Old timers in the North Thompson Valley

Mike Majeurs, left, Florence Allison, Erica Munter, Clara and Jennie Helset. Back: Dave Archibald, left, John Munter. Circa 1940s.(Photo courtesy of Frank Ritcey)
Old Nipsey, the horse. (Photo courtesy of Frank Ritcey)
Clara Ritcey at the family home at the ranger station at the entrance to Wells Gray Park in 1962. She is bottle-feeding their "pet" moose, Lippy. Lippy was part of a moose study that Clara's husband, Ralph, was carrying out as part of his duties as a biologist. (Photo courtesy of Frank Ritcey)
Roy, left, and Clara Helset with "old timer" Jack Zellers. Circa 1940s. (Photo courtesy of Frank Ritcey)
"Old timers" Dave Anderson, left, and Pete McDougal. Circa 1940s (Photo courtesy of Frank Ritcey)

Clara Ritcey is a local author from the North Thompson Valley. She is currently working on a memoir-style book, with some help from her family, telling stories and memories about some of the original settlers in the region. The book is titled Scattered Memories and will be out in the near future.

Pins or beans?

The first “old-timers” Clara Ritcey, now 86, met when she first moved to the North Thompson Valley with her family in the late 1930s, were Jack Zellers and Dave Anderson, two “interesting” characters of unique backgrounds.

Zellers was American and was born around the end of the civil war and, after moving to Canada, farmed oxen on the prairies.

“Nobody does that anymore, not even for fun,” chuckled Ritcey.

Anderson had immigrated from Finland, and his English was “extremely bad,” she said, and he seemed to think it was better than it was.

“Old Dave,” as they would call him, went to the local store one day and asked for some pins. The owner asked if he wanted straight pins, safety pins or sewing pins. What kind of pins was he looking for?

He was upset with the follow-up questions, annoyed that she didn’t comprehend his simple request, asking once again for brown pins that he can cook.

“He wanted beans!” Ritcey laughed, adding he was just an old bachelor “who lived in the bush all his life”

She said he had really never been around children, so it was a bit shocking to receive a gift from him after a trip he had made to Kamloops — a small knife for her brother, Roy Helset, about four or five years old at the time, and a necklace for her, about six years old.

“That was really sweet,” she recalled.

Back to civilization

Another old-timer Ritcey remembers is Mike Majerus, a short man who enjoyed trapping.

He spent a few months out in the bush, and when he would come back to town, he would be “wired” as he hadn’t spoken to a soul in months. Majerus often had dinner with the Ritcey’s.

“He’d yell, ‘Hello, this place!’ And then he’d walk right in and make himself at home,” said Ritcey.

She remembers one particular visit with Majerus, where her mother had served meat along with the rest of the fixings. Instead of using the dinner knife provided, he pulled his hunting knife and proceeded to use it to cut his meat. When he was finished, he wiped the blade on his trousers and back into its scabbard it went.

Helset was fascinated.

The following night, the family sits down for supper, without Majerus. Helset didn’t have a hunting knife, so he used the dinner knife provided, but when he was finished, he ran the blade along his pants and put the knife back on the table.

“Mother got really, quite annoyed at him,” Ritcey said. “(She) informed him that civilized people didn’t eat that way! They were quite the bunch!”

Bad batch of brew

The old-timers got together and decided they would make a batch of home brew. They mixed up their concoction, and stored it for some time, and after a number of weeks, it was bottled up.

“Ooo, terrible-smelling stuff!” exclaimed Ritcey, adding they were pretty pleased with their creation, despite the smell.

She explained they brought it to her parents, asking them to try some. After some reluctance, her father poured some into a glass, and tried some, and her mother followed suit. She tried pouring the brew into her own glass, but something was stopping it from leaving the bottle. Her mother shook the bottle a little, tried pouring again, and out popped a very large fly!

“Obviously they hadn’t heard about sanitation, so that went out the window, so to speak,” laughed Ritcey. “Nobody drank it. It was terrible. They were good-hearted old geezers.”

Old Nipsey the horse

Majerus didn’t have a cat or a dog, and never had anyone to keep company. What he did have, was Old Nipsey, a scraggly-looking horse that he would bring down to the Ritcey farm to visit with the other horses while Majerus ran errands in town.

Instead of having slick, smooth hair like other horses, Old Nipsey looked like a shaggy mammoth, Ritcey recalled. Even after brushing the horse with a curry comb, its hair looked the same.

After Majerus was finished his errands, he would return to the farm with a massive sack of goods, sized almost as big as he was. He would put the halter on Old Nipsey and lead him home, while carrying the pack himself — the horse hardly worked a day in its life!

Soon, the time came that Majerus left the countryside to live in the Clearwater township. He wanted to sell Old Nipsey to Ritcey’s father, but with a couple caveats: That the horse wouldn’t be put to work and that the family would never sell him. Her father figured he could do that for Old Mike.

During the winter season, the water pipes would freeze up. Every mid-afternoon, Old Nipsey would line up for Helset, who would put a harness on him and strap on the sled to hold a water barrel. From there, they would walk down to the creek, turn around and wait for Helset to fill it up, and then head back to the house. Old Nipsey would stop in the right spot, the harness was taken off, he received vegetable peelings for a job well done, and off he went back to the other horses.

“And he did that until the day he died, I guess,” said Ritcey. “It was quite neat.”

Friends through thick and thin

Pete McDougal was a scotsman, who like to play the mouth organ (also known as a harmonica), and was good friends with Majeurs.

The were quite a pair, as they were quite different, explained Ritcey. Majerus was rather industrious, worked hard and made money. McDougal was not.

She explained that one day, while Majerus was out trapping, McDougal wanted a visit, and wanted some food items. Noticing that he wasn’t home, McDougal took it upon himself to stock up, taking some teas and coffee, flour and whatever else his heart desired, and went home.

Upon Majerus’ arrival, he saw someone had taken his belongings. He came storming down to Ritcey’s family farm, and said he was going to include the police. Before anyone could stop him, he was heading into town to call the police.

The police came and Ritcey recalls they charged McDougal with theft.

When his court date arrived, McDougal headed to the courthouse in Kamloops, and Majerus soon joined. The judge told McDougal the charge was rather serious, and the consequence was $50 or a week in jail. He told the judge that he didn’t have a dime, so he must spend a week in jail.

Ritcey said Majerus stood up in the courtroom, “Pete, what do you mean you don’t have any money?” and couldn’t bear to see his friend go to jail, so he stood up and paid the judge the $50 and took McDougal to the pub before heading back to the Valley.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

B.C. homeowners are being urged to take steps to prepare for the possibility of a flood, this includes protecting one’s home by moving equipment and other assets from these areas to higher ground. (J.R. Rardon)
‘Entire province faces risk’: B.C. citizens urged to prepare for above-normal spring flood season

High-streamflow advisory issued for the Cariboo Region and areas including Williams Lake, Quesnel and Prince George

Elvira D’Angelo, 92, waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
110 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Provincial health officers announced 1,005 new cases throughout B.C.

File
TNRD to test emergency alert app

The Voyent Alert! emergency notification will be sent April 23.

Interior Health nurses administer Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines to seniors and care aids in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16. (Phil McLachlan/Kelowna Capital News)
69 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

The total number of cases in the region is now at 9,840 since the pandemic began

Kelowna General Hospital (File photo)
Interior Health hospitals not strained by rising COVID case counts

While provincial hospitalizations rise, health care systems in the B.C. Interior remain robust, say officials

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

Pall Bearers carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by the Prince of Wales, left and Princess Anne, right, into St George’s Chapel for his funeral, at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, Saturday April 17, 2021. (Danny Lawson/Pool via AP)
Trudeau announces $200K donation to Duke of Edinburgh award as Prince Philip laid to rest

A tribute to the late prince’s ‘remarkable life and his selfless service,’ the Prime Minister said Saturday

Vancouver-based Doubleview Gold Corp. is developing claims in an area north of Telegraph Creek that occupies an important place in Tahltan oral histories, said Chad Norman Day, president of the Tahltan Central Government. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO)
B.C. Indigenous nation opposes mineral exploration in culturally sensitive area

There’s “no way” the Tahltan would ever support a mine there, says Chad Norman Day, president of its central government

Stz’uminus Elder George Harris, Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone, and Stz’uminus Chief Roxanne Harris opened the ceremony. (Cole Schisler photo)
Symbolic red dresses rehung along B.C. highway after vandals tore them down

Leaders from Stz’uminus First Nation and the Town of Ladysmith hung new dresses on Sat. April 17

A Western toadlet crosses the centre line of Elk View Road in Chilliwack on Aug. 26, 2010. A tunnel underneath the road has since been installed to help them migrate cross the road. Saturday, April 24 is Save the Frogs Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Progress File)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of April 18 to 24

Save the Frogs Day, Love Your Thighs Day and Scream Day are all coming up this week

Local carpenter Tyler Bohn embarked on a quest to create the East Sooke Treehouse, after seeing people build similar structures on a Discovery Channel show. (East Sooke Treehouse Facebook photo)
PHOTOS: B.C. carpenter builds fort inspired by TV’s ‘Treehouse Masters’

The whimsical structure features a wooden walking path, a loft, kitchen – and is now listed on Airbnb

The Attorney General’s Ministry says certain disputes may now be resolved through either a tribunal or the court system, pending its appeal of a B.C. Supreme Court decision that reduced the tribunal’s jurisdiction. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Court of Appeal grants partial stay in ruling on B.C. auto injuries

B.C. trial lawyers challenged legislation brought in to cap minor injury awards and move smaller court disputes to the Civil Resolution Tribunal

An Extinction Rebellion Vancouver Island (XRVI) climate change event in 2019 saw a large crowd occupy the Johnson Street bridge. Black Press File Photo
‘In grief for our dying world’: B.C. climate activists embark on 4-day protest

Demonstrators will walk through Vancouver for the first two days before boarding a ferry Sunday morning

A vial of some of the first 500,000 AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada secured. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio
Canada’s 2nd blood clot confirmed in Alberta after AstraZeneca vaccine

The male patient, who is in his 60s, is said to be recovering

Most Read