Christmas At Zeballos

One of the joys of Christmas is following family tradition from generation to generation. When city people move to remote places for work they carry their traditions with them.

Zeballos, a last growing community in the late 1930,s, developed differently than the usual fishing and logging settlements on the west coast. When gold was discovered the population increased suddenly as job seekers flocked in from Vancouver, Victoria and other urban centres.

These city folk soon found they must adapt to the isolation, rain and storms as well as new neighbors. Instead of a trip to the store for a head of lettuce or roast of meat one must wait five days in summer and 10 days In winter for the steamer, Princess Maquiina, to bring fresh supplies.

Christmas preparations had to begin early in November. If the choice of gifts in the general store or the drug store was not satisfactory, one had to send a mail order to Eatons or Woodwards, then on receipt of the order, gift wrap the articles to send back by boat to friends in the city. After present giving was organized next came the planning for Christmas dinner.

The long, short, long, short whistle scream of the Maquinna a few days before Christmas brought everyone out of houses and down to the wharf. While the storekeeper collected his freight the news-hungry crowd pushed on board to buy newspapers and magazines and to exchange news with those on board.

Then the crowd hurried into the store to choose their Christmas turkeys and all the trimmings. After a rough trip of several days aboard the Maquinna bruised lettuce and somewhat wilted celery for shrimp salad looked good to once fastidious women. Then it was back to their houses carrying a bag of groceries in one hand and a box of Japanese oranges under the other arm and Christmas dinner to plan.

With the town’s rapid growth such amenities as a liquor store did not appear as rapidly as wanted. Zeballos people had to have all Christmas cheer shipped in from Port Alberni. If the liquor boat arrived too promptly some thirsty folk might run the risk of having none left for the Christmas celebration. After this tragedy occurred several times the newly formed Chamber of Commerce worked out scheme. Photographs were taken of the town and a caption on each read: THE LARGEST TOWN IN B.C. WITHOUT A LIQUOR STORE BEFORE CHRISTMAS.

The next year each MLA in Victoria found one on his desk. The following year sympathetic representatives, often slow moving, made sure Zeballos had its liquor store. The result was a very active trade at Christmas time. In fact the year-round, for Zeballos and surrounding areas. Perhaps the easiest and most pleasant duty was the selecting of a tree. Tramping through the conifer-covered valley to choose one, then cutting it down and dragging it home meant a lot of fun for children and their dads. These men in the past had been accustomed to selecting a tree from a city lot, resulting in a small adventure for children.

Before electricity was brought into the valley trees shone with tiny colored candles to brighten each home. When the big day came each family celebrated with all the customs and perhaps more enjoyment than they had during their city days. Families were drawn together, often two friends would take turns, one year one woman would cook letting her friend visit and her friend would take her turn next year cooking for both families.

Added to the families around the table was at least one lonely logger or prospector bachelor. If a bachelor became such a loner that he refused to visit, a Christmas dinner would be brought to his shack by one of the women.

With so much preparation Christmas had to last longer than one day. Usually Boxing Day meant visiting in the community. One memorable day a friendly man set off to visit his neighbor, was called in for a drink, then the two set off for the next house, the number soon increased to three and increased in number until every able bodied man and a few wives stumbled cheerily along the road.

Two of the wives remaining at home were busy making dinner of left-over turkey. They watched the happy crowd and guessed correctly where they would all finish. Both dropped their work to get ahead of the crowd before they arrived at the Pioneer Hotel. The women, infrequent visitors in the beer parlor, surprised the bartender who, because his business was slack, had placed all chairs on the tables and had started early his evening cleaning. “Better put those chairs down. Slim,” the women called as they entered, “a crowd Is coming.”

The surprised bartender followed orders and a more surprised crowd burst in. There followed much laughing and joking as glasses were set out. After which no one wanted to go home. So on impulse the floor was cleared and an impromptu dance was held.

When all mines were in operation. Zeballos grew rapidly and dwindled fast when mines closed. At present its industry is less spectacular, and with a road, less remote, but the spirit of the people remains the same, everyone with a capacity for enjoyment and homemade entertainment.

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