Remembering Mother Green – Chrystal Braun

She emerged from the barn to see her home engulfed in smoke and flames

Chrystal Braun is as much a part of Kitimat’s history as the land that her family ranched on for many years.

The eldest daughter of Rudolph and Martha Braun, she was an amazing person who led a full and challenging life right to the end.

Chris was born in 1924, just a year after her mother Martha, a mail order bride from Leipzig was married to Rudolph Braun, the proud bachelor rancher of Minette Ranch at the Kitimat estuary.

Minette Ranch was a prosperous 160-acre truck farm providing dairy products, vegetables, fruit, meat, and more to scattered loggers, miners, and residents at Kitamaat Mission, Hartley Bay and beyond.

Chris was born at a nursing station at Swanson Bay. Her parents had travelled down the channel to B.C.’s first pulp mill town to ensure better facilities for the birth.

Chris grew up having to take responsibility. On the farm, she helped with her four sisters, Lottie, Gudrun, Toni, and Ursulla. She also helped with so much else. As a young child she became skilled at milking the dozen or so cows they kept. She said that was something her mother refused to do.

She was constantly rounding up the cattle from the bayside estuary grasses and getting them to their milking and special feed stations at the barn.

Young Chrystal and her siblings had much to do every day, even at Christmas. In the summer there were few hours to be a kid. Some jobs were only for her father and that included dealing with the bull, tending their honeybee hives and a small greenhouse for tomatoes and cukes.

Almost all other chores were done by Martha and the girls including picking the big crops as they came on to maturity. There was always a rush she recalled to get the cherries before the birds devoured them all.

Chris proudly recounted in a two hour recorded interview in 2005, that she, her mom, and her sisters had picked an incredible 500 lbs of strawberries in one day and she had the pictures to prove it. She said nowhere grew strawberries like Kitamaat.

Rudolph and Martha’s responsible daughter revealed much about her childhood at Kitamaat long before the days of Alcan. She recalled the days of the world-wide depression when they didn’t have a lot but they never went hungry. Her mom sewed almost everything they owned on her Singer sewing machine.

Other items like overalls and gumboots were specially ordered from Woodward’s in Vancouver and shipped via the Union Steamship, Camosun, to the dock at Kitamaat. Chris revealed that she and her sisters spent all summer in bare feet. You can bet her feet were tough and calloused.

Things were not idyllic on the farm. Her mom did not learn English very well and she felt terribly isolated at the ranch. Furthermore, she felt that the farm was not a proper place to educate five young ladies even by correspondence.

The Brauns were just too busy to do much socializing especially in the winter, and visiting the village even for church and social occasions like May Day could be treacherous.

Minette Narrows could be fast and challenging on the wrong tide. Chris fondly remembered several of her pioneer neighbours, bachelor neighbours like Hans Larsen and Jack Pine at Minette Bay, who became like uncles to her. They would arrive bearing gifts. There weren’t many treats in those days.

By the time Chrystal was eight, the Braun’s developed a gypsy lifestyle where they moved on to Prince Rupert with mom for the fall, winter, and spring schooling. Correspondence had worked to a degree but Chrystal started grade two in Rupert though she wasn’t a permanent Ruperite until much later.

Summers were always at Kitamaat helping the ranch to thrive and fill the orders for produce that Rudolph ferried aboard his forty-foot Wall’s Boathouse built gas boat, the Minette.

In life, Chris suffered a lot of grave disappointments and tragedy like the day in late May of 1939 when she emerged from the barn with pails of milk in hand to witness her home engulfed in smoke and flames.

Martha and the girls were only able to salvage the baking bread. Dad was down the channel at the time delivering supplies. For the rest of that summer of 1939 the Braun family lived in a section of their huge state-of-the-art barn and that fall they sort of called it quits for Kitamaat.

Rudolph fortunately had insurance on his fancy European designed home with verandahs, dormers, and even lace curtains. The insurance settlement enabled them to end their renting days in Rupert. They moved to a home they purchased on 6th Avenue, leaving Chris in Kitamaat but not at the ranch.

Thelma Moore, one of the estuary neighbours, convinced Rudolph and Martha to lend her their daughter. The deal was that Chris would be company for Thelma who was often left for weeks at a time by her trapper husband who travelled far and wide in the Kitimat wilderness seeking prime pelts.

A trained teacher, Thelma had started her days in Kitamaat as a teacher at the Mission School and was quite eager to tutor Chris with her grade six and seven lessons. Chris stayed on in Kitamaat until the wartime summer of 1941 when she moved on to Rupert where she was somewhat reunited with her family.

Chris felt obliged to work and fit into her new life in Rupert. Her father preferred a rural existence and made his home at Crippen Cove while mom stayed on in town.

Chris met Owen Green and became Chris Green. Before long she was the mother of two boys, Reg and Robert. Life was full for Chris. She always found time for volunteer work. She became a foundation in the scouting movement in Prince Rupert, something she did for half a century.

She earned the affectionate name, Mother Green. The Green kids and their foster kids as well came to know the ways of scouting too.

Chris never forgot her roots in Kitimat. Both she and her father were happy to see how the town of Kitimat prospered with the Alcan Smelter and all of the high wages and big taxes. Chris was a constant supporter of the Kitimat Museum and Archives.

She was known by at least three curators and she was able to substantially improve the Valley Pioneer exhibit and of course the Braun Family exhibit with numerous labelled pictures and in some cases some original artifacts from the farm.

Over the years the practical Chris would deliver items she had sourced from garage sales. She was known to say: “I know this isn’t from the farm but this is identical to the one we used there.”

Chris had many visits back to Kitimat and was especially proud when her son Robert became a math instructor at Mount Elizabeth Senior Secondary. Robert spent more than a decade teaching in Kitimat. He spent his summer commercial fishing, a passion of his.

As in early life, things weren’t easy for Chris. She again came to know tragedy. She lost her father early in 1956 to cancer and she lost both her sons. Reggie died of a brain aneurysm while working on a seine boat and Robert died in October of 2008 while hunting moose along the Skeena River.

Chris grieved but she never gave up. She kept up the things that consumed her life like her fostering. In total she fostered six children. She also continued to be there for the scouting movement. You could count on her at all community events. On November 11th she would be there at the cenotaph in uniform.

Mother Green continued to help and mentor our youth into her nineties. She treasured her scouting blanket, badges and memorabilia and was constantly trading and planning new adventures.

In her nineties she was finishing picture albums from her youth, writing a book, and even making plans for scouting events. Chris continued to drive and she was always there for her extended family, even helping with baking.

Chris was on her way to yet another jamboree in early July 2018, when she passed away.

Chris was a legend in Rupert but was one of a few pioneer residents of the Kitimat valley who never forgot her roots. Of the five Braun daughters only two are still living. Lottie died in 1952 and Ursulla died in 2013. That leaves just Gudrun and Toni who live on in the Vancouver area.

Chrystal Braun Green was a small but mighty energetic woman who touched a lot of lives. She was a part of Kitimat’s history.

 

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