My Pioneer Days
While growing up, two years was the longest I lived anywhere, and the first time that happened was when we moved to Thompson, Manitoba, just short of the tundra line and marked by a subarctic climate. Brrrrr!
We arrived by train, right after Christmas. I had turned 12 the month before. Somehow the tracks on the way there had been cleared of the mountains of snow all around. My mom, Auntie Alice and I were joining my dad and Uncle Lawrence who had already been there for months, getting the nickel mine constructed. Now parts of it were ready for workers (the “camp men”) to arrive and start the mining in earnest. Ours was one of the first couple of dozen houses built and ready to be occupied by the families of the construction men and miners. And we were one of the first five families to occupy them. A town was being born. And we were its pioneers. By the time school started in February, I was one of five seventh graders.
Two of the houses were set aside for schooling and one for a bank. A two-story house became our Hudson Bay store with a catalogue-ordering counter. The market section consisted of canned goods, pastries and breads - not much more. Most other perishable food had to be shipped in by train, ordered by individual families. We had a giant crate outside our front door crammed with a whole cow’s worth of beef cuts, chickens, lamb and pork cuts. In the mornings there were often wolf tracks all around it, with paw scrapes through the inevitable snow on top. Occasionally we would see them and moose ranging along the edge of the woods not all that far from our back door.
I had a wonderful time there, skating every day/night as well as engaging in other winter sports, including tobogganing and curling. Sometimes I even skated to and from the schoolhouse when the snow was hard-packed enough and friendly house builders would pour water over paths we took. Most of the school year it was dark both when we started and when we ended our day. On weekends we blissfully skated in daylight.
Almost immediately a town rink was formed, with a little heating hut nearby where we could go sit and thaw our frostbite. After a wooden wall was built with a little platform along the top, some of us would perch there, watching the snapping, crackling Northern Lights whipping over the sky in blazing color - before school or after.
Early mornings, before it was time for the men to go to the mine, bulldozers plowed snow from the roads so they could be picked up by vans. Our car was parked in the driveway, a yellow 57 Plymouth with giant fins, completely buried under snow.
Springtime brought hordes of gnats, then mosquitos, so we stunk of some kind of DDT lotion. And that’s when the perma-frost melted. A few times I sunk into the thick mire up to my hips, often just one leg going all the way down. A couple of friends or a passing camp man would have to pull me out, the result always being that one or two of my rubber boots would be sucked away from my feet. This was commonplace, especially with kids, and evidently, years later when the ground was being excavated for new buildings, countless boots were unearthed. I’m sure at least a few pair were mine!
In the warm summer, we had beautiful nearby rivers and lakes and waterfalls to play in and around. A nature lover’s paradise! By the time we left, soon after I turned fourteen, it was a burgeoning town with primary, elementary, junior and high schools! Supposedly it was the fastest growing town in North America! By the late sixties it was deemed the most modern town on the continent!
I’ll never forget my time there and have been thrilled that via Facebook and the Internet, people from those days have found me, some who even still live there!
The photo is of a crayon drawing I did not too long after we moved to Thompson. (I was the blonde in brown.) The fence around the rink still had not been erected.
Image Credit » image by BodieMor