What did you do for fun in the summer?
Oh, well, we had a wonderful time. I know that one year my mother made red shirts for my younger sister and I so she could find us when she wanted to call us for lunch. She used to ring that bell, I think, when it was time to come in for lunch. We’d be just rolling around in the hills having fun. My dad had 200 acres and that’s why he raised sheep, because it was very rocky. It wasn’t pasture land exactly. He did very well selling his sheep. I remember one year a friend of mine, we found some old trees that had been cut down and we cut big slabs of bark and we built a house with these big slabs of bark, just leaning them up against a tree that hadn’t fallen all the way down. That was our house. Silly things like that when you’re a kid. It was wonderful to grow up in the country. It’s just so free.
What were winters like in your house?
Well, I think winters were colder when I was a child because we had quite a bit of snow. I know that one day my husband’s father broke an old barrel down, you know that they’re curved, and made skis for us to walk to school. We had to walk a mile to school. That’s my best memory of winters. I don’t think they ever bothered me. We went to school regularly. It wasn’t deep snow, but we did have more snow. We had a creek but it ran all winter, it didn’t freeze over.
What were your favourite songs and music back then?
Well, I went to Sunday school. We had two ministers that used to look after us. One was Anglican and one was United, so we had alternate Sundays. Growing up, my father had a car so sometimes one minister used to come in by boat and my father would pick him up and take him to the church. In Heriot Bay we had the “church” in school on Sunday, so I think I remember, “Jesus Loves Me” and all those simple little hymns.
When I got a little older I was into cowboy music. It had to be something about cowboys.
What was your best memory of your teenage years?
My teenage years? That’s difficult because when it got to be time for grade eight there wasn’t anybody else going to grade eight. The boys had all left and so my mother arranged to send me to boarding school. So we caught the bus in Campbell River, came down here and got on the train. The train went from Courtenay and the school was in Duncan. So we went to boarding school in Duncan from grade eight till I graduated.
That was an English boarding school which was very different. We didn’t have 12 grades. We had six “forms”. Sixth form was grade 12.
What was Courtenay like when you first got here, compared to now?
Well, this was all bush. Oh yes, we had the great big Riverside Hotel with the big black leather seats. I remember them as a child. It’s where the fountain is now in front of Sid Williams. And the bus would bring us so I really didn’t know too much about the town, but I know the school was where Thrifty’s is now. I guess most of the rest was trees. But we just loved the train ride.
What times did your family find hard when you were younger?
Because we had a farm, in the depression, there were so many people who were out of work. I forget what they paid them, a dollar a day or something to work on the roads, so they just had a little bit of money. Of course, groceries were cheap in those days. But we didn’t suffer at all. We grew everything. All we had to do was buy flour and salt, you know, basics. And as I say, we traded vegetables for fish, and we had our own meat. We didn’t know it was the depression, not as children. We were kids. We were having fun. We were so lucky. I found it hard going to a big city when the war came and we moved to Vancouver. Once in a while I’d take the streetcar downtown and come home with a splitting headache. It was just so foreign to me.
You said the groceries were cheap back then. How much was a penny worth?
A penny was worth a lot of money. We’ve got an envelope there with a four cent stamp on it, “Miss Joy Walker, Penticton, B.C.”, and it got there. Penticton wasn’t a big town, but it wasn’t a small town either. Four cents. That’s what we paid, four cents for a stamp for a letter. Pennies were worth something. There were penny candies. I think an ice cream cone was a nickel. I’ve never got used to the fact that you have to pay so much money for things. The money goes to the middle man, it doesn’t go to the farmer. We didn’t have middle men.
Life was simple in those days. They call it progress, making jobs for people. Trouble is we’re overpopulated. They say there’s too many people on this earth.
What’s easier now?
My father had his own electric light plant. He’d started out with a water wheel. We had this creek and he used to make his electricity with the water wheel. Then an American came along and offered him a million dollars for his trees so he let him log the place, and then the water went down. The water table dropped and there wasn’t enough, so then he had to buy a Delco plant because the house was already wired. But sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t, so we always had lamps. See, I always keep a lamp handy. Old habit. But we did have lights most of the time, and we had indoor plumbing. Our house was built on a slope so the water came in naturally. We were very civilized. Not like at the school where you had the biffies out the back. I guess you people don’t know much about biffies, do you? Everybody has indoor plumbing now.
I don’t even know what a biffy is. What is a biffy?
A hole in a piece of wood and you sit on it in a little house out back.
Is it heated out there, Joy?
You gotta be kidding! The only thing they did was to build the hops over them to take the smell away. And we had Eaton’s catalogue, which was nice and shiny, for wiping yourself. Toilet paper hadn’t been invented as far as we were concerned. That was my introduction to primitive living, the biffy at the school, and the bucket of water. The teacher lived the same way. They built a little house on the back of the school for the teacher, so she had the same conditions as we did. But we learned our ABCs.
Was there a time you were afraid and had to use your courage?
The only scary thing I really remember was when the cows got out – they went way down the Gowlland Harbour road, and I had to go and chase them back – and it was after that fire, so every black stump was a big black bear. But I got them home, and I wasn’t enjoying it, I’ll tell you. I think that’s the scariest thing that ever happened to me.
What about the forest fire?
That’s important. That was really the real tragedy. This forest fire started over by Seymour Narrows which is a good piece of island. It burned out all the neighbours. Several people I know lost their houses. There weren’t that many people living on Quadra Island, but it got to our place and we had these open fields, you see. There was a cannery at the cove, and they trucked the Chinamen over from the cannery and they helped to fight the fire and it didn’t go past our place. It ended right there. But my sister Kate sat on the roof with a split sack for the sparks that landed on the roof. And we were put to bed on the porch so that somebody could rescue us if the house caught fire. I was only five. That’s a long time ago. I got up in the morning and toddled out to the kitchen. There was a Chinaman cooking bacon and eggs. I didn’t know where I was. It wasn’t my house. I’d slept all through it. But really our farm stopped the fire. It was wonderful.
It was pretty scary for the family I guess at that time. Forest fires were dangerous in those days. I know in ’38 there was one. It didn’t bother us on Quadra, because there was a strong north wind that blew it so they kept the lights on in Courtenay, and they had ashes falling on Courtenay and yet the fire was north of Campbell River. It burned down to Headquarters. It was getting close. My brother and his pal had been over panning for gold on the west coast and they decided to walk home. Well, they got as far as the fire and they had to go to work, helping fight the fire. We were enjoying hot sunny weather and the north wind. People in England phoned to say “are you all right?”