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The Bread Lady
Vince Hernandez

1 believe the year was 1936, when I was seven years old, that my mother and father decided to separate. We had been living in West Vancouver, at Fifteenth and Palmerston, across the street from the Langley's. After the breakup my mother and I went to live with my grandmother for a time in the big brown house on the top of Sentinel Hill. For those few people old enough to remember, this was the house that could be seen so prominently from the West Vancouver Ferry as it forged its way through the First Narrows towards Ambleside dock.

I cannot remember how long we lived with my Grandmother, but apparently it was long enough for my mother to decide and act upon a few things. Remember this was in the Dirty Thirties, when jobs were not very plentiful. I guess she did not expect to receive any money from my father, or perhaps she would not touch it even if it were offered. Whatever the case, she decided to move to Hollyburn Mountain where she could earn a living (she hoped) and at the same time keep an eye on her young son while he was growing up. To get started she borrowed money from my grandmother and, I believe, from my Uncle Larry, in order to build and furnish a cabin on the mountain. 

Toward the end of the nineteen thirties there was a small population of semi-permanent residents on Hollybum Mountain. At "First Lake", as it was called, there were "the Swedes" - Oscar, Andrew, Ole and Stina - who owned and operated the Hollybum Ski Lodge; Ted Russell, the municipal Ranger, his wife Ada, and daughter Evelyn; and Mr. Pogue, the elderly resident guru. At "West Lake", which I remember (perhaps incorrectly) as being about two miles south of First Lake, there were the Jones brothers, Fred and Harry, who were busy building the "new" West Lake Ski Lodge in a location that was outside the boundaries of the West Vancouver watershed area. (where the "old" one had been located.) Between West Lake and Hollyburn Lake and to the west, there were numerous cabins scattered around the mountain. I would guess there were at least fifty, perhaps more. Most of these cabins were owned by weekenders, but there was a small group of young men calling themselves "the ski bums", who worked when and where they could, pooled their resources, and lived there "year-round ." The names I remember were Jack Pratt, Bud James, Eddie Oakley, and Fred Burfield. Two of these ski bums. Jack Pratt and Bud James, contracted to build my mothers cabin.

Our new residence-to-be was a typical Hollyburn mountain ski cabin with a barn style roof, one main room for living, and a ladder up to a sleeping loft that extended over the entrance porch. Later, my mother enclosed the porch and made it into a kitchen. I remember as a child, supposed to be sleeping, creeping forward so that 1 could look down into the cabin and listen to the fascinating conversations that were taking place below me. Unfortunately, unless 1 was very careful, the boards would creak and 1 would be caught.

Once the cabin was built and the furnishings (such as they were) installed, my mother started on her new career as home bakery proprietor, Hollyburn Mountain.

Before I continue I should tell you how the furnishings, including a big iron woodstove, got to our cabin. In addition to his duties as municipal Ranger, Ted Russell was also the mountain's moving company. He and his horse Baldy would, for a pretty low price, undertake to carry whatever the mountain residents needed to keep them in the style to which they were accustomed. I do not remember what other goods we had, but I do remember the stove on Baldy's back, and wondering - how it got there - how it stayed there, and if both the stove and the horse would make it all the way to our cabin in one piece. They did, and the bakery business started.

Home made brown bread, white bread, buns and coffee rings were the items my mother (Mrs. Hughes* or "the Bread Lady", to everyone but me) made for sale. When fresh, they were delicious. Unfortunately, my mother and I seldom ate them fresh. Fresh was for the customers. Whatever did not sell was for us.

We had two types of customers - the drop-ins and the residents. The drop-ins were mainly the people who came up on the weekend, and were lured to our cabin by the sign on the main trail: - "The Bread Cabin," with directional arrows every so often, along our trail. The drop-ins were very important to us. Without them we could survive, but just barely. With them we might have a few extras, like some jam on our bread.

Most of the residents had standing orders for so many loaves of bread each week (or buns or coffee rings) so my mother had some idea of what she would need to bake. Some of them came to our cabin themselves to pick up their week's supply of baking, partly, I believe to socialize, since a transaction might take two hours or more for a couple of loaves of bread. I would enjoy these sessions very much since they would break up the monotony of the week, take me away from my correspondence school studies, and if l was lucky, I would hear an interesting story or two. The mountain people were great storytellers.

Our two main resident customers were the ski lodges. They would buy, among other things, coffee rings, which they would cut up and sell in sections to hungry skiers. My job was delivery boy. I would put about twelve loaves of bread into a pack on a Trapper Nelson packboard with coffee rings carefully placed on top, and take off on my weekly routes which included the two ski lodges and some private cabins. West Lake Ski Lodge was my favourite destination. They bought the most loaves of bread, so when I left there, my pack would be substantially lighter. Also, and more importantly, if Fred Jones was there he would give me my choice of a chocolate bar from their display. As I approached the lodge with my load I used to pray - "Let it be Fred! Let it be Fred!" 

Speaking of praying, my mother was a very religious person. In religion, as in most other things in her life, moderation was not a big concern. Being staunch Roman Catholics, we of course went to church every Sunday, even though it was a good hour and a half hike down the mountain to St. Anthony's Church, and over two hours to return. Since we would take communion we did not eat until after Mass, the rule in those days. My aunt Weash and Uncle Harry (Milner) who lived at Twenty Fourth and Ottawa, would always take pity on us and invite us back for breakfast. I well remember the wonderfully delicious bacon and eggs we had at their place. I don't believe any breakfasts have ever tasted better.

After breakfast, or somewhat later, we would face the tiring trek back up the mountain with the next week's supply of groceries on our backs. Since the stores were not open on Sundays in those days, I am not clear as to how we got them. There was a telephone at the ski lodge - perhaps my mother phoned in the order and had it delivered to my aunt's house. The really tough trips up the mountain were the times when we needed more bread flour. Then it was my job to carry all the groceries. A week's supply of food weighed about thirty-five or forty pounds, which I found to be plenty heavy by the time we reached our cabin. My mother, a fairly small woman about five feet four inches tall and weighing about one hundred and thirty pounds, carried the flour - a ninety-eight pound sack of it! If you don't think a hundred pounds is very heavy, just try carrying it uphill on your back for a couple of hours. I remember one time when a young man, hiking briskly up the trail, caught up to us and kindly offered to carry my mother's pack for a ways. We found a stump to rest it on to make the transfer, and when he leaned forward and straightened up, the full weight hit him. He staggered, grunted, and his eyes bulged. He manfully made his way up the trail about half a mile to another stump where he just had to give up and return the load to my mother. I suspect he was very careful to avoid us on the trail from then on.

For us, wintertime on the mountain was the best time. There was snow and we could ski, there were more customers to buy baking, and we could even rent out our accommodations, on a part time basis. A group of lady schoolteachers called "the Girls" used the cabin on the weekends while we stayed below in a rough room we had constructed. There was never very much money, but there was enough to survive. The other seasons were more difficult, and money was very scarce. I can remember picking wild blueberries and trying to sell them to the stores in West Vancouver in order to supplement our income. The hard part, when coming down the mountain on the rough trail, was to try to step softly, using our legs as shock absorbers so that the lower layers of berries would not get crushed. I am not sure, but I seem to remember we received about ten cents a pound for the berries if we could sell them. If we couldn't, they w^ould be preserved, so they could be later used for pie fillings or jam.

The years from 1936 to 1939 were the years when my mother was the "Bread Lady" of Hollybum Ridge. In some ways they were tough years, with the wolf never very far from the door, but I don't remember them as being sad or miserable, just challenging. In fact, I remember it as a time when I learned a lot, and had a lot of fun.

In 1939 World War II started and our life changed. Fred Jones was faced with conscription or working in the North Vancouver Shipyards. In order to maintain the ski lodge he had worked so hard to establish, he chose the shipyards, where he could work all week, then hike up the mountain and work at the ski lodge all weekend. To fill the midweek void, he hired my mother to manage the ski lodge from Sunday night to Saturday morning, and her career as "Bread Lady" was over. 

NOTE: My mothers' married name was Hemandez, but she reverted to her maiden name after separating from my father, Vince Hemandez