The Early Years

The "Cook"

John’s first experience with the waterfront was as a bell hop on the S.S. “GOVERNOR” of the Admiral Line plying between Vancouver, Vic­toria, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles in the summer of 1919. The red haired, fresh faced lad looked younger than his 16 years but worked hard enough to be popular with the crewmembers. He made enough to pay for his first year’s expenses. U.B.C. then was at Fairview and known as “the shacks” before the Big Trek to it’s present site.

In 1920 after his first year, with jobs hard to find, he headed for the Yukon and got a job with the White Pass-Yukon on one of their passenger boats, the “TUTSHI”, which carried passengers from Car-cross to Taku near Atlin. He was hired as a steward and as well as waiting table he washed dishes and even helped the firemen load wood at the various stockpiles along the lakes’ edge. It was an overnight trip then and in 1973 when John went back, after 53 years, and drove from Whitehorse to Atlin, spent a couple of hours looking about and returned in one afternoon!

Kaikyu Maru

In the fall of 1920 he went back to UBC and returned to the Yukon in the spring of 1921 as a steward on the riverboats running from Whitehorse to Dawson City. Johnny then went back to work “pearl diving” (washing dishes) on the steamer “Whitehorse”. On the way down during one stop at Stewart young “Red” Mitchell was approached by the captain of the “Whitehorse” to go as cook on the “NEECHEA”, a 65 ft. boat, running up the Stewart River from Stewart to Mayo. He said he couldn’t cook but he’d take a chance. The Dawson City News, 1921, heard of this and wrote an article titled “The Take A Chance Kid”. That’s sort of been the story of John Mitchell’s life. On this job he cooked for 35 passengers and crew under very poor conditions as the “NEECHEA” pushed a barge up the Stewart River. He had a 4-burner oil stove which regularly gave up working and he’d use green wood dous­ed in coal oil to make the fire. “Red’s” bread making attempts were un­successful and the loaves invariably ended up over the side. He compen­sated for this difficulty by making baking powder biscuits twice a day! The sole meat offering the young Johnny had to put before passengers and crew was moose and caribou meat. Moose were often seen in the river and sometimes they were shot from the bow.

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