Sunday, May 27, 2012

"Ruffles on my Longjohns" by Isabel Edwards

Last time I went to the Economy Shop, I found another treasure. For just 50 cents, I got a $14.95 book called Ruffles on my Longjohns by Isabel Edwards.

When Wayne and I first discovered Powell River, we started reading regional books. One was about an early homesteader near Bella Coola, Ralph Edwards of Lonesome Lake. In 1913, Ralph homesteaded on a remote lake in the Coast Range. His brother Earle came to stay and also fell in love with the region.

In 1932, Earle and his wife Isabel were living in the bustling city of Portland. Earle was experienced in the ways of the wilderness. Isabel was what Wayne and I called ourselves, "cityfolk." But like us, she was open to new experiences. Earle proposed a Christmas visit to his brother's homestead. In those days, it was no easy trip. They drove a Studebaker coupe on what were loosely called roads to Charlotte Lake. From there, they built a raft and sailed its length. And that wasn't the end. They hiked over the mountains following fast running rivers down to Lonesome Lake.

After a lengthy visit with the Edwards family, Earle and Isabel decided to stay. Ruffles on my Longjohns is Isabel's account of learning to live on a remote homestead of her own, building a rewarding life in the wilderness at Atnarko, then on a farm closer to Bella Coola in Firvale. Isabel was a amazing woman living and holding her own in a world dominated by men. She learned how to fish, cook, can, care for animals, and run a home with few resources. Their Christmas trip turned into a lifetime of hard, but rewarding work and play. Find a copy for yourself, and enjoy a true account of British Columbia history.

Wayne and I went to Bella Coola once in our airplane. We didn't get to venture very far into the interior, but what we saw was beautiful. But I can imagine the winters are much harder than on the lower mainland coast.

A good resource for the Bella Coola region is Grizzly's Bella Coola Blog. Grizzly posts pictures and tells about what's happening in the region. Stop on by and say hi. -- Margy


  1. You bring back memories.

    I read about Ralph Edwards in the Beautiful British Columbia magazine, long, long ago, when I was in Mexico, and homesick for BC. I never imagined I would eventually be living just down the road from Isabel, hiking out to the old homestead on the Atnarko, and beyond, to Lonesome Lake. Good times!

    The fires of a few years back wiped out the old homestead. Johnny, Ralph's younger son, in his 70s, was staying there and fought the fires until the last possible moment, trying to provide shelter from the blaze for the animals in the area.

  2. I think you might enjoy this story.

    After I moved to the Bella Coola valley, I bought the book about Ralph Edwards in the Kopas store, wrote a note to my parents on the blank pages in front, and mailed it to them. This would be about 1979 or '80.

    (The note mentions the death of Ralph's wife Ethel, in Bella Coola just 3 weeks before.)

    Many years later, I was living in the Lower Mainland again. My son-in-law found "Crusoe" in a thrift store, opened it and found my note to my parents, so he bought the book and gave it to me. I still have it.

  3. When I was living in Bella Coola area back in 1994-95 teaching school there (well, Hagensborg) I bought and read that book - very fascinating to imagine a woman living in those conditions. Have to admit, I don't think I'd be able to do it.

  4. It's been years since I read this book, Margy. Thanks for the reminder. I remember my mother and I shared a copy, but I can't remember when it was.
    If we had to build a raft and hike a mountain in order to visit relatives these days, we'd probably never see them, would we?
    (Well, okay, you and Wayne might, but the rest of us would do more than hesitate, we'd out and out balk.)

  5. Susannah - I find both our your stories really interesting. Even in 1979 Bella Coola must have been pretty remote and back to basics. That's really cool to find a book you signed in a used book store. I wonder what the odds are on that happening.

    Leslie - It must have been really interesting to teach in Hagensborg. I think it is probably better for kids not to know what the big city is like, than for big city kids not to know what nature is like.

    Kay - Well, I don't have to hike a mountain to see my Mom. Sometimes I need to climb a mountain to get my perspective back though.


  6. I have a copy of this book, given to me a few years ago. I like reading stories about BC.

  7. Stephanie - I do too. If you know of any good ones, let me know. I'm always on the lookout. - Margy

  8. We love Ralph Edwards story and the continuation with Trudy's Fogswamp. I found Isabel's book years ago at the library and enjoyed it very much.

    We had a back packing trip planned years ago with arrangements to be dropped by float plane into the Tweedsmuir area but Tramp 1 ended up having his first back surgery instead...

    For more about Bella Coola, you might look for Bella Coola Man by Clayton Mack.