Archive for June, 2007

Campbell Red Lake Mine

June 30, 2007

Campbell Red Lake was a gold mine in Northern Ontario where my Dad worked in 1947-48. We lived on High street in Port Arthur, which is now known as Thunder Bay. I was 4 years old. Only some memories are crystal clear.

The sidewalks in front of our house were made of wooden boards, we had a coal shed, and we had a lovely big pram which was for my new brother who was born in June 1947. He was sickly so I later knew that Mom spent most of her time at the hospital and only brought him home on weekends and holidays, when she would melt a milk chocolate bar on the cook stove and mix it with banana and feed it to him. He managed to pull through. The Doctors were amazed at how Mom managed to get some weight on his skinny bones and roses in his cheeks before she would have to leave him in hospital again. While he was away, I would sleep in the big pram. I think I was jealous, not of him but of the pram!

New Years Eve. We were allowed to stay up and I can remember the neighbours and my family stepping out their front doors at midnight, and waving and calling out to each other “Happy New Year”!

For entertainment, I skipped rope on the wooden side walks and buried my nickles, pennies and small treasures in the shavings that were banked along the foundation of the house. I would walk away and then come back and try to find the buried treasure. I never did. My family would ask what I did with my few belongings and I was teased about it but I couldn’t explain the game I had made up. Looking back to that, I think that it may have been an early memory of Central Patricia when there was a forest fire and my Mom and the neighbours buried their belongings in a trench. I was too young to recall that incident, but I think that I was acting out what I had seen there, as a game. Never underestimate the “storage capacity” of the brain.

Mom took us to the dentist and shopping at a department store looking for white stockings for my sister’s first communion. I can’t recall the outcome, but I can assume by looking at the Communion photos that new stockings were not to be found. That would not have been unusual. It was post war and many things were in short supply I was told.

I suppose that we were poor and so was everyone else in our neighbourhood. Prosperity was just around the corner!

I was just awakening into childhood and I do not recall ever feeling hungry, cold, or unhappy.

What a gift!

Coldstream Copper (Burchell Lake)

June 26, 2007

The Coldstream copper mine was reopened in 1957, North West of Thunder Bay, Ontario. This place was like a “cat with nine lives”. In 1957 we moved to Kakabeka Falls while Dad worked at the mine site and came home on weekends.

What an abysmal year that was! The house we rented did not have running water or a bathroom. I don’t think that Dad noticed when he rented it. The high school was 18 miles away in Fort William. The school in itself created a cultural shock! Ft. Wm Collegiate was an enormous high school to navigate. I had skipped from Grade 8 to Grade 10 and was ill prepared for this huge lifestyle change on top of a different curriculum, (not to mention just being 15 and without a shower.) I have often thought that 13-15 year old girls should be locked up in an asylum or a convent for their own good or at least for their parents own good. I rebelled. I drank, smoked, dyed my hair platinum blond, failed and thankfully, did not get into anything that was irreparable before I came to my senses. I made good friends in Kakabeka who remained in my heart throughout my life and I was fortunate to reconnect with them in later years. I think that we were typical teenagers-full of angst and chaos. I have many very good memories of my friends, if not of school or home that year.

At 15, I thought my parents were stupid. At 20, I was amazed at how much they had learned in 5 years. (I wish I had said that).

The move to Coldstream Copper and Kakabeka Falls was short lived, the mine ran into financial difficulty after a year, and we moved on to Elliot Lake.

I went on to the next town with a new found philosophy and a much better understanding of myself and the world I was doing my best to live in and fit in.

PS, Burchell Lake lived another of it’s “lives” in the ’60’s.

See more on Burchell Lake:

PS, You may like to read on to Eastman, and The Haunted House.

The Leopard at Home

June 20, 2007
The Leopard Tapestry from India

The Leopard Tapestry from India

Snow Lake Manitoba, like every new mining town was a crossroads of cultures. People from around the world came to mining towns to earn the money offered, and to live relatively carefree.

My parents made many friends in the mining industry. One couple, the Jamison’s, came to Snow Lake from India where they had lived and worked for a few years. Their home was a very exotic place to visit. It was furnished with elephants of all sizes and Buddhas, tapestries and carpets. It smelled of incense and was very intriguing. They brought a tapestry to my mother which she valued as she did their friendship.

The Leopard tapestry was about 3 x 2 ft. and it was one of the first items to be hung in the hall or living room of every home we moved into. By all counts I think that was 18. Even though the houses changed, the towns changed, the schools changed, and I changed, the Leopard always occupied a select spot. All was well in the world, all familiar and comfortable when the Leopard was there.

When my parents passed away I took the tapestry to my home, and for a short period of time it hung on a wall, but it never had the same effect on me as it did when I was a child. For the past 30 plus years it has been in a trunk with some other sentimental treasures.

This week, I took it out. We made a frame from fancy moulding that we bought at Rona, trimmed and reinforced the ragged corners, and hung it in the sun room that we had recently decorated in an African theme. My husband had to remind me that it was a Leopard and not a Tiger, but it looks as though it has finally found a select spot in my home where I am sure it will be admired and looked upon with curiosity. I hope so.

Natives and me

June 17, 2007

As I write on this subject of Native Canadians in the North, I accept that I will probably be politically incorrect and possibly historically incorrect as well. I realize now that we lived and worked in the mining communities without regard for their safe keeping. This article is simply anecdotal, my own impressions and memories of that time, as are the other articles I have written.

My Father, Elmer was in an orphanage in Kenora for a few years after his mother died. He referred to it as a “Cree” orphanage and by all accounts it was not a negative experience for him. He spoke fondly of a Catholic Sister who was “Five foot nothin’ in her stockin’ feet” and who was a strict disciplinarian, but fair. He had a Cree dictionary and could speak a few words. I thought being Cree was very exotic.

My first close encounter with Indians was in Chibougamau. I think that the eight mile road and causeway to the Campbell mine site ran right through the reserve and I was frequently on the mine bus when it would stop and pick up Indians on their way to town. I saw an elderly man several times and he would sit on the aisle floor of the bus and stare at me. It was scary, until one night I was coming home with the mid- night shift and he communicated with me with the help of another passenger. All he wanted to say was that he and I had exactly the same blue-green eyes! He would have no idea how that statement would shape my thinking in all the years to come.

At least every Tuesday night we went to a movie. (1959- no TV in Chibougamau) The Indians just loved the Cowboy movies and when they came into the dark theater they would inevitably sit right in front of us. We would have to get up and move to the rear because the smell was unbearable. I didn’t think about wood smoke and the absence of plumbing and running water. The Indians were “invisible”, in much the same way we would treat handicapped people at that time-Not wanting to look them in the eyes for fear of offending them and never once taking the time to consider how it made them feel. It was just the way they were and the way we were.

One frigid winter night my husband and I were driving from the mine site to Chibougamau when we came upon Indians on the road. They waved us down and one of them made us understand that they were going to the hospital with a sick baby. They piled into the car and the mother passed me the baby to hold in the front seat. It was a 30 mile drive to the hospital in Chapais and the roads were treacherous. I remember that I was surprised the baby was so clean, with a white woolen hat and bunting bag and wrapped tightly on a backboard. We got them to hospital and waited to know that the baby was fine but they would stay there overnight.

Months later my baby girl was born in Chapais. She was the only white baby there at that time and she looked so scrawny and pale compared to the Indian babies next to her in the nursery. They were bigger and seemed to be better developed and robust.

One summer day I took my baby for a walk to the center of town to do my errands at the Hudson’s Bay store. I parked the carriage outside of the Bay and ran across the street to the Bank. When I came out of there, I could see about 10 Indians around my baby carriage. I was nearly frozen with fear. As I approached I could see that they were smiling and they started doing “sign language” asking if she was a girl or boy, by pointing to their children. I understood that they were complimenting me and my baby pointing at her lacy shawl and bonnet and cooing, shaking their heads up and down, in approval. They may have been the same people we drove to Chapais earlier that winter, they may have known me on the bus or in the theater, but I was oblivious. I didn’t acknowledge them by remembering them.

No wonder Native people have serious personal problems today, apart from the political and land claims issues, they have been “looked through” and made to feel invisible for generations.

I wish I could relive those days. I wish I had taken the time to understand their culture. I wish I had made a contribution to their Society. I wish, that among my friends, I could count even one Native person.

I wonder if they wish I had, too.

PS, Read more on Chibougamau- May 12, June 2, June 4, August 29, 2007

Pioneers-The early years in Central Patricia

June 14, 2007

Central Patricia Gold mines in Northern Ontario opened in 1935. My parents, Mary and Elmer lived there for 12 years. Mary must have experienced some cultural shock when she stepped off an airplane in 1936 as a brand new bride from a city, to live in this wilderness in a log cabin before company houses were built. I don’t remember ever hearing her complain about it and there were many interesting stories.

Forest fire! There was only one way out- bush plane. The town was blanketed in smoke and fire raged just miles away. It was time to evacuate. The mine sent heavy equipment and dug trenches in front of the houses. Mary and her neighbours wrapped precious wedding gifts, clothing and photos in blankets and put them in the trenches which were then covered. They were rushed to board a small plane and flown to an island where tents had been erected, cots, latrines, a cook house (all the necessities) where they lived for 10 days. The miners were called upon to fight the fires and by sheer luck and hard work the town was saved.

The town had a post office which was a life line to civilization. Most goods were ordered months in advance and depended on weather, freeze-up, break-up as to when they would arrive along with precious mail from family. The post master was a like-able fellow who was often invited to join the young couples for dinner because he was a bachelor. He decided it was about time to reciprocate and invited a few for dinner one evening and insisted that he could manage the turkey dinner menu on his own. Mary & Elmer were one of the first couples to arrive and instead of an aromatic turkey wafting from the kitchen, they were greeted with a stench that defied description. They had to ask the host exactly what it was he was cooking. A turkey with stuffing was his reply and wasn’t it lucky for him that the turkey came with stuffing because he didn’t have a recipe for that! (In those days a turkey was not necessarily eviscerated when sold.)

Food and supplies were in short supply most of the time and it was customary for people to share what they had. One afternoon a miner who lived in the bunkhouse, stopped by the house to borrow some Vanilla. Mary had a huge bottle and thought that it was for the cook house and was only too happy to share it. The miner stood at the kitchen door and drank it! Mary was later informed that Vanilla contained alcohol.

Elmer had studied Safety and First aid as did most miners. It was just a question of ‘when’ and not ‘if’ there would be an accident or disaster and then they would be left to their own experience to survive and help. Elmer was on a ladder when a huge explosion peppered his back side and shredded his heavy underground coat with rock. Somehow he hung on, located a breathing device and managed the rescue. This was just one of many close calls he had. Mary said that she never let him leave for work with angry words between them. Some miners never came home.

Elmer & Mary 1936


To be continued…

Quebec Copper, Eastman, Quebec

June 6, 2007


MINE site

MINE site

1952-The Quebec Copper mine site was 3 miles from the town of Eastman in the Eastern Townships. Company houses were built in 1954 and we moved there along with 6 or 7 other families. In 1952/1953, while we waited for a house to be built, we lived in Magog, 10 miles away and went to school there. (see the early photos of the mine site below “pistard”-click on “voir images”) It seemed to me that Magog was bi-lingual. I couldn’t speak one word of French. Dad found a suitable 2nd floor apartment on St. Luc street, above a candy store and just down the street from the textile mill. As luck would have it, that neighbourhood was 100% French speaking. I was 10 years old and before long had met our 3rd floor neighbours, twin girls, MarieAnne & Marie Marthe who insisted that I join in games with other kids, so they drew pictogram’s in the sandy yard and we communicated just fine. I went to La Colonie (the beach/park) on Saturdays with them and to movies at the church. We marched in a parade in dresses made of crepe paper, watched a “snowy” TV in a store window for the first time, and sometimes I joined their family in the evenings listening to the rosary recited at 7pm on the radio. I was feeling at ease with the French culture and realized that my own family name was French. I attended Grade five at a brand new school-The Princess Elizabeth school and Her Majesty became Queen Elizabeth in 1953, a very exciting event. In 1954 we moved to a new duplex at the mine site and I was distressed to learn that I would be going to yet another school, Waterloo High School. I was accustomed to moving and leaving friends behind and adjusted quickly and loved the following three years as a preteen and finally a teenager. Like most teens, I was in a world of my own along with my friends, and family life and “mine life” was often, the very last thing on my mind.

However, the mine site, a hundred yards from our front door, was interesting and accessible. Aside from the office, there was the head-frame, a hoist room, pump house, crusher and conveyor belt to the mill. We had an old fashioned wooden phone hooked up and Dad could talk to the miners underground at any time of the day or night.

Since there wasn’t much for kids to do there, the mine built us a tennis court. There were only three kids old enough to use it at the time, but they spared no expense and bought us Slazenger rackets. There wasn’t a soul nearby who knew how to play or to teach.

We were driven to Eastman to catch a school bus but the company car went on to Waterloo every day to drive kids to another school, so we had a choice. Of course we chose the bus. Kids that age don’t want to be unique in any way, except when it suited us!

Times were good. We had a new family car and went away for holidays to Old Orchard Beach, and weekends to Newport and Burlington to shop. Mom bought Ever-Ware and an Osterizer. We had a TV and watched Triple Western Theater, Gillette Cavalcade of Sports and saw Elvis Presley on The Dorsey show the first time he performed.

By 1957 we were on the move again, back to Ontario. Quebec Copper was closing. If I remember, there was still copper to be mined but it was no longer economically feasible.

I went back to that deserted mine site a few times in the 60’s and 70’s. I could see the foundations of the various buildings but any signs of where houses had stood were obliterated by forest. I was able to locate the tennis court, the reservoir and a metal pylon that would have been a corner of our house.

It made me realize how easily history can be erased.

Chibougamau 1952

June 4, 2007


Things I didn’t learn…

June 2, 2007

Growing up in mining towns in Canada- here’s a list of just a few things I didn’t learn:

How to:

Plant a carrot (or anything else)

Hang Curtains (or anything else)

Paint a wall (or anything else)

Fold a fitted sheet

Parallel Park

Back up

Manage money


Bite my tongue

Drive a bargain



Give up!

Chibougamau, Quebec

June 2, 2007

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