Wednesday, May 3, 2017

British Columbia, 1947

Our first Canadian car.
So, our father bought a car, our first Canadian car, a 1940 Dodge. It was so much bigger than any car we'd had in England, and it took us to the Cariboo, a frontier region perhaps 300 miles north of Vancouver. 
        The roads were paved part way there, but eventually they gave way to dusty gravel highways tended by big yellow "graders." You could see someone coming quite a long way off as each vehicle was followed by a cloud of dust.
       The first part of the drive, the lower Fraser River valley, was relatively flat but after a town named Hope, you were into the mountains and a section of road known as the Fraser Canyon. I don't know how long this part of the drive was, but it was certainly the most spine-tingling and seemed to harrow on forever. Perhaps it was less than a hundred miles but it was chock full of hairpin turns, suicidal hills, and views over a hanging edge of rushing river through a narrow rocky canyon. It seemed like death was possible round every scary turn. 
       It was a great relief to get past the Canyon and into the cattle country beyond. Reaching the town of Lillooet (Mile 0) would have been my father's first culture shock. No mistaking: this was the Wild West. We drove on, past ranches, grasslands, forests, a place called 100 Mile House, onwards to a grouping of log cabins, and one major central log building, on the shore of a spectacularly beautiful lake. This was Emerald Lodge on Lac La Hache where we were booked to spend the summer. 
Stagecoach @ 100 Mile House
       Lac la Hache is a very romantic name in French. It comes with a story about a gold prospector in the 1850's who lost his axe while breaking ice: the lake just swallowed it up. In English it is Axe Lake, but like most things, it sounds better in French.  
     The photo of "our first Canadian car" also includes the log cabin which was our home for the summer of 1947. I would be quite content living in such a cabin forever. 
   The Cariboo was the site of one of North America's premier gold rushes after the one in California showed the way. In the 1850's, thousands of fortune-seekers, from Europe, China and California came to the Cariboo much the same way we had, via Vancouver and Lilooet, and some of them actually struck pay dirt. I found out much later that a relative of mine, a poet known as Cariboo Jim, was involved in the Gold Rush.

       It was a wonderful summer with many happy memories. We went fishing on the lake, several times, and caught lake trout and something called Char, from the deep water; some were as  large as 20 pounds. We swam a lot; actually, I paddled a lot because I didn't learn to swim for at least another year or two. One time we witnessed a skunk getting cornered under one of the cabins. It was my first time getting a whiff of that inimitable skunk stink. 
      We ran into a genuine American family and their dog, Mac, who in my memory is a black-and-white English spaniel. The most memorable thing about this family came from my father's rendition of them calling for their dog in heavy throaty accents: "Heere Maaac!" It was at Lac la Hache I discovered that Americans were bigger and fatter than other nationalities. 
       I loved the log cabin. I think it had a bedroom for my father and a kitchenette and a bathroom, but we all pretty much lived in one room. Dad did the cooking and I'm guessing this was where he learned how, We drove in to Williams Lake to do the shopping, though there were probably some rudimentary foods for sale right there at the lodge. Williams Lake is a little Western Cow-town which still has its annual Stampede; like Calgary, but smaller.
        At the end of the summer we returned to Vancouver, the dreaded Mrs. Dryvenside, and Athlone School. Our father rented a little apartment in a big old house near Cambie Street and began working as a physician. One of his first jobs was connected to the Jericho Army base. 

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