Mom’s autobiography of her Summerland years

In 2001, my dad, Bill Wright, who loved to record family history, decided it was time for my Mom, Marjorie (Mott) Wright to record her memories. Dad’s stories were always very “factual,” and we tended to think them dull, yet we’ve come to appreciate them, looking back. But we loved to hear mom tell her stories any time, because they included her feelings about things, lots of humour, and also included many community and family details of the kind Dad didn’t consider historically important! Mom was an oral story-teller, and didn’t want to write down her memories, but Dad finally made her sit down and dictate some of the stories for him to type up. I’m pretty sure he “edited” them to some degree, because they have his “proper tone” combined with her story-telling ability!

The story begins with her earliest memories in Edmonton, and then in Kaleden and Penticton, but we will begin with the family’s move to Summerland.

In March 1931, we moved to Summerland and rented the little house directly below the big house–the Lipsett House. Dad’s aunt and her husband, Judge and Mrs. Kelly, needed an orchardist, so Dad worked for them for several years. Meanwhile, Emily was 6 years old and I was five. Emily was ready to begin school but, that year, Summerland was short of students for Grade 1, with the result that although I would not be six years old until the following February, I joined Emily in grade 1, and we went through school together.

Judge Kelly sold us the little house just up the road from the Lipsett house and, either while Em and I were in Grade 1 or 2, we moved there. This was to be our home until March 1938. It was while we were living here that Preston was born–22 February 1935. Because Judge Kelly’s wife was Dad’s aunt, we were sometimes invited to their place for lunch. However, if the meal was in the middle of the day and Dad would be working for them, we would eat at the table; but Dad, in from the Judge’s orchard, would have to eat his lunch in the basement as the hired man. Each Christmas, we would take turns hosting the Christmas dinner–they would host our family one Christmas–dinner and cooks! We would have them the following Christmas–along with a couple of old bachelors who were far below the Judge’s social standing and would never be invited to his house for dinner. I can remember having 17 guests around our dining table–except that we smaller ones ate at a little table.

Meanwhile, Mom had made the mortgage payments to Judge Kelly but he would never give her a receipt. Although Mom had kept an accurate record of the payments and knew the debt was paid off, the Judge claimed that we were behind in our payments, and he foreclosed on us–his near relatives. He had become a millionaire by foreclosing on people all over Summerland and thus came to own most of the town.

Meanwhile, Dad’s Uncle Daniel had retired and he wanted Dad and Dad’s brother George to take over and share his farm in Glen Ewen, Sask., near the U.S. border. The foreclosure on our home and having to move out was Dad’s excuse to move us to Glen Ewen. So, about the 18th of March 1938, we left Summerland. I had just turned 12 years old and was in grade 7. Dad and Preston travelled by train, while Mom and us three girls travelled by car with the Bergen family–a Mennonite family who owned a large farm at Swan River, Manitoba.

The seven years we lived in Summerland before moving to Saskatchewan bring back many memories. Miss Banks, who lived just down the hill from our Lipsett home of later years, was my Grade 1 teacher. Miss Dale was my Grade 3 teacher, and Stella Wilson my Grade 4 teacher. In those days, we attended the Baptist Church, where both Miss Dale and Miss Wilson were my Sunday School teachers. These three ladies remained my friends throughout their lives. Miss Wilson also taught me piano lessons and my biggest thrill was to go to her place every Friday evening for a lesson and to sleep over with her.

Other memories of those days include reciting. Em and I belonged to the Loyal Temperance Union; and the WCTU, under the direction of Auntie Kelly, put on reciting contests, one of which I won. We found great pleasure at the beach of Okanagan Lake and of rides on the “S.S. Pentona” to Kelowna and to Penticton. And of course, the pleasure of having friends and relatives visiting us.

Our stay in Glen Ewen lasted one year…. We left Glen Ewen by train, and travelled via the C.P.R. to Sicamous and down to Kelowna, and from the via bus to Summerland, arriving there on March 11, 1939. Word had gotten around that we were coming, and there was quite a crowd of friends to meet us. As a token of our return to “Heaven,” for years after, my Dad made a point of planting peas on March 11–even though one year it meant shovelling snow aside in order to do the planting.

We moved into a house on the edge of a clay cliff overlooking Okanagan Lake. We lived there for four years. Dad worked for a couple of years for a vegetable gardener, and almost died of pneumonia during that time. Later, he obtained employment at the Dominion Experimental Station. To get to work, he rode his bicycle down to a [the paragraph cuts off here, and then kind of restarts on the next page…]

We moved into a big house on the edge of a clay cliff overlooking Okanagan Lake, on Squally Point, north of the CPR wharf–electricity, running water, and a big upstairs which made it possible for us to rent rooms to girls who worked during the fruit season, and even to keep a handsome boarder during the winter months–poor Mom’s extra contributions–and extra friends for us all! In the warm months we slept on a big sleeping porch–which would accommodate any amount of extras who happened by. And yes, we drank goat’s milk again. There was a big garden–flowers and vegetables (huge squash and pumpkins that broke off and rolled down the 250 foot cliff–amazing how many people stopped their cars on the highway below to take them home for supper.

The view we had of Okanagan Lake–especially at night when the moon rose up over the mountains and painted a shining path three and a half miles long over the lake, and on nights when the winds blew up a cheerful greeting, it seemed a waste of time to go to sleep. Oh yes, we had big window seats in the bedrooms, too. Our closest neighbors were Mr. and Mrs. Moffat who were like grandparents to us–and they had a phone!

We lived there for the four years that we were in high school–and we enjoyed riding the school bus during those years. Those were the years of the war, which took so many of our boys overseas. Although the times were hard for our parents, we found out what it was like to pray and depend on God to hear and answer. The hardest winter was when Dad had pneumonia, and Mom nursed him through a whole month of serious days and nights when we didn’t know if he would make it. If we hadn’t had many friends holding him and Mom up in prayer, our lives would have been very different. Today, we would send him to the hospital, but it seems that Dr. Andrew felt Mother could nurse him better at home. What a strong person she was! Afterwards, Dad wasn’t able to work, and we had to pay $10 a month rent, or else! As I remember, “It just came in”–just in time!

Finally, Dr. Andrew suggested that Dad get on the “municipal work crew” until he felt able to do harder work. Poor Dad … he did get on the crew, but he just couldn’t stand to “loaf,” and felt some of the mean thought he was trying to “show them up.” About that time, he was able to dig ditches for laying a water line in our area. For some time, he managed to find other work till he was able to obtain employment at the Experimental Station–flowers in summer and in the office during winter. To get to work, he rode his bicycle down to a friend’s place in Trout Creek.

Emily and I graduated from High School in 1943, and that fall, we moved to the “Blasted Hole.” The site of this house had been blasted out of the side of Giant’s Head, which accounts for its name. Because the route from the Blasted Hole to the Experimental Farm was basically level, Dad would now ride his bicycle along Giant’s Head Road and then push it across the Trout Creek Railway Bridge to the Farm. One advantage of Dad’s working at the Farm was that he was able to obtain Jersey milk for the family; and he had to carry it home on his bicycle. It was wonderful–we had cream on everything!

A new family, the Moores, had moved into Summerland just before we left for the prairies. They had a daughter who was a grade behind me in school, and I can’t remember even knowing her name before we left for the prairies–except that I remember that, at first, she was called “Green Pants.” Being from Alberta, she wore a green snowsuit. We were not allowed to wear pants at school. However, as soon as we moved into the house above the lake, she and her mother came to welcome us home, and out of this, we became the best of friends–Rhodena Moore–more commonly known as Dena (now Dena Nesbitt). The years went by, and Em and I graduated from High School. We worked full-time in orchards, packing houses, and pitting plants to earn money. In the spring of 1944, Em left to begin nurses’ training at the Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster, B.C., because she had won the CKOV (Kelowna) Scholarship which helped her finances. That gave me time to earn enough for my intended three-year nurse’s course. Dena graduated in 1944, and in February 1945, she and I went off together to take our nurse’s training, also at the Royal Columbian Hospital.

While we lived in the house above the lake, in the early spring, it was fun to fish off the wharf for suckers, so that the local boys could have exciting fish fights — an entertaining evening if our homework was done. In the summer we would go swimming off the old C.P.R. Dock. This necessitated walking along a road and then sliding down the steep hillside. Of course, the cooling off that we received in the lake was offset as we would crawl back up the slope on the way home. Friends would often gather at our place and, in the late-peach season, the boys would throw peaches from the edge of the cliff, trying to land them in the lake.

In the winter, we skated on the edge of the lake at the foot of our bank (about 200 to 300 feet down) where, with a few of our friends, we played mock-hockey, often on very poor ice. Sometimes we went down the steep bank with our skates on, to act as “brakes.” Pretty hard on the blades! But a help to get back up, also. (We used old boys’ skates which friends had abandoned).

We sometimes had quite a few evenings of skating, depending on the weather. After walking a couple of miles to town, we skated on Charlie Wharton’s outdoor rink to which he devoted himself every winter. The rink was at the foot of the cliff on the edge of what is now City Park. Skating there was always exciting as the ice was really good, the rules of Mr. Wharton kept us all in line, and what fun to skate to music–either Radio CKOV (Kelowna) or records. As I remember, we could get hot cocoa sometimes, if we had a dime or so. Once we had to get Dad to come with us to verify that Emily was a high school student and so was I. Mr. Wharton didn’t think I was old enough to pay a high school ticket, while he was sure than Em was an adult! Tough on me! As we grew older, we could sometimes skate till closing time–which could include the 10 o’clock news and then “O Canada” for which we had to stand still. And then walk home again. We didn’t go very often, of course, but that just made it more special. One time, Dad and our minister, Mr. Stewart, skated with us!

The house above the lake was built on unstable clay cliffs and people often worried that our cliff might slip and our house would slide down. In fact, while we lived in that house, a part of the cliff did fall away and half of a neighbour’s house split away and went down with the slide. The neighbors came to live with us for a while. Our property included an old hay barn, close to the edge of the cliff, and the hayloft was a favourite place of ours to play and also to have Laura practice her violin lessons when she was small–poor child! Sometime after we had moved out of our house, it was condemned and torn down.

Shortly after Em and I graduated from High School, we moved to the “Blasted Hole.” As explained earlier, my time in that house was spent in earning money to pay for a course in nurse’s training. Em and I worked in a cherry-pitting plant.

Of course, one of the greatest blessings of our high school years was having Rev. C.P. Stewart, with Mrs. Stewart and family as our Church family. Also the Church District Quarterly Meetings were great times of encouragement, and the opportunities to meet and get to know other people up and down the Valley, and to be encouraged spiritually. The Summerland meetings tended to be the best attended, and I think of the extra work all our mothers had as we billeted and fed all who came from far and near.

Meanwhile, my Uncle George and Aunt Carrie had bought the Lipsett House and they, with Sylvia and Wanda, lived in Summerland for a year. They then decided to return to the prairies, and sold the house to us shortly after I left for my nurse’s training, and it was to this house that I came home on my first break in training. This became the family home for many years–the place where we brought our boyfriends home, where we were married, and where we brought our children as the years went by. Because Dr. and Mrs. Lipsett had been our neighbours and surrogate grandparents from the time we moved to Summerland in 1931, living in their home (build in 1907) was home to us!

Meanwhile, the Second World War had started in September 1939, and the young men flocked to join the forces. Boy-girl relationships had been mainly in church youth activities–hikes, etc. With the war on, the school young men would head to Vancouver to join one of the armed forces, and then return to Summerland to complete their schooling. Once they were in the forces, they would return on leave and we would have get-togethers. Soon, however, there was a shortage of men of our age, as they were all gone to war. I had fun with various boys but never anything of a romantic nature. By the time I graduated from high school, I had decided that I was in no hurry to get married. During the summer after my graduation, a young Air Force man, from a family whose parents were friends of Mother and Dad back in Alberta, came to visit. We went for a bike ride down along the lake and he climbed up on the clay cliff and carved his initials and mine–HW and MM. Several years later–1954–when I was engaged to Bill, I showed him the initials. He climbed up and carved in the top and bottom of the H to make it a B, and the initials BW and MM are there to this day–2001.

[Then follows details of nurse’s training and life at the coast. Mom ended up with ill health during Nurse’s training–overwork and lack of sufficient food–and she had to go home. The story continues after she returned home…]

As I regained my health, I worked at various jobs to earn enough money to attend a Business School in Penticton. Because of my health, it was felt that I was still not well enough to handle a regular job, so when the opportunity came up in 1947 to operate, on a crop-share basis, a small orchard just down the hill from our Lipsett House, I took the job. My Dad offered to help me, but I think he did most of the work.

I began my Business School course in September 1947 and continued the course until the Spring of 1948. During the week, I lived with a widowed friend in Penticton, going home to Summerland on weekends. Because Summerland was a small place, I helped Dad and Mom around home until a secretarial position became available at the Packing House by the lake. [A story about a trip to the prairies follows].

I began work in the office at the Packing Plant about August of ’48 and remained at that job for almost three years. In 1949, my Grandmother Mott in North Dakota was dying. I was able to get time off from my job to accompany my Dad down there. It was the first time ever that Grandma was in a hospital and she was unaccustomed to nurses, so I nursed her in the hospital for a few days until she settled in.

In the Fall of 1949, Em wrote home to tell us that she was coming home in three weeks to be married to Cecil Holden, or we could go to Vancouver for a small family wedding. Of course, we told them to come home, and we got very busy preparing the house and plans for food, etc. The Hope-Princeton Highway had just been opened, so they were able to come home over that new road. On the afternoon of November 12, as guests began to arrive, so did the neighbors! As I remember, Mrs. MacDonald brought pans of cookies ready for the over, the Aunties Banks brought other things, as did Mrs. Famchon, and they took charge of the kitchen while we went on with the wedding. They made sure the phone was off the hook during the ceremony, that Skippy [the dog] didn’t make any noise, and that the turkey and the food for the reception was taken care of, etc. Of course, they owned up that they wanted to be in on the excitement.

The house was banked in flowers. Dad had beautiful large chrysanthemums and all the beautiful autumn flowers he could save. The fireplace was decorated with ribbons, and the minister, Rev. C.P. Stewart and the Groom and Best Man waiting in front of it, while Laura played the wedding march. I was Emily’s bridesmaid–so excited that I descended the stairs two at a time, but managed to slow down so Emily and Dad weren’t left behind. The traditional wedding ceremony was followed by Preston’s solo, “O Perfect Love,” followed by congratulations and pictures. The guests that we managed to include were all relatives and special old friends, and our neighbours a special part of it, so Emily and Cecil didn’t have the tiny wedding they prescribed! It was good that we had a house that could accommodate everybody! Laura and I decided we wanted our weddings to be the same. Of course, Dad argued that since he and Mom had attended so many weddings, one of us had to have a big church wedding! Guess who!

During this time, a branch of Youth for Christ was formed in Summerland and I became one of the group sponsors. Also during this time, I taught a boys’ Sunday School class. Preston was one of the boys. The group extended to include hikes and other activities. We even earned and pooled money to buy a small set of hymn books for the church. My efforts must have been appreciated by the boys for, when I left to move to the Coast, they gradually dropped out of Sunday School but always turned up when they heard I was home on holidays.

I remember one winter when the lake froze over. One noon-hour, a couple of the Packing House employees and I planned to skate across the lake at noon-hour, but the lake turned out to be too wide and the wind too strong, so after reaching mid-lake, we had to return to the Packing House. In the summer, a dip in the lake was always welcome after a day in the office. There were always a number of young people swimming off the wharf, and they would form a circle facing out and holding their towels in front of them while, I standing at the center of the circle, would change to my bathing suit. I never had any worry about any of them peeking.

In the spring of 1951, I quit my job. I thought I would like to work in a summer children’s camp and, hearing of a forthcoming camp, I wrote inquiring about being a counsellor. The next thing I knew, a South African couple visited Mom and Dad. They ran a Summer Children’s Camp at Crescent Beach near White Rock and needed counsellors, so they had come to check on me. [details of the camp follow].

What next was the question? Laura had graduated from High School, had gone to Normal School (teacher-training) and was teaching; and she advocated my attending Normal School. She obtained from the Vancouver Normal School a registration form which she filled out; even though the registration date was past. However, I signed the form and was accepted as a student-teacher. [Then follows details of the Normal School year, and rather amusing details of the young man who was smitten by her, and did all he could to interest her. Then her year of teaching at the high school in Ladner, still trying to discourage that young man. But his determination started to wear her down. Another year of teaching school in Ladner; in November that year …
“he gave me my engagement ring. On the Monday, my homeroom students spotted the ring on my finger, and word spread through the school like wildfire–“Miss Mott is engaged!” … I, of course, went home for Christmas, while Bill stayed [at the coast] to have Christmas with his folks. However, the next day he drove up to Summerland to spend the rest of the holiday with me. When we arrived, I wasn’t there to welcome him. I had gone skating on a little lake up on Cartwright Mountain, but my Dad took him up there to find em.” …
Then the rest of that school year and…

…the end of June I resigned from my teaching position because of my forthcoming marriage…. We applied to several districts and were offered joint teaching positions on the Queen Charlotte Islands… [then summer school in Victoria]…

Then I went home to Summerland where I was feted at two more showers–one by the church and the other by neighbors [on the lawn of the Famchons]. I had given Bill orders not to show up until the day before the wedding–and order which he reluctantly obeyed.

[Norma’s notes: The details of the Summerland wedding are found in another “family story” written by my dad… I guess I’ll have to dig that out one of these days. Mom and Dad were married in the Summerland Free Methodist Church, then moved to their new teaching position on the Queen Charlotte Islands, now known as Haida Gwaii. The following July, Mom was staying with Grandpa and Grandma Mott in Summerland while Dad was taking Summer School in Victoria as he worked toward his teaching degree. I (Norma) was born at Summerland Hospital, across Solly Road from my grandparents’ house, on July 24, 1955–it will be sixty years ago this Friday, as I type out my mom’s memories!)

Memories dictated by Marjorie (Mott) Wright to Bill Wright in 2001.
Typed and posted on July 21, 2015 by Norma J. (Wright) Hill.

2 thoughts on “Mom’s autobiography of her Summerland years

  1. Wow! How could she remember all those details! So enjoyed reading about one of my fav relative’s life.

  2. Mom always had an amazing memory for events going back to her earliest childhood. The details she wrote down about living near Edmonton until she was three years old are quite amazing. Once we went to Magnolia, and found their little old house (long deserted). We climbed through a window and looked around. Mom could remember where every piece of furniture had been, and told us all kinds of stories of different things that happened there. Even when she got quite deep into dementia, as long as she could carry on a conversation she could tell us–and sometimes seemed to really be re-living–tales of her childhood years.

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