Legends of Myself 129

Posted on January 17, 2020

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129. The Boneyard, 1965. Fishing the Skeena

For five days a week, you were basically as busy as you wanted to be in the Boneyard, and sometimes that was busy and sometimes that wasn’t busy at all. However, after fishing season began, the two days a week that the river was open for fishing were intense and relentless, especially for my father. He took naps between sets when he could manage it, but otherwise fished the entire 48 hours.

Mostly I didn’t go out in the skiff with him. My duties were onshore, primarily cooking, and, because the cook knows best what supplies they need, I was put in charge of all the shopping in the household related to the kitchen. I shopped either at the company store in Cassiar, whenever we happened to hitch a boat ride over there, or, sometimes, at the Co-op Store in Rupert those occasions when we went into town.

I didn’t begin as much of a cook, and I don’t expect that by the end of the summer I was much of a cook, either. But I learned how to plan meals and I became permanently comfortable in the kitchen. I was over the long term able to do my bachelorhood much better fed than my peers. Most of my life, in fact, but starting in the Boneyard, I have been chief cook in whatever household I happened to be.

Our rivals on our fishing ground, the shallow waters of the Boneyard, all used similarly-sized vessels, even if they had outboard motors and we didn’t. There were perhaps 5 or 6 different vessels fishing there altogether, including ours, and, oddly, for such a small community (which included only my father and myself and some of the residents of Haysport) I didn’t really know them all.

Haysport was nothing more than a flag-stop waiting room by the railway tracks, with a boardwalk parallel to those tracks leading from the store to the wharf. The store was right opposite the train waiting room, and it was run by Ed Bolton, the father of my Aunt Irene, who was wife to my Uncle Gus. He himself didn’t fish the Boneyard.

A little further down the boardwalk was a small cabin where Archie lived. I remember that when I departed the Boneyard and Haysport in 1961, that cabin was nothing more than a frame constructed out of clean, fresh 2 by 4s, without even the walls added in yet. Back then, I remember wondering about it. By the time we returned in 1965, Archie was living there, as firmly a part of the place as if he’d been there forever. He was White, with a small frame and white hair, in his 60s I would guess.

Archie’s little cabin and Ed Bolton’s store exhausted all the residences along Haysport’s frontage boardwalk. There were two other boardwalks leading back from that one which became progressively more rotten and weathered the further back you went, and they led to old houses, some of which may or may not have been occupied. I never went back there often enough to find out, and the lack of an actual village centre aside from the store meant that there wasn’t much to lure any residents out to look around town. So it was possible to live in the Boneyard and still not know everybody in Haysport.

The one other household I remember consisted of a White man, perhaps in his middle-to-late 30s, and his Indigenous wife, who lived in a house off the second of the branch boardwalks. I remember his home as less mildewed and buried in the swamp than the others I just mentioned. My father and I visited one day and the man was boasting about his self-winding clock. It worked on a battery, and sure enough, every 8 minutes you’d hear a sproing as the clock rewound itself. On another occasion my father and I went over to fetch a couple of kittens they said we could take. They were living under his house, and were half feral when we collected them, but they soon became members of our household in the Boneyard, Ebony, who was black and fluffy and relatively stand-offish, and Speckles, black and white and affectionate, always searching for attention and strokes.

Which exhausts what I personally knew about the miniature community of Haysport.

Slowly, as the summer progressed, our financial situation improved. We began by being entirely dependent on the company store in Cassiar, but eventually we had cash we could spend elsewhere. That meant sheath knives on our belts, gum boots for walking after a wet day, hip boots for tackling the mud flats, rain gear, kitchenware, additional lamps, a percolator for coffee, and the ability to occasionally walk over to Tyee and take a bus into town. Shopping, a room, a bath, perhaps a movie, and the next afternoon, the train trip back to Haysport.

It was a smaller, more comfortable world that my father and I lived in then. If you were out on the tracks when it passed, you waved at the train as it went by, even as an adult. Sometimes they waved back. And after awhile, they knew exactly who you were, and, coming back from Rupert with a particularly big load of supplies, why, they could stop the train for you at the Boneyard (instead of a mile further and a mile out of your way at Haysport), and you could stand there feeling privileged and important beside the tracks as the train pulls away, and as the other passengers look out the windows to see why the train had been stopped in the middle of nowhere.

One of the supplies we brought back from Prince Rupert was a mickey of brandy for the medicine cabinet. I suppose one time I had a cold and my father did feed me some brandy in my tea, but science now tells us that it wasn’t a good medicine for that purpose. Better was the potent devil’s club he one time boiled up so as to use its steam as a decongestant.

Rumour of the mickey, however, had reached Haysport, as we found out one day when a worn-and-wan and hungover Archie came over and needed a dose of hair-of-the-dog. That might have been the only time that anyone from Haysport ever actually came over to see us. We had been visited one time when we were gone, though, and Dad was dead sure that had been Archie, too. We went to Prince Rupert for one of our trips, and when we came back Dad’s bottle of aftershave was gone. That visit, too, was in the name of hair-of-the-dog, Dad figured, and I think he was right.

One of the other purchases we made with our growing prosperity was a rifle, a thirty aught six. I can’t say that we ever shot anything with it. I remember walking along the railway tracks, my Dad carrying the rifle, when we encountered three deer, a doe and a couple of fawns, walking along the tracks ahead of us. That doe kept on looking anxiously back at us, but they didn’t bolt. We all just kept on walking down the tracks in company with each other until she and they got to where they climbed a hill and left us.

They were in no danger at all. You don’t kill a doe or her fawns, even if you happen to be that way inclined. Even if you can.