder lining the gravel road to the far horizon. Cowboy country lay beyond, sprawling ranches rife with cattle. Roads were dusty in summer but muddy at spring breakup. In short, we were 400 miles north of Vancouver in the heart of BC’s Cariboo region.

1967-amc-rebel-sst-2
Rambler Rebel ’67

Luckily – score one for us – we had found the turn-off to my uncle’s property, which was always difficult to spot. Now all we had to do was hit a couple of planks and squeeze our two-door over a muddy trench and through a small gap in the brush. No small wonder we hesitated.

“Looks fine!” said Dad, putting on a good face.

“Yes!” agreed Mom. “He’s even put some boards down to cover the mud.”

In the back seat, my younger brother and I exchanged looks.

Dad cranked the wheel left and eased the car onto the first muddy plank. There was a loud squooshing sound. I held my breath. Would we get the second wheel onto the other plank? We did, barely. The boards knocked crazily, and I had visions of sinking into a mucky bog.

My father hunched over the dash as he inched over the boards and into unknown territory. I gripped my door handle and saw my brother do the same. This was edge-of-the-seat stuff.

Squelch went the tires agaipn, the brown ooze kissing our mud flaps. Any moment now we’d be axle-dee, I figured. But somehow we inched along, creeping and crawling until the cow path grew hard beneath us.

Our troubles were far from over, however. In counterpoint to the mud behind us, the trail itself was hard and rocky. The car pitched like a theme park jalopy as we picked our way along, the speedometer barely registering.

The convex surface wound through the brush, threatening to high-centre us at every moment. Branches scraped the windows while huge boulders nestled into our whitewalls. We heard hubcaps scraping on stone. Puddles came and went, both large and small. Potholes abounded, and at times, the back seat seemed higher than the front.

Still, we pressed on.  As I lurched left and right, I remember wondering why anyone would buy a fishing lodge with such poor road access. My uncle had four children, any one of whom might lop off a foot or a finger chopping firewood. Had he not thought of this?

Thwack!

Swak!

It was death by a thousand cuts for our poor, low-slung Rambler. Without our rolled-up windows, those branches could have taken our eyes out.Still, we persevered. When we finally limped through the last pothole and bounced over the last sharp boulder, the lodge was a welcome sight indeed. My father threw the Rambler into park and sat for a minute in the makeshift parking area. None of the rest of us moved. We just sat there.

After a minute, we saw my uncle striding towards us from the lake, surrounded by dogs and full of his usual good humour. It always surprised me to see this shorter version of my father.

“‘Hello!” he cried as we eased ourselves out of the car and found our footing. “We’ve been waiting for you!”

“Sorry we’re late,” grinned Dad. “We ran into a bit of traffic through Hundred Mile.”

“Well, no matter. You’re here now. C’mon in and see the family.”

He stopped halfway up the stairs and turned suddenly toward us.

“Oh, by the way!” he said. “How did you like my road improvements?”

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