For a few summers after we moved to New Westminster my father would return north to continue his craft as a net man for the salmon fishermen. In the mending of nets there was always the pressure to have all the torn nets mended before the next salmon opening so that the fisherman would not lose any valuable fishing time.
This one particular day a fierce rain storm blew in but the mending had to continue, rainstorm or no rainstorm. Working alongside my dad was a First Nations net woman. My father, a wizard with poles, tarps and twine, fashioned her a storm shelter. When the net boss observed this from the dock he charged down the ramp onto the net float, red-faced and arms flailing. In no uncertain terms he told my dad that the shelter would have to be taken down immediately! My father stood his ground. The structure stayed up.
My father had stood his ground... When he told me that I felt as though either my heart or the world had suddenly stopped. I remember it feeling as though everything had gone quiet and my ears were ringing. Had he been fired it might well have meant a very lean winter for our family.
At great risk to our family’s welfare my father had stood up for what he knew was right, regardless of the consequences. I knew at that moment that his action had become my North Star, providing guidance to me for the rest of my life.
The last ball of net mending twine my father used and his net mending needles. The canned salmon box label is of J.H. Todd & Sons, the owners of Inverness Cannery on the Skeena River where my father and his father before him worked for so many years.
Each day a magical transformation of Chick-A-Dee By The Sea took place with the incoming tide. From being a scene of rock, shoreline flats and tall grasses our home would be sitting in the middle of a lake of calm, still water. I never tired of this magical moment, my favourite time of the day. The pictures below illustrate this dramatic change of landscape.
Inverness slough at low tide. Inverness is just around the corner to the left.
The transformation - high water slack.
Off for Sunday dinner at the neighbours.
Amidst this solitude the parade of gillnetters would begin as they could now pass through Inverness Slough with the high tide. On occasion our mother would take Carole and I out for a boat ride when the tide was slack and there was no current. The only sounds were that of our boat slipping through the water and the movement of the oars in the oarlocks.
On high tides our father would take the Wylo up to Inverness by way of the slough. There he would use the dock winch to lower a 45 gallon drum of stove oil into the Skeena, fasten it by rope and tow it to our home. Tying up the Wylo to our float house he would wait until the tide receded enough so he could pull the oil drum through the water to our shed and then upright it with rope and pulley. I marveled at this ability to harness a force of nature to your advantage.
Of course the high tide could also present moments of peril if you weren’t careful. One day I was walking from the front of our home to the back along the planks you see in the photograph.
I just happened to look down into the water and saw my toddler sister Carole crawling on all fours under the water! I immediately hollered out “Mom!” Sensing my panic she immediately rushed out of the house and saved my sister. Carole had slipped out of the kitchen unnoticed and had gone out exploring.
Updated: Mar 18
From time to time I would go gill netting with my dad, usually on night sets.
I enjoyed pumping the boat out. After a couple of strokes the pump, with much sloshing and gurgling, would magically release the bilge water and I had done it all by myself! Later in the evening as the light began to fade my dad would take the wooden triangular float, raise the glass mantle on the red lantern and light the wick.
He would then pay out the net over the stern and another set would begin. I never tired of the sight of the first sockeye landing on the deck, one of God’s/Nature’s most beautiful creations - all silver, firm and with a greenish blue back. One of my fondest memories is of the one cylinder Easthope gasoline engine powering the boat. I recall the green colour,
the huge flywheel and the brass oiling cap. Most captivating to me was the the sound of it’s heartbeat - ‘pa-choo,.....pa-choo.....pa-choo’. That sound became my lullaby song, as I drifted off to sleep aided by the warmth coming from engine. What better time to have been raised on the North Coast!