Cross-posted: 18-034: Phyllis Higens (Interviews with Old Timers)
Hello! I am Phyllis Higens and this is my story.
I left Somerset, England, March 1st, 1921 and with my Mother and brother Reg sailed for Canada arriving in St. Johns, New Brunswick, 9 days later and mother and I confined in outbound 3 days with sea sickness. My Dad Gilbert Cornock had already arrived ahead of us in Oct. 1920 at Rolla, BC.
We came by train to Edmonton where we were billeted in a building where we could prepare our own meals – this was done under The Soldier Settlement Scheme. My Dad had been in the 1st Gloucestershire Regiment in the First World War as well as his seven brothers, an English record.
My dad’s brother, Dennis Cornock, met us at Spirit River with team and sleigh. This was the nearest railroad to our destination at that time; this was quite an experience for us riding in a sleigh. With lovely sleigh bells ringing on the horses, we sang as we rode along to Bill Conn’s stopping place. I was 13 years old and my brother 16 at the time. The late Mr. Conn gave Mother and I his bed. We were very tired and retired early, and were amazed to wake up in the morning to find the floor covered with men sleeping in their bedrolls. They had stopped overnight here when hauling their grain by team to Spirit River. When Mr. Conn asked Mother and I if we knew what we had slept on, we said, “No”, so he showed us a loaded revolver under his pillow kept for his own protection. Mr. Conn had a farm at Lake View where he spent his summers, and every time we met in later years he never let me forget sleeping on the loaded revolver. We arrived in Rolla on March 21st, 1921 at 4 p.m. My Dad was overjoyed to see us. I will always remember arriving in my Uncle Denny’s house (a log cabin). On the table was the most beautiful chocolate iced cake, a perfect replica of a log cabin, the door and windows etched out in white icing and it even had a chimney. Our good neighbor the late Dan Barker had made it for us.
Our home was 2 miles west and ½ mile north of Rolla where we stayed 2 years or so, then Dad rented a farm on Saskatoon Creek. One winter my Dad was called to Edmonton Vets hospital for a check up, where he was for some time. He had been wounded twice in the World War and was a pensioner. My brother had to haul our grain to Spirit River by team, being away from home 3 or 4 days, depending on the weather. I would go with him to Reilly’s Crossing with an extra team to pull him up the hill, then drive back home, in the cutter which had been tied on behind the load. Fred and Alice Taylor who ran the stopping place here at Reilly’s Crossing were awfully good to me, and quite often when weather was bad Fred would go up the hill with Reg and bring back the team for me. I remember one time at 35 below zero, snowing and a wind. I could hardly face it, and likely would have frozen my face but Jack Hardie caught up to me and he drove me home while I kept my face covered.
When my brother was on the Spirit River Trail and my Dad in Edmonton Hospital, I had to [do the chores]. I had to buck wood, melt snow for house and cattle, milk 2 cows, feed & put in the barn every night 6 mares & colts and clean the barns, so I was kept pretty busy and loved it, working outside. My mother was a good cook and I had gone to a cooking school in England, and now Mom would get me to cook the main meal or the pies, so I didn’t forget how. I remember being scared to hear coyotes howling and when I had to do the milking, would get Mom to leave the house door open so I could see her light to the barn even though I had a lantern.
Many times I rode horseback to Rolla to get our mail and to dances at west Saskatoon School house, and would hook up and drive a single horse buggy and take Mom to Rolla or Pouce Coupe or visiting. I have driven a team, raking hay and also did my share of stooking. In 1925 Dad bought a farm 2 miles west of Rolla, the neighbors all helped build our log home, and we moved in that spring. I rode in the first Rolla fair parade with 5 other girls, led by the late Gus Henderson. My Dad dressed as Charlie Chaplin and Frank Coons as his girl friend. Rolla and Pouce Coupe were the main towns then. Dawson Creek was quite small [and located] west of 19th St. & 108th avenue across the bridge.
Later I worked one summer for Mr. & Mrs. Duthie of Pouce Coupe, then manager of the Bank there. I did the housework, washing, ironing, cleaning, and sometimes cooking, getting for this $10 a month. I met my husband, Frank Higens, better known as “Ike” while I worked there. We were married on Dec. 15, 1926 in my Rolla home. Alma Johnson and Gus Henderson were also married the same day at her home east of Rolla, and we gathered together that night in the first Rolla hall, a magnificent log building, for a double wedding dance, with Frank Coons’ orchestra. Lunch was provided at midnight at the “Rolla Hotel” and “The Willow Inn”. The bridegrooms footed the bills later. It was 40 below and lots of snow, but at midnight [it] started chinooking. Our first home was on the “Spot” McWah farm across the river from Pouce, where we had to cross the river by pull cable, when the river was too high to ford. I remember one incident when my brother was staying with us, and we were driving across the river with team and wagon. There was still ice on the riverbed and the horses lost their feet compelling Ike to walk out on the wagon tongue and pull the pin. Then he waded out and drove the team to shore and immediately the wagon turned around. We sat in the wagon till Ike went home and got a wire to throw us to tie on the wagon and then pull us out. So we would have a reminder, he brought the camera and took a picture of us stranded in the middle of Pouce Coupe River; this was spring of 1927. Later that spring we moved to the Alf Austin store on the hill above Riley’s Crossing and ran the store for one year. Our daughter Grace was born in October 1927. In the spring of 1928 we move to McCullough Hill, living across from the Peter Pitts residence. In April 1929, our 2nd daughter Alice was born and we moved to our farm in the Kilkerran district. Those were very happy days. Our son Frank was born in July 1930. In those day, we were all in the same boat – nobody had any money, we all helped each other with jobs such as sawing the winter’s wood, cutting ice for summers drinking water and threshing, which in those days was stook or stack threshing. In 1931 the railroad came to Dawson Creek where the town started where it is now and was growing fast. The “golden spike” was driven to commemorate it, and a big dance held that night, where I contracted the real scarlet fever germ and was very ill in bed 18 days. The late Dr. Watson of Pouce Coupe who delivered all my children faithfully drove that distance by team and cutter and took care of me. Our 3 children came down with it too, as did a schoolgirl we had living with us going to school. We had to get her mother to take care of her. Our neighbors Mr. and Mrs. Jim Paul and Mr. and Mrs. Jack Paul were so good to us, as we were quarantined. Both women were former nurses, and Jack came to our yard fence and got the list of groceries we needed. God Bless them. For days my husband wasn’t able to sleep, or even take his clothes off. I thank the Lord he never came down with the fever at all. The next 2 years were pretty rough, but we seemed to take it all in our stride. We were now living in our new 6 room lumber house my husband had built, which seemed like a mansion after living in our 2-room log cabin. The following March our daughter Grace who was coming 4 passed away from complications of scarlet fever. During the “Hungry 30’s (though we were never hungry) I remember we were out of sugar for 2 weeks. We had plenty of pure thick molasses and I made cookies, and for a change put milk on them for pudding. Wheat was [selling for] only 19¢ a bushel. In the fall my husband took 2 dressed turkeys and a half-dressed pig to Dawson Creek to try and sell and get some little thing for the children for Xmas. We sold the turkeys at 50¢ each but could not sell the dressed pork. He started back home and met a friend who gave him $2.00 for the pork, giving us altogether $3.00 for Christmas.
In May 1932 our daughter Marjorie was born. In those years wild strawberries grew in abundance in our pastures and I would take the children out in the morning and pick, while they played on a blanket. Very seldom a year passed without me canning at least 50 quarts of wild strawberries, and hundreds of quarts of other wild fruits, pickles, meats etc., all in season. Our children always had a nap after dinner and I did too, and they were in bed by 8 p.m. school nights. It was coal oil lamps at that time, and children’s toys were tin cans and a spoon or wooden blocks, and a doll cradle and table and chairs my husband made for them.
In November 1933 another daughter Evelyn was born. I stayed with friends in Pouce Coupe 2 weeks before she was born and was in hospital the customary 14 days, not seeing my other 3 children for a whole month. Marjorie had forgotten me, she only being 1 year & 8 months old, but it didn’t take her long to realize who I was.
My husband was an ardent hunter and nearly always got his moose and deer and once a bear, and sometimes packing it quite a ways on his back. Sunday on the farm was always visiting neighbours after church at Kilkerran. It was nothing to set the table twice and have 26 for supper and have wild strawberry shortcake topped with pure whipped cream, or good home made ice cream, then all would play ball or horse shoes etc., in the evening. Everything tasted so good in those days, with no additives.
Our children all attended North Dawson School, walking a mile each way.
It was quite an education for us in more ways than one to watch the Alaska Highway being built, in 1942, as it cut right through our farm. We met many nice friends from across the border, and I did enormous amounts of washing for the American soldiers. At that time I said goodbye to the tub and washboard I had used all these years and purchased a gas driven washing machine and gas lamp for the house. I still had no linoleum on the board floors.
In the spring of 1946 my husband’s health started to fail some and our only son, 16 at the time, had a horse fall on him breaking his leg. With no one to do the farming we had no alternative but to move into Dawson Creek where I am still presently living. We rented the farm for a while but it didn’t “pan out” so sold it. On Feb. 12, 1947 the Gyro’s held their First Annual Winter Carnival. Dot Dingle was sponsored by the Jaycees, June Garland by Teen Town, and our daughter Alice by Trail Transport, all vying for Queen of the Carnival. Alice won by a considerable margin, Teen Town’s June Garland riding in a decorated cutter drawn by a pinto pony winning 3rd prize, the Junior Chamber of Commerce float in the shape of J & C took second prize. Dot Dingle rode this float. Archie Trail’s float entry took 1st prize of sleigh dogs pulling a decorated dog sled in which our Alice rode dressed in parka and mukluks. Mr. Dennis Callison owned the outfit and he drove them in the parade. In the arena there were fancy ice skaters, broom ball games and the crowning of the Carnival Queen, Alice Higens, in the evening at the arena. The Gyro’s were able to give a substantial contribution to the covered Arena Fund, and I am very proud to say I am the mother of Dawson Creek’s first Carnival Queen.
My husband drove taxi for a while, then later he operated his own “Ike’s Speed Delivery” and retired in July 1959 on account of his health.
One more hunting incident I must tell you about. As my husband’s health would not permit him to hunt in the bush anymore, occasionally we would take a lunch and drive out Puggins Mountain way. One evening we rounded a bend and lo and behold there stood a cow and bull moose. My husband shot the cow and she dropped 50 feet in the bush. To me she did not look very big, but when I walked in to look, she looked huge lying there and I knew it was up to me to skin and cut her up. My husband was only able to bleed her, this was 5 p.m. After skinning and splitting her down the backbone, I kept Ike busy sharpening two hunting knives, he was out of breath so much. I got busy and cut it up so I could load it, after cutting enough brush to back the car in, and had it all loaded in the car by 8 a.m. This experience made me realize what my husband did for me and the children, when we got home I was too tired to unload the meat, so phoned my son-in-law Bruce Allen. He took one look at me and wished he had brought the camera – I was blood from head to toe. Anyway, the meat was delicious and me proud of what I had accomplished. After 43 years of very happy wedded life my husband passed away December 26th, 1969.
My children all scattered. At present Alice is in Victoria, Evelyn in Port Coquitlam, Marjorie in Edmonton, and Frank here in Dawson Creek.
I have never been back to England and after 52 years here. I still think living in Dawson Creek is very hard to beat.