Joe L’Orsa used to tell us we lived in Upper Driftwood, a joke to make sure we didn’t take ourselves too seriously. But I have to admit, it’s when I turn off the Telkwa Highroad onto Driftwood Road, onto the section of road that follows the creek from the schoolhouse right into Silver King Basin, that’s when I feel most at home. Of the nine families that lived along Driftwood Road when we arrived, four are still here. One of the most recent departures was that of Christine and Herb Buchholtz; they moved out of their small cabin into their granddaughter Cinamon’s house at Moricetown. I think of all of us, they were here first. Which makes sense in a way because Christine, who passed away in January, was Wet’suwet’en and her people have been here for thousands of years.
The family prepared a wonderfully detailed biography of Christine and I have, with their permission, excerpted much of it here.
Christine was born in Smithers, the oldest of five children. Her mother was Esther Baptiste of the Laksilyu (small frog) clan; her father was Joshua Holland of the Tsayu (beaver) clan. Her grandparents, Jean Paul and Sarah Baptiste refused to be relocated to Moricetown; the reserve established at their homesite on Babine Lake Road is named after them. Christine did not have any formal education. Her grandmother chased the priest away with a stick and did not allow her to attend any residential schools. She received the best education a person can ever have – to be taught by her parents and grandparents. They taught her how to carry herself with confidence in the feast hall, how to care for her children and husband.
She met Herb Buchholz in 1957. They married in 1962 and were together until her death this winter. They made their home in Driftwood Canyon where they raised their eight children and three of their grandchildren.
Daughter-in-law Heather Buchholz told me that in the very early seventies, Herb had heard there was a cheap cabin for rent out there, by a guy named Gerry Langen. Eventually Langen sold the property to Hans Tugnum [who still lives across the creek], and moved back to Saskatchewan. Their original neighbours, before Sonja and Richard Lester, were a young hippy guy named Thor (who dad used to get quite a kick out of), and Andrew George, who ran for mayor one year, also rented a cabin on some adjacent property.
I remember seeing the grandkids, Cinamon and David, walking to the school bus stop; later Herb and Christine would drive up to the corner to get another grandchild, Damian, off to school. They’d be there waiting for the bus in the afternoon. We’d often chat when we stopped to pick up our mail.
Their cabin had no running water or electricity. Christine helped haul water and kept the house nice and cozy. She always had big meals prepared for her children. Her routine was grocery shopping on Fridays and laundry on Saturdays. She would wash the clothes at a laundromat and bring them back to hang on her clothes line.
Christine loved nature. They had a huge fire pit and every evening the family would gather, telling stories until late at night. Herb would tell stories and Christine really loved that. Herb was German. Two of his sisters came and fell in love with the family and to this day exchange letters and pictures.
Both Christine and Herb always made Christmas beautiful at the cabin. They never forgot birthday parties and all of the other festivities throughout the year. Christine loved to travel, take weekend trips, take the kids camping, even to go out for a load of wood. She just loved to be outside.
They would take trips to Vancouver to visit family. Her favorite places were Stewart, Cook Lake, Telkwa Highroad area, Barkerville and Hankin Lake. They would go to Hankin Lake every year as a memorial trip in celebration of life of their late son Werner. She loved going to Barkerville hotel to play the slots and have breakfast. She always won their meat draws and enjoyed their clam chowder at the Barkerville Legion.
When their son, Lester, started playing hockey, they built a huge outside rink so the boys could play and practice hockey. Christine was the loudest fan when Lester played for the Smithers Totems and Moricetown Canyon Bears. They followed the Smithers Totems when they travelled to Kitimaat, Houston and other tournaments. They were proud number one fans.
Christine worked at the cannery in Prince Rupert. She also worked with the nuns at the Smithers hospital. She would sterilize the surgical instruments, wash and re-roll the gauzes. She also worked at the nursery in Telkwa. She liked to sketch native art work, kind of primitive bows and arrows, warrior figures. A couple of years ago, she joined the moccasins-making workshop at the Friendship Center. She made two pairs and gave them to her daughters-in-law.
Cinamon recalls Freda Huson’s drumming group with Molly Wickham singing the Grouse song, which was Christine’s favorite song; she started crying and told her story about how her grandmother used to sing that song for her. Christine was a firm believer in traditional food such as bear grease, ooligan grease, wildlife food. She thought that people would be healthier if they ate more traditionally. She taught Heather how to pick soap berries.
One day I was driving to work very early in the morning. Just at the curve of the road near their driveway, I saw a deer had been killed by a car. It was still warm. Not wanting to leave it there, I went down to the cabin and knocked on the door, thinking Herb and Christine might be able to salvage its meat. Herb opened the door and, as I explained about the deer, the warmth from the cabin rolled out around me and I saw Christine sitting up in bed, like a sleepy queen. I’ve never forgotten the warmth I felt there and was reminded of it when I read this:
Her granddaughter Cinamon recalls how she would start putting on her makeup and put on perfume and nice clothes every day. Cinamon asked her, “Are we going somewhere, Grandma?” Christine told her no, Daddy will be home soon and I want to be beautiful for him. She taught her children all the wisdom she received from her home schooling. She always told them to never leave the children alone and always try to look their best. Christine loved to buy expensive jewelry and beautiful things. If she couldn’t afford them, she would arrange payment plans and pay for all of her items. She was a devoted Avon customer.
Elvis Presley was her idol. She loved his music and passed that love onto her children and grandchildren. She would attend any Elvis impersonators whenever she could.
When her daughter-in-law Darlene took her name at the feast hall she was very supportive and helped her with the preparations. She was proud of her accomplishments and how she carried herself at the feast hall.
We were always impressed with the family’s resilience through many losses; the children’s and grandchildren’s testimonials at Christine’s funeral speak to the warmth and generosity she provided and how she and Herb made their tiny cabin an oasis of stability in a complicated world.
We love to tell a story that reflects Herb’s ability with the internal combustion engine. The number of cars, trucks and buses on the property finally became a bit of a concern and Hans Tugnum had many of them hauled away when Christine and Herb moved to Moricetown. But Herb always seemed like a wizard to us: one evening in the depth of a 1980s winter, when we were still driving an old Scout, the thing just died and we barely managed to coast over to the side of the road on the hill heading down to Canyon Creek. Lynn struck a few matches under the hood but couldn’t see anything in the brief sputtering light. Herb drove up beside us and felt around under the hood – alakazam! the Scout started right up. Herb remembers the night, Heather says. something about a wire to the distributor. Many of our neighbours helped us out over the years, but that night was something special.
I also need to mention Christine’s Wet’suwet’en name: Ggunek, which means hummingbird. Her grandchildren mentioned its significance in their remembrances of her. Milan told the story of catching a trapped bird in a cloth and bringing it to her: When we opened the cloth that lil bird sat there while she pet it…always wondered why it didn’t just fly away…out on its way it beeped twice, spread its wings and was gone. We laughed so hard…
Jenni’s discovery of her grandmother’s name solved a few mysteries about my grandma, but … also created a few new ones. Watching the hummingbird over the summer since, it seemed that – though small – they could be fierce when defending themselves, their homes, and their children, and they were beautiful, proud little creatures. Like her namesake, grandma was never – ever – afraid to fight for her loved ones and strength hidden amongst dignity and beauty, is a long and ancient legacy of our people. This was my grandma in so many ways…proud, beautiful and strong.
Thanks to Birdy Markert for giving me the biography prepared for Christine’s funeral, and to Cinamon for putting me in touch with Heather who sent photos and memories:
I tried to send something of mom and dad from when they were a younger, to an older couple. The creek pictures are significant, because they represented a lifetime supply of good drinking water, a place to clean their fish, water to clean themselves, and their home year-round. The solitude and peaceful atmosphere of Driftwood lent something good, not only to mom and dad, but also to the rest of us who visited or lived there.
The description of Ggunek’s education as “the best education a person can ever have” is timely for me because I’m immersed in editing a book on Indigenous education in Canada. In regard to forms of education that were in place long before the colonizers arrived on Turtle Island, the book quotes Verna Kirkness as saying “It was an education in which the community was the classroom, its members were the teachers, and each adult was responsible to ensure that each child learned how to live a good life.” I love the image of Ggunek’s grandmother chasing the priest away with a stick! May their memories be eternal.
By the way, your Driftwood Road community sounds a lot like ours out on the Cedarvale back road. It’s a good life.
Thank you Sheila, what a great way to spend the evening. Remembering some of the people I grew up with and learning more about them all these years later.