By Brian Thompson
It was August, 1942 in Saskatchewan, the weather was hot and dry, the wind blew constantly from the west and the sun was often shaded by dust storms or grasshopper that were aloft. The war was raging in Europe, coupons were required for most of the staples we needed to buy, and everything us kids could accumulate from silver paper to bones was collected and sent off to help the war effort. Such are the early memories of an 11 -year-old farm boy from the dust bowl region in southern Saskatchewan.
Little did I realize at that time, that a move that summer from my birthplace in Saskatchewan to Kamloops, B.C. would be such a memorable experience. When I look back at that event, I marvel at the fact that we actually made it. A family of nine people. Mom and Dad (Mamie and Fred), children Earl (16), Stan (13), Brian (11), Tom (10), Matt. (8), Lillian (6), and Allan (4).
Please allow me to give you some background of life on a Canadian prairie farm during the ‘Great Depression’. Life was not easy during this period of time, and every farmer in our area felt that far away pastures had to be a lot greener.
In 1925, my father homesteaded a quarter section of land near Vanguard, Saskatchewan and planned to become a prairie grain farmer. He married, built a three roomed house on his farm and started raising a family.
My mother gave birth to eight children while we lived in that house. Life was not overly comfortable; we were very crowded but happy as a family unit.
My parents had a strong belief in God, a faith that was continually exercised during those depression years. We often laughed and wept together. I am happy to say that a value system was developed for us kids that has lasted to this present day.
We had the onset of almost every communicable disease that was available. These, combined with extremely cold temperatures and winter blizzards made life at times precarious. All of us children missed a lot of school every winter because of sickness. We were often isolated for weeks at a time, as a result of the weather. Medical help and basic food supplies were sometimes hard to come by, since we were 14 miles by horse and cutter to the nearest doctor and grocery store. One of my sisters died as an infant, a victim of that harsh environment. An older brother (Stan), contacted rheumatic fever when he was nine years old and succumbed to that disease many years later.
My dad says that times were good until the depression hit in 1930, the year I was born. In the part of the province where we lived, there were crop failures year after year that lasted the decade of the thirties. This was a result of drought, grasshoppers, army worms and hail. During those trying years, my dad found it very difficult to make a living for his family. Towards the end of the depression he was forced to apply to the government for ‘relief’. This assistance provided the basic needs for our family, and lasted until the war broke out, when a demand for farm products suddenly developed.
The war put an end to the depression; the drought also came to an end, but the memories of the ‘Dirty Thirties’ and the harsh winters remained. Thus the scene was set to make a move to a more hospitable environment.
My dad made a trip to B.C. earlier that summer and found a dairy farm he could rent. The property was located on the North Thompson River at Chinook Cove, 50 miles north of Kamloops. This farm was in full production, and had lots of potential. It consisted of 320 acres of valley bottom farm land, 24 milk cows, some farm machinery with an elementary school close by. Just right for a family of seven rambunctious children.
With fresh memories of the depression all around them, my parents decided to abandon their homestead in Saskatchewan and move ‘lock, stock and barrel’ to B.C. where there was a promise of a much better future.
What excitement, we were moving to B.C. Imagination ran wild with this 11 year old boy. Dad said the North Thompson River ran along one side of the farm and we could fish, there were also lots of trees, hills we could toboggan on in the winter and that game could be hunted in the bush.
The crop was good in 1942 and Dad’s decision to move to B.C. in August did pose some problems. ON the prairies, neighbours are neighbours and dad soon arranged for the crop to be harvested and stored until he could either haul it to B.C. or sell it.
The only transportation we had was a 1927 dodge car, a sturdy old vehicle, but not designed to haul nine people for a long distance. Being resourceful, my Dad built a platform on the back, which extended beyond the spare tire at least two feet. He also framed in the running boards with lumber. Into these storage areas our mom somehow loaded our bedding, food, dishes, extra clothing and whatever else we might need to make a 900 plus mile journey to Kamloops, B.C. I’ll never forget it; there we were, four of us in the front seat and five in the back. These were the days before seat belts.
Money was very scarce and gas rationing was in effect. We prayed that we wouldn’t have any breakdowns, blowouts or accidents. Our prayers were answered. Dad planned to minimize our stay in motels and set out to overnight as much as we could with family along the way.
Our first night of the trip we stayed with mom’s sister’s family (aunt Erie and uncle Case) near Cyprus Hills. The next day we set out for Calgary. The weather was hot and dry. The Trans Canada was not paved and very dusty. We pounded over the corduroy road and arrived in Calgary next. My dad had two widowed sisters that owned a house in north east Calgary. We dubbed it the ‘Aunt Hill’. We stayed there for a few days and I recall my first view of the Rocky Mountains. What an unimaginable sight for a prairie boy.
Early one morning we left Calgary and headed west. The closer we came to the mountains, the taller they got and there was even snow up there in the middle of August. We stopped at Lake Louise to look for a motel. The scenery was out of our world and so was the price of $10 a night. We proceeded west and stopped at the Great Divide. A sign was there pointing out that at that spot, the stream divided and some of the water flows east and ends up in the Arctic Ocean, while some water flows west and journeys to the Pacific Ocean.
We traveled on until we reached the small community of Field and spent the night there in a cabin. The next morning I noticed buckets ascending and descending from holes in the mountain’s rock face. They were mining minerals for the war effort. Those holes are still be be seen.
The next day was a long hard drive and full of new sights. There were gorges, canyons, rock slides and fast moving rivers. I saw trees that were so big I couldn’t begin to put my arms around them.
The Big Bend highway (200 miles) from Golden to Revelstoke had just been completed. They were still working on portions of the road. I recall seeing horses pulling scrapers full of dirt being handled by Japanese people. We were told not to try to talk to them since they were enemy aliens and they had to be interned in the interior of B.C.
We arrived in Revelstoke just as dark was setting in and stayed in a log cabin. The owner of the motel brought us a branch with lots of blackberries on it. The first time we had ever seen fruit like that.
We drove on to Kamloops the next day and stayed in the West End Motel near the bridge to North Kamloops. I remember seeing a sign at the east end of town as we drove in that read “population 5000”.
A day or so later, one o my brothers, Matt, and I walked to Dalgleigh’s department store and purchased a fish hook and some line for a nickel. We could see fish from the bridge, so I found a long willow pole and tried fishing. Lunch time came so I tied the pole to the bridge railing and went to lunch. When I returned, all that was left was the string.
On August 24, we took up residence at the farm at Chinook Cove. On the property we had a log house and log barn. We didn’t have electricity or running water, but we did have a whole new way of life with unlimited potential.
“…I am Yahwey your God, who teaches you to profit, who leads you by the way that you should go.” Isaiah 48:17
The move was very significant spiritually. The First Baptist Church in Kamloops had a mission outreach at Chinook Cove led by Edna Hausfeld. The years under her leadership established spiritual values for the Thompson family that have lasted to the present day.
*Article submission courtesy of Tom Thompson, Louis Creek, B.C.