GUEST POST. The Cannery Kid: Ice Cream Party

It was a beautiful early summer Sunday at North Pacific Cannery on the Skeena River. Sundays were often dull for a ten-year-old. It was just after school finished and before Vacation School started. The Cannery folks were buzzing with news of an ice cream party at the net house. A notice had appeared on the notice board near the watchman's shack. It said "All children are invited to an ice cream party on Sunday afternoon.

This was 1940, and ice cream was a rare treat. If you wanted ice cream outside of the city you had to make it yourself. It required a machine and an abundant supply of ice. We had ice at the cannery but no ice cream machine.

About noon on Sunday an itinerant Baptist minister showed up on the walkway to the net house—now empty with the fishing season under way. He was accompanied by his daughter and an ice cream machine. Ice was available from the hold of a fish packer ready to depart for the fishing grounds later that day. The minister brought all the other ingredients, which included salt to cool the ice, cream, sugar, eggs, and flavoring.

The energetic preacher set out to make ice cream as if he had done it a thousand times before. My buddy and I immediately volunteered to help. Things did not go well. The ice smelled of fish and had to be washed. In spite of our best efforts on the crank, the ice cream did not firm up.

The minister became very impatient and frustrated. "Turn the handle faster!" He cried, as we took turns cranking as hard as we could. Just then several Native children appeared. They very shyly asked when the ice cream would be ready. The beleaguered minister turned to them and blurted out. "Can't you see we're having trouble! Come back later!" The children's jaws dropped in astonishment and they scurried away.

We eventually got the machine working and wonderful vanilla ice cream appeared. The helpers were allowed a cone each, with an admonition that further cones might be available from what was left over after the Native children came. The afternoon wore on and the ice cream was losing its stiffness. No children showed up. The crestfallen minister suddenly realized that the Native children must have assumed that this was a white person only party.

The word had spread in the village that Natives were not welcome. We eventually had our fill of soft ice cream when messengers to the Native village failed to produce any ice cream converts. The minister and his daughter gathered up their equipment and left the cannery, looking very hang dog indeed, never to be seen again.


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