– Manny used to live there.
Dad says as we drive through the Tsartlip Reserve on our way to Brentwood.
In the days of the forty-four hour workweek, Dad went to the Bucket of Blood, the Veterans of France Legion, after lunch on Saturdays for beers.
Manny, who worked packing coal, drank at the other end of the bar.
Victoria was a blue city in the 50s, meaning you could only drink in service clubs. You had to be 21 years old. No women or Indians allowed.
– There were no bars in Victoria, not even at the Empress Hotel.
– If you wanted to go to the beer parlour, you had to go to Esquimalt.
Dad, underage and Manny, an Indian, the Bucket of Blood clearly wasn’t too caught up on the rules.
Dad hadn’t seen Manny in a couple years and ran into him in Brentwood.
When asked, Manny told Dad he didn’t drink anymore.
– I had a few too many a couple of years ago and I came home and I hit my wife. I decided if booze was going to do that to me, that I’d be beating on my wife, I’d never take a drink again.
In Prince Rupert, Dad’s best friends growing up were Doug and George, the children of a white fisherman and a woman from the Tsimshian band.
Dad moved to Victoria when he was fifteen but not before starting his own brewery with Doug and George in a shack they built in the woods.
The cabin had six bunks and a woodstove so they could stay over night.
– I had to go up to light the fire in the morning and light the fire when I come home for lunch to keep it warm so the beer would ferment.
They bottled it and stored it in the attic of the shack.
One batch was bottled too soon or the bottles weren’t clean enough.
– We were sitting around peddling the BS when they started to blow.
The beer exploded like shotguns hitting the roof and beer came down like rain.
– You didn’t dare go up there.
Bang, bang, bang.
When Doug ran away from home, he lived in the shack for two or three months. Dad took him all his meals.
– We were like that.
He says, crossing his fingers.
– That sure is a beautiful school they built.
Dad says, looking at the LÁU,WELNEW Tribal School.
I admire it every time I drive past. I have for as long as I’ve been able to see out the car window.
– Chief Thunderbird lived there.
Dad says pointing at another house.
– I met him at the Scottish when I was President of the Mess. He was a well-known wrestler.
In Grade 11, Dad joined the Canadian Scottish Regiment and had his friends from Vic High join too. Years away from turning 21, Dad found a loophole into a bar. If you belonged to the Reserve Army, you could drink in the Men’s Mess.
The influx of a dozen high school boys tipped the scales so when elections came a few months later Dad was voted President of the Mess.
– You can imagine that. They put me in charge of the booze.
– I did some tremendous, damn foolish things.
Government workers got paid once a month, which meant nobody had any money. When Dad was President, he broke a law of the Canadian Army.
– I started a chit system and gave credit for the guys at the bar. It worked pretty well. They thought there’d be a lot of money missing but there wasn’t. Everybody paid up.
On Saturday nights, there was wrestling at the Bay Street Armoury. Dad opened the Mess for Chief Thunderbird and other wrestlers afterward to help fundraise for his Smokers.
A Smoker was a party.
– My friend, George, is buried there.
He says as we drive past the cemetery on the Pauquachin Reserve on our way to Sidney.
– He was in the Scottish with us.
Dad tells me a lot of First Nations men served overseas during the Second World War.
– I used to drive them home after meetings at the Scottish. All these guys piled in the back of my truck half-drunk. Crazy, really.
– George was a longstanding friend of mine. They were all good guys but he was an especially good guy.
When I was a child, I crossed over onto the Godfrey’s land and spent hours swinging on their tire swing. It was at the highest point of their property looking out at the Mt Newton valley, a different angle of beauty from ours. Sometimes I heard a pounding in the distance, the drums of the First Nations.
– It was another world in those days. Indians weren’t allowed to drink. You could get put in jail for selling booze to the Indians.
Walking the dogs and standing in the field looking at stars in the evening, I love it when I hear the drumming.