CONTRIBUTION · 1st April 2012
I was born September 16, 1899. I was nine when I first came to Usk. My stepfather was a Scotsman. He pre-empted the whole town site here in Usk.
There were more people living in Usk than in Terrace. There was a hotel, a couple of stores, a pool room and everything going on all the time. There was a dance hall on the top of the store and I use to play the banjo at the dances. Oh! We had lots of fun.
Just after I went to Usk, some guy from Prince Rupert came along picking up boys from the Nass River, Skeena River, and all along the way, to take them to the industrial school at Prince Rupert.
There was over a hundred boys in the school when I got there. They took me down 1914 and I stayed for 5 or 6 years. I left when I felt I couldn't learn anymore.
All the Indians use to go down to the canneries in the spring by canoe before the river boats ran. We were going up and down the Skeena quite often: that is how we traveled - there were no roads. When the steamboats came, it cost 15 dollars from Port Essington to Kitsumkalum landing.
I use to ride the boat to school. They carried alot of passengers - fisherman and cannery workers. In the fall, we'd ride back with all our freight and our two-ton canoes, back to Hazelton for the winter.
I remember one fall my grandmother and I were on the North-West Boat; it was really crowded. The river in the fall was cold and low, so we had to be careful for sandbars.
But we hit a sandbar right in the middle of the river and there we stayed. They tried to pull her off with cables. They used our canoes to take passengers and their belongings off.
That old boat broke up in the middle of the night. We had to stay on the river bank for a couple of days before another boat came for us. I'll never forget that time!
My grandmother had gold and silver earrings and armbands and some money. When she got into the canoe I saw her throw something overboard. She thought she might sink if the boat tipped over, so she'd thrown out everything except the paper money.
We had a great camp that night. We managed to get some whiskey on shore. All the men were 'working hard, helping to unload the boat—their payment was the whiskey,We had a big bonfire and the kids were running around. How well I member that good time!
When the railroad was built to Prince Rupert, the steamboats were done. We then travelled by train. The freight train carried a passenger two or three times a week.
We'd go to Port Essington for our groceries but we had to store up for later. After the steamboat days, there was a store down in Kitselas Canyon where would get some of our supplies from them. We'd grow lots of potatoes and wheat. We'd grind our own cracked wheat to make cereal; that was our breakfast. That's probably why people were husky in the early days.
We grew chickens, sheep and pigs. Oh, we lived high in them days, the only thing we had to buy was tobacco, sugar and flour.
We'd hunt goats up in the mountains—lots of them up there then. We'd go up for a day and get a couple of goats. Then we'd drag them down and can them. There was lots of game, grouse, and rabbits. I used a four-ten shotgun. There were seven or eight of us in the family, so I would have get four grouse to make a mulligan for a meal. By golly, I'd just tear ; skin off them, clean them, put them in a pot with potatoes, carrots, turnips and we'd have supper.
Ammunition wasn't expensive then, we got fifty shotgun shells for a dollar. We didn't have a license to go hunting. The river was always full fish; anyone who wanted to fish, just stuck out a net; no fish patrol man came around.
Now you've got the damn river full of Fishery officers itching some poor guy trying to get a fish. I need to go back to the olden-days!
When the railway came, we had a lot of American prospectors come up live in the mountains. They built tar-paper houses. My old step-dad had a couple of horses. I'd look after them and the prospectors hired us to pack groceries up the mountain. We made good money.
A lot of strangers came and went all the time. Some families stayed on and their kids grew up here , others only stayed for a few months.
I was a young fellow and worked steadily in the sawmills around here or fished down the coast. About 1918 I worked in the shipyards in Prince Rupert. Lster I became a Milwright and Sawyer. I fixed my own saw and hammer in the sawmill. Lot's of little portable sawmills ran with gas engines.
The mill owners were always hunting for guys who could fix up the mills. I lined them up and got them going. I'd straighten up the carriage saws and get them running at the right speed and stiffness.
I made money fishing in gill nets, too. I caught a lot of fish and cleared about two thousand dollars in two months. I'd come back to Usk in winter to work in the sawmill. There were about-seventy families here, from the prairies, the east, Vancouver Island and the States.
They came with their families. There were so many kids that they built a big school up the hill. They had two school teachers with twenty kids in each room. My mother was the janitor at the school in 1932.
In 1936 I was up the river doing some prospecting and gold panning and I watched the sun eclipse. That was something to see! After that I started predicting the change in the weather caused by the eclipse.
On May 24th we had a dance in the hall. There was thunder and lightning all around: it was raining and the Skeena River was coming up right behind the store. We had to leave and go up to high ground. Our house was on the highest ground and we had four feet of water inside.
The river traveled eight feet over the railway tracks and the hotel was under water. I saw where the planets were in the Farmer's Almanac and I could predict the weather. Some of the Indians said they were going to shoot me for being a kind of magician—telling them what the weather would be. The old timers in Kitimat were quite mad at me.
Anyway the Chief talked on the radio and he told everyone, "Leave George alone, he's not making the weather, he's telling you what's going to happen by reading the stars—he knows what's going to happen ahead of us." After that there was no more talk about getting rid of me!
Now there are only American boys here in Usk, mostly draft-dodgers. Most of them built their own houses. They made jobs for themselves and I never seen any dope fiends. Some did smoke but they quit. It cost too much. I bought a wee package there, why it cost twenty-five dollars and * had to give it away—I couldn't smoke it!
I've got a nice little place here and I don't pay rent. Only have to pay hydro and my phone and I get the Old Age Pension. I had to stop working when I was sixty-five; the Compensation Board said it was too dangerous ln the sawmills.
Kitselas George, George Kitselas' father, died in 1907 and his mother Richard Lowrie. His mother was a native of Kitwanga.
Such a wonderful Story
From a compilation of stories collected by Judy Dimmer, Marylin Crombie and Neil Weber in 1978 at the behest of the Chamber of Commerce. The collection was later "heavily edited" by Evva L. Weber into a small book printed by Totem Press titled "The Way We Were" Skeena Valley Pioneer Memories
Comment by Angaye'e on 11th April 2012
Thank you, Cynthia, for sending me this treasure. Just what I needed to uplift me as I work in a place where we are continuing to make meaningful changes for our people. George's account of some of his life's experiences has inspired me to keep on keeping on.
The good old days, where respect was earned, not taken!
Comment by James Seymour on 3rd April 2012
I can remember talking with George as I was a little guy living in Usk, around 4 or 5 years old, in the days where a child could walk anywhere with no worries in the world. Every day I would do my daily rounds visiting the elders that lived in Usk. George's place was the #1 place I would visit, he would direct me to get some cookies and milk, he said "you know where they are". He would tell me stories that would make your nose hairs curl, man we have it easy now compared to earlier times. Manhood was earned and not given. If he was able to see what is happening in our region, he would say everyone has gone crazy, not respecting the people, land and all.
Miss you George, you must be talkin up a storm with my grandpa, your best friend in U S of K.
Comment by Helene on 1st April 2012
Elizabeth, George's mother, later married Richard G. Lowrie, the founder of Usk.
Comment by davey maclennan on 1st April 2012
what a great wee story, very interesting
Comment by Trish on 1st April 2012
Thank you for sharing this. I love to read about local history, the people, and the places. Sometimes we all need a break from current affairs... in fact things did seem much simpler then didn't they?
What a lovely read.
Comment by MaggieJo Johnson on 1st April 2012
What a lovely story. Thank you for sharing this.
Human tendancy is to share about the "good ol' days". Perhaps we can recognize that we, in the present are also in the very midst of living and creating our own "good ol' day" story for future sharing. Let's make it a good one. Live, laugh, work hard... and love.