Archive for May, 2007

Montauban Les Mines, Quebec

May 29, 2007

This little “cachet” (hidden place) was to be our home for one year, 1952 . It was a new mine, a very small property with four or five company houses a mile from the village.  The nearest “big town” was Shawinigan Falls which was the home town of one of Canada’s recent Prime Ministers, Jean Chretien.

We had moved from Snow Lake, Manitoba and I had never heard a word of French spoken.

The only school nearby was a small French Catholic elementary school which proved to be an unusual experience. Thereafter, I understood why my parents, Catholics themselves, always paid school fees for their three children to go to a Protestant school.

We prayed allot. Before class, before recess, after recess, before lunch, after lunch, before recess, after recess and before dismissal at 3PM. That’s not such a bad thing but I can’t remember learning anything else that year. I did win some medals and a Rosary for reciting my Catechism though. The local priest would come to school once a month and make sure that we were all learning our Catechism. It’s just amazes me now when I think about how I was rattling off the memorized verses in a language I had never heard before and had no idea what it all meant. Kids are just so accommodating.

It was a lonesome year as I recall. I didn’t have any friends because we couldn’t communicate (Hey! I can speak Catechism!). We may have been the only English people some of those kids had ever met and we may as well, have been from Mars.

The school trip of the year was to Cap-De-La-Madeleine, a shrine where there were lots of religious trinkets to buy but I couldn’t understand the guided tour. Regardless of the circumstances, at that age, there were always “firsts”- A Sugar Shack with hot maple syrup poured on snow which is unique to Quebec, midnight Mass Christmas eve and a ride in one of the original Bombardier snow mobiles all the way to Shawinigan to shop for Easter clothes.

When Dad announced that we would be moving to Magog in the Eastern Townships, I helped them pack. Every moment counted, another adventure ahead!

The Montauban area is a very desirable tourist destination these days but I haven’t had the urge to visit…yet.

Snap On

May 28, 2007

This morning I saw a Snap On tools truck.

They seem to have been around forever. I remember when ever the Snap On truck came to town, there was a flurry of excitement. Our boyfriends and husbands “dropped Out” of the usual conversations and it was all about Snap On, all the time. The girls would listen intently, the wives would nod off, (they’d heard it all before), while the men described each purchase in detail and what would be coming next. The employers were only too happy to give some time off during the work day so the prospective buyers could visit the Snap On Reps, make their purchases, and arrange to have the cost deducted from their monthly paychecks.

All these years later, my husband may still have some Snap On tools, they were guaranteed for life and never wore out, but if not they may have been passed along to another lucky guy!

Snow Lake, Manitoba

May 25, 2007

arial-of-snow-lake-man-circa-1949.jpgSnow Lake, Manitoba First duplexes 1948snow-lake-man-1948-note-dock-in-the-background.jpgnice-parkas-snow-lake-man.jpg

1948-Snow Lake, in Northern Manitoba was a few hundred miles south of Churchill. Another remote mining community that was growing in front of our eyes daily. We lived in a Company duplex in the beginning and I remember the warning yells “fire in the hole” and rocks raining down on the roof as ditches were being dug for sewer lines behind our house. One day a rock came through the ceiling of my bedroom, and that would be reason enough to remember the blasting. Once or twice a week the “honey wagon” would go by the back lane and collect the chemical toilets. All the kids would run in the other direction to avoid the smell. Water lines were above ground and just the perfect height for us to swing on until one of the workmen would chase us away.

The winters were bitterly cold, but kids don’t care about that. We would go outside after supper and slide on a giant bobsled (Dad built it for 9 little people) down a long, long hill- When we fell off, we would just lay in the snow and look at the stars which were the size of basketballs to a little kid, and we would watch the northern lights flash across the sky. Then we would all pull the sled back up the hill.

We had to wear brown parka’s with fur around the hoods- We hated those parka’s! Not very stylish or comfortable, but they were warm. Years later when I looked at photos of our little faces surrounded by the fur, I thought that we looked pretty cute. Who knew?

In summer we went picking berries and on fishing trips. We would stop over at a lumber camp somewhere in the wilderness, where the cook would feed us the most wonderful pies.

There was still some ice on the lake in June, so I can’t imagine what temperature the water was when we went swimming in July. I don’t remember being cold, but I even scared myself when I dove off a dock in my water wings and was swept under the pontoons of an aircraft. Lessons learned- never dive in water wings and say thank you to Mr. Williams for saving my life.

No paved streets or school buses. When it rained in the spring, we would lose our rubber boots when they got stuck in the clay mud on the way to school or back. When we could wear shoes, we had to leave them at the door, and in the morning, take a knife and scrape & chink off 2 inches of hardened clay off the soles.

Dad “forgot” my birth date so I started Grade One at 4 1/2 years old- There was no kindergarten and I begged to go to school. The only negative effects were; I walked in my sleep for a few months, and I was the youngest kid in every class for life.

There was a community center where I saw my first movie “Billy the Kid” and the projector kept breaking down.

I learned to ride a bike and the best part there were no cars in the town. Well, maybe 2 or 3.

Princess Elizabeth married Prince Philip, and I got the much sought after Barbara Ann Scott doll from Santa. We cut pictures out of the Life magazine & Saturday Evening Post (I think) and we pasted all the pictures in a scrap-book and played dress up and Eavy- Ivy- Over. We had a lemonade stand and played marbles and dodge ball.

Here is a Snow Lake site you will enjoy.

Snow Lake celebrated it’s 60th anniversary in 2007.

Just click on the little photos to enlarge them.

PS: November 8th, 2009

CBC news reports a B I G  Zinc & Gold find near Snow Lake, and growth for the community looks promising. I am sure that all of us “Snow F’lakes” (did I just make that one up???) are grateful that another generation of kids can grow up in such a wonderful place on earth.

I just looked at the duplex photo above and that’s the way mining towns were built- Clear cut & build the houses. Time was money. Houses were pure gold. They didn’t mess around with leaving the trees around for esthetics. I guess they figured  there were enough surrounding us for hundreds of miles… 🙂 and we certainly didn’t need trees for shade in summer. I wonder if towns are still built like that.

Elliot Lake, Ontario

May 24, 2007

Elliot Lake, Ontario. Circa 1950’s was a shining town.

The town was brand new- every building, house, store. The “city father’s” had served the community very well. The town was exquisitely planned. Little crescents, hillside streets, a shopping plaza, community center, schools, banks and restaurants. Boom town. Five or six uranium mines running full blast. 100% employment. It was a shining town in the wilderness of Northern Ontario.

Disaster struck in 1959 when the first of the mines closed. Uranium was either overstocked or not in demand. The town began to die a slow painful end. By 1969 only one mine remained open and a few thousand people remained. Street after street of beautiful homes were boarded up, their occupants forced to move on. Few businesses survived. The decay was evident. It was a modern day ghost town.

Sometime in the 1980’s Elliot Lake began to revive by becoming a retirement community, and some of the homes were sold, but the new owners were mostly underemployed and couldn’t make much needed renovations. The town looked worn out.

It would never to return to the shining town it was.

Central Patricia Gold Mines, Ontario

May 12, 2007
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PS, More on Chibougamau

May 12, 2007

Chibougamau, Quebec 1959

This mining town in Northern Quebec looked like an old western movie. Double wide, gravel main street-dusty and not interesting to the casual observer. On second thought, and second look, it had five hotels along the main street. Considerable, in a town of less than 10, 000. The first building that went up when the town was built was not a church or school but the curling rink.

In the early days, the miners came to town from the mine site by row boat on Saturday nights. It was said that there would be a funeral every Monday morning. One drunken miner would fall overboard on the way back to the bunkhouse early Sunday morning. A causeway was built in 1958.

There were two nice little clothing stores-Berny Mendolsohn managed a right-priced shop, where we would dress ourselves from head to foot on Friday nights, and paid by post dated checks. The Quatre Saisons, was a little more up scale. There were also two theaters, a Hudson Bay store that sold everything from soup to nuts, guns to glassware. Two banks that I recall, and a few grocery stores, a pharmacy and a furniture store. We had grown up in places like Chibougamau, so were not accustomed to a limitless choice, and of course there was always a Simpson’s catalogue.

When I got married, I wrote to a personal shopper at Eaton’s in Montreal, described what I wanted and after a couple of short communications, I received the perfect dress, in the perfect size at a perfect price of $50.

Those of us who had grown up in places like Chibougamau, were usually satisfied with our limited choices. I don’t remember longing for more, more, more until I moved to civilization. Of course we don’t miss what we don’t know.

I have never felt the need to return to Chibougamau to visit. I did go to a reunion near Montreal recently and didn’t know many people. They seemed to be very young…as we once were.

PS, Read more on Chibougamau- June 2, June 4, June 17, August 29, 2007