It was the summer of 1973. My father, looking for adventure, decided we would leave Alberta. He borrowed his oldest son’s truck and canopy.
With an eight-by-19-foot travel trailer in tow, we set out for B.C.
Divorced for many years, Dad had six children to deal with. Both my sister Morgan and brother Doug were working in Alberta. In the cab of the truck we packed in like sardines, all four of us girls.
I was 16 and miserable leaving my friends in Sundre. Sister Colleen was 13 going on 30, and sisters Tracy and Lisa (twins) were seven and yappy. Our dad Charles, nicknamed Doc, was a very patient man.
Brenda Beaton’s (nee Flaherty) sisters Colleen, Lisa, and Tracy and their dad Charles “Doc” Flaherty.
Camping along the way, we stopped for a couple days at Canim Lake. Back on Highway 97, rain poured down as we came along to Williams Lake. Raindrops dancing on the water, lush green hills, a mist over the lake, it just took a hold of me. I will never forget the feeling of peace at that moment.
Motoring onto Quesnel, we visited with Dad’s brother Norman. He was the editor of the town’s newspaper. We set up our little trailer at Ten Mile Lake. Dad had initially wanted to live in Prince Rupert. Norman told him about the open-pit mine a McLeese Lake. My father was a road builder from the time he left the Navy after the war.
He could do anything with heavy equipment. We took a drive to Gibraltar Mines. He went into the office, and 30 minutes later came out with a job. After the last few years in Alberta, making $325 a month, this new job was three to four times more money and it felt like we hit the mother lode.
We moved to Freemans Trailer Park and set up our piddly little home, three miles from the hamlet.
Jean and Frank Grimards owned the Oasis Restaurant, a motel, and cabins on the shore. They took an interest in our family, as did the Goyettes’ at their store, along with the rest of the community.
Not too many people would see such a devoted father. One of the first treasures we found was Jean’s butter tart, oh so good!
We had a ritual at the cafe a couple of times a week to savour the flavour, and get the local news.
My brothers arrived from Alberta, securing work at the mine and staying at the camp. Colleen and I had a lucrative business. We were the resident babysitters for all the families with children in the park.
Autumn was showing her colours, so Dad traded the trailers for a brand-new, 25-foot travel trailer, and we built a porch next to it. We were warm and happy, most of the time, when we girls weren’t at each other’s throats.
The twins went to school in McLeese Lake and we took the bus to Williams Lake.
In late spring, when Dad had weekends off, we took drives around the Cariboo.
We fished at Polley, Dugan, and Tyee lakes in Morgan’s new 16-foot canoe fitted with pontoons and a small motor for trolling. We got stuck trying to get in and out at Jacksons’ Hole. It was the best of times.
Summer, yahoo! I graduated and got a job at the mine. It was a family affair. I was a warehouse parts person, first of three girls hired for labour. At the time, Williams Lake had only steel-toed boots for men. I had to buy the smallest size, a snoot boot. My nickname was Boots, of Five Foot Two. The best part of my job was the money, $4.50 an hour, overtime, and the eye candy all around me!
I blushed easily when the men came to the counter wanting a part. Giving me a bogus order, I’d write out the request — 100 feet of shoreline. When I looked up at him, he burst out laughing and then I got it.
All the rented cabins at the Oasis were brimming with good lookin’ men.
My brothers rented one, and we practically lived there. We hitched a ride on their days off, and we stayed till dark. It was so much fun, lots of sun, swimming, and fishing at the creek.
Love was in the air for my brothers with their girlfriends, and for my first boyfriend.
Doug bought a speed boat. Water skiing for whomever wanted to do it. They mounted a toilet on the float. Sitting on the can holding the ropes, and hollering “hit it!” off they went with a porcelain smile. We talked Dad into buying yet another, bigger trailer. A 12-by-48 replaced the other, one foot at a time.
I married my boyfriend, Al Beaton, a miner from Ontario. Dad had to sign for me because I was still 17 years old. We put our brand new 12-by-60 furnished trailer in the park, 100 feet from my family.
The décor, deluxe harvest gold, brown, and orange. Yikes! (I had a dress in the same colours, and if I stood in front of the curtains I was almost invisible, with only my face and my legs showing).
Two years later, all of my family went back to Alberta. Al and I moved to Williams Lake and bought our house. We reared our two sons, born with severe disabilities, with love. Thirty years into marriage Al learned he had cancer. He fought the battle but it took his life. Seven years later I remain here with my sons in their group home, four doors from mine.
I love it here. The Cariboo is a way of life. The scenery is amazing, but it’s the good, hard-working people, great friendships, people on the street who are quick to smile, and those who take the time to help each other. That’s what makes us strong.