Sunday, February 21, 2016

Major Sou'wester

The Major Sou'wester, December 4, 1945

Steam engine similar to one on our  December 4, 1945 trip
I was looking forward to our train trip  through the Canadian Rockies
 as we returned to Saskatoon, but the first part of our trip, crossing over to Vancouver on the ferry,  played out in a way we could never have anticipated.  

On November 30, 1945  my father received his discharge from the RCAF and I had my last day at Keating School. My school friends had laughed at me when I said I was moving to  Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and suggested I would soon  become a "prairie chicken."   Our final weekend at Cordova Bay was spent with last minute packing and saying  goodbye, an often repeated word during those post war days as soldiers were demobilized and returned home. There were sad farewells to those who had been part of our lives for so long, and many bittersweet moments as we left good friends behind.  They were the ones who had been with us during the dark days of the war, yet we knew we would never see them again.  Many tears  flowed with the goodbyes.  My mother always cried when someone departed, and these  days were no exception, except she and our family were the ones departing.

For almost fifty years,  the  British Columbia ferries, the Princess Joan and Princess Elizabeth had regular daily crossings  between  Vancouver and Victoria,  We took a "Princess " ferry when we first went to Victoria in 1942 and now, in 1945 we were taking the ferry back to the mainland.  Both ferries had staterooms and offered quite a pleasant, relaxed atmosphere as people would  go onboard several  hours before the midnight sailings,  then  remain on board in the morning long enough to enjoy  breakfast.  

On  December 4, 1945 our family of five boarded the ferry to Vancouver early  in the evening.  It was becoming a little  blustery  outside,  but when I,  a nine year old at the time,  mentioned this to the steward, he replied something to the effect,  "Nothing to worry about," and directed us to  our stateroom where we prepared to settle in for the night "just a bit of a sou'wester." he said as  he departed down the hall. There were  bunk beds in the small stateroom, much smaller than  you would find on a modern  cruise ship, and the washroom facilities were located down the hallway, although I recall chamber pots were in the cabin.  The interior of the ferry was clean and well maintained,  and there was a restaurant on board.  It had been a busy day but in spite of being tired, we  couldn't resist spending some time exploring the ship before climbing into the bunks and going to sleep.  The rhythmic  rocking of the boat and the sound of the wind soon put me to sleep and I didn't wake up until we were docked in Vancouver the next morning.  

When I got up, I was surprised to learn that it had been  a  frightening night  on the ferry .  Many passengers,  including my parents, were concerned about the weather, and said they had been unable to sleep.  Sometime after the ferry left the protection of the harbour and was out on the open sea,  it  got its first  taste of the  approaching storm. The early winds had rapidly gained strength and eventually morphed into a strong cyclone.  A major sou'wester they said, had blown through the strait and the ferry had been buffeted up and down by the towering waves for hours, as it made its way to Vancouver.  As we left the ship and passed the newspaper stands, it was a shock to see the headlines on the front pages and read about almost two dozen  telephone poles blown down in Vancouver during the night, I could hardly believe that I had been asleep through the whole thing.  One  comment I remember my mother making was that the waves were fortunately hitting the ferry head on, rather than from side to side, otherwise they had feared the ferry might have flipped over. 

Somewhat shaken, after we disembarked from the ferry we spent the day with mother's friend Ruby in North Vancouver, then off to the train station in the evening where we saw the big steam engine firing up as the conductor helped us board.  We found our sleeping berths and soon heard the "All aboard" for our departure  to Saskatoon.