“I was 15 years old when I had my first Christmas in Canada,” Hettie Buck begins her recollection of Christmas in Clearwater in 1971.
How did a girl who grew up in the Californian desert come to experience that first special Christmas?
It is possible to trace Hettie’s story back over 125 years. William Grant (who was present when the CPR’s “Last Spike” was driven at Craigellachie and was the first to grow and market strawberries near Victoria, B.C.) married Bella Eddie in 1888. He decided to relocate after root weevil destroyed his crop. He read about the success of Fred Steggs’ strawberries in Clearwater. Over time he cleared six parcels of land in the Clearwater area: Glen Eddie, Mountain Terrace, Raft River, Stewart Grant, Upper Clearwater Ranch, and Dutch Lake.
William and Bella’s daughter, Isabella Gertrude Grant, married Otto Miller and after their sons, William, Robert and Ronald were born, they joined William and Isabella in Clearwater in 1922. The land that is now Dutch Lake Resort was their ranch.
Robert Miller’s dad sold the Dutch Lake land to Dorothy Bell and Grace McGraw in 1945.
In 1946, Grace invited her two nieces, Mary Agnes Scott and Henrietta May Scott to help on the ranch. Robert (Bob) Miller came a-courting, canoeing across the lake. He and Henrietta (Hettie) were married in June, 1948.
Ranch life and growing strawberries were supplemented by hunting and trapping, logging, being a park ranger and collecting animal, bird, insect and plant specimens for the University of Ontario. Anne and Peter were Bob and Hettie Miller’s children – home-schooled and learning skills passed on from their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.
Hettie Buck picks up the sequence: “My family was my mom (Mary) and my dad (Ross Haynes), sister (Grace) and brother (Scott). Mom was a Canadian. She brought us all up to Clearwater to visit her sister, Henrietta (Hettie) Grace McGraw almost every summer. We romped all over the hills, forests, ponds and gardens with Anne and Peter and called them “cousins” and their parents, “Uncle Bob” and “Aunt Hettie.” When our property in California was sold, Mom asked us where we wanted to move? We agreed: Clearwater!”
They arrived after a three day drive.
“We felt like we had been transported to Paradise on Earth when we moved to Canada for good,” Hettie Buck said. “We had visited many summers, but never in our lives had we experienced winter! We loved it. The kids who lived here rolled their eyes at me, thinking I exaggerated how ‘wonderful’ and ‘beautiful’ everything was … the snow, the cold, the sledding and skating … all normal activities for them, all new for me.”
“My cousins, Anne and Pete, created a rink on the pond. We went skating at night by the glow of lanterns, resting on bales of straw in the moonlight. The wind came up and turned our cheeks bright red!” The excitement is still in Hettie’s voice after over 40 years!
“Aunt Het had a collection of old skates in all sizes for whoever came. We would come tromping in, freezing cold, to enjoy hot chocolate and go out again.”
“People came from all around for a Christmas tree … and one other extra-special treat: Uncle Bob was famous for making deluxe caramel. It’s a secret recipe, but we do know that he lovingly stirred it in a huge, heavy pot on the wood stove for eight – 11 hours. When he tested it ‘just right,’ he poured the candy out onto cookie sheets lined with waxed brown butcher paper.
“For Christmas, the best present each kid would get was a two-inch slab of that caramel. We would slowly nibble the soft sugary sweetness trying to save it as long as we could savouring, unwrapping and re-wrapping. Someone might hide their piece so that who ever finished theirs first would come looking, begging for a bite.”
Hettie Buck recalled that there was always something delicious cooking or baking in the wood stove at any time of year.
“I remember that it was mostly Uncle Bob who did the baking. He had recipes and learned skills from his mother and grandmother. Bear lard was best for pie dough. Shortbread dough was patted into a pie pan, baked and cut into wedges. Apple-up-side-down cake had a special warm caramel sauce drizzled over-top.”
Christmas Day dinner was a feast with so many foods from the garden.
“Our eyes were always bigger than our stomachs!” Hettie Buck remembers. “Aunt Het made such good gravy and stuffing for turkey dinner. Uncle Bob baked squash in the oven, scoring it and loading on the butter and brown sugar. We even had home made cranberry sauce.”
“After dinner, we kids would all lay around talking, reading, singing or listening to the adults tell stories and share family history. The adults sat at the long table that Uncle Bob made years ago.
A wide range of topics of conversation included: selective logging, flowers, grafting trees, bird watching, turtle migration, trapping, hunting, mechanics, seed preservation, gardening, farming, history, conservation, wine making, climate change, and so much more!”
Hettie Buck recalled that at her Aunt Het and Uncle Bob’s place she had a continuous education.
“It’s at this time of year that I miss Uncle Bob and Aunt Hettie and all the relatives, friends and neighbours who came for a tree, tea, or skating.”
After the move to Clearwater, Hettie’s family operated Haynes’ General Store for many years. The store was located near the bottom of Stegg’s Hill on the Flats in Clearwater. Hettie married Barry Buck, the oldest son of well known local residents Ed and Eva Buck, and they had four children: Joshua, Justice, Jeremy and Jadessa (and there are now seven grandchildren).
In 1998 Hettie Buck graduated from Kwantlen in Richmond in journalism and public relations. Starting in 2005 she was marketing coordinator for Blue River Tourism for several years, and then manager for Clearwater and District Chamber of Commerce for a year, starting in 2012.
At present she is in charge of business development and sales with a Kamloops-based Internet company.
She is also the administrator of various Facebook pages, including Rich History of the North Thompson and Beyond.