M. N.: The following is an interview of Dr. William Aitken. It was conducted on November 9 and November 16, 1998.
Dr. A.: Family history. Okay well that started in, on the 14th of February 1920. My parents were, were both Scottish immigrants. In Dad&'s case returned to Prince George at the end of the first great war. He had come out as a young single man from Scotland to North America. First from New York, and then up to Edmonton and out of Edmonton he started to work for a construction outfit called Foley Welch and Stewart that was building the Grand Trunk Pacific railway connection through from Jasper to Prince Rupert. When the last spike was driven, I believe it was up at Fort Fraser, and when the railway construction work dad was involved with ceased, he decided that this was a, an area that looked like it had lots of promise and he decided this was where he was going to make his home. Apparently he had met my mother to be, in Scotland before he left there as a young single man and I think he must have proposed to her by mail because he built a house and she was going to come out to Canada to marry him, when the first great war broke out, and that put a temporary halt to their marriage plans when dad joined the British, the Canadian Expeditionary force and went over to Britain and he and Mother were married in Scotland during the first great war and my brother who was killed during the second great war in France was born in Scotland and then the 3 of them came back to Canada, or out to Canada at the end of the first great war. And I was born here in 1920 in the house that dad had rented, built for my mother but he rented it to a physician and they moved into it when they came back here
M. N.: Okay
Dr. A.: It was down in the Cache area, the lowest part of town and
area used to flood every spring practically and this was a very nice
I have pictures of it and showing, including me on the front porch.It
very well placed in that it was on a little bit of a knoll but this
spring after they came back, the flooding made the house on an island
I know that I heard my mother talk about how she had to get in a
and row over to the, they called the mainland, to get groceries. She
having any more of that than she had to live with, so Dad bought a
house that had been started just off the corner of Vancouver street and
6th avenue and he had the house completed and they moved into that one
and that was my home until till I finished high school and mother lived
in it until 1917. I guess it was 1917, What year Doris?
Doris Aitken: 1924
Dr. A.: 1924? Yeah, Okay
M. N.: What time did, do you remember what year it was when you moved into that house on, on, off Vancouver?
Dr. A.: Yes in 1920
M. N.: Oh Okay, so the year you were born
Dr. A.: Yes
M. N.: Okay
Dr. A.: Yeah. So mother was in it from ‘20 to ‘74, that was 54 years.
M. N.: Oh, Okay
Dr. A.: But Dad predeceased my mother by 5 years. They both died at the age of 83 so dad was 3 years, 5 years older than mother. So, that was.
M. N.: Okay, and while we are on the subject of the house. I guess what would be inter, What I would like to know is, as a boy what kind of routine did you have, as, as a boy? Chores
Dr. A.: Well. Was it you that I was telling earlier? The house that the family moved into in 1920 was first heated by, it was a long narrow house, the kitchen stove in the,at one end of the house burned pine wood, and the rest of the house there were 2 small coal burning upright stoves. One in the dining room and one in the living room at the other end of the house. Some winters that house with no insulation but it was a good house with storm windows and everything. It was all that heating apparatus could do to get us through some of those cold winter nights.And during the depression years when there were all kinds of people out of work Dad learned that there were these 2 unemployed pipe fitters were interested in a heating plan that Dad conceived. After the railway had, the railway construction had ceased in Prince George, all this railway equipment that had been used in the construction. There was small gauge locomotives like the little steam locomotive that they have on the track over at the museum. There were acres of old obsolete equipment including quite a number, I don't remember how many, small locomotives like that one. Well anyhow somewhere my dad got the idea and he was able to arrange for, that he could get one of those boilers out of one of those obsolete engines down on the, we called it The Cache, where all this equipment was and he put these 2 unemployed pipe fitters to work. They got the boiler out of one of these engines down there, brought it up to my home and put it into the basement and these pipe fitters put in pipes to carry steam and old style radiators, you've seen them with their fins and eventually we had steam heat in this old house which was a beautiful change.
M. N.: Yeah
Dr. A.: But it meant that every spring Dad bought I think it was 13, 14 cords of birch wood in about 2, 2/ 1/2 foot lengths plus 7 cords of pine wood which all had to be split and piled through the summer so that it was dried and ready for burning to heat the house in the winter time and every Saturday my brother and I had to put a half a cord of this birch wood down a chute into the basement and stack it there for firing the boiler to create the steam that kept us warm. We also took our turn although dad most of it, for cleaning the flues as birch wood made lots of soot and the flues you know that is when the heat from the burning material in the burner part of the boiler
M. N.: The firebox of the boiler, boiler basically?
Dr. A.: I beg your pardon?
M. N.: In the firebox of the boiler?
Dr. A.: Yes, yeah. We had a very long brush, wire brush that we used every, go through that every Saturday too to clean out the flues.
M. N.: So you would have to shut it down then pretty much. You would have to have the, the fire would be out, fire have to be out to do that
Dr. A.: Well, when we needed the heat, the fire never went out. We kept the steam up all the time, but that was a good system and it worked beautifully.
M. N.: That must have been a pretty huge piece of equipment to get down in the basement?
Dr. A.: Yes, yes it was.
M. N.: Did you have it in pieces?
Dr. A.: Pretty heavy. I don't clearly remember how they did it but I'm sure it was brought up on a wagon or a sleigh. I don't clearly remember whether it was brought in the winter time or not. But it was a pretty wonderful change in the way that we heated our house.
M. N.: Yeah I guess.
Dr. A.: Though my brother and I had our chores every weekend that we had to carry out it was worth it. That house that we grew up in. We didn't have running water when we first moved into it we, the city had started to install a water system but the, we had to carry our water in pails from a tap down the street just a little bit and oh we were pretty small then but baths were once a week in a big galvanized tub and the water was heated on the kitchen stove. I think we were small enough that it could take 2 of us at a time in a tub. And then, one, well I guess we got that, yes we did, got the tub in our bathroom when we got water put into the house. Another piece of old obsolete equipment I guess was this bathtub that had been in a cabin on one of the paddle wheeler boats that used to ply, to come up the Fraser river to Prince George and in my memory the, I never saw the, the paddle wheelers working or moving in the water but I do remember very clearly 2 of these paddle wheelers had somehow been winched up the bank just oh, just about this side of the cutbanks on the Nechako river and I'm sure that you've heard that there was a lift included in the old steel bridge over on the
M. N.: On the CN bridge.
Dr. A.: Other side of, yeah, that was designed to let the paddle wheelers boats go through, and I'm sure you've seen pictures of them doing it. Well I've never actually saw them, the paddle wheelers going through the bridge. Now, where was I. Oh yes. the bathtub. This bath tub that had been in a small cabin on one of these boats so that the. It makes it sound like a, perhaps an ocean liner but it certainly weren't that big but to, to kids it was a terrific playground. Those paddle wheelers that had been winched up onto the bank and they were supported on wood blocks and oh they would have to be, oh I'm sure 120 feet long or so running around the deck as kids it was a terrific.
M. N.: Oh so you guys were able to go and play on it.
Dr. A.: Terrific playground. Yes. A guy, a boy I went to school with, a Jack Bond, his mother was a, our school nurse at King George the Fifth Elementary school. Oh I don't clearly remember what his father did but he had one sister Jesse. Anyhow they lived just up river immediately above these 2 beached or banked paddle wheeler boats. This bath tub, the beautiful thing about it was it was an enameled steel bathtub or maybe cast iron but it was enameled, sat on 4 legs and it was 6 feet long, so I’ve never found a bathtub since that I could lie right out in and even when I got to be 6 feet tall so it was beautiful. I, I should have been smart enough to get that bathtub when we built this house incorporated in here because it was something that would last forever that wouldn't look quite right in a modern decor bathroom but it was sure a beautiful bathtub to have a bath in.
M. N.: So you would be able to just leave and go play with your friends down at the. This paddle wheeler or?
Dr. A.: Oh this was somewhere
M. N.: When was this do you think?
Dr. A.: When. It would be difficult for me to draw out in my mind when we, maybe when the paddle wheelers were torn apart I don’t think they were ever put back into the water and floated away and I guess like this bath tub Dad got hold of probably he did get it when they were dismantling one of these so there would be. See Prince George was a pretty primitive wilderness setting when Prince George got its start and these paddle wheelers powered by steam had a lot of then fairly modern equipment and stuff and there even was a bit of elegance about it I guess. I’m sure every cabin or stateroom if you could call them that. We never, it was always locked up. I never remember playing in the staterooms but on the deck it was, it was beautiful and when the boats were dismantled I don't clearly, I don't remember.
M. N.: Okay.
Dr. A.: I only remember that sort of along with them, see the river boat traffic continued until the railway was built and the railway was built and functioning there was no more
M. N.: Okay.
Dr. A.: need for the water traffic and it ceased. And wonderful, you talk about playing. What a playground it was. This large cache area was literally, literally hundreds of small pieces of railway construction equipment on rails and right from where the present Carney street bridge is, right down to Cottonwood Island track had been laid and these pieces of equipment had been sort of funneled away onto it. I learned that just before the war, ‘39 to ‘45 war began, some deal was made and I don’t know if it was a an opportune wheeler dealer that conceived the idea but anyhow apparently all this obsolete old equipment was so much steel and iron in it was sold to Japan and they just cleaned this stuff right out. Now that would have to be I imagine about '37 or '38 because I finished high school in 1938 and I went to work out at Sinclair Mills in the company store there and I’m sure that I would have been aware had I been living in Prince George of all this equipment taken away but it could have been done quite easily when I was no longer living in town so I would put that around, I finished high school around 1938 so maybe the deal about selling this equipment to, this iron would be what they were after I’m sure. We used to express kind of resentment that it was probably thrown right back at us again pretty shortly after.
M. N.: This, the town, kind of community water supply that you had to haul buckets from? Buckets of water? Do you remember where abouts that was?
Dr. A.: I’ve got a picture of, the earliest situation I can remember there’s a, there was a storage tank built on the top of Connaught hill just at the east end of the hill there and the city water pumping equipment seemed to be powerful enough that it could push the water right up there and then it was gravity fed down and into the town which was, essentially, it certainly was all in the bowl at that time. I'm sure you have heard how the fort here was. Well the fort, Fort George sat just about exactly where the present museum is. The community of South Fort George started up just immediately down river from the fort. Then when the prospect of the railway and I've researched a little bit on this subject, that when the prospect of the railway arriving in Prince George became prominent in peoples minds I'm sure it was on speculation purely, that someone decided that the town created by the advent of the railway would be a little bit further west than that this sizable community after South Fort George dependent on river traffic got started. This, purely on speculation, community of Central Fort George was built up just before your entrance on to the Hart Highway Bridge.
M. N.: Right, around the bypass
Dr. A.: Yes, and it quickly became about the same size as South Fort George I would think. And then when the railway did arrive, 1912-ish and the station was built, this was the second station that we have at the foot of Quebec Street but when the station, the railway arrived and the station was built there, well then the, Prince George began to build up so we had, I'm sure you've read how Prince George was incorporated, how they could call it a city in 1915 I don't know but apparently they did incorporate us as a city making now 3 distinct communities. South Fort George, Central Fort George, Prince George. And then long since we have evolved, melded and become the same. Now where do we go from there?
M. N.: Oh well I was wondering where the actual tap was for your, for your, your water supply before you got the
Dr. A.: Well I can't remember that, no memory what the water supply was in the first one where I was born, that was down on the flats but I was just an infant when I was moved up into the one on 6th avenue near Vancouver Street and I do remember the tap out on 6th Avenue where water was carried into the house.
M. N.: Oh OK. So it along Ninth and and Vancouver roughly?
Dr. A.: Yes.
M. N.: OK.
Dr. A.: I think there must have been a lot of open taps like that around.
M. N.: That's interesting I wonder. do you remember how they kept that going in the winter time?
Dr. A.: Mostly by, or frequently by leaving the tap running.
M. N.: That's neat.
Dr. A.: Mind you it was pretty, they had the. I'm sure they weren't diesel powered but in my memory they always have had a dragline for digging the trenches. I know that they had to, surely they must still do for putting in water lines for putting in new sewage lines they get down below what was usually considered the old frost level and they could go down in a very cold winter 6, 7 feet so that the any piping had to down at least down that far. I'm sure the city must have had a pretty, by comparison, inefficient kind of equipment compared with what we have now. But mind you 1939 I believe the population of Prince George was just around 3,000 and 2900 people but we didn't have to much of a, too much trench digging to keep up with the population that we would have now. The water, I've been interested in water supplies and our rivers for seems quite a long time, and I do remember when the city power plant was situated right down at the west end of First Avenue, just at Carney Street there’s an old, still part of the building there, the power plant and they had, the city had diesel engines in there that ran the generators that supplied the lighting for the city. And at the time, mind you there used to be lots of blackouts when something failed. What was I going to tell you about. You had asked about water. OK sorry. I'm losing my train of thought. The original water was pumped from a, it had to be a hand dug well just at the back of that power plant. Now you'e down pretty close to the water level and there's lots of gravel all over this, the bottom of this bowl and one of the complaints about the water was that we used to get, used to dump some of the old oil on the ground not to far away from the well and began to get some oil into the water. It was an improvement when the city started pumping water directly from the Nechako river just immediately below that Carney Street Bridge and although that's a new bridge compared to the old one that they the first one that I can remember. The piers were built of logs set on one another in a triangular shape and the the cribbing was filled with rocks and the bridge was built over those cribs filled with rocks. The first water being piped from directly from the Nechako, they had a little pumping setup right on the bank of the river, on this side, the south side of the river. I don't remember when the, you know there is a city pumping, a very substantial pumping setup now just above the Carney Street Bridge there eh.
M. N.: Yup
Dr. A.: And I believe that the city and the area around us pumps water from several kinds of locations so the picture has changed quite drastically over the years. All that a great improvement over having to go out to a outside tap. I never had to, that was my dads
M. N.: OK that was his job.
Dr. A.: Yeah, yeah.
M. N.: So what did you do for fun in those days?
Dr. A.: For fun.
M. N.: Yes.
Dr. A.: Well there was no end of fun really. I've mentioned that that cache of obsolete railway equipment, what a terrific place for kids. It wasn't very closely supervised and I know there were railway policemen who might have chased us off of it at times. You could get into little old locomotives and dredging equipment and stuff like that and pretend you were operating it. And then for a long time the I guess it was for the railway maybe it was just some deal with the city but they used to make these big concrete culverts. Oh they would stand about oh at least 3 feet maybe 4 feet sometimes 5 feet high but there was excellent gravel material along through that area where all this obsolete equipment was stored and they used to dredge, bring up a lot of this gravel for making these concrete culverts. They had a substantial concrete situation. Substantial as it was for those days and when they moved on they left a dandy pool that would, the water immediately fill in and up as far as the railway station and up river from there right to Carney Street that rarely ever flooded
Dr. A.: It did but, because I can remember when one winter, that would be I think 1935 because my brother who would be 17 then, got a job and this was in the middle of the depression. (tape ends) The old steel bridge. Water was backed up right, way up river up the Nechako but summer time these holes that had been made to get gravel, filled up with nice clean water and all filtered through the gravel bed and they were dandy swimming pools for kids.
M. N.: Yeah
Dr. A.: Just ideal. Often you could even dive off of some of this old railway equipment into the water and it was safe. Most of the time though the accepted swimming place was down on Cot, was down on Johnson's Island, you've noticed that there is a bit of an island not much of it left now but this, what we called Johnson's Island, is halfway across the old steel bridge. Some of it extended up river from the bridge and it extended for oh 150-200 yards down river and this fellow called Johnson, he was a, an old bachelor probably about half my age now but to us kids then, we used to go over across the bridge and sometimes we had a ladder, sometimes we, just a piece of rope that would be tied onto a, top of one of the piers to a piece of steel work and we'd let ourselves down on the cribbing onto the island and around the piers the cribbing in which those piers had been poured lasted right up to when I became a young man and there was another pretty nice kind of swimming facility where the water quite clean and fairly safe. Frequently when the water was higher we simply, those of us with a little more dare used to go out and dive off the bridge into the Fraser and swim down around to the bottom of the island and in there.
M. N.: So did your parents know you were doing this?
Dr. A.: No. (laughter) No. And well we had no swimming pools in the town, of course we had to use what was available for us. I do remember one of those times when I and a fellow who’s dead now by the name of Bob Jackson had dived off the bridge into the Fraser and it was easy to swim down with the current but we had just waded out of the water onto the island and there was a bunch of younger kids shouting and waving at us, pointing and here we looked down river and here there was a head of a girl. I'll have a name in a minute but we were the biggest, Bob and I of any of the kids around, there was nothing for us to do but chase out into the water and swim down to her and it was easy to swim down stream to her but then like little fools, we one of us on each side of her, she could swim too, but, Kyle her name was. We started to, trying to pull her back to the island but we were all swimming against the current. I don't think we, I'm sure we wouldn't have made it because we weren't really making any progress at all against the current when, like an angel, we hear a voice off to the side, and here is Sid Clark, this is a guy who is still alive here. He's not very well. He's well into his 80s I think, and he was always sort of an unofficial lifeguard. He was a good swimmer. He had arrived at the scene and sized it up quickly and he knew to wade out toward the mainland on this side. Used to be a tourist camp down there, but he got out to where he was fairly close to us. We were just essentially staying in one position wearing ourselves out and he got our attention and told us to swim towards him. Well we weren't going against the current but that was relatively easy and we waded over, swam over to him with this Kyle girl. Who was probably 2 or 3 years younger than we were. And so it was really Sid Clark who saved us all essentially. Thankfully yes, you hit it on the head, but our parents didn't know lots of things that went around. That was one kind of occupation in the summer time when it was hot. I did get pulled out of the river when I was much smaller myself by a girl by the name of Verna Briscoe. Funny how you can remember things like this but I couldn't swim in those days. And I was paddling in the just down the bank from this tourist cabin when all of a sudden I was into something that was way over my head and I can still remember looking up and seeing my own bubbles going up through the clear water and I felt this hand grabbing my arm and pulled me out and it left a memory. And it never frightened me, I never knew what was happening. Oh we had, that was in town. I was very fortunate. There were 5 of us children in our family and 2 houses over from us the Briscoe's had 6 kids and I guess we were a little bit of a problem during the summer time when we were out of school and Dad and Mr. Briscoe conceived the idea of getting a property on a lake near by and my dad from the end of the first great war right through to about 1949 was provincial assessor, the only provincial assessor in Prince George. He worked in. out of, well first of all the first government office used to be on down where Fort George is now a lovely park. I have pictures showing what was called the government building over there. But Dad knew all this area, the country side for a hundred mile radius of Prince George and the 2 fathers with the idea of where might they get a lake property, Dad was able to determine that on Cluculz Lake there was some crown land available right on the lake that had access to it by a road and the 2 dads managed to swing a deal. I'm sure it didn't cost very much at all because nobody had any money to speak of in those days. The smallest piece of property they could buy on the lake was a quarter of a mile of frontage so they created the first subdivision on Cluculz Lake. Might have been the first subdivision anywhere around here, I don't know of that nature. They hired a surveyor, a man that used to be known as Doc Campbell, to go out and survey this property up into these little one acre lots that had I think about 108 feet of frontage right on the lake and they went back oh a couple of hundred yards. It was an area a bit more of an acre each and then they proceeded to try and sell these properties at $50 a property. But then came the 29 crash and they didn't sell nearly all of them but Doris and I inherited from my parents this little property which we have treasured and now we are seeing our grandchildren using it. Its
M. N.: That's pretty neat.
Dr. A.: a little shacky old cabin on it but it's sure been a source of happiness and answers your question about what did we do. Oh the fishing was wonderful. We could cut down trees short of, without worrying about whether it was legal or not and build rafts and we even had one raft with a little tower on it and diving board on top of it. It was. We didn’t need all, we didn't need a mint of money to have fun in those days. You maybe had to work to make it eh.
M. N.: That's half the fun of it in itself sometimes.
Dr. A.: Just down below here I mentioned how the river used to
There were very obvious channels, old river channels that had water
in them pretty well all year round. It wasn't just in high water that
filled up. One slough used to enter, if you go right out Patricia out
the old steel bridge there was an old channel that came in along below
Patricia just past the City Hall down under here (Connaught Hill)
the Parkwoods area out into Carrie Jane Gray Park beneath Carney Hill
come out the slough that's over there, South Fort Slough. That was
an old river channel. Just a, not history, but we frequently get people
that are coming through Prince George on tours and I was outside in the
yard when this couple that turned out they were, had German accents
were tourist from Germany going through on a tour and they were
they'd walked up these steps at the west end of Connaught Hill and
if Connaught Hill was man made. But it was those river channels of
that cut them out. Well winter time there were these, there was this
water and we didn't have a closed rink in those days, the city rink
we had hockey games between a Quesnel team and Vanderhoof team. One
team used to come in from from Stony Creek, just south, an all native
but we made our hockey players of adult age, kids skating and we had to
clear our own ice on these sloughs before you could get into a hockey
That was your admission. Just down below our house here on Patricia
the Library sits was a favorite spot. There was always lots of
good ice then. The water used to even flood up to where, oh the other
of the new civic center where the old civic center was.
M. N.: Oh OK.
Dr. A.: We used to get water in its basement frequently when it was the high water time.
Oh there was, there were lots to do. Skiing.
We had a, I think it was 85 feet high, maybe, yes I believe that was
The runway on this ski trestle was 120 feet long but right on the top
Connaught Hill at this end and the hill had been cleared down and it
down just past where the library is now and there’s this one little
at the bottom of the hill and then you would drop into this slough
just over to below where the Inn of the North is now.
M. N.: That must have been quite the structure.
Dr. A.: Hey?
M. N.: That must have been quite the structure.
Dr. A.: Oh, Oh it was. That hill was steep. And well I don't, It wouldn't be quite right to say I look at the kids with envy now but you see kids with all this marvelous and to me, very very expensive kind of equipment whether they be skiing or skating hockey or whatever. They've got all this lovely kind of equipment. First of all to protect them from smashing their teeth or their, breaking their legs or whatever but this ski hill. We used to have some, to a boys eyes anyhow, very impressive ski jumping meets here and we brought professional ski jumpers in from even eastern, northeastern states right across Canada and as I said we had this trestle, a big wooden trestle built right on the top of the hill about where that, there's a little fountain up there.
M. N.: Okay, right on the corner.
Dr. A.: Yeah, yeah. Well the trestle was seated right up there and I can remember bigger kids like my brother. He was a couple of years older than I. He would get a job, there was no ski lift to get you back up to the top of the hill in those days. And ski jumpers skis were heavy.
M. N.: Yes
Dr. A.: And my brother would get 25 cents for packing one of the competitive ski jumpers skis back up the hill for them for his next jump. And it was a pretty tough go depending on how much snow there was
M. N.: I guess.
Dr. A.: on the side of the hill. Well that same family, the Briscoe's that went with the Aitken's out to Cluculz Lake. Ed Briscoe, he was a year older than I and I got over on to the top of the hill skiing. Ed, was a little luckier than I, he had a set of skis with a harness that he could tighten up so he could hold his skis on tightly. Well I didn't have a harness. I had a strap that you could put your foot through and that went through the bottom of the ski and using a piece of an inner tube I could put it around the back of my boot and over the strap and under the front under my toes, this was how I held my skis on. And it was one of the big events of my life I guess. We were the only kids on the hill that day and the snow was rather wet and not very fast even though you had your skis well waxed but we tried it just going down the hill. Schussing down from the top and it was pretty easy and we both made it.
M. N.: This is not down the ski jump, this is down the regular
Dr. A.: Just down the right of way.
M. N.: There would have been no trees down there.
Dr. A.: So then the next move was to get up onto the jump and there was 3 stages. And ah, we both went from the first stage and we didn't jump out very far because the snow was still fairly damp. And both made it. And it took quite a while to walk back up again and we had to try the second go and, I'm pleased to report, we both made it from the second level. But it’s getting later in the afternoon and its getting colder and the snow is getting faster. When we both made it off the second landing and there's nothing to do but try the top one. And it sure looked high to me particularly I guess, to get up there but Ed went first. And standing on the top of the trestle I saw him shooting out into space and then he’s gone out of sight and you wait and wait and wait wondering if he was standing, and when he shot out on the bottom of the hill onto the slough level.
M. N.: Then you could see him again I guess.
Dr. A.: Yes. Well I couldn’t chicken out. But by now its quite late afternoon and the snow was so, it had dried out by comparison that you’d travel at so much greater a speed, no goggles or anything. Before I left the trestle, and shot out into space, I couldn’t even see because my eyes were so full of water and then horror of horrors, in the air, one of my skis dropped off. Well of course I didn’t stand up. I tumbled all the way down this big hill. I could have killed myself another time but this was on a sleigh. Oh we had lots of challenges and fun as kids. I’m even younger when, I don’t know who I was with, but I had, I had a dandy sleigh, a little runner that Mr. Gaul, our neighbor just across the lane had made for me. He was a master carpenter and he built this thing and it just had wrought steel runner built into the, into the wood runner part of it. But I was so proud of that sleigh. I could go further than any kid in my part of town when I would run and shoot on it but I shouldn’t have been on but somehow we got up on the top of Connaught Hill and weren’t using the jump then. It was there but it, there’d been lots of snow and then there’d been a chinook and the people had been walking all across this ski slope part and making big indentations with their feet. Not intentionally but they ruined it really for just about anything. But then it froze, so except for these holes, going a foot or so into, into the snow, now the holes were there but an ice surface around them and I dared to shoot down on my low runner sleigh. Well boy you didn’t use your brains when you... I had to stay on the sleigh, because it would have been murderous. I had no idea how fast I would be going but I was hurtling along at a good sleigh down the bottom out the first little flat, and then there was a drop of about 2 feet down onto this low level. I shot out into air. I landed all right on the slough level but across the slough and hit the other side when it went up and that’s where it threw me. I didn’t break anything but I, I could have been, could have been killed I guess. That’s some of the kind of things we did as kids. Thankfully I never broke my leg until last June. (laughs).
M. N.: So school. You went to K.G.V.?
Dr. A.: Yes I had the pleasure, the privilege of speaking at a little concert, I don’t know if you ever heard... Vic Steblin
M. N.: Yep I was there.
Dr. A.: Were you at the concert?
M. N.: Yep, Yep.
Dr. A.: Oh yes well you don’t want to ask me about any more of that do you?
M. N.: Well maybe just some of your experiences at school and what it was like.
Dr. A.: At the school.
M. N.: As a kid.
Dr. A.: Well
M. N.: I guess it was just a, just, just school grades. Went every morning and sat.
Dr. A.: Well I was lucky. I went through grades 1 to 8 at K.G.V. as you’ve heard me say then. I had a classmate. Girl. Right through grade 1 through 8. Her name was Helen Chimilosky. The Chimiloskys lived over on the north side of the Nechako River just about where the oil refinery is now. The Chimiloskys had a kind of stump ranch farm over there and they had going to school aged just daughters. I think there were 4 Chimilosky girls. They had a special challenge to get to school. There were no such things as school busses in those days but that’s where they lived over there. In the summer time when the river was open, or spring through to fall, they would come to school crossing the river in a rowboat and then walk from the banks of the Nechako to up to King George Elementary.
M. N.: That’s quite a hike in itself.
Dr. A.: Yes, yes and they’d have to bring their lunch with them I guess. But it was a different matter when the river started to freeze and for quite a time they couldn’t use their boat and they would have to walk by foot up along the bottom of the cutbanks and across on the old Nechako bridge and then to school. Sometimes when the river froze idealy, there was sufficient ice that they could quite safely walk across on the river to come to school. But we get our kids bussed to school if they have to...
M. N.: Boy yeah. That’s quite an ordeal.
Dr. A.: Well I had it pretty easy because my home at 6th avenue and Vancouver street, I was only 3 blocks away from King George the Fifth Elementary so it was very easy for me and my brother and sisters going to elementary. We used to, the boys assembled in the, in the basement on the south end of the school and the girls in the north end and we were marched up to the tune of "An English Country Garden". I was so pleased when I heard Vic playing that with his daughter. I don’t think he knew that. That was the tune we always marched up into school at.
M. N.: Was there anything going on in the basement there are far as classrooms?
Dr. A.: Well there wasn’t very much room really. There was enough room to line up the kids for, the boys for the classrooms. I don’t remember any, oh we probably, the girls used to play hopscotch more than the boys did. The boys, we were always glad to move outside with our alleys. I, just shooting alleys I just, I came second and that was the disappointment in my life in an ally contest. Cecil Cockwill beat me on a fluke darn it. I shot and I, I. The thing is if you shot and the alleys were assembled in the center of the ring and the whole school was watching and you get up, This was the Championship. And I let off this final shoot and there’ll be a dozen alleys in the center. Well I hit one and it didn’t quite roll out. It just rolled to the edge of the ring.Well then it was easy cause we were pretty good to shoot and hit if you shot and knocked one out and your shooter stayed in the ring and you could keep on shooting. Well I set him up for it darn it. But he won fair and square and I won a sack of nice alleys that Mr. Chapman, a grade 7 teacher donated to us kids. That was one of my triumphs. I still remember they, they, somebody had cleared out a lot of small pine trees just at the south end of KGV and some kid discovered a porcupine had crawled into this pile of small pine trees, again just at the south end of the school. Well it was cruel but kids can do that unthinkingly. We had the knowledge that you don’t get near a porcupine, a live one, where it can flop its tail at you but some of us, I think I was one of them managed to expose the back of this porcupine by pulling trees apart over it. It was in the bottom of this pile and then we could pluck the quills right out of it. (Laughter)
M. N.: Pretty daring.
Dr. A.: Well we were pretty sure that there was no room for that tail to flail at us. I have had the experience and I was only 3 blocks from the school up in this little bit of a gully on 7th avenue just a block from the school coming up on a cow moose sitting right there. The top was so small and there was lots of wooded area in the bowl. I had a very music loving mother and all of us kids were exposed to music. And learned to like it. I, in grade 8, so I would be 14, got the role of the toymaker in a school operetta we put on called the toymaker on the basis of my being a boy soprano. We managed to get through that operetta. It was put on in the, we didn’t have a school auditorium anywhere and the Princess Theater which was now obsolete as a silent movie house was available for school concerts and this was were the school operetta was put on...
Dr. A.: and I know that I had the music teacher and the principal and I guess anyone else involved really holding their breath sort of because my voice was starting to change. A week after the concert I couldn’t have taken the part because I sang bass and had sung bass ever since.
M. N.: Cutting it pretty fine.
Dr. A.: Yeah.
(Note: In return for doing odd jobs such as splitting firewood for a neighbor who was a conductor on the railway, Dr. Aitken was taken along for rides to Jasper and back )
M. N.: So lets start with the train riding in the engine.
Dr. A.: Yeah, I’d been up to Jasper and back through Giscome we learned that while we’d been east of Giscome, it had a fire there and I said this Mr. Yost was pretty darn good to me. I must have been still in short pants in those days. It was not the in thing but I guess I’d worn my brother’s hand-me-downs, he was bigger than I. Shorts, pants shorts. Anyhow wonder of wonders this Charlie Yost, I think feeling I, I was old enough that I should be wearing long pants found that it was opportune, they were having some kind of a sale of goods that might have been damaged or near damaged from this store, bought me my first pair of long pants. And that was another glorious moment when I marched into my own home. " I’m home mom" and she discovered I was wearing my first pair of long pants
M. N.: Yeah, you’re all grown up now.
Dr. A.: That was, that was a beautiful experience too.
M. N.: So when you went to Jasper did you stay over night and then come back the next day?
Dr. A.: I think at least one occasion we probably stayed 2 days but
it depended, in those days there were just one train every second day
way. 3 trains each way a week and so it might have, the length of time
in Jasper would depend on waiting for the next train movement coming
In those days the railway man was sort well doesn’t some of this
music go "King of the Road" ?
M. N.: Yeah, they were the, especially to kids I guess would really look up.
Dr. A.: So those were some of the highlights not related too closely to school. And that Duncan Pitman. You ever seen a picture of him?
M. N.: Yeah I met him the last time I think. He was here in the 80s I think.
Dr. A.: Oh?
M. N.: Yes.
Dr. A.: Oh, yes. I had the, I was just talking about this last night because a newly retired principal at Prince George Senior Secondary, Doug Hallman, we were just over to his home for dinner just across the street and that probably same summer in which you say you met Dunc Pitman was a reunion time I think maybe, a school reunion time? And he came with his 2 sisters Gertrude and Nancy and they were going to be going to a ladies social thing in Rosel’s Restaurant and so I asked Dunc if he was going to be going. He didn’t want to be going in on that so I volunteered to take him around and I took him to King George the Fifth, I beg your pardon, Prince George Senior Secondary didn’t exist when Dunc and I were kids here but partly because I’d been on the School Board when we’d built the Prince George Senior Secondary and I maybe wanted to show him that my name was on the plaque in the front there and we, I took him over to the senior secondary and here it was locked,we couldn’t get in. We’re staring in through the glass door when somebody across the corridor inside also looking out through the glass, spots us, came to the front door to ask us what we were doing and I explained to him. Turned out to be a fellow by the name of Boomhower. I don’t know if you would know him but he was vice principal at the time at the school. I explained at the time that Dunc and I were high school graduates from Prince George way back in 1938 and he was quite intrigued and took us in. The school was closed and he showed us around and then he asked a few questions and said "I’d just like to look in some of the records here and see if we’ve got any records on you guys". And I think I intimated a while back that this Dunc Pitman, he was smart. All the way through high school he never had to work. I and that was bad for me because we were pretty good friends and I should have been doing a little bit of studying now and then. I ended up in grade 12 flunking my geometry, well not altogether but my relationship with Dunc. I was playing in my brother’s orchestra. He had a good little, just a piano, saxophone, trumpet and drums some of the time. But anyhow this Boomhower says "I’ll see if I can find anything on you guys". So in an old filing cabinet stuffed full of records under a stairwell he gets out some cards and thumbing through them, he finally finds one on me. And course that school didn’t exist in 1938. And I remember I noticed my IQ was listed on it and it wasn’t the lowest but it sure wasn’t anything impressive to have refreshing my memory and then here after a little bit more searching he found Dunc’s. And darned if under IQ it was listed "off the scale". He’s the guy that went on to nuclear physics.
M. N.: Well I noticed in the paper write-up that I was looking at today that he went on to become, oh, head of the some sort of aeronautical division at McDonnell Douglas for over 10 years I, I believe.
Dr. A.: I, I think that’s right.
M. N.: Jet propulsion or something. (note: chief of guidance and control according to article in Prince George Citizen Oct 7, 1989)
Dr. A.: Anti air, anti missile research and stuff so he, Dunc in grade 12. He always stood third in the class. There were 2 girls who beat him. Norma Olds and Irene Van Dyke. They were smart but they worked. Dunc was smart and he didn’t have to work. That was just about my undoing. I don’t hold it against him but. So that’s, the Pitman house is an important house. Although, also involving Dunc, and I think it was when we were in grade 12, so we would be 17 maybe going on 18. And we had decided we were going stag to a New Years dance in the Princess Theatre hall. They had long since put in a level floor. It had been a sloping floor. They, they put a level floor into it and it became the only, up to that time it was the best community hall we ever had. There was a hall down on, on George Street called the Ritz Keefer hall which was in the upstairs of a building sitting right where the Ramada Hotel is now, but it wasn’t even big enough for a conventional basketball floor up there. Now where was I?
M. N.: The dance. The dance at the Princess.
Dr. A.: Yeah. Dunc and I were going to be big timers as kids and we were going to have liquor at that dance. and of course unbeknownst to parents, we had learned that there was a chinaman by the name of Dick Wakee down on Quebec street who would sell liquor to kids if they had money. So for this New Years eve we got a mickey. Twelve ounces of scotch from Dick Wakee. Not scotch, rye. And the first home that Duncan’s family had was over their music store on Third avenue which was right beside, the building is still there. Wally West’s photo business in there.
M. N.: Near, near the hard
Dr. A.: Right near the Northern Hardware yeah. Well apparently the Pitmans when they first came to Prince George lived in this little kind of apartment over the store upstairs. And it had sat vacant for years after they had moved into the house that you rent. We had bought this 12 ounce mickey For a couple of weeks Dunc would snitch a bit of wine out of a jug that his father had apparently in a closet in the bedroom. I think he always replenished the jug with water. (Laughs) Oh we were real wicked. And we got a bottle of ginger ale. And so we were mixing the wine and the ginger ale and the rye to make 2 bottles. And we had promised, like big wheels, a drink to all our friends that were going to be going to the New Years dance too. But this New Years eve, oh it was cold and there was no heat in that upstairs over the store and Dunc had the key to it and in pouring this brew together and putting it into bottles, we were getting a lot of it on our hands and our hands were so cold I remember. When I got my bottle filled, with the mix, I practically had no feeling left in my hands. It was so cold, the bottle slipped from my hands onto the floor and broke. So we just had one bottle to take to our annoyance and we kept our promise to our friends, I don’t think we got anything more than a good gulp each. (Laughs)
M. N.: Well nobody got into any trouble anyway.
Dr. A.: It wasn’t much of a celebration. I don’t know what it would
have turned out if it hadn’t been for that accident but that was one of
the lows of my school career. Later on, I
don’t know why I wasn’t playing for the dance because our Orchestra was
pretty popular in those days. I don’t remember why we wouldn’t have
hired for the New Years dance
M. N.: And what did you play?
Dr. A.: Drums. Well I got started at that when I was fifteen. Jack who was 2 1/2 years older then I, he had just finished high school and a guy who blew a pretty good saxophone had come into town. George Pike his name was. He had a little old model T Ford truck and he persuaded my brother that it would be a money making deal to go on an orchestra tour west of Prince George. In those days in little communities like Endako, Burns Lake, Decker Lake, Houston they had dances in whatever was available, school house. Burns Lake has a community hall, but maybe the music was supplied by a guitar and a fiddle or something like that eh. We were a big time orchestra with sax and drums and anyhow I had never played the drums in my life before. I could keep a beat and had a little bit of music training on piano and clarinet and violin. Anyhow, the drummer in the orchestra was a great big guy, he later became the Sheriff in Prince George. I don’t know if you would have ever heard of Arnold Davis or not but he was going to go on the orchestra trip but he had a part time job at the post office and he was called to work after Jack had sent advertising ahead to all these places and couldn't go.But he would let somebody who could go, borrow his drums. I remember my brother looking at me with a peculiar look on his face and finally it came out. I could keep a beat. I was going to be the drummer. We met with a lot of opposition particularly from my dad who...
M. N.: How old would you have been.
Dr. A.: I was 15 and Jack was 18
M. N.: Okay.
Dr. A.: And, but we knew how to get around Dad. That was to get around Mom first. But Dad was saying "You’ll be sending home for money before you’ve been away for a week" so we, but we wouldn’t have sent home for money under any circumstances. And oh at the last minute the piano player who was 17 years old and lived up at Shelley. His father was the section foreman at Shelley. He played a darn good piano, Teddy Wood his name was. And apparently his mother had decided he couldn’t go at the last minute but my, in this old model T Ford. Jack was pretty, he was a pretty good leader. He went out and smooth talked her, Teddy’s mother, and told her about all the money we were going to make on this trip and she finally relented.
M. N.: And this would have been in the 30s too.
Dr. A.: Yes, 1935.
M. N.: So any kind of money you could make would have been pretty welcome.
Dr. A.: Oh yes. Well you could make $5 in a night, in an evening. That was, that was good. That was when you could get calves liver and bacon in a restaurant for 30, 35 cents. A piece of pie a la mode another nickel. Anyhow we finally get away quite late and we’re supped to be in Endako that night at 9: 00 to start the dance. We only get 25 miles east, west of here and the car broke down and we couldn’t get it going. So we didn’t get to Endako that night. We had to, my parents had a little cabin on Cluculz Lake, we broke into it for the first night. After our second nights dance at Burns Lake, and we didn’t get a very good crowd because they heard we hadn’t shown up at Endako, but we had a good time. Sometimes we made good money. We were away for about 3 weeks I guess and it turned out this George Pike, the saxophone player who was 21 could, he told us when we got to Smithers that his parents had a house there which wasn’t being used at the time, turned out the parents were away in England on an extended vacation, and so we were live, staying in this house which had a couple of bedrooms. And one morning I awakened to hear some rather angry sounding voices so I go out to the kitchen and here are 2 adult people that I’d never seen before. And they were the parents of this George Pike. And they wanted to know who these bums were he had. Well that was, turned out that wasn’t George’s model T truck after all. It was his parents. And, but they relented I guess they were young enough that they didn’t look to fearsome. We were allowed to stay there a couple of more days. People had 2 houses just across the lane from one another. Anyhow my brother got word, he had finished high school and had applied for a job at Wells which was then the only community within a great distance that was functioning at all then with gold mining, This was still in the middle of the depression. But apparently Jack got the word. I don’t remember how he got the word but he had a job waiting for him in Wells. Well he got a ride back to Prince George. He got talking to a Swifts Meat salesman, his name was Jack Lang. Married my grade 4 school teacher. This Jack Lang was traveling selling Swifts Meat products and he had a oh beautiful yellow roadster and room for one passenger so Jack could get a ride back with him to Prince George and then down to this job in Wells. But I had Arnold Davis’s drums and I’m just 15. Oh it’s a long story and I met this girl, kid at one of our dances, who’s father was a butcher in Smithers and her dad would let, keep the drums and that till I could send for them in the back of his butcher shop. So I parked the drums there and my only way to get back home was by riding the rods. That was one of the loneliest moments in my life but I made it. Fifteen years old and here I am out in the railway yard early in the morning when the train came in. They had combined passenger and work train. And I’m hiding behind some ties waiting for the train to start east, and it’s shunting and I’m making some false starts, having to run back to hide again when the, because there was the railway policeman, when I hear my name. "Bill" And here I see some heads sticking out from behind another pile of ties and here it’s Gordon Hunter, a guy who had played in my brother’s orchestra at times as a pianist. The same age as my brother and he’d been working on a work gang up west of Smithers and he had money. But he wasn’t going to spend his money for a fare back on the railway to Prince George. He was riding the rods. Well he took, he was older, took me under his wing and we rode as far as about Miworth I guess out here and then when the train was stopped and we got onto, onto the railway coach and he paid my way the last few miles back into town.
M. N.: Wow. So did you get, did you manage to get inside a car or did you actually have to hang on...
Dr. A.: Sat on the flatcar.
M. N.: Okay.
Dr. A.: Right close behind the blinking steam engine with the soot coming in my face. When I got home Mom and Dad, the house was locked. I knew that Mom and Dad would be out at our place on Cluculz Lake. And then the family weren’t there. Because we had canaries mom would leave our key with Mrs. Gaul across the lane. So I finding our door was locked I go across the lane and sure enough Mrs. Gaul has the key and I remember she looked at me peculiarly. I go home and first place I have to go is to the bathroom and I look in the mirror and I don’t recognize the guy that’s looking back at me. After riding in this, soot in my face.
M. N.: So you probably weren’t fooling a lot of people when you got on the train at Miworth.
Dr. A.: Minute later there’s a knock on the back door and here’s Mrs. Gaul with a plate of cookies and a glass of milk for me. That was how the money making orchestra trip ended. But it’s some of the best memories of my life.
M. N.: That was during the summer I guess was it? You weren’t at school then.
Dr. A.: No the school was ended yeah.
M. N.: Did your brother end up getting a job in Wells after that?
Dr. A.: Yes, yes. He had gone over to, I don’t remember just why, he came back from that and got a job as a, as a relief operator on the, down at the city power plant that used. Part of the old power plant building is still there right at the
M. N.: End of First avenue.
Dr. A.: end of First avenue yeah. I think I saw somewhere that they only ran power on certain days of the week at the beginning. Maybe that would have been
Dr. A.: Well way back they turned off the power at something like 11: 00 at night.
M. N.: Maybe that’s what I’m thinking of yeah.
Dr. A.: There’s another good story, I’ve told it before. I don’t know if I’m supposed to be talking about school days or...
M. N.: No, whatever you like.
Dr. A.: There was a Dr. Alward, dentist quite a prominent person in Prince George’s history in that he was an MLA for a while and he was an alderman. It always seems to me, it seems to me he was always single. I don’t remember him ever having any wife, certainly no family but he had a little apartment above the Northern Hardware and Furniture store. There were some small apartments above it, whether they’re still…
M. N.: Existing store?
Dr. A.: Oh no that would be where the furniture department is. And Dr. Alward was I guess the, I shouldn’t use the word gay, now we didn’t know what the word meant in the modern sense in those days in my recollection. But anyhow he was with kind of a partying group and apparently on this Saturday night he’d been having a party in his apartment, and in that apartment he had a player piano. You know you put in the old spools and you, it was modern enough it had an electric motor and it would just keep on playing as long as the switch was on. Well they were having a good party in his apartment above the Northern there when, apparently the lights went off at midnight and of course the player piano stopped. But they were going on a fishing trip, Alward and his friends first thing at dawn or something like that and apparently when the part broke up, they got started on their fishing trip and the next night, when the power came on it, on came the player piano with this same infernal music. Apparently it just about had everybody crazy. In those days nobody would break down a door to, and there weren’t any communications. I don’t know what, whether at that time the Moffats owned Northern Hardware and Furniture or there was another business before Moffat moved in there. I’m a little rusty on some of the details. But apparently just about, there could have been a lynching if it could have stopped that music. It certainly wore out its welcome.
M. N.: I guess.
Dr. A.: So there’s some of the things you’re aware of in Prince George. I can’t help making comparisons. That little story would involve Dr. Alward locking his door but I have a clear recollection that we never used to lock our door at our house and I don’t think very many people did.
M. N.: So you had a paper route?
Dr. A.: I had a Prince George Citizen paper route way back when it was a weekly. Started that in 1928 when I was 8 years old and it would have to be about 1934. My brother was just about 3 years older than I but I made. Top income was 70 cents a week. It was just a weekly newspaper and I had wanted and admired this, this baseball glove in the Timothy Eaton catalog, it seemed for a long time, and I finally saved up enough money to order one. And it arrived in the mail, paid for by me.
M. N.: How much, do you remember how much is..
Dr. A.: I think it was 12 dollars.
M. N.: So that was quite a few weeks.
Dr. A.: It was a pretty good glove too and before I got a chance to really use it, we had a, Quesnel I think, high school baseball team come to town and my brother was going to be playing and he didn’t have a glove. So he asked if he could borrow mine before I had a chance to use it which I consented to. And here after this game was over he left my glove in the Quesnel car. And I never saw it again. I never played baseball. That was all right. I got my thumb sprained by playing softball. Maybe I never would have made a basketball player, baseball player anyhow. That Duchess park just on the west side of K.G.V. That was our baseball park for the whole city. It was where we played all kinds of sports. We called it rugby in those days, football, had our sports meets there. It was very much used.
M. N.: Was there any sort of seating for, this was for the whole city.
Dr. A.: Any what?
M. N.: Seating. Was this, this baseball was for the whole city, not just the school?
Dr. A.: You sat if you had a car, an adult did on the front of the car. No there was no stadium or anything like that.
M. N.: I was just wondering if, so this was for the whole city, this, these fields basically. Not just for the school. Not for just school use.
Dr. A.: It was Duchess park It wasn’t King George the Fifth park or anything, Yes.
But we had quite, there was only King George the Fifth. There was no high school behind. There was a Baron Byng High just down below it with grades 9-12. So it was a much used park. It was cleared, you know so much of the bowl was still covered with trees in the days of which I’m speaking.
M. N.: And now a days we have parks and we keep the trees. Nowadays, before then, a park was a cleared area.
Dr. A.: Yes, yes.
M. N.: So this paper route. How many, how many years did you have that?
Dr. A.: Well I just had 28 customers. I think, I like to tell how, the publisher when I got started, was a man by the name of Renwick. And there’s a Renwick.
M. N.: Crescent.
Dr. A.: Crescent? Yes. The paper was so small, well I don’t mean small by the size of the pages but the publisher used to count out the papers and sell them to us newsboys 2 for a nickel. He would be behind his counter and when the paper was printed and ready, we were big enough business that he, the publisher would sell our papers to us. So I would hand over my 70 cents for my 28 Citizens and if everybody had the nickel to pay me when I delivered it and they didn’t always have the nickel. I had to give them credit lots of times. I would have a dollar and forty cents when I got back. It wasn’t too popular a paper in some peoples eyes. Often used to be met at the back door with "What? Time for that rag again?" But they bought it. And I didn’t have a bike so I did it on, the route on foot. And it was a pretty long route in the cold winter time but not so bad in the summer time. One dear lady, her daughter Joan was my classmate from grades 1 to 12 in Prince George. Mr. Hill used to be the caretaker in the high school and his job was to keep the furnace going, stuff like that. Anyhow Mrs. Hill used to always have a hot cup of cocoa waiting for me in the winter time and a handful of peanuts or some cookies in the summertime. So I had some pretty good customers. Mrs. Hill an Irish Roman Catholic gal very set in some of her ways. I do remember her being quoted and I know its true, as saying to one of their priests when they started to be kind sort of an ecumenical movement, sort of an acceptance of Protestants by the Roman Church or maybe vice versa also. Mrs. Hill was quoted as saying to this priest who was quite ecumenical minded. "I don’t know about you but I am going to die a Roman Catholic" (Laughs) We had some pretty strong characters in Prince George in those days. And this same Mrs. Hill, it was after I’d been through the war and come back and taken my dental training who sold me a ticket on the Irish Sweepstakes. I don’t know if you are aware of it but it was The big lottery kind of gamble. Not perhaps on the scale of these millions that people seem to win sometimes in the lotteries today but anyhow, she sold me a ticket and I drew a horse. And here I’d started practicing dentistry and, my wife phoned me from home, I was at the office, babbling something about, about this cable from Britain and drawing a horse. I finally, I couldn’t quite understand her, she was so exited, but it came out that I’d drawn a horse on this Irish and had a chance of winning a big prize. I, I don’t think the darn horse has come in yet, but I did get eleven hundred and 8 dollars out of it which was, which was quite a prize in those days. You can at least multiply that by ten.
M. N.: So what year, What year, roughly was that.
Dr. A.: How much what?
M. N.: What year was that, roughly?
Dr. A.: 1953,4,5 in that time.
M. N.: Yeah, so yeah that would have been a fair amount of money all right.
Dr. A.: So my paper route was a good thing. If you went to the church the other night, you heard my story about catching mice.
M. N.: No, I wasn’t at the church, that thing. I was at the KGV
Dr. A.: Oh at the school
M. N.: The school one yeah. So what about the mice? Sounds like a good story.
Dr. A.: Well again this involves Vic and he knows that I’m an alumnus of King George the Fifth Elementary and he had asked me if I would speak a few memories at this concert. He puts them on a couple of times a year, always musical and gets young people, children, adults, church choirs, a little choir from the school. It’s a very pleasant musical event. Anyhow he asked me to, knowing I’m a war veteran and it was just after Remembrance day, and also that I’m an alumnus of King George the Fifth Elementary, if I would give a little talk on memories. With a guide, a rough guide of the names that he had taken off the cenotaph of those who had died in 39-45 war like my brother. One of my chums quite early, I guess I would be 12 then, Barry Emmet is one of the names on the cenotaph list and Barry’s father or stepfather was a Mr. Austin, Tom Austin. The Austin subdivision out here across the Nechako is named after him. He had a sawmill out there for a while just where the Austin Subdivision is. Anyhow another venture of this stepfather was he had a wholesale flour and grain warehouse and apparently this warehouse had become infested with mice. And apparently he told Barry he would give him 5 cents for every mouse that he caught. Well I, at the talk at the church the other night, told of how Barry and I pooled our resources. We had, we decided we could buy 12 mousetraps. That was when you could buy good little mousetrap for 5 cents. They were sort of copper spring on it.
M. N.: Yeah, your standard, standard mousetrap.
Dr. A.: Yeah, and you could get them for 5 cents each. Well we bought 12 mousetraps. And proceeded to get into business. Every evening we would get some cheddar cheese out of his mom’s or my mom’s ice box and we’d go down to this warehouse, which stood right where the new courthouse building is.
M. N.: Oh, OK.
Dr. A.: Right on the corner there. There was a Commodore Dance Hall upstairs and there was the warehouse downstairs on the ground level. Well we started getting, we’d go down and bait the traps at night, go down in the morning before school, and for quite a long time we were getting 12 mice every night.
M. N.: Well boy, that’s big bucks.
Dr. A.: Yes it was big bucks. And when we stopped getting mice and the deal finished, I think, I’m correct in, I report that he, Mr. Austin owed us 13 dollars and 70 cents each. Well I’m sure you could buy several sacks of flour for 13 dollars in those days. Anyhow we were paid off in an unusual manner. Apparently Mr. Austin had sold flour to the Prince George Cafe which was situated in part of the Prince George Hotel and run by a big hefty Greek immigrant, a man by the name of George Kolyous, and apparently Kolyous hadn’t been able to pay for some flour directly and now I have to jump back a little bit. This was in the days when there weren’t very many cafes in Prince George. The CNR cafe, the Commodore cafe, The Prince George cafe, I think also the Shasta cafe, but I believe they all sold meal tickets. And if you paid 5 dollars, paid 4 dollars, you got a ticket entitling you to 5 dollars worth of food. And there were little 25 cent, dime and nickle punches that you if you got a meal that cost you 40 cents, then 40 cents was punched off the ticket. Well, apparently Mr. Austin had taken payment for some of his flour that he’d sold to this cafe in these meal tickets. I’d like to say that I kind of think he didn’t expect he’d be having to pay us this much but Mr. Austin only, the tickets were worth 4 dollars to buy but, but they had a purchasing power of 5 dollars.
M. N.: Right.
Dr. A.: I think we only got the purchasing power credit. (laughs) But that didn’t matter to us kids. It was a pretty wonderful deal. I still remember every time we’d go down Saturday nights and I think maybe we treated ourselves other nights too, with these meal tickets and I always have loved calf’s liver and bacon and I remember the price was 35 cents for calf’s liver and bacon with vegetables and since we didn’t have milk, didn’t have tea or coffee it included a glass of milk. And I’m sure a bun and a piece of pie but if you had your pie a la mode that’d cost you an extra nickel. That 13 dollars and 70 cents lasted quite a long time. We were, we were big spenders those days and really lived it up.
M. N.: So how old would you have been?
Dr. A.: I think around 12.
M. N.: So you would have been quite the independent men about town.
Dr. A.: Yeah. There were always things to do. It would be just as well not to mention it but I’ll admit to it in that Barry and I were charter members of the G.R.A. which stood for garden raiding association.
Dr. A.: I mean we only got our membership up to 3. That included Elmer Redbow but the membership qualification was you had to steal enough potatoes and peas and carrots for a little cookout from somebody’s garden. I think we maybe raided our own gardens too. But as I said we only got the membership up to 3. Somehow it petered out. Barry is one of the fellows on the list of the cenotaph. He died in the air force during the war. I hope it sounds like we never were at a loss for something to do because we weren’t. There were lots of things to do. It was very different. My big brother was big enough to include me. Oh it used to be good fishing in Macmillan Creek which empties into the Nechako just below that Carney Street Bridge.
M. N.: Yep.
Dr. A.: Used to get lovely little speckled brook trout and the way we fished for them. We made a ball of dough with some flour and water which we could roll up in a piece of wax paper. The, going up Macmillan Creek, we didn’t have a fishing rod but that didn’t matter, we just had some fishing line, some plain hooks and we just tied a piece up line onto, onto a stick and then dangled a hook baited with some of this dough in some of these nice little pools and we, we would come home with 7 or 8 speckled brook trout each for a meal. And up that same Macmillan Creek one summer Jack, my brother, and a John Pascal and I so we’d be young teenagers then, built our own log cabin out of, just with a crosscut saw and axes. It was made of just poplar trees, this bank of the, on the far side of Macmillan Creek in a little bit of a, calling it a raveen would be too sharp, a little gully. Nice flat spot we built this cabin that we were very proud of. It just had a sloping roof from one side down to the other. We were no craftsmen at all but we put sods on the top and the water would run off it and we chinked it with moss and one spring when we went back, we hadn’t been out there all winter, here were 2, 2 transients had moved into it so it was okay. But you couldn’t do that of course now. It was probably just crown land nobody cared anyhow. Golly I think there were lots of, lots of things to do.
M. N.: Yeah. And after the war you said you were, you worked in a
in Sinclair Mills?
Note: Question should have been "before the war" but was answered correctly)
Dr. A.: Yes. I was grateful. I didn’t have any special training. I can’t blame it on anybody but myself but grade 12. We all, everybody had to write matriculation exams in those days and it was early in the spring of 1938 of course. I flunked my geometry because I mentioned earlier there that I grew up in a rather musical family and my brother was probably the best or more proficient in music of any of us. He played trumpet. He used to, when he was a young boy, oh in early teens at the Remembrance Day services for the first war veterans down at the cenotaph in front of the city hall. He played the bugle. Taps and Reveille. Well that gets me wandering in my mind. Anyhow I flunked my geometry and I ruined the summer because I had to come back in and write, re-write the exam late in the fall again. I think they gave me a pass because of my age. Anyhow I was glad to get a job because the depression was very much in evidence. I went out there to work. The only way of getting in to Sinclair mills or out was by train in those days but it was one of the few good sawmills in the, this part of the world. Good in that its cheques, you could keep for a month without cashing. Most other little sawmills, they rushed in as soon as they, the workers, as soon as they got their cheque and cashed it for fear it would bounce before they cashed it. Well at Sinclair Mills I was making 25 dollars a month and board. And I, the board I had a little room above the company store warehouse.It was supposed to be a job just for the summer but the sawmill just operated in the summertime. But it cut enough lumber that the planer mills could keep going through the winter time planing what they cut during the summer. Anyhow I was told that I. If I wanted to stay on, they would keep me on through the winter and even in the summertime there wasn’t much to do after work except go over to the mill and talk to the guys working in the mill. I used to talk with an old , I’m sure he was younger than I am now, the father of the engineer at the power plant in this mill was a Swede from Sweden and he used to be so interesting to listen to, talking about reforestation silviculture. I never heard the word, as it was done in Sweden and then I got out into areas where they were logging and it was logging with horses in those days and there was no such thing as clear cutting as we are used to hearing about now. And, I had got into this area out in Sinclair mills to see some of this logging and I was horrified. Because they just. It was depression, you had to make a dollar and if you couldn’t operate at a profit you went out but they were just using the selected good trees and anything that wasn’t a good marketable tree they just knocked over, pushed out of the way and it looked like a, it was just devastated. Anyhow talking to this old Swede sounded very much like what Canada needed or was going to need darn soon so I decided that I wanted to go to university but I didn’t have any money. I stayed there at the mill the second summer and so that’s now 39 and the war broke out. Well I wanted to go to university and I learned that the, there were lots of jobs, were jobs available in a big sawmill down on Vancouver Island. So I gave my resignation and went with a couple of my buddies down to a place called Ubow at Cowichan Lake Industrial Timber Mills and worked on a timber deck in this big mill where I could make 50 cents an hour which was much more than I was making in the store and like I say 50 dollars a month toward university but I was born in 1920 when I, 1941 I like to say and its true the way I was brought up I wasn’t a man until I became 21. This was when I became my own boss. I had a good father but kind of strict. Anyhow my brother had joined up, friends were joining up, and when I hit 21 I couldn’t stand it any longer and I joined up too.
M. N.: So did you enlist down in, down around Victoria somewhere?
Dr. A.: Well I came home to join up in Prince George. We were shipped down to Vancouver to a holding unit. >From there I was sent up to Vernon for basic training. Then because I had applied to get into the signal core, thinking I might learn some kind of vocation that I could use in civy street, I chose the signal core so after I got down to Vancouver again I was sent on a radio course at Vancouver trade school. Lived in, on the tenth floor in the old Vancouver Hotel which was taken over for a barracks while I was going to trade school. We used to get trucked out there early afternoon and back into the hotel at midnight. It was the best barracks I was ever in for the next 5 years. Then I went to Kingston and trained there further in signals and I got shipped up to Camp Borden in Ontario where I joined the signals company of the 2nd Canadian Army Tank Brigade. And I trained with them for a year and then went overseas. In all the signals training, well I was offered the opportunity to go before an officers selection board. I was passed but they didn’t want a signals officer so they offered me the choice of, I could go into the artillery if I wanted and my brother was in the artillery so I accepted that quite readily and that’s what I ended up with. But my brother who had been an artillery officer for some time when I got overseas before him. He’d joined up before Canada even declared war. He, But I got sent overseas before him. He went up to a coastal battery up Prince Rupert area and up into the Aleutian Islands when there was a, the start of a Japanese invasion up there but it was abandoned quite early. Anyhow my brother volunteered to fight with the British infantry if he could get overseas and that was how he was killed in the infantry.
M. N.: So he transferred from the Canadian artillery to the British infantry?
Dr. A.: Yes
M. N.: That was, that was done I guess?
Dr. A.: They called them Canloan officers. The casualties were highest among infantry officers of any...
M. N.: So they were looking for anybody they could, they could get.
Dr. A.: Yeah.
Dr. A.: So that’s that’s jumpin from 1926 when I started KGV to 1946. I....
Dr. A.: With the idea of still, in fact in Germany there were no, there were no fighting from the end of the war, occupation duties, I still had the idea I wanted to get into forestry and I started taking a couple of correspondence courses. It was kind of nice, I’m seated in Germany when the first recognition from Canada was some of these the, what did we the the education service that the Canadian Government had set up for troops that were overseas. But I got my first papers on this, it was a forestry kind of, forestry orientated course. Got these first papers from Ottawa and here’s a letter with them from my old high school principal at Baron Byng High School in Prince George and he reckoned I guess in my application for this educational course, he recognized my name and from, from Prince George. Wrote me a very encouraging letter and I came back from overseas in 46 and learned that 350 guys had started forestry the year before I got back so that would be 1945 and I couldn’t think of what the province would do with them all, even if they flunked half of them. So that was when I got concerned maybe I should look into something else. I was then 26 years old. I liked the idea of becoming a medical doctor but that would be a minimum of 8 years and I was 26 so I’d be 34 before I started earning a living and that seemed dreadfully long. Dentistry sounded attractive and my dad who had worked for the government all his working years, he was very adamant, "don’t go to work for the government son". So I looked into dentistry and saw that if I got lucky I could do it in 6 years so I ended up doing dentistry. And it wasn’t bad. It was good. I enjoyed being my own boss. I like to say still after my little wife here had raised our 3 kids, this receptionist who had been with me in my dental practice during the past 14 years announced that she now thought her daughter needed her more than I did and gave me her notice it occurred to me to ask my wife, our kids were grown up, how would she like to work for me so she became my boss. (Laughs) It was a good arrangement.
M. N.: So you didn’t have a problem starting up your practice here after school?
Dr. A.: Oh I can remember having some concerns. It wasn’t helped, it was kind of like, I’ll take... You questioned me about getting started in dentistry and I want to come back to that but, when I was taking this officer training in the army in England we quickly learned the expression that was abbreviated as RTUed which meant you were returned to unit which meant you had flunked the officer training. And we’re, we started out with I think about 40, 42 in this troop, it was a 28 week course. I think we were about 23 that graduated. But every week practically there was somebody who was RTUed and you wondered when you were going to get the ax yourself. Well, now I’m going to jump to dental training. And he’s still alive and I’ve met him on friendly occasions, I didn’t, I’ve no chip against his shoulder but this instructor of ours at University of Alberta used to begin every one of his lectures with "Next year if you’re still here". He wasn’t one of my favorite lecturers.
M. N.: He didn’t instill a lot of, he didn’t have a lot of confidence in his people.
Dr. A.: Well I was finishing, maybe only had a couple of months to go in my final year in dentistry and the prospects were pretty certain that I would graduate. Mind you to get started in a dental practice involves quite an expensive investment, never mind your years of training. This dental equipment is expensive stuff. And I only wanted to start with a one room office and I was only going to need some 7000, 7500 dollars. But to me that was a terrific debt, I, I grew up in the depression hating debt. And I wrote to a, it was a Mr. Cross was the manager of the downtown branch, the only branch of the Bank of Montreal here. And I like to say that I started my first bank account in that bank. It was probably with a 2 dollar bill in 1928 when I started my paper route. Anyhow, I wrote to the bank asking for a loan to buy my dental equipment and I got stalled until I became quite frustrated and was getting close to graduation time when I wrote this manager again and said that I’ve got to know if you’re not going to lend me the money, I will have to look elsewhere for it and I did get a, an assurance come back from him then that you, don’t worry just come in when you get back to Prince George and you’ll have your money. So I did. Well that was the first concern. I also wondered, even though I was coming back to my home town, but nobody excepting old friends, my parents would know old Bill Aitken. I’d been away for 6 years of university essentially and 5 years in the army and a couple of years before that. I wondered if anybody would come to me but I, at the end of the war the whole country needed just about any kind of skill that people could offer and I’m happy to say that I had all the work I could do right from the beginning.
M. N.: That’s good.
Dr. A.: In fact I had, with people knowing I was getting this little office equipped, getting at me through my family and stuff, I had a month’s appointments booked up before I could start.
M. N.: Well that’s really good then.
Dr. A.: Well that was nice.
M. N.: Yeah. Where abouts was this, did you have your practice?
Dr. A.: Where? Well I was, this is not, this was not the Prince George of today. There weren’t any offices waiting to, to be filled and I had a friend that I made and he wasn’t in the armed services. I don’t know if you would have known him, he, he practiced here 4 years here before I did and for about 4 years after. He wasn’t a war veteran, Dr. Julian Thorsness. Well his parents had come to Prince George from Saskatchewan way back in the depression years when, apparently they had I think I heard 4 years of drought years in Saskatchewan where they were trying to farm. 4 year of drought in a row, and apparently they decided to move west and they chose Prince George to come to because they heard it rained here. Well Julian was an only son. His parents had a I think a couple of cows I think maybe they might have had 2 horses when they came to B.C. and brought these animals with them and they started trying to farm out close to Reid Lake. But Julian’s mother, oh a strong woman. Strongly built, she was an immigrant from France with her parents right after the First Great War apparently and she never had the privilege of going to school. She was the eldest in the family and on this farm that she had grown up on in Saskatchewan she was required to work on the farm right from the time she was practically an infant. She and her husband Chester had one child, this Julian Thorsness and, no this, his mother had no formal education. I, from everything that I learned, give her the credit that her son was going to have an education. But they weren’t making, this was in the depression years, they weren’t making any money on this stump ranch out by Reid Lake. Essentially they made their living, they were trying to farm but I think one of the horses died and I’ve even heard stories and I say this out of admiration not criticism, Julian’s mother sometimes helped with plowing by having a harness around her own shoulders and pulling, helped to pull. This was a woman who wanted her son to have an education. They moved in.
M. N.: She was one determined lady.
Dr. A.: You bet she was. I had a summer job working for her for a while. They moved into Prince George so their son could go to school here, go to high school. I guess he could go to a country school with grades 1 to 8 out by Reid Lake somewhere. But anyhow. They put a down payment on a, an old building down on 5th avenue on the block bounded by 5th avenue Quebec street, 4th avenue and Dominion Street. It was called the Thorsness block later because they bought it and they put, the down payment was a contract to supply wood. They sold wood that was brought in by sleigh in the winter time and they got control of this, it was a rooming house really. I don’t remember how long, I had very little awareness of this rooming house but I know that the, I’ve heard people who, my brothers brother in law was one of the roomers in this rooming house where there was room and board and Mrs. Thorsness, she fed them nourishing food I guess but the way she fed it was, if she had 8 roomers she went down to the grocery shop and bought 10 slices of balogna and each roomer got one piece of balogna with their supper. That sort of thing eh. She, I guess made enough money along with her husband, he was sort of the handyman that they were able to when Julian was ready to finish high school and he was a good student. They sponsored him to take dentistry and he went to the University of Alberta and graduated from there and came back and he converted a couple of rooms in this rooming house into a dental office on the ground floor. Well, when I graduated, he graduated in 1948. I graduated in 1952 and I was very pleased that Mrs. Thorsness said she would clear out one of the, a small suite on the upper floor of the same building let me convert it to a dental suite and so that was my, my first office. It was kind of handy. Julian, we were friends, down below. He would see apparently somebody coming into the building that he knew as an ex-patient who had not paid his bills. He would just give me a quick phone call to warn me that this person now coming to see me was a non payer of their bills. Maybe that wasn’t professional etiquette but it was a good friend. Now you asked about problems starting up. That was wonderful. I felt needed and I felt, well maybe it was better than forestry could have been in that I did enjoy people and I enjoyed being my own boss and though it’s not a Taj Mahal, it’s, I’m grateful that we were able to build this home and move into it in 1958 and we’ve been here ever since. Now I don’t know what else to tell you?
M. N.: You were talking last week I think you were mentioning that you, you sometimes worked to midnight in your practice.
Dr. A.: Well I feel concerned for people nowadays. I have 2 daughters, married raising children and, but concerned about how the heck are they going to finance things like if their kids want to go to University. Well maybe its not any worse now maybe it’s a heck of a lot better, there was no such thing as student loans. I’m sorry I’m, you get me going on these stories and I get to wander. What was your question then?
M. N.: Working till midnight, in, in your practice.
Dr. A.: Well yes. I wanted to say that I, having grown up during the depression, its different for everybody. I like to tell how I think that everybody was poor back during the depression. It had never occurred to me that I would ever have the privilege of going to University so it never even interested me until I got out started to work, and learned that I had some, some potential myself. Yes it was depression, nobody had jobs, or too many people didn’t have jobs and I know from my mother and father it was a challenge raising 5 kids with some sense of family unity and pride and stuff. They, I think my mother and dad did a whale of a good job on a very puny sort of an income. Now I’m sorry, you want to put me back on my feet here again?
M. N.: OK. Late, late nights at the dental.
Dr. A.: Late nights yes. Well I, maybe I’ve been too concerned about
money. And oh I was maybe always kind of careful in that. My good
bless him he, I inherited his paper route because he was too good
He, he never had the money to buy his papers at the beginning of, when
it was time to deliver them, he’d have to borrow from Mom to buy his
and theoretically he should have twice that amount of money when he got
back but Jack was goodhearted and he, when he had some coins jingling
his pocket he, he would treat a pal to a soda and this kind of thing,
I don’t, I didn’t make the decision but the decision was made in the
that maybe they should give up Jack operating his paper route and I
have a go at it. I don’t know whether that was when I became, I don’t
that I was thrifty but at least I did start a little bank account. And
even when I joined the army and what were we making. I think maybe it
a dollar a day as a private. But right from the beginning I would send
a little bit of my pay, you could do that through the paymasters branch
home to Mom and she would bank it. And when I was a private, I sent 5
a month. And each pay increase that I got when I got being paid trades
pay, and one stripe and then a corporals stripe I would increase it a
bit till when I was, when I became an officer, I was probably sending
25 dollars a month. There was no big money and... I get off this theme
again. Put me back.
M. N.: Okay. The late nights at the dental clinic.
Dr. A.: Yeah OK. That’s, Sorry I’m trying to remember in telling that it was sort of a, it seemed like a wonderful place to start. I had to send half to my dad, who didn’t have any real money at all. For the money to pay my train fare back to Edmonton after graduation. And my little wife took our son and went down to live with her parents in Calgary until I could make enough money to send for her. I finally sent for her and John and well, I didn’t I, they came out from Calgary to Vancouver and I went down in this old car that my dad passed on to me. ‘35 Chev to Vancouver where I had to write some BC exams, even though I couldn’t start on a, I was working in Dr. Thorsness’s office for awhile. I had to, besides having degree from the University of Alberta, even though we had no dental school in BC, I had to write another set of exams to qualify me to practice here.So we came home by car, after I had written these BC exams and we were glad to get, again in the Thorsness building, a basement suite. They had expanded the building and built a piece that stood back from 5th avenue, a few feet and they added another 12 feet or so onto the building and we got accommodation in a little basement suite immediately under Dr. Thorsness’s office which was immediately under my office. Well, the work was there, I owed for this dental equipment. I owed my dad, I’m sure, I hope I paid him although I’m sure he wouldn’t have required I did. The work was there and my home was right immediately below it and I was working till 6 or 7 o’clock at night going downstairs, having some supper then going right back to work. People needed the treatment.
M. N.: People would come at that time of the hour?
Dr. A.: That was kind of a lesson for me, business-wise. I hated being in debt and I wanted to get out of it as quick as I could and I was willing to work any kind of hours to do it, but I started getting colds and the flu, being just run down too darn much that I finally had to face the truth that you weren’t supposed to work that many hours. Here’s a nice ending to that story when I finally smartened up and put in a good hours day, probably was still 10 hours, but that was only that. I found I was making just as much money as when I was working until midnight. That’s just how, if you ruin your own efficiency by being tired all the time, then, so that was a good lesson. I’m glad I learned it fairly early.
M. N.: Yeah, that’s interesting. So one more story. The one about buying the land for your current house.
Dr. A.: Buying the land for...
M. N.: This house.
Dr. A.: Oh, did I ever mention that?
M. N.: Yeah, I think last week
Dr. A.: Oh, well, yes, it’s a happy kind of story. With this paper route, Prince George was a peculiar little city at that time, but I used to get my paper at the Citizen office on Quebec Street, just behind 3rd and 4th avenue. My first delivery was to the Porters. They lived in a house just behind the National Hotel down at the bottom end of Dominion Street. From there I went to where Mrs., no Mrs. Hill wasn’t living there then. I came up to just about where the Civic Centre is now. There were houses in there and I had several customers, then I went out around the end of Connaught Hill and I had 2 or 3 customers and then I came around here on the south side of Connaught Hill along the brow of this hill overlooking Patricia Blvd. There was an old couple, he was a veteran of the the Boer War. I had his name awhile ago and now its gone from me again, and he used to, on Remembrance Day parades, he used to come out in his Boer War uniform, which I wish I had a picture of. But he was one of my customers. Anyhow, this was a familiar route along here, but my favorite spot for where I thought I would build a home someday, was out in the boondocks right out at the far end, the east end of Patricia Blvd. In those days, we had a 9 hole golf course where Fort George Park sits now and this was a wooded area, just north of the golf course and that was my favorite spot for building a house someday. Well, jeepers, when I came back from overseas, in 46 years, this big house which still sits there, which had been built by a Mr. Roy Spur who was the owner operator of Eagle Lake sawmills out of Giscome, the biggest mill in the area or region. So my prime site for a home was gone, but we had accumulated enough funds to put a down payment on a little home at the corner of 15th and Hemlock street up in the Miller addition here and when our third child arrived it was very crowded because it just had 2 small bedrooms and Rayanne had to sleep in our bedroom. When it was announced that a big block here, I think, 4 blocks at least, all wooded still, that were held in reserve for a possible hospital site. It was clear that Prince George was going to sometime need a much bigger hospital site than they.. Well, after the army moved out, the city took over the army hospital, which was over close to where the present hospital is. Anyhow, it was announced in the papers that a decision had been made to build a new hospital where it is now and that this area reserved for a hospital site was being released from that reserve and being put up for auction as home sites. This was my second choice, I used to liked it as I walked along the edge of the hill and looked down onto the bowl, there wasn’t much to look at in the bowl in terms of lighting or anything but it was, it was OK. And there was a fairly realistic appraisal of values for those days, I read that the upset price for this property was to be $1100, I beg your pardon, $2100.
Dr. A.: I made up my mind with Doris that we could, could go as high as $2500, so when this property came up, there’s 4 lots, but 2 of the lots were small, it’s only the equivalent of about 3 normal lots in size, with a funny shape of the outside 2. When these lots came up, I opened with the upset price bid, $2100. Well, this second bid came in at $2300 and I gulped and turned to the person sitting next to me, I think it was Bob Guest, who lives over on the next street," Who’s that I’m betting against?" And it turned out it was Ben Ginter’s accountant, and I thought "Oh golly, am I bidding against Ben Ginter?". But I boldly came back with my $2500, maximum bid and there were no bids against me and I got it. I think probably, this accountant had been instructed as Ginter was buying up, as he was the success image in Prince George in those days when he had made his money on what they had called cost plus estimates on highway work. That meant he had got a stretch of road for whatever it cost him to build it, plus his commission.
M. N.: Couldn’t go wrong with that.
Dr. A.: Well, I hadn’t saved that kind of money. But anyhow, we got it for $2500 and we built the next year and we’ve been in it ever since. It used to be a great site for a home, really, because there was no Patricia Blvd. down below us. There were a couple of ballparks down there. They scalped quite a bit off of this end of the park and moved the earth down and filled in these old slough channels with it. They raised the level I think about 4 feet.
M. N.: Oh so this hill would have extended quite a bit, quite a bit further out?
Dr. A.: Yes.
M. N.: Oh, OK.
Dr. A.: Oh, the brow of it used to be just crowded with cars, bringing their kids for sleigh riding and stuff down there and there were just ballparks down below. It was a beautiful location. Much more, oh I shouldn’t say much more enjoyable, this is more suitable for grandma and grandpa, but we had many happy times with our kids out there on Sleigh Hill and watching ball games from the brow of the hill at no cost. From home territory, sort of.
M. N.: Is that what they called this hill? At that point before they knocked it back, Sleigh Hill?
Dr. A.: Yes, yes. It was a dandy one. I left it sleighing off the top of the hill a long time ago. I never would have let my kids do that kind of thing.
M. N.: So that’s interesting, that Connaught Hill was I guess, they logged it off at some point and like you were talking about going down on a sleigh.
Dr. A.: Well, the high part of Connaught Hill and right down to the city hall over this side you see, lots of trees, unhappily many of the old trees are dying, but where the ski slope from the ski trestle on the top of the hill was all cleared, quite a swath had been. 50, 60 feet across, there was a small jump built into one side of the clearing down the hill. You didn’t have to go to the top of the hill for jumps, so this was for juniors. But where they had cleared it out for the big jumping, that’s all grown up with big trees now. Quite interesting, I think that, well I’ve got a couple of, we’ve been in here since 58, forty years. I think the year after we moved in people built this next house over and they had decided to put in a couple of birch trees and they had a couple of extras, just 4 foot high small birches. I’ve had them now you should see them. The trunks are like this in those 40, 39 years. So the growth in that number of years can just take over. But this part here which is all scalped, no trees on it. The city with earthmoving equipment scooped a lot of that end of the hill and moved it in and filled all that slough land. The, we’re very fortunate I think in Prince George that we have so much land like Carrie Jane Gray Park which was all just slough land at one time and good for nothing but raising mosquitoes and skating on in the winter time if you were tough enough to clear off the snow. But that was just useless land until with heavy equipment they were, the town had grown all around it and then here’s this plum sitting right in the center waiting to be developed into something.
M. N.: So if it had have been good land it would have been developed long ago and we wouldn’t have the parks we have today.
Dr. A.: Exactly. Exactly. So it’s just a real thrill to see it. Now the picture has changed dramatically. I was a little bit aghast myself at this little function I was talking about, of Vic Steblin’s when I was talking about the early days of King George the Fifth Elementary to realize myself that I’m talking, when we used to march up out of the basement on up into our classroom, that’s 70 years ago. Started 72 years ago. So it was pretty nice to be able to look back on, on all these events and times and situations. I’m rather pleased that people like you, I hope you’re catching me before. I tried to do a little bit of the same thing with my father. He came here in 1912 as a young single man. But I let Dad get a little bit too old. I could ask him questions and I knew a little bit about his history anyhow but he couldn’t, he couldn’t dig it out of his memory by himself. And could only sort of "Yes sir well I think so " and this kind of stuff when I got him.
M. N.: Well we appreciate it and thanks for sharing your..
Dr. A.: I beg your pardon
M. N.: We appreciate it and thanks for sharing your memories with us.
Dr. A.: I’m delighted that it may have any value but it’s been a real privilege to grow up in a town like this. I think only because there’s a young woman, I don’t think I did any dental work for her but briefly she brought her adopted child, she had adopted a young Negro girl and I think they’ve just recently moved away from here but she, the adoptive mother, worked up at our new university and I guess a couple of years after the university had been established, and perhaps had started teaching, some organization conceived the idea of having a forum here involving people from northern universities over a large part of the world. I know there were delegates here from Sweden, from Finland, from Russia and they called it, I think, a mayors forum and it was held down in our new civic center and I’m sure it was not the top authorities at the university, they wouldn’t have my name at all but this young woman who I think had the ear of maybe the president at the university or some of the executive level who would be concerned about this forum on Northern universities. I was invited to be on one panel and spoke and the theme I was given to speak on was about the effect of our university, on the economy, and the way of life and stuff in this area. The effect of the university. Well your, I didn’t really like the subject very well because how do you estimate the effect of a brand new university sort of after a couple of years. It would have been a more interesting subject to try to talk intelligently about after maybe 25 years or 50 years. But one thing that made me realize, think about, one idea was that when I was a boy here in Prince George, Prince George was right on the edge of, essentially, an undeveloped wilderness. There wasn’t much of anything north of hear or, I don’t say this deprecatingly at all, west of here, south of here for a great distance. And I do know, I mentioned that the Briscoe family that our family joined with in developing a little piece of property out on Cluculz Lake, not to make a lot of money, just to have someplace to put us kids. That Briscoe family, the father for a while operated, he just had a planer, he did planing of lumber at about Fifth avenue and Winnipeg Street. There were no other houses. There was a great, there was a block of shavings and sawdust stuff over there but that was right in the heart of the bowl. So they were logging on the hillside around the bowl, and big trees. I mentioned my friend Barry Emmet who was one of the names on the cenotaph, he was killed in the air force during the last great war. His step father I don’t remember when the family moved to Prince George, but did operate a sawmill right at the corner of the Hart Highway and Austin Road and there was beautiful big timber out there I can remember then. We’re bringing in timber from a hundred miles out now. They’ve logged it off. But it was all wilderness, you heard as I mentioned earlier, of me walking 3 blocks from my home, in the center of the town, to King George the Fifth Elementary School. Here’s a cow moose in a little bit of a gully, between my home and the school. I try to illustrate the difference of the situation as it is now. The wilderness has been pushed back so far, and they’re doing it of course with, by planes. If they don’t like the fishing in Cluculz Lake, and it’s lousy now. Cluculz Lake used to be glorious. Maybe the thing to do is get in a plane and fly in to some kind of inaccessible, that’s the way we do things nowadays. It was a joy is what I’m coming to. I tried to tell that forum to sort of comprehend that you were on the edge of an undeveloped wilderness. We’ve just about successfully, I think, done away with all the wilderness. I hope, I hope that we can pay for our sins with good management because there haven’t been very, in my opinion, there hasn’t been enough care or concern given to managing what we’ve created.
M. N.: Well it’s getting to be more difficult anyway. That’s for sure.
Dr. A.: We can learn.