CHINESE HEAD TAX

FONG  FAMILY


Agassiz, BC Hopyards

   Queenie (Fong) Pink

 
Letter Translation:

The hopyards at Agassiz were the biggest BC Hop operations. There were about 5 or 6 big acreages and a smaller yard at Hammersley Prairie near the Limbert farm.


In the winter, in December and January, they had to have coarse cocoanut twine tied and knotted. They came in bundles of 200 and my family used to have the contract to do this very tedious task. They used to bring it to our house in 5 ton trucks and fill our living room to the ceiling. It was terribly dusty and the coarseness of the twine hurt our fingers, but in those days it gave us a small income. The job usually took 4 to 6 weeks and we made $.10 a bundle, so it only netted us $200­$300, but it helped. They put the string in the ground and tied the top to wires which were then lifted and the hop vines climbed on the string, hence the reason for having coarse string.

 

  

 
   

There were sometimes many Chinese men living i n our store upstairs, who had come to work on the building of the railroad. My grandfather was the labor agent who had brought over many hundreds of Chinese men. When the railroad was finished, some of the men stayed to work in the hopyards. They used to work for $1.30 to $1.50 a day. They had to walk every day to and from our store on Pioneer Street. A few were lucky enough to live in buildings on the hopyards but the ones who walked had to carry their tools with them (machetes, shovels, etc).

Every August 15 to October (about 4-6 weeks), they used to bring in hop pickers and their families - about 800-1200, from all over, mostly natives from BC, but others came too as jobs were scarce in those days. They had many cabins and a community hall. Everyone treated it like a holiday for they didn't make much, sometimes only $1.50 a day, but they could take all the kids and family out with them. There were three stores at the yards, Ernie Webb, Carl Inkman and my mother, Mary Fong. Mother also had a restaurant. We were extremely busy and my sisters and I sometimes worked 20 hours on the weekend. The workers had dances, church, boxing matches and sports, so it was a very lively place. We had such long hours that Amy and I used to sleep at the restaurant. Sometimes the sound of the drunks and activities would scare us, so we always slept with a crowbar beside us. Sometimes there would be a drunken fight after a dance and we used pepper to throw and settle them. I doubt if anything would work today, but in those days they never meant to harm you.

We used to get paid by tickets, no cash until the season ended, so it was a lot of money to keep. Mother used to hide the tickets every day and at the end of the season, it would take us several days to add them up. Of course, during the first years, there were no adding machines. One thing, it sure helped me with my math!

In the .first years the company was managed by Albert Greyell and when he passed, Helen and Theodore Greyell took over. They were very fair and exceedingly great to work for. Later, they didn't think hops were needed to make beer so they downsized the farm and moved it to Creston, BC.

There was a very nice and handy Chinese fellow who used to work for the hop company. He was the only one year round and he used to be so kind to us kids, like buying us bananas and things we couldn't afford. He never expected anything in return. The Greyells took him with them to Creston and he died in a fire in his cabin. I have always felt so bad that when I could repay him for his kindness, he's gone. Funny how life is.

Anyway, we had to work so hard during those hopyard days, but it was an education and it was a very interesting and rewarding chapter in my life. In my days as a Sheriff and Corrections Matron, it was surprising to have come in contact with many of the hop pickers I knew in the hop fields.

We used to bake pies and sold them - raisin $.25, apple $.20, lemon and cream $.30 and doughnuts and muffins $.20 a dozen. Amy and I used to pack cold pop ($.05), cooked corn and doughnuts right into the fields and sell them to the pickers and their families. We were very welcome as it was a long tedious day for them. At first we took the bottles of pop and corn and doughnuts on a bicycle and later on, we managed to buy a used car. I was given permission to drive by the magistrate at 13 years because my Dad died when I was 2 years and Mother had brought up 5 kids and never accepted any help or welfare.

When we closed the store at nights, I used to carry home in my purse all the money or hop tickets and now when I think how lucky we were in those days that no robbery took place, especially with just us girls. We never had a cash register, just put the money in a box. There were no refrigerators except for the ice cream one. We used to make 200 cream and lemon pies on the special weekends and no refrigeration. It's a wonder no one got sick!

The kids used to come into the store with their runny noses and sucking on the coins. It really bothered me, so every night I dumped all the coins in bleach before I counted the money. I washed all the dishes in the restaurant with Perfex bleach.

It was a hectic time, but it gave us a pretty good living. In my little store, I used to sell 100 cases (24 bottles each) of pop a day and a Vancouver firm had to bring me watermelon, grapes and peaches in a 5 ton truck once a week.
 
   
     
   

Queenie Pink Support of
Heroes of Confederation Project