Friday, December 23, 2011

Big Christmas Trees from Logging Country

Add caption
by Anita Mae Draper

Christmas is a celebration of Jesus' birth, and birthday parties should be shared with family and friends, right? Here at the Inkwell, we've been sharing Christmas memories and now it's my turn. As I gathered the photos for this post, however, I came to a realization I should have figured out long ago... my love of photography comes from my mother. You may laugh at my surprise, but truly I've always thought my mother and I came from different planets.

Although I was born in a hospital in a Northern Ontario gold mining town, we lived at a logging camp out in the bush near Stevens, Ontario. I still have an old flour sack laundry bag with Camp #5 stencilled in black in across the top. I don't remember much about living there except that we lived near a cliff with a lake full of floating logs below the camp. And I remember the Christmases when Mom set out bowls of nuts and candy, and we put glass pine cones and metal icicles on the tree.

Christmas morning, 1960. Anita 3, sister Bonnie, 4. Camp #5.

Christmas morning, 1960. I was three years old, my sister, Bonnie was 4, and our brother was only a couple months old. That was the year Bonnie and I both received Lulu dolls for Christmas. As you'll see, we received other things, too, but the Lulu dolls will go down in history as my favourite doll of all time. The only problem was that my Lulu doll looked exactly like Bonnie's Lulu doll. So a few months later when Bonnie couldn't find hers, she took mine. Of course, I hung on to mine like a bear cub's mother and there we were, each pulling an arm of the soft vinyl rubber-like doll. After a few minutes, the arm Bonnie was holding ripped off! I was in shock! Bonnie wasn't because she dropped the arm and flounced off saying she just remembered where she'd left hers. My poor little Lulu doll. Mom sewed her arm back on, and I loved her, but she was never the same again.

1960 Boxing Day (the day after Christmas). Camp #5

Mom spent a lot of time dolling us up as you can see by my pretty ringlets in this photo taken on Boxing Day. That Christmas was special as Dad was making good money. Along with my Lulu doll, I received a nurse's kit and tea set.

Christmas 1961. Anita 4, Johnny 1, Bonnie, 5. Camp #5.

Johnny joined us for the Christmas of 1964 photo and although Mom snapped this after Christmas, I have no recollection of our presents. I do know that we were still in Camp #5, because Bonnie and I sang Silent Night in Finn in front of the whole community at the Camp Christmas Concert. And yes, I do remember the experience. It's probably what gave me the stage fright that lasted well into adulthood.

Christmas 1963 Geraldton, Ontario

We moved to the gold mining town of my birth when I was five, but we lived on a hill on the edge of town. Trying times of turmoil fell upon Bonnie and I as we were involved in a custody battle and shuffled between our biological parents and forced to live with step-parents who felt threatened by our existence. I don't have photos of those years. Truthfully, they feel like pages from someone else's book and I'd rather not look at them.

Christmas 1967, Johnny 7, Anita 10, Bonnie 11, Thunder Bay, ON

The Christmas of 1967 found us living with our mother in the city of Thunder Bay, at the head of Lake Superior. Here we are on the stairs with the stockings Mom made for each of us when we were small. The little plastic mesh stocking was for our brother, Peter, who was 2 that year but I guess Mom hadn't had time to make him one yet. She crafted ours out of felt and lined it with plastic. That way, the candies wouldn't stick to the felt and it would be an easy clean up if our Christmas oranges got squished and leaked. Our stockings were used for food only and if you look close, you can see a box of Pink Elephant popcorn poking out.

Christmas 1967, Johnny 7, Anita 10, Bonnie 11, Thunder Bay, ON

Those were hard times as our step-father was gone for months at a time while working road construction. I don't remember any of the gifts I received that year although I know those snow shovels were for Bonnie and I so that we could help Mom while Dad was gone. I don't know if it was the lack of money, or the move to the city, but our tree sure looked sparser than it had when we lived in the logging camp.

Christmas 1968, Thunder Bay, ON
Another year passed and 1968 we're all a year older (12, 11, 8 now) and we're still holding the same stockings and yes - it looks like we have more Pink Elephant popcorn. We were allowed to empty our stockings as soon as we awoke, but Mom's always been an early riser and took this photo that Christmas morning. Considering the smile on my face and the position of my box of Pink Elephant popcorn, I may have emptied part of my stocking before she got us to pose.

Christmas 1968,  Bonnie 12, Johnny 8, Anita 11,Thunder Bay, ON

Here we are several hours later, holding our gifts and looking presentable. I received several musical instruments over the years as if Mom had hopes of getting me interested, but they weren't the real ones and I spent more time reading and writing than singing and playing. Once again, three-year-old Peter is missing from this photo, but he had a good excuse that year...he was sick in the hospital and didn't come home until several days later.

Christmas 1968, Peter 3,Thunder Bay, ON

Mom and Dad tried to make it up to him with a shiny red pedal car. Do you think it worked?

Christmas 1969, Anita 12, Johnny 9, Bonnie 13, Peter 4,
Thunder Bay, ON

We moved again in 1969 - this time to a farm 7 miles outside of Thunder Bay. And with the tree being so lush, it looks like we may have cut it on our own property. Now 12 yrs old, the gift I'm holding is a plush pajama doll. I don't think they even make pajama dolls anymore, but all day long she sat on my bed, all puffed out with my jammies inside. Then at night, I'd open the zipper, take my jammies out, and spend the night cuddling her. And she safely held my secrets along with my jammies.

Now do you see what I mean about Mom taking pictures? I never knew how many rolls of film she went through until I visited her last summer and took photos of her pictures so I could preserve them digitally. All I can say is thank you, Mom, for allowing me to see my past.

I also have my mom to thank for my stocking. Do you remember the stocking with my name on it from the above photos? Well, I still have it. Not only do I still have mine, but I made a green one for Nelson when we got married, and followed the tradition with the kids.

Homemade Felt Stockings, Anita's c1958-59

We gave Crystal her stocking when she moved out after graduation, and I believe she lost it along the way. Jessie moved out 2 yrs ago, but is leaving hers at home until she has her own home and family. I'd like to note that the plastic in Jessie's stocking is nice and thick - it's from the bag her Huggies diapers came in. Instead of candy, nuts and Japanese oranges though, we use our stockings for gifts and chocolate. Being flat however, limited these stockings to small gifts only.

A couple years ago, when my stocking turned 50, we decided to retire all the homemade ones. Now, they hang on one side of our hall as reminders of Christmases past.

Draper Stockings c2009

While on the other side hang our bigger, modern stockings with all kinds of room for goodies.

Thank you for taking this old Christmas journey with me whether you read the text or only looked at the photos.

Now look at your own photo of a past Christmas. What do you remember about it? The gifts? The location? The people? Do you remember how you felt as you waited for the 'click' of the camera?


Anita Mae Draper is retired from the Canadian Armed Forces and lives on the prairie of southeast Saskatchewan, Canada with her hubby of 30 plus years and 2 of their 4 kids. She writes stories set on the prairies of Saskatchewan, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. Anita Mae has semi-finaled in the Historical Romance category of the ACFW's 2011 Genesis contest and finaled in the Inspirational category of the 2011 Daphne du Maurier, the 2011 Fool for Love, the 2011 Duel on the Delta and 2009 Linda Howard Award of Excellence contests. You can find her at


  1. Great photos and stories Anita! Only I noticed the one where everyone looked too serious. Perhaps you were balking at the annual photo but now glad you've got it

    I have my stocking too not homemade but mine was flannel and hasn't been stuffed in many many years. Maybe next year ill show all the family stockings which I buy plain and decorate. Didn't expect to make two new ones so recently.

    Thanks for the idea to share our individual stories this year. What a treat it has been.

    By the way is there any more impressive name for a town than Thunder Bay?

  2. Ah, Anita. I always feel the same when waiting for someone to take a picture-impatient. BUT I loved looking at all your pictures and strolling with you down memory lane.

    Pray tell, what is Pink Elephant popcorn?

  3. I kind of mentioned this briefly in my Christmas post, but we had to take a picture on the steps every year in our pajamas. We still do the tradition with all the kids and grandkids, but we're not in pjs anymore.

  4. This was fun, Anita, though my heart broke when I read about the years where you did not want to look at the pictures and remember.

    I love the stockings, agree with Deb about Thunder Bay, and like Lisa, I want to know about Pink Elephant popcorn.

  5. Thanks, Deb. I'd love to see your gussied-up stockings next year. Great idea.

    As for Thunder Bay, French maps from the 18th-century show it as Baie du Tonnerre (Bay of Thunder). It became the twin cities of Fort William and Prince Arthur, but for us growing up 4 hrs away in Geraldton, we only knew it as the Lakehead. By 1970, we were living on the farm on the edge of Fort William when the twin cities decided to amalgamate. I was in Grade 7, and it was the first time I paid attention to the news. I remember sitting on the school bus when word came through that the citizens had chosen the new name of Thunder Bay over Lakehead and The Lakehead. At the time I thought it was stupid. Now, I'm glad they went back in history and set the record straight.

    Ugh - you've pulled a history lesson out of me. So sorry.

  6. Lisa, I don't know if it was impatience as much as listening to Mom's directions. As I looked at the photos I remembered her posing us. She'd tell us how to sit, what to hold, how to hold it, etc.

    My main problem was that I didn't know how to smile. I was either showing too much teeth or not enough. Or my eyes were too open or too closed. I grew up hating being in front of the camera. Still don't like it, actually.

    As for Pink Elephant popcorn... it was popcorn with a pink confectionary coating - like Crackerjack caramel corn, but very light as if the pink had been sprayed on. And no nuts. I googled it and according to Wikipedia, it's a Canadian company. No wonder you've never heard of it. Here's a photo of Lucky Elephant Pink Popcorn. There's a Facebook group of the same name. But most of us just call it Pink Elephant Popcorn. :D

    Thanks for asking, Lisa.

  7. Yes, Dina, and thank you for mentioning it in your Christmas post because it triggered a memory and I went searching through the photos I'd taken of Mom's pics specifically looking for it.

    I'd been searching amongst the black and white photos, but then found these two 1967 colour photos. I love seeing my stocking in that photo in brilliant colour. :)

    Thanks, Dina.

  8. Suzie, when I answered Lisa about the Pink Elephant popcorn, I forgot to mention that there are several recipes for it on the web. I haven't tried any of them so I can't tell you if it's the same. Some say it is. But one woman said she liked it, but her family hated it. Until today, I never knew there were recipes for it. Perhaps that should be an upcoming project.

    Bless your soft heart, Suzie.

  9. Will have to look for Pink Elephant popcorn next time I'm in Canada. I'm intrigued.

    Love the stockings, and what great photos!

  10. Pink Popcorn had better prizes in the box but I liked the taste of Cracker Jacks better (Or was it the other way around!?)

    We have many family Christmas photos too. The one I remember most is a year at my grandparents and I was no more than 3 years old. Someone wanted to take a picture of the grandchildren and I wasn't too impressed with the idea. I remember being quite upset about it until my cousin who is 2 years older than I am let me hold her doll. The tears stopped enough to take the photo. And by looking at the photo, I was hugging that doll quite tightly!

  11. Thanks, Barb. I'll call Mom tomorrow and let her know they're appreciated. She doesn't see any use for computers, email, etc so she won't see the post unless she goes over to my brother's place.

    That's a funny thing, too because it's all Thunder Bay, but Mom says to see Johnny, she has to drive all the way to Fort William. That's about 3 miles of hardship passing all the stores like Walmart, Best Buy, etc that have sprung up between the 2 cities since they amalgamated. LOL

    What I wouldn't give to have those stores closer than the 60 miles they are now.

    The Pink Popcorn is getting harder to find, Barb, but check the Facebook page and check to see who has it in your area before you go.

  12. Elaine, that would've made a grand picture, I'm sure. It's a great story to pass on, too. And now you've got me curious as to why you didn't want your picture taken.

    I don't remember any prizes in the Pink Elephant popcorn, but I loved the ones in the Crackerjack. With the nuts and caramel, Crackerjack was my popcorn of choice, but we only got it from our step-dad's mother, not our own.

    I'll have to ask Mom if she gave us the Pink Elephant popcorn because it was cheaper than the Crackerjack or because she liked it more.

    It's always a pleasure when you stop by Elaine, thanks and Merry Christmas. :)

  13. Oh, precious pictures! How sweet!

    It makes me think of Christmas with all my aunts, uncles and cousins and other hangers on. How my grandma managed to make tons of delicious food for all those people from scratch by herself is a mystery to me.

    And my grandpa was the picture and film maker of the family. Hmmmm . . . maybe I need to write a post about how he'd lure me into the picture when I was just a toddler.

    Now to find some of my old Christmas pictures . . .

  14. Thank you Ms. Draper for sharing your Christmas memories and pictures with us :)

  15. I loved the pictures, Anita! The stories, too, but I felt terrible reading about the time spent between parents, the "pages from someone else's book." I'm so sorry you had to go through that.

    I used to get an orange in my stocking, too! I wonder if Santa does that very often anymore.

    My kids' stockings are handmade, knit by a woman in our former parish and given to them as baby gifts.

    I'll have to check out the pink popcorn. I'd never heard of it, either!

  16. Thanks, DeAnna.

    I hope you can find at least one photo although the more the better. After your comment on yesterday's post, I'm feeling ill thinking of us all posting photos and you not able to find any. :(

    Will pray. That always works. :)

  17. You're very welcome, Faye.

    And please, call me Anita. After broadcasting the age of my Christmas stocking and telling my childhood story, I think anyone has the right to call me by my given name.

    Especially someone I consider a friend, like you. Thank you for voicing your thoughts. :)

  18. You're sweet, Susie. I know I've said it often, but there it is.

    So you know what a Christmas orange is? The last time I mentioned it to an American friend of the Great Lakes area, she didn't know what I was talking about.

    Honestly, I can't fathom Christmas without the Japanese oranges even if we don't put them in our stockings anymore.

    Your stockings sound wonderful, Susie. I'd love to see them in a post next year, too. Hint - you should take photos of them now while they're out of their hiding place. :)

    You'd think with all the pink things selling on behalf of the Breast Cancer Awareness program someone would latch onto the Lucky Elephant Pink Popcorn label and find a way to promote it, too.

    Thanks for sharing. :)

  19. LOVED the pictures, Anita!
    The first photo of stockings looks so much like the ones my MIL made for her kids. She added little appliques for each kiddo, funny thing is she put tools on my hubby's stocking, not knowing he would grow up and be a carpenter!

  20. just now getting to your post Anita. loved your sharing of your memory lane trip. i can so relate to the "pages from someone elses book" years. have some of those myself.
    i don't have many pictures from childhood because i think a lot of them got lost during the divorce of my parents. *sigh* and then a gold-digger wife of my uncle basically tossed loads of family history into the trash after my uncle died. i seem to be the family historian and those losses make my heart ache.

    i do so love all your pictures and memories. i also figured out you and i are exactly a decade apart in age.

    anyway, loved reading your post (and all the other Inkies Christmas postings as well - such rich histories/heritages)

    late Merry Christmas and early Happy New Year!

  21. Too funny, Niki. Do you think that influenced his decision? LOL

    I'd love to see photos of them next year - I'm really liking the idea of homemade Christmas 'stuff' for our 2012 posts.

    Thanks, Niki.

  22. Awh Deb, I just don't understand the cruelty involved in throwing out someone else's treasures - especially knowing they can never be replaced.

    My eldest daughter, Crystal went through the same thing which is why Jessie leaves her stocking at home. Crystal took hers when she moved to the city in her early 20's. But then she had a huge disagreement with her roommate who locked her out of their apartment. It took several days before Crystal found another place to stay and went back for her stuff. Her ex-roomie didn't have it anymore as she'd left it all beside the garbage bin on pick-up day. :(

    A decade apart? Really? Then you had Nate at the same age I had JJ. :)

    The one thing about showing our rich histories/heritages that's bothered me is the effect it may have on those who don't know theirs. Or perhaps they know their history, but it's not nice. Or, they don't have the photos to show it. I truly feel despondent when I think of the people who read our posts and feel sad or depressed because of them.

    As you can see, I may have the photos to show my history, but if you look at our faces, expressions, and body language, our life wasn't always happy. Nor is it one I'd wish on anyone else.

    To someone like you who doesn't have the 'proof' of a past, all I can say is... it doesn't matter. A fire could erase them all tomorrow and even if they last, I won't be taking them with me to heaven.

    Photos aren't the only proof that you were here - there's Nate, and the artistry that you create.

    And my memories of you.



Share This Post

How Our Giveaways Work: The Official Rules

We, the ladies of Inkwell Inspirations, would love to give free stuff to everybody. Since we can't, we will often have a giveaway in conjunction with a specific post. Unless otherwise stated, one winner will be drawn from comments left on that post between the date it was published and the end of the giveaway as determined in the post. Entries must be accompanied by a valid email address. This address is used only to contact the commenter in the event that he/she is the winner, and will not be sold, distributed, or used in any other fashion. The odds of winning depend on the number of entrants. NO PURCHASE, PLEDGE, OR DONATION NECESSARY TO ENTER OR TO WIN. ALL FEDERAL, STATE, LOCAL AND MUNICIPAL LAWS AND REGULATIONS APPLY. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED.