Bernard Hawley and Mary Hawley-Isaac sitting in a car in the early 1920s. (Maple Ridge Museum) Bernard Hawley and Mary Hawley-Isaac sitting in a car in the early 1920s. (Maple Ridge Museum)

Looking Back: Childhood’s lost days

‘Some of the more dangerous household jobs were left for children.’

Looking back at the history of our town, we see buildings that were there and are now gone, people who were here and no longer are, jobs, institutions, businesses, even the landscape have changed over time.

But what can truly strike us as different from the past is day-to-day life.

An individual’s roll in the household or out among the wider world, today, depends on so many things. In the early days of Maple Ridge, the day-to-day life of one particular group looked so sharply different from what it does now especially the life of children.

Many of you out there will remember a time, all year long, when children were set loose outside with a vague understanding to ‘be back for dinner.’

In the summer, kids would flock to the waterfalls at Kanaka Creek to play behind the rushing waters. They could put their heads into the space behind the falls, while the water pounded on their backs.

A log over the falls, where there is now a bridge, was their way to the other side.

In the winter, it was skating on Whonnock Lake or sledding on the golf course hills. No matter what season it was, there was always an adventure to have outside.

Those times are not too far distant, and they are still part of our children’s lives today, but most of you will not remember times when children were very much part of the workforce.

The idea of children adding to the family income, or taking on the harder household chores was not something that was questioned.

In the earliest days of Maple Ridge, in the Victorian era of the late 1800s, some of the more dangerous household jobs were left for children. When the back of the wood burning stove needed sweeping and cleaning, that was a job for the littlest one who could get to the back the easiest.

Jobs outside of the house were also common for children. Depending on the family, the income of a child could mean the difference between eating and going hungry.

That was not the case for Norm Pelkey and his family, but he had his job anyway. Norm’s parents owned the Ruskin general store, and nine-year-old Norm, along with his menagerie of pets would make grocery deliveries in his wagon, pulled by his miniature pony.

Like most things from our communities’ past, we still see echoes of it today.

Children still have chores to do and childhood whimsy can still be had at Kanaka Creek. We just have to remember to look back and find that child inside all of us.

Shea Henry is curator at Maple Ridge Museum and Archives.

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