Me and my friend Paul Salonas were going to the Bennett Dam. The dam was just being built at that time. We were going there to work—there was lots of work. Not even Williston Lake wasn’t there at that time. This was 1963. So, me and Paul Salonas we quit our jobs here. We’re going to Bennett Dam. Just something to get out of the sawmill industry.
So we got to Prince George and it was about 90 degrees—it was hot—July 17, 1963. So we stopped down at a hotel and had a few beers and we ran into other people we went to residential school with and we start talking and we end up sitting there all afternoon. Got feeling high by 6:30 and I told my friend Paul Salonas, “I’m going to Vancouver instead of going there.” Still half-corked he took me to the bus depot. Bus ride was only $15.40 in those days. And that’s why I end up staying in Vancouver 45 years. I changed so many lives, just by doing that.
I knew my cousin Rose Johnson in North Vancouver, that’s all. So I arrive at the bus depot in Vancouver the next morning and I didn’t know where to go, hangover… So I phoned Rose in North Vancouver and she said “There’s two busses. You hop onto them, they’ll take you to North Vancouver. When I took it he told me where to get off so I went there and I stayed there for a little while looking for a job and the second week I went to employment office in West 10th Avenue and I told them what I do in the sawmill that I ride the carriage when you’re cutting logs.
This guy that interviewed me said I know a mill that’s over there that has somebody riding the carriage. He said you go across the Cambie Street Bridge. He says go to this mill under the Cambie Street Bridge, they might have something for you so I went over there.
The superintendent Jack Munroe came in. He said, “Oh are you looking for a job?” I said yeah, I’m a setter I ride the carriage and he kind of took a liking to me but he says I don’t have anything on the day time. He says why don’t you come back tonight and see the night foreman Ivor Williams. He says tell him I sent you. Oh, okay.
Well, I waited all day, I’m looking for a job I’m broke and so I waited all day for him. He finally came around 4 o’clock and I told him what I did and I told him Jack Munroe told me to come and see you. He says don’t have a job for setter but I have job for bringing logs up with a winch. You put a cable down in the water, you bring about 7 or 8 logs. So I have that If you want that.
I said I do. I’m excited that I got a job in Vancouver. I took that job and that’s where my life began I made good friends with the crew there and they started teaching me how to saw, I knew a little bit about it when my brother Frank was a sawyer and that’s when my life started down there July 1963 and I stayed down there for 45 years.
I played hockey for Fort St James for a number of years and I played hockey for Lejac Residential School. I scored the winning goal to win this cup in February 1956 for Lejac Residential School. This is a keepsake, too—Pinchi Lake Jr Hockey 1944 Scoog Davidson. He was a pioneer.
I played hockey for 42 years. I was playing for the Burnaby Jets—they used to have a hockey league in Vancouver called the Greater Vancouver Hockey League. I made the “B” Division team, (used to have 4 divisions—A,B,C and D). I played with them for years. I played in the “Three League” with my wife’s cousins down there said they’re longshoremen. They said oh you’re a good hockey player, why don’t you play with us? We used to have a game every Sunday all over Vancouver like Coquitlam or wherever the rink is available. For a while in the late 60’s, I was playing for Burnaby Jets and the Shoremans and then I was asked to play a beer league on Friday nights so I was busy with that.
We met August of 1964 in North Vancouver. 52nd Anniversary on Monday. I met her in August 1964 at her cousin’s wedding dance. She went to that and I ended up meeting her that night and I was feeling pretty good that time so I hardly remembered that I met her. The next day, the new movie Hard Day’s Night. The Beatles were in it so I wanted to see that. So I drove to the Orpheum Theatre and somebody was calling me from down below where the seats were and it was my wife Yvonne. She says I met you last night and I started going with her ever since. That was August of ’64 and we got married in February ’65.
Long before that where I grew up in Nation River, mostly I stayed out of Residential School. In the 40’s they tried to take me one time and they finally gave up on me and my sister. I was only 8 years old and my sister was 6 years old. My mother went to the hospital in Vanderhoof to visit my sister Amy when she had her first baby. Father Simpson came along and he was going to take us to Residential School but we didn’t want to go.
My mother didn’t say anything because he was a priest,. They didn’t argue with them in those days. I yelled at my sister Jessie I said don’t let go of the bed—we were both hanging onto the bed as hard as we could—6 and 8 years old. I yelled at my sister we were both crying. I said don’t let go he’s going to take us to residential school. We just hung on for dear life finally. Father Simpson he was the principal at Lejac Residential School. He finally gave up on us and never took us.
I ended up growing up with my mom and dad in Nation River most of the time. I didn’t go to residential school until 1954 when my mother passed away but in the 40’s I didn’t. I grew up in Nation River. A lot of people I know from my long journey of life; I went from being a trapper with my mom and dad, didn’t know too much English and I ended up in residential school, then I ended up in Vancouver .I became one of the best head sawyer in the coast cutting the big oversized cedar.
- Listen to Charlie’s Interview (includes more stories)