May 24, 1938. Avola
The annual school sports day.
Students from Avola were ready to challenge the McMurphy students at running, jumping, 3-legged race and the big finale: the base ball game. The mid-point meeting place was Wire Cache in Oscar LaBell’s field.
Royce Gibson, (his 13th birthday was the very next day) set off walking to school with his sisters: Frances (age 11), Verna (age 10), and Vivien (age 9), leaving little brother Carmen home with his mother, Mary Ellen (Marsh) Gibson.
Royce was new to the thick forests, vast mountains and wide river valley of the North Thompson, having moved from the prairies only last year. His mother was afraid of the river, but his father, Gerald, had been to Avola before. In 1920, just after the forest fire, Gerald had come to cut poles, shakes and rail road ties.
And so the family had returned to join Gerald’s brothers, Lloyd and Carman and their parents, William and Edith (Bissel) Gibson, to work their farm on the east side of the river. Their two-story home was built on three foot pilings in anticipation of the river flooding. Fertilized by the silt, their fields grew fine crops. Gerald built his family a house on the west side of the river.
Royce could see the scar from the forest fire 18 years ago. Turing right, the children passed the old Community Hall where Whist, cribbage, dances and dinners brought the community together. Crossing the train tracks, the children passed between the store and the boarding house.
The sounds of the axe and the smell of new wood caused them to look over to the building site where Hemming Wicklund and John Sjogard, two Finlanders, were at work on the new log Community Hall. Last year they had finished a new log school at McMurphy for a total of $500.
There was talk of “The Finn Boys” building a new log school house in Avola next year. The children were eager to watch the process from the windows of the frame one-room school they were currently using. About 10 years ago, Uncle Lloyd Gibson and Jack Maciejko had hitched two teams of horses to a cable wrapped around the building and dragged it up the river on the ice from Wire Cache.
Up the hill on main street of town where they had been sledding only a few weeks ago, Royce and his sisters met other families gathering: the Craigs, Cederholms, Vaginskis, Kellys, Chokoloks, Lundeburgs, Sawchucks, Dillaboughs.
Some would ride in cars, some in wagons. The big boys, Royce included, would walk the 6 miles or so to the sport field.
May 24, 1938 McMurphy
Nancy Holt (age 12), sister, Joyce (age 13), Joan (age 7), and little sister, Patricia (age 2), lived in the McMurphy Station House. Her father, Frank Ewart Holt (who came to the valley with his Dad in 1910), had been working up and down the valley for Canadian National Railway since 1924, about the time he had married Henrietta Emmiline Bester.
Allowed to wear shorts since it was a sport day, the girls crossed the river on the three-year-old suspension bridge with Connie Nord (age 8).
A car came from Avola and the children piled in.
On top of the excitement of the day of competition was the greatly anticipated picnic: egg, beef and cheese sandwiches, canned fruit, pies, cakes and cookies. Best of all, Mrs. Cederholm, the lady with 10 children who was also the Avola mid-wife, was bringing home made ice cream!
And so, on this day to remember, as Nancy stepped up to the plate, ready for the pitch. Royce crouched behind her as the catcher. Frustrated by his continuous razzing to break her focus, Nancy scolded,
“Oh hush up. You’re so mouthy.”
Six years later, Royce would join the army, serving as a gunner in 2nd Anti-Tank Regiment of 2nd Canadian Division.
Six years later Nancy would write him letters in Belgium, Holland and Germany.
Eight and a half years later, Dec. 27, 1946, was another day both Royce and Nancy would always remember. “She was my Christmas present!” Royce explains that they were married in Avola in his grandfather’s home.
Seven children, 15 grandchildren, 10 great grand children and over 75 years later, May 24, 1938, is still a day both Royce and Nancy remember.