Transcript from a taped interview
The Christmas and New Year seasons are upon us once more. It seems to me that they must have changed the schedule and are holding the celebrations at least every six months! Or could it just be that as we get older the years slip by a little faster?
I have been asked to try to describe one of our old time Christmases, and I am finding that very hard to do as none of us had the same Christmas…
One Christmas and Christmas season that I remember better than most — and I guess I had more reasons to — was the year 1934. That was the year that I got married in Edmonton, and brought my bride, Florence, home to the old Gundy Ranch. I’ll start this story a little before Christmas, as it was the 16th of November 1934 that we arrived at the little Tupper Creek station. It was 20 below zero with a good foot of snow on the ground. It was a cold winter, and we had about eight hundred head of stock to feed.
The story I am going to tell is about a little deal I had cooked up with the train crew. The train ran to Dawson Creek by that time, right through what we called ‘The Big Field’ just east of our buildings. If the engineer or crew of the train saw any wild game within a few miles of our place they would toot their whistle, one toot per mile for the direction they came from. In this way I got quite a little meat which we usually needed as we had a lot of hands to feed.
The time I am going to talk about was possibly ten days before Christmas. The train coming from Dawson Creek gave us a signal of two toots. My wife Florence and I saddled horses immediately and headed north and sure enough, close to the two-mile mark was a beautiful big buck deer. It was no trouble getting close enough to get a pretty fair shot with a 30-30 carbine, which we did have. We got the shot and the deer went down. We rushed in to make a sure kill, all going just fine. When we got up to the deer Florence broke into tears. She was so mad at me for killing such a beautiful creature, with such big, soft brown eyes. She was so sorry for the deer and so mad at me that I was glad that I had the gun. She must have had some effect as I have never shot a deer since, and I still have the same wife.
It was just a few days later that I shot a big bull moose along the tracks, by the same method, for the train crew. This one was for their Christmas present, with our many thanks for their courtesies to us. I quartered the moose and hung it up. The next train day I was there when they stopped the train and got the moose. When they got to McLennan they divided it up among themselves.
Christmas time was getting closer, so wherever we went, we were looking for a nice Christmas tree. We chopped down several, looking for the perfect tree. The treetops always looked so nice from the ground, but were pretty straggly when you cut them down. Eventually we got a nice tree and brought it to the old log cookhouse. The tree was always trimmed about the same way with strings of popcorn and rolls of cotton. Of course we had no electricity and tallow candles lit the tree. We did have tinsel and by the time the women-folk were through, we did have a pretty respectable looking tree. At least, if it wasn’t as pretty as some today there was the season of the year that went with it. More than the commercial season it is today. There likely wasn’t as many presents on those trees, as many today have, but what there were meant more to us I am sure. Often there were new mitts or some other wearing apparel, usually from Eaton’s.
I remember a few years later when I had a family of my own making a rocking horse for the boy and a gondola basket sled for a two-dog team for Florence to take the young fellow for a ride.
I also remember that that didn’t last long. I told her how to ‘mush’ and ‘gee’ and ‘haw’ the team, but I forgot to mention anything about stopping. It ended in a disaster. The sleigh went over a bank and the kid and Florence both went ten feet farther down the hill. After she dug the young fellow out of the soft snow, she never mushed dogs again. Nothing was hurt other than Florence’s dignity.
Of course Christmas was no reason that we could neglect our stock, so we worked a little harder the weeks before to put up stacks so that feeding on that day was quick and easy. Stock always got a better feed, if we had it, such as oat bundles. That was their present.
The Christmas of that year 1934 was a cold one. On Christmas morning the mercury in our thermometer went out of sight in the bulb, that meant at least 65 below. How much colder, we never did know. We never even saw the mercury again for weeks. Cold or not, as I remember we all enjoyed that Christmas and I believe there were about twenty of us there. Merry Christmas to you all!
**Florence Bartsch added her Christmas greetings, and told about the highlight of her first year.
Possibly my stories might be similar to Ted’s, as he was generally part of any story I might tell. Just coming here even in 1934, was an exciting period in my life. In those days the Peace River country sounded so wild and so remote, and so far away. I guess my family thought that they would never see me again and that the Peace River was just a little spot in the vast Barren Regions somewhere near the North Pole. I guess the same thought went through my mind. However, it was a beautiful, wild wilderness with all the many possibilities that life has brought us. The little city of Dawson Creek with it’s neighboring towns and city, on the highways to Edmonton and Vancouver, also the Alaska Highway to the little city of Whitehorse in the Yukon where we also lived for some time.
The old Gundy Ranch which Ted has spoken of so often was a beautiful wild place and I will always remember the saddle horse rides back to many beautiful places. One memory that will always be with me is when our oldest boy, Chris, was born in the old Pouce Coupe Hospital in 1935. I recall that when I was in the hospital on the fourteenth of August it snowed until it was higher than the windows.
Another very vivid recollection I have of that summer of 1935, when I knew that I was going to have to make that trip to the hospital, was the way the rains came. It is hard to believe that nine miles of that train track to Edmonton was under water — no trains at all! The bridge across the Tate Creek at Gundy was gone down the creek — or I should say ‘the river’ at that time that is what it was. Another thing that didn’t brighten my thoughts was that the Bissette Creek bridge (entering Pouce) went the same way. There was just no way to get to Pouce Coupe and that was August 1st.
It all turned out well. Temporary bridges were in by August 9 and the next day I used them to get to Pouce.
All’s well that ends well, but it sure looked bleak for my purpose for a few weeks.