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.
Our first summer out at the cannery was the year I turned 9. As luck would have it there were lots of girls my age that lived out there and they were seasoned veterans when it came to cannery life. The one difference was that both their parents worked. The women were either mending nets or working the cannery line while the men fished on the company boats or on their own vessels as well. Many were part of the operation in the cannery, boat house and the machine shop.
Which meant that my friends had responsibilities cooking, cleaning and looking after younger siblings. Terry and I didn't have any of those jobs since our mother didn't work and she didn't like us to mess up her kitchen. Our younger brother was not our responsibility either but he did get in the way of our adventure by wanting to tag along. My new friends were great allies, we would spy on Billy, then tattle. That way he was confined to the yard and not allowed to leave, making our adventures secret and uninterrupted.
When you have the railway tracks just meters from your house you can hear them calling to you "come play on us".
Us girls would head up behind the Okabe's house near the bridge with our copper pennies. The goal was to have the train flatten them but not derail the train. A derailed train would not have been a good thing for our social calendar. My new friends taught me how to put my ear to the tracks to listen for the train. It was important for Terry and I to have a good hiding spot when the train went by so the engineer or the caboose man would not see us. If our adventure had derailed the train and the engineer would be able to say " yes, there was a chubby white kid" the odds were that was me. There were only 3 white kids at the cannery that summer and they were all named Philippson. So to save my friends' behinds we had to stay out of sight. However our plan had a flaw; after the train ran over the penny we were so well hidden we couldn't find the flattened ones .
So we figured out that we needed to slow down the flight of the penny and that could be done with tape. Acquiring tape was easy, my dad had a whole office full of supplies and the house was also his office. He was a rather frugal man and had been using tape and the stapler to repair his shoes recently so I would just have to wait until mum was hanging out clothes on the line to liberate the tape. The plan worked and we had our flattened pennies. However from that point on we found ourselves with a lot of new jobs. We no longer had a lot of time to lie our heads on the tracks and listen for the train it seems someone snitched!
My sister was now employed at the canteen, a small operation that the Stewart girls ran during the summer just at the entrance to the village. I was green with envy, Terry now earned a hourly wage at the age of 11, scooping ice cream, making french fries and selling candy bars. I figured my mum would be game to help increase the profit margin of the canteen. After all they were a cash only operation no credit or coupons. But apparently she had rules about eating fries, candy bars and ice cream all summer. We could come home for lunch and it was the same thing every day, salmon sandwiches on white bread and milk.
My new job was filling needles for the ladies mending nets.
A piece work job, for every needle filled I got a nickle. Trick was the tension had to be just perfect for the net ladies to do their job and I had trouble with tension. Needless to say I never made a lot of money . Years later I found out there was a machine that loaded the needles for the ladies.
Our other employer was Mr. Lum the cook at the cookhouse. He offered us .25 ( the cost of a candy bar at the canteen) for every flounder we caught off the Net Loft . But that was tricky as well because everyone threw their garbage into the river from that point and all we ever caught were Bull Heads. You had to have a good casting rod to get past the garbage pile on the beach. But every so often I got lucky and sold my catch to Mr. Lum.
The Bunkhouse for the single men was right across from the mess hall and the Japanese one was down the way. Mr. Lum would come out of the kitchen and bang the brass triangle that signaled lunch or dinner.
Mr. Lum was the best cook ever, not that I ever went in the cook house while he was cooking for the single men. After all, women never went in there and there was not even a rung on the ladder for children. But on Sundays, Mr. Lum made the managers' families dinner. We three kids were sent to the cookhouse at the dinner hour to pick up the Chinese food he had made for us. It was served in cannery crockery oval serving dishes full of chow mien, sweet & sour, egg foo young and all the rice you could eat. To this day that was the best Chinese food I have ever eaten.