Readers have wondered about the community I was part of in my early days living in Masset and Old Massett on Haida Gwaii. A few years ago, I wrote this story about my life in that community. This story was in response to the question, on the site, “Was there a community that welcomed you in your earliest years?” This is my response:

Yes! I was most blessed in that way! I came from a family that put very high value on family and friends, so I was welcomed in a big way. I was born mid-summer, during school holidays. Mom was staying with my grandparents in Summerland BC, while Dad was attending summer school at the University of Victoria; he joined Mom as soon as he heard his first child had arrived. I was welcomed by grandparents, aunts and uncles, great aunts and uncles, and family friends from as far away as Winnipeg, and Washington State – who’d arrived for the wedding of my aunt and uncle a few days after my birth. It was also at this time that, a few days old, I attended my first Peach Festival parade. Then we were off to Vancouver, me traveling in a cardboard box in the back seat of the car, to meet more grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins.

Then we flew back to Sandspit; I was tucked into a “flight crib” at the front of the plane. We went to Alliford Bay by bus, and then to Masset by seaplane. Special friends in Masset included: Don MacRae, teacher; Mr and Mrs Pruden (he was the Indian Agent, and their daughter Gabrielle liked to play with me); Shady and Ruby Lane (he was in the Navy, and they lived for a short time in the other half of our house); Uncle Doug Archibald (the new Indian Agent, who moved into the other half of our house, and after whom my brother Graham Douglas got his second name. According to dad’s autobiography, “The wall between the two apartments was thin, and when Uncle Doug would hear Norma crying, he would whip into our apartment, take Norma, and start crooning to her in Gaelic — she would be asleep in minutes”). We took many walks with Uncle Doug and Uncle Don McRae (in those days, close family friends were “uncle” or “auntie”) out along Tow Hill Road to North Beach.

We also often went for walks with the Hunter family: “Pop” (Dave), Ginny, and their children. We also often visited Auntie Mavis Kellar, the Red Cross Nurse in Old Massett, and a Christian. Usually we visited on Sunday afternoon, and in the evening would go with her to the service in the village church, where the lay-reader who led the evening service was Peter Hill, a wonderful Christian man. (Who would have thought that many years later I would meet and marry his grandson, Lionel, and we would name our son, Peter, after Chinni Pete!).

When my mom resigned from teaching, she was replaced by Mrs. Mallory. Mr. and Mrs. Bob Mallory (he was the Fisheries Officer), had a daughter, Rosemary, who also loved to spend time playing with me. Another close friend was Howard Phillips, who was on the school board, and who, many years later, loved to have me bring Taryn over to his house to visit. The Masset Community Hall has been named after him. Another family who were friends were the Simpsons, and their daughter Faith was one of my dad’s first graduating students. When I lived in Masset after I grew up, Faith was a teacher at the Elementary School, and eventually I taught one of her grandchildren at the high school. Another family was Mr and Mrs Fred Steele; Mrs. Steele was the primary teacher at the school. I also had lots of friends among the school students, as for a time my mom was the only substitute, and she would take me to school with her and I would sit in my buggy at the back of the class.

Mom and Dad also hosted a boy’s club and a girl’s club at our house. Another friend, my age, was Sandra Hill, the daughter of the Red Cross Hospital housekeeper; she was one hour older than me! Another couple who were good friends of my parents were Meiri and Tom Earl, who were in the military; Meiri and my mom went to the hospital in Skidegate Landing at the same time to have babies. Another friend, Mrs. Blanche Shields, would sometimes babysit me; she had two sons, Allan and Ken, and Ken would later be the coach of the University of Victoria Basketball Team that took the Canadian College Championship quite a few years in a row in the 1980s. Another close friend of my mom’s was Jean Crist and her family.

We also had a number of friends in Old Massett, such as Florence and Robert Davidson, and we were invited to their homes for meals. My parents also became friends with Nora Bellis, who sometimes babysat me, and we have 5 argellite poles carved by her father, Captain Brown. Of course, my parents became close friends with a number of their students, and when I returned to Masset to teach in 1979, my parents came to visit and rekindled many friendships. Some of the students who welcomed them back were Dad’s grads — Bruce Hageman, Peter Burton, Lily Bennett, Faith Simpson (Thorgierson), Merle Davidson, Lily Bennett, Dick Bellis, and Doug Hageman. Other students who were happy to see them included George Jones, Alex Jones, Eugene Samuels, Peter Burton, Raymond Jones, and many more! My parents were also involved in introducing the tradition of the May Queen and May-pole dancing, and royalty those years included Mary Setso, Faith Weiden, Wilma Deane, Sophie Davidson, Irene Kelly, and others. Godfrey Kelly crowned the first Queen, Mary Setso.

Written: Dec 30, 2007
Norma J Hill

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