There were few opportunities to earn money to buy Christmas presents as a child growing up in the village of Lytton, 160 miles northeast of Vancouver, in the shadow of Jackass Mountain.
I was lucky enough to live there for the first 12 years of my life, when my father kept busy as the only doctor around.
I got a steady stream of income from my route delivering copies of the Vancouver Sun, but no one ever got rich delivering papers in Lytton. I barely made enough to keep my bike in good repair and my stomach full of yesterday’s donuts from the bakery.
There was also the game’s route to greater wealth. In this pre-lottery and pre-casino age, that meant playing multiple cards at Lion’s Club Bingo.
There, he could be a high roller amid the smell of cigarette smoke and coffee, and perhaps take home metal ashtrays, cigarette lighters, and tiny metal horse statues as Christmas presents. Since my older brothers and little sister were non-smokers, this still wasn’t enough for all my Christmas shopping needs.
There was also a failed attempt to earn money by working in the local tourist trade.
I had the idea to take advantage of the rich history of the area, as it was the center of the universe for the Nlaka’pamux people for at least 7,000 years.
My plan was to sell souvenir arrowheads to American tourists who came to fish for salmon and trout and gawk at the scenery.
That made me a pretender, a white kid imitating indigenous culture and joining local indigenous heroes in the schoolyard like Robert Bolan, who was a few years older and seemed amused by my efforts. With no arrowheads of my own to sell, I tried making them for the tourist trade. This turned out to be much more difficult than I expected, so I quietly resigned from that company without selling anything. Nobody paid much attention to me, so I wasn’t particularly embarrassed.
My parents also had a hard time finding gifts that were perfect, since there weren’t many shopping options in the city. My parents once gave all three children in our family a very curved hockey stick for Christmas. I imagine they found it in the Eaton or Simpson catalogue. It was like a communal stick, which presented more problems since we were not sharing.
My parents were clueless about hockey and not eager to learn. While it was an impressive piece of equipment, the blade of the club was curved in the wrong direction since we were all right-handed and it was made for a left-handed player.
That being said, we did not want to send it back. Curved sticks were something of a rarity in the 1960s. It was a source of local envy and winter would be over when it was replaced by a properly curved stick. Instead, we only use it to throw formidable backhands in games at the Hobo Hollow rink, on the other end of town.
The Christmas gifts that didn’t make it out of the catalog probably came from Chongs Department Store on Main Street. Lytton once had a thriving Chinatown, back in the 19th century, in the days of the gold rush and the building of the railroad. When we arrived in Lytton, the Chongs were the only family of Chinese heritage in town and they ran a children’s store where we could read comics to our hearts’ delight without feeling pressured to buy anything.
My dad once got mom a fishing rod and reel just like his from Chongs as a great Christmas present. He was sure it was a life-changing gift that would take their already excellent relationship to an even higher level. My poor mother was usually a soldier, but she fought to suppress a you-don’t-know-me-at-all expression.
Our Christmases were rich in experiences, if not gifts. The highlight of one Christmas season was a visit from a touring American basketball team. They were kind of like the Harlem Globetrotters. They put on quite a show beating out a squad of local stars while pulling off tricks that included throwing a ball tied to a rope, throwing a bucket of confetti into the crowd, and flashing the head of a bald umpire.
There is nowhere to shop in Lytton now, as the little-noticed community burned to the ground in the summer of 2021. That made climate change very personal to me. A second fire swept through the area a year later, underscoring the danger.
While Lytton is reduced to ashes and memories for now, my memories remain strong, especially at this time of year.
I hope you can support the Toronto Star Santa Claus Fund so that all children can have happy Christmas memories too.
GOAL: $1.5 million
TILL THE DATE: $370,405
how to donate
With your gift, you can help provide holiday gift boxes that inspire hope and joy to 50,000 underprivileged children.
Online: To donate with Visa, Mastercard or Amex, please scan this QR code or use our secure form at thestar.com/santaclausfund
By check: Mail to The Toronto Star Santa Claus Fund, One Yonge St., Toronto, AT M5E 1E6
By phone: Call 416-869-4847
The Star does not authorize anyone to apply on its behalf. Tax receipts will be issued.
To volunteer: [email protected]