Growing Up In Tahsis – Excuse my Thoughts
On Vancouver Island, a remote little sport fishing village was once a thriving logging town. In actual fact, the Island probably has a hundred of these little towns dotted across it. Just past the corner of the Pee Tree, you can see the first of the lights as you round the last of three hills. It’s a sight for sore eyes every time you arrive… after 126km of paved road, you’ve reached 66km of dirt road since you’ve seen buildings.
I was born in May 1988 at the Tahsis Hospital prematurely. Because the hospital wasn’t equipped to deliver babies, they had to fly me out of town. My Father convinced the pilots not to take this little 5lbs, 2oz baby all the way to Vancouver, over four hours by road and another three by sea, but instead go for the nearest town with what we needed. He tells the story and explains looking at the helicopter after hearing all the plans and realizing no one could come with me. Growing up, I was so proud of this, is basically born in a helicopter, but as a parent, I’ve come to realize how terrifying that must have been. How hard for a first-time parent it was to watch her baby fly out over the water alone, barely an hour old.
No stranger danger, just couger danger
Growing up in Tahsis during the early ’90s and ’00s was a unique experience, and I’ve always treasured it. During the summer, you could ride your bike anywhere in town, with the general warning to watch for cougars and bears. It wasn’t stranger danger. It was animal danger. My Papa was a truck driver, and we had a CB radio in the living room and each car to talk to each other. We would record on VHS tape shows to give to my cousins and family members who didn’t have a satellite.
We didn’t spend much time indoors, however. The summer was too short, and we had too much to do.
For me, I joke that my anxiety started when I was young. When we’d ride our bikes around town, we had certain paths we couldn’t sometimes take because of cougars and bears. My Dad remembers growing up and knowing if the dogs weren’t out barking that night, you didn’t go out, or you ran a little faster, biked a little harder to get safely indoors.
For an adventure, we’d go for a drive to the dump just outside of town and see if the bears or other animals were pawing through. Our little village went through decades of changes to the dump to try and make it more bear and environmentally friendly. Back in the ’80s and 90’s we were still figuring the best way to keep bears at bay, and on some nights or days, you could see one to five bears trying to find a snack. It was always thrilling and terrifying to see these amazing animals (semi) up close. Even though we were in a car, we’d make sure to keep a safe and respectful distance. No one wants to make Mama bear mad! At times the ball fields would be off-limits, and you’d see a Beartrap/bear cage trying to catch the newest neighbour trying to move in.
Freedom to roam
We weren’t latchkey kids, but we had true freedom to come and go as we pleased around town. Your bike was your lifeline, and Tahsis is so small you can easily ride from one side to the other in probably less than ten minutes. You knew to come home when the sun started to set, and everyone in town truly looked out for each other. In the summer, we had a Summer Program through the local Rec center — most of the highlights from my childhood come from memories of these days. We did everything, hiking, fossil collecting, camping, swimming, boating, canoeing, and kayaking. I almost drowned twice in one summer, and that year received an award for the “Best Bad Luck. If anything is going to happen, it’ll happen to you.”
Seriously, only by boat
Once before a trip to a place accessible only by boat, Esperanza, a boy trying to show off with his fishing rod, caught something alright…his own hand.
The hospital of Tahsis was a small place. It had maybe three or four staff members, and the only time I can remember needing it was we waited three hours for the doctors to get back from a fishing trip before we were seen. We only had one ambulance, so the mill supplied a medical van for me while my friend travelled in the actual ambulance.
Company mill town
The town depended on the Mills; we had a pulp mill and a lumber mill. The town was a company town until roughly the 1950s, with the road only being opened to the public in 1972. The smell of the mills is something I’ll never forget and sometimes dream about. It was a beautiful smell, and the town always had a wonderful scent, chop wood and take a deep breath of that earthy scent as it evokes something inside of you.
A bush education was obviously important growing up in the woods on the ocean. However, formal education was also very valued. We need loggers and truckers just as much as we need the nurses and business owners. During my education in Tahsis, I attended Captain Meares Elementary and Secondary School. I was always proud to walk into that building with my paternal Grandmother’s name in bronze as an important part of its history.
Captain Meares Elementary and Secondary School
On one side, we had elementary grades kinder to roughly six. Frankly, it depended on the number of kids in what grade that year. Across the main foyer was the high school; we all looked forward to crossing the entrance and taking a left instead of a right. You had the same classmates from kindergarten to graduation unless a family moved out of town. We had split classes not due to lack of building size like most schools now, but rather due to students’ lack of students. At its height, Tahsis had approximately 2,500 people living in this company town. I couldn’t tell you how many lived in it when I grew up, but we passed the high and slowly sank into the eventual closure and end of everything we knew. We had four girls and two boys in my grade when I went to school, while my Mom had probably twenty people in her class.
Tahsis’ history was as varied as its people — we came from all walks of life and all places to make a living in our little slice of literal heaven. I dream of the town, the Great Walk with the burning boot, when I’m homesick. Since I was young, I’ve moved to the big city, leaving Vancouver Island completely and ending up in Edmonton, Alberta. From watching the whales in the morning to watching the sunrise over skyscrapers — it’s been an interesting journey, to say the least.
My four kids have grown up so differently from me. At times I think they might believe I’m just making up stories. During these difficult and confusing times in the world, I miss the easy-going days of living off the land and with it. Meal planning not to stick to a budget, but because you did your shopping once every two or three months when you drove to town. Instead, they have grown up in a small town by current Albertan standards and the capital city. They’ve experienced growing up in a place I still barely understand after living here for ten years. A world so different from the one I knew. I watch homesteading shows and realize more and more that the world I grew up in doesn’t even really exist anymore. It’s the fringe, the odd. My kids won’t get to feel the thrill of jumping off a two-story-tall rock face into the ocean and running for your life to the family car because you just saw a bear.
Tahsis Days brought us together
Some people dream of living in a house in the middle of the street with a white picket fence. I will forever dream of the town in my blood and living far away from the world. If I could have lived in a perfect world, my small little corner of the world with its grand River Rats Race and Tahsis Day parade would have never changed. Businesses that had supported the town for so long would have remained open, and we’d have stayed. If I could raise my kids in one place, it would be Tahsis. But, in the end, maybe I remember these things through a nostalgia filter. My childhood was magical during the time I spent in Tahsis. I truly wish everyone could experience it in the way I did.