Where did you travel in your childhood years?

Mom always said Dad had gypsy blood! And so it must have been, for travel has been part of my existence from the very start. Like the gypsies, our travel was generally low-cost, involved the whole family, often extended, and no doubt caused some uppity folks to sniff with disdain at our lack of civilized style!

I suppose my travels began in-utero. Christmas 1954 we traveled south for the holidays from the Misty Isles via sea-plane, water taxi, CP Air, and car; a couple months later featured a trip to Port Clements via fish boat; and at the beginning of June 1955 my mom again left the Islands to give birth to me in her home-town of Summerland. I don’t actually know how we traveled, though I suspect it would have been either plane or steamer. In my imagination, steamer seems more romantic, and could account for my lifetime love of the sea! At any rate, at three weeks of age, I was on the road again, riding ensconced in princess-style dignity in a cardboard box on the back seat of the car, from Summerland to Vancouver. And a couple weeks later, we were heading back to the Queen Charlotte Islands by plane. Mom and dad sat in the front seat immediately behind the pilot’s cabin, and I was locked in place in a flight crib; a seaplane flight from Aliford Bay completed the trip.

We did not own a car, but we took many walks out along Tow Hill Road to North Beach and also to Haida village (Old Massett), with me happily riding along in my buggy, which also served as my bed for my daily afternoon nap on the porch in all kinds of weather! A special treat was a trip to Tow Hill in a rented car for a picnic on the beach.

The following summer we again flew south, where we spent the summer driving here and there… Vancouver, Summerland, Grand Forks, Salmon Arm, Kamloops, New Westminster, Victoria… where we camped in style in a tarp-tent swung on a rope between two trees, and a curtain hung down the middle to provide two bedrooms, since we of course brought along a friend! Then on to the States,to Anacortes, Everett, Seattle, Mount Rainier, Kelso-Longview, Oregon City, Mt. Hood, and Yakima, camping in a new unbrella tent at the foot of Blewitt Pass. Then up to Summerland, back down to the Conconnully Camp Meeting, back to the Okanagan, on to the Coast, and back to the Islands by air. This would prove to be the first of many, many gypsy summers to come!

We moved from the Misty Isles at the beginning of July 1957, with my new brother, Stewart, along for the ride. This time we travelled by steamer. Mom and dad had reserved a first-class cabin; however, due to a reservation mix-up by the company’s Vancouver office, only second-class cabins were available… it seemed like we were going to be traveling gypsy style as usual! But since the company had made the error, they decided to give us the Bridal Suite at the original first-class rate. And so mom and dad had a second honeymoon – with two babies in tow, and of course no disposable diapers back then, so the lines of diapers strung across the fancy cabin made it look gypsy-style anyway! Since we occupied the Bridal Suite, we sat at the captain’s table in the dining room, where I was enthroned on a special high-chair, and my jar of baby food would be taken into the kitchen by the steward, who would empty it into a crystal dish and return it to me so I could be served in proper style. However, my low-class roots won out, as in the middle of one meal, as we crossed Queen Charlotte Sound which is open sea, I up-chucked without warning, which caused most of the passengers at surrounding tables to leave their unfinished meals and depart the dining hall!

And so our gypsy-travel lifestyle carried on. We moved to Revelstoke for 3 years, and then on to Rutland. Living on the mainland, we had our car available, and with dad being a teacher, we were “on the road” for nearly every holiday… Easter/spring break, May long weekend, summer holidays, thanksgiving, Remembrance Day, and of course Christmas and New Years. With our car and trusty tent, we travelled all over BC and the American Pacific Northwest. Needless to say, with all that traveling, we went through vehicles and tents. 1958 brought a new Vauxhall, and 1963 a Chevy II station wagon to accommodate our growing family, as Graham had arrived in 1961.

The summer of 1962 saw us take a trip to Salt Lake City and Yellowstone Park. This is the first of our travels that I clearly remember. Most of our travels included extra family or friends, and this was no exception. Our babysitter, Ruth Penninga, came along, supposedly to babysit, but as I recall, she got to do a lot more sight-seeing than mom did! Anyway, we really travelled in “style” on that trip. Dad had built a wood “camp kitchen” which fit into the trunk of the car and held the camp-stove, pots and pans, cutlery, and food. The sleeping bags were stashed on the floor of the back seat to make a play area for us kids. Of course no one had seat-belts back then, so we could roll about and play, or stretch out for a nap. All the rest of the luggage was heaped high on a home-made car-top, which was topped off with a step-ladder. Going up in the world, dad had sold our old umbrella tent and bought a fancy new 9 x 12 foot cabin tent. “Fancy” back then meant it was a cavernous canvas rectangle! Again, a sheet hung down the middle provided some privacy. It was a pretty exciting trip, because for once we did some truly “touristy” things, some of which we actually had to pay for! We toured the Grand Coulee Dam, travelled through the mountains, camping at chilly heights of close to 5000 feet, and finally arriving in Salt Lake City. It was very exciting to “swim” in Great Salt Lake. The heavy salt content of the water meant it was impossible to sink – or even to really swim, for that matter; even standing up was tricky. The salt blew into our eyes and stung them, and when we left the water the desert wind instantly dried us so we were caked white with salt!

Then we drove into Salt Lake City and pitched our tent at a campground under the trees right next to a creek. What a lovely, cool spot in the hot summer weather! We then visited the Utah State Building. That night there was a thunderstorm, and we woke the next morning to find the back half of the tent floating. We had to move it to higher ground and prop it up to dry. We then went on a tour of Temple Square, the headquarters of the Mormons, and even took a tour of the Mormon Tabernacle. The tour guide told us to be very quiet, and then another worker 200 feet away brushed his sleeve with his hand, and then dropped a pin — and we could hear both very clearly! I can still remember that so clearly. We also heard an organ recital; the acoustics were so incredible, and the music was absolutely beautiful. Dad also allowed us to buy some souvenirs. I got a small candy plate with a picture of the Mormon Temple on it, and a postcard with a small bag of salt from the Great Salt Lake. Dad suddenly realized how much money we were spending, and whisked us out of there before we could do any more damage. I still have the postcard, but I seem to have lost the plate a few years ago.

Then we went on through Idaho and into Wyoming, where us kids were intrigued to have a look at Fort Jackson which had been recreated to look like the Wild West days. We would have liked to take a stagecoach ride or see some of the other touristy sites, but apparently we’d blown the budget already! We camped in the Grand Teton National Park. The high peaks were amazing, jagged and snow topped. Even at my young age I was totally amazed by their beauty. The alpine flowers were also incredible. We picked a huge bunch which we arranged in a bouquet in a beautiful gypsy-style quart jar! Then we found out that picking them is illegal, so we had to ditch them, but we took a picture of them sitting on the hood of the car in all their glory! Then we went on to Yellowstone Park, camping at Old Faithful campsite, where we stayed for a week. It was amazing to see the geysers spraying their steaming hot water high into the air; and the “paint pot” holes full of boiling, bubbling mud that looked just like huge pots of bubbling porridge; the hot-spring “basins” full of incredible multi-colored terraces created from minerals brought to the surface from deep in the earth by the steaming water; the obsidian cliff of shiny, sharp-edged black stone; and of course the bears which were everywhere, including in the campgrounds. They were constantly looking for food, and woke us up in the middle of the night, opening the cooler of the people camping next to us

Dad had heard that you could scare them away by banging pot lids together, and this led to an amusing incident. It was my 7th birthday, and we were celebrating with a hot-dog roast at the campsite. Dad was in the tent, and mom and I were standing roasting marshmallows at the fire. Her’s went on fire, so she pulled it away from the flames, but it flew off her stick and stuck to my leg. I started jumping around and screaming, and dad was sure I was being attacked by bears. He came running out of the tent, banging pot lids together and yelling at the top of his very loud voice! I think it was the first time I was kind of embarrassed by my Dad! That’s a birthday I’ll never forget. It was also memorable because earlier in the day we stopped at a gas station, and I told the attendant it was my birthday — and he gave me a couple chocolate bars, which of course have always been my favorite food, but was something that in my childhood was a rare and special treat! Another place we visited which I remember is the Lewis and Clark Caverns with their beautiful stalactites and stalagmites, which left me quite awe-struck. I suppose Dad had to pay for that tour!

A couple times on that trip, dad drove till late at night, and we ended up sleeping on the ground under the stars, which was quite exciting. During the trip, the car starter stopped starting on a rather regular basis, and when we took the Kootenay Lake ferry on the way home, again it malfunctioned, and the crew of the ferry had to push us off the ferry to get us on the way again. Also on the way home, we stopped to visit the Glass House, which was made of thousands of bottles: it was very impressive to a 7 year old girl! The one other thing I remember about that trip was eating homemade stew every supper for the entire three weeks! Eating out on our travels was almost never an option; though on that trip we did eat out at a restaurant the first morning of the trip, having “silver dollar” pancakes, which impressed us kids mightily!

The following summer, we went with Auntie Nornie, Uncle Lyle, and their kids to go camping in Yoho National Park. We had our new station wagon, so we were really stylish, and we also didn’t need to pile things quite so high on the top of the car! We stopped at the Enchanted Forest near Revelstoke, and us kids were thrilled to see all the little fairy tale characters scattered about in the woods. Then we went on over Roger’s Pass to the Yoho campsite. We spent time at Moraine Lake and Banff seeing the scenery, as the Enchanted Forest had used up our “tourist” budget.

The following summer holds a special memory for me; it was my first year at CYC camp at Pine Grove Free Methodist Camp in Winfield. I am sure we had attended family camps in earlier years, both at Conconnully and at Pine Grove. But this was my first camp without mom and dad sharing my cabin; I felt very grown up!

Also, that summer of 1964, we traveled down to Caldwell, Idaho, to visit the Barnes’ cousins who had moved there that year. The thing I chiefly remember from that trip (there would be a number of other trips down there in following years) was their lawn-irrigation system. Once a week, they would open a tap in the ground at the back of their property and water would come bubbling out and spread over the lawn, which sloped slightly downward, with a couple of terrace-type drop-offs, until it reached the front sidewalk, which was elevated at least a couple feet above the front lawn level, making a lovely wading pool! All the yards were designed in this way. We had hours of fun rolling and splashing on the lawn! Also on that trip, we went over to Portland and visited the zoo, where we got to do our once-a-summer touristy thing, and ride a train that was one-third normal size. We also got to ride around Uncle Orville’s Hidden Well Ranch on a hay trailer pulled by their tractor, which was a lot of fun!

The summer of 1965, when I turned 10, was quite a departure from our usual gypsy-style travels. Mom wanted to go to Victoria, and dad got an idea of how we could have a “real” holiday. So off we went. We stayed in the “Crown and Anchor Motel” in Saanich, which was probably the cheapest motel in the area! I remember it was tiny and dark and smelled musty. There was a rather decrepit swing set on a dried-out bit of scruffy grass, and there was a murky, slimy little creek in a small ravine behind the motel. Nevertheless, we felt quite grand: we were actually staying in a motel! During the day, Dad would drive into Victoria and mark government exams. Then in the late afternoons and evenings, we’d drive around and spend all his hard-earned money on touristy things (not including restaurants, however, as I recall!). We went to Butchart Gardens, Beacon Hill Park, the Undersea Gardens, Fort Rodd, Ann Hathaway’s Cottage, the Parliament Buildings… what an adventure!

We swam at Thetis Lake, and went up to Duncan to visit mom’s cousins, Woody and Vi, and their son, Byron. He was a very pale and weak boy; and he passed away not long after. It was my first close experience of spending time with a child who was dying, and was rather sobering; he reminded me of some of Robert Louis Stevenson’s poems, like “The Land of Counterpane.” Later we went up-island as far as Courtenay, and took a ferry to Texada Island to see the tiny community of Gillies Bay where Dad had spent his first year of teaching. Our Wright grandparents came with us on that part of the trip; we often travelled with one set of grandparents or the other on our travels. All it all it was quite a wonderful trip, and I have many vivid memories of it. Oddly enough, I don’t remember clueing in at all that my mom was already quite pregnant with my little sister, Marilyn, who arrived that fall!

Of course, all these memories can be easily verified, as over the years of his gypsy travels, dad always carried his trusty camera, and has left us with over 18,000 slides (plus mom’s many snapshots) of our gypsy adventures!

Written: Mar 28, 2008

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