Posted by: lmcg1 | July 11, 2019

Family stories

This is a transcription of notes I found that my mother had written, likely in the mid 1970s. She wrote that she was writing this family history in memory of her brother, who was killed in a training crash during the Second World War. The words are hers.

I was born in New Westminster in 1920, the third daughter in a family of four. My oldest sister was born in 1916, my second sister in 1918, and then my only brother in 1921.

All the children in the family went to Central School, with the 3 girls going on to Duke of Connaught High School. Our brother went to TJ Trapp Technical School. After school he worked for a short time as an usher in the Columbian Theatre in New Westminster and then in 1940 joined the RCAF training in Saskatchewan and Sea Island BC. He received his commission as a Pilot Officer and was then transferred to Patricia Bay Air Force Base, and during a training flight was lost when his plane lost power. He held the plane on course while the crew member practicing bomb aiming parachuted to safety but was unable to escape the plane in time. He was the last male member of this branch of the family.

The family was very comfortable in their three story 7 room home at on 2nd St in New Westminster. (Note: this house is now a designated heritage house and still stands in 2019). Upstairs were 2 big airy bedrooms with dormers, diamond paned windows and a play area upstairs. Then down the stairs to a central hallway leading to the master bedroom, separate bath and lavatory, the kitchen and the dining room.

The main floor had a good sized kitchen. Off it was a back porch and a room with pantry and cupboards in the English manner. Swinging doors lead into the dining room where we always had the evening meal. Through a wooden archway was the small comfortable den with fireplace, library, table and chairs. This was closed off by sliding doors from the parlour which contained the piano and more formal sitting chairs used only for visits and Christmas, and piano lessons of course. From the front door into the parlour and dining room there was a wide hallway and a coat closet and the door, of course has a cut glass prism window which cast rainbows on the dining room floor if the setting sun hit it right.

Outside the front door was a porch about 12 feet wide, with partly built up sides so the family could gather there and entertain or play in summer and about 10 wide steps leading down to the cement walkway. On these steps we spent a lot of tine. Sliding down the wide railing, playing dolls, jacks etc and even holding May Day celebrations.

The basement stairs led down from the kitchen to a big area with smooth concrete where there was the laundry area, good storage, a workshop, coal and wood slabs for the furnace. This still left room for tool storage and a clear area around the furnace where we roller skated and had wagon and scooter races in the winter. It was nice and dry being only about 3 feet underground The laundry area was very efficient for the day as the laundry was thrown down a chute beside the bathroom to a wooden bin in the basement. There was hot and cold water, tubs and one of the first electric Beatty wringer washers with the copper tubes. All laundry was hung outside in summer and in the basement in winter. One of the really daredevil stunts was to fall down the laundry chute as long as there were lots of clothes at the bottom.

The kitchen, with its large windows facing south and a large wooden kitchen table and chairs and the focus on the black iron and nickel wood and coal range, was the most comfortable place in the house in the morning as the furnace was only lit in cold weather. However it was very efficient then as it could be banked with heavy slabs of fir and coal lumps and kept the house warm all night. The slabs of wood and bark could be 12 x 18 inches and the coal came in 5 – 10 pound lumps which we broke up as needed. The slab wood was very cheap as it was really scrap wood from the many lumber mills on the Fraser River.

The pantry, with its glass cupboard doors, bins for flour etc and glass jars of staples on one side, and sink and drainboard under the window, was between the kitchen and dining room. It was a very convenient way to keep the cooking and dishwashing areas out of sight. Not like our houses with small kitchen and large family room today.

The dining room was fairly large with an oval dining table, a sideboard for good silver and china, and dining chairs. It had a large bay window facing south with plants which made it a pleasant room. My favourite however was the cozy den, off the dining room. It had a red tile and varnished wood fireplace and on each side, bookcases below small lead paned windows. There were wicker chairs with cushions, a library table and a carpet. No chesterfields then, only a small sofa in the parlour, with a couple of small wood and upholstery chairs and the small piano which was seldom used except under duress.

We lived in this house until my grandmother died when I was 8, in 1928. She had lived next door in a big house at the corner of 2nd St and Queens Ave. We moved into that house since my uncle and her housekeeper were still there, and rented our house for the grand sum of $27 a month that same year.

My father had had a real misfortune two years before, when he had lost thumb and fingers of his left hand when a timber fell on him from a ship loading on the Fraser River. He was in St Mary’s Hospital for a long time and could not go back to his job as Master Mariner and Pilot on the Fraser River. To exaggerate the misfortune into a financial disaster, the tug he owned (The Clutha) with another person was sunk under the New Westminster Railway Bridge while he was in hospital. It was proved that the crew running her was drinking but there was no insurance. After that our family had lots of land and houses but very little cash.

When my grandmother died in 1928 she left $25,000 in trust ($380,000 in 2019 dollars!) to look after my uncle who had been crippled by polio and was not able to support himself. She left my mother their property at Queen’s and 2nd which consisted of a large house on 3 city lots, our house and lot next door, 2 houses rented out on Dufferin Street New Westminster, and several lots in New Westminster Heights. She also left our summer house on Marine Drive in White Rock .

Most of the property was rented out or sold at depression prices until in 1942 the Queens Ave property finally went for taxes and my parents moved to the summer home at White Rock where they lived until her death in 1954. During the Depression in the thirties my Father was not able to really get reorganized although he tried a paint and wallpaper shop with a friend on Columbia St in New Westminster, worked temporarily at the Pilot Office on the Docks, and at a Gasoline Supply Office where the Seafood Restaurant now stands on the New West Docks.

In these years of ‘hard times’ we were not too badly off, although change to go to a show or buy a chocolate bar was very scarce. A big treat was ice cream and bakery cake. All the family had to work pretty hard to keep the house going. With the big garden all vegetables were grown except potatoes and the extensive fruit garden was worked on from spring to fall. All summer, canning went on, with the four of us picking and preparing fruit, and Mother, Dad and the housekeeper putting fruit and pickles up in bottles and crocks. My uncle and father did the heavy garden work, lawn mowing and rolling, digging, fresh manure by the truck load every spring wheelbarrowed onto the garden, the pruning, raking and fall cleanup just as big a job as spring preparations. Also in the spring the cellar was restocked with load after load of fir slabs which were wheelbarrowed in from the lane, although the coal men carried in their sacks of lump coal. Several cords of wood were split by my uncle and stacked near the back door for the kitchen range. This was packed into house by the armload every day and stacked in a big woodbox behind the stove.

The garden produced:

Queen Ann cherries for jam and preserves, Bing cherries for eating and Black cherries for jam.

Walnuts

Raspberries, strawberries, loganberries, blackberries

Peaches and pears – Bartlet for preserves and eating

Russet apples for cooking and Gravenstein apples for eating

Greengages, plums and Italian prunes for jam

Red and black currants, quinces

Rhubarb

Peas, carrots, beans, cucumbers, lettuce, parsnips, horseradish, dill, onions, parsley

My grandmother left a nice stock of wine, glasses and decanters in her pantry which were enjoyed for years.

Walnuts were pickled when young, vinegar and wine made, dill pickles and beets in crocks, eggs were kept in crocks in water glass, orange and lemon rinds made into peel for cakes, pancake syrup made, bread and all cakes and cookies baked, soup made from bones, chickens killed and plucked, feathers made into pillows, milk separated and butter made.

When we first moved into the big house, Granny’s cow ‘Bossie’ was still there in a small barn with hayloft above opening into the back lane. My uncle would stake her out to graze on the long grass in the lane, which was really only used by the horse drawn baker’s wagon and the garbage trucks and 3 or 4 cars a day.

We didn’t keep her long, though I remember the raw milk and cream being great, and none of us liked home made butter. At the bottom of the garden was a chicken house and 2 runs, and we gradually thinned out the flock of Rhode Island Reds for Sunday dinner. The little barn made a fantastic fort for the neighbourhood gang but years after the chickens were gone we’d still get fleas if we went in there to poke around.

Between the house and henhouse there were 2 huge cherry trees about 40 ft high and great for climbing. My brother and I staked out one each. Climbing up and comfortably perching there any time except winter was a wonderful private place looking out over the rooftops in all directions.

The garden of course wasn’t confined to just useful vegetables and fruit. Grannie  had hired a Chinese gardener who also helped her with the flowers, many spring bulbs under the large walnut tree, hyacinth, bluebells and daffodils, lily of the valley, tulips by a large magnolia tree, and rock garden nearby. Near the front door were rose gardens, Virginia creeper over the front porch, and pink tea roses, and a large snowball tree in the corner by the cement gate posts.

Along the side of the house on Queen Ave was a huge locust tree, whose perfume from the blooms in spring was almost overwhelming.

We had a wonderful time in this old house. My brother and I were the right age just to enjoy and explore every nook and cranny, though I imagine to the older members of the family it was a tremendously hard job and a lot of worry.

My eldest sister, after finishing high school took a dressmaking course, and then worked for Madam Runge in Vancouver. She was our family femme fatale and put on some great fancy dress parties at home and had very interesting boyfriends, including a large red-headed Irish fellow with an infectious grin. They were married and lived in Vancouver with their 2 boys. My second sister married soon after, a dark good looking New West boy. They lived in a little house on 7th Ave in New West then moved to Burquitlam until they retired to Mayne Island.

Growing up in the big house suited me fine, all of us walked by various routes about 4 blocks to school in our early teens with friends, never each other. After school there was roller skate hockey on Queens Ave, or roller skate tours all over the town on nice evenings. There was a pond we dug out near a garden tap, about 12 ft square, which we turned into a model lake, making wharves and boats out of scrap lumber. There was hide and seek, run sheep run played with the street lamp as goal, and the whole neighbourhood and College Park to get lost in. In winter we would sleigh ride 2 blocks down the hill, because the few cars couldn’t make 2nd St hill anyhow, and the roads were like glass from the bobsleighs.

Sundays were Sunday school at 11 at the Baptist Church at Queens and 7th St then home to a huge Sunday dinner and weather permitting, out for long walks or a drive in ‘Dorothy Dodge’, the 1920 Touring model car with the black leather seats, glass windows in the convertible canvas top, and wooden spoke wheels.

The best part of the year was the summer, of course, when we loaded summer clothes, food and blankets in canvas gunny sacks and Indian Blankets, strapped everything to the running boards with the collapsible iron grill and took off for the house at White Rock.

There we enjoyed freedom, pure and undiluted. We had to be home for meals and at dark for bed, otherwise we were on our own. The beach was safe, and there were no obnoxious people it seemed then. Dad would go back to New West to help with the canning and keep an eye on the house, then he’d arrive again with the car laden down with fruit and other food. We’d descend like locusts on the car with cries of ‘Food! Food!’ as if we hadn’t stuffed ourselves recently.

We caught crabs and boiled them on the beach, and cockles which were steamed and then made into chowder. (Note: there is a hand written recipe card with the chowder recipe, which I still have). Blackberry and huckleberry hunts helped the ever hungry kids as well as Mother baking every day.

We all taught ourselves to swim and dive off the float that an old retired resident built from beach logs every year for the kids, just east of the White Rock. We’d put a tent up on the beach and spend most of the day and evening there, building sand castles and cars etc and soaking up the sun and sea water, bonfires and marshmallow roasts and first romances when the sun went down. Around 9 everyone walked down the board walk onto the pier to watch the Great Northern with its great steam engine come in, then home for a last cup of cocoa and bed.


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