“Nothing besides remains. Round the decay
The decay of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
-Percy Bysshe Shelley
These last lines from Shelley’s poem Ozymandias come to mind when I view this photograph of the the final fate of Inverness Cannery.
From the Philippson Family Collection
My father passed on in 2005 at the age of 92. He loved reciting poetry and this poem was a great favourite of his. I read it aloud at his memorial service as a measure of respect for him, his life lived and a way of life forever gone. Inverness Cannery, once a vital force in the fishing industry, is now just a distant memory. For countless decades it had sustained the livelihood and lives of so many families along the North Coast and inland along the Yellowhead Highway.
Inverness Cannery had played such a vital role in my father’s life. In the last years of his life it was gone as well as most of his contemporaries, his relatives and friends. As with the cannery now only the memories remain - the lone and level sands stretching far away.
When we attend a Celebration of Life we rejoice in memories of a life well-lived. At the same time we experience a longing, a yearning for the person, the time and the place forever gone.
At my father’s memorial service I learned two things about him that I wish that I had known years earlier. One was that during the late 1930s and early 1940s he was considered a high liner fisherman on the Skeena River. What really amazed me though was to find out that during the depths of The Great Depression he and his younger brother Tony twice rowed a rowing gillnetter from New Westminster to Inverness Cannery on the Skeena River in order to participate in the salmon fishery. From time to time they would have had picked up the occasional tow from fish packers (here the Klatawa). To me it still remains an amazing feat.
For them and all those like them we will not soon see their like again.
When I introduced these stories I stated that they were not just intended as an homage to my mother and father but also as a tribute to those who have gone on before us. When you read of these folks you are immediately struck by their pioneering spirit. They displayed uncommon courage in accepting what life presented them, overcoming obstacles with quiet determination and a faith in God, ever mindful of the needs and concerns of others.
Our lovely and loving mother.
Frances Rose Chapman was born in Brancepeth, Saskatchewan in 1910, the daughter of Jane and Francis Chapman. She had a younger brother Jim. Francis Chapman was a section foreman for the railroad and so the family moved from small prairie town to small prairie town, depending on the needs of the railway. One such whistle stop settlement was Eldred, Saskatchewan. During their time there Mom was the only girl in Eldred. Whenever she heard the whistle of the approaching train she would rush down to the station. In a great cloud of steam and grinding brakes the train would come to a stop in front of Mom. The engineer would lean out of the window of his high cab and declare her to be “the nicest girl in Eldred”.
Our mother on the station wagon in Eldred, Saskatchewan - 1913.
On the right is the Brancepeth home in which our mother was born. Next door is the store of her aunt and uncle.
Eventually the Chapmans settled for good in Abbotsford, B.C. When Mom was only 16 her beloved father Francis died suddenly. His unexpected death affected her deeply. Looking back she could recall only one instance where he had ever raised his voice to her. Bearing his first name may have provided some comfort for her.
Time passes and in the mid-1930’s she spent a summer working as a restaurant waitress in Barkerville when things were still booming there. Now that’s being a pioneer.
The iconic Barkerville church in the mid-1930’s. Our mother was an early photographer.
Later on, she began her training to be a nurse, a long-held dream of hers. This promising career was cut short when her mother became gravely ill. Mom withdrew from the nursing program and returned home to nurse her mother back to full health. She only mentioned this to us kids once and then only in passing. Still, it must have been a great disappointment to her, ending her dream of a career in nursing.
Mom and baby sister Carole.
Our favourite part of our adventure playground.
CN Park in Prince Rupert.
The following story provides a true measure of our mother’s care and concern for others. There was a lady who lived in our New Westminster neighbourhood who would fall into deep distress from time to time. It seemed to us that her family didn’t provide her with the care and attention that she should have been receiving. Our mother and her were not friends, in fact they did not know each other very well. Yet in her bad times this neighbour lady would knock on our door in obvious distress. Mom would comfort her over a cup of tea and ask her if she wanted a medical appointment made for her. Mom would then take her back home when she was calm and at peace once again. My sisters and I believe that this quiet act of kindness allowed this lady to remain in her home and not be confined to some facility.
Quiet and unassuming in expressing her care and concern for others, when Mom’s own time of trial arrived she faced it with quiet courage and dignity. For the last 15 years of her life Mom experienced intermittent excruciating pain which left her confined to home. She was sustained by her faith in God, her positive outlook and her unflagging sense of humour. She never once complained, only counselling us to ‘never grow old’. She faced her battle with her faith intact, always asking how the others in our extended family were doing. Our mother passed on in December of 2004 at the age of 94 - a life well lived. We, her children, believe that our mother was and will forever remain “the nicest girl in Eldred”.
Where our life story began.