Interview of Marguerite Marie Gagnon
Interview of Marguerite Marie Gagnon at her home at 243 Caledonia
Trailer Park on May 4, 1987. Mrs. Gagnon was born on August 31, 1914 in
South Fort George to Edward and Henriette LaFreniere. Mrs. Gagnon gave
birth to twenty children losing ten of these children. Her children
live in the Prince George area. She has twenty one grandchildren and
three great grandchildren.
Forrest: What is your birth date Mrs.
Gagnon: August 31, 1914.
Gagnon: South Fort
Forrest: What was your maiden name?
Gagnon: I had a lot of
problems with that. When I was going to school they told me my father's
name was Flemeau. When I applied for my pension, they couldn't find me.
I phoned Bishop O'Grady and told him the name of my godparents. He
found it right away but it wasn't Flemeau. It was LaFreniere.
The same as the LaFreniere subdivision. The Certificate of Baptism is
Marguerite LaFreniere. The 'father's first name is Edward and Mother's
name is Henriette Simon confirming the first day of August 1914.
Baptized by Rev. L.H. Rivet O.M.I. The sponsor was Mrs. Yargeau, Sacred
Heart Church, Prince George.
Gagnon: I couldn't read or write and barely
spoke English. The older people couldn't say LaFreniere.
said that you were raised by Grannie Seymour. She was your mother's mom
or your dad's mom.
Gagnon: My dad's mother.
Forrest: Did she change her
Gagnon: She was married to Antoine LeFreniere, her first husband,
my dad's father. Previous to that, her maiden name was Bouchie.
Would your granny's first husband be French?
Gagnon: I have a hunch
that he spoke Cree and French. I barely remember him. Before he burned
to death in Fort St. James, my sister and I went up to visit him. I
wasn't really that close to him as he didn't speak my Indian
Forrest: And that is what?
Gagnon: My mother is Carrier and
that's what we speak. My grandfather spoke French and Cree.
father has a French name. Was he native?
Gagnon: He was a son of Antoine
LeFreniere and Margaret Bouchie.
Forrest: They would have been
Gagnon: They spoke French. My grandmother spoke Indian too.
Forrest: Your mom?
Gagnon: Spoke Indian.
Forrest: She was native.
Yes. Her father was Charlie Seymour as they call him now. Her mother's
name was Anne Labrandt. They have the book in Quesnel. I have to go and
see her and spend a day with her. She was at the Carrier Sekani Tribal
Council one and I was talking to her. She has the book, "A Tribute to
the Past". There are a lot of Bouchies in there. I said I'd like to get
down to the bottom of that. She said she couldn't leave it.
She's looking for her ancestors. She said if you happen to go to
you can spend a night with me.
Forrest: You said you were born in South
Fort George. What was the position of the family? Were you the first or
second or third born?
Gagnon: My mother married my father who was
married before and his wife died. When she married him, I'm the oldest
in the second family.
Forrest: Were the other children in the family
with you? Did your mother raise them or were they somewhere else?
Gagnon: Yes. Grannie looked after them and later mother took over.
After you were born, did you have other brothers and
Gagnon: There was quite a few of us but only the true
four brothers and sister, Annie, was next to me. She died. There
or three boys and they all died young.
Forrest: About how young?
Gagnon: Most of them must have been babies because I can't
remember them. From my Dad's first marriage, his oldest girl was Evelyn
Forrest: Is she living in Prince George now?
Gagnon: She died six
or seven years ago in Surrey but we buried her in Fort George where her
mother is buried. She had a brother, David. He accidentally shot
himself when he was hunting at Six Mile Lake. He fell with a gun and
shot himself. My mother remarried after my father drowned in
Forrest: So he was drowned when you were just a wee baby, when
you were three.
Gagnon: Yes, I can remember him in waves of dreams.
Forrest: What do you remember of him?
Gagnon: I remember when he left
that morning. He was never to come back.
Forrest: What was he doing? What
did he work at?
Gagnon: He was working with my uncle, Captain O.F. Brown,
on a boat.
Forrest: That boat would be where?
Gagnon: It was running from
Quesnel to South Fort, where the new bridge crosses to the Industrial
Site. You can still see parts of the old log house down below on the
other side of the tracks. It's more towards the river. I remember
where we were and the river was high almost level with the bank. It was
in June. It was dark when Dad was leaving us. Mother had my young
sister in her arms.
Forrest: Is that where your house was?
where mother and dad were living. I can remember dad leaving because he
carried me down to the bank. Uncle was waiting with the boat. I don't
know if it was a big boat. I knew it was a boat of some kind. It wasn't
the small ones. That's where Dad left us. That's all I remember. I was
crying and my little sister was crying. The boat had left. Next thing
the boat was coming. We were twenty two miles down the river with my
great aunt, Grannie Seymour's sister, Jennie Weisner. I used to call
her Grannie Weisner. Her and her husband were twenty two miles down the
river. They called it Hudson Bay Garden. From the time Dad left what
happened I don t know. We were standing on the bank of the Hudson Bay
Garden down the river. Mrs. Weisner was holding my hand. Mother was
carrying my sister. The boat went away up the river on the other side.
I remember Grannie telling my mother that there was something wrong.
Your brother-in-law never goes up on the other side of the river as the
landing was below where she was. Mother never said nothing. It must
have went way up and then came back. The whistle would blow every now
and then. The old lady kept on saying that there was something wrong,
something terribly wrong. Mother was holding my sister when the boat
pulled in. Dad was the one that was supposed to jump out to tie the
boat but instead Captain Foster jumped off the boat holding onto the
rope which didn't mean nothing to me. Captain Brown came out of the
boat, put his arms around my mother and said something to her. I
remember she dropped the baby. Uncle grabbed her before she hit the
river. Everybody was crying. I was crying but I didn't know
Forrest: When you said the two or three boys died, did your younger
Gagnon: She lived until she was about five. She got
blood poisoning on her foot. The doctor was going to amputate and
didn't want that done so she died.
Forrest: How did your Dad die then?
Was he lost overboard?
Gagnon: That's what I heard. Nobody got the full
Forrest: When you said Captain Foster and Captain Brown,
were they white?
Gagnon: O.F. Brown was married to my aunt, my Dad's
sister. She stayed with me towards the end until she died.
were saying about Captain Brown.
Gagnon: He was married to my Dad's
sister, Minnie Seymour. His older children and I started school in
South Fort. We were the only Indians there outside of the Yargeau's but
that was later. Everybody would run down and we'd watch the people
getting off or on. The children used to say here comes Nigger Brown
which meant nothing to me or his daughter. This kept on as we were
going to school. One day I asked Uncle, "Why do they call you Nigger
Brown, Uncle?" He said it wasn't a very nice name to call a person but
he said my father was a nigger and my mother is a Coast Indian.
Where was he born?
Gagnon: He didn't say. That's what he told me. He
tried to explain to Bernice Olsen, his oldest daughter and I. It didn't
mean too much to us. It was just a funny name. Then Grannie later told
us not to use words like that. I said they always call us dirty
Indians. She said, "You're not dirty, you're clean. Kids are ignorant,
they don't know much. Maybe they get it from home. Don't pay attention
to them. Treat them nice and they'll gradually come around." We did and
they did come around later.
Forrest: His children, are they still living
in Prince George?
Gagnon: One, Earl Brown. He lives on Range Road. He
had a big family.
Forrest: Another thing that interests me. You said you
were born in South Fort George. Was that a reserve at one time? When I
say reserve, was that native land that you were born on?
Gagnon: I don't
know. It could have been before my time.
Forrest: Were you born at
Gagnon: Yes, I was born in Grannie Seymour's old log house.
Forrest: That was where?
Gagnon: At the end of Queensway. It's an open
place. It always has a For Sale sign on it.
Forrest: Is there a house on
Gagnon: There's nothing left there now.
Forrest: That's which end
Gagnon: Closer to the hill was Granny's house.
South Fort George.
Gagnon: South Fort. Going down Queensway right to the
end of Queensway when you come to the sharp turn to go up the hill. You
know where George William's house is?
Forrest: I'm in South Fort
George. You go over the slough towards the new bridge.
Gagnon: You pass
South Fort George slough right to the end of Queensway .
the new bridge is?
Gagnon: Going towards the new bridge. The space is
still there. I don't know if it's sold or not.
Forrest: There could be a
Heritage House called "On Rose Street".
Gagnon: The building all
went. That's where most of us were born. I guess Grannie was a
Forrest: The area on the bank of the river where you were born
is right across from the Carefree Taxi, in that strip along there. That
was Grannie Seymour's.
Gagnon: It was her brother-in-law's house. On the
tombstone in Fort George, it has Joseph Dupage, her brother-in-law's
land. The only way we knew him was Dapage. There's a street in South
Fort called after him.
Forrest: Where was Grannie Seymour's
Gagnon: He had a house where you turn, about the middle of the
big place. He had a big log house and a smaller log house where Grannie
Forrest: On the same property. Where did you live? Your family?
You mentioned that you were on the river and your dad took
Gagnon: That's away down where the new bridge crossed on the other
Forrest: That would be where the corner is. What was your house
Gagnon: It was a log house but not big. I just remember being there.
The next thing we were taking a boat after Mother got the news. We
didn't go back to the other place. We ended back with Grannie
Forrest: You lived with Grannie Seymour for how long?
Quite awhile. I was with my mother on the Miworth Reserve. She was with
her parents. My grandmother was quite crippled with arthritis. The old
man was in good shape.
Forrest: That was who?
Gagnon: Charlie Seymour. We
were up there but we were left with Grannie. We went to school from
Forrest: You said that Grannie Seymour was your dad's mother. When
you were at Miworth that was your mother's mom.
Gagnon: Yes, my mother
was up there too.
Forrest: You said he was Charlie
Gagnon: Charlie Seymour was her father. My grandmother, Ann,
couldn't do things for herself.
Forrest: How come Grannie Seymour was
also a Seymour and yet your mom's dad was a Seymour. That really
Gagnon: We have a rough time explaining this thing. The
kids can't seem to grasp it but we know what happened. Grannie used to
wear a little cap all the time. She interlined it with heavy flannel
because she had a steel plate in her head where grandfather kicked her
head and cracked her skull.
Forrest: This is Grannie Seymour. Her first
name is Margaret. That's the well known lady in Prince.
When the plate turns cold, both sides of her eyes would almost close.
She would run from headaches. Her cap was on her until her death. They
put it on her to bury her. When he done that, my dad and her sister,
our Chief's grandmother from Shelly.
Forrest: That Chief is who?
Peter Quaw. His grandmother was Virginia LaFreniere. Grannie had two,
my dad and her daughter. She left after what happened to her head. She
was living in South Fort. It was common law with my mother's oldest
brother, Billy Seymour. That's where the Seymour comes in. She was my
grandmother to start out with and ended up being my aunt. She is more
grandmother to me. She had a big family. Therefore, Billy Seymour was
put off the reserve because he lived common law with a married woman.
He was disbanned from the reserve.
Forrest: That was the reserve
Gagnon: Fort George. The priest wouldn't allow her in the church but
she prayed on the outside of the church fence. She went there every
Sunday with her children.
Forrest: How many children did she
Gagnon: The ones I remember are Mrs. Minnie Brown and Sarah
Pinker. She was married twice. Her first husband was Pat Ireland. Then
she married Percy Pinker. Her youngest sister was Sophie. She was
married to Harry Long. He worked on the railroad. Then Aggie Baker. She
was married to August Baker from Quesnel. She had a daughter by the
name of Nellie who died young and a daughter by the name of Philemon
who wasn't married and died young. She had a little boy, Billy. He died
when the Spanish flu hit. He died from that. Those are the only ones I
remember but she said she had a set of twins too.
Forrest: They could
have died young.
Gagnon: All together she claimed she had fourteen
Forrest: Your mom went back to her dad who was Charlie
Seymour in Miworth.
Gagnon: After my father drowned, she remarried later
on to my stepfather, Arthur Gracey. She had two daughters and two boys,
the oldest was Charlie when he went overseas and got killed. Mother
died in 1929 after her dad. He was the first to die in 1923 in Miworth.
Grannie didn't live that long after.
Forrest: That was your mom's
Gagnon: Yes. She died and they are both buried in Fort George
which only left my uncle, Frank Seymour and his wife living.
Would that be a different part of the family than Margaret Seymour?
Your mom's dad was Charlie Seymour and your Grannie Seymour who is
Margaret Seymour? Who is Billy Seymour? Are they different
Gagnon: No, that's the family. Charlie Seymour's oldest son,
George Seymour, got drowned in Fort George Canyon. His next son was
Billy Seymour, Granny's husband. The next one was Duncan
Seymour. Seymours originated in Shelly. Frank Seymour was the youngest
of the boys. My mother's oldest sister, Christine Seymour, then my
mother, Harriett Seymour, and the youngest girl Theresa died quite
Forrest: So Seymour and Simon, would that be the same?
they phoned me from Ottawa about my children getting re-instated, I
there was a big mix up and I don't know how you're going to straighten
it out. When I spelled it out, she said it meant Harriett Seymour in
English. She's French.
Forrest: So the Simon is really
Gagnon: Yes, that's what she told me. We are trying to trace back
on our great grandparents as to where they came from, who they were
married to, etc.
Forrest: I see what you meant when you said that your
Granny Seymour then became your auntie.
Gagnon: She married my
Forrest: When you went to Miworth Reserve, you lived there with
your mom for awhile?
Gagnon: That's where we lived after my dad drowned
until school age. I went to school off and on.
Forrest: What school did
you go to?
Gagnon: South Fort George.
Forrest: That's when you stayed with
Grannie or Auntie Seymour?
Gagnon: Yes. That old school is burned. I don't
see it anymore.
Forrest: That was South Fort George School?
Gower was our principal. He used to come around and check our work.
Later on Mr. Williston was in Shelly School.
Forrest: When you went to South Fort George
School, what grade did you go to?
Gagnon: I went for one term and the
next term I would be with my mother. Off and on it was back and forth.
I barely made my grade three when mother moved to Shelly because my
stepfather had a job at the sawmill.
Forrest: In 1927 she moved from
Miworth to Shelly. They were two separate reserves or are they under
Gagnon: It's under the same band. There is Chilako, Miworth and
Forrest: Was South Fort George a reserve?
Gagnon: That was a main
Forrest: That's no longer there.
Gagnon: The only thing they have
is a cemetery.
Forrest: That's right in the park.
Gagnon: Yes. That was
the Main Reserve.
Forrest: What do you remember about that? Do you
remember if there were houses or log houses?
Gagnon: I don't remember. It
was sold before my time. The priest got the chief to sell it.
Gagnon: The railroad I guess.
Forrest: When you were in Miworth
living with your mom on the reserve, what were the houses like?
Gagnon: They were nice.
Forrest: Were they log cabins?
Gagnon: No, lumber
houses. I can't remember any houses on Fort George Reserve but we used
to visit a grave every Sunday, our dead people. It was all fenced in at
Forrest: Those graves are still there, aren't they?
The graves are still there but the tombstones are all smashed when they
were bulldozing it over. That had to be the Hudson Bay Post they talk
about now because we used to play after they prayed at the cemetery. We
would get out of the cemetery and they would sit around on the grass
reminiscing about how the reserve was. We would get in front of this
old building with nothing in it. When they talk about Fort George
Hudson Bay Post, that must have been it.
Forrest: Is this when you
mentioned earlier about the Hudson Bay Garden?
Gagnon: That's twenty two
miles down the river.
Forrest: What was that?
Gagnon: It was towards
Quesnel. Maybe they were growing vegetables for the Hudson Bay.
You remember it being called Hudson Bay Gardens.
Did you ever visit it?
Gagnon: That's where we were when we were picked
up after Dad drowned. I don't know how we got there.
Forrest: You just
Gagnon: It was just like when the flu hit. We were at
Grannies at South Fort. There was snow and ice was just freezing over
the Nechako River. Grannie told my mother to get the kids out and back
to Miworth. The sickness is so strong, you can even smell it. The fog
was so thick and you could smell the burned candle. Do you know where
the Connaught Hotel used to be?
Forrest: How old would you have been
Gagnon: Away before school.
Forrest: Just a wee one.
part I remember because we were going to the station to take the train.
Mother was pointing to the Connaught Hotel, Pat Moran's. She was
telling my cousin they were using that for the hospital and it was full
of people dying and some alive.
Forrest: Which Pat Moran?
Gagnon: He used
to be a magistrate.
Forrest: His son is Pat Moran and his grandson is
Pat Moran. He owned the Connaught Hotel. They used that as a
Gagnon: That's what my mother was telling my cousin.
Your Grannie sent you back to Miworth. How did you travel?
were going to the train when she was talking about the Connaught Hotel.
When we were getting on the train, we were all lined up. It might have
been a doctor. He was scraping our arm with a piece of bone that would
scratch through the skin. He would dab something on. When we got on the
train, it was dark. We got off across from the reserve.
would take the train from Prince George to Miworth.
Where did it run to?
Gagnon: Rupert, I guess. We got off there and
instead of going around to Ferry Landing where the road was, she told
my cousin that we would head straight across between the islands. I
remember holding mother's hand. She handed my little sister to my
cousin who was carrying a lantern. The ice sounded like it was breaking
but we were walking across. When we came up the hill on the reserve,
there were lights in all the nine houses. The air felt good up there,
not like in Prince George. It was smelly and thick. We went into the
house and my grandfather had all the mattresses right across the
room. He had a big steel heater. Everyone was sick. I thought the
were sleeping. Grandpa took off our overshoes. He told my older cousin,
Dominec to wrap his feet. He took my coat off and wrapped my feet with
a warm towel. He heated flannette sheets and wrapped me in it and put
me on one of the mattresses. He did that to my cousin Dominec. He laid
Dominec next to me. I looked at my mother and she was holding
her head. My cousin and grandfather were taking her coat and boots off.
I don't know what happened. We knew there was snow as we walked through
it and across on the ice.
Forrest: With Miworth being the same band as
Shelly, where did you get your food from? Were people still trapping
and killing. Where would you store your food?
Gagnon: They had cache on
stilts and they had smoke houses which were loaded down with dry fish
and dry meat in the winter and summer. You could go and eat anytime.
Dried berries were rolled up and hung.
Forrest: Just like they have in
Fort St. James museum. Would that be for everyone on the reserve or
would each person have their own?
Gagnon: Yes. It was a family thing. The
chief's wife is the one that had the big cache. Everybody fished in
the fall, children, old women and daughters. Some of the men worked.
women did all the work.
Forrest: Did they have fish traps up the
Gagnon: Yes, at Chilako.
Forrest: What would they
Gagnon: They would get the fish, bring it home by raft and fill all
Forrest: Who would share out the food?
Gagnon: It's all
put away in the chief's cache, like vegetables or whatever is growing.
It goes into his cellar. Nothing was locked. If you happen to run low
on flour, you would take a pan and get what you need and bring it
Forrest: It wasn't just what you caught like the fish, meat or
Gagnon: They even did a lot of sewing. Even us kids set snares
for coyotes and foxes. They would skin it for us. We can't keep the
money. It was given to the chief. They would put it all together and
buy flour, sugar, coffee and tea. They bought everything in big
Forrest: What was your house like? What do you remember doing as a
kid? You lived at Miworth off and on. What sort of games did you play?
Did you make your own music or entertainment?
Gagnon: We played dolls.
We had to be taught things so there wasn't much time to play. We might
play tag or hide and seek.
Forrest: What were you taught?
Gagnon: When we
were fishing, we fished for little ones. We watched the older ones
cutting salmon. Then we would follow with the little fish. When they
saw that we cut and dried it right, then we could get the bigger ones.
All winter we went sliding but had our wood to carry . We carried
water. We would sit around in the evenings after supper and they would
show the girls how to do bead work. The boys would make bow and arrows
or carved little boats.
Forrest: Would this be in each one's
Gagnon: Yes, we were in our own house. All of a sudden they would
tell us to go and see one old person. It could be an old woman or an
old man. We would usually go to the chiefs. We wouldn't talk to him
unless we were spoken to. You don't dare talk to older people only when
you're spoken to. We would go there and his wife would let us in. We
would circle around him on the floor. He sat on a big chair. He would
tell us a story. Grannie started that story. Uncle Pete's dad started
that story. It would go over a whole winter as it was a continued
story. It was about this guy who was so good, a spiritual thing. He did
things that no person on earth could do and the only one who could do
it. It was a Bible story. It's our Indian story legend as they call it
now. I was fifteen when the old Chief died in Shelly and another chief
took over. There was no beginning and no ending. We asked later on if
the guy died. There is no ending. He will always be there but you can't
see him. My cousin picked up the Bible and said if we revise it, it's
the same thing as this Bible says. It's something I would tell my kids
from the time they could understand.
Forrest: This is something that
kind of stopped. Did you go to La Jacques yourself? Were you sent
Gagnon: I was sent there.
Forrest: This is when you missed out on
the stories and this type of teaching.
Gagnon: no. We already learned it
here. I hear a lot of students putting La Jacques school down. I have
nothing against it. We were poor during
depression years in
Shelly. We had a rough time. My stepfather was working but the cheques
were no good.
Forrest: You went to Shelly when?
Gagnon: 1927. My mother
died in 1929. That's when my brother and I were put in La Jacques
school. We had no business there but the old priest was kind enough to
take the both of us. He knew my dad and my mother. Indian Affairs or
nobody would pay for our keep there. There would be three or four of us
to a bed. We were lucky if we had enough warm blankets at home and
never enough to eat because you couldn't afford to buy anything. You
can't live on plain wild food. You get tired of it. When we got to
school, it was like Buckingham Palace to me. Everything was clean,
steam heated. Maybe we didn't get the very best of food but had three
meals a day. We had lunch at ten o'clock, bread, jam and skim milk and
at three o'clock in the afternoon. We were full and didn't get hungry.
Our clothes were supplied.
Forrest: What were you being taught?
At that time you couldn't afford to go to high school. You had to be a
non Indian to go to high school. After grade eight you couldn't
Forrest: How long did you go to school?
Gagnon: I went to school until
grade seven. Then it was time for me to go home and get married.
When you were young, what sort of discipline do you remember?
My mother would take a whip after us. You wouldn't dare slap as your
hand is too heavy for a little child. When mother was going to strap
me, I would run and my aunt would run out and grab me. She told me
every time you do wrong and you're going to get a whipping, you start
running and the ground is going to open and the devil will grab you
because you did wrong and have to be punished. The great spirit isn't
going to take your part. One time I started to run and I thought about
that and closed my eyes. I had to go back for my whipping.
said Grannie Seymour never did that. She just talked to you.
four little ones never once touched my sewing or anything. I could
leave it anywhere. When they were small and they would try and reach
for it and you say no. If they keep on, we always had a willow and
would hit them on the knuckles.
Forrest: Is that what Grannie Seymour
Gagnon: Yes. It stings but breaks no bones.
Forrest: You said Grannie
Seymour used to talk to you rather than raise her voice or yell.
Yes. She never ever yelled at us. She would sit us all down. My aunt
died and we were all crying. I tell them today that when my grandmother
died that you can't explain to a child. It took me a long time to
understand death. When I was telling you about the Spanish flu, we went
to bed and when my cousin woke me in the morning, he said the leaves
are out. There is no more snow or no more ice. We thought we had slept
over night and woke up with the winter going by. We didn't know. He
helped me out of the bed and the rest were still sleeping. I said,
"Let's go and see old grandma." We used to call the Chief's wife
grandma. She used to give us fried bannock and Roger's syrup. I was
hungry. He took me by the hand. There was little puddles here and
there. When that cold air hit us, we felt good. We were barefooted and
in night clothes. When we stepped in the ice cold water, we felt much
better. We went through the reserve at Miworth to the last house. The
food was all dried up. There was nobody. We wondered where they went.
He said maybe they went trapping. We stopped at the old Chief's house.
We stood by the door. We called and opened the door. There was no
answer. Nobody was there. I was really cold by then. We walked out and
my aunt came out of the smoke house. She started to cry. She said that
we wouldn't live but would die like the rest of them. She picked me up
and my uncle grabbed my cousin and took us in the house. They warmed
our feet in the oven. They were both crying and we didn't know why. We
told them we went to the last house and nobody was home. My uncle asked
if we didn't hear the church bell ringing night and day.
long had you slept?
Gagnon: The whole
winter, November, December, January, February, March, April and May.
months went by and we thought we had slept over night.
Forrest: You had
been that ill.
Gagnon: I guess so. We don't remember a thing.
many people died on the reserve.
Gagnon: There was hardly anyone left.
There were my cousins, grandfather, Uncle Frank and my mother.
Everyone else had died. Do you remember any medication being
you by the Native ladies when you were young and what they
Gagnon: Grandpa told us that he nor my uncle never got sick.
Forrest: When you were sick, what did your mother or grannie give
Gagnon: The second time the heavy flu hit us at Shelly, Uncle Frank
told my cousin's wife and I, that we would have to look after all these
people. They were all down. Before you even get a headache, mix rum
with pure lemon juice. We wanted to put sugar in but they said to take
it hot. We had to keep the fires going. It was almost a week. We had to
use a feather with bear grease so their lips and throat wouldn't dry.
They couldn't drink. They were in a coma. Grandpa told us that he had
boiled a big pot of juniper tops. When my uncle and aunt brought us
back to the house after they warmed us up, they put us back in bed and
told us never to go out again. They said we would be lucky if we
lived. My aunt took a cup of juice from the pot which was the juice
from the juniper. It was strong. I wanted water.
Forrest: Would this be
the juniper bark, not the juniper berries?
Gagnon: The tops. It was hard
to take. Grandpa had set a net in the slough which was a nice lake. He
brought some fresh fish back. We couldn't have cold water but had to
drink the juice. Grandpa came back. I was crying as I was hungry. He
said he couldn't give us anything solid. He was boiling this fish. The
broth we had to drink. No solid food. They couldn't figure how we
walked through the water and all the way to the other end of the
reserve before they caught us.
Forrest: You went away to La
Jacques. Would you come home in the, summer or did you stay at
LaJacques from the time your mother died and you were left?
had to leave school when mother took sick. I had to help around the
house with my little sister and brother. When she died my stepfather
couldn't look after us. He had to find another place to live from
Shelly as he wasn't working.
Forrest: Was he allowed to live on the
reserve? Was he native status?
Gagnon: No, he was English.
Forrest: He was
allowed to live on the reserve.
Gagnon: No, it wasn't on the reserve. It
was Shelly. My brother and I were put in LaJacques school. My youngest
sister was left with my cousin on the reserve. The next sister was left
in South Fort George with her godmother, Mary Paquette, not these
Paquettes but a Paquette from Quesnel.
Forrest: I thought they were the
Gagnon: No. Art, my youngest brother, who was starting to
walk when mother died was left with my mother's first cousin, Mrs.
Boyd. My brother and I went to LaJacque. I think they were getting us
ready to become mothers and what we were supposed to do and how to get
along with other people.
Forrest: Did you come home in the
Gagnon: Yes, two months in the summer to help with the food.
They gave us that privilege but there were no other holidays.
Who did you stay with when you came home in the summer?
with my grandparents.
Forrest: Did you stay with Grannie Seymour when
you came home in the summer?
Gagnon: When I came out of LaJacques school,
I got married right away.
Forrest: I meant during the summer
Gagnon: I went there in January. I put that term in and stayed at
my uncles where my mother told me to stay until I Was married. The next
year when I came back on July 2nd, I stayed at my uncles and helped the
blind woman. The next year in May she came in and said I was
getting married tomorrow. The bishop's coming off the train but I
didn't know who I was going to marry or anything. She went to town and
bought me a dress. The next, morning I got cleaned up and dressed and
went across on a ferry to the north side of Shelly to the church. We
got in the church and the priest and my husband-to-be.
never saw him before.
Gagnon: I saw him and talked to him as he was in
LaJacques school too but that's all.
Forrest: Who had arranged
Gagnon: The woman that was married to my uncle, the chief and the
Forrest: Who was it that you married?
Forrest: How old were you?
Forrest: You had been
at LaJacques school from what age?
Gagnon: I went there in 1930.
You were only there one year.
Gagnon: I'm really thankful for that one
Forrest: I thought maybe you had gone there for a long time. What
was the wedding like? Were you in shock with all of a sudden one day
telling you that you were being married tomorrow? What did you do? Did
they have the house planned where you were going to move?
Gagnon: no. We
got married and I had to stay at my aunt's place until they found a
place for us that was livable.
Forrest: Did he know he was getting
Gagnon: No, it was arranged.
Forrest: How did he feel? How old
Gagnon: We were about the same age.
Forrest; Was his family from
Gagnon: His mother was from the Miworth reserve and his father
came from Alberta or Northwest Territory. Both were dead. He was like
me, no mother or father. It seems that was why they put us together as
we were both orphans.
Forrest: Did he speak the native
Forrest: That's Carrier.
Gagnon: Yes. When his
mother died, his father took off and left him and his two sisters
living in an old cabin where Spruceland is now. The father couldn't
handle it and jumped on a train. A white woman next door found the
kids. The little boy that was an infant died right away. That left my
husband and his two sisters. They had no place to put them so Mrs.
Ramsay decided to get the priest to put them in school.
surprises me in my experience with native people and when you read, I
always felt the extended family with the native that this was never a
problem. I've always experienced in talking to native gals that a
grandmom takes the grandchild if something happens to mom or dad so you
don't have this problem of a child being without parents. Why is it in
your case and your husband's case that they were sent to LaJacque
rather , than the extended family on the reserve taking you?
That was done for us to learn another way of life not only our way.
This is how I always think. If we didn't go to LaJacque school, we
would live in the old way and not getting ahead. By going to LaJacque
school we learned the Indian catechism and also English. We spoke
English but they never stopped us from talking Indian. We could talk
Indian if we wanted to.
Forrest: That's what I've heard from other
people who have attended native schools that they weren't
Gagnon: That's not true at all. The nuns would show us how to
do things. We worked in the kitchen for one week, nothing but baking.
The next week they put us in the kitchen to learn how to cook.
When you were married at the age of seventeen, you went that night to
your uncle's place. What happened to your husband? Was he
Gagnon: No, not until later. Even if he left and went somewhere,
we wouldn't say anything because we're not supposed to ask a guy what
he's doing or where he was. Most of the men were never home, only at
hunting season they might drop around. They would all go out and kill a
moose or something, then we would bring it in.
Forrest: You were
brought up in a matriarch society with all the women together. In the
winter where were the men?
Gagnon: I don't know whether they worked or
Forrest: In the summer were they home?
Gagnon: Hardly, they would
come and go. One time we couldn't get hold of my husband when I lost
all my kids with the poison water at Mitchell's ranch. We lost fifteen
children in one week. We had to go to work. There was no way out. There
were cattle up on the hill. Creosote was mixed in the water that we
drinking down below. All of a sudden the kids started passing
Forrest: These were your own children.
Forrest: You were
still married to Mr. Fraser and you had how many children?
Gagnon: I lost
four children, five with the one I was carrying. My little girl died
Forrest: This was where?
Gagnon: W.M. Mitchell Ranch.
Where is that?
Gagnon: That's where they have the John Howard Society for
the inmates before they get out.
Forrest: Out the Hart
Gagnon: Beside Summit Lake.
Forrest: You were living
Gagnon: We used to go out there from May until September to clear
land for a millionaire woman.
Forrest: You went out with your
Gagnon: No, he wasn't home.
Forrest: You went out with
Gagnon: With my cousin and her husband.
Forrest: How many
Gagnon: I had four and was carrying one. The kids started getting
sick. A few men who were working there started falling out in the
field. We didn't know what happened. Finally around seven, Mrs.
went for a doctor. My little girl had died five minutes before Dr.
came. He said she was poisoned. The rest of the kids were sick and were
taken by Dr. Lyons into hospital. We lost fifteen children.
children were they? There were four of yours.
Gagnon: Other peoples, all
the little ones.
Forrest: They were dying of what?
water. They were dipping cattle in the creosote and water and letting
go and that's what we were drinking.
Forrest: It went in the
Gagnon: Na, it was a creek coming down. We drank that water yearly
but didn't know they were dipping cattle in it. When Dr. Lyons found
out, he was mad.
Forrest: How old were you then? You were still
comparatively a young woman.
Gagnon: Yes. The bodies were shipped to
Shelly by train where we picked the little bodies up. We couldn't
locate my husband anywhere. We didn't know where he was. Late the next
fall he came home. I thought he was drunk. He was staggering but he was
dying. He was sick then.
Forrest: What was he dying
Forrest: There are two points you raised here that I
find really interesting. In what you read and talking to native people
I always thought the women and the family traveled with the men as
they went around hunting. When you read stories about Hazelton and Fort
Ware, I thought the women moved with the men when they went
Forrest: What did you live on? Where did you
get money from? Were you still status? Did you get money from the
Gagnon: no. We put in our gardens, fished and picked berries. We
tanned hides and sewed. That's what we sold.
Forrest: What did you grow
for vegetables? Did you buy the seeds in town?
Gagnon: Seeds were given to
us by Indian Affairs. The first house would grow nothing but turnips,
the next family would grow potatoes.
Forrest: You would be given seeds
by the person from DIA.
Gagnon: We would look after our gardens.
Was it kind of boring if you grew nothing but turnips?
Gagnon: We would
grow one thing. When we started weeding, we would go to the first house
and help. Men had nothing to do with weeding. This was woman's job. We
all worked together. When we fished, it was the same thing.
women fished rather than the men.
Gagnon: Yes. We fished and dried our
fish. We were told how to do things by the old people but the little
ones were looked after by the old ones.
Forrest: You were fishing in the
Gagnon: The main fishing place was at Salmon River. They had a big
smoke house. The older people would go up first.
Forrest: Was this on
Gagnon: No, Salmon River. They put a fence across and made
two traps. When the older people got tired they came back and looked
after the little ones and the younger set would go out.
would be mainly women.
Gagnon: All women.
Forrest: That really intrigues
me. When I've seen natives fishing in Morrice town and down on the
lower Fraser, it's all men.
Gagnon: Now it's all men that does the
fishing. We wouldn't depend on the men as they didn't do things for us.
Forrest: Your hubby died when you were how old?
Gagnon: I had my oldest
daughter and son when he died. They were born after the poisoned water.
got $3.60 a month for my two kids and myself from DIA
Forrest: What year would that be? Your eldest one, the
one you were expecting when the four died.
Gagnon: The doctor put me in
the hospital and aborted me as the baby was dead.
Forrest: That's five
you lost. Then you had another one. What was his name?
Gagnon: I had a
boy and then a girl. My daughter was born in 1939 and my son was born
Forrest: Your husband would have died in the early forties.
Forrest: You got $3.90 a month to look after yourself and
two small children. Where were you living?
Gagnon: I didn't live in
Shelly after my husband died because I was worried about the life I
would live there. We buried him and I took my kids and left. I stayed
Grannie Seymour's. She baby sat for me while I worked.
Forrest: Where did
Gagnon: Cleaning for different women like Dr. MacKenzie's
Forrest: When you said your children were taken to the
hospital in Prince George by Dr. Lyons, where was the hospital?
Gagnon: It was a hospital that had lots of steps going up. It was
the army hospital. When the soldiers were shipped here and they had the
army camp; where Simon Fraser is now, that was the army hospital.
Forrest: The Simon Fraser Hotel.
Gagnon: No, the Simon Fraser Lodge.
That was the army hospital. They demolished the other ones when the war
was over. They used the army hospital until they built the new
Forrest: That's where your children had gone. Where was the big
Gagnon: The first old hospital. It wasn't far from where the army
hospital was. It was more into the bushes.
Forrest: Was there only one
doctor, Dr. Lyons?
Gagnon: No, Dr. Lyons and Dr. Ewert.
the old Dr. Ewert.
Gagnon: After those two, there was Dr. Treefrie, Dr.
MeLaren, Dr. MacArthur, Dr. Chambers and Dr. MacKenzie.
worked for Dr. MacKenzie's mother.
Gagnon: Yes, I used to clean the
house for her.
Forrest: Then you remarried.
Gagnon: Before I was
remarried, I worked and that's when I lost my status. The Indian Agent
told me that I had no more Indian rights. You can't go back on the
reserve. I asked why. He said he had enfranchised me. I didn't know the
meaning to it. He said because I didn't spend two weeks out of a year
on the reserve that I lost all rights. I signed papers he wanted me to
sign. He said that I was on my own from here. I said that was better
than $3.90 a month anyway Mr. Moore. I told him I would manage. My
sister and I went to the Mitchell ranch again and cleared land.
Your sister was?
Gagnon: Doris Olson, now Doris Larsen. We moved into
town after we got paid. We were paying $5.00 a month for a three
bedroom house right across from where the Princess Theatre used to
Forrest: That would be on what road?
Gagnon: There's a real estate
building and a yard for cars. That's where the house was. We had
electricity but had to carry water from the back.
Forrest: Was that a
well or a tap?
Gagnon: A tap.
Forrest: You paid $5.00 a month and the two
of you lived there.
Gagnon: Not only two of us. I was looking after a
guy's wife until she died. She had three little girls and one little
boy. Every time we went to move from the house, they would cry. I asked
my sister what we should do. She said we will have to keep them. We
didn't know anything about welfare then. We moved into that house after
we came back from the ranch. I took the kids. I didn't know where the
father went. He disappeared. I had my two kids and my sister had two
little girls. My sister Mabel was working at the Shasta Cafe. Doris and
I got jobs cleaning out the Princess and Strand Theatres. I would do
that one day when she was home with the kids doing the washing and the
next day she would take over. We switched around like that. There was
always food left over at the restaurant and the old Chinese guy gave it
to her. She told him we had a bunch of kids. That's where all this food
Forrest: That's all co-operative. You all helped
Gagnon: Yes, we had to look after these other kids.
don't get that now. The story you were telling me from when you were at
Miworth is that everyone worked together.
Gagnon: The problem with people
today is that there is too much hate and greed. My family asked me
what I meant. I said if I ask you to do something for me, you ask me
how much are you going to give me, even little ones. We worked when we
were young carrying water and splitting wood. We would go through the
reserve to see who didn't have wood or water in the house. Not once did
we ever think of money. Once in awhile we would have fresh bannock and
we'd put syrup or jam in it. That's big pay for us. Today you can't get
along with anybody. I hear people saying to their little kids not to
play with white people. They're no good. The white kids are told not to
play with the Indians. It hurts to see them like that.
Forrest: When you
got your job at the Strand and Princess on alternate days, how long did
you work there?
Gagnon: We worked there for quite awhile.
Forrest: For a
Gagnon: No, more than that. We did everything we could. We had to
buy clothes. We didn't know anything about the Salvation Army until I
met a woman in town that I knew. She wanted to know what I was doing. I
said we still had the McNeely kids. She wanted to know where the father
was. I told her I didn't know.
Forrest: Were they white?
were white kids, Ukrainian. She said to come with her and wanted to
know how I was managing. I told her. She said you can't do that. She
took me to the government building. She spoke to a guy who
worked there. I didn't know it was welfare. He called me in and started
questioning me. He asked me how long I had done this. This was going
the third year. He wondered if the father had even inquired and I
said, "No". He asked if I had my own kids and I said, "Yes, and my
sisters". He asked how we managed. I said that my sister was working in
a cafe and she brought all the leftovers home. We fed the kids even if
had to go without. I told him we were having a rough time with the
Forrest: How many kids were there?
Gagnon: He had three little
girls and a boy, then my two were six and my sisters two were eight. He
told me to come back the next morning at ten o'clock. I went back and
he handed me a cheque which was over $400.00 which was a lot of money
at that time. I asked what I was going to do with it. He said to cash
it and buy groceries. He gave me a voucher to take to the children's
store, Lamberts, to get children's clothing. I was to get the children
their clothes and shoes. I asked him what the rest of the money was for
as we can't use all of it. I didn't know what to do as I didn't have
that much in my hand before. I cashed it and went to the store and
bought everything by the cases. Things were cheap then.
store did you go to?
Gagnon: Overwaitea on George Street.
was called Overwaitea.
Gagnon: Yes, and they deliver. He asked if we
were running a camp and I said no. It was the first time I had a chance
to buy groceries like this. I took the voucher over to Parker's and
Forrest: Was Parker's a clothing
Forrest: Where was that?
Gagnon: It was on George
Street, next to I.B. Guest. I loaded everything into the taxi which
cost fifty cents from downtown to where I lived. My sister looked and
wondered how I got it all. I said they had given me a big cheque and I
couldn't spend it all.
Forrest: Where was the government building
Gagnon: Where Kresges is.
Forrest: George Street was the main street
and Kresges is now on Third.
Gagnon: George Street was the main street
and Third Street only went as far as the old Bank of Montreal.
Northern Hardware used to be the Post Office. Kresges used to be the
Gagnon: Yes. Where Bowies is now? That used to be
the Liquor Store. That was later. The first Liquor Store was on George
Forrest: The main street was George and then part of Third.
Gagnon: In the basement part of the government building was the
Forrest: This was maybe one of the first social workers that
gave you the cheque. What finally happened to the kids?
couldn't locate the father but he could place the kids in foster homes.
We said okay as we had to go to work. There was no way out for us. We
told the kids that someday we would see them.
NOTE: Mrs. Gagnon gave me
this date a booklet called "Grannie Seymour's Herbal Hints 1852 -
1966". I have run copies of this off to be submitted to the Prince
George Public Library in conjunction with the Pioneer Tapes and/or for
the Fraser Fort George Regional Museum. These booklets when originally
run off were to raise money for the headstone for Grannie Seymour's
grave. Mrs. Gagnon indicated to me that they had run off one hundred
and fifty in the initial run at SpeeDee Printers. After these were sold
ran approximately thirty more off.
Today I am continuing the interview
with Mrs. Gagnon dated May 11, 1987.
Forrest: When you said that your
mother died and you went to LaJaques school, how old would you
Gagnon: My mother passed away on December 16th.
Forrest: You would
have been fifteen. When your mom died, you weren't living on Shelly
Reserve. You were living at the part of Shelly that is near
Gagnon: No, the sawmill side, the south side of Shelly.
That would be the Northwood Pulp side of Shelly.
Gagnon: On the south
Forrest: The Giscome side of the Fraser, not the Hart Highway
side of the Fraser.
Forrest: You didn't go to any of your
Gagnon: Not at the time. Grannie was alive but my
step father couldn't look after us. He didn't have a job so my brother
I were put in LeJaques school.
Forrest: Do you remember what your mom
Gagnon: I think she died of TB because she was bedridden
from August until December.
Forrest: Was she at home?
Gagnon: Yes, she was
coughing. The doctor never bothered putting them in hospital.
Did they take medication?
Gagnon: No, they just left them. They would
die at home. The doctor never came to see what they died from like they
Forrest: Was there any medical help given to your
Gagnon: No. They said she was sick and better off in bed at home.
That's where she was.
Forrest; How did they pay for the doctor? Now we
are used to medical and a person with Indian status is under our
medical coverage, what happened then?
Gagnon: This puzzles me now when I
find out the way things are with the Status and Non status. My mother
had lost her status by marriage. Before she moved to Shelly the chief
from the Fort George Band and all his men got together and built a log
house on the sawmill side so that my mother would have a home.
You said your mom had lost her Indian status but you had Indian status
as a child.
Gagnon: No, we didn't because my dad was a Non status.
I thought you last your status when you married so you had your Indian
Gagnon: I did have my status back when I got married.
How did you get that back?
Gagnon: The guy that I married, his mother
belonged to the Fort George Band and my mother had been a former Fort
George Band member so the chief said that we were to be
Forrest: What was the log house like that the chief built
for your mom?
Gagnon: It was nice, had two large bedrooms, a front room
and a kitchen. We didn't have any fancy furniture. There was a table,
chairs and a cook stove.
Forrest: Was there running water or a
Gagnon: No, we took it from the Fraser River. Grannie used to tell
us that if the river or stream is steady running you wont get sick from
it. She said to pick up the rocks on the bottom of the river and they
would be thick with slime. That's where the poison goes. It's by nature
that the rocks pick up the poison. That's what I go by. I drink the
water from the Nechako River.
Forrest: You had pane glass in the house,
Gagnon: Glass windows, yes.
Forrest: Electricity. What was the
Gagnon: Coal oil lamp or if you had the money you could buy a gas
lamp. Not too many had gas lamps and they were only $2.98.
you cook on a wood stove?
Gagnon: Yes, and we had heaters, mostly burning
slabs from the mill.
Forrest: You would use wood, not coal.
Forrest: When you came back from LaJacque, you stayed with your
uncle. What was his name?
Gagnon: Duncan Seymour, my mom's
Forrest: Where did he live?
Gagnon: He was working in the mill at
Forrest: He was living on the reserve?
Gagnon: No, off the
reserve. Next to where they built the log house for my mom.
Another point I found interesting when I went over the tape was that
day you got married, you said you went across the river by ferry. Was
that ferry running all the time and where did it run?
Gagnon: The sawmill
site was where the ferry landing used to be.
Forrest: B.C. Police
Constable Cook takes the ferry in 1932. Was he in charge of the
Gagnon: No, he used to go across the ferry coming from
Prince George on this side of the road. He would visit all the people
the reserve spending a day.
Forrest: That was the ferry you used to take
from Shelly across to the other side of Shelly. Was that the only
two places it landed just across the river? It didn't go down. It just
went back and forth.
Gagnon: No, it didn't go down. It was run by a
Forrest: A cable ferry. What was the cost?
Gagnon: There was no
Forrest: After seven o'clock at night, it was twenty five cents.
Everyone used it before seven o'clock. You said that your auntie bought
you a dress for the wedding. Can you remember what kind of dress it
Gagnon: It was polka dot house dress. It was quite ordinary,
Forrest: You said there were a lot of empty houses in Shelly. Why
would there by a lot of empty houses?
Gagnon: After the flu went through,
it wiped out most of the people.
Forrest: The houses were left empty.
This was on the reserve.
Forrest: What did the people do? Did
they use the houses that were left by people who had died.
would clean and fix them up. When people get married and have a family,
they moved into these houses. They're not houses like now that's just
thrown together and within a few years they were tilted over.
They weren't log cabins.
Gagnon: No, they were lumber houses like I
showed you in the picture of Miworth. It's the same kind of
Forrest: Instead of 1x2s, it was sheets of plywood.
Gagnon: No, there was no plywood. It was solid boards. They had board
They had it fixed nice. They put a new chimney on it in the thirties
and new flooring.
Forrest: That's when you moved in. What did you live
on? What did your young husband at the age of seventeen do. How did he
Gagnon: At first he got a job in the mill on the green
machine. I guess it was too hard. for him. It was in the dead heat of
summer. There was no roofing. He worked about five or six months. Then
I don't know where he went. The men didn't stay home only those that
were working in the mill.
Forrest: You had your first baby at what
Gagnon: 1931. I was seventeen when I had my first child.
relationship to the birth of your brothers and sisters and your own
children, were you born at home?
Forrest: Who acted as
Forrest: In a lot of the reserves you have one
lady who acts as the midwife or was it family members?
members but if they were afraid that things weren't going to turn out
right, then they would call for Grannie.
Forrest: With your children,
were they born at home?
Gagnon: They were all born at home except the
two youngest ones and they were born in the hospital.
Forrest: And that
Gagnon: Margaret turned thirty last March.
Forrest: You told me
about the four wee ones that died and then the one you were carrying.
many children have you had since then?
Gagnon: That was the fifth one I
lost. Then I had Patricia, Robert, David, Joe, Frank, Peter and
Clifford, I lost. I also lost one between Joe and Frank. He died right
after birth. Yvonne, Marcel, Phillip, Edward, Esther, Marrie, Margaret
and Edwin. There was stillbirths too.
Forrest: You gave birth to twenty
children. You lost ten children and you had stillbirths with two
children. You still look young.
Gagnon: Thank you.
Forrest: Out of all
these children, how many are living now?
Forrest: How many grandchildren do you have?
Gagnon: There isn't too many.
Forrest: At the present time you have
twenty one grandchildren and three great grandchildren. You had the
full responsibility of looking after all those children and you
Gagnon: My sister and I worked. We cooked for the camps. The
oldest child looks after the youngest. We coupled them up like that so
they were watching one another. My sister worked one day in the cook
house while I took over the kids and then the next day I would take
over and she would look after the kids. We switched around just so we
could feed our children. Things were rationed during the war. We just
worked for food to feed our children.
Forrest: Did they pay you with
food when you worked?
Forrest: You worked in the camp so you
got your room and board.
Gagnon: When the camps closed for spring or
fall breakups, they give us the food that was left over. If there was a
lot of meat, we would can it and put it away.
Forrest: What do you
remember most of your childhood? The one thing that you said to me was
the relationship with the older people that they always gave you time.
What other things stand out when you were a child before you went to
Gagnon: Between South Fort George area and below Peden Hill. Down
below Peden Hill was where Grannie Seymour's sister was married to
Pierre Roy, They had
the flats. where the trailer court is. Grannie was on her
brother-in-law's land and that's where most of our time was spent. We
were on top of the hill from the Fraser and Nechako. The men would go
across the cut bank between the two bridges. They would go away up
around the other way and cut wood in blocks and roll it down. It
would almost hit the other shore. They would split it in
four and a bunch of us kids would pull it up with a toboggan. We would
pile wood and carry the water, then we could go and slide after the
work. They would give us so much time to play but had to be in before
dusk. There was a lot of sickness in the air.
Forrest: When you were in
your teenage years, what would stand out?
Gagnon: In my teenage years I
was with my mother and she wasn't feeling that good. We moved to Shelly
in 1927 and 1928. I had to help her at home with the kids. I couldn't
go to school. My oldest sister was cooking around Bear River.
Is that the same as Bear Lake?
Gagnon: I remember we passed Hansard with
a team of horses. She picked me up to help wash dishes and set tables
for the camp. That was a help to my mother and my stepfather was
looking after mom. I went to work with her. I had a hard time. She was
right at my heels telling me everything to do at first. Grannie took us
to visit white people in their homes but you were to be seen and not
heard. That was my first time out with nothing but white people. It was
all white people working in the camp.
Forrest: This would be serving
meals while they were eating.
Gagnon: yes. I had to look after the
plates. I was shy and I was scared. She kept right after me and about a
month later it didn't bother me too much. I worked there with her until
the spring breakup.
Forrest: Where was this camp?
Gagnon: Bear River. We
had to cross Bear River. We were on this island all winter. My oldest
sister and I lived there. My mother was living in Shelly. When spring
breakup came she got paid and gave me my pay. She didn't hand it to me.
She came back to Shelly with me and she gave the money to my mother to
use for food. She didn't have a hard time with food then as the whole
reserve were always bringing something to mom.
Forrest: What kind of
clothes did you wear when you were at work?
didn't wear a uniform. That was before blue jeans.
Gagnon: You dressed
liked a woman.
Forrest: What kind of food did you serve?
Gagnon: They had
their meat, vegetables and fish.
Forrest: Would this all be canned or
would it be fresh? How would they bring it in?
Gagnon: They used to bring
it up to Bear River with a team of horses and sleighs that they used to
haul logs with. There were six horses. Fresh meat when it was brought
out was wrapped in flour bags and newspaper over it. She would dig a
big hole in different places. She would dig a big hole in different
places and put the meat in to freeze.
Gagnon: Yes, sometimes they had boxes with screen doors on
Forrest: How would they mark it so dogs wouldn't get at
Gagnon: There wasn't too many dogs around. That's how they kept the
food until the next week. Then they would bring more food. They had
about everything they have today. Nothing with additives, all
Forrest: You mentioned a couple of times the difference in
the meals you had at home and the meal at LaJacque. What food did you
at home? The families were poor.
Forrest: Were you poorer
than some of the white people? Was this because you were off the
Gagnon: It was depression years. Everybody was down.
What kind of food did you have at home?
Gagnon: The people on the reserve
would kill a moose. There's a lot of meat in one moose. Today they just
kill and kill. That one moose would be cleaned and hung overnight in
the smoke house. That's cut up by the people on the reserve. The old
ladies would come and trade with five pounds of sugar with the white
people. It was a trade not money. The white people that couldn't kill
moose or deer traded for tea, coffee and things at home. If you run out
of vegetable that's where you get it from. The same with fishing. We'd
fish and dry it. Nobody was canning at that time. The fresh ones would
be brought in and all cleaned and taken across the river. I would maybe
take one salmon and go to the sawmill manager's wife. She might give me
a pound of coffee, a pound of tea or some other little thing, maybe
flour for that one salmon. They canned their fish. Sometimes we would
get a piece of pork and we'd divide it up amongst us. We would all have
a little bit. A slab of bacon at that time was seventy five cents. If
you got two slabs, you would cut it up so every house would get a
portion. This is what the sharing is about.
Forrest: What meals would
you have? When you lived with Grannie Seymour and your mom in Miworth,
what meals did you eat? You mentioned bannock and Rogers syrup at one
Gagnon: Bannock is very filling. Grannie used to bake bread. She
would make a big fire, nothing but coals. She put it in the steel pots,
cover it and shove it in and cover it up, put some more fire on it. By
the time the fire died down, you would take it out and the bread was
just nice and brown. If you shoot a grouse, you don't take the feathers
off. You would mud pack it. Then you cook it in open fires, the same
way Grannie cooked the bread.
Forrest: Would you put it in a pot or
right on the coats?
Gagnon: You would pack it with mud and then put it
on hot coals and cover it. You put more wood on and by the time the
fire dies down, you take it out and hit it with a knife or little ax,
the mud pack breaks open. The feathers are stuck on and you don't have
to clean. It's clean chicken. You put it in a dish, open it and
everything inside is all cooked together. You pull it out and the
chicken is there.
Forrest: What was your favorite dish as a kid?
Gagnon: We had a lot of nice things. Now we would be out getting
You take the outer bark off and put your pail right against the tree
and the sap rolls down into the pail.
Forrest: What would you use that
Gagnon: You can eat it if you want it fresh. It is sweet and tasty.
If there are too many mosquitoes, you put the juice on your hands so
the mosquitoes don't bite. You can drink the juice. It tastes almost
like the juice out of a coconut. It is cream colored and not thick. You
wind dry the sap. After this you roll it up in little bundles and put
in birch bark baskets, close it tight and put it away. If you're out
hunting and you're in a place where there is no water and you get
thirsty, you would take the one bundle and chew it and swallow the
juice. This would quench the thirst.
Forrest: Did you collect that when
your children were young?
Gagnon: Yes. I still do that when I get a
chance to go out. Now it's good because I can put them in containers
and freeze them in the freezer.
Forrest: Was that considered a
Gagnon: This time of the year that's what they gave us. They
would get a lot of it. We would eat as much as we could when it was
Forrest: What would you consider a treat?
Gagnon: From the store
in the white man's part we would get candies on Christmas and Easter.
It wasn't very much.
Forrest: In the house at Miworth you remember
getting off the the train and walking across the
river on the ice.You could see all the lights in the houses. Was that
by coal oil lamps?
Gagnon: Coal oil lamps.
Forrest: What kind of stoves
were in the houses?
Gagnon: The stove was quite long, big steel
heaters. You opened it in the front. It had two rings on top so you
Forrest: Where did they get the water?
Gagnon: Right from the
Forrest: Did you have lots of pets? Did you have livestock?
Gagnon: My grandfather had cattle, teams of horses, chicken sand
Forrest: Did you have lots of dogs and cats?
Gagnon: Not many. On the
whole reserve there might have been two or three dogs and maybe a few
cats. They weren't like it is now. Everywhere you look there are dogs
Forrest: How did you get your food to Miworth when you shopped
in Prince George?
Gagnon: By train. They would take it off the train at
the station. Sometimes they would leave it if it was rough to get it
home. They would take the toboggan next day and go straight across,
pick up the
groceries and bring it back. Instead of walking away up around the
ferry and coming all the way back to the reserve, in the summer they
to cross the river on the other side of the cut bank on the North
Forrest: Is this around Toombes?
Gagnon: This is further
back. They had a dug-out canoe. I went with my mother a lot of times.
She would paddle across, tie the canoe, then we would walk about a mile
from the station packing the supplies down. She would put it in the
canoe and pole up the river until we got to the reserve.
you were young and lived in Miworth on and off between the ages of six
and ten, what stores do you remember?
Gagnon: There was a CC Reid Store
which was a grocery store. Pete Burns had a butcher shop on George
Street. Blairs had a clothing store and different supplies on George
Forrest: That was the Main Street?
Forrest: Were there
stores anywhere else?
Gagnon: South Fort George maybe. You go away
around Connaught Hill. They cut that down to almost half. The City Hall
was at the bottom. There was a rooming house at the foot of the hill
where the funeral chapel used to be. Down a ways there was another
rooming house run by black people. It was a little candy store front.
The next building was a chinese restaurant. The Strand Theatre used to
be on the corner from the old Prince George Motors. I remember Isaac
Spanner being there. He had a clothing store. On the corner next to the
Mac was where Spanners used to be. Next to it was CC Reid grocery
store. I don't think there was anything in between as it was bushy
there. Next to Prince George Motors was Watson's Drug Store. It had an
ice cream parlor. On this side there was a little gas station below the
city hall. Passed the gas station was Gibson's Rooms. That was run by a
black woman. She made me think of Aunt Jemima the way she dressed. She
was a wonderful woman. The Prince George Hotel was next and in the same
location today. It used to be Al Johnson's. He built it.
same building is still standing.
Gagnon: Yes, but I think they renovated
it. Next to that was Madison's Real Estate. This guy always had a bunch
of paper on the windows. The fire hall was next, then the pool room.
Guest wasn't there yet. Pete Burns was right on the corner across from
Spanners. I don't know if the MacDonald Hotel was there or not. There
was a cafe across from where the Mac is now on George Street. They used
to call it Redbird. There was a big tall rooming house next to where
the Estoria used to be. It had Nehring (neighbouring?) rooms. Bill
Ballis and his
brother was running the Estoria. The Canada was there. Straight behind
the Canada was Connaught Hotel. Patty Moran had that. I can't remember
MacDonalds. There was nothing there it seems. Later on it was up Third.
That's when the Drug Store moved. I guess Prince George Motors started
building where the drug store used to be. There was a Ritz Keefer Hall
built there and it burned down.
Forrest: What stores did you like to go
Gagnon: Lamberts and Parker's store for our clothing if we were able
to afford it.
Forrest: Where would you buy your groceries?
Gagnon: By the
time I was married there was Assman's store. There was a chinese
restaurant on Third, the brick building. It used to be Assman's grocery
store. Then CC Reid. Later on when we were clearing land at the airport
we used to deal at the store behind Spanners. There was a butcher shop
called Dan Gallow.
(tape shut off)
Forrest: The Columbus
Gagnon: The paper was saying how old the Columbus was. I remember
when we used to come from Shelly. We wondered what kind of store was
coming in there. We thought it was a big store. The Europe Hotel was
Forrest: You remember the Columbus being built?
Forrest: How old would you have been?
Gagnon: I was married
and had children.
Forrest: You would have been in your mid twenties. That
would have been in the mid thirties.
Gagnon: It took about two years to
build and then we saw it had Columbus Hotel. Actually it didn't mean
anything too us.. We had never been in the bars.
Forrest: You said you went
to South Fort George school. Was that the only school you went to other
Forrest: You mentioned that the kids called
you names. Were there many native youngsters who went to the school?
Gagnon: A few.
Forrest: Were you all called names?
Gagnon: Yes, but it
didn't mean a thing to us. We knew we weren't dirty as we had clean
clothes on. Sometimes they called us dirty squaws, dirty Indians.
Forrest: Did all the kids do this?
Gagnon: Just a few, like it is today.
To us it didn't mean anything as we didn't understand what a squaw was.
Nobody had told us that we were an Indian. Later on it got so bad that
I asked Grannie what is was all about. There was Archie Baker,
Georginia Baker and myself. She said to pay no attention; let them talk
and say what they want.
Forrest: What were the teachers like with
Gagnon: The teachers were very good but they didn't hear all
Forrest: Was there outside toilets at South Fort George school?
Forrest: What was a school day like? You would start at
Gagnon: I never spoke English when I started school but my
cousins spoke English but not that much. When we got in school, the
teacher knew I couldn't speak English so she showed me the chalk, the
blackboard, the brush and pencils. She would name them. I don't know
how long it took her to get me to fully understand.
Forrest: Do you
remember the names of some of the teachers?
Gagnon: I just remember Miss
Andrews and Miss Andres. When we moved to Shelly she was there. I went
to Shelly for one year. We had a teacher by the name of Miss Ellis. She
died before the term was over. She took sick one day at the school and
a few days later she was rushed to the hospital. The next day she was
dead. She was sitting at her desk. We were passing papers to one
another to correct. She said she had a headache. We were quiet. When
she lifted her head she was crying and said her head was getting worse.
She was boarding at the general store in Shelly. Most of the kids
walked as far as the store with her and the storekeeper took her
upstairs to her sleeping quarters. The next day we had a substitute
teacher by the name of Mrs. Sinclair McLean. She said Miss Ellis wasn't
feeling that good. One morning on our way to school the storekeeper
told us she was dead. I didn't go back to school after Shelly. I don't
Forrest: Did you go to Central Fort George after
Gagnon: I didn't start school until I was seven or
eight. Then I missed a term. That was going on to the fourth year when
Forrest: You quit school in grade 4, but you can read.
Forrest: When you attended South Fort School, we are looking
at the years in the early 1920's in Prince George.
Gagnon: I had to be
older than that.
Forrest: You were born in 1914. In 1920 you would be
six. You would have been going to school in 1924 in South Fort George.
What would the kids wear to school in September?
Gagnon: Dresses and
(..Tape was turned over and part of the conversation is
Elastic around the knees. It was fleece lined.
Would you put them on in the winter?
Gagnon: Yes, they were worn in the
winter, the heavy ones. Grannie used to knit heavy socks for us. Some
of them looked like candy canes, white and red in stripes. That's what
we had to wear and we hated them.
Forrest: Did you take them off in the
Gagnon: No, that was the stockings we wore for the cold
Forrest: Would you take them off when you got into school?
Gagnon: No, they were the stockings we wore for the cold
Forrest: Was it cold in the school room?
Gagnon: No, they had a
Forrest: Why wouldn't you take your woolen bloomers or woolen
Gagnon: That's all we had on. We had no undersocks. It's a
wonder our legs didn't get itchy.
Forrest: How long was a school
Gagnon: We'd get there for nine.
Forrest: Would you take your own
Gagnon: Yes. We would have lunch. It must have started right
after lunch as we didn't have much time to play. The grades one and
twos left at 2:30 but we didn't leave until three.
Forrest: Did they
provide the books or did you buy your own?
Gagnon: The first time I went
they had slates which was provided by the school. It didn't last for
Forrest: Did you have homework?
Gagnon: No, not until later
when we started buying our own scribblers.
Forrest: What about
discipline in the classroom? Did they get after the kids? How did you
have to act?
Gagnon: You couldn't chew gum or talk. You were there
to learn. You couldn't fool around because you would stand in the
with the dunce cap.
Forrest: They actually did that.
Gagnon: Yes. If the
boys still got out of hand, there was a principal in the next room who
gave the strap. They behaved good. They listened to the teachers.
They were afraid of the teachers. They had respect for them.
What about Christmas concerts? Do you remember that?
Gagnon: That was
Forrest: Did you put them on every year?
you in them?
Gagnon: Yes, all the kids were in them. They had
different plays and singing. We used to make our costumes out of crepe
paper. All the parents and grandparents went.
Forrest: You had them
right at the school.
Gagnon: Yes, we had a stage in front. Everybody
would go because it would be full. They had that in Shelly. They had
Christmas concerts in all the country schools right up to my
Forrest: Is there anything else about school that you can
remember that you haven't told me that you think would be
Gagnon: I liked everything about it. The teachers were good.
Forrest: What was the difference now and what you remember from
back with your grandchildren going to school?
Gagnon: There is too many
years difference. Even if you got a strapping from the principal. I'll
tell you the word I don't like with the young children is "I hate".
That's a strong word for me. You can say I don't like this or I don't
like that. Even the little ones are saying "I hate my teacher". This is
what hurts me. Grannie used to tell us that hate and greed can kill
people. Love and sharing are more important. Those two were the main
things that we were taught. Even with the church you shared what you
have. Love one another. I can't remember any priest or nun saying that
you hate this one or you hate that one. Hate was never brought
Forrest: How strong an influence did the Roman Catholic Church, have
on your family?
Gagnon: On my part I have nothing against them. They
never did any harm to me.
Forrest: What influence? Were Grannie Seymour
and your mother all Roman Catholic?
Gagnon: Grannie Seymour was. I don't
know about further back. I have it strong in me. It's a good life to
follow. You don't hurt other people no matter what they do to you. You
Forrest: How much of that is Roman Catholic and how much
your own culture?
Gagnon: About the same.
Forrest: We know that there are
a lot of Roman Catholic people who haven't the same concept as what you
Gagnon: Maybe the younger generation. All they think about
is money. My grandson was here the other day. We were playing Romoli.
only fourteen. He won the sequence. We always put it back. He was just
possessed a few little pieces of silver. He started losing so he took
the money and took off. In the morning he came back, he was rattling.
He said, "Grandma, listen to that sound. I said, "David". He said
that's my life Grandma. I asked him if he went to Sunday School. He
said when he was smaller. I asked him if he ever watched the show they
were showing before Easter, "Thirty Pieces of Silver".
(tape was shut
off and some of the conversation was lost)
Forrest: In my question I
certainly wasn't meaning to say anything against the Roman Catholic
Church. What I was interested in was when you had your native culture
which was such a positive thing and the influence of the Roman Catholic
Church. Did this take you away from your native culture in any
Gagnon: I guess so. Now they are talking about self governing and I
don't think it's really explained to the white people what
self government is. Grannie said that they had their own laws when they
had the potlatches in Fort George. That's the law of the natives. The
priest had put a stop to that. He was going to put them in jail if they
did that. (Father Kokla or Father Morris) They dropped it so that part
is lost to us. I'm getting to understand a little at a time by going to
those workshops. This is what self governing is about. You go by your
Forrest: The priest tried to prevent that.
Gagnon: He did in
Fort George. He put a stop to it. Some of the reserves did it
undercover so the priests wouldn't know. To me it's a good law from
what I'm understanding of it.
Forrest: Basically and culturally and
historically the native people would be directed by your chief. When
the priest came in, did they become stronger than the chief in your
Gagnon: Yes. Even now when I speak to the older people they don't
want to talk about it. They are scared.
Forrest: About the native
Gagnon: No. About the priest. We can't talk about it. I said
they were all dead.
Forrest: You mean the priest frightened them that
Gagnon: Yes. In my time the priest never said anything to us.
There are a lot kicking today as to why they taught us nothing about
white man's way of living. I appreciated that. I thought that was great
because we were living amongst the white people. We weren't all going
to stay on the reserve. I thought this was the best way to help us live
with other people.
Forrest: But. you in some ways have retained some of
your culture whereas some of the native people have not retained their
culture. You still speak your native language where some of the younger
people have lost. How come you have such a positive way of thinking of
things and interpreting this. Would this be the influence of Grannie or
Gagnon: Grannie. We never had time to play, just sliding in the
winter and the fun of our play would be berry picking, getting sap, and
picking roots. It's a fun thing because you were making something out
of what you were doing. You did it with your own hands, something to be
Forrest: Did you do it as a group with your Grannie, mother,
brother and sisters?
Gagnon: Yes, different families.
Forrest: When you
went out berry picking, could you describe what the day would be? Would
you very far?
Gagnon: They make camp where there was a lot of berries.
Forrest: What would the camp be, a tent?
Gagnon: Yes. We would set a
tent close to a lake, river or creek, wherever there was water. They
had these big birch bark baskets. We pick in pails right down to the
little ones. We'd make pails out of milk cans and put wire on it. You'd
see who would fill that little pail first. They would really pick. We
would pick blueberries or any kind of berries. Everybody would pick
until the baskets are full. They would put big leaves on top to cover
them and put that aside until everything is filled.
Forrest: What would
you do with them?
Gagnon: Put them in a canoe or raft and raft them out
of there. You'd get back home where the smokehouses are. They'd make
jam. They don't put sugar in them. They melt tallow and seal it with
Forrest: They would put them in jars?
Gagnon: Yes, they put them in
jars or the old jam cans. They would put a cloth first and then the
tallow on top. It never spoiled.
Forrest: Then what would you do. You
said the other day that your dried the berries.
Gagnon: They have cedar
racks. You would tie it down, cross stitch it with inner bark of alder
while it is fresh,, tie it all the way down on each side. When it
dries, it tightens. You overlap leaves on it. You drain all the juice
from the berries and put it on the leaves.
Forrest: You mean you would
squish the berries or where they had been sitting, you would take the
Gagnon: You boil it into jam stirring it and drain the
juice off. You make it that thick on the sleeve and put it
Forrest: You would cook it first.
Gagnon: Yes. You put it over the
Forrest: I'm sorry. I thought that when you first picked the
berries that you dried the berries as they are. You dry them after they
Gagnon: You'd cook them first. Every morning you would take
some of the juice and rub it on top until a crust is formed, maybe four
or five days.
Forrest: This is dried out in the sun?
Gagnon: No, you have
it in the smokehouse. You have a little fire under it. This is what
dries it. After it's dried, they get birch bark and put it on flat and
roll it up like jelly roll and put away in the cache. They would hang
Forrest: How would you use those berries in cooking? How would you
Gagnon: In the winter they sliced them for pies. you unroll it
and soak it in very little warm water overnight and it's jam for your
pies the next day. All the juice that is left from the day, you would
jar it. This is what we drink from the first kind of berries that comes
out after the sap.
Forrest: Would the juice be a treat?
Forrest: Did you ever make wine from it?
Gagnon: No. Between
sap and berry time, we used to go out and pick a bunch of sarsaparilla
roots and Oregon grape. They would wash the roots and boil them. They
boiled it in big pots with the cover on. They would boil half. They
would jar that. This is what we drank from the time the sap is run
Forrest: Would that be used as a tea, not as a medicine?
instead of drinking a lot of water or juice.
Forrest: When you said
sarsaparilla root, was that the soapberry?
Gagnon: No, the Soapberry was
Forrest: What is the sarsaparilla root?
Gagnon: It grows about
that high and the top of the leaves are kind of brownish. It looks like
Forrest: With the oregon grape, would you use the berries?
Gagnon: No, the roots. You mix the two when they are boiled and we
drink that every morning before we eat or drink water. It has to be
Forrest: Was it good?
Gagnon: Yes, you get used to it. When the
berries come, the rest would be left for the winter months.
Gagnon: Yes, they would keep it in jars. Grannie wouldn't
let us throw the mold away. She would save it for open sores.
Where would she save the mold?
Gagnon: She would put it in baking powder cans. If you had an
infection, she would take a knife and spread it on.
Forrest: Grannie also saved the mold from bread and bannock and that
was used as a salve.
Gagnon: Yes. If you stepped on a rusty nail, she
would wash it out with warm water and put a thin slice of pork on the
sore and wrap our feet. You could feel it drawing. In the morning she
would take it off, wash it and put Jackpine pitch on it. It dry
Forrest: When you went out for several days with your tent, you
would pick berries for a couple of days at a time? You would bring all
the berries back by canoe or raft? You would come down the
Gagnon: Either Nechako or when we were in Shelly we came down the
Forrest: How would you pack them back to your
Gagnon: You land below the house and pack them up the hill.
Forrest: What roots did you use to collect?
Gagnon: When you go to the
bush, you see all different kinds of roots. I don't know the names in
English. Grannie used to show us which root was good and what it was
Forrest: What would it be in your native language?
Gagnon: If I tried
to explain it in English, I would have to show you the plants.
Did you use your soapberries?
Gagnon: We still do. I make jam as you
only need two teaspoons for a big bowl full. You use an egg beater. We
used to do it by hand out in the bush. We were getting some in the
gravel pit along the edge. The young boys were there with their
motorbikes. They couldn't figure out what we were doing. We used to
bunch them out, put a plastic bag over them and shake them.
What else did you put with the soapberries when you made jam?
Gagnon: Just the way it is. You'd wash it good, boil it, squeeze all
from it and jar it. We would take that to the schools. A couple of
tablespoons would fill a big bowl. You would froth it up and put sugar
in it for your own taste.
Forrest: When you make the jam, you don't
froth it up, you just use the berry?
Gagnon: No, just squeeze the juice
Forrest: When you froth it up, what is it used for?
don't know. If you have a bad chest cold, especially babies, you would
feed it to them.
Forrest: With the fresh soapberry or the cooked?
Gagnon: Cooked and fresh.
Forrest: You said you could use the soapberry
Gagnon: Yes. It cleans every little pore. You
wouldn't believe how much dirt there is in your hand.
Forrest: What other
berries would you have picked?
Gagnon: Huckleberries. Around St. Mary's
there were black Huckleberries, Blueberries and low ones that are
dug almost from the ground.
Forrest: Were there any other berries that
you remember as a youngster that aren't growing now?
Strawberries first, then saskatoons and raspberries. As the berries
ripen we save different juice and we drink it as we go along. The
soapberries were a treat like ice cream.
Forrest: That's when you froth
Forrest: Is there anything that you used to pick for
Gagnon: Next month you get sap from the popular.
Last month we went out and hit the birch with an ax. We would put a
little pail under it overnight and it would fill with juice. We used to
Forrest: How is that compared to the maple syrup?
imagine it would turn into syrup.
Forrest: You said popular is coming
up. With the different saps from the different trees, did you save it
the same way as with the Jackpine sap.
Gagnon: No. These are the only two
that we do that with. We would get the jackpine pitch which we saved. I
make salve for infetigo or open sores. I melt it down, mix it half and
half with bear grease, strain it and put it in jars.
Forrest: What about
the willow? Do you use the sap or juice?
Gagnon: You mix the inner bark
of the pussy willow and the inner bark of alder. You boil them and make
it strong. You strain it, put it in clean jars and seal it with lids or
tight screw tops. You keep it in a cool place and drink it lukewarm.
You drink it every morning or before meals. That's for bleeding ulcers.
I could never drink ice cold things while I was growing up because cold
stuff would shock your whole system. It has to be lukewarm. Even on hot
summer days we drink lukewarm water or warm tea.
Forrest: The fact that
you've raised twenty children and you've worked extremely hard, you
look young and are still active. What do you see yourself doing
different than your daughters now?
Gagnon: A lot of different things.
Sewing, knitting, croquet work. I have to be doing something. My hands
have to be going all day. Everything is push button. I pity them if
have to live in the bush which won't be too long from now if things
continue. There will be no vacuum cleaners and this and that.
People could say you lived a hard life and yet you are relaxed,
youthful looking and still so active.
Gagnon: I wouldn't call it a hard
life. Now I call it hard. If I had the freedom I had when I was young,
I could take a sleeping bag and a little tent and go up anywhere in the
hills which you can't do now because it's so deadly. I could set snares
on the hills. There's all my food. I can't do that. I have to be stuck
in here sitting around.
Forrest: The difference is that you had the
Gagnon: Nobody was down your back for anything. You did what you
wanted. You set your traps and no law said you couldn't touch
Forrest: Now a young girl isn't safe walking out on the highway at
eleven o'clock at night. Was there ever any fear of a young girl being
hurt or attacked by men?
Gagnon: I can't remember, maybe once or twice.
If my granddaughter was here with me and said she was going to town,
I'd ask her how. I'm going to hitch hike. I wouldn't allow it. You
don't allow boys or girls out after nine o'clock because something will
happen. They're asking for it. Some of those kids are hanging around
the bars, bingo games.
Forrest: Years ago when you were young, was
freedom even within the city or were you kept at home and
Gagnon: If we were coming into town from Shelly, my mother
would never allow me to come alone. I would have an escort with
Forrest: Would that escort be male or an older female?
doesn't matter whether it was a female or male, somebody older than me.
It could be my brother or my cousins. If I went window shopping, they
were right with me. If I went into a cafe, they went with me.
Did you date when you were a teenager before you married?
Gagnon: I don't
know because we never dated.
Forrest: What about entertainment? You
mentioned the Strand Theatre. Did you go to shows or dances?
had weekly dances one week on the south side in the schoolhouse and the
next week on the reserve.
Forrest: Was that just for native
Gagnon: No, for everyone.
Forrest: Were the white people allowed
on the reserve?
Forrest: Who used to play?
natives and sometimes the white guys. There was guitars, violins,
accordions, whatever. They played any kind of instrument.
you went to a dance, did you take the little kids and everyone
Gagnon: On the reserve it was a house dance. They used it for a dance
hall and there's a bedroom. That's where all the kids are put. The old
people are looking after them.
Forrest: When you had the dances, it
wasn't in a community hall? It was in someone's house.
Gagnon: Yes. In
Shelly on the south side, it was in the school and the children were
left home with the older people.
Forrest: What entertainment was there
in Prince George?
Gagnon: They had dances in different halls.
Any bingo games back then?
Gagnon: No, that would have been a deadly
gamble to them. I don't know when bingo started. It was at the Sacred
Heart Auditorium in the sixties.
Forrest: When did you have the movie
Gagnon: I remember the Strand when it was on George
Forrest: Did you attend any of the movies there?
Gagnon: No. One
time all the parents were in the Chinese restaurant. We were down by
the drug store going to get ice cream cones. We were coming back. We
wondered what was in this great big building. We heard people talking
and singing. We sneaked in through the doorway. There was a stage with
live people. It wasn't a picture show. It wasn't too interesting so we
went back to where they were waiting for us. That's the only time I
remember seeing that. Later on the Strand Theatre was up on Third. We
went to the show once a year and that was the First of July. For ten
cents you could sit through three shows.
Forrest: What do you remember
Gagnon: It was a movie with no sound. You had to read it and
had to be fast to read what they were saying. It was Charlie Chaplin,
Laurel and Hardy.
Forrest: Can you repeat that? Before Moffat and Lyon
Street was in, we used to go up there and pick. It had been a town,
Central Fort George. I remember seeing the big water tank on top of the
hill somewhere around where the bridge crosses. Later on in the years
it burned or they knocked it down. There was board walks for streets.
This was all new growth. When we moved up from Aleza Lake, we were on
Moffat Street in 1959. There was a gravel pit where the bridge crosses
from the Hart Highway. People were talking about shopping centre there.
I wondered how they would put a shopping centre in the bush.
That would be Spruceland that would be developed and out to the new
Nechako bridge. When your children were young, where did you attend
Gagnon: The first church I remember attending was on Twentieth
going down to the park on Queensway. Maybe around Gorse Street. Later
on they built a new Catholic Church, the Sacred Heart, where the new
Cathedral is now on Patricia. The kids and I went to that church. When
I was living in Shelly, my kids went to the Shelly Church on the Hart
Highway side of the river.
Forrest: That one had a lot of destruction at
Gagnon: Somebody asked me what is a first word that a
child comes out with. Some would say mom or dad. I would say no. It
depends on what you teach them. All the little ones I had from the time
they were babies, I had them say a little prayer. I would say it for
them and by the time they were able to talk, they'd almost comes out
Forrest: What would the prayer be?
Gagnon: "Jesus, Mary and
Joseph give you my heart and soul. "As they got older I would add a
little more until they would finish about six lines. The first word my
kids came out with was Jesus as this is what I daily said to them every
morning and every night from the time they were little babies. Today
all I hear is Mom and Dad and that's their first word. It would be more
Mom as Mom is always with them.
Forrest: Can you start the story about
coming down the river on a raft with the meat? Were you on the
Gagnon: A raft is made bigger than the canoe. The canoes go ahead
with men hunting but all the meat and supplies are on the raft. It
floats down the river and we are all on it.
Forrest: Where would you
have been coming from?
Gagnon: Goat River and different rivers. They used
to call one river Big Salmon which is called MacGregor now.When they
to the portage, we get off the raft that is tied to the shore and I
don't know what happens. The next thing we are an the raft again.
Forrest: You must have been quite young?
Gagnon: Yes. The next time we are
in South Fort George and Grannie and my mother are hanging the meat up
to dry. They would have a bunch of salmon drying also.
would be where she lived off Queensway?
Gagnon: My mother and my aunts
were fishing at the time.
Forrest: The men were with you then, your
Gagnon: No, my uncle and the older people. It was older people
Forrest: Do you remember the weather being
different than what it is now?
Gagnon: There was more snow and colder,
lower temperatures maybe forty below, sometimes fifty below. You get
used to the cold when it first starts and by the time the real cold
hits, it doesn't bother you.
Forrest: In closing is there anything that
you would like to see with the pioneer tapes or the History Society do
a study or research?
Gagnon: That would be nice.
Forrest: In what
Gagnon: Especially around the Interior.