Saving B.C.’s Wilderness

“Wayne Sawchuk (left) explains how he came to be involved in saving the Muskwa-Kechika Area from devastating industrial development and how contentious the planning process became.” FULL STORY

#29 For Old Pete’s sake

February 22nd, 2015

Hi darlin,’

For the past week or so, TV has been all abuzz with Oscar doin’s. It’s hard for us to care. We don’t have a theatre in Tahsis, we don’t even have a video rental store anymore. The library will bring in CDs if you order them.

So I haven’t seen any of the nominated films. I’ve read reviews and suspect that even if we had access I wouldn’t have bothered seeing any of them. American Sniper? No, thank you.

Tonight I turn my thoughts from Oscar to Old Pete.

“Old Pete” Choate lived in a small cabin on a piece of property actually owned by Western Forest Products. Pete was a squatter. He had a huge garden on the banks of the Leiner River, he had some chickens, some rabbits, and cats.  Dear Gawd, did Pete have cats.  He had cats around the house, on the house, in the house, under the house and more arriving as often as nature could accomplish.

Pete worked in the mill until he retired. He came here after WW2, lived briefly in the bunk house, then found his ideal spot to squat. At first, there was no road, he had to go back and forth to work in a canoe.

When I first met Pete, years ago, he had retired from the mill and, as well as his union pension, he worked as an odd-job or handyman. In time he also got Old Age Pension and, probably Canada Pension, but gawd alone knows where Pete’s money went. Probably into the bellies and onto the backs of a string of run-away kids who showed up, invariably hungry, and were given a place to call home.

Living with Pete wasn’t easy. No electricity, no flush toilet, no bathtub or shower, and plenty of hard work. There was wood to split and stack, the garden to dig and tend, and whether male or female the kid was introduced to hammers, saws, and the secrets of building stairs, a deck, or a fence.

When Pete could no longer live on his beloved farm, he moved into town. Then when Pete became too frail to live on his own, even with the modern amenities. he moved into an assisted living facility in Campbell River.

Yesterday the people in the village had a Memorial Service for Pete Choate, known for years as “Old Pete”.  I couldn’t go to the service, I was sidelined with a bug, but if I had gone I was going to share my story about Old Pete and the fart.

Way back in the day, when we had sawmills roaring and freighters lined up in the bay to haul away dimensional lumber, we had our own Co-0p store.  And Pete was standing in the line-up at the till, waiting his turn, and try as he might he could not hold in one of those farts which sound like a minor explosion and spread vile and noxious fumes.

Old Pete tried, he said he nearly bust a gut trying to hold it in, but some things will not be thwarted and … he waited a moment, then said in a loud voice “whoever did that should be heartily ashamed,”  Whereupon the others in the line looked at each other suspiciously, and Pete was exonerated in the minds of those present.

After he had moved, Western Forest put that piece of land up for sale and the Village of Tahsis bought it, basically to keep it out of the hands of some folks who wanted to log the first growth still growing on it.

It’s still called “Pete’s Farm.”

We still grow stuff here. Or try to.

My pussywillow tree is now a golden marvel, the once silvery kittens have made pollen. A week ago there wasn’t a bee to be seen or heard and yesterday afternoon my tree was an absolute marvel, bumbly bees of all sizes were out there stuffing their knee pockets with pollen to take home to feed the kidlets, zizzing and dancing happily, burrowing their little noses in the golden dust and acting very much like a bunch of drunks.

When I went outside I stayed well clear of the many flight paths to the pussywillow tree. I didn’t want to get in the way of any hardworkin’ female. I take sometimes violent reactions to bee stings. Instead I watched the crocus in the front yard, where a few bumbly bees were busy with their own collections.

One big one, almost as big as my thumb, backed herself out of a crocus and then stood on the lip of the planter rubbing her nose with her little front feet and trembling. Her entire fuzzy body was dusted with crocus pollen, each little hair well tipped,  and while I “know” it’s only my own tendency to anthropomorphism, I’m convinced she was grinning. Not smiling. Grinning.

It’s been a long, gray, chilly and very wet winter.

That’s entertainment in Tahsis…

Anne Cameron grows pussywillows on the western edge of Vancouver Island. She received the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award for an outstanding literary career in British Columbia in 2010. Her 23 books include Daughters of Copper Woman, the bestselling work of fiction ever written about B.C. and published from within B.C. She has banished herself to Tahsis, a small town not far from Friendly Cove where the shenanigans called British Columbia all began.

 

One Response to “#29 For Old Pete’s sake”

  1. Bud Logan says:

    Anne, thats a wonderful story about old Pete, thank you. Members of my family lived in tahsis back in the days of boom, no road, three wheeled cars and old Pete. I used to visit the place back then, as a youngster. I had heard of Pete up on the liener river and how he took lost kids in and taught them skills and a new outlook on life and themselves. I had also forgot it all until i read #29. I am writing a story about the liener river trails for the Compass Magazine and was trying to remember who it was who built the boardwalks, while researching this, i ran into your piece.again, thanks for bringing back a great memory.

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