Tuesday, March 10, 2009
LIFE OF MY FATHER - 22
EDMONTON AND THE YUKON
For quite a while after we arrived in Edmonton, I missed Flin Flon and had a feeling of having been dislocated. I especially missed my friend Helen Booth and attending Girl Guides and having long bike rides with her. Other things I missed were having lessons with my piano teacher, Mr. Sonnichson, who was much nicer than his Edmonton replacement; playing piano at music festivals and on the radio; and walking to the Main Street cinema to see the Saturday afternoon movie for children, often featuring a Batman or Superman short.
I don't remember who my father worked for when we first arrived in Edmonton. After about a year and a half, he got a job at Teslin, a small settlement in the Yukon. He left in January, not returning until June. As the job was expected to last at least another year, Mom, Suzanne and I moved to Teslin to be with him. Mom taught there so we were able to rent the apartment above the school. It must have been like old times for her to teach with eight grades all in one room. As I was starting Grade Nine, I took lessons through the Alberta correspondence school.
My father's new job was at a bridge being built on the Alaska Highway, 1,300 miles north of Edmonton. The contractor was Burns and Dutton and the owner Defence Construction Ltd., a federal Crown Corporation. My father's role was to ensure that Burns and Dutton built the bridge in accordance with the specifications of the contract. It was a long bridge across Nisutlin Bay.
Teslin was little more than a stop on the highway. There was a restaurant and small motel owned by a family named Crumm, Brown's general store, a Ministry of Transport depot with three or four families, a few Metis families and an Indian Reserve. Most of the students at the one-room school were Metis. There were also three or four Treaty Indian children who had obtained exemptions from attendance at the residential school. Dolores Fraser, the wife of one of the men working for the Ministry of Transport, worked at the school to assist my mother.
Our nearest neighbours were a Norwegian trapper with his native wife and about five children. There was a piano at the school where I gave lessons to Laura, their 14-year-old daughter. In that way I got to know the family. Laura and her older sister Liliane were children of a former wife, and consequently discriminated against in the current regime. Liliane was engaged and subsequently married a fellow who worked for the Ministry of Transport.
Laura, however, was not so fortunate. A few years later, we saw her one afternoon in Fort Vermilion. She was standing on the sidewalk outside a bar. Tears came to her eyes as she told us that her father had forced her to come all the way to Fort Vermilion to take a job as a maid. Her employers spent much of their time in the bar, and she showed us bruises as proof that she had been mistreated. She was only seventeen and beautiful.
In the autumn, it began to get dark early in the afternoon. Before long, school had to close by about 3:00 p.m. In the summer, Suzanne and I had ventured a little way into the forest beside the school. We were deterred from going further because of its immense size and our fear of losing our way. In the winter, it was too cold to do much out of doors, and there was little to break the monotony of the long, dark days.
Soon after our arrival, I saw a very small puppy at the general store. She was very scrawny and smelled strongly of fish. There was no one with her, so I took her home. We named her Lucky. Not long after, I put on the little coat my mother had made for her out of a Seagram's bag, and went for a walk. A native woman, came up to me, very angry. I was able to make out that she was accusing me of having stolen her dog.
I replied, "Fine, come to the school where we live, and if you bring some money to pay for the food we've given her, we will give her back to you." Needless to say, she didn't appear. At the time, I felt proud of myself for my presence of mind and for rescuing the dog from possible starvation. Now, I feel sympathy for the native woman. Lucky was a bear dog, a breed developed by the Yukon Indians to use for hunting bear. These dogs were small and quick and would nip at the bear's feet while it was being hunted. For their owners, they were likely prized possessions.
We had this dog until her death many years later. My father often played with her and loved her very much. He was a person who had a lot of feeling. However, it was easier for him to show his affection for a dog than for a person.
We left Teslin just before Christmas, driving the 1,300 miles to Edmonton. On the way, in the dark, we almost hit a moose. My father stopped the car and we waited for quite a while until he recovered and could drive again. He told us we would have been killed if we had collided with the animal. The family returned to Teslin in January, while I stayed with my grandmother until the end of the school year. Going to real school was much more to my liking than taking lessons by correspondence.
In the photos are:
1) With Laura on the suspension bridge over Miles Canyon.
2) Annette holding Lucky.
3) The old-fashioned fire engine at Atlin, BC.
5) In Edmonton in December 1954, from left to right: M. Robert, my grandmother's husband; my grandmother; Annette; Mom; and Suzanne.
6) Transport Cafe at Lower Rancheria, Alaska Highway.
7) The bridge over Nisutlin Bay that was being replaced.
8) Old photo of a bridge on the Alaska Highway.
9) Dog team at Marsh Lake between Whitehorse and Teslin.
10) Alaska Highway near Silver Creek, just over the Alaska border.
The sixth, seventh, ninth and tenth photos were taken by my father some time between 1953 and 1955.