That Old House, Chemainus 1952-59

Editor/Daughter’s Note: In my Dad’s journals of his memories he talks about moving with Mom into their not-so dream home in Chemainus. 

That Old House.

If the T.V. program ‘This Old House’ had been around in the ’50s our place in Chemainus would have been a star. It looked cozy enough but that is where it ended.

My mom, dad and my mom's friend Norma at family homestead in Chemainus c.1952

My mom, dad and my mom’s friend Norma at the family homestead in Chemainus c.1952

It had an outhouse with a fantastic red climbing rose concealing it. The outhouse was literally the stomach of the rose causing it to bloom profusely with the brightest of red flowers. Because of its beauty and pungent scent everybody thought our outhouse to be the cutest.

Drinking water came from a shallow well, unfortunately situated near the sewage drain field of two nearby homes. The well water was pumped up to a raised insulated barrel by hand pump and then piped to the house by an old iron pipe to a single tap in the kitchen. We bought an electric pump and installed it in the kitchen to pump the water directly from the well. Of course everything we bought came from the Eaton’s catalogue.

Dad's painting of the house in Chemainus BC, 1953 to 59When the winter storms raged through the area, I swear that old house swayed at least six inches in the gusts, especially in the three bedrooms upstairs.

The chimney sat on top of a small cupboard in the kitchen and the mortar had deteriorated so much that I could pick off the bricks by hand.

I put in a new cement block chimney through to the basement and anchored the chimney in a big block of cement hoping to stabilize the old house. Talking about the basement, with every heavy rain there would be a couple of feet of water in the basement.

The old woodstove was a blessing, the warm heart of that old house, and kept us alive and happy. It had a sawdust burner on the side of the firebox, and a few buckets of sawdust a day kept it blazing 24 hours a day. It was cheap too, a big load of sawdust costing twenty-five dollars and lasting us all through the winter.

Later I ran a heavy copper pipe from the firebox to a water tank, providing us with all the hot water we needed. Hilda would sit and watch the burning sawdust and meditate when I worked the nightshift.

The floors were pretty sick too, especially in the kitchen. So when Hilda went to the hospital to deliver our firstborn, I decided to go all out and fast, first painting the windows and cupboards. Not having much time, I took the garden hose inside and hosed all the dirt out the door, putting the stove on full blast to dry it out and then slapped a coat of paint on the old linoleum. When Hilda came home with Elizabeth it was not quite dry and I had to find planks to walk on.

The next thing was to build a bathroom between the kitchen and the living room. I used the best fir plywood available hoping it would stiffen the house and keep the family from getting seasick and it worked.

After the bathroom was finished I began renovating the living room the following year, and that is when I discovered the studs in the walls to be 3 feet apart and with no insulation. No wonder the old house had a give to it.

Daddy's little helper

Dad and I working on the house

So the next job was to put one inch thick insulation board on the inside sheeting. Knotty pine was chosen for the ceiling, sanded and varnished four times and getting a mirror-like finish, after that, a carpet was laid in the living room and linoleum in the kitchen. Now Junior no. 2 had arrived, Patrick Franklin.Hilda’s parents came to visit us to see the two kids and decided to move from Regina to Chemainus. Her mom died a few months after that visit, but Frank, Hilda’s dad, moved out to the coast.

He bought a house in Saanichton and wanted us to sell ours and come there to stay with him as it had a larger acreage with the home. But not a single buyer showed up for our old house. Frank got lonely, sold his place, and came and stayed with us.

Him being a gardener, I built a greenhouse to keep him occupied. He planted the flowers he started in the small greenhouse all around the place and we had a blaze of colours for the next couple of years.

Editor/Daughter’s Note: What my dad doesn’t mention here is that the water, essentially ground water “unfortunately situated near the sewage drain field of two nearby homes”, was responsible for an outbreak of yellow jaundice, a form of hepatitis. Our family, and the neighbour’s son David, who practically lived at our place, were the only people that didn’t get it, probably because my mom was constantly boiling water before using it for consumption. David came and stayed with us while his entire family was in the hospital, and it was at this time that my dad decided we should have a better source of water.

To get better water for the expanding family, I hired a dowser to dowse for water. His name was La Mere, meaning ‘the sea’, and he selected a spot where I had already dug, but only down eight feet. La Mere indicated I would get water at nineteen feet, so I hired a powder monkey and rented an air compressor from the municipality.

We drilled ten holes at a time, and planted twenty-five sticks of dynamite with time caps, so that each time we blasted, we blasted four feet of rock. This made about ten feet of loose rock and slowly we moved down, blasting every Saturday, when the powder man was free as he worked at the new power plant they were building in Chemainus.

On Sundays we hauled up rocks. I filled the buckets, Frank hauled them up with a rope that went through a pulley on the top of a tripod, and Hilda emptied the buckets. We made it to twenty feet and the tension was mounting as the well was still bone dry. But came Sunday morning there was a foot of water over the ten feet of loose rock.

So now I took back the air compressor and rented a pump and eventually we made it to the bottom of the well, it was six by six feet at the top and widened to nine feet at the bottom so held a lot of water and the water coming up was clear and clean.

me and my goat

Me and my kid goat out by the barn

With the extra water I bought a small garden tractor and cultivated a little more than an acre of land where I grew raspberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, beans and peas. We made it a pick-it-yourselves operation at ten cents a pound across the board.

The pickers could weigh the whole lot at once in the same box; that was an efficiency that the Supermarkets could not match. It was a success and the phone was constantly ringing to order the picking times we doled out as the produce came to maturity. One summer, when the sawmill was closed down because of strikes, we made better than wages in the two months I was out of work.

Our Indian neighbour August Jack was very fond of berries and the ninety-year-old man came often to pick raspberries. Hilda’s dad would be out there helping him and the two old guys seemed to have a lot to talk about; we could hear them out there yakking for hours.

8 responses to “That Old House, Chemainus 1952-59

    • Aaaaahg… Everyone loves my dad’s stories but they are such a huge amount of work to put together – I’ve put up notice that this is where they stop – but there is a lot of pressure to continue!

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