Saturday, February 28, 2009
LIFE IN FLIN FLON - FROM A CHILD'S PERSPECTIVE
As a child growing up in Flin Flon, my life would not have been very different from the life of any other child. My father went to work at the plant every day, came home each night, rarely went out on his own; my mother did the usual things, cooked and cleaned, made clothes on her sewing machine, read fairy stories to me, listened to the radio, picked cranberries and blueberries, went out to shop and visit her friends, and had a new baby, my sister Suzanne, when I was five.
What made Flin Flon different was its lack of road access, and its rocky topography. Getting away from the town meant taking the train, which my mother did almost every year to visit her family in Edmonton. As there was no bus service and few cars, children beginning at age six walked to school even in the depth of winter. The bedrock on which the town was built meant no gardening, sewer boxes built above ground, and the scarcity and expense of fresh fruit and vegetables especially in winter.
Children had a freedom that would be virtually unknown today. There was an outcropping of bedrock in the backyard of the bigger house on Grandview Street that my parents bought when I was two. This rock flattened out before descending to Ross Lake some distance away. At quite a young age, I was allowed to roam freely though this area, fortunately never falling down and injuring myself, though on one occasion being reprimanded for ripping a new dress.
I often went to a small stream of running water where a few willows and blue bells were growing. This became my very own secret place that was never mentioned to anyone. It was especially precious in that it was surrounded by acres and acres of bedrock. In summer, all the kids on our street played outside together. We had a game called Aunty Aunty Eye Over that involved, as far as I can remember, hurling a ball over a roof, then racing around the house trying to be the first to find it.
It was very cold in the winter, and the Northern Lights made beautiful shimmering patterns in the night sky. In the evenings, we took our sleighs, which had steel runners and a wooden cross piece for steering, up to the top of Hillcrest Avenue and sledded down in the dark and cold under the Northern Lights.
Because there were no telephones, I had to take a note to the babysitter on my way home from school when my parents wanted to go out for the evening. On one occasion in Grade One, we were doing splatter work which involved a tooth brush, a screen, some paint, and with the brush trying to splatter the paint through the screen onto a piece of paper. I was so involved with this that I failed to notice that Miss Dunning had come and taken my note. Later, in a panic I went up to her desk to tell her it was lost, only to be reprimanded for having had it in the first place as she returned it to me. Oh, the injustices of childhood!
Another incident involved two sisters, Carol and Joan Kent, daughters of my mother's friend Kay Kent. Their father was also an HBM&S engineer. We were at the Kent's cottage (my parents weren't there) and were given pumpkin pie for dessert. We would have been perhaps five, six and seven years old. Joan and I hated the pie, but Mrs. Kent made us sit at the picnic table until we had eaten all of it. To this day, I have never been able to eat pumkin pie.
In the photos are:
1) Carol and Joan Kent with me in the middle on a day when we had obviously been very naughty.
2) My sister, Suzanne, and me, aged 2 1/2 and 7 1/2.
2) The coat with fur trim which is my first memory.
3) My parents first house on Callinan Street.
4) My parents and me in front of the Grandview Street house.
5)My Mother with me as a baby.
6) My Sister Suzanne and me in 1946.
Friday, February 27, 2009
My parents first met in high school. Several years later, when my father was in Edmonton on vacation from Flin Flon, his sister Jacqueline invited my mother for dinner to greet him. On July 8, 1939, they were married at Lamoureux, Alberta, across the Sturgeon River from Fort Saskatchewan.
My mother, Donalda LePage (called Don by my father and Donna by her friends), was a school teacher. She was born in 1911 on a farm at Lamoureux, Alberta, but spent most of her childhood in Edmonton after her father's death in the influenza epidemic of 1918. My grandmother, Leonie, then sold the farm and, with her two children (my mother and aunt), lived with her parents, Docithee and Donalda Lamoureux until the children grew up.
Docithee, born in 1860, was an early pioneer who had a large farm at Lamoureux, and who, with a partner, had the contract to supply beef for the North West Mounted Police. The only time I recall seeing my mother cry was when she heard he had died in 1945 at the age of 85. Having lost her father at age six, he must have been like a father to her. She admired him very much and told me that during the Great Depression, unemployed men frequently went to his house for money. The word spread in Edmonton about his generosity so that after he died hundreds of I.O.U notes were found in his bureau drawer.
After their wedding, my parents had a honeymoon in Banff and Jasper, then went to live in Flin Flon where my father had bought a small house on Callinan Street.
In the photos from top to bottom are:
1) My parents' wedding photo.
2) My mother in her wedding dress.
3) The newlyweds leaving on their honeymoon (in the row behind my parents from left to right are Therese, my father's mother, Leonie, my mother's mother, and Albert, my father's brother; in the next row are Henry Pirot, my aunt Jacequeline's husband, and Jacqueline, my father's sister.
4) The Honeymooners.
5) My grandmother, Leonie, with her parents, Donalda and Docithee Lamoureux, and her brothers, Ernest and Hector.
6) My grandmother, Leonie Lepage, and her husband who died in the flu epidemic after going out every day to tend to the sick, and whose first name I don't remember.
All of these photos will enlarge considerably if you right-click and open in a new window.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
RECREATION AT FLIN FLON
Flin Flon, though a substantial town when my father arrived, was very isolated. There was a native community fairly close to the town at Cranberry Portage and a small town at The Pas about 60 miles away. Until 1949, Flin Flon could be reached only by train. It was very cold in the winter and darkness fell early. For a child who had known nothing else, living there would obviously require no adjustment. For an adult, though, it could be difficult.
Still, there were plenty of recreational opportunities, particularly if you enjoyed the outdoors. The Company, as it was called, created a beautiful beach at Phantom Lake, one mile from the town. Many tons of sand were imported, a footpath to connect with the town was put in, and beach facilities were constructed. I remember the change house and cafeteria, a huge roundabout, a picnic area set amongst birch and poplar trees, the beach itself, and a large dock.
The Internet site, www.flinflon.net, revealed that initially the beach was developed by volunteers, and only in 1943 did the Company take over. In addition to the facilities I remember, the Company also put in
"expanses of grass, ... a playground area, ... and a dance hall, all gleaming white with red trim. A quaint bandstand provided a venue where entertainment and concerts were provided. Tennis courts were laid out in two locations. The landscaped grounds at Phantom Lake were accented by formal flower beds and stonework ledges, paths, and a pond."
For winter recreation, there was curling and snowshoeing. In summer, besides the beach at Phantom, you could, play tennis and sail a boat, both enjoyed by my father who purchased a lot at Big Island Lake where he kept his sailboat. As well, there must have been great fishing in the many lakes around the town.
On May 12, 1937, the coronation of King George VI of England was celebrated with a major event in the town: a parade with floats. From the photos, it was obviously much enjoyed by the inhabitants.
The first three photos above are of the 1937 Coronation parade, the third showing the winning French Canadian float which depicted the arrival in Canada of Jacques Cartier. The following photos are of Phantom Lake (courtesy of www.flinflon.net); my father's sail boat; my father sailing with friends; and, finally, the Flin Flon bonspiel of 1936 (a curling competition). If you right click on the photos and then open them in a new window (the top item on the list), they will enlarge, some to a full-page size.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
After completing his engineering degree, my father took a job with Hudson's Bay Mining and Smelting Co. Ltd. in Flin Flon, Manitoba. Flin Flon is located on the Saskatchewan border about 850 km. from Winnipeg. It was here in 1915 that David Collins, a local trapper, discovered mineral ore. He gave it to Tom Creighton, a prospector. This discovery led ultimately to the development of a large mine and a town whose population grew from 5,000 in 1935 to 10,000 by 1950. The name Flin Flon came from a novel that either Creighton or some other prospector was reading at this time in which the main character was called Flintabbetey Flonanton.
After World War II, particularly during the Great Depression, thousands of people moved north to Flin Flon as the mine developed. Not only copper was found, but nickel, zinc, cadmium, and I think perhaps silver as well. Today, Flin Flon is a city, and HBM&S (now called Hud Bay Minerals Inc.) continues to be the main employer, with a large smelter at Flin Flon and big ore deposits at Thomson, Manitoba. Tourism has also become a significant part of the local economy.
Flin Flon is located on the Precambrian Shield which extends in a huge horseshoe shape around Hudson's Bay. It is an area of granite bedrock interspersed with many small lakes and bogs containing muskeg. Much of Shield country has coniferous forests, though at Flin Flon itself there were not that many trees. Because of the rock, the developed part of the city extends over a large area.
I'm not sure when my father arrived in Flin Flon. He left a photo (see above) of a strike that occurred there in July 1934, so possibly he arrived soon after his university graduation, which would have been in the spring of 1934. From various photos I've seen, his life there must have been enjoyable. He had lots of friends, a sail boat, and much outdoor recreation which I'm sure he loved. Unlike many if not most of the men in the town, he didn't work underground.
In the photos, from top to bottom, are the mill at the HBM&S plant; Schist Lake, typical of the many lakes in and near Flin Flon; my father on the left with his friends (I was surprised to see photos of my dad with a gun, as to my knowledge he never owned one); the 1934 strike; and, finally, two photos of Flin Flon.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
CAMPING OUT IN NORTHERN ALBERTA
My grandfather's new job with the Province of Alberta involved travel throughout northern Alberta assessing the value of farmland. My aunt Jacqueline told us that occasionally he would take her and my father with him. They would camp at various lakes such as Moose Lake, Lac La Biche and Lesser Slave Lake. She enjoyed doing this very much. Sometimes it would be a vacation for the whole family. Often, however, only my father would go while she remained at home helping to look after her brother Albert, who was nine years younger. She recalled having feelings of resentment over this. She also mentioned that the only vacations people had in those days were camping trips.
The first photo is of camping at Lac La Biche in 1927, the second is of my grandfather resting by the side of the road in 1927 (notice the briefcase on the wagon), the next two are of Lesser Slave Lake in 1927, the last is at Good Fish Lake in 1928.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
My father completed Grade 12 and was accepted into the Engineering Faculty at the University of Alberta. Based on his birthdate, March, 26, 1912, this would likely have been in the autumn of 1929, with graduation in the spring of 1934.
To pay for his tuition, he earned money every summer by selling magazines to farmers. His method was to go out into the country with a Model A Ford, a tent, and magazines. He sold these to farmers and took chickens and eggs in payment. He would camp out for a few nights and return to Edmonton, hoping that the chickens in the back of his Model A were still alive. At the market in Edmonton, he would sell the remaining chickens and eggs, pay for the magazines, retain a bit of money towards his university costs, and then repeat the cycle.
When as a child I first heard about this entrepreneurial streak of my father's, I didn't know what to make of it. I now find it quite typical of him - oblivious to hardship, stubborn, determined to show what he could achieve through hard work, and having a strong faith in Canada as the country of opportunity. As a child, of course, I didn't understand any of this. From the way people reacted when the story was told, I could see that in some way it was remarkable, making my father seem unusual compared with other parents - not something that would necessarily bring advantages to oneself where status at school was concerned.
Because I loved my father, it left me with a feeling of not quite fitting in. Unlike the kids at school who proudly wore green on St. Patrick's Day, I had neither knowledge nor pride in my heritage. My Dad believed that people who left Europe for Canada should leave their customs behind and embrace the new country where all were equal. Instilling a pride in our ancestry was not consistent with that approach.
Only later, when I was an adult myself and had lived in England for a couple of years, was I able to put all of this into a different context. When I met several people there who shared his values, I could see him for what he really was, feel admiration for him, and be proud that he was my father. I only wish he had taught me to speak French!
The pictures from top to bottom are: 1) Looking out from the house in Calder with the Model A covered in snow 2) my father in what looks to be the uniform of a cadet 3) my father camping out probably with his Model A and chickens 4) my father's university graduation photo and 5) father camping out.
When the family moved to Edmonton, they lived in Calder, a community located on the northwest edge of the city. At that time, Calder was physically separated from Edmonton by a large undeveloped tract of land owned by the Hundson's Bay Company. The community grew up where it did because of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway which had a roundhouse, repair shops and a shunting yard there.
The distance from Calder to the downtown - approximately five miles - and its separation from the rest of the built-up area would have made rents there relatively affordable. Streetcar service was provided by Edmonton Radial Railway. The company, formed in 1908, began service soon after that in Edmonton and later to Strathcona and Calder. Even so, I remember being told that living in Calder involved a lot of walking.
My father and Jacqueline attended St. Joseph's, a Catholic High School located at 109 Street and 108 Avenue. My mother, who knew them at school, said that from the way they dressed it was obvious they were poor.
My grandfather worked at La Survivance for a while, but soon got a better job as a land assessor with the Alberta Government's Department of Municipal Affairs. His initial responsibility was to visit farms in northern Alberta and assess land values for taxation purposes. Later, he was promoted to Supervisor of Field Services. There was a recession in Alberta from 1913 to the mid-1920's. The family likely benefited from the improvement in the economy in the late 1920's, but I don't believe they were ever very well-off.
In the photos are McDougall United Church, for a long time a landmark in downtown Edmonton; St. Joseph's High School; and a streetcar operated by the Edmonton Radial Railway.
Friday, February 20, 2009
KINUSO, LESSER SLAVE LAKE
My grandmother was very unhappy in Kinuso. She didn't like her sister-in-law and was unhappy about the growing debt the family owed at the general store. She thought my grandfather was capable of working in an office, but he didn't have confidence in his English which he had learned in Belgium (the family spoke French).
In 1919, when the children were five, six and seven years old, the parents were forced to take work at a lumber mill in Chisholm, northwest of Athabasca. My grandfather worked as a bookkeeper and my grandmother, a cook. Because the mill had no facilities for families, the children were taken to a convent in Grouard. My father never mentioned the convent. My aunt Jacqueline, however, has said it was quite horrific, obviously because of the separation from their parents, but also because of the unkind treatment they received from the nuns.
We don't know how long this period lasted. Finally, my grandmother decided to leave on her own or possibly with the children. She went to Lacombe near Red Deer to work as a maid. Fortunately, my grandfather went after her and agreed to move to Edmonton where he got a job as a writer for a small French language newspaper called La Survivance. I estimate that the move took place between 1922 and 1925.
In 1914, English was the fourth most common language in Edmonton, after French, Cree and Gaelic. Copies of La Survivance were digitized at the University of Alberta because of their importance as historical documents.
Pictured in the photos are my father in the front row bottom right with his Grade 8 Class; with friends at Moose Lake, his sister, Jacqueline, on the right; a copy of La Survivance; my father, his brother Albert and their dog.
When my grandfather returned from the War in 1919, the family moved to a homestead at Kinuso on Lesser Slave Lake, where my grandfather's older sister, Maria Jeanne, and her husband, Emile Vanderaegen, had a general store. A homestead was a large piece of government land that was made available to pioneers who were willing to work hard to establish a farm. In Alberta, the main homesteading years were from 1870 to and 1930. By 1919, it is likely that most of the best land had already been taken.
There is very rich farmland west of Kinuso in the Peace River District. As I was curious about how far east this good land extended, I made an Internet search and found Statistics Canada information from the 2006 Agricultural Census. In the Big Lakes Area which includes Kinuso on its eastern boundary, small amounts of rapeseed, oats, and barley are grown. By far the biggest crops, however, are used as fodder for cattle and pigs. Annual gross farm receipts in Alberta that year were $470.90 per acre, whereas in the Big Lakes Area, they were only $174.00. Agricultural capability of the land seems to be limited largely to stock raising.
I don't know if the family had livestock. If they had cattle, they wouldn't likely have had to eat so much fish. I can remember my father telling us about the family's efforts to grow timothy. He said the whole family sat around the kitchen table, placed the timothy on the table, and pounded at it with their hands trying to remove the seeds from the chaff. When I searched timothy on the Internet, I discovered it is a type of hay or alphalfa used for cattle feed. I don't know what the seeds would have been used for, but the attempt was not successful. I can only say that I admire their determination.
Pictured in the photos are my Dad and his brother, Albert, in a dugout canoe; my grandfather Albert Darimont with horses; my Dad flying a kite; and my Dad's sister Jacqueline aged 18.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
When he emigrated to Canada, my grandfather was receiving a pension from the Belgian army after having had a medical discharge due to sunstroke. As a result, upon the outbreak of World War I, he was required to return to Belgium and rejoin the army. I have often wondered about what happened to him in that war, especially after reading about the horrors of trench warfare and the high rate of casualty.
Recently, I discovered that my aunt Jacqueline, his daughter, believed that he was in the Intelligence Service. Whatever his role, one certainty is that he had to leave his wife and three children - John, Jacqueline and Jeanne - alone for the duration. My grandmother and the children lived at St. Albert near Edmonton until his return.
My mother found my grandfather a very stern person - "a true Victorian". She had nothing but praise for my grandmother who she said was very warm and loving. My grandmother had an excellent singing voice and often sang arias from the operas to the children.
The first photo is of my grandmother, Therese, as a young woman; the second is of my grandparents when young; and the third shows my grandmother, Therese, with her firstborn, Jean, who died in infancy.