These memories were written around 1995-2000 by Bill (William) John Wright, principal and teacher at Masset Elementary-Secondary School from 1954-1957. They are based on photographs he took, letters he wrote to family that were saved, and other notes he kept at the time. There are four parts to this series; this is part one.
… Finally, on Sunday evening, August 29, 1954, we [Bill and Marjorie Wright, newlyweds of just 2 weeks] boarded the S.S. Coquitlam–a ship of the Union Steamships, under Captain Lucas–and set sail on the second phase of our honeymoon …
… we had a beautiful trip–beautiful weather. Our first port-of-call was Alert Bay. A little rough, crossing the opening north of Vancouver Island; then calm again as we moved into the Inside Passage to Ocean Falls and Bella Coola. We played shuffleboard several times. On one occasion, a fairly elderly lady approached us as we sat on the deck and inquired whether we were the young couple who were going to Queen Charlotte City to teach. She introduced herself as Phyllis Budd, a teacher in the Indian school at Skidegate Mission …
… On Wednesday, we sailed up Douglas Channel to Kitimat, where the ship was tied up for six hours; so we took a bus tour out from the smelter to the new townsite which was still under construction … Next, we sailed back down Douglas Cannel and turned into Gardner Canal and headed toward Kemano–the hydro-electric plant which produced the electricity for Kitimat. We sat on the deck awestruck by the beauty of mountains and glaciers rising straight up from the water of these magnificent fjords … Then, as darkness came on, Capt. Lucas invited us to come up on the bridge where he demonstrated the radar unit to us…
Thursday morning found us coming into Prince Rupert. Having been there with the Crescent Shows, I was able to show Marj some of the town. Then we set sail for Aero Logging Camp on Cumshewa Inlet on Moresby Island, the southern of the two large Queen Charlotte Islands, into which we steamed at a most beautiful sunset.
Friday morning, Sept. 3, found us coming into Skidegate Landing on Graham Island where the ferries today to the Queen Charlottes land. The Indian Village of Skidegate Mission was a couple of miles to the right; Queen Charlotte City was about five miles to the left. While we stood on the dock, a taxi drove up, a man got out and went on board, then returned to the dock, and approached us and inquired if we were Mr. and Mrs. Wright. He was Mr. Harry Tarlisky, the member of the School Board representing Queen Charlotte City, and he offered us a ride there–so later we watched the S.S. Coquitlam come into Queen Charlotte City docks with our luggage and trunks.
We were soon introduced to our new principal, Mr. H. Hughes, who had been moved from Masset in the north to Q.C. City to take over as principal. The beautiful weather continued–and Skidegate Inset is beautiful. We moved into a small “shack” which was to be our temporary home until a better facility was available.
On Sunday, we went to church–the United Church–where we met the minister, Rev. Lloyd Hooper, who is still a close friend of ours today… On Sunday afternoon, Miss Budd, whom we had met on the boat, came with her fellow-teacher, Miss Viola Daley, to pick us up and take us to their home at Skidegate Mission. After supper, we went with them to the Skidegate Mission Church. Now, Rev. Hooper lived in the Indian village, and normally on Sunday mornings he preached one sermon in Queen Charlotte City and a different one in the evening in Skidegate Mission. On this weekend, however, many of the people of the village were out fishing, so he knew he would have a small congregation; therefore, he had decided to use the same sermon. He entered the church, saw us sitting there and, as we had already heard his morning message, he beat a hasty retreat, dug up a different sermon, and returned to the service. We visited in his home after the service.
Monday, Sept. 6, was Labor Day–and Labor Day in Q.C. City was always a time for logger-contests, etc. Q.C. City is built along the foot of the mountain which rises directly from the sea, and the only flat area of any size was to be the location of the celebrations. Well, my principal and his wife arrived and informed us that it was expected of the teachers that they should clean up the “park”–cow dung, etc.–so that is what we spent all morning doing. Fortunately, the event was a great success.
At that time, the Q.C. City school consisted of two parts–a two-room building in the town, used for the junior and senior grades, and another two-room building at the end of the road west of town, to which the teachers and students of the elementary grades were transported by bus. So, on Tuesday morning, as the Grades 7 and 8 teacher, I joined the principal, while Marjorie rode the bus to the elementary school. Even as today, the students were registered and sent home on the first day. The principal and I were left standing by the windows talking, when we noticed two men approaching–Mr. Tarlisky of Q.C. City and Mr. Howard Phillips, the School Board member from Masset. We soon learned the reason for their visit. The previous year there had been two male teachers at Masset–the principal, Mr. Speight, and my principal–but no male teacher at Q.C. City. So, during the summer, my principal had been moved to Q.C. City to become principal there. Well, the principal at Masset during the summer got himself into hot water and was forced to resign. A young lady teacher who had been on the Masset staff the last couple of months of the previous term and who was returning as a full-time teacher, was appointed principal, but knew nothing of the appointment. And so the situation was now reversed–two male teachers at Q.C. City and none at Masset. Well, when the young lady arrived and found that she was principal, she refused to take the position–so the purpose of the visit of the two school board members was to inform us that a major switch was to be made–Mom and I would go to Masset with myself as principal; the young lady, and her friend who had been hired with her, would come to Q.C. City. Being suddenly pushed from Junior High teacher to Senior High teacher and principal almost fazed me; Mom would switch from Primary to Junior High.
Howard Phillips, who became one of our closest friends in Masset, and whom we still visit on our infrequent visits back to Masset, took us back to Masset with him. First we traveled via taxi to Port Clements at the head of Masset Inlet. This road follows around the east coast to Tlell, where having circled the mountain range, it then heads for about thirteen miles as straight as a rifle barrel to Port Clements. At that time, the portion of the road from Tlell to Port Clements consisted of two rows of planks set on the muskeg; there were places where two cars could pass.
We stopped at the local coffee shop where Mom was given her coffee in the only cup in the place that had a handle, and even the cup was cracked. Something we soon learned was that on the Charlottes it was either feast or famine. After a ship came in with new supplies it was a feast;just before the next one came in, it was a famine. And on this occasion, hungry as we were, the cafe had nothing to feed us.
The present road from Port Clements to Masset did not exist in those days, so we went by fishing board down the inlet to Masset. We spent the night at Karlscourt, the local hotel, and Howard showed us our teacherage as well as the school. Obviously, having come to the islands prepared to teach Junior High subjects, I had no lessons prepared for Senior High classes; also Marjorie had to return to Q.C. City for our luggage which had been all unpacked in our “shack” [Norma’s note: it was a one-room shack on a barge which rose and fell with the tides–and an outdoor john over on the beach–my mom was sure glad to go to Masset!. So the Junior and Senior classes were given Thursday and Friday off. However, Mrs. Phyllis Steele, the primary teacher, and Mrs. Eileen McCorriston, the intermediate teacher, operated their classes.
Wednesday morning, the two young lady teachers and Marjorie departed by pontoon-plane for Q.C. City while I remained behind to sit in the little principal’s office and attempt to pull the ends together. Now, in those days, the Union Steamships sailed into Q.C. City one week and into Masset on the alternate week. It would arrive in Masset on Thursday, spend the day unloading, and then head up the inlet to Port Clements. Early Friday morning, it would return to Masset. So Mom with all our baggage was sent by taxi to Port Clements, and arrived back in Masset early Friday morning via steamship–turning up at our teacherage where I had lived and slept since Wednesday. And thus, we finally settled down in our first real home.