Summer days fishing for rainbow trout, wading through a snow melt creek of British Columbia with my older brother Danny,….those days could never be long enough.
Before the Cocahalla freeway was built, it was a 4 hour drive from Lynden, Wa. along winding mountain roads to Merritt. First through Hope, Boston Bar, Spences Bridge and then finally “Merritt, Copper Capitol of Canada, a Lake a day, as long as you stay” the sign read.
Just before getting to our Grandfather’s house, your nostrils were filled with the sour mash-like scent of the wood mill. If it were after dark, you might see a series of sparks ascending from the metal domed screens of the scrap wood furnaces. The embers danced like fireflies twirling to escape into the pitch black abyss of the Rocky Mountain sky. Magically they transformed into the stars that shone so brightly, you felt you could reach up and touch them. This was my First Nations homeland. For over 10,000 years, land of the Shuswap nation.
Long before Feng Shui, Grandpa’s small wood tar-papered house provided all of life’s essentials, Running water was found at the kitchen sink, Heat was a Wood burning stove in the living room. Security- At night the front door was locked by a hunting knife wedged between the door and the jamb. The Entertainment center was the laminated kitchen table with a pint of 5-star Canadian Rye whiskey, deck of cards and a cribbage board.
I remember thin fabric hung over the kitchen sink window, futile in its efforts to filter out the intense mountain sun. On the window sill, there was a miniature prank outhouse that when you opened the door, a little boy figure would pop out and whiz water on you. The sweet smell of Old port cigarillos and scent of rye whiskey hung in the air. For a 10 year old boy, the best place in the world was sitting on Grandpa McIvor’s lap during a poker game.
“What a bunch of fisherman I’ve got,“ “boy you’re a real smart feller”, Grandpa would say, waiting to see the gleam in my eye at being praised then like a skilled showman, “oh I meant a fart smeller”… What kind loving man Ernie McIvor was. Watching him surrounded by his grandkids was to imagine a king with his treasure.
“Well we better dig some worms if we are going fishing.” Grandpa would declare. Outside the foundation of his house stood a one foot high berm. This was home to a bounty of Canadian crawlers. With a coffee can full of worms Danny and I jumped into Grandpa’s truck and off we went.
Just on the edge of town, we would stop for some Old Dutch salt n vinegar chips, and always the generous one, Grandpa would treat us to penny candy.
Mill Creek was a ways past Lundbum Lake with gravel roads, steep drop offs and hairpin turns.
Grandpa would drop us off at the the top of the mountain , “see you guys at the bridge this afternoon”.
Our hearts would flutter as we hiked into the trees toward the creek. As the sun warmed the trees you could smell the sweetness of pine sap and hear the dry grass and twigs snap under your feet. At times snow stubbornly hung on in the shade.
For bait, we carried a Band-aid tin with worms, tackle boxes were a few split shot and hooks in our shirt pockets.
Our poles were 6ft branches with plenty of fishing line wrapped around one end.
Our stringer was a snapped off “y” shaped branch that looked resembled a divining rod. We left one part of the y long and snapping one short.
As we stepped into the water for the first crossing of a pool, I could feel the icy water flood through the eyelets of Converse Allstars, it took my breath away. I could feel life’s challenges melt away in the purity of that pristine snow melt creek water that was Mill Creek.
Working our way through the pools of crystal clear water, we would dip our lines in and shadows in the rocks would come alive . The small trout would flash in the sun as you felt that exhilarating tug of your first bite. One time I got so excited, I yanked my line out so quickly that I flung my poor trout far behind me into the woods.
While threading our long stem stringers through the trouts gill and out it mouth, scarlet blood residue was a sure magnet for horse flies and bees.
Walking down the creek it was almost best to stay in the frigid water as to keep your legs numb. Once your got out and they began to warm, they ached as the circulation returned, sending shocks to every nerve as if turning on a power grid.
All too soon our shadows lengthened as approached the bridge where Grandpa was waiting. Welcoming us with a chuckle and a wisecrack, we would head back to Merritt with a handful of small rainbows and a lifetime memory.
For those times so long ago, I still cherish them today. Thankful for two great men in my life, my brother and a loving father figure. Ernie McIvor, May he rest in peace, Amen
History Note from my Aunt Sharon McIvor:
“Wonderful Ray. The Mill Creek area is our traditional territory It is called Zoht in our language. The Creek runs right by where your Grandma Suzy, great Grandma Mary, great great Grandma Enulx and their ancestors lived and many were born there. It is traditional unceded Nlekepmux (Thonpson) territory. Grandma Suzy and her siblings fished that creek as did me and my siblings. When you got to Boston Bar that was the beginning of our Territory. It runs all the way to Kamloops. Kamloops is the beginning of Scwepmux (Shuswap) territory. Your Grampa Ernie was Swepmux although he was born in Merritt .”