Monday, March 26, 2012

March 23rd, 2012

Houses were springing up everywhere on the Bench as families moved into their VLA homes, 
- most of them unfinished. 

Our good neighbours, Emil and Gwen Scheiber and their family of three girls,  (Audrey, Colleen and Kathy) were the first to occupy their new home - the first residents, -  although there were a few tents around during that first summer as veterans camped out and planted their orchards.  There may not have been walls in some of those first homes, but there was lots of excitement  accompanying the many inconveniences and the long hours of hard work.

It was December, 1951, before power was available on the Bench, and 1955 before telephone services were installed.  I try to remember in these days of instant communication what it was like to not have a telephone in the house....I remember when Charles was ill and we suspected  that what he had was polio it was necessary to go into the village of Cawston to phone the doctor in Penticton, or to get in touch with our dear friend and volunteer District Nurse, Margaret Ritchie.

Those were the days before 'centralization' became fashionable, and small communities flourished;  before people took to shopping in the nearest city, at the closest WalMart and Wholesale Grocers;  working there; having their vehicles serviced at large garages who made appointments for you to come in to look after the health of your car, or truck, or tractor.

After the trees were planted and the home made liveable the veteran had to look around for work to sustain the family and the farm until such time as the fruit trees started bearing a crop.  Luckily the valley was awash with available jobs!!!!!

There were three major sawmills, - the Mraz brothers, Martin and Norman, ran a sawmill in Keremeos, -   Graham Abernathy had a smaller operation on the western outskirts of the town, and on the highway to Cawston  John Luttin set up a thriving operation with Bill Lode in charge.  There was no shortage of logs to keep these sawmills humming.  John Luttin, with Garney Willis had long term leased land in the Fairview which was part of the range operation, and included logging rights.  Some of the Indian Reserve land in the Lower Similkameen hills supplied timber, and logging in the Ashnola and in Paul Creek was partly Crown land and partly privately owned wood lots.

The veterans who went to work, either in the sawmills or for logging contractors and truckers like Jerry Sanderson, Dale DeMerchant, the Elliot Brother, Smokey Beck and K & H soon became adept in the woods at  bucking, handling chokers, cat skinning, falling, loading, log processing and scaling and driving great logging trucks down steep mountain roads.  In the sawmills they joined with workers from the local community as sawyers,  fork lift drivers, edgers, the men on the greenchain, and if they were really lucky they got to dance on the logs in the pond, directing them with their long hooks to their eventual destiny in the sawmill.  I don't know of any veterans who were experienced in the mill wright trade, but they all did their bit to keep the mills running and bring home a pay check to help on the home front.

Charles was a Licensed Log Scaler so besides driving logging truck he also traveled between all the sawmill and woods operations, wherever a Scaler was required.

J.J. Hill's Great Northern Railway crossed the U.S./ Canada border at Chapaka three times a week -Monday, Wednesday and Friday, - made its way up the valley as far as Princeton to help market and distribute the lumber from the mills.

In the early years the packing house in Keremeos served to process and pack apples for the trade, and many wives worked during the fall, packing apples the old fashioned way, - wrapping them, placing them in a wooden box in regulation order and in such a way that there was a small hump at the top, running down the middle of the box.  There was a great opportunity for the quick and adept to gain a reputation as a champion packer, but if you didn't fall into that category there was always the sorting table where apples ran past you on a belt and were sorted as to grade and size, and where the culls were plucked from the line.

After a few years a packing house was built in Cawston, owned by J.C.Clarke, Jim Dawson and I think Mac Clarke.  Jim (Boots) Clark was in charge of operations.  I don't know how many veteran-growers changed affiliation, but I do know that being closer to home it appealed to the veterans' wives who worked there.

There was also a cannery in Cawston,  and some of the veterans chose to either use the acreage between the rows of trees to grow tomatoes for the cannery, or to do this in addition to working 'out'.  (At that time the fruit trees grew to standard size and were planted on twenty five foot squares ).  The land was fertile Similkameen chip loam and the tomatoes that were grown on it were incredible, - deeply coloured, wonderfully textured, juicy and deliciously flavoured.  More than one veteran claimed to be Tomato King as a result of being awarded first prize at the Cawston Fall Fair!!!

Asparagus was another good cash crop, and the first year we farmed the land we grew flowers for seed as well as experimenting with sweet potatoes and melons for the Summerland Experimental Station.

Service Stations and mechanics abounded.  There were two in Cawston, three in Keremeos, and two on the highway in between the two villages.

The local hotel in Keremeos had a divided bar, - ladies on one side, men on the other, and also, of course, a branch of the Royal Canadian Legion.  Between the two of them nobody went thirsty, and I have been told the bar was essential to 'doing business'!

Economically times were not easy, but the opportunities were there and everyone took advantage of them.

Socially times were happy, and some wonderful and abiding friendships were formed during the hours we worked together and the ones we snatched for relaxation, but that is a happy subject for another post.......

Here are the names of the veterans who on September 14th, 1950 were allocated lots in the Cawston subdivision as a result of the draw held at the Keremeos Canadian Legion Hall under the direction of the Soldier Settlement and Veterans Land Act.  These names were originally recorded by Lorraine Gemmell in her article on Fairview Heights in "Historic Highlights of Cawston"

J.V. Sworder, E.A. Scheiber, C.L. Finch, L.V. Hardman, W. Bourne, F.J. Kavanagh, W.H.T. Jillett, A.W. Ricker, E.R. Ricker, R. Critchlow, A.R. Carleton, A.C. Moen, R.S. Lang, W.A. Liddicoat, J.E. Carley, W. Beblow, M. Netscar, R.J. Basnett,  H.R. McDonald, S.D. Evans, W.G. McKenzie, C.H. Bryce, T.W. Fleet, C.E. Lawlor, W.W. Gemmell, B.W. Thompson, F. Maurer, H. Paulsen and J. Murphy

Later in the year veterans L. Krumm, J. Lambert and D. Crow obtained their lots, and in the months and years to follow more veterans applied for and received farmland on the bench.  These included Harold Davies, Tom Martin, Harold Erickson, Bill Davidson, John Johnson, Ernie Seronik, Dan McGinn, Arthur Moore, H. Hicks, Dennis Brown, Roy Lucich,  C. Jacobsen, A.C. Beck, Fred Sorenson, Ernie Hendsbee, Jack Trigg, Jim Davidson,  Alex Hold, A. Husford, Ron Hauser, Robert Evans and another Bill Davidson.

Not all of these veterans planted their land.  Some planted the fruit trees and then, for one reason or another, had a change of heart and plans and turned their property over to others.  Most of the veterans grew to love the Similkameen Valley and helped to make and maintain a vibrant community,

No comments:

Post a Comment