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.
Winter, with snow covering the ground, was the special quiet time of year. The salmon season was long over and the gillnet boats were no longer passing by our float house. There also seemed to be less freight train traffic going by. It was a quiet family time, just us alone shut away from the outside world.
As children to wake up in the morning, to look outside and see wolf tracks around our home filled my sister Carole and I with a feeling of marvel and excitement. It also affected our father in a particular way. I would wake up in the night to my dad’s loud howls - the wolves were chasing him once again! Our dog Barney would go right back in the house as soon as he sensed there was a wolf close by. Occasionally we would spot them slinking off into the trees. A special moment indeed.
In addition to being a fisherman and net man our father was also a very skilled carpenter. He built us a beautiful red and silver coloured bobsleigh made of cedar. It was about six feet long with a truck steering wheel and rear brakes. Carole and I would climb aboard and he would pull us the two miles down the tracks to Port Edward with me ‘steering’ all the way - a very special moment. There we would climb the hill and sleigh back down to the Nelson Brothers cannery.
We always had a warmly dressed snowman in the front yard, well appointed with an Army overcoat and pith helmet.
A special Christmas time adventure was to go out with our sleigh (pictured here) and chop down our Christmas tree and proudly show it to our mom when we got home.
I can recall the evenings when our mom and dad made the Christmas tree lights. By the light from our two Aladdin coal oil lamps dad would take flashlight bulbs, solder them along a string of electrical wire. Mom would be cutting out squares of red and green gift paper, glue the squares together as pockets over the flashlight bulbs. Once those tasks were completed the lights would be strung around our tree, then connected to a battery and Christmas would truly have arrived.
During the winter our dad often went hunting with his Uncle Bart Hedsrom and his young cousin Dick.
My most memorable winter moment is one that I love to tell and retell so here I go once again:
One winter’s evening we were returning from Prince Rupert after visiting our relatives the Hedstroms during the day. We got off the train at the Phelan railway station and began walking home along the snow covered tracks. It was a black inky night with the full moon shining on the freshly fallen snow and the sky was full of stars. At that moment it seemed to me that we were the only people left in the whole world. The stillness of the night was overpowering. The only sounds were of our boots crunching in the snow and the spine-chilling wail of the wolves in the hills above us howling at the moon. I’ve never forgotten that moment.
I was nearing five years of age when World War II ended. My recollections of that historic event are thus scattered and very few in number. Those that I do recall however remain very vivid and memorable to this day. The first impact that the war had on our lives occurred when Charlie Currie towed our float house into Prince Rupert harbour. This move was necessitated by my father, a skilled carpenter, being hired to help construct the war time housing being built for the war time dry dock workers. My only memory of that time was when we would row to visit the Closter family in Dodge Cove.
My mother and I in front of the Bank of Montreal, much later the Home Hardware store on Third Avenue. Note the War Savings Bond poster in the window of the bank.
In July of 1943 my father was hired by the U.S. Army as a carpenter in the Port Edward division of the Army Service Forces Prince Rupert Sub-Port Staging and Embarkation Area. Charlie Currie again attached his tow rope to our float house and returned us to Phelan and our Chick-A-Dee-By The Sea homestead. Three docks had been built in Porpoise Harbour to service the loading of munitions, war material and troops to the Aleutians and the Pacific War Theatre.
My first awareness of the war happened shortly after the time two uniformed servicemen visited us. Later that afternoon they set tin cans up on some of our stumps and fired away at the targets. One of them then very carefully handed me the pistol and assisted me in firing at the next target. Whether I hit the tin can or not I can’t recall. What stays with me though is the shot’s noisy report and the sharp recoil of the pistol. When the two soldiers left after supper I asked my mother why both of them were wearing the same clothes. It was then that I learned that there was a war going on and what it all meant.
My sister Carole playing with our newest toy, a spent artillery shell. It also doubled as our umbrella stand.
With my father now working in Port Edward my mother, sister Carole and I would visit Henry and Lama Closter and their four children who were about the age of my sister Carole and I. The Closters lived in the upstairs apartment of the Port Edward school. The school was located well behind the waterfront buildings and reached by following a long wooden boardwalk through the trees
In the background you can see the boardwalk leading to the Port Edward school house. As a child I was always fascinated by the miniature boat in the foreground. Never could figure out what it was intended to be.
On a number of occasions Bruce Closter and I would sneak up on the porch of the school and knock on the door then quickly dive into the firewood box located near by. The students never found us. I think now that they welcomed the diversion and didn’t want to disrupt our game. Perhaps it was at that point I decided that ‘Gee, this learning can be fun’. Maybe it was at that moment that I decided to go into teaching.....and yes, teaching did prove to be a pleasure.
One day back at our homestead I was playing outside when I suddenly heard a loud rumble growing louder and, most alarmingly, closer and closer to our home. I rushed indoors and the very walls seemed to be vibrating. Suddenly the noise died and I could hear multiple loud voices. There, tying up to the back deck of our home was an Air Force crash boat, not unlike the one pictured below*.
From local historian Phyllis Bowman’s book, ‘Second World War Memories!’
We were invited aboard, the lines let go and we slowly approached the entrance to Porpoise Harbour. Once outside the entrance the crash boat was given full throttle and we, quite literally it seemed, were flying towards the entrance of Prince Rupert Harbour. The massive power, the thunder, the waves and the speed were exhilarating, magnificent and absolutely delicious. What an experience for a young boy. We eventually slowed down as we approached Casey Point and waited while the submarine net was opened and we entered the harbour.
My last image of World War II is of my sister Carole and I standing beside our mother on the overpass leading to the steamship dock*. Carole and I are proudly wearing our Navy Coats with the brass buttons embossed with anchors. On our heads we have caps embroidered with red anchors. At that moment for some unknown reason the two of us charge down the ramp, our right arms raised in a Nazi salute, loudly proclaiming “Heil Hitler, Heil Hitler”. Our mother stands there absolutely mortified.
Some years after the war Carole and I learned of another wartime event that impacted our family. My father had a good Japanese-Canadian fisherman friend. On the eve of the Japanese-Canadian Internment decree the two of them attempted to arrange a quasi-legitimate bill of sale for the fisherman’s gillnet boat. Once the war was over my father would return the gillnetter. The authorities saw through the subterfuge and seized the boat. Sadly, my father never saw his friend again after the Internment ended.
So end my recollections of World War II.