A Story Of Pioneers Of Pacific

By Former Resident Garth Griffiths

The Smithers Interior News - Wednesday, August 17, 1977

 

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The community of Pacific in the early thirties.  For me it holds much nostalgia.  I arrived there, off Canadian National eastbound, on September afternoon in 1932 with a small trunk in the baggage car and a three-week-old kitten, "Sparks", in my overcoat pocket.  My first full-time job, to try to teach a handful of children in a one-room school.

My current problem is to stifle the nostalgia and try to stick to the "pioneer" theme.

Three names loom large in my memory:  Nels (pronounced Nelssss) Thompson, his sister Mary Anderson, and Tom McCubbin.Nel's Hall - Winter 1933-34

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nels Thompson lived in a one-room shed, locally known as the "pool hall", which on one side of curtain of blankets offered a pool table and a 24-hour poker game.  Nels slept on the other side of the curtain when the game was slack.  It was a small game by today's measure but in 1932 a two-bit bet was not peanuts.  "Big Carp" Carpenter, the locomotive driver, used to play:  his fireman, Sam Meyer, sometime mayor of Smithers, to my recollection did not.  They both died in the steam when their 2700 class locomotive went through the bridge at Lorne Creek.

From the poker pot Nels took, every so often, what he called "a button", for the house.

For reasons know only to himself, Nels built the community hall, which appears to the be only building left standing in good shape.  There we held our little Christmas concerts, with visitors from Usk and Dorreen.  (Travel was by speeder on the steel.)  Nels was generous as to rental, and meticulously spread powdered wax on the floor before and during dancing.  He was a kindly soul and, I think, the last man out of Pacific.

Ed Anderson, 1933

 

Mary Anderson built and operated the hotel.  It was a ghastly place.  The trains, both ways, stopped for 20 minutes for "car knocking" and hard grease in the big ends, and the only thing the traveler could see of the town was the hotel and the word "....parlour" on its facade.  It had read "Beer Parlour" but Mary had to paint out the "Beer" to comply with the laws of the day.  However, the travel-wise drummers were able to sprint to the "parlour" and get back in the 20 minutes available, with two dozen warm bottles of beer,  There was no refrigeration.

I shall not forget the horror of my school inspector, the late T.W. (Tommy) Hall, when he had to lay over a night at Mary's hotel.  That may be why, in two years, he only visited my little schoolhouse once.

Mary had a big, gangling, good looking son, Ed.  I do not know where he got to.  Probably killed in the war.

 

Thomas H. McCubbin was the recognized factotum of the town.  He came in with the Grand Trunk Pacific around 1913, with his wife Elizabeth, his infant son John Carmichael, his piano and a magnificent grandfather clock which I expect Jack still cherishes.  Later came Tom's mother, "Grannie", whose Scots was so broad as to baffle me for months.

Tom McCubbin saw Pacific, the first divisional point out of Ruperts, as a good foothold in a new land.  He built a store with family quarters attached.  He became postmaster, justice of the peace, mining recorder, chairman of the school board, notary public, and the man who would grubstake a hungry prospector in the hungry thirties.  To the McCubbins came, after Jack, Norma and Beth, named after her mother.  The girls went to school in Terrace and Rupert and Beth graduated as a registered nurse.

In the McCubbin home water came to the kitchen sink, and nowhere else, from a small lift pump; in greater quantities it was lifted outdoors by a larger manual pump.  Pressurized gasoline fired the lighting system in both store and home; sewage disappeared in the depths of a one-holer.  Baths remain a mystery to me.

Things got tough in the early thirties...men riding the freights and seeking a breakfast on Saturday morning; the "relief camp" across the river, where youths could eat and earn a dollar a day, supposedly starting to build a road to Rupert, collapsed under snow load in its first winter.  Designed in Victoria, no doubt.  There went a source of revenue for McCubbin.

I recall the abashed and humble feeling that came over me when Tom took inventory in 1933 and realized he was going broke.  The old "christie stiff" hats and the 20-year-old long johns were still on his books and it was a bleak picture.  No one had much money to spend and the local ingrates would spend what little they had out of Eaton's catalogue.  However, after two or three days of deep brooding, Tom sat down at his beloved piano to hammer out the hymns he loved.  I do not think it was  the religious significance of the hymns so much as the beautiful chords that salved Tom's bruised soul.  He, Elizabeth his wife, and I spent many an evening over the hymn book...and I am not even a Christian.  But we loved the music.

 

 Depression or no, going broke or no, Tom McCubbin believed in paint - 1933Tom kept his place neat and respectable.  Whoever heard of paint in the Skeena Valley in 1933?  "Thos. H. McCubbin, General Merchant", as his sign read, had.  He kept things painted and clean.

It was a one-horse town, Pacific, and Nellie was the horse.  Tom McCubbin's, of course.  She was required to haul the supplies from the way-freight once a week...she was an irritable animal but for Tom she would do anything.  An indication of their community spirit:  in sub-zero weather (the old Fahrenheit scale) and after three feet of snow I would get up, thaw my water bucket and fire up the schoolhouse stove to warm up for the kids.  Lo and look ye!  Here, at 8 a.m., come Tom and Nellie with a snow plough, making a track for the little folk to get to the centre of knowledge.

But the dreams of 1913 faded.  The traffic in fish (east) and grain (west) dwindled, the station burned down and was replaced by a box car on a siding, prospecting was a losing game and mining was zero.  The Thos. H. McCubbin operation faced certain failure.

Tom died at a comparatively early age of an ailment that today's techniques could have dealt with handily.  There passed a fine Scottish gentleman, who dwelt in his own personal Boulevard of Broken Dreams, but maintained his cheer, his warmth, his compassion...perhaps I, as a youth on his first job, was subconsciously overwhelmed by the man and his attitude to life in a most difficult time; more tragic than I could then conceive.  I shall not forget arriving in Pacific for the first time:  the dinner hour approached, Tom's son Jack gave me a diffident welcome, Nellie was there to haul my modest gear to the "teacherage" cum schoolhouse (two tiny rooms behind the school room).  Tom, as chairman of the school board, bid me hello, invited me to dinner and allowed as how there was nothing special to eat tonight because the way-freight would not be in until tomorrow and they ran a little low on fresh meat and such between the weekly freight trains. 

"But" said Thomas H. McCubbin to the new 18-year-old teacher with the kitten in his pocket, "we have bacon and eggs.  It's pretty hard to beat bacon and eggs."

And that is the way I remember him.

Garth Griffiths and 2703