Chibougamau, Quebec

Chibougamau 1959-1963

A copper mining town of 10m hearty souls was located on the “Tree Line” near the 50th parallel. In plain English- frigid, windy and isolated. From St. Felicien it was 149 miles of rough, gravel road through two Provincial Parks. It was where the road ended.
Ah, Chibougamau was the best!

Almost everyone was employed by Campbell Mines or Copper Rand or their smaller satellite properties. Campbell had a few staff houses at Campbell Point and a bunkhouse a stone’s throw from the mine which was 8 miles from the town of Chibougamau. Copper Rand was about 3 miles from the town. The houses in town were largely owned by the mining companies and rented to their employees at very reasonable rates. The houses were comfortable and non-descript. No “keeping up with the Joneses” in Chibougamau!

One of the most important places in any mining town was the curling rink, but I also remember 2 churches, 2 schools, a Hudson’s Bay store, and 5 hotels. Yes, I said five hotels! 2 clothing stores, and a few restaurants, hairdressers, depanneurs and grocers, a bank and 2 movie theaters. We went to movies every Tuesday night and sometimes on Thursday. There were very few cars, so we walked everywhere and only occasionally took a taxi.

Imagine not having a television in 1959! We listened to a Buffalo, N.Y. radio station late at night and we all had German made stereos and a record collection. With 5 hotels we had a place to meet our friends and dance even when we were underage. The local Rock & Roll band would take turns playing at a different hotel each weekend, so the hotels had a full house at least one night a month and subject to one of the Saturday night rituals- around 1 am, at the sound of breaking glass, we would grab our drink off the table and press up against the nearest wall. Tables & chairs flew, a fight was on! The band kept on playing and the patrons hardly watched. The police would come in, arrest the drunken brawlers, then the bartenders/bouncers would set the tables right, wipe them off and the party would go on. Bail money was $18.50, and I don’t recall any serious crimes.

We worked together, partied together, we even wept together. Miners were superstitious about accidents happening in 3’s. Sometimes their theories played out.

The winter of 1960 was especially hard. The snow banks in front of our two storey house, reached up to the 2nd floor windows. It was icy and temperatures registered at -52F (-46c), the air like frozen mist, it hurt to breathe. The power failed. It was an emergency. We moved into neighbourhood homes that had propane cook stoves and made the best of it. The smell of propane made us feel sick so we went to work and kept our coats and boots on trying to pass the miserable time. The men who worked underground, were happy to be in their “world” with steady generated heat and light.

No matter what our education or experience, we were able to find good paying jobs and eventually get a company house. The mine sites at that time had a Crawley McCracken cafeteria and a commissary. We could eat lunch for .50 cents and all of our purchases, like cigarettes, would be deducted from our pay checks once a month.

Summers were short lived. I think the temperatures may have reached 90F (32c) at least once, but by evening we had to wear a jacket. We didn’t plant flowers and we didn’t sit outdoors day or night. It was just better to keep moving- black flies & mosquito’s loved this land of crystal clear lakes, bogs and sand!

1961 brought the U.S. Air-force to town. They did the installation of a radar base which when completed was manned by Canadian forces. The Air force didn’t like their employees to fraternize with the miners but there was the occasional “leak”. Our best friends were musicians from the air base, who played in the R&R band on the weekends. They were forever having “war games” at the base, simulating a Russian invasion. Guess what? The Russians almost always won!

In 1962 a Chinese restaurant opened. Could life get any better?

Lifelong friendships were forged in those years. Some of us moved on to live in cities and small towns farther south, some followed the mining game to places like Thompson, Wabush, and Esterhazy. We understood each other and came to appreciate the unique lifestyle we had the privilege of growing up in.

PS, Read more on Chibougamau- May 12, June 4, June 17, August 29, 2007 

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23 Responses to “Chibougamau, Quebec”

  1. Roy A Says:

    A couple of places mentioned triggered some memories of my own. My brother spent a few years in Thompson, Manitoba. At the same time, I was newly married, living in a community near Esterhazy SK, serving in my first pastorate, in the small town (pop. 500) of Wapella, SK. I remember that the Potash mines in the area were one of the major employers. Many of the young farmers also worked in the mines as they tried to get established.

  2. George F Says:

    I lost my wife of 45 years to cancer June 13th and was just looking around at some places we had been. Boy did this short piece bring back some of those memories. I started my married life there. I came to the radar base single when it opened, and a few months later went back to Sydney, NS to marry and bring back my wife. That was in Sept. of 1962. Our first son was born there a year later. We spent three years there. It was the start of a perfect life for us and this short blog stirred up a lot of pleasing memories.

    Enough reminiscing for now, thanks for the trip back in time.

    -=George=-
    (¯`·._.·ns¢ävË·._.·´¯)
    http://www.nscave.com
    http://www.sammidoo.blogspot.com

  3. littlepatti Says:

    Hi George F.
    I am sorry to hear that you have lost your wife and so happy to read your words “It was the start of a perfect life for us”.
    What a gift!
    And thank you for leaving a comment.
    Please keep reading littlepatti (there are 19 articles now)-Mining life and Air Force life, were much the same.
    All the best to you in beautiful Nova Scotia.
    Patricia aka littlepatti

  4. Bobbie Says:

    Pat, I am reading some of your entries on Chibougamau that I did not realize you had posted. Oh my goodness, I also remember the Indians! I remember driving by and seeing the huge tents they lived in. My mom was a very good woman with a wonderful heart. She used to give them food and clothes. They would make us moccasins and wonderful big mittens out oh hides lined with the animals fur. I couldn’t stand these because of the smell, which is understandable now. What I would give to have those now!!! My Mom and Dad curled and I still have two copper ashtrays and a lighter and an electric frying pan she won! I have several movies on super 8 film that my dad made while In Chibougamau.

    Bobbie

    • littlepatti Says:

      Hi Bobbie,
      I have heard from several ex-Chiboug’s and some remember your parents. They all describe them as charming folks and remembered that they curled. They were just slightly older than we were at that time and had a family while we were all fancy free. :-)

    • Philip Wapachee Says:

      Bobbie,
      We are the Indians you are talking about. My father’s name is Matthew Wapachee. He was one of the first linecutters in Chib.We the Ouje-bougoumou people finally have our own community. Listening to my dad tell the stories of the year 1954, I can just imagine the untouched forest.How beautiful it must have been. Now with mining and forestry it’s a disaster. Fishing and hunting is poor. Rainbow Lodge use to be full of trout, now it takes a lot of hours of fishing to catch 1 trout.

      • littlepatti Says:

        Hi Philip, I would love to know more of your story and I am sure that all of us would. I wish we could turn back the clock on the treatment of our native people, all across north america. There was so much that could have been learned. I hope that your generation will keep your history alive.
        Where is the Ouje-bougoumou community?

      • craig m walker Says:

        I was there! Cambell Point, Mclean school. I’m chibougamau today oct 5/13.First time since 1964. I thought I was gonna hold it together but finding this im in tears. My dad, Arnold Walker arrived with Ruth wife and me, his first born from Malartic. First house in Cedar Bay, my diapers in gas washing machine. then we moved into first duplex, my bro Glen born. Then 1955 twin boys! need bigger house. Move cree cemetary, build house three. Ducky Mclean mgr. Marge cunningham exec assist, mr cunningham mill supt. Don Lackner moved into our old house. Harvey Arpin, Vic Kelner, Mr taylor (I met his son in Rome 2007!) Jean Rouvier, sons Bobbie n Francois, . then our french teacher? The Dan Stamps, not in order, Parfinovics, Margollis, Robert’s, … I toured the point today. One super beaver has possession! I found the managers house foundation, Lackners, and Ken Wilsons. the tennis/skating rink is intact. the community hall speakers made night skating so much fun. I think mr Robert really made big impact there.
        winter. dark outside, -40F. 9 mile daily bus via merril staff houses.( One boy Ray? from there died in the big bus crash . I still choke over that crash!)
        It was the best of times. I went swimming off our beach today! yup it snowed this morning. We used to throw tennis balls over McLean school at lunch! Mrs Cameron wasnt impressed!
        craig@newbergpaper.com

      • littlepatti Says:

        Hi Craig,
        What a wonderful recollection! How old are you now? I remember your parents very well. I thought that Mr. Walker was the mine manager…I also worked in the office 1960-62. I still have a lovely silver plate that your parents gave us for a wedding gift, and think of them every time I use it (at least at holiday time). My wedding reception was held at the “Club House” at The Point. By the time I was at Campbell mine, Ducky had moved on to Toronto and would visit for “meetings” (probably fishing trips). I remember Ken Taylor and family arrived about 1960 & recall that a house was built for them near the Club House.
        What do you mean by “move Cree cemetery, build house”.
        I am in touch with Anne Bubar-Babin, living there. (“Daddy Bubar’s daughter) She’s probably your age group & would like to hear from you if you are still there. And in touch will Errol Mcleod who still goes fishing there (lives near Mtl. ex-Air Canada pilot) also Terry & Nicole Muise. We are all older than you are. Doug is 75, I’m 70. You are probably the same age as my sister-in-law Patty, who was in that bus accident too. She lives in BC now. My brother was Rick Charest around your age too. My dad was Copper Rand and my family left in 1961 for New Brunswick.
        We left in 1963, & moved to Montreal, because we have a special needs daughter…she was 1 year old then.
        I don’t recall a Mr. Robert (I’ll have to give that some thought).

      • Craig Walker Says:

        Thanks for your reply. I’m 62, with brothers Glen 61, Brent and Duane 56 all of us in the west.I had a wonderfull return to Chibugamau after 49 years. My parents left in 1963, i visited the Rouviers spring 1964 to ski Chalco.
        I couldn’t find Fred and Mary Cooke’s house in Chapais nor their A frame chalet on Lac Opemiska so I guess I’ll have to return.
        The original Cambell Mine site is very bad. Mathew Wapachee was upset that its been left so poorly restored. I toured Ouje Bougamau museum privately, what a treat! Giom from Ecology Boreal arranged it all for me.
        The Robert’s arrived late, oldest som Marc my age. He was a great push for kids stuff (He had 5) skating rink boards, snow blower, lights. He lived right where the bus stopped opposite the big long garage.
        Im working in Pulp and paper all across Canada. Corner Brook, Kapuskasing, The Pas right now.
        Im off to Winnipeg, more to follow. How can we share pictures? move to facebook?

      • craig m walker Says:

        I met your Dad n Mom today . Mathew is so charming. We reminissed about life on Dore lake. Your mom pronounced my childhood snow shoes “white man copies!” wrong hide, not moose or cariboo. However, moccasins were genuine.. we’d have frozen our feet playing in the snow without those. I talked to your sister, am hoping to meet Normand. My daughter has never been here but shes asking loud. Hope she’ll mddt your parents too.
        Craig

      • littlepatti Says:

        I would love a pair of seal skin boots. If there are any, the price is probably high.

      • craig m walker Says:

        was replying to phillip wapachee

  5. bill.kruining Says:

    Worked 4 years at Campbel Chibougau mine as a surveyor supervisor. 3 I(one twin) Of my children were born in Chibougamau hospital (Dr. Tardif) We had a company house at Rue Henderson. We were friends with the company geologist Ken Hill. I was a member of the Sergeant mess.

  6. bill.kruining Says:

    Correction to my first comment. We had 4 children born in Chibougamau (Patty, Bill, Don and Mark), Chief engineer was Jean Rouvier.

    • littlepatti Says:

      Hi Bill:
      Thanks for your note. The hospital was built after we left in 1963. My daughter was born in Chapais hospital. I do remember the name Rouvier, he lived on Campbell Point.
      If you were connected to the Air Force there, you may remember Dennis Boehm, Ev. Boyle, Dale Gallant. They were at the living at the base for a few years following and we are still in touch with them.
      It looks like you moved on to Sask. I like Regina, aside from the weather…nice city! :-)
      If you have any fond memories of Chibougamau, please share them and the years you were there.
      Best Wishes for the new year.
      Pat

  7. bill.kruining Says:

    Patty
    Amazing how something like this tend to refresh my memory.(I am 80 now). If I am right I think Rouvier got badly wounded or died in a car accident during a snow storm. Do you remember Ken Wilson he was manager at the mine, Sometime after he left for Stewart Bc as a manager for Granduc mines he asked me to move to this mine as a ventilation engineer.. Big mistake!!!!!! it was resented that I was brought in as an outsider by the manager from Quebec. Plus that In was almost killed in a snow-slide.Not long after this I moved to Saskatchewan(potash mining. Coming back on the sergeant mess in Chibougau I remember a sergeant by the name of Outhouse, strange that you never forget a name like this. I was granted membership on my history as a sergeant in the Dutch army(conscription) at twenty years of age. I still has the mess wall plaque. Well this is all for now, If I think of something more, will let you know. All the best wishes for 2012. Bill

  8. littlepatti Says:

    Hi Bill,
    We don’t remember anything about Mr. Rouvier. Yes, we remember Ken Wilson. Did he replace Mr. Walker?
    1963-Harve Arpin (chief electrician) came to Mtl. recruiting for that Potash mine in Sask. He wanted both of us to go to work there, but we had a daughter with special needs and couldn’t go to isolation again.
    Re: Granduc: Very unusual that people resented someone from “outside” coming into a mine. My dad, Elmer, had many followers over the years and it was appreciated when they brought their experience. I guess some places had “small town” mentalities.
    My father-in-law was with Black Watch liberation in Holland. We visited there in 1993 (museums, Arnheim, Volendam, Amsterdam, Mastrichtt (the caves)). We would go back there in a heartbeat!
    Best wishes to you and yours for the New Year.
    Keep the memories coming…
    Pat

    • maureen Says:

      Hello Littlepatti… my Father and Grand-father were both black watch… hmmm first I’ve heard of the Black watch liberation in Holland… my Mom name is Guelda… so maybe I’ve found a lead here (trying to find her family and have almost nothing to go on but a name) My Father Walter Hooper (radar station) and Robert (Bobby Grant) were avid curlers
      can you help me with any info here, thankyou Littlepatti and anyone else who has any info at all
      Maureen

      • littlepatti Says:

        Greetings!
        Tell us more about your experiences in Chibougamau.
        I am forwarding your notes to a couple of people who may remember your father & who may have worked with him at the base.
        Thanks for dropping in, we enjoy hearing from everyone who was connected to the past.
        Best Regards,
        Pat

      • littlepatti Says:

        Canadian Black Watch had only one division (approx 10-15,000 men). They fought through Holland and out through Maastricht, where the Germans had entered. Along with the Americans & British (30th Armored Division) they took the famous bridge in Arnheim (the famous movie: A Bridge too Far).
        The Operation “Market Garden” which was to land British & American airborne forces on the opposite side of a bridge, was a fiasco because British Intelligence didn’t know that a German armored division was resting in the forest nearby. They lost thousands.
        We were in Holland a few years ago, and we were treated so graciously, just because we are Canadians.They are taught in school about the war and the liberation of Holland and they don’t forget & are ever grateful!

  9. littlepatti Says:

    HI ALL: The continuity got balled up. It happens. Scroll upwards to see recent October 2013 comments.

    • littlepatti Says:

      Hi again,
      That’s a shame about The Point and mine site. I imagine it could have been restored and been a beautiful spot…except for the pollution left behind by all mines in those days.
      You’ll see in my Mining towns in Canada blog, that I’ve lived everywhere…almost. Snow Lake Manitoba (near Flin-Flon & The Pas) was a favourite. It seems to be undergoing a revival, I hope.
      I’ll get in touch with you by email and we can share family life as it is these days. Reading through all the comments on various blogs, you can see that many old friends connected with each other. Especially Central Patricia Gold Mines! We all agree that we share a special bond because of the lives we lived, which doesn’t exist any longer.
      Cheers!

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