It’s always fun to imagine life before ribbons of pavement spider-webbed the nation and planes littered the sky. Only a century and a half ago, there were no cars. There were no computers. There weren’t even televisions! Yet somehow people survived!
An old copy of the Vancouver Register for this week in December, exactly 150 years ago, offers a glimpse at a time in the Portland/Vancouver area when walking was the norm, and instead of renting a car for the day, you could rent a horse and carriage (by the hour, day or week). It was an era when people had no choice but to walk or ride, and yet in most other ways, weren’t so very different.
Back then, the weather had a tremendous impact on every day life, especially mail delivery. Under the heading “The Weather and the Mails,” the paper reports “We thought and said a few weeks ago, judging from appearances, that we were likely to have an open, rainy winter. We now take it all back and give it as our opinion, judging from present appearances, that we are likely to have a very cold and snowy winter. The snow is now several inches deep and just as fine a prospect for more…”
Just a few lines later, we also get a look at the Columbia River before climate change and dam building (which slowed it and raised it’s temperature). “At least the boats appear to have drawn off and huge cakes of ice, one after another in unbroken and seemingly endless succession, have entire possession of the river, and though it is their first trip they keep the channel like old pilots.” Before the I-5 and I-205 bridges over the river, just getting from one side to the other, while dodging ice-bergs would have been physically challenging.
Perhaps most interesting of all in this issue though, is their celebration of Christmas. Under the heading “Santa Claus,” is the report that “The juveniles of Vancouver are looking forward with longing hearts and anxious eyes to the annual visit of this illustrious personage. He will, if he don’t get froze in somewhere, pay the children of the Methodist Sabbath School a visit on Saturday evening.”
And even then, they knew Christmas was a prime opportunity to sell. One advertisement for Milliner’s Store states “Prepare for Christmas & New Year. The undersigned would respectfully inform the citizens of Vancouver and vicinity that she has procured a variety of toys and useful articles direct from Santa Claus and his illustrious partner Madame Belchnickles, suitable for Christmas & New Year’s presents.”
Yet while it seems Christmas shopping was just as important a century and a half ago, there is one enormous difference. Back in the days when you had to walk or ride, being Santa’s helper would have required a lot more calories!