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.

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