It was a beautiful early summer Sunday at North Pacific Cannery on the Skeena River. Sundays were often dull for a ten-year-old. It was just after school finished and before Vacation School started. The Cannery folks were buzzing with news of an ice cream party at the net house. A notice had appeared on the notice board near the watchman's shack. It said "All children are invited to an ice cream party on Sunday afternoon.
This was 1940, and ice cream was a rare treat. If you wanted ice cream outside of the city you had to make it yourself. It required a machine and an abundant supply of ice. We had ice at the cannery but no ice cream machine.
About noon on Sunday an itinerant Baptist minister showed up on the walkway to the net house—now empty with the fishing season under way. He was accompanied by his daughter and an ice cream machine. Ice was available from the hold of a fish packer ready to depart for the fishing grounds later that day. The minister brought all the other ingredients, which included salt to cool the ice, cream, sugar, eggs, and flavoring.
The energetic preacher set out to make ice cream as if he had done it a thousand times before. My buddy and I immediately volunteered to help. Things did not go well. The ice smelled of fish and had to be washed. In spite of our best efforts on the crank, the ice cream did not firm up.
The minister became very impatient and frustrated. "Turn the handle faster!" He cried, as we took turns cranking as hard as we could. Just then several Native children appeared. They very shyly asked when the ice cream would be ready. The beleaguered minister turned to them and blurted out. "Can't you see we're having trouble! Come back later!" The children's jaws dropped in astonishment and they scurried away.
We eventually got the machine working and wonderful vanilla ice cream appeared. The helpers were allowed a cone each, with an admonition that further cones might be available from what was left over after the Native children came. The afternoon wore on and the ice cream was losing its stiffness. No children showed up. The crestfallen minister suddenly realized that the Native children must have assumed that this was a white person only party.
The word had spread in the village that Natives were not welcome. We eventually had our fill of soft ice cream when messengers to the Native village failed to produce any ice cream converts. The minister and his daughter gathered up their equipment and left the cannery, looking very hang dog indeed, never to be seen again.
Living out on a river several kms from a hospital was in itself a challenge for my parents. My mother was a modern women and had learned her first aid on the job. I was always finding a new way to injure myself .
On one summer's morning I awoke with the bed covers attached to my face. Hearing my muffled scream Terry headed up the narrow stairwell to see what all the fuss was about.
After observing me and the bed covers she decided I had a pencil up my nose. Which then sent my mum running up the stairs. With a enthusiastic grab she pulled the blankets which wedged a fish hook that had attached itself to my nose a little further. Barbs on fishhooks were a regular thing back then and my nose now had a 2 barbed hook in it. Off to Rupert we went.
One night as my parents were watching the only TV programme, that was forever on with a guy my mum had nicknamed "Tricky Dick" AKA Nixon, there was a bang at the door. Our front door had a creative security system that entailed a large spike wedged into the door jam. Upon releasing the spike one of dad's fisherman presented a detached arm that had been ripped off by the drum on his boat. Off to Rupert he went.
Then there was the time we were walking past the boat shop and 5 fingers flew into the air. Perfect timing for us and the finger-less worker as we gathered up the fingers and the man who owned them and off to Rupert they went.
Photo Credit Bruce Thompson
Mum was the cannery's unofficial first aid attendant for the children. The mothers always brought their kids to our door with head injuries from falling off the boardwalk or other ailments. Since she was the one with the car it was off to Rupert many times again. A customary way of saying thank you among the cannery people was to give gifts, my mum had the most wonderful collection of Indigenous arts and crafts from her years as a first aid attendant .
Photo credit Gladys Blyth
Swimming in the summer was one of our favourite things to do, it just could not be done in the Skeena River. We did not have to be told not to swim in the river as it was very obvious not to. My friend Tammy lived next to the new floats and we discovered if we flushed her toilet and ran really fast, we could watch everything come out on to the beach at low tide. The village down at the other end had only outhouses that emptied over the river.
We could watch missiles drop from the vantage point at the net loft. There was no sewage treatment plant at the cannery but there was not one in Rupert either!