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 four.
Back in school, I continued to try to upgrade the school. Faith Simpson was elected President of this year’s [1956-1957] Student Council. During the Fall, I introduced the idea of the first school paper–“The Maast”–the name suggesting the fishing boats of Masset’s principal industry plus the fact that the name “Massett” or “Maast,” according to the Haidas was brough to the Charlottes by some early explorer. Faith Simpson, having had experience with school papers in Victoria, was the Editor.
About that time, Howard Phillips presented me with the Minutes Book of the old Masset School Board–before Masset became a part of the Queen Charlotte Islands School Board. A careful research through the minutes gave me a complete list of all the teachers who had taught in Masset. This gave us an idea for a historical issue of the school paper (Jan-Feb 1957) in which the staff of The Maast interviewed old timers who had taken their schooling in Masset. Mr. Bridden, the church sexton, was a student in the very first school in 1909. Also included in the issue, of course, was a list of all the teachers plus interesting notes from the Minutes Book.
By this time we were getting very excited about a little playmate for Norma, due to arrive in January. The forthcoming event would necessitate more room. Part of the by-law which was adding three rooms to the school also covered the construction of a new two-apartment teacherage which was being built just south of the Anglican Church, a stone’s throw from our present teacherage. Because we wanted to move in as soon as possible, Howard Phillips–no longer a member of the Board but hired by the Board as supervisor of all the school board construction taking place on the Island–asked Marjorie to take the Eaton’s catalogue and select everything that would be needed to furnish our new apartment–bedroom suites, dining room and kitchen suite, fridge, washing machine, cutlery, dishes, etc. Having okayed her order, he simply ordered duplicate sets for each apartment–duplex teacherages were also being built in Q.C. City and in Sandspit.
Then we became involved in packing early in December for the move, but the pressure seemed too much for Marjorie, and we thought she might have the baby early. I called Shirley Lambert, the Red Cross Outpost hospital nurse; she checked Marjorie and promptly took her into the hospital…. However, after three days in the Outpost Hospital, Marjorie was well enough to come home. Then we moved into our new teacherage in time for Christmas….
A new housekeeper was working at the Red Cross Hospital–Doreen Hill with her little girl Sandra. We celebrated Christmas morning by inviting her to open stockings at our place; her little Sandra was one hour older than Norma…. In the afternoon, joined by Don McRae, we all went out to Haida to have Christmas dinner at Mavis’s. To add to the excitement, Mavis’s Christmas tree fell over while we were there.
Then it was 1957, and the time came for Marjorie to go down to Q.C. City to the hospital. She was accompanied by a friend, Meiri Earl (Tom Earl was in the military) who was supposedly expecting at the same time. In those days, the B.C. Air Lines flew a scheduled flight from Q.C. City and Sandspit to Masset twice a week–Wednesdays and Saturdays, at a price of $16 one way. An emergency flight at any other time was $80. So, on Wednesday, January 9, Marjorie and Meiri flew to Q.C. City. While Marjorie was away, on each school day, I would take Norma to Mrs. Blanche Shields to be babysat. Mrs. Shields was the mother of Allan in my class, and Ken in a lower grade. Today, Ken Shields is famous in the sports world as the coach of the University of Victoria basketball team that has captured the Canadian Basketball Championship the last five or six years in a row. Mrs. Shields now lives in Grand Forks.
Friday, January 11, 1957, was a typical school day. School had been dismissed; my correspondence course students had been down to the Greasy Spoon for a cup of coffee and were back in their seats for the usual 3:30 to 5 p.m. session. Now I should mention the fact that there was no phone in the school. Anyway, I was temporarily in the Staff Room having a coffee with the staff, when Fred Steele, husband of the primary teacher, came in. “Congratulations, Bill, on your son,” he said. “I don’t have a son,” I replied–Marjorie wasn’t due for a couple more days. “Oh yes, you do,” he siad, “I was in the telephone office talking to Mrs. Burton when the call came through, and she asked me to deliver the message.” I took the note from him–it said briefly, “Son born, 2:00 p.m. Mother and child both fine. (signed) Dr. Narod.” As you can imagine, I hit the roof! I tore into my classroom yelling, “I’ve got a son!” Dick Bellis replied, “Where are our cigars?” “You’re too young for cigars,” I said. “Well then,” Dick responded, “How about the rest of the afternoon off?” “Good-bye,” he replied–and the students did not need a second telling–their books disappeared into their desks and they were gone! And so was I–off to the phone office to phone Marjorie. Now, in those days, communication between the Masset telephone exchange and the one in Q.C. City was radio phone, and while I got through to Marjorie at the hospital, we could not really hear each other because of static…. Oh yes, somebody got their wires crossed. Meiri Earl sat at the hospital a month until the arrival of her daughter, Colleen.
I did not see Stewart until he was eight days old. Marjorie brought him home on the regular Saturday flight….
Perhaps I should insert a note regarding the weather on the Queen Charlottes. The first thing we noted when we arrived on the Charlottes back in September 1954 were the long evening hours–being so much further north. And with those long evenings were many beautiful sunsets. Of course, as winter came in the days became much shorter, and it would still be fairly dark as we went to school in the mornings. Winter time brought the occasional light fall of snow–the deepest I remember seeing it was perhaps six inches. However, the one thing winter did bring–usually at night–were gales…. I remember one gale, however, that took place in the daytime. Quite a number of the students arrived almost soaked to the skin, so we had to send them into the furnace room to stand around the furnace to dry out. Although the school was a new building, the wind rattled the windows all day….
The remainder of the school year went quickly. By the time April came, Stewart [Bill and Marjorie’s new son] already had his famous teasing-twinkle in his eyes. Mavis Kellar resigned and went to Vancouver. Eugene Samuels came back to school to complete a couple of correspondence courses. May saw another May Day. The last year’s queen, Mary Setso, crowned the new queen, Sophie Davidson. Princesses were Irene Kelly and [???]. May also saw a picnic along the new road being build down the inlet to Port Clements–with Don McRae and Freda and Rosemary Mallory. All three of us had tendered our resignations. Bob Mallory, the Fisheries Officer, had been transferred to Bella Coola in January, but Freda had remained to finish the school year. She and Rosemary had moved into the other side of our new teacherage, so that the new Fisheries Officer could move his family into the Fisheries house….
The last few weeks went by so quickly. I had conceived the idea of a school annual, so I took pictures of each of the staff, of each of the grads, and class pictures of each of the classes. I sent these to a publisher of yearbooks, and they printed pages with the pictures. Then our school newspaper club put out an annual-type school paper and collated the pages of pictures into the school paper. This was another first for Masset School.
Marjorie, meanwhile, had been taking a correspondence course in German toward completion of the teaching-requirements for a permanent teaching certificate, and as the time for her exam drew near and she needed peace and quiet to study, our new minister, Rev. Stan Leach, and his good wife, babysat our children in their rectory. Norma called him “Uncle Bobo.”
As mentioned earlier, Norma had taken over seventeen months to learn to walk [she got around by bouncing on her bottom], and this fact was well known around town. Well, one day just before we left Masset, Marjorie was wheeling Stewart and Norma downtown in the baby carriage when she met a couple of native ladies who asked if they could see our baby–and Marjorie proudly showed them Stewart. Now, Indian babies are early teethers; some are even born with a tooth. So, one of the ladies asked, “Does he have any teeth yet?” “No, not yet,” Marjorie replied. So the lady responded, “Of course, your children are slow, aren’t they?”
Leaving Masset, of course, meant farewell parties. Marjorie was guest of honor at a special farewell by the church choir, as well as at a party put on by the lady teachers and other ladies of the town. Then, she gave me a surprise party, inviting my graduating students for supper. And, of course, there was the Graduation Banquet! This time, it was the real thing–with the students actually graduating–the first real graduating class in Masset history! When Inspector Ritchie had made his spring visit, we had invited him and his wife to attend the Graduation, and we had purposely set up the Graduation date for a Thursday boat-day evening, June 20, so that they could come over for it. Invitations also went out to the School Board members and teachers from the south end of the Island, and, of course, invitations were extended to the parents of the Grads and to the town dignitaries–the Anglican minister, etc.
One of the reasons for our leaving Masset was that the pressure of the hard work was getting to me. I had even developed an ulcer. On the day of the Graduation Banquet, I awoke on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and had to call for Mrs. Simpson to substitute for me. however, as the evening hour for the banquet drew near, I recovered enough to perform my functions as chairman at the Banquet. Then the time came for Inspector Ritchie to present the Graduation certificates to Faith Simpson, Merle Davidson, Lily Bennett, Dick Bellis, Dough Hageman, and Monte Engleson–the new Fisheries Officer’s son who had joined us for the last couple of months of school. Missing from the group was George Jones who, with only a month to go to Graduation, quit school to go fishing. After the presentation of the certificates, Dick Bellis gave the Valedictory Address; and expressed how, although he had not liked the after-school sessions, he was graduating that night because of my efforts.
Meanwhile, the addition to the school had been completed a few months earlier and the shift system had come to an end. But the addition had not yet been declared officially open, so with the banquet finished, we moved down the hallway to the new section where Mr. Ritchie cut the ribbon and officially declared it open. Then I went back home to bed.
Towards the end of the school year, the Department of Education had announced that it was prepared to pay the tuition, etc, of any student who had completed the Diesel Engineering Correspondence Course and who lived in out-of-the-way places, and had financial needs. Dick Bellis met this qualifications, so I was able to recommend him, and he was accepted for the course. When I saw him again twenty-five years later, he was MacMillan-Bloedel’s chief mechanic on the Islands, in charge of their huge truck-repair facilities in Q.C. City, and was also the most senior employee on the islands.
We had purchased from old Captain Brown two argillite totem poles for ourselves–one about six inches tall; the other eight inches. We felt that, for display purposes, we should have another six-inch pole for balance, so we told Norah Bellis (Dick’s mother and Captain Brown’s daughter) to tell her father that we would like to buy another pole. A few days later, she arrived with a half-carved pole and a note stating that it was the last pole he had on hand, and that he wanted me to have it as a gift for getting his grandson, Dick, through high school. Since then we have inherited the two poles that we had given to our parents, so we now have five of Captain Brown’s carvings.
Then the school year ended. I spent the extra days waiting for the boat, by packing and by completing all the administrative work for the school. And then, on Thursday, July 5, the boat arrived on its way up the inlet to Port Clements. And therein lies a tale.
…[Due to a booking error by the boat company, our first-class reservation had been given to someone else, as had the reservation for the Mallory’s]. So, on July 5, as soon as the boat came in, I went again to see the Purser. He was all apologies–all the first-class cabins were reserved; we would have to take second-class cabins. I emphasized that we had two babies, and needed a first-class cabin in order to be able to wash diapers, etc–we didn’t have disposable diapers in those days. Finally, he said there was one first-class cabin that would be empty to Bella Coola, and we could have it that far; but we would then have to transfer to a second-class cabin. That seemed satisfactory, so I accepted it. Mrs. Mallory felt that a second-class cabin would be satisfactory for her and little Rosemary.
The next morning, as soon as I heard the boat coming in, I was back down there, and took the baby-carriage aboard as we would need it for Stewart. I headed again to the purser’s office to find out which cabin was ours. As soon as he saw me, he said, “Oh, Mr. Wright, I’ve been talking to the captain and, since this mix-up is the company’s fault, we’re going to give you the Bridal Suite cabin all the way to Vancouver–at the regular first-class cabin rate.” And so we left Masset, travelling on our second honeymoon–with two babies.
My memory now reminds me that amongst our farewells was a meal one evening with the Crist family. Marjorie and Jean Crist had become good friends, and it is always our pleasure to visit her when we go back to Masset. Another evening, we were guests at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Davidson in Haida–they were the parents of Merle and Clara Davidson in my class. Mr. Davidson told us of his participating in the construction of the last dugout canoe built by the Haidas. Mrs. Davidson has, in recent years, written a book, “During My Time.”
We had the company of Freda and Rosemary Mallory on the boat as far as Bella Coola, where Bob met them, to take them home to Bella Bella. A couple of years later, Bob was transferred to Prince Rupert to become the Fisheries Officer there, and Freda started teaching again, later rising to the position of Primary Supervisor….
[When on the boat] we decided we should have a picture of the Bridal Suite. In order to get as much of the room into the picture as possible, I squeezed myself back against the wall as tightly as possible, and just as I squeezed the trigger, I felt something give behind my elbow. You guessed it! My elbow had pushed the [steward’s] button, and in a few moments a steward dutifully appeared at the door to receive my explanation and apology…
[Since we had the bridal suite, we got to sit at the captain’s table on the boat]. At mealtime, [Norma] had her own special high-chair, and the steward waiting on our table would put her in the chair and would take her can of baby-food to the kitchen, and bring the baby-food back in a crystal dish–everything must be done decently and in order since we were seated at the captain’s table…. And then there was the time she distinguished herself in the dining hall. We were crossing the part of the Queen Charlotte Sound where we were briefly in the influence of the open sea, and the ship, the “S.S. Camouson,” was rolling a bit. Anyway, she got seasick and without warning, she threw up. It was amazing how, one by one, the passengers at the surrounding tables left their unfinished meals and departed from the dining hall.
And then it was Sunday evening, and we were pulling into the dock in Vancouver… thus ending three years on the Queen Charlotte Islands.
How could we foresee at that time that our little daughter would one day follow in our footsteps and study to be a teacher, and that the first teaching position she would be offered upon graduation was back in her father’s former school in Masset, and that Masset would become her home and a reason for our re-visiting the town and renewing old friendships.