The Legendary Betty Frank
and Sage Birchwater
She grew up playing on log booms and living in float houses, and at nine years old she learned to shoot a rifle and hunt game. Strong-willed and independent, Betty Frank always had a difficult time following the rules laid down by others. Rather than sit in a classroom and learn the times tables, she preferred to be out roaming the hills with her .22 rifle and bagging grouse. At an early age she dreamed of being a game guide and having her own hunting territory.
In spite of her distaste for sitting still, Betty soon realized that becoming a teacher would take her to the wilderness where the guiding opportunities lay, so she finished school and got her teaching certificate. But the schoolroom was neither adequate nor exciting enough to contain her imagination. Three years into her new career Betty met game guide Alfred Bowe, and from that day forward she followed her dream, embarking on a long and colourful career that spanned five decades.
Betty became a guide outfitter, trapper, shake splitter, dog musher and entrepreneur. Whether it was her penchant for nude sunbathing, popping out of a cake clad in a leopard-skin bikini at a guide-outfitters conference, taking lovers half her age, or living a life uncommon for a woman in the rough and ready Cariboo, Betty Frank made her mark, and throughout her fascinating career she broke all the gender stereotypes.
I was born in Northern Alberta on August 5, 1931, during the Great Depression. My parents were Dutch immigrants who met in Strathmore, Alberta. My mother, Hilda Gonda Maria Cecelia Cornelia de Get, went by the name Gonda. My dad was born Jean Baptiste Cockx, but he changed his name to John Cox. Mom was only seventeen when she married my dad and they started a homestead near Peace River, Alberta. I was their first child, and my brother Charlie arrived a year later on August 26, 1932.
My parents had a little house and a barn on their homestead, where they kept horses and a milk cow, but life was difficult and the Depression drove them out. They heard there was work in Vancouver. I was only three and Charlie was two when, in 1934, Dad traded the homestead and animals for a Model T Ford and we all headed for British Columbia. Mom swears she pushed that Model T up all the hills.
We stopped in Cache Creek where all kinds of tents were pitched. Everybody was going to Vancouver. I remember we camped next to the Indian reserve, and it was piled with tents. Everybody was moving. We got to Vancouver and stayed in a hotel infested with bedbugs, and I would always wander off and get lost. The policemen would find me and buy me an ice cream cone and sit me on top of the counter until my parents came to get me.
In our ratty hotel room in Vancouver Dad got in with a guy called Debeau. It was a very secretive thing, probably something to do with liquor. Debeau gave us a little farm to live on near Port Coquitlam, with a little creek running in back of the house. The place was furnished, and even had shelves full of books. My mother loved to read. One day she opened one of the books in the house and there was sixty dollars. It was the Depression, so that was big money.
The book is a fascinating read about Frank’s life, growing up playing on log booms and living float houses.
This is Cariboo history at its grittiest, an unfiltered look into a lifestyle that is now all but lost even in Betty’s remote mountains. It is a chronicle of rural people living at the margins of mainstream British Columbia society with few resources except what they can glean from the land. To survive, they hunt, fish, cut shakes, and trap. They rely on horses, dogs, beat-up vehicles and each other. The book documents their lives with a level of detail found in few other sources, and this is perhaps its greatest value. The stories, often hilarious, sometimes scary, and occasionally sad, paint a picture of a life lived to the fullest, and of childhood dreams realized beyond expectations.
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Caitlin books by Betty Frank
Caitlin books by Sage Birchwater
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9781894759632 / 189475963x
6X9, 272 pages, 40 b&w photos
Biography, Memoir, Non-fiction
Paperback price: $24.95
Purchases only available to Canadian addresses.
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