Thursday, January 28, 2016

Health in the 1940s

Early in 1943 I had an unexpected interruption in my school year when I came down with chickenpox. I woke up one day with a couple of water blisters on my face, but when my mother looked at them she didn't think it was anything 
serious, and off to school I went. By the next morning the few blisters had multiplied. My mother referred to her copy of The Canadian Mother and Child (a publication put out by the federal government and absolutely essential for every young mother) and realized I had chickenpox; no school for me for the next couple of weeks. It was awful. I missed school, and could hardly wait for my return to class.  After what seemed like an agonizingly long period of time finally returned to Royal Oak, only to find the room almost deserted. I was told the whole class, with few exceptions, had come down with chickenpox. * see footnote.   

Inoculations were still in the future in the 1940s. We were vaccinated against smallpox but, without inoculations which children routinely get today, we came down with many of the childhood diseases, measles, mumps, chickenpox, whooping cough, and even the more serious scarlet fever and diphtheria. I had frequent bouts of tonsillitis, and since there was no way to keep the infection from reoccurring,  the doctor said my tonsils had to come out. 

I was checked  into the Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria in the evening, had surgery the next morning and home the following dayI was in a four-bed ward, all occupied by children havintheir tonsils out. Antibiotics were yet to come, and we had probably not even heard the word penicillin. We got sick and it was off to bed, relying on whatever home remedy mother thought best. My grandmother nursed my mother through the great influenza epidemic early in the century, and said she saved her daughter's life by using "steam and having her swallow white of egg".  My father told of his mother having the family wrap an onion in a handkerchief, and holding it against their nose when they went out as protection against the Spanish flu virus. My father had  rheumatic fever during his teens and although he passed the medical to join the air force,  it wasn't until he volunteered to go overseas that they discovered the damage the disease had done to his heart. 

In the late spring the eight year old boy next door came down with scarlet feverHis family was put under quarantine, and had a quarantine sign posted on the front gate. His father was at work in Victoria when it was diagnosed, and was told that if he went home he would have to stay in the house for the duration of the quarantine, or he could stay in the city and continue working. He stayed in Victoria. When the milkman delivered to the house he would pour the bottle of milk into a pan placed on the fence post because he could not approach the front door or leave or pick up a milk bottle at the house.  

I got quite sick at the same time and the doctor came out from Victoria at my mother's request. He said it looked like I was coming down with scarlet fever just like our neighbour, but no rash ever developed so we were not quarantined. I ran very high temperatures for a week or more, but there really wasn't anything that could be done other than cold cloths on the forehead and allow the illness to run its course.  After I recovered, my parents said I had been delirious and complained of loud noises in the room that sounded like a washing machine right beside my bed even though the room was quiet. When I thought I was getting better and  tried to get up, I fainted and my father returned me to my bed.

Somehow we made it through the wartime illnesses and the next major health scare I remember came when we were living in Saskatoon a few years later.  In 1952 there was a polio epidemic. The swimming pools closed early for the season, the opening of schools in September was delayed and we all feared waking up with a stiff neck or a high temperature. There were children from around the province who ended up in the polio isolation wards in the two city hospitals,  and there were many deaths. The Salk vaccine was a major discovery some time later.   

* Some of my classmates caught chicken pox from me but my teacher had exaggerated the situation and I have since heard that not everyone was ill.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Grade One

At long last I was in Grade One and finally had girls to play with at school.  No girls were living near our house so the three boys, Bruce, Brian and Dennis who lived down the street had been my only playmates since moving to Cordova Bay several months earlier.  I was six and the boys, Bruce who was six and Brian and Dennis who were eight years of age had included me in their activities, but were not interested in skipping or playing hopscotch or anything that girls might like.  I learned to run and climb trees and catch snakes just as well as they could, in fact it surprised me years later when I learned that girls were supposed to be afraid of snakes.  They liked to hike and explore on the beach or just hang out in our neighbourhood and I tagged along.
Climbing a tree with my father
in the background

One day as we were walking along a narrow path not far from Cordova Bay Road we came across a slough in the dense underbrush.  This was a new area to me, very swamp-like and I found it was noisy with the sounds of croaking frogs and loud chirping birds echoing around us.  As we stopped to look at the murky water, someone walking by warned us that it was quicksand and we should be careful.  Whether it was actually quicksand or some sort of bog, we never did find out but when we were told what could happen if you fell in quicksand, we got out of there quickly.  The beach was my favourite place but it was best to stick to the sandy areas as the barnacles on the nearby rocks could be painful if they were accidentally stepped on, especially in bare feet.

When school started, because of overcrowding at some schools, the boys went to Strawberry Vale and I went to Royal Oak.

When I was in Grade One the reader in common use was Fun With Dick and Jane.  I think most Canadian school age children in the 1940s had their introduction to reading through the very simple stories of Dick and Jane and their dog Spot.  The repetitive words in the storyline such as, "see Spot jump, jump  Spot jump" made reading an easy and enjoyable activity.  Learning to read and following the stories of Dick and Jane and Spot as well as the little sister Sally was something I would look forward to each day.

As war concerns ramped up we learned about blackouts.  At night the darkened blinds would be pulled down in our house and only a dim lamp would be turned on in the living room.  Most of the light in the room would come from the flickering flames of the burning wood in the fireplace.  My mother volunteered to become a Deputy Air Raid Warden  and in that position would walk up and down the dark streets near our house and make sure no light was visible during a blackout.  If even the slightest light was showing from a house, it was her responsibility to go to the door and inform the residents of the infraction.  Because the blackouts were ongoing, there were many deputies who ventured out into their communities during the pitch-black nights, walking with a dimmed flashlight and making sure there was not a glimmer of light that might identify our presence to an enemy plane if one should ever fly over Cordova Bay.

The fall of 1942 quickly passed and soon Christmas was approaching.  Our class had been rehearsing for a small school concert and finally the big day arrived.  I recall the Grade One girls being dressed in white, possibly as angels.  The movie Holiday Inn had come out that summer starring Bing Crosby with a new song, White Christmas.  As part of our concert an older girl had joined us and was singing White Christmas.  When she finished the first few lines, she looked at those of us in Grade One and said, "Now everyone sing along."  Because this new song was being played frequently on the radio we all knew it by heart and joined in with gusto, "I'm dreaming of a White Christmas, just like the ones I used to know . . . ".  It was a great moment.

Saturday, January 23, 2016


The first summer at Cordova Bay was one of exploration.  The backyard was overgrown with raspberries and blackberries but they were difficult to pick because of the thorny brambles that surrounded them.  Wild morning glory was an aggressive weed which had overrun the wire fence around the house and made its way into much of the garden as well.  Trying to remove the morning glory would have been a daunting task so I suspect my parents decided growing a vegetable garden was not an option. There were a number of fruit trees as well as a woodshed and a  single car garage in the yard.  

We became beachcombers
Bringing home bark from the beach

My father spent a lot of time chopping wood to try and keep up with the demands of both the wood burning kitchen stove and the fireplace.  These were our only sources of heat in the winter and in the summer the wood stove continued to be fired up each day for cooking.

 Oil soaked bark from log booms made its way onto the beach and burned well in the fireplace so we were always on the lookout for good sized pieces of bark.  There was  a good natured competition to see who could find the largest pieces of bark and everyone, children and adults alike,  participated in the search.  This was an important activity as it not only provided much needed wood, it helped keep the beach surprisingly clean.

A few doors away there was an abandoned orchard which was  probably a casualty of the war as most of the trees were dead and only a few shrivelled Russet apples remained.

Fall was quickly approaching, and I was ready to start grade one.  There were no schools in Cordova Bay and I would have to take a bus to whichever school had enough room for me.  I had met two boys from one family and one boy from another who lived on my street and found they were already enrolled in Strawberry Vale, but when my mother inquired, she found there was no room there and was advised that I would be sent to Royal Oak which was four miles away.

 With the military base nearby, many families had moved to Victoria and the schools were overcrowded, in fact the class I was placed in had 35 students.  In discussing schooling, I should mention that there was a different attitude towards children in the wartime and prewar days than we now see.  Children  were given a great deal more independence and because of this, were also held responsible for their actions at quite an early age.  My mother had registered me for school by phone and on the first day of school I was handed my lunch pail and directed  to walk down to the corner of Cordova Bay Road and Walema Drive and catch the school bus.  She told me to make sure the driver knew that I was going to Royal Oak.   On no occasion during the school year did my parents meet my teacher, it just wasn't something that happened. 
My first school

I was wearing my new outfit that my mother had made from one of my father's old "civie" suits and thought I looked quite pretty as I headed out to face the world.  When I got off the bus I saw  two buildings at Royal Oak and as a first grader I was directed to the smaller building, it was for the grade ones.  The lady standing there was Miss Adamson and she would be my teacher.  She was trying to get the children to be quiet and line up but I believe I was being a little too exuberant with the excitement of the moment and suddenly felt a swat across my backside as I was told to be quiet.  I could not believe it, I couldn't believe that she would strike me when I looked so nice, but that was the first lesson I learned at school.

Thursday, January 21, 2016


The big day had arrived.  It was time to leave McMorran's Auto Court and move to our new home which was about a mile down the road.   Our suitcases were packed but we did not have a car so my father had purchased an old wooden wagon to move our luggage.  It was the kind of wagon that children liked to play with yet big enough for a couple of children to ride in, or, in our case, big enough to hold my two year old brother Bill and our luggage.  

Off we went, our family of four plus luggage slowly making our way along Cordova Bay Road until we reached Walema Drive,  then we made our way down the gently sloping road until Dad pointed out a house on our left and said "That's it."  Not only did it look great,  it had a name. There was a sign over the front door that said Zummerzet, probably named by a British ex pat for his former county of Somerset in England.   The small one bedroom cottage had an enclosed front porch, a single garage, woodshed, a great yard and was only a few minutes from the beach. 

This was the summer of 1942 and after more than two years apart because of my father's military postings, we were together as a family in our own home again.  It  was such a warm feeling that even though the war continued and we did not know what would lie ahead, we were happy with this moment in time.  My father lived off base and made the long walk to the main highway each morning where he caught the bus to Pat Bay.  Sometimes during wet or snowy weather he would comment that it was so difficult walking that every time he took two steps forward he would slip back three. 
In front of the big fireplace
which heated the cottage

Rationing had become part of the lives of Canadians and ration books were issued for each family member.  My mother would make her mile long trek to the grocery store with my young brother in the wagon and upon arrival read off her grocery list to the clerk standing behind the counter.  He would retrieve the items one by one, many having to be weighed and packaged, and list each item in duplicate on the invoice pad.  He would then take any necessary coupons from the ration book but often there were shortages and he would be out of some products that day.  The bill would be totalled and added to the monthly grocery tab at the store. Sugar was one of the rationed items so for us as children chocolate bars and candy and birthday cakes were almost non existent.  Children pleading for something would say "Pretty please"  but during rationing I remember that phrase becoming "Pretty please with ration books."

I enjoyed exploring the beach and splashing in the water.  I would see crabs moving sideways in the shallow water near the rocks and on one occasion I moved a big rock and came across hundreds of baby crabs each an inch or two in size.  As someone always on the lookout for a pet, these crabs were exciting.  I rushed home and grabbed a bucket, then back to the beach where I retrieved a few dozen baby crabs.  When I returned home again with the crabs and announced to my mother that they were my new pets she quickly put a stop to that.  I reluctantly returned them to the ocean.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Cordova Bay

After the long train ride from Saskatchewan and the ferry trip to Victoria, we were finally on the bus to Cordova Bay.  When my father suggested mother come to the coast, she was ready to move right away even though the rental cottage he had found was not yet available.   Dad quickly made arrangements for us to stay at McMorran's Auto Court in Cordova Bay on our arrival  and mother was soon on her way.  The small entourage which included our family plus my mother's friend Ruby from Vancouver and her daughter Carol were dropped off by the bus in front of McMorran's. We all grabbed pieces of luggage and soon were depositing them in our temporary home which consisted of a large room with a bed, kitchenette and bathroom.
McMorran's Auto Court. 1942

As the adults visited and unpacked the luggage, Carol and I went across the road and down the hill to explore the beach.   We quickly  found ourselves on a great expanse of sand which  stretched for miles.  For me, a child of the  prairies, this was somewhat overwhelming.  As surprising as it might sound in today's day and age, I had never been to a lake or even a swimming pool or paddling pool in my life, the only time I was even partially submerged in water was in the bathtub. To be walking on a beach beside the ocean was a new experience. I had seen the river in Saskatoon as we drove over the bridge, but this was different.  I first saw the ocean earlier in the day as we were crossing on the ferry, but to be close up and walking in the sand was indescribable.   As we walked along the beach, we saw islands of sand a short distance out in the water and  wondered what they were.  Coming from the flat dry prairie lands of the country to this place everything was new and surreal.  Apparently what we were seeing was the sea at low tide and there were big sandbars stretching along the whole length of the bay.  However, in 1942 I did not know about sandbars nor did Carol so we looked at them and chatted back and forth about what these might be. They were a short walk offshore and we were afraid they might sink if we walked on them, sort of like quicksand I suppose although considering our age, we had never heard of that either.  Finally, in a great show of bravery, we took off our shoes and socks and waded through the shallow water until we reached the wide expanse of wet, smooth sand.  It was beautiful and we didn't sink.  Soon we were running about and laughing when we suddenly noticed water spouts shooting up through the sand.  They were all over the place, here, there and everywhere, spouts of water shooting up about a foot in the air.  There were little holes in the sand and as soon as we went over and touched one of the holes, water would shoot up. We also noticed, as we splashed around in the shallow water that it was quite salty.  There were a lot of large white birds flying overhead, just as there had been on the ferry earlier in the day.  They were the lively and noisy sea gulls which populate the west coast.

Eventually we were called back by my parents as it was time for Ruby and Carol to catch the bus into Victoria and return to Vancouver on the evening ferry.  When I asked my father about the water spouts he explained that it was from the clams that would blow the water as they pulled their long necks down in the sand when anyone came near.

Across the road from the auto court was a large hall which was part of the McMorran complex.  It was used for dances and other activities in the community such as visiting entertainers.  The following year when everyone was issued with gas masks, we joined hundreds of people at McMorran's  hall to pick up masks for our family. On another occasion a visiting magician was entertaining and I was quite excited by his show.  After it was complete my mother wanted to leave but I told her I wanted to wait and see if the magician would give me a white bird since he had been able to make them in his top hat.  She quickly rushed me out.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Quilting Circle

The Quilting Circle

On my grandparents' farm in 1939 the ladies would come by for the afternoon to socialize and contribute their needlework skills to the construction of a quilt.  The individual squares would be sewn together, then the layers of the quilt would be attached to a large frame that had been set up in the front parlour.  The dining table was removed to make room for the frame, then a half dozen or more ladies would gather around the quilt, chatting and stitching and enjoying each other's company.

While this was happening I liked to sit nearby on the floor beside the sewing machine and play with the buttons in my grandmothers button box.  The box was in the bottom drawer of the old Singer treadle sewing machine and was a wonderful treasure for a youngster to explore.   Buttons were always saved from clothing and this was a collection of buttons of every size, shape and colour.

Each week the ladies would gather at one home or another as a social activity but much of their work later became their wartime contribution through the Junior Red Cross.  They saved every scrap of material and all the bits and pieces of fabric eventually made their way into a quilt.

As the war progressed, my grandmother spent many hours knitting baby layettes which consisted of bonnets, sweaters and booties using patterns and wool supplied by the Red Cross.  Before shipping the layettes to the Red Cross, she would show us the box full of pastel coloured sets that she had made and like tens of thousands of people across Canada, she felt she was doing her part.

The day I received my Sunbonnet Sue quilt
In 1942 I learned that the Junior Red Cross had completed a Sun Bonnet Sue quilt to raise money for the war effort, and my grandmother had purchased a ticket on the quilt in my name.  I was the winner and received the quilt after we had moved to Victoria.  It became a much used and  cherished possession but as years went by, it became worn and was slowly disintegrating.  Finally, I took the remaining squares and along with some old  pictures which I printed on fabric, made a wall hanging to preserve what remained.

These are the pictures of that wall hanging.
The remaining Sunbonnet Sue squares of the quilt along with photos.

From the original Sunbonnet Sue quilt  (note the  hand embroidery) 

An example of an old fashioned quilting circle
I could easily imagine this being a picture from my
grandmother's house except for the electric light

Thursday, January 14, 2016

We arrive in Victoria

Berths made up for night in
the sleeping car
We were  leaving the farm behind and moving to Victoria where my father had been posted by the RCAF almost six months before.  I heard the conductor call "All aboard" as we retrieved our luggage from the car and quickly climbed up the steep step and into the train.  The porter was waiting and directed us to our lower berth in the sleeping car. It was still early in the morning so lots of time for a few hours of sleep.   Mother, two year old brother and I crawled into bed and the rhythmic clickity clack of the train as it glided over the rails soon put us to sleep.

A few hours later people started moving around in the sleeping car and the porter was folding up the berths so the seats would be available for daytime use. There was a bathroom at the end of the sleeping car and for a youngster, it was fascinating to push down on the flush lever and see the ground underneath as the train sped by.  We were warned not to flush the toilets while in the station.  The dining car was expensive so mother had brought along sandwiches and other food items for us.  Sandwiches were available from the newsagent who made his way down the aisle several times a day but because many items, sugar in particular, were now rationed his wares were limited. There was a wood burning pot belly stove at the end of the car which the porter would fire up with some wood and use to heat his meals, but it was also available to passengers who wanted to heat water for tea or warm some food.  We  stopped in Edmonton and had a brief walk along the platform before returning to the train.  Now, as we approached Jasper, my mother reminded me of an incident that had occurred on our previous train ride to Vancouver in 1939 and laughed as she warned me not to go wandering this time. 

I was three years old when we took that trip but remembered it well.  When we stopped in Jasper, I slipped past my parents and found my way to the end of the car,  I got off the train and walked along the platform past a couple of cars before reboarding some distance away from our sleeping car.  Once I was back on the train I slowly made my way back to my parents location, enlisting the help of adults to open the heavy doors between cars,  but in the meantime they had discovered that I was missing and the train was starting to pull out of the station.  Apparently panic ensued and the conductor was about to pull the emergency cord when I appeared back in our own car.  I remember being quite pleased about my adventure but my parents were not amused.

Vancouver tandem street cars 1940
The day quickly passed and soon we were out of the snow capped mountains and the berths were being made up for another night aboard the train before reaching Vancouver the next morning.  When we finally arrived a friend of my mother's met us at the station and helped mother with the luggage.  We accompanied her on the  streecar to her home where we spent the night.  The next day we again boarded the tandem streetcar and headed to the Vancouver dock where we boarded the ferry.   Mother's friend and her daughter Carole who was my age accompanied us on the ferry to Victoria and helped us with our luggage.

It was 1942 and in those days, the ferry docked in downtown Victoria.  A few hours later, we  had our first look at the city that would be our home for almost four years. Most notable were the number of military personnel walking around the city, something that was not the case in Saskatoon, but there had been a large military presence in Victoria since the attack on Pearl Harbour a few months before.   My father in his air force uniform was at the dock to meet us and soon we were on a bus that took us on the long winding road to Cordova Bay.  

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

A Hard Winter on the Farm

Mother with her two children arrived back on the farm just before Christmas 1941 and remained there until late spring in 1942.  She was only 28 years old and was faced once again with relying on her parents who were now in their 60s, to provide shelter and comfort to her and her young family. The war was on and the RCAF had posted her husband to Pat Bay on Vancouver Island.  It was already a cold winter and the nights were long with the darkness broken only by light from the coal oil lamps flickering in the room. The summer kitchen was closed off and the wood burning range had been moved to the main room of the tiny house.
Hot water bottle 
 The chimney which had connected to the summer kitchen was reversed for the winter months and the range along with a wood burning space heater were
 the only sources of heat for the family.  Bedtime was always early as it offered an escape from the cold and darkness.   My grandfather would then rise before dawn to fire uthe stove, milk the cow and bring water from the well.  Grandpa had banked snow up against the side of the house but the walls remained cold as there was little in the way of insulation to offer protection from the elements. 

In those days the expression, going to bed with the chickens was very true. Heavy quilts and a hot water bottle were the only way to stay warm.  

My mother loved to play the piano and could play all our favourites by ear.  The piano in the farmhouse was the one she had learned to play on as a child.  We all enjoyed listening and the sharing of her music entertained us through many cold days that winter.  There was a battery operated radio but it was only turned on once a day for the war news.

Not quite the same but the reservoir on
the right was how water was heated for baths.
I think mother would have preferred staying in the city during the war with its conveniences of electricity and running water but it wasn't possible.  There was no family to assist her there and everyone was facing their own challenges.  Three of my father's brothers had joined the RCAF and were sent overseas.  His two younger siblings, who were just in their mid teens, were caring for their ailing mother while their father was at work.  Dad's mother passed away a year late

Meanwhile, at Pat Bay Dad considered the possibility of bringing the family out to Victoria.  He had been turned down for overseas duty because of a heart murmur, so having the family close by seemed like a good idea.   He started looking around and found a small furnished cottage at Cordova Bay which would soon be available for rent.  
I loved seeing the steam locomotive.

Within a few days Mother was packed and ready to go.   Grandpa was once again ferrying our small family to the train station, this time in the early hours of the morning to catch the westbound train to Vancouver.   It was late spring and the sun was already starting to rise. We saw my uncle out in the field with his tractor and my grandfather commented that his son liked to get an early start on his day, An hour later we were in Biggar and I looked with anticipation as the big black steam locomotive puffed its way into the railway station.  I watched Mother bid a tearful goodbye to her father, then we were off.