Moving to Calgary
What I remember …
Dad, like most of us children, suffered from allergies: hay fever and asthma. By the early 1950s, Dad’s asthma (and mine) were getting pretty bad. At that time, the common remedy was to burn and inhale the smoke from some twigs and leaves specially packaged and sold for the purpose from Kellogg’s … probably the same firm that created the much longer-lasting cereals. So Dad and I would sit at the kitchen table with one of the brass ashtrays heaped with these herbs, get it going and then waft the smoke towards our noses so we could inhale it deeply. Sometimes we would even put a towel over our heads and the smoldering ashtray to better capture the smoke.
But Dad was also getting adrenaline injections – I don’t remember being especially concerned about this at the time, it was just something I picked up in passing, from conversation between Dad and Mum. But eventually, I was later told, he was becoming too dependent on it, and was getting a dose “strong enough to kill someone else” twice a week. And still Dad was having attacks of asthma that left him helpless and gasping for breath. One particularly traumatising episode for me was seeing Mum having to help him on the toilet. It truly was a difficult time for him, with daily attacks while he still attempted to work and function almost normally. With few options left, the doctor recommended a change in climate: go West to where the air is drier.
Well, the first option “west” was Peterborough, in Ontario. I don’t know if the air there would have been any drier, but apparently the job did not materialize and we ended up moving to Calgary.
Again, I don’t remember being particularly aware of this change, because Dad had been working nights and we hardly saw him anyway, but he soon was on his way to Calgary leaving Mum to sell the house, dispose of what could not be taken, pack what was to go, arrange for the movers and get the kids onto the train. I do recall that she later mentioned this episode with a small touch of resentment that Dad had left her to do everything – not for the last time.
Two things stand out in my mind about this move. First, I was being a terrible brat while the movers where packing the moving van, racing into the van and taunting them, then escaping their grasp in the nick of time. It was great sport, and I almost got caught, but only once. Mum, of course, was mortified that her darling children would act this way and frustrated and very angry that she could not get me to stop. Eventually, I guess, some sort of sense was beaten into my head (not literally) and the movers were allowed to finish their job in peace. Then on the drive to the train station – Uncle Jim drove us in his car – Uncle Jim offered me a prize (read, bribe) of $5 (I think, something like that, maybe less) if I behaved myself on the train. I guess he knew what manner of little boy I was and anticipated Mum having a hard time with the four of us alone. I was indignant, although at that age I did not know the meaning of the word, and sat back in my seat, put my foot on the dashboard and declared that John Mather’s mum had already given me $5 as a going-away gift – for free! – and I didn’t need his. Again, Mum was very put-out with me – I am not particularly proud to remember this episode, either.
I do not remember much of the trip on the train, although I was impressed with the compartment we had that kept us all isolated from the rest of the passengers (someone was thinking clearly) and going to the dining car with Heather, who was in her own way, trying on new roles and behaviours. Once seated at the table, Heather announced that “My sister – i.e. Mum – would be along shortly with the other two children.” Clearly she did not want to be associated too closely with me.
We stopped, for perhaps the longest time, in Winnipeg which gave us several hours to leave the station and see a little of the city, of which I remember nothing, and to pose beside the engine which I probably remember only because of the picture we took at the time.
Somewhere along the way, perhaps in Winnipeg, we had the opportunity to buy knick-knacks, souvenirs, junk … and I chose a key ring (I had no keys to put on it) because the fob was one of those changing picture things which show something different as you look at it from different angles. Mine had a bathing suit beauty that wiggled her hips as you moved the fob. I was so proud of this that as I jumped off the train into Dad’s arms in Calgary, I shoved it into his face saying “Look at this, Dad!”
While in Calgary on his own, Dad had bought a house and a car. The house wasn’t finished but he came to the train station to collect us in his new (although used) car: a early 50’s grey Dodge. For our first day there, Dad had accepted an invitation for us all to lunch at one of his friends – a contact from the east had introduced them – who lived in Mount Royal. Dad parked the car on the sloping driveway and we all piled into the house for lunch. I don’t remember anything of that, I was still entranced with the fact that we now had a car! As soon as lunch was over, for us boys anyway, I asked if we could go out and sit in the car. And so we did, me in the driver’s seat, the others probably in the front bench seat beside me, while I fiddled everything that would move, pretending to be just like Dad, driving this big new car. My feet probably could hardly reach the pedals and the gear shift would not move much without the clutch in, but the parking brake released quite easily … and we rolled back down the sloping driveway out into the traffic! Just in front of a car coming down the road, as I remember quite clearly. But he managed to stop before hitting us, and either I managed to put the brake on again or the car stopped on its own, but we abandoned it there in the road and raced into the house, screaming for Dad. I think he treated it as a learning experience; I do not remember anyone getting angry, only concerned that we might have been injured.
While our house was being finished, Dad had arranged for us to live in Bragg Creek, in a log cabin owned by his insurance agent. And so we set off to drive there, out what is now Highway #8, past Twin Bridges (where there really were two bridges), past some corner named for the stockman with a ranch there, raising Aberdeen Angus cattle, but before we got to Gardner’s Corner (the home of Camp Gardner, the local scout camp), we bogged down to the axles in mud. The road of course was not paved, was only partly gravelled and was prone to huge mud puddles after a heavy rain. Dad thought he could get through this one; he was wrong. After several attempts to work ourselves out, Dad and I walked back to the ranch house and asked for help. I seem to recall that the rancher commented that he was always dragging people out of that patch and he brought his tractor to haul us out. I recall quite excitedly riding on the back of the tractor with Dad – remember, I was a city kid with absolutely no experience of rural life, and my whole image of moving to Calgary was that I was going to be able to ride my loyal horse to school, leaving it tied to the hitching post while I was inside, learning good stuff.
We didn’t make it to Bragg Creek that day, nor perhaps for several more days until the sun had had a chance to bake the road again. Instead, we stayed in a motel on 16th Ave NW, across from the vacant lot that soon after became North Hill Shopping Centre. The four of us scampered across 16th Ave then, as now, the Trans-Canada Highway, without any thought of traffic or crossing at the intersection – it just was not busy enough to worry about. And we then played in the mud and dirt in the vacant lot. I remember there were deeply carved gullies on the side of the land where it rose quite high above the highway.
While Dad had been living in Calgary alone, he had first stayed at a hotel on 3rd Street, between 7th and 8th Avenues, a hotel that survived at least long enough for me to apply there for a summer job in my teens (a job which I did not get). He then had moved to stay with a family – relatives of friends in Montreal – to live in their basement suite. During our stay at the motel, I believe we visited them at least once, probably for supper in their backyard. This was May of 1953. The weather was warm, if recently wet, and we four children were out of school almost 2 months early! It was like heaven, an extra special holiday.
When the roads dried out, we made the trip to Bragg Creek, on the old highway through the reserve. I swear that when they made that road they made it twisty enough to avoid having to cut trees! It seemed an interminable drive, with pine trees closely lining the road all along and no long vistas to mark any progress. “When are we going to get there?” became a probably quite annoying plaint from me and perhaps the others, too. Dad’s response was always “Just around the next corner.”
And then we got to the log cabin. Now that was my idea of “western” living. There were even horses on the land next door. We lived in Bannerman’s cottage, between Lazy Bones (still there I think) owned by the Dingles and a much newer dressed log cabin (something like Panabode) owned by a doctor (whose name I also forget, possibly Brody). There were kids who lived in the area, but they were all away at school – we hardly ever saw them.
Dad continued to live in the basement in Calgary during the week and came out to see us only on weekends, if the roads were passable – and there were times when they were not. So Mum had the four of us stuck out there trying to feed us and keep us safe and happy with a wood-burning stove and water that had to come, either transported by Dad when the car was available or carried by us kids, from a house a half-mile away back up the road.
Her biggest concern, that I was aware of anyway, was that we liked to play down at the river which was, at that time, in full flood. Later in the summer the water level dropped and we discovered that we had a bit of a beach with the water passing quite lazily, but when we first got there it was quite a torrent.
I remember lying in bed against the wall in this cabin, pulling the caulking out from between the logs so I could see outside. I remember climbing the hill across the road from our cabin into what we thought was wilderness in search of bears. I remember crossing the river on a flimsy log bridge – Mum was pretty nervous about the trip, I think she carried Jon – that formed the short-cut from our cabin to the Bragg Creek Trading Post, where we bought food and candy. The smell of rawhide in that place even now brings back very fond memories – I love going back there and have taken almost every visitor we have ever had there, just to smell it.
And I remember falling madly in love with Barbara Elsdon, the daughter of the owners of the Trading Post, who was Heather’s age and who would occasionally ride her horse over to see us – that is, Heather.
Kevan had his 5th birthday there. Dad was there and lost the keys to the car. After searching for what seemed like hours, he found them sticking in the lock of the open trunk, out of sight above his head.
When school was out, I had friends: one down the road (still a great distance away, but I think we used to walk it) and one on the forest reserve (which was clearly a long way away), that I used to get to see from time to time. I recall once getting into a friendly wrestling match with my friend on the forest reserve in front of an audience of First Nations people who took great delight in cheering us on. First time I had ever had adults cheering a fight.
While we there, I received a package from my teacher in Montreal, containing letters of greeting and good wishes from all of my former classmates. We used to ride with Mrs. Elsdon on her mail route into the city, stopping at each mailbox with the flag set to pick up outgoing mail and stopping at others, and setting the flag, for those that had new mailed delivered. Once in the city, Mum would do her shopping (groceries, mostly I think) and then meet Mrs Elsdon again for the ride back. I have no idea what Mrs. Elsdon was doing in town – perhaps delivering and collecting the mail for her area.
But eventually, I have no idea exactly when, our home in Calgary was finished and we moved into the city, never to stay in Bragg Creek again.