When I was six years old we moved to New Westminster. There for the first time I met two of my cousins, boys of about my age. They seemed to be apprehensive, even somewhat fearful in my presence. I asked my mom about this. Was this the way kids acted in the big city. She told me that my grandfather Anton Vick, a terrible tease, for months before our arrival had been telling my cousins to just wait until ‘David From The North’ arrived, things were going to to be different. He was going to be straightening them out. Exactly what Big David From The North was going to do to them was never quite spelled out. Fears unspecified are the most effective ones, only limited by the reach of young imaginations.
This story has got me to thinking. Take another look at the photograph. Imagine that you can see my grandfather leaning closer and whispering in my ear, “David, some day you will become known as ‘Big David From The North’.”
I see myself wearing gigantic hip waders, fishermen’s wool pants, a red and black mackinaw and a raven perched on one shoulder, an eagle on the other. I would stride up and down the North Coast performing deeds of derring-do, legendary heroic deeds and rescuing small puppies. For starters I might fill fisherman’s nets with schools of bright silver salmon and blow the clouds away from Lax Kw’alaams, Metlakatla, Kitkatla, Prince Rupert and Hartley Bay. I might even scoop away the top of Mount Hays thus ensuring a greater amount of fair weather for Prince Rupert. *Tonight children might be being tucked in their beds, wide-eyed, hands clasped, waiting to hear of the latest exploits of Big David From The North.
If only my grandfather had whispered in my ear I could have become a legend. If not a legend, perhaps at least, in the iconic Marlon Brando line from On The Waterfront, “I coulda been a contender!”
Recent immigrants once they are established in their new country and have the financial means often have the desire to return to the ‘Old Country’ to reestablish ties with family and friends. In was no different for my grandfather Anton Vick in Port Essington. In the spring of 1920 he broached the idea of he and oldest Robert, my father, visiting Norway. My grandmother’s initial reaction, “What, you’re leaving me home alone with two babies!” Eventually she warmed to the idea with the proviso that Anton arrange for one of her sisters to join them in Port Essington.
So at the end of the salmon season Anton and son Robert departed Montreal on September 28 and arrived by ship in Norway on October 11, 1920. Robert was immediately enrolled in school which he took to easily, Norwegian being the language spoken in the home in Port Essington. Father and son returned to Port Essington in time for Anton to prepare the B. A. Cannery’s gillnets for the following fishing season.
What I find particularly interesting about this 100 year old passport is that it wasn’t the Canadian Government requesting that the Vicks be permitted entry to Norway. Rather it was Victor Christian William, the Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief of the Dominion of Canada, in the name of His Britannic Majesty requesting that they be allowed to enter another country. Victor Christian William, judging by his impressive string of titles, must have been a very busy fellow indeed!
“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.