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Short Story - Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve in Pemberton Meadows, 1934



In 1934, when I was a boy of five years, my mother and sister, 10, lived in a single room in Vancouver's West End area. Things were very rough for a fatherless family living in the city during the depression years, so that summer mother accepted a position as housekeeper for a farmer who was managing the small estate of an absentee Dutch Count, named Van Recteren. The estate was in Pemberton Meadows, a few miles north of Alta Lake, B.C., and the now famous area of Whistler.

Life in this beautiful valley was quite cut off from the rest of the world, except for a twice-weekly stop by the Pacific Great Eastern railway. There was no road to Pemberton at that time and we had no electricity or running water. Only three radios existed in the valley and they rarely worked because of the high mountains.

Cows, chickens, pigs, a horse and a prize bull were there with us and in the cold winter months they shared our survival experience. They were just as important to us as we were to them, and because of this closeness (and because we were kids) my sister and I had names for each one of our "critters".

For a young boy, familiar only with big city ways, each day was a new adventure, from morning until night.

December 24 th of that year is recalled herewith:

The winter of 1934 saw the heaviest single snowfall that anyone could remember. It measured six feet eight inches. Heavy rain soon compressed it down to four feet, but it froze so hard that it left a crust on top of the snow surface so hard and thick you could drive a horse over it. Mr. Dunn and the hired man, Luke, decided to take advantage of this situation to bolster up our dwindling firewood supply. They hitched our horse up to the freight bobsled. Luke backed me up in persuading my mother to let me go along, and after much further persuasion we managed to get the horse to walk across the frozen snow and take us to the forested area at the back of the estate, about one-eighth of a mile. I remember laughing most of the way because it seemed so funny to ride over top of the fences.

The men felled and bucked several smaller size trees into log lengths. By the time they were loaded onto the sled and cinched down, both men were puffing and warm. I was cold however, so they lit a large open bonfire with some of the branches to get me warmed up. The smell of the green fir smoke was new to me and unforgettable.