Working at the cannery was not a Monday to Friday kind of job It was more 24/7. However on Sunday my dad did his best to come up with an adventure while Mum was in the city picking up groceries and visiting .
The adventures were many and there was never enough Sundays in the summer. One year my cousins Gail, Wendy, Allan and little Russell were up at the cannery. Dad decide to take us all across the Skeena to where Old Ben lived. I had heard of Old Ben, he was a hermit trapper that lived on Smith island and loved cats. (There was a theory that the cannery cats were descendants of Ben's cats). When my dad was younger he would watch from the NP side for the smoke to rise from the chimney each morning when Ben made coffee, that was the signal that Ben was fine. One morning there was no smoke, so dad went over and brought the body back to town.
On Sunday the 8 of us headed over to Old Ben's, once on shore we decided that it would be best to look through the window before going in the old cabin that mother nature had done a good job reclaiming, after all what if there was a Mrs. Old Ben and she didn't drink coffee! So Wendy and Gail gave me a leg up and I looked through the window. Laid out before me on the floor of the cabin were forms of cats. Dead cats that now had moss growing on them. My poor eyes would never un-see dead green cats.
The Skeena had a many canneries along it and my favourite was Inverness. There was something about Inverness that I loved. Dad would take us out there on Sunday and we would stroll along the boardwalk.
It was no longer in use but I could feel and sense the families that had once lived there. The office still had its furniture and the houses were left as if the people were coming back. The sun seem to dance off the houses making them sparkle.
One night in 1973 my dad got a call that Inverness was on fire, he raced out there but there was no use, it went up pretty quick.
It was not long until we knew who had caused the fire and every time I saw that boy from the village of Port Edward I wanted to punch him. How could he walk down that boardwalk with those pretty houses and the wonderful company buildings and then burn it down?!
There was never enough Sunday trips to Osland. The Icelandic settlement on Smith Island that had been started by my family and other Icelandic families in the early 1900s. We would leave NP when the tide was high with our picnic. With my dad at the helm of the Casey Point he would give us kids driving instructions. You were never too young to learn how to drive a boat.
Osland was made up of old houses and a boardwalk. We were allowed to explore inside the abandon houses and find treasures. The rules were that the treasures had to remain hidden under the boardwalk until the next visit. If I could remember the hiding spot on the next Sunday we ventured out then I got to keep the treasure.
Like all small villages at the time, the company store was the hub of activity. The store was down the boardwalk from the house and it sold everything we needed.
We didn't really shop there, since my mum bought all our provisions in the city from the big supermarkets that were a lot cheaper. Inside the store there was rows and rows of things from food to hardware and the building also served as the Post Office.
Photo credit Richard McGuire
The whole store was done in dark oak and everything was old or so it seemed. There were glass display cases as if the items for sale were museum pieces. It was pretty cool in there and I often thought of myself as Laura Ingalls when I came in with my allowance to buy candy.
Mr. Booth was the store manager, he and his wife Dorothy came up from Vancouver for the salmon season. He wore a tan apron just like Niels Olsen in Walnut Grove which completed the stepping back in time scene I always had going on in my head. My mum had strict rules about the store just like all other things in our lives. The company extended credit to everyone that worked at the cannery in the shape of a account book or coupons each booklet had the same denominations as currency.
The workers and their families could ring up a bill all season and then the total was taken off from their earnings in September for everyone but us. My mum only paid cash she didn't want company credit or those silly coupons that reminded her of ration coupons from the war in Europe. I think that is when I learned the song "Sixteen Tons" (You load sixteen tons and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt," "I can't afford to die. I owe my soul to the company store.") Us kids would sometimes find a booklet of the coupons and treat ourselves to something. My friends would have to make the purchase as everyone knew the Philippson kids never had coupons.
The coupons were given to the cannery workers as an advance and could only be redeemed in the store. A practice that went back to the days of the Hudson's Bay Company .It was a way of making sure the money stayed in the company's coffers.
I remember one day my mum sent me to the store with a note. I of course read the note and wondered why I just couldn't buy what she asked for: "Tampax" what ever the heck that was. But the instructions were to give the note to Mr. Booth, so I handed over the note. I followed him to the section where this mystery product was kept and he handed me a box wrapped in brown paper. How the heck does he know this is a "Tampax" when the darn thing is wrapped in brown paper?! But I paid the customary cash and returned home with the box wrapped in brown paper. The 60's and 70s were a special time!
The Post Office was at the back of the store and only Mr. Booth would get you your mail. The letters were sorted into little pigeon holes with our names on the bottom. Monday to Friday, Mr. Booth would meet the train in the morning to collect and drop off the mail bag then back to the store to sort it in to the little holes. Our family didn't get much mail but it was pretty darn exciting when we did.
photo credit Mytravelblog@tom24de
The main office was next to the store were my dad did his manager stuff. The furniture had not changed much from the 1800's to my eyes. There was a huge safe where the ledgers were kept as well as the coupon books. Mrs. Booth and some other ladies worked in the office. There was a large wooden counter that separated the ladies from the fishermen and cannery workers when they came in for their pay or coupons. One year, my dad extended the office and added a modern part on. The office was not a place we were allowed in even to visit dad. Once fall came and we arrived to clean things up then we could touch all the machines and make ourselves pretend paychecks.