Wednesday, 30 December 2015

My seventies show. Christina Lake, part 1

Warning. I am writing this for my own pleasure, not for publication. I never took many pictures back then. Much of what I did take was destroyed by moisture and mice in the attic of the old house. This will be the verbal equivalent of filling an album with snapshots. I will shamelessly indulge in as much detail as I remember, which may be boring. Links can provide illustrations.

Here goes.

After a nine months prequel in Calgary our true Canadian life started when Chris got a geology job in Grand Forks, B.C. They were investigating if the historic copper mine of Phoenix still had some life left in it. 

He started in January 1970. As mentioned in the very first post in this blog, I got dragged away from the city under protest. The move to the Kootenays is one of the best things to ever happen to me. I am leery of all this goal setting stuff, let alone New Age manifesting. The best things in my life happened in spite of my plans, not because of them. 

The first view of Grand Forks had been in the late December dusk, on our way back from the trip to Vancouver where the job search had taken us. There had not been much snow yet. Everything looked grey and dingey. I did not look forward to the permanent move. That all changed the first weekend I took the bus out from Calgary. Chris had found a house to rent in the community of Christina Lake, 22km to the East. A good snow had made everything look spic and span. I loved it! In early April the courses I was taking at the University of Calgary were finished and I drove the fifties' VW Bug through the Crow's Nest Pass to my new life as a country dweller. I have been one ever since.
1970 was a wonderful summer. We lived mainly in sunshine, surrounded by natural beauty among sweet smelling ponderosa pines. I made some stabs at starting an M.A. thesis but had a clean conscience about not working for pay. Hey, we were in the sticks because of his job, O.K.? We had no money worries and enjoyed exploring the surroundings on weekends. On week days I could just walk to the beach in front of the old hotel, a few blocks from home. It was so quiet back then! I used to get seriously irritated by the sound of a single motor boat, hard to imagine in these days of the infernal jet ski. 
This picture  must have been taken in that summer. The VW bug died on a trip over the Santa Rosa road on my birthday.

Our neighbours at the base of Fife road happened to be Dutch. Of course we  became friends. Jos and Coby came from a small town/rural background. Jos was a carpenter by trade and was building his own house. It is now a stuccoed two story mansion, unrecognizable.  At the time they were living in the downstairs, a big square box with tar paper and raw plywood still visible on the outside. There was no yard yet. The outside was a level sea of gravel, with the exception of raised bed vegetable plots bordered by logs. Koby was a Maker. Apart from having produced two beautiful small children she sewed her own clothes, grew food, canned it and made wine. These days young women doing the same activities make a big fuss and write blogs about it. Coby was 13 years  younger than Jos, petite and lovely. My favorite memory picture of her is this. We are hanging out with a smoke in a summer evening on the logs that bordered the square vegetable patch in the front yard. The kids are in bed and Coby is wearing her lounge for the evening outfit: a sleeveless, bell bottomed wine red jumpsuit with a square neckline that she had sown herself. It beautifully set off her delicate creamy skin. She was years ahead of her time in staying out of the sun.

All these DIY activities were new to me. With their encouragement I hacked away at the neglected garden plot under the trees in our yard. I started too late, had no good soil and too much shade but by golly I produced a few meals worth of snap beans! I was hooked. This was the start of a lifelong passion. I still think of Jos and Coby every time I order my seeds from William Dam, a firm they introduced me to because "they sell kale seeds". This was long before kale, a traditional Dutch and Scottish winter food, gained cult status among hipsters. 

We got our first whiff of the back to the land counterculture that spring. 
On April 26, on the way back from a Saturday trip to Nelson, we were surprised by a late snowstorm. I made a mental weather note about the date. When we spied two guys with backpacks  on the long slope leading out of Castlegar to the Paulson pass it was a natural thing to pick them up and put them up for the night. We fed them brown rice, stir fried vegs and juicy steaks. They were most impressed by the rice and veg part, saying it was just like being home in the commune. They invited us to visit the PX ranch, so we could see how they lived. 

Silly straight people that we were, we took them at their word and used the May long weekend to travel 5 or 6 hours to the PX ranch near Ashcroft. Our two guys were not there, but after some awkwardness we were invited to stay for a meal and overnight anyway. Did we bring a tent? All I remember for sure is a communal dinner that included the inevitable brown rice and dandelion sprouts that some girls were very excited about. They had walked behind the guys roto tilling a garden plot and "gleaned" them. Their word. It seemed a bit over the top. At some point a girl wearing the countercultural uniform of long hair, long skirts, plaid shirt  and sturdy boots arrived to ecstatic welcoming hugs. She and her backpack had hitchhiked solo from somewhere far away, California? Later, a visit in a dimly lit smaller cabin talking with draft dodgers and deserters from the Vietnam war. In some ways these people were more our intellectual kin than anyone else we had met so far. Anti Vietnam war, aware of the dangers of pollution and so on. 

All through the sixties I had become increasingly concerned with the direction the world was taking. The Dutch geology crowd we met in our first months in Calgary was a lot more conservative. I was about to meet the people who would indirectly change my life, but it will wait till the next post.


  1. I love this post - thank you. And the pictures I have made in my mind are glorious. So don't feel bad about not having taken any to share with us now, especially since you've described everything so well. Besides, it was unusual then for us all to be taking a lot of photos. And, yes, these days those doing similar things often make too much of themselves for doing it. You're right in, back then, we all just did things like this with no real fuss. I remember embroidering on my then man's jeans, making my own mushroom and floral designs, etc. wherever his jeans were fraying. It was both practical and cool looking. These days, alas, I've forgotten almost all the things I did back then, such as gardening a properly producing veg garden, cultivating tempeh and making my own bread from cultivated yeast. Canning was taught to me early on by my gran, who'd also tried in vain to teach me how to knit and crochet. My mother had also taught me to sew, but I can't sew a stitch these days, either. Nor do I own a sewing machine. In some ways, the easiness of living life in such modern times has made the majority of us lazy with domestic skills.
    Thanks for the lovely write and stirring up some personal memories as well, Iene!

  2. Thanks Shers, for leaving a comment here as well as on Facebook. If you had those old skills would be there.

  3. Most interesting. I like the story and the word pictures...:) As to my book review and your comment I must say our last visit to Vancouver Island B.C. saw much ado about "clear cutting" on the Island. It truly was ugly.

  4. Thanks, this is just the beginning. Yes, the clear cuts on Van Isle were terrible. Better now, but it looks like the war in the woods is starting all over again.


Comments have been set to anyone, un-moderated, and no captcha. So if you were here, wave to me? Spammers will be deleted and acquire bad karma to boot.