George and Donnette Farrell, brother Dan, Bobby Hayes and Pooh Bear Come to the Charlottes.
As told to Jane Kinegal by Donnette and George
In May, 1971, two unusual looking vehicles rolled off the Northland Prince in Masset. Maybe a few years later these trippy hippy homes wouldn’t seem all that surprising to eyes on the ‘Charlottes, as the islands were then called, but at that time those trucks were likely viewed with some fairly curious interest.
One of the trucks was a 2-Ton 1941 flatbed GMC which had waited in a farmer’s field in Washington state for two years for these people to come by and find it. It cost George and Donnette $125, and with only a new battery, it was ready to hit the road. It was painted red, with black fenders, and the new owners named it Percy. The other vehicle was a ’55 Dodge. The Farrells fitted these trucks out with comfortable, funky, hand-built homes. George and Donnette’s camper on the older truck featured a beautiful small wood cookstove, tucked in with pretty much everything else they needed to start their new life. Funky. (When I first saw Donnette in her home in the summer of ’72, it seemed to me I had entered a whole new world of possibility. She had just taken freshly baked bread out of her oven, and was grinning away happily in her miniature kitchen/dining room/living room.) The camper on the Dodge, built by Dan, was a masterpiece of straightforward, simple comfort. He built the bed section to fit over the cab, leaving plenty of room for his tall frame to move about easily in the rest of the sturdy plywood box. (Dan’s camper crouched for awhile on what later became my lot on the Hill, and I lived in it for several seasons while I dreamed and fantasised about building my own woodbutchered home there.) Dan later moved that camper out to the west coast, where it is easy to imagine him gazing out towards Japan and writing more of his thoughtful and spare and inspired poetry.
These trucks came up the road from Bellingham. Riding in them were four college graduates who had reason to want to go North. The war was raging in Viet Nam, and they all decided that they really belonged somewhere else. George and his friend had attended an entry draft ‘counselling session’ and out of the twenty invited attendees, they had been the only two men who had had the wit to flunk. Bobby was determined to remain the peaceful dude he was born to be. And Dan had had enough. Pooh Bear, the pregnant, heinz 57, white fluffy longhaired dog went along north because that is where George and Donnette were heading.
These new immigrants had previously checked the islands out – on a quick, three day reconnaissance visit some months before, encouraged by their great friend Greg Lundquist, who was born in Prince Rupert. They knew a good place when they saw one. On that short visit, they hitched down from Massett and got picked up in a taxi-van driven by Mel Pelton, with Matt Ridley riding shotgun. They were returning down island after taking a boy who had broken his arm to the hospital up in Massett. The Farrells and Bobby stayed at the Queen Charlotte Hotel, which was run by Lou and Flo at that time. After a good look around, they
decided that this was the island where they would settle.
This short-sweet visit to the Charlottes took place during the time that they were building their moveable homes and waiting for their landed immigration papers at Y-Road in Washington. Greg Lundquist loaned them $10,000 to pluff up their bank account, to ease the immigration process. Once every part of the puzzle was in place, they set off on the journey to settle in the ‘Charlottes.
The trucks were loaded with good healthy food: five gallon buckets of peanut butter, rice, flour, beans and honey – all the five food groups. Crammed in was everything they had decided that they needed to build a new life in the north. They spent three weeks poking their way through B.C. at a comfortable pace They would drive for maybe four hours in a day then camp for two or three nights at a site they liked, maybe a provincial campground. Donnette particularly recalls Lac la Hache where they spent three days.
They got to Prince Rupert and onto the Northland Navigation ship on what seemed to be a good calm day for a boatride. The weather changed and became what Donnette called ‘very Hecate-y’, after they got going. Donnette ate lightly at dinnertime, but the men ate generous helpings of the rich meal offered by Northland, and only one of the humans in the group was spared from experiencing violent sea-sickness. The voyage took twelve hours. When they returned to the car deck, the humans discovered that the only other female in the group, Pooh Bear, had been dealing with some fundamental challenges as well, but she had survived, like Donnette did, with some style and grace. Pooh Bear’s home had been parked at the edge of the freighter, and the ship’s railing was the same height as the porch of the camper. Somehow the camper door had opened in the rough seas, and Pooh Bear had gotten herself stuck on the two foot by three foot porch where she must have had some real trouble staying aboard in the storm. She gave birth to fourteen puppies two weeks later.
And so the Farrells and Bobby arrived in Masset. They went down the road to the campground on Beitush Road and set up temporarily. Not much time passed before Ted Bellis and Dick Ward showed up to check out the new immigrants and to offer them a job looking after the Pig Farm up towards Port Clements. They rolled back up the highway, and settled for awhile in their two campers, with Bobby snuggled in to the Pig Farm cabin. Free chickens and eggs. Herding the Hippy cows. Herding the pigs too, when they took off. One day with the help of switches, they had to guide the huge pigs back to the farm from the Port dump. The pigs were too huge to carry in the cab of a truck, so this task had to be done on foot. They had two sows to look after and countless piglets, and when the time was right, they also helped Teddy and Dick with butchering.
Dan went away to make some money, but George and Donnette stayed at the Pig Farm for a year. In that time, they had quite a range of jobs. The Stockers went to Germany and they looked after two girls and three boys, seven years old and under, for two or three weeks. During that time, George was called to work at Juskatla, so Donnette got to look after these five small children pretty much on her own. Later Donnette helped Elizabeth Vigneault (Inkster) in the bakery and in taking care of Leandre. Donnette still remembers the day that Leandre, three months old at the time, rolled off the low couch onto the floor and cut his lip. The injury was not serious, but remains a clear memory these more than forty years later.
In time the Farrells and Bobby moved along down the road to Queen Charlotte City, as it was called in the unincorporated days, and onto what became Hippy Hill. Bobby met John Wood, who had negotiated for many months to buy the mostly empty sixteen building lots on the Hill from Phil and Hayden Turner. Dan bought some land from Dogfish and Greg Lundquist bought from Ken Truesdell. Bobby got four lots at bargain prices as well, and gave them to others as repayment for money he owed.
George and Donnette settled at the top of the steep driveway up to the hill and lived on their lot in their camper and an addition, using an outhouse and rainwater, for the next ten years. Then they got going on building a beautifully built more towny house, with detailed and unique cabinet work crafted by Donnette. They now live across the road from their original homesite, in a reconditioned barge and tall tower (with great views over the inlet), and boathouse and workshop and studio and solarium and dollhouse and gypsy wagon compound arrangement. Their home is, as always, a welcoming place for friends who come from everywhere to visit and take part in islands hospitality, Farrell style.