Memories of Yellowknife
An account of the Boyd family pioneering to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, from 1965 until 1969
When my mother was still alive there were many things she could have told me about growing up in the Highlands of Scotland from 1894 when she was born, and other things about her life and family. I was not very interested at the time and after she died in 1972 it was too late for the questions that came to mind afterwards. On a vacation in Florida in January, 2002 my wife Eileen suggested to me that I write my memories of Yellowknife. I said that nobody would be interested in reading about it, but she pointed out that after we were gone the family would want to read about it then. It seemed like an interesting project, but I was amazed at how many stories and memories came flooding back from the four years we spent there, from 1965 to 1969.
This story is dedicated to Eileen, whose courage and sacrifice made it all happen and who ever since has paid an enormous price for those four years. Apart from the difficulty of looking after four young children, who were unable to play outside in winter because of the cold, and in summer because of the blackfly and mosquitos, apart from "cabin fever" and isolation and neighbours who were not very friendly because of our association with native people, Eileen had much more to cope with.
After we had been in Yellowknife for two years, the federal government commissioned the building of an 18 inch diameter pipeline from the Yellowknife river some five miles away, running along the bottom of the Great Slave Lake, to supply domestic water to the Giant Yellowknife Mines town site where we lived, and to the Town of Yellowknife. They had discovered a high level of arsenic in the drinking water and said nothing about it until the pipeline was completed. Staying at home with the children in a centrally heated house Eileen drank lots of water. It turned out later that the people of Yellowknife had a very high incidence of lymphatic cancer, and Eileen became one of those statistics when Hodgkin's Disease nearly too her life in 1971. It took an extreme amount of chemotherapy and many radiation treatments to save her life. Ever since her remission, her health has been badly affected, partly from the after effects of the sickness and partly from the harsh treatments that were used in those days to effect a cure. Eileen was one of the early success stories in the treatment of Hodgkin's Disease and was always made welcome at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto when she went back for subsequent checkups.
The memories I write about are those that seem interesting to me, being unusual, exciting, funny or just memorable.
I am writing this in Florida in the year 2002. The events in the story happened between 1965 and 1969 so I am sure I have left out some people and events which richly deserve to be included. For that I apologize. I have tried to avoid what is known as "creative memory", that is, remembering things that never happened. These stories, however strange, actually happened to us. I think. I have written this as a very personal account for my children to have after I am gone. Perhaps, like me, they will wish they had asked more about events in their parents lives.
Pioneering it was called. A good name for it. From a Bahá'í National Convention in 1965 in Winnipeg I had heard of the need for pioneers in various parts of the world and phoned home to my wife Eileen to say that I would like to offer for us to go anywhere in the world that Bahá'ís might be needed. Despite her love for her home in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, she said "OK. Go ahead." We were asked to consider Labrador but that didn't work out so then were asked to try for Yellowknife in Canada's sub-Arctic. Quite a change from the mild climate of the Niagara peninsula where we lived, where wisteria could flourish in our beautiful sheltered garden, and different blossoms flourished every month of three seasons. I flew up for an interview, accepted a job and now our family, Eileen, Jackie aged seven and Jim nine, not to forget our little white west highland terrier, Charlie, were headed north from Edmonton, Alberta. Charlie liked to travel lying in the rear widow and supervising all activity. Unfortunately when Charlie got nervous, he would pass gas, and everyone would shout "Oh, no, Charlie," and roll down the windows despite the dust. The people in Edmonton thought that they lived in the north, but here we were going north on a thousand mile journey by road, all of us jammed with our luggage into a tiny Renault R8. After four hundred miles of pavement we faced a further six hundred miles of gravel road.
The gravel road was a bit tricky as any vehicle ahead threw up a huge cloud of dust as well as a scattering of stones. Passing a slower vehicle meant taking a chance, not only with your windshield, but that another vehicle may emerge out of the dust cloud heading south. Another hazard was the steel parts broken off graders and snowploughs that occasionally littered the road just waiting to take out an oil pan. Only four years before this there was no road at all to Yellowknife.(1)
In the middle of nowhere we passed a sign informing us we were now crossing the 60th parallel of latitude and still had a long way to go since Yellowknife is at the 64th.We reached the great wide MacKenzie River that flows to the Arctic Ocean, named after the Scottish explorer, Alexander MacKenzie, the first European to pass this way. There we waited for a ferry and chatted with the owner of the last gas station before our destination. He told us about bears that often came by his isolated home and how his large dog chased them away. He told us regretfully that his dog was too quick and that he thought his mean cat could chase the bears but never got the chance as the dog was on the job first.
The MacKenzie River is closed to road traffic for six weeks during freeze up, then an ice road is available until spring break up when huge chunks of ice come roaring downstream from the Great Slave Lake, and the crossing is out for another six weeks. During the time the road is out supplies have to be flown from Edmonton to Yellowknife which adds a great deal to costs, especially for heavier items like milk. Sometimes the store owners were accused of flying all the way to the back of the store to retrieve produce stored there to be sold at the higher prices. During winter the rivers and lakes become highways and much of the years supplies for remote mines and communities came in on heavy trucks to places that are otherwise inaccessible.
Our gas was getting very low and I had started freewheeling down hills to conserve. It was touch and go and when we finally reached the town of Yellowknife in the dark had only one tenth of a gallon of gas left in the tank.
We were going to be living at the Giant Yellowknife Mines town site, about three miles from town where there were about thirty company owned homes, a commissary, a staff house, bunkhouses, and a recreation hall. The hourly rated employees either stayed at one of a group of bunkhouses or in the staff house or lived in town. Until a home could be readied for us, we stayed in the elegant guest lodge, a large Panabode log building with vaulted ceilings that overlooked Great Slave Lake.. I told Eileen,"just wait till you see the view in the morning." First thing next day I called out "watch this" and threw back the drapes dramatically. We could see nothing - it was snowing so hard. September 9, 1965.
The Northwest Territories comprises 1.3 million square miles, one third of Canada's landmass, most of it uninhabited and uninhabitable. About 33,000 people were scattered about this land, one third being mostly displaced white southerners, one third Indians, Cree, Dogrib, Yellowknife, Chipewyan and Leaucheux, and one third Eskimo or Inuit as they came to be known. The town of Yellowknife was the largest community in the Territories with a population of about one thousand people.
There were many surprises for me at Giant Yellowknife Mines Ltd which was at this time the largest gold producer in Canada, hoisting 1,100 tons of ore each day and from that extracting one gold brick, about 99.9%pure, the size of a regular brick and weighing about 65 pounds. I saw the tiny room where the gold was finally smelted in a little furnace, the rock impurities, being lighter than gold rose to the top of the ladle to be skimmed off and the pure gold poured into a brick shaped mold and left to cool.
These bricks were weighed daily, wrapped in canvas, numbered and bound with two steel bands. The bricks were stored in a safe inside a vault and twice each month a clerk would throw a plank of wood on the back seat of a company Chevrolet Chevelle, load about fifteen gold bricks, (about a thousand pounds of almost pure gold) then drive the three miles to the post office in town. From there they were shipped to the mint in Ottawa. Bruce Nikiforow, the clerk ,was unarmed and had no escort on this journey.
In 1954 Tony Gregson, alias Tony Johnson, worked at Discovery Mine and managed to get himself fired in time to travel out on the same plane as two gold bricks. While the pilot was busy he managed to substitute two lead bricks for the gold. Someone at the post office became suspicious of the weight of the bricks he received and unwrapped them to find the theft, but Gregson and the real bricks were long gone by then. He was caught about three years later and got two and a half years in jail. He claimed that he had hacksawed the gold bricks in a hotel room and sold them piecemeal. Those in the know did not believe him because it is almost impossible to hacksaw gold as the metal clogs the saw teeth. In any case those gold bricks were never recovered.
Along with the 1,100 tons of ore, a higher amount of waste rock was hoisted as well as eight tons of arsenic which occurred naturally in the land. The company tried to find a market for this and was successful in selling some for companies who made rat poison, weedkiller, and such. The remainder had to be disposed of and the method used was to store it underground in the old stopes, in the permafrost. The expectation was that it would be safe there and not ever find its way to surface. This meant that underground mine waste water which was continually being pumped to surface would not find its way to mingling with the arsenic.
As Mechanical Superintendent I was in charge of about 55 tradesmen in four crews including mechanics, welders, plumbers, hoistmen, and stationary engineers and charged with the job of keeping the wheels turning, the compressed air, water and steam flowing, so the ore could come up on schedule every day. To supervise these men I had three experienced foremen and a chief operating engineer. I knew very little about the work having worked in entirely different fields, but I was replacing a man who had died, Snoopy Sneddon, and he had been a drinker, was seldom seen at work, so all my people were quite competent at keeping things running. Perhaps not drinking was my main qualification.
The company had a policy of trying to employ as many Indians or Eskimos as possible, and the challenge of this pleased me. Living in Niagara area I had started a track and field club on the Six Nations Iroquois Reserve and from small beginnings, had built up a group of about a hundred kids aged from12 to 16. This meant driving 160 miles twice each week and in the end I had to compete against them to get them motivated. There were many social and economic problems on the reserve usually related to alcohol and unemployment, and I was trying to use running to teach them never to quit, and stories of once great native athletes to inspire them to be proud of their heritage. Then I tried to get them to transfer this confidence and tenacity as I had done, to their studies and their lives. Knowing that I may be leaving sometime I had spent the winters training and certifying twelve young men as coaches, so that they could carry on after me. I managed to get funding for some equipment from the Ontario government's lottery fund. This process worked quite well and when I revisited the Reserve seventeen years later, many of the coaches and athletes had finished school, found steady employment, and were married with nice homes and families. The track club had branched out to include other sports such as ice hockey, soccer and lacrosse and many young people whom I had never met had benefitted.
Anyway I think my work with native people had interested my employers and that may have been another factor in my hiring. Becoming employable did not come easy to many native people, as they were used to the freedoms that come with hunting or trapping when they needed food and doing very little at other times. The idea of working from 8 am until 5 PM, day in, day out, was very unappealing. Now that I am retired, I can quite agree with them. They also had a sharing culture and when a family member had a job and a house others would move in to share their prosperity, and would not be denied. These family members would sometimes like to party all night and it became difficult for the employee to show up on time and fit for work next morning.
Fred B. was Métis, smart and a fine man with a nice family. Red Hamilton was an excellent trainer and helped Fred to become certified as a stationary engineer and he now had a good career ahead. The heating plant was the nerve centre of the Mine. From there insulated pipeboxes ran for miles in every direction carrying steam, condensate, air and water to all of the mine buildings and homes. If the a line became frozen it had to be fixed immediately or the whole place could have been shut down until the next summer. If a stationary engineer was late or did not show up for work, the man on duty could not leave until he was relieved. Dependability was a necessity for this job and with that Fred had a struggle. I coached and encouraged Fred and praised his successes and so did Red. I also had to discipline his lost time. At 3 am one winter's night I was wakened by a loud knocking on my door. When I opened it, there stood Fred swaying and clinking. He said "I know that I am on my last warning and that if I miss another shift you will have to fire me. Let me sleep here and make sure I am at work on time in the morning". I helped him in and unloaded eight bottles of beer from his pockets and he slept on the couch. He was almost impossible to wake, but Eileen and I got him up at 7, pumped him full of strong coffee and delivered him to work. Fred survived that situation but had to be let go not too long afterwards. We helped him find work at the new Territorial correctional institute.
The native people in the north had many more problems related again to alcohol, loss of identity and being ashamed of who they were. than those in the south and before long we were engaged in trying to help with these. We heard from a lady who worked part time as a warden at the jail about Sophie F. who "had not drawn a sober breath since she was fifteen." Sophie, who had no idea of what was going on and now in her early twenties appeared before the magistrate charged with something or other and the magistrate said "well Sophie, are you guilty or not guilty? You're guilty aren't you? Lock her up for thirty days". At this time the magistrates in the north had twice the power of a regular magistrate, if a magistrate normally had the power to give you a year in jail, they could give you two years.
The son of a highly placed clergyman in the Territories a young man we shall call John C. got himself in trouble one night while driving under the influence. On a narrow dark road he hit two Indians, knocking them down. When the Royal Canadian Mounted Police showed up they sere still lying there and John was in a stew. The RCMP told him not to worry about it as they had been drunk. They would just throw them in jail and in the morning they would have forgotten all about it. When everyone left young John found a twenty five cent piece lying on the hood of his car. Afterwards he entertained his friends telling them how he had "got two for a quarter."
George Blondin was a Dogrib Indian, in his early forties, who had more or less successfully made the transition from living off the land to being a competent bonus miner, earning a good income at Giant Mine. He lived in a government house in Old Town along with his wife and several teenaged children, one of whom was the pretty Georgina I will write about later. We used to visit George and he would tell us stories of his earlier life. He came from a family of eight children and he was the sole survivor. I asked him what the others had died of. He said "the grip." I could only presume it was some kind of influenza to which native people had little resistance.
I read a story of a boat going along the Arctic coast with an R.C.M.P. officer conducting a population census assisted by a Métis interpreter. The Métis had a bad cold and a couple of weeks after they left each community, most of the population died.
Anyway, George told me one story of going down a river in his canoe in the barren lands far to the north of Yellowknife, and passing quickly through a rapids where there were grizzly bears fishing. His canoe shot between two surprised bears and he escaped unhurt.
I had met a social worker on a plane who was looking for a good home for an Eskimo baby about to be born in Inuvik on the Arctic coast, and we applied for adoption. The process went quickly and we suddenly received this beautiful baby girl, round and chubby and two months old. She came with one page of instructions, much less than a food mixer or a Timex watch. We did not care for her birth name Cindy Mae, and following an old Scottish custom, named her Eileen after my wife. From then on she has been known as little Eileen, and my wife big Eileen. The Eskimo people were quite shocked to hear that we had given her my wife's name as they thought that a name has a power, and if two people have it, it splits the power. Abe Ookpik explained the Eskimo view of this and I have written about it later on.
Little Eileen was a delight and the girls staying with us gave her an Eskimo name, "Dingmaliuk", which means "Little Bird." When we heard that there was someone in town who may be Eileen's Aunt, we made contact. The Children's Aid Society would not approve, but in small remote communities you find out a lot that is meant to be secret. Eileen's Aunt was a 22 year old woman named Winnie who worked at the Giant Mines Cafeteria. Through Winnie we met and became lifelong friends with Eileen's natural mother, Liz Wray, who now lives in Whitehorse Yukon and still visits us. Shortly after meeting Winnie we heard from our friend the jail warden that Winnie had been arrested for stealing a truck.
We spoke with a local lawyer Mark de Wirdt, who was to become a good and kind friend and he was glad to get involved at no cost. Mark managed to get the charges changed from stealing an item worth more that $5,000 to one of joy riding, and got the magistrate to release her into our custody. The Cafeteria Manager held her job open as she was a good worker although she had a problem of getting to work on time. Winnie had to be at work at 5.30 am to prepare breakfast for the miners. For a few days she was good but Winnie liked to party and would come home late. She was full of good intentions and would set the alarm for 5 am and put the clock across the room so she could not just turn it off and go back to sleep. Unfortunately she could sleep though the alarm, and I could not, so I would often have to get up to turn off the alarm and to waken Winnie out of a dead sleep to make sure she got off to work.
After we got to know Winnie we found out what had led up to her arrest. She was at a party in a trailer, and when she tried to leave to go home, a man attacked her and tried to rape her. She managed to get out the door and when she saw the truck she jumped in it and tried to start it. She had no idea of how to drive. When she turned the ignition switch the battery power moved the truck ahead until it stalled against the side of the building. She was too shy to tell anyone about all of this and would have gone to jail for a long time rather than talk about it.
Little Eileen was always a very logical person. One day when she was old enough to dress herself, she came downstairs with her shoes on the wrong feet. "Your shoes are on the wrong feet", I told her. "No they are not," said Eileen. I knew that something interesting was developing. "Yes they are" I pressed her. "Your shoes are on the wrong feet". Puzzled. Little Eileen looked down at her feet. "These are my feet," she insisted.
Jackie loved to visit our next door neighbour, Elsie Wist who loved children but had none of her own. One day she came home from her visit and told us that the Wists were very wealthy. "How do you know that?" we asked her. "They always have a dish of candies sitting on the coffee table. They have to be wealthy", said Jackie.
One year we attended a Bahá'í Summer school in Banff, Alberta when Jackie was a little girl. An older Bahá'í friend had taken a shine to her and she was sitting on his knee across the hall from us during a small fund raising auction. Someone had donated a very ordinary plastic ball pen worth about fifty cents. As the bidding got started and stood at $1.15 we heard Jackie shouting loudly "ten bucks".
It was a big surprise to find out that Yellowknife had a nine hole golf course. It was the furthest north course in the world at that time. There was absolutely no grass on it, just sand, bedrock, and some runty trees. Winter rules applied and since the ball would always end up in a hollow in the sand, you were allowed to set it up for an improved lie. The "greens" had no grass either and a level surface was established by oiling the sand and smoothing it out. At each green there were several doormats on chains and when you walked on the putting surface you pulled one of these mats behind you to cover your footprints. If you ever hit the rock the ball would carom anywhere. Another hazard was the villainous ravens who delighted in stealing your ball from the green and flying away with it. I don't know if they tried to hatch them or offer them for resale to other golfers. The big event of the golf calendar was a tournament on the longest day of the year with a shotgun start at midnight and went all through the night. Yellowknife did not have midnight sun but with the sun just below the horizon it had 24 hours of daylight and you could see clearly enough to read a newspaper at midnight.
One of the events the family participated in before we left Yellowknife was a twenty mile "walkathon", raising funds for charity. I did my twenty miles and so did eleven year old Jackie although she asked permission to skip for the last mile. Robert and little Eileen "walked their age", Eileen, aged three, walking three miles and Robert at eighteen months completing a mile and a half. Robert's mother bribed him over the last stretch holding his milk bottle just ahead of him to inspire him to keep toddling on.
Before we left Yellowknife the government decided to do a health survey af Northern residents. People who had been there for less than ten years were each asked to complete a lengthy questionnaire. Those who had been resident for more than ten years were in addition given a full medical examination. The questions asked in the survey were quite revealing. They would ask a series of things like:
-Do you experience back aches?
-Do you have a morning cough?
-Do you hear voices when there is no-one there?
About every third question was to help determine if you were losing your grip on reality.
Slim had the job as an "oiler". It was not a demanding job and involved walking around all of the conveyor belts and lubricating the idler pulleys. He was tall, stooped, and emaciated, for he had been taken prisoner of war when Singapore fell to the Japanese. He had worked on the Burma railroad as slave labour and survived hunger, beatings and overwork. He was single and stayed in the Old Town with a very nice family of Jehovah's Witnesses.
He was a very reliable worker and pleasant to talk to, but he often brought up the subject of a possible third world war. This was in the heart of the Cold War and many people thought that war was a strong possibility. During this time the world had recently experienced the Cuban Missile Crisis with President Kennedy and Premier Kruschev facing each other down. A third world war was a strong theme with the Jehovah's Witnesses at this time. One morning all of this got too much for Slim and he rose at his usual time for work, but instead of going there, put the barrel of a shot gun in his mouth, and pulled the trigger.
We were all shocked and saddened, wondering if we could have said or done anything, that would have averted this. Slim had no known next of kin, and so there was no immediate funeral as the R.C.M.P. investigated the circumstances of the event. I was shocked some months later to find that Slim's body was being stored on a shelf in an old warehouse, and raised a ruckus until he was buried with the respect due to a man who had served and suffered for his country.
Kelly T. was a stationary engineer, a pleasant, bright young man with a keen interest in mathematics and physics at a basic level. He would get very excited to discover facts like the boiling point of water was 212 degrees Fahrenheit. I encouraged him as well as others in studies as people in jobs like stationary engineers and hoistmen had a lot of time on their hands and I thought that studies would keep them occupied as well as furthering their careers and chances for promotion.
One evening I got a call from Kelly in the Boilerhouse saying that he was worried and needed to speak with me. I shot over to the Boilerhouse and he asked me if the R.C.M.P. had been inquiring about him. I told him that they were not and gradually got him to tell his story. Apparently the last time he had been on vacation he had danced with another man's wife in Red Deer, Alberta, and this weighed heavily on his conscience. Realizing that all was not well here and that the operation of the Boilerhouse was critical to the operation of the whole property, I phoned Red Hamilton and got him to head in to take over the heating plant.
I encouraged Kelly to talk and an amazing rambling story emerged. He thought that there were X-rays radiating from the boiler control panels to get him. In Winter Yellowknife has very low humidity and everyone experiences minor static electrical shocks from door handles and other people. The kids used to shuffle their feet on the carpet and give each other a little jolt for fun. Kelly was sure that this phenomena was personally aimed at him. He told me that his phone was tapped and that when he was in town he would see people he knew from back home in Red Deer but when he said "hello" to them, they would not answer. The poor guy was seeing the faces of friends on the bodies of strangers.
I told Kelly that his nerves were bad and that he needed medical attention to calm his nerves. I managed to get him in to see a local doctor whom I tipped off ahead of time and he arranged to send Kelly "outside" for medical attention. He gave Kelly some pills and arranged for him to see an appropriate doctor in Red Deer. Kelly insisted on driving out and while I was anxious about this, I could do nothing to prevent it. Six months later Kelly showed up back at work, just as bad as before with a "return to work" certificate from a doctor down South. He told me "My back is all better now."
Kelly had driven South and on the way saw several people and things that were not there. As he came closer to Edmonton, Alberta, he heard voices telling him "You will never get through Edmonton. You are too well known." He holed up for a few weeks in a motel in a small town called White Fox, before driving on. When he went to see a doctor, he was asked what his problem was and Kelly said, "I don't really know, but my back bothers me sometimes."
I phoned Red Deer and impressed on Kelly's mother that her son needed her so she flew up. When I met his mother, I realised that she was worse than Kelly. She would not admit that there was anything wrong with him, but finally we got both of them sent for medical attention. Over the years Kelly kept in touch with me every Christmas with a card that included useful information such as that the freezing point of water was 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
Bill M. was a nice gentle guy who worked in the Boilerhouse. He came to several social events at our house and was very friendly with the girls who stayed with us. Bill had been in the army and had a difficult time adjusting to being a civilian. "In the army", he told me, "all decisions are made for you. What you wear and what you eat and where you stay. Everything." Bill could play a little guitar music and would sometimes bring his instrument when he came to our house.
One evening I got a phone call from Bill saying that he needed to talk to me. "What about, Bill?" "I owe you an apology. I've been doing terrible things to you and saying terrible things about you." "Here we go again", I thought, and sure enough, it was a repeat of Kelly's problems complete with X-rays and plots against him.
Each of these men were single, neither had other men friends nor went out with women, nor drank to excess. Each stayed in a room the bunkhouse. Even more interesting, each had identical libraries, including self help books about mind over matter, Zen Buddhism, and Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People."
From then on I refused to hire Stationary engineers who were not married and living with their spouse. Every day when the single men went home to isolation their minds could get further and further away from reality. Married men had wives and children to keep them occupied with day to day realities.
Hourly rated employees were hired through the Chamber of Commerce in Edmonton, given medical examination, equipped with what working and safety supplies and clothes they needed, then flown up to Yellowknife. Their flight and clothing costs were deducted from wages over a period of time and refunded if the stayed for one year. One man was hired to work underground and went through all this process and cost, showed up for work and was sent about 2200 feet underground in the man cage, found out that he was claustrophobic, and quit.
The town was divided into two parts, Old Town where the earlier shacks and buildings had been constructed and New Town which was more upscale. The town had two grocery stores, one of which was operated by a Chinese family, the other was the Hudson's Bay store which also sold clothing. There were two hotels one of which had the Polar Bear dining room. On one wall was stretched out a monster polar bear hide that went almost wall to wall in the room. That was the more upscale hotel. The other had more history and had been won and lost in a card game. There was one dentist and one undertaker, three doctors and one hospital.
There was only one undertaker and he had to plan for how many people may die during the year and dig his holes while the ground was unfrozen. Red Hamilton was a wonderful older man, who had come to Yellowknife on a scow in the 1930's(2). He once told me of having to bury someone in the frozen ground of the graveyard. With a miners rock drill he had to drill holes in the ground to take the sticks of dynamite, then he apologized to the man buried next to this grave site "I am sorry, Maclean, but this won't take long. Just one big bang and it's over."
In the earlier days the town had only one short street. Two local businessmen both were anxious to have the first automobile in town, and both vehicles arrived on the same barge when the big lake thawed out. A few months later their joy turned to sorrow as their cars were totaled when they met on a head on collision on that one street.
Yellowknife had many "characters" and everyone was someone unique, even the town drunk(s). Not the least of these characters was a tall gaunt man named Tom Doornboss. Tom was an old timer and had started out in Yellowknife almost as a beast of burden. He used to collect large pails of water in the lake and carry them door to door by means of a shoulder yoke, selling the water to the local housewives and restaurants. Tom lived very frugally, lived in a shack, dressed always in an old black topcoat and wearing "Fagan" type fingerless gloves. He was well read and was often seen carrying a packsack of books from the library which was free, but then Tom liked everything that was free. He had come from Europe somewhere, maybe Holland with that surname, and when you walked with him he liked to hold serious conversation. He was well known in the local restaurants where he would get some free crackers and ask for a cup of hot water into which he would dunk a used tea bag he carried, all at no cost. He would sometimes put tomato ketchup on the crackers. Sometimes customers would buy him a sandwich or coffee, and he always thanked them graciously. He seemed like a harmless old man. Rumour held that he was wealthy and that he owned most of the properties in Old Town, but that seemed like urban legend. Then one day.....
Our security man reported that he had found old Tom snooping around the mine dump, and had run him off the property. A few days later we received a phone call from our head office in Toronto informing us that we had to treat Mr Doornboss with respect. If he wanted to look around our dump we were not only to allow it but to give him a ride home when he was ready to go. It seems that Mr Doornboss was a major stockholder in Giant Yellowknife Mines Ltd. He had no close relatives and when he died a few years later, it turned out that he did own most of Old Town. He bequeathed everything he owned to a school in Denmark.
There was a bar in the old part of town named the Old Stope (a mining term). The bartender approached us there demanding "Name your poison". It took courage to ask for orange juice.
At this time many native people lived by hunting and trapping and there were many dog teams for pulling sleds in winter. Perhaps by now these will have been replaced with snow machines. At Contoyto Lake there was a herd of 500,000 caribou and the Eskimo hunters depended on its migration to provide food for their people. Most Eskimo and northern Indians could not swim as the water was too cold to learn, and it would not do much good anyway if someone fell in a very cold river or sea. Despite this they used canoes to get around and kayaks and it was not unheard of for an Eskimo hunter to be at sea along the Arctic coast for a few days and come back towing a whale behind his kayak.
The raven was the symbol of Yellowknife and were often huge birds. They were very smart and delighted in teasing dogs. Our little white West Highland terrier hated them and if one flew by he would take off across country after it. They would sometimes for their own amusement "work" him. On would fly down to the ground and he would run at it so it flew up out of reach while another would fly down about thirty yards away. He would charge after that one and it would fly up as the first one flew back down again. Another time I saw a hungry dog trying to get at some paper frozen to the ground that had some meat attached to it. A raven hopped up behind him and pulled his tail, so the dog pursued it then returned to his paper. The raven repeated this tactic staying just out of reach until he got the dog far away from the paper, then flew back to get at it himself.
There were lots of dogs in the mine townsite and they usually had the run of the place. They were all friendly and mostly good friends with each other. A bunch of them came calling each morning for our little West Highland terrier, Charlie, and then they would go off on their rounds. There was a Saint Bernard, a Lab, a Dalmation, and a few miscellaneous mutts, but the biggest dog was in the pack was a young black Newfoundland dog named Morgan. Being small, Charlie felt he had to assert himself and he was a tough guy who never backed down from a fight, but never won any either. In Niagara on the Lake we often carried him to the vet for repairs. He used to bully Morgan until one day Morgan just put his paw on Charlie, pinning him to the ground and that was the end of bullying.
We stayed in a semi-detached house and next door to us lived Horst Wist, a Mine Captain and his wife Elsie. They were of German background and were kind and helpful neighbours. One night while Horst was at work and Elsie was keeping a little dog for a friend, the little dog would not stop barking. Elsie got out of bed and peered out on her back deck to see what he was excited about. Here in the dark was Morgan, so she told him to get home, but he would not go. She opened the door and gave him a big push with her bare foot and still he did not go. Elsie was quite annoyed an went back inside and got a broom to chase him with, but when she turned on the outside light, she saw to her horror that it was not Morgan she had kicked but a large black bear.
Eileen had asked "do we have a garden there?" and I had said yes, but it was kind of a rock garden. In fact all of the community where we would live had no topsoil at all and bedrock was on the surface everywhere. A few pockets in the rocks had been filled with a rich peat moss type of soil, and if you could clear the grass roots, that was where you could plant flowers and vegetables. While the growing season was very short, with almost 24 hours of sunshine each day and such a rich soil, you could almost watch things grow.
One time I was trying to get rid of the grass in a small pocket of garden. It was quite dry so I decided to burn it off. When the grass was gone I hosed the dirt to make sure the fire was out. Next morning I noticed smoke coming from the soil. I hosed it again. A few hours later, the same thing, more smoke, more water. Next morning, smoking again. That fire continued to smolder until all the dirt was gone and bare rock exposed. The whole surface of the Territories that are not under water or solid rock is made up of sphagnum peat. I knew that peat had been burned in "turf fires" for heat and cooking in Ireland and Russia.
I wondered if this could be an economic boon for the native people of the North. I tried compressing the peat in our machine shop to make briquettes, but without success. I had heard of pulverized peat fired turbines being used in Scotland to produce electricity and wrote to the Clyde Valley Electricity Authority to inquire. They said their findings had mixed reviews, some experts thinking them successful and promising but others who had final say deciding not to spend any more money pursuing the project. I wrote to the Canadian National Research Council asking if they had considered the peat as a source of fuel, and they said that all of their experiments with it had been about how to build roads on its boggy, shifting surface. In the end I could not get anyone interested and let the matter die. Perhaps just as well because while employment is needed, strip mining the stuff on a large scale may do untold and unsightly damage to the fragile land.
Red Hamilton was spunky old man who worked for me. He was very much an "can do" type of man. He drove an old Hillman Minx model car and rather than wait for a truck he could sometimes be seen driving his little car and pulling a hundred feet of high pressure steam hose behind it. Red looked after the Boilerhouse and travelled every day in summer by canoe from his home in Old Town where he lived with his wife, Mary and two sons.
When the boiler inspector made his annual visit to test and certify our pressure vessels, Red would show him around. I met this man once in Edmonton as I was heading North and he was returning from Giant. He told me that Red had taken him fishing in his canoe on the Great Slave Lake. The man had hooked into a very large Northern Pike and had visions of having it mounted over his mantel. When he got it in the canoe, however, Red unhooked it and threw it back in the lake. The poor man was almost in tears, but the Northern Pike, or Jackfish as they are known, are looked on as a nuisance fish in Yellowknife. All turned out well though, as shortly after that the man caught a very large lake trout and was bringing that home with him.
I was so impressed with Red as an employee that when his two sons came looking for work, I hired them. Del was an apprentice Welder and the other son an apprentice Mechanic. I met Mary Hamilton in town one day, and expecting to be in her good graces, and joked with her that she was the only Hamilton not working for me. Mary was quite annoyed however and said "I certainly do work for you. You have every one of them on a different shift and I am cooking twenty four hours a day."
Tom Doornboss was not the alone in examining our dump. There were seagulls aplenty and many black bears looking for a free lunch. We did not get any grizzly bears though, nor polar bears, so we could live and let live with the black bears.
Harry McD. Was a recovering alcoholic and lived in the bunkhouse at Giant. When he decided to join he was the first addition to our little Bahá'í community. Harry was single and used to work for Paddy Harrison, a mining contractor where he and his coworkers would spend months developing a new mine ad then get to a town with lots of money and the urge to blow it. Harry told us that he would go into a bar with a few cronies, slap a hundred dollar note on the counter and drink until it was gone, then slap down another. He had fallen foul of the law for passing bad cheques and while in jail had joined Alcoholics Anonymous and was in Yellowknife to find out if he had hurt anyone while he was in his cups, and to apologize and pay off any debts.
Harry drove a ten ton dump truck for Giant and was working early on New Years morning, a shift that others did not want, when he spotted at first light the big oil spill and phoned me at home. We had several 100,000 gallon tanks of Bunker C fuel oil which was burned in our heating plant and the large air heaters that warmed the air going underground for ventilation. Since a holiday was coming up a pipefitter decided to ensure a good supply of fuel over the holiday and opened a valve coming from a full tank. Unfortunately he opened the wrong valve to a disused pipeline that spilled out onto the ground.
It was minus forty degrees and the fuel oil which was in a heated tank thickened as it ran on the ground, but it had run along roads and ditches for about a mile. Thanks to Harry's watchfulness we were able to dam it before it could flow into the Yellowknife River and pollute that and the Great Slave Lake which was only a mile downstream. Measuring what was left in the tank we knew that we had spilled 82,000 gallons of oil and had to get it cleaned up before Spring run off.
For a start we hired two men, one a very shy Cree Indian named Larry, the other a white drifter who was anxious for the money, for the miserable job of standing in the bitter cold and shoveling this thick gooey heavy oil into 45 gallon drums to get the road cleared. That was when I found out just how much difference there was between a good worker and a poor one. Larry never said a word, the other fellow was quite chatty. At the end of eight hours shoveling Larry had filled eight drums, the other fellow one. We kept Larry on the job and had another man work with him but this obviously was going to be too slow. We had to get inventive. We mounted a 200 gallon tank on wheels as a trailer and devised a rectangular system of perforated pipes through which we could send steam to heat and liquify the oil then mounted a vacuum pump to make the trailer into a high powered vacuum cleaner. Over the next few weeks we recovered 76,000 gallons of oil and were able to clean it and eliminate any water content and use it in the heating plant. Where the remaining 6,000 gallons of oil went, we never knew for it wasn't anywhere to be seen. Certainly none of it got into the River or the Lake. We had to assume that it had gone into various holes on the ground. Just a foot or two beneath the surface is where permafrost starts and things remain permanently frozen there.
Larry was bright although illiterate and I felt we owed him after the hard unpleasant job he had done so faithfully. He was married with two children and very steady. We discussed what could be done and I made contact with a young man named Bruce Kidd who was a member of an organization called Frontier College. These people are usually university students and they deliberately find work in remote areas such as mines and lumber camps and offer literacy training to other employees on their time off.
Bruce worked underground at Giant. He was not related to the famous Canadian runner of the same name, had parents in Montreal and was taking a time out of his studies to be of service. He jumped at the chance to teach Larry to read and write and they would get together in Larry's home several times a week while Larry worked as a trades helper.
Red Hamilton undertook to break Larry in as a Stationary Engineer and we made arrangements with the Boiler Inspector for Larry to be tested in the Boilerhouse verbally with the actual equipment. This was a process that had been done in earlier times when more people were illiterate. Larry passed his Fourth Class Stationary Engineer examination with flying colours, and we all rejoiced with Larry and Bruce.
Bruce left Giant Mines and was planning to travel to join some friends working on a project in Mexico. He was driving a little Volkswagen Beetle. We were not surprised that we did not hear from him again, but then Slim Lubesedar found a "True Detective" magazine and in it was the story of the unsolved murder in Alabama, of Canadian university student Bruce Kidd.. We got in touch with his grieving parents and were able to tell them of the wonderful work he had done in his last months. His murder was never solved, but it was the Sixties, and civil rights issues were raging in the Southern USA. It would have been only too easy for a gentle young man with his beliefs to say something unpopular with local red necks that could have led to his murder. His little Volkswagen was found by the ditch where he had been shot. The world had lost a fine man it could ill afford to be without. He was so proud of Larry going on to a successful career.
As winter descended the weather got colder and the days shorter. In December the sun rose in the southeast at 10 am and set in the southwest about 2 PM. The sun looked as small as a pea in the sky. The snow became very crunchy underfoot. We did not get a lot of snow but what landed, stayed. Precipitation in Yellowknife is so slight that if it were not for the snow staying the place would be a desert. One of my minor tasks was to log the high and low temperature every day. I began to notice that people's memory of "how cold it was this time last year" was really inaccurate, yet they were so sure that they were right. Taking high and low daily for the month of January, 1966, the average temperature was 38 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. That was a lot colder than I was used to. People usually want to know "What was the coldest temperature while you were there?" 57 degrees below zero Fahrenheit is the answer. Usually when it gets very cold there is no wind, but not always. Wind was a main factor in any pipe freezing problems we experienced. Someone, for a joke had told us that on a very cold day if you throw a mug of water into the air, it will hit the ground frozen in icicles. Not true. We were dumb enough to try it.
We had to learn quickly how to cope with the cold. I added extra heaters to my little car until I had 1500 watts going in when I plugged it in at the end of the day. That is the same power that an electric kettle draws. I had to respond to emergency call outs for frozen lines or power failures or pump outages. Action had to be taken quickly to prevent a problem from turning into a disaster. When there was trouble in the middle of the night, the engine would start but the wheels would be frozen, not just the rubber but the bearing grease too. You had to back the car up about six inches, then forward for six, then back a little more and forward again until it was possible to move away without burning the clutch. When we went to a movie in town there were no electric plug ins available and everyone had to leave their cars running for the duration of the movie, or they just would not start. An interesting feature in the little movie house was a soundproof crying room. People would bring their babies and children along and you would often see Eskimo women with a little baby tucked inside the hood of their beautiful parka.
The winter cold is so intense and dependable that our family was able to buy a side of beef and have it butchered into steaks, roasts, and hamburger then store it frozen in a little wooden cupboard in our backyard. We only needed a freezer in summer. Actually although summers were short, the weather was quite hot, getting to 90 degrees Fahrenheit quite often, and when the blackfly and mosquito season was past it was quite pleasant.
Come to think of it, I don't know if the blackfly and mosquito season ended until the snow arrived. I can remember trying to putt on the golf course and ignore a cloud of blackfly that swarmed between my face and the ball. Blackfly can give quite a bite and their saliva causes blood to flow freely and leaves you itching for days after. They get into your hair and try to eat their way out. This is very hard on young children, especially girls with long hair.
On the first week of June the big Lake was usually open and we got our delivery of fuel oil by barge from Norman Wells on the MacKenzie River that was to last us all year. I can remember one May 28 celebration of Victoria Day Holiday when the Bahá'í community had a picnic. The edge of the Lake was open but young Jonas Sangris showed up with his dog team and took the kids for a sled ride on the ice. The ice usually got to be four or five feet thick in winter and stayed a long time after the weather was above freezing. Jonas was about 19 years old and one time he entered some dog team races in Edmonton. There were teams from all over North America of specially bred and trained dogs, but Jonas with his malamutes beat all of them. His secret was that he never rode on the sled at all but ran behind it on his snowshoes for the 30 miles. His mangy looking dogs, pulling an empty sled had no trouble finishing ahead of the other more domesticated dogs.
One day a load of steel plate was being delivered, having been transported in intense cold from Edmonton, Alberta on a flat bed truck. As a five foot by ten foot sheet of half inch mild steel plate was being offloaded, it slipped and fell to the ground. The metal had crystalized in the cold and the steel plate shattered.
While Winnie was staying with us we noticed T-bone steaks were missing and would find the dog chewing T bones under the couch. We tried to find out who was giving steaks to the dog, and found out what had really happened was that Winnie would come home late and eat a raw frozen steak for a snack then throw the bone under the couch where Charlie would find it.
Winnie told us a story of how she had gone "outside" to Calgary and visited Al Oeming's Game Farm, a small zoo of sorts. There she saw for the first time a giraffe. Winnie had never conceived that there could exist on Earth such a weird looking animal and it struck her as very funny. She started laughing and laughed so hard the she had to hold on to the fence to stay upright. Every time she tried to walk away, she would get into another fit of laughter. I wonder what the giraffe thought of this tiny woman, all alone looking at him and laughing to the point of exhaustion.
The largest tribe of Indians in the Yellowknife area were the Dogrib. There was a community of several hundred at Fort Rae, about 300 miles west of Yellowknife, and a smaller community of about a hundred people in a place called Indian Village about five miles across the lake from Yellowknife. The only access to this place was by boat in summer and across an ice road in winter. I made a trip over and got to know the chief of this band, Joe Sangris. The North had remained undeveloped until the 1930's and the Dogrib people found themselves catapulted from the stone age to the modern age and they had lots of problems in adjusting. They still lived by hunting and trapping, and followed the food sources using dog sleds for winter transportation, and the whole village migrated to "fish camps" for several weeks each year.
The native children were all sent to school, and if a community did not have a school, the children were rounded up by the RCMP and transported to a residential school from the age of five or six. Parents would sometimes try to hide young children but they did so on pain of arrest and the RCMP were quite skilled at finding them. The different lifestyles between the residence and home led to a major rift between parents and children and a breakdown of the family bond. The children got home during major school holidays, if their home was accessible and reasonably close. The children from the far north would only get home for the summer holiday and it was not unknown for the plane carrying them to be unable to land and circle around their home community then fly back, the children not seeing their parents for another year. This separation often led to a loss of language and family members being unable to communicate with each other, the children had none of the basic skills for living off the land, such as lighting a fire, or skinning an animal. The parents thought them lazy and stupid and the children who were used to daily showers and food being provided thought their parents dirty and stupid.
Indian Village had a government trained health worker who spoke English quite well and it was through him that Joe Sangris and I communicated. I asked Joe about the old religion of the Dogrib people, and he told me that they knew nothing of religion until the priests came to the north. I said that was very unusual because all of the native tribes I had known observed certain ways of having a spiritual connection with their daily activities. I said that when eating they would save a tasty piece of the food and put it in the fire to give thanks to the Great Spirit. "Oh, we do that," replied Joe. I told him that when killing an animal they apologized to the spirit of the animal but the people had to eat. "We do that too," said Joe. They followed many of the old ways without recognizing that it was part of their religion.
Joe knew that I was interested in the old ways and would save stories for me from the old days, about how they made a house without nails, and how they would cut a caribou hide in spiraling shape to make rope and how they made fishnets, and how they drove caribou over a cliff when they had no rifles. Joe's version of how the Whiteman came to the north I found very interesting. He said that his grandfather was a chief and a great warrior and everyone feared him.
One day his grandfather was out with a hunting party when he saw that a group of white men had arrived in two canoes and landed near the Yellowknife River. They were doing something with the rocks and suddenly there was a great noise. His Grandfather thought that thunder had hit the rocks and lay low for a while. Then he and his men marched up to the white men and told them in no uncertain terms to "stop fooling about with my rocks, and get out of here." The white men packed up their canoes and left, and stayed out of the north for a long time. Then his grandfather got sick and died. "When the white men heard that my grand father was dead, they all came." I suspect what he saw was an exploration team from Edmonton who were prospecting for minerals and that his grandfather died when a lot of others did, in the great flu' epidemic of 1920, but his story is much richer than mine.
One of the main concerns at Indian Village was that they had no road. During freeze up and break up the village was cut off and if someone was seriously ill or injured, there was no way to get them to hospital. The chiefs were issued with a nice jacket with gold braid, a kind of navy blazer and hat and every time a dignitary would visit the Chief would be trotted out to impress them. They also had a medal from the Queen which they wore on formal occasions. Joe had met many dignitaries in this way and had spoken to all of them about the need for a road to his village. All of them had said it was a good idea and sidestepped the issue. The Minister of Northen Affairs, Arthur Laing had said "I'll have to ask my boss." He had spoken to Princess Alexandria, and to many politicians from Ottawa who were usually on a free trip with alcohol provided and not interested in getting involved in local issues. These half corked politicians also made a poor impression on the native teenagers at the Sir John Franklin School and Akaitcho Hall, the residence where the students lived..
A young Bahá'í lady, Marlene Richardson, and I travelled by boat once more to Indian Village and I explained how white people would make a petition and get as many signatures as possible and give it to the government decision makers. T he Chief talked it over with his people and they all thought it was a good idea, so Marlene typed up a petition and a covering letter and we made copies for Princess Alexandria, the Minister of Northern Affairs, the Edmonton newspapers, but the main message was to the Commissioner for the Northwest Territories, who was the Queens representative and the head of government in the North. I really stressed to Joe that the Commissioner had to get his letter a week before all the others, but that got screwed up and the Commissioner read about it in the Edmonton Journal. It was quite a passionate letter pointing out how people could die for the lack of a road. The Commissioner was furious, the government officials very defensive, saying that nobody had ever died. It was a big mess. The Commissioner, knowing the Indians did not have a typewriter said it was the "work of outsiders, maybe communists". I had the job of phoning this irate man and telling him that I was behind it. He gave me an appointment and to my relief we got along very well. Earlier in his career he had been a union organizer and was used to hard bargaining and stirring things up.
A year later the government quietly built an eight mile road to Indian Village. This made it practical to build a school as teachers were now able to commute from Yellowknife. The children could stay at home for elementary school and commute to the high school in Yellowknife when they were old enough. I have heard that this road has been further developed and will eventually reach Copper Mine on the Arctic coast.
The Northwest Territories had always been governed from Ottawa then it was decided to make Yellowknife the capital of N.W.T. and transfer almost all government employees north. This must have meant a great dislocation, with a lot of couples each having a job and kids in school, etc. Almost overnight the town grew from 1,000 people to 3,000, and 2,000 of those didn't want to be there. There was lots of complaining from the "in comers" about a one horse town, and lots of resentment from the Yellowknifers about these people with government housing and fuel oil allowance and northern allowance pay at taxpayers expense who had the nerve to complain. Many a shouting match took place with statements like "If you don't like it, get the hell out and leave the job for someone who does like it here". Actually that was one of the milder comments. Eventually it all settled down and all became northerners.
We heard that a man was coming to town, a Mr Ernie MacEwan, from Toronto who was Executive Director of the Indian-Eskimo Association of Canada (I.E.A.). This association was trying to decentralize and were interested in some of the things we and others had been doing about native rights, They wanted to start an NWT division of the Association and we held a meeting for anyone interested in this and created this body. We set up a board of directors eventually had over two hundred members all across the Territories. We hired a local CBC radio announcer, Harry Leishman as our full time Field Secretary. Nobody likes to go to meetings but the organization gave the native people some political clout and a chance to air their concerns which now were hard to ignore. The aim of the organization was not to speak for the native people but to give them a platform to speak for themselves. Harry was married to a Chippewa lady and knew first hand how much native women had to put up with from sexual harassment. Harry had many contacts in the media, across the north, and in the native communities and with lot of initiative, things began to happen. I was elected president of the NWT Division, then appointed to the National board of directors.
We managed to arrange for a federal commission on housing needs across the Territories and it met in each community. We set up a conference in Yellowknife for native people to give their thoughts and ideas, with white specialists being in attendance for expert input only when asked for The native people sat silent for a long time and the white people had a lot of difficulty restraining themselves from speaking. When we asked the native people one by one for their thoughts, they had a lot to say and their input was thoughtful and generous, making the point that all people needed housing not only native people.
By highlighting some of the injustices we managed to get a Royal Commission on the Administration of Justice in the Northwest Territories and Harry Leishman worked behind the scenes to encourage any native people who had experienced injustice to come forward.
There was a travelling court in the North and it flew into all the remote settlements to try cases in each home community rather than have the people charged become totally confused by bring them to the"big city." A fine man named Judge Sissons pioneered this work and tried to judge the people on not only Canadian law but on whether they had broken their own code. This was a real good effort to administer justice rather than law. Problems occurred more with local Justices of the Peace. They were usually appointed on the recommendation of the local RCMP, who would recommend their friends or people who saw things the way they did. Their priority was to keep the peace, not to necessarily to ensure justice. If someone who might cause problems was locked up, that removed a source of trouble. Often when a white kid did something like being drunk and disorderly, the RCMP would drive them home. If a native kid did it they would be locked up.
At a Board of Directors meeting of I.E.A. in Toronto I was explaining some of the problems at Akaitcho Hall, the residence for the Sir John Franklin High School in Yellowknife. The native kids living there were older than most high school kids and would sometimes be expelled from the residence for relatively minor infractions which meant an end to their education, even although the school was satisfied with their work. It could be something as simple as staying out beyond curfew a couple of times, but a young man or woman, twenty years old needed more slack than a youngster.
Another Board Member who worked for the Secretary of State said if I would give him all the details he would get something done about it on the political end. I was naive and gullible and thought that he was going to put the facts in front of his boss or an influential cabinet member. A couple of weeks later I had an anxious phone call from this man who started off by saying "This phone call is probably being tapped." He had in fact taken the story to the leader of the NDP, an opposition party, who was asking very awkward questions of the Minister of Northern Affairs who at that time was Jean Chretien, later to be Prime Minister of Canada. This questioning was being reported in Hansard, an organ of parliament and the whole thing had become a political football. Telegrams were sent to Jean Chretien trying to explain the situation, but he did not receive them. Someone in his office was sabotaging him. I remember from my office at Giant Mine one Friday night in the presence of Harry Leishman and a lady who headed up the Company of Young Canadians, a kind of Peace Corps group, trying to get Jean Chretien on the telephone. He had left Ottawa and I got him in his home constituency of Shawinigan, Quebec. When I tried to explain to him how he was being set up, instead of being grateful he roared at me "I am not your enemy". We ended in a bit of a shouting match with me shouting "I am trying to help you," and so on. Anyway the end result was the government of the NWT was asked to investigate itself essentially and concluded that it had done nothing wrong. However after that some changes were made.
Quite a few native young people were leaving school and starting work at the mines in town, living in the bunkhouses and going from a totally sheltered environment to one where "anything goes". They could not handle it. We held a meeting of concerned citizens and were fortunate to have the presence of the well known Canadian author Farley Mowat. Out of this meeting we set up a committee and applied for funds to build a residence for working native kids so they could stay in their own relatively harmless company. The funding was granted and in due time a building set up that was named for some reason Hardy House.
Hardy House worked very well but we had some spare rooms and since accommodation was at a premium in Yellowknife we allowed some non native people to live there when we had a vacant room. A board of directors made all policy decisions and there was an old man who acted as superintendent and one day I received a call saying that a man we shall call Smith, who had a room there was drunk and breaking the place up and terrorizing our superintendent and the young folks living there.
All of our board members were out of town as it was vacation time, except for a local priest. I phoned the local detachment of the R.C.M.P. and asked if they could evict this man. They said since the by-laws of Hardy House did not give them the right to do this, the board had the responsibility. They said that I was allowed to use reasonable force to evict this man. Now the priest was an elderly man, not up to reasonable force, and Smith was six foot six and weighed over 250 pounds. (He gets bigger every time I tell the story) He was mean drunk and had beaten up R.C.M.P. officers quite recently, so it was in some trepidation that I went along to Hardy House. When I got there, Smith had gone out, so I packed his bags and moved them outside and locked the door. To my relief, Smith left town and I never heard any more about it.
On another occasion the R.C.M.P. were much more helpful A young woman from Newfoundland was married to a large young Serbian man who worked as a helper in one of my Underground Mechanical Crews. They had a baby and we sometimes saw her at the Post Office and chatted. One day she showed up at our home in a frightened state. She had left her husband who had been beating her, sometimes whipping her with the electrical cord from a frying pan. She asked if she could stay with us for a while and of course we took her in.
She was anxious to get her baby and her clothes from the family home but thought he would get really violent when she did. We went with her to the R.C.M.P. and again they said there was nothing they could do, but they were willing to come along and let their presence be known as it might help. They waited outside and I went and went with her into their house. I was afraid that he might be jealous and think that his wife was leaving him for me, but this man's respect for authority was such that he stood by while she collected her baby and all their clothing.
The Government decided that the community at Fort Ray was in an unhealthy location and their lake was becoming polluted so wanted to build another community for about a thousand Dogrib Indians a few miles away. The Commissioner of NWT, Stuart Hodgeson had arranged to meet with Chief Jimmie Bruneau, the wily octogenarian who still hunted and trapped. They met at Fort Ray and the Commissioner asked what seemed a simple question. "Would 'Akaitcho' be a good name for the new community?" Akaitcho had been a famous warrior Chief of the Dogrib people.
The answer he got seemed to ramble and did not directly relate to the question, so he asked again "Would 'Akaitcho' be a good name for the new community?" Another long rambling answer saying that the Chief was hunting at Lac la Martre and it was as long journey and the hunting was not good this winter. Lac la Martre was about 80 miles from Fort Rae where they met. This process went on for a long time until the Commissioner said "I am travelling by plane. We could fly you back to Lac la Martre."
The Chief's immediate response was "Akaitcho would be a good name for the new community."
The government recognized a problem in the correction system. The native people of the north were not criminal types and were very gentle by nature. Nearly all of them who ended up in jail was for a crime of passion that was alcohol related. When northern natives were sent to jails in southern Canada, they did not fit in and would sometimes come home with new skills, such as the ability to crack a safe. A new Correctional Institute was opened and anyone in the Territories who was sentenced up to two years less a day would be sent there instead of Montreal or Kingston. This worked very well and a team of three probation officers were hired.
We heard somehow that the people who organize the Miss Canada Beauty Pageant were anxious to have a candidate from the Northwest Territories. So we agreed to organize a Miss NWT Pageant.
Eileen senior been trained in Toronto at the Walter Thornton Modeling School and provided guidance and advice for our candidates on posture, walking and makeup. About twenty young ladies participated and some of them looked quite stunning. Apart from appearance and presence the panel of White, Indian and Eskimo judges interviewed all candidates and asked questions about their knowledge of their culture, traditions and stories. A young woman named Georgina Blondin, a Dogrib Indian was finally selected and first runner up was Addie Tobac, a Chippewayen, who was staying with us at the time. Addie, a beautiful woman, who was deaf, felt bitter that she was not chosen to win. Addie was writing a book and accepted our hospitality but according to Rosemary, her resentment of white people led her to include us in her hostility. A lot of Northern kids were angry and confused because of their life experiences.
Georgina went on to the Miss Canada Pageant in Montreal, a big adventure for a Northern girl. She finished second in all of Canada. Bill Wuttannee was at that pageant and afterwards told us that the buckskin costume which she wore did not look very fetching, and that in his opinion she could have won. Georgina was awarded many prizes and had to stand in for Miss Canada several times during that year. This gave her a few trips to major Canadian cities. This experience really helped her confidence and career and she finally held very responsible positions with the Territorial Government.
After we left the North, Georgina became a Bahá'í, and was a valued member of the Yellowknife community. Tragically she died at a very early age.
1967 was Canada's Centennial year and lots of big events were planned. I remember hearing CBC announcer Wally Firth, an Eskimo, covering an airplane fly past in Hay River. Wally did the best he could to make it interesting but since only one plane showed up it was a thankless task. Wally later took over from Harry Leishman as the I.E.A. Field Secretary and performed admirably. This turned out to be a stepping stone for Wally and he was able to bring his skills and experience to Ottawa when he was elected Member of Parliament for the NWT.
Our son Jim came rushing home from school one day to tell us he had met the "man who invented Canada." We eventually unraveled this story and it turned out that a man named Bobby Jimby was in town and he had written the Centennial theme song entitled "Canada." Jim, who was adopted and of Jamaican - Ojibwa Indian background, often got his stories scrambled . He came home one day announcing "There are three types of people in the world, Negroloid, Mongroloid and Cascazoid, and I am Cascazoid". On the first of November, 1967 our family's contribution to the Centennial celebrations arrived at Stanford Yellowknife Hospital , a little baby we named Robert, 22 inches long and weighing seven and a half pounds. The girls staying with us gave Robert an Eskimo name, "Duduk", which means "Dirty Face."
Shortly after Robert was born we held a naming ceremony for him at our house. The social diversity of people ranged from the Commissioner of the Northwest Territories and his wife to Larry, a Cree Indian man who was just coming off shift in the Boiler house. These were people who would not normally meet at a social occasion, but they were all fine people and enjoyed the occasion as well as each others company.
One summer evening Eileen and I were sitting outside the house when we noticed smoke billowing in the direction of Yellowknife, about three miles away. Everyone from the Giant Townsite rushed to town and found that the 60 bed Stanton Yellowknife Hospital was in flames. Fortunately it happened at 8 PM, during visiting hour and the visitors managed to get everyone out with no injuries. We all pitched in and in short order had saved all of the equipment that was not bolted to the floor. The X ray machines were lost but almost everything else was retrieved.
We took over the Elks Lodge to turn it into a hospital and my job was to co-ordinate the group that was setting up the beds and male and female wards. We confiscated 4x8 sheets of half inch plywood and with hinges, connected them in zig zag fashion down the middle of the hall. By 11 PM two wards were set up, the patients were all in bed and the doctors and nurses looking after them. It was absolutely amazing what was accomplished when the whole town pitched in and what could have been a great tragedy became something of which the town could be justifiably proud. By the next morning nothing was left of the Hospital but the boilers and some still smoldering ruins.
The North can be very unforgiving of mistakes. Our son Jim was in the Cubs and they met once each week in town. We usually dropped Jim off and he took the bus home afterwards. We had drilled him on what to do if he ever got stuck in town and could not get in touch with us for any reason. There were about three homes he could go to for help. One night when he was about ten years old the Cubs got out an hour early and it was 38 degrees below zero with a thirty mile per hour wind. Jim used his bus money to try to phone us, but the phone system was different in the Territories and he lost his money in the machine. He decided instead of going to one of our friends homes to walk home. There were two ways he could go, either by the gravel road or by the ice road across the Lake. Either way it was about three miles. About half way home Jim thought that he saw a wolf and considered turning back and taking the other way. If he had, he would probably have died. Instead he kept on walking reaching almost to the Giant Townsite when the bus he would have normally caught reached him and brought him home to us. His boots were frozen solid, and we thawed him out slowly in a bath of lukewarm water. He felt a lot of pain as the circulation returned, but apart from some frostbite in his cheeks and toes he was uninjured.
Robert was not very aware of his first Christmas since he was less than two months old, but his second one was eventful and almost fatal. The children had received gifts from friends and family members and there was great excitement opening all the packages. Our dear friend Joan Moore, living in Niagara on the Lake, had lovingly knitted a pair of nylon slippers for baby Robert. He always kicked off his shoes and slippers but these had drawstrings that tied them on securely. When the initial excitement was over the older kids decided that they would visit their friends nearby and compare presents. We had a walk in basement, but when they walked out they did not close the doors properly after them. Little Robert followed them out wearing only a tee shirt, diapers, and his new nylon slippers. The kids did not notice him and the spring loaded storm door closed leaving him stuck outside in the snow and a temperature under 30 degrees below zero. Eileen and I were tidying up the house and the vacuum cleaner was running so we did not hear his cries. Eileen thought she heard something and shut off the vacuum and that was when we found the poor little guy. He had frostbitten fingers and cheeks, but if it had not been for the little slippers Joan sent he would have lost his toes and those little piggies would have gone to market. Robert completed the Toronto Marathon in 2001 and in 2002 was on the Canadian Kickboxing Team competing in the World Championships in Rhodes, Greece and bringing home to Canada a bronze medal. Don't forget to thank Joan for your toes, Robert.
There were several plane crashes in the more remote areas while we lived there, and one involved five people who were lost for a long time and ran out of food. By the time three survivors were found, it turned out that they had been involved in cannibalism. One person, a nurse, had died on impact, and another, an eighteen year old Eskimo boy, refused to eat human flesh and died of starvation. When this news broke in the media there were all sorts of opinions expressed by people from the security of their comfortable homes around Canada. The opinion I remember came from an old polar explorer in his nineties who said, only someone who has been in that position has any right to express an opinion.
Ella was a retired school teacher who had become a Bahá'í in 1903 and pioneered to Niagara Falls, New York in her eighties. Her main claim to fame was that she had lunch with Abdul Baha in 1911 when he visited the USA. She had received three personal letters from Abdul Baha and about thirteen from Shoghi Effendi, and was an inspiring person to visit, not only because of her connection with the past, but because of her simplicity and charm. Ella never visited Yellowknife in person but something she did helped to inspire the few Bahá'ís there during our first year there.
When we visited Ella in her home it became apparent that many people had given gifts to her, but she had always given them away, and in the process transformed the original gift into something really special The first Inter Calary we spent there I made a number of replicas of "The Greatest Name". I made these by buying 1/8 inch thick cork sheet gasket material, and carving the shape out of the cork. With this profile mounted on a board I could make two pictures, one raised and the other inset. I then painted them gold and white and put them in a gold picture frame.
I sent one of these as a gift to Ella and told our fledgling community how Ella always transformed a gift into something much better. A month or so later I received a loving letter from Ella thanking me for the gift and saying that she had given it away. There was a lovely young new Bahá'í woman came to visit her who was blind. She had heard about the 'Greatest Name" and always wondered what it was like. She was able to put her fingers in the shape and trace the outline of the letters. Ella gave it to the blind girl and hoped that I did not mind.
The last time I saw Ella it was at a huge Bahá'í picnic at Queenston Heights, Ontario. She had Alzheimers and did n't know me, but she told me that I had a very kind face. That was because I was looking at her and the love that I felt showed.
We got to know the probation officers as friends and one day we got a phone call from one of them telling us about a 21 year old girl who had been expelled from Akaitcho Hall for coming home late and could not now finish her education. The school would be happy to have her back but she needed a safe place to live, would we give her a home? Right away Eileen accepted and Rosemary Thrasher came to live with us. Rosemary was an outgoing, cheerful person who liked to laugh. She moved in with us about 1967, and we are friends still.
Rosemary was a "can do" type of person who was unafraid to try anything. I remember her laying some cloth on the floor and lying down on it. "Now cut around me", she demanded. We did and she went on to make a nice parka. She had never made one before. The parka was so admired that the next week orders started coming in from the young men who worked at the mine and Rosemary made quite a bit of pocket money.
We had television in those days although in the first years we were there the programs operated for only three hours per day. The material was "canned" and shown a week after the event. This was kind of strange when it came to news and sports events, but it was lots better than nothing. One of the commercials was promoting the sale if Dodge automobiles and trucks and the theme they used repeatedly was that everyone was getting "Dodge Fever." One night Rosemary quietly asked me "What is dogs fever?"
Pierre Trudeau came to Yellowknife twice while we lived there. The first time he had burst onto the political scene and was head of the Liberal party which was now engaged in a federal election. He caught the imagination of the Canadian people and the term "Trudeau Mania" was used to describe the passion he aroused as he barnstormed around the country. Rosemary was introduced to him and was the envy of most of Canada's female population when he gave her a big kiss and presented her with the rose that he always wore in the buttonhole of his jacket. Rosemary brought the rose to our house and planned to preserve it as a memento. She put is inside the pages of a large Bahá'í book entitled "Dawnbreakers". Unfortunately she had the rose inside a small plastic bag and it turned to mush, permanently staining several pages of our book, The rose is long gone but the stains remain to this day.
When Summer vacation time came around we were going "outside" to Sylvan Lake, Alberta to a Bahá'í summer school and we took Rosemary along to help look after the children and to give her the experience of seeing some of the world outside of the north. Driving down the road she suddenly shouted "Stop the car!" and got out to see her first grassy field and run in it with her bare feet. A little while later it was "Stop the car!" again, this time to see her first live cows. She had only seen them on the movies. It was a wonderful experience for us to see the world through her fresh and appreciative eyes.
We visited Banff in the Rocky Mountains and went in a pool fed by a natural hot spring. Rosemary had never been in a lake or pool before. "How do you swim?", she asked me. I said "you do this with your arms." "Right," said Rosemary, "and what do you do with your feet?" I showed her and to my astonishment she swam away from me across the pool.
Rosemary told us of getting into a snowmachine race when she had never driven one before and racing past her father at the finish line shouting "how do you stop this thing?" Later I was giving her driving lessons in our family car and coming up against the house to park, she stepped on the gas pedal instead of the brakes, but we won't go into that.
Rosemary declared her faith in Bahá'u'lláh in our home, becoming the first Eskimo woman in Canada to be a Bahá'í (if you don't count baby Eileen Boyd). Actually it was kind of funny the way it happened. We were in an LSA meeting at the Skuce's home and Rosemary phoned from our house saying she would like to see us. We apologized and said we were in a meeting and couldn't come at that time. As usual, Eileen was the one who thought about it a few minutes later and said "Hey. This is why we came here. Let's go see Rosemary." So we closed the meeting and went home. That was when she declared.
The Eskimo girls had all been subject to abuse and harassment from men and did not trust white people but it was Rosemary who assured them that we were "all right." We usually had three native girls staying with us at any given time, on probation or attending school, and usually one or two would be sleeping in the livingroom on couches. These girls were very modest when they were sober but would do things while drinking that they felt ashamed of when they sobered up. They never slept with the lights off and constantly had visions of being dragged off into pools of boiling blood. The church had put this fear in them. It was a bit unnerving to feel those anxious eyes on me when I had to use the bathroom through the night. It is painful not to be trusted in your own house.
It is certainly true that a lot can be learned from other cultures. Winnie discovered that we had the board game "Monopoly" and told us that she loved to play and at home in Inuvik, the game goes on for days. Now I was aware that it was rather a long game, but I could not imagine how it could go on for days until we played with Winnie and Rose. They come from a sharing culture and were very hospitable. When anyone ran low in money they would share what they had, then if someone landed on their hotel and couldn't pay, they would say "You can camp with me. That's all right." Every time someone passed "go" they collected $200 and nobody ever lost in their version of the game, so they played until they were tired of it.
Violet and Margaret:
We had a young Cree woman named Violet staying with us for a while and she shared a bedroom with little Eileen. After she left we got word that Violet had been exposed to tuberculosis through a brother. The result of that was that Little Eileen had to go into hospital for three consecutive days without eating beforehand, and have her stomach pumped for testing. This worked well for two days but Little Eileen could be very sneaky and on the third when we arose we found her in the kitchen with a ring of peanut butter around her mouth.
Violet's sister, Margaret worked for the local detachment of the R.C.M.P. and lived in a shack in Old Town. She was quite well educated and very ladylike, but a bit unsure of herself. One day I dropped in to visit her and could hear lots of noise coming from a drunken party next door. I was wearing a fur hat and a checkered coat, rather like the off duty clothes worn by the Mounties. All of a sudden her door was kicked in and a bunch of young drunks came bursting in on us. When they saw me they immediately apologized and said that they had got he wrong apartment. If I had been dressed differently the outcome would have been quite different.
How I got that fur hat is another story. A Blackfoot Indian man named Bill Wuttannee from Calgary, started a law practice in Yellowknife. His brother Noel was an artist, in fact was the artist who first started painting head and shoulder portraits of beautiful young Indian children. Noel became the first North American Indian to become a Bahá'í, back in the fifties, and somehow we met up with Bill. Bill was not a Bahá'í, was a traditionalist and president of the National Indian Brotherhood of Canada. We were experiencing some prejudice against us in high places at the time and Bill proved to be a good friend and encouraged us through a difficult period.
He maintained two legal practices, one in Calgary, Alberta, the other in Yellowknife, and every time he came to town we got together for a visit. Knowing that we were interested in native culture he undertook to educate us. One day I admired a beaver fur hat he was wearing, and he said that in his culture, if I admired something of his, he must give it to me. Before he left for the South again I was wearing his fur hat. He absolutely insisted. He also told me if I ever met her, not to admire his wife.
Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau:
Some time after this, Pierre Trudeau came to Yellowknife for his second visit, this time as Prime Minister of Canada. A plaque was to be made for him commemorating his visit and it was an engraved work on a lovely piece of wood. The crowning touch was to be a solid gold button mounted on the plaque. Karl in our machine shop had the job of drilling and tapping a pyramid shaped gold piece so that it could be secured by a screw from behind. All of the Giant managers and department heads stood around watching this operation, but when Karl was drilling the piece he did what all machinists do when drilling. He suddenly puffed, blowing all the gold chips away mixing them irretrievably with the steel shavings around the drill press. I remember to this day the look of horror on the faces of the Giant bosses who are always so careful to preserve every last particle of gold.
Little Jack O:
A little Eskimo man, Jack O. came to work at Giant as a labourer. He could have been no more that four foot six inches tall, sturdy, about 25 years old and came from the community of Coppermine which is pretty remote and on the Arctic coast. He was very good natured and willing although his grasp of the English language was not good. Everyone liked him and we gave him a job as a helper to an older man, George Terris who was a Mechanic Second Class and repaired all of the mucking machines and slushers that were used to move ore underground. George took a real liking to Jack and became like a proud father, boasting of how quickly Jack could learn how to repair the machinery. I suppose many of the stories we heard about the Eskimo being quick learners with anything mechanical, came from their experience in survival. Those with slow learner genes probably died off. Anyway before many months had passed little Jack was promoted to Mechanic Second Class and George beamed with fatherly pride.
The unaccustomed wealth that went with a job at the mine, and having no family responsibilities led Jack into difficulties. He became a target for certain mean spirited people who befriended him. They would pick him up in their cars on pay day and take him off drinking and Jack's capacity for alcohol was minimal. Then they would get him into a card game and fleece him of his earnings. Jack was several times found unconscious from the booze with his arms wrapped around a toilet bowl. "Must have thought it was his mother" was the comment of one callous "friend".
Another time I heard that the RCMP were looking for Jack and he was "on the run". He had gambled this time with an Eskimo friend, John, from Coppermine. John was married and had a baby and Jack and he had got to gambling recklessly until John had won Jack's rifle, camera, and portable radio as well as all his money. These were all the new treasures that he had acquired from living in civilization and it became too much for Jack. He picked up the rifle and threatened to shoot his friend John with it. John grabbed the barrel of the rifle and put it against his chest saying "If you are going to shoot me then do it now". Jack did not shoot but ran out of the house and fired the gun a few times which was why the RCMP was looking for him. We held his job open for him until he got out of jail then I tried to council him saying "Gambling is no good for you. If you win all of your friend's things, he won't be happy and you will be sad for him, and if he wins all of your things you won't like that either, just like what happened now."
Anyway, Jack went on his merry way drinking and gambling until he got very ill. It was thought that he might have tuberculosis and he was shipped out to a hospital in Edmonton. It turned out to be pneumonia and he recovered and showed up for work in a few weeks. I was about to counsel him again, but he told me that he was not ever going to drink again. I was pleasantly surprised and asked him what had helped him to make this good decision. Jack told me he figured that if he kept getting drunk and lying down he would eventually die. He said that when people died up in Coppermine they laid them on the frozen ground and covered them over with stones and brushwood. People who died in Yellowknife were buried in a deep hole. Jack firmly believed that he was going to return from the dead and that if he was buried up in Coppermine, he could roll back those big stones but if he died in Yellowknife and was buried deep in the ground there was no way he could get out. On such a premise little Jack swore off booze. It was better than anything I could come up with.
Abe Ookpik is an Eskimo man who became a good friend. He worked for the Federal Government. Ookpik means "owl," and his name was a good fit for him. Abe had a powerful stocky build with a large round face and wore large eyeglasses. Abe smiled a lot and had many interesting experiences. At one time the Eskimo people were all registered with the Government only by a number, not a name, since they only used one name and changed it from time to time, based on events in their lives. An "E" prefix was given to the number for those from the Eastern Arctic and a "W" prefix for those in the Western Arctic. When the Government decided to change this Abe was given the job of visiting Arctic Communities and asking the Eskimo to choose a permanent name by which they would be known. Abe told us of one man known as "Komak," which means bed bug or louse. Abe suggested to him that he may want to change his name before it became official, but the man declined saying "A louse makes its presence felt. Nobody can ignore a louse."
Abe told us stories of Eskimo "Shaman" who could make tents shake without touching them or enter into an animal and travel as that animal. He told me of a shaman who entered into a polar bear and travelled the Arctic coast that way. A hunter shot the bear and it turned into the shaman again who handed the bullet back to the hunter.
Abe also told us how a name has a power and if a brother dies the next baby in the family is given that name and from then on is called brother and treated as that brother. He also told us that if one has an enemy, you can name a dog after that person and see that it has a hard life.
Michael Sikki was an old man, a quiet, shy Dogrib Indian whom we got to know as he came around the houses selling whitefish, which was illegal We bought some from him to help him make a living. Under the Indian Act, Indians were allowed to fish and hunt to feed their families but not to sell the game. Michael knew that I enjoyed stories about the old ways and told me how they used to hunt caribou in the days before guns were available and they had to use spears and bows and arrows.
They would chase the caribou and herd them towards a cliff, eventually driving some of them over the edge. Another method was to take advantage of caribou having consistent habit such as crossing the same river at the same place each year as they migrated. The Indians would wait for them in their canoes and paddling alongside, spear them and bring them ashore.
Michael was famous for being involved in a major legal battle that went all the way to the supreme court of Canada when he was charge with hunting duck out of season. The Indian Act guarateed native people the right to hunt and fish "as long as the grass will grow, and the rivers run." The Migratory Birds Act was brought in much later, in 1918 and prohibited hunting birds out of season. When we knew Michael the court case had already cost $250,000 and was not settled yet. Michael went his old ways anyway.
Lady Scarlet Buffalo (Ina Mae Brown):
During our stay in Yellowknife we had many interesting Bahá'í visitors. One lady was from Pine Ridge Reservation. Her name was Ina Mae Brown, but she had a much more exotic Indian name, Lady Scarlet Buffalo, and she was the Great Granddaughter of Chief Sitting Bull. She told us many moving tales about his character and behaviour and that Chief Sitting Bull was not a war leader but a spiritual leader of his people. Her stories were somewhat substantiated when many years later I read about how he had escaped to Canada and later travelled with the Buffalo Bill Cody Wild West Show. In London England he was so troubled by the poverty of ordinary people that he gave almost all of his earnings to the poor that he met on the streets.
As a footnote to this story, my Grandfather told me how as a young man he walked from our village to Glasgow, about ten miles, to see the Buffalo Bill Cody Wild West Show.
I used to spend time at the company's Recreation Hall chatting with some of the men, and one fellow I met that way was Steve. He was from Hungary and spoke fractured English but was very friendly. He was a "boomer" (someone who works for a while in one place then moves on, in Steve's case between Giant and Keno Hill Mine in the Yukon) and worked as a Mechanic Second Class in an underground crew in my department.
We struck up conversation easily on Bahá'í themes, such as the need for a universal language and saw each other on and off for about six weeks, but I was suspicious because we always had the same point of view and never disagreed. I took a peek in his personnel file and found that he had named Reg Dixon in Whitehorse as beneficiary in his life insurance policy. I knew that Reg was a Bahá'í. When I asked Steve if he was a Bahá'í, he said that he was. We had both been trying to teach each other about the Faith for six weeks. Talk about indirect teaching!.
One other funny incident involving Steve was when we were visiting the home of one of the probation officers (social visit only) and Steve thought he was all alone in the living room, I heard him say to the budgie in its cage "Lilly (little) bird. You gonna speak English before I do."
Another Bahá'í visitor was Florence Mayberry who was an Auxiliary Board member in the Bahá'í community. She was also an author and wrote for the Ellery Queen mystery series of books. At this time Bahá'í communities were being asked to adopt goal areas on which to focus attention and try to establish some Bahá'í presence and we agreed to adopt the town of Inuvik, some seven hundred miles to our North. We managed to get a copy of the Inuvik telephone directory and wrote a personal letter enclosing some data about the Bahá'í Faith to each person listed in it.
We did not have much success in making friends that way but since Yellowknife was a crossroads type of town we eventually got to know many people from Inuvik and had quite a few stay with us over our years there, and after we left the North we were thrilled to see that Inuvik had reached Assembly status.
Tom Anaquod and Dave Springay:
Tom Anaquod, a Saulteaux Indian Bahá'í was coming to visit us. A couple of nights before he was to arrive, I was home babysitting when the telephone rang. It was a man responding to an advertisement we had placed in the local newspaper. He was quite interested as I told him a little about the Faith, but he really picked up when I told him that we had a Bahá'í who was an Indian, coming to teach the white people. The man's name was Dave Springay and he was a guard at the Yellowknife Correctional Institute. He thought that it would be marvelous if Tom could come in to the jail and speak with some of the prisoners, who were mostly Indian or Eskimo. The next night he phoned me again saying that the head of the Correctional Service said that the only way a Bahá'í could visit the Correctional Institute was if one of the prisoners was a Bahá'í.
Dave was outraged at this, saying that it was prejudice and racism, and ended up by swearing that when he was going to find a Bahá'í in the jail population by the time he came home from work the next day. Tom arrived and was going to speak at a public meeting on the anniversary of the Declaration of the Bab, May 23, 1967, but Dave Springay called to say that there was "some kind of Bahá'í" in the jail, and could Tom come with him to visit. The time for the public meeting to start came and went and still Tom and Dave had not shown up. As master of ceremony I was stalling, telling stories and ad libbing for quite a while, until finally they arrived. Tom took the platform, but flashed a yellow Bahá'í declaration card as he did, peaking our curiosity. He gave an interesting and humourous talk then fielded questions from the audience. After all that we finally found out what had happened at the jail.
Dave had gone to work as usual and gone around asking all the prisoners "Are you a Bahá'í?" until finally an Eskimo man said that he was. His name was Josephie Teemotie from Cambridge Bay in the Eastern Arctic, and he had been sent "outside" to Moosejaw, Saskatchewan to take training as a plumber. While there Josephie stayed in the home of a Bahá'í couple, the Silversides, and they held weekly fireside talks. Josephie was much too shy to join in, but he sat in his bedroom listening through the heating vent to what was said in the living room and thought that it was true. When Dave came around asking, he just naturally said that he was a Bahá'í.
Josephie was our key to getting to visit the Institute and we went along helping some inmates to read and write, and eventually other Eskimos decided that they, too, were Bahá'ís. Most had biblical names, there was Alukie, Solomonie, and Josephie's brother Harry Teemotie and we tried to prepare them for life outside the Corrections system. As they were released they came to stay with us as they waited for a plane to take them on their long journey to the Eastern Arctic. Their route went through Montreal so we arranged for Bahá'í friends to meet them, give them a warm welcome and see that they caught their plane safely to the North. There were some Bahá'ís living in Cambridge Bay and they tried to look after them when they got home.
This did not always work out as the new Bahá'ís had been ideal, quiet shy people in jail but on the outside they were exposed to community pressure to drink again. Belonging in their society was traditionally vital to their survival and when their friends said to them "If you won't drink with me you are no longer my friend," it put unbearable pressure on them. One newspaper editor unwittingly added to the problems of one of these men when he took him out for a celebratory dinner, and provided wine with it. This man was back in trouble the same night. The Cambridge Bay Bahá'ís were calling for us to stop sending them problems and we were asked to stop teaching in the jail.
The news was not all bad, for a judge in Cambridge Bay, hearing the case of one of the new Bahá'ís said "I don't know who has been working with this man but I hope they continue working with him". He had stayed away from alcohol for a while, out of jail longer than usual and while out had found work as a janitor at a hotel. He had spotted a bundle of cheques that had been thrown in the garbage, thought that they looked important so brought them to the manager, saving a large financial loss.
The next year I was a delegate and chief teller at the Bahá'í National Convention which was held in Halifax, as I remember. A most interesting thing took place at the election of nine people to serve on the Bahá'í National Assembly. There was a tie for the ninth spot. The other tellers and I knew well the Bahá'í principle laid down by Shoghi Effendi, that in the event of a tie the position be unhesitatingly given to the person who represents a minority group. I asked to meet with the outgoing National Assembly to verify our result, but those members said the were now out of the position of the NSA and it was up to the Convention to decide. I put the problem to all 171 delegates without revealing the names in the tied vote. I was asked if we were absolutely sure that one person was a member of a minority and we said we were in no doubt and to every one's delight, that was when Thomas Anaquod became the first aboriginal Canadian to be elected to the National Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Canada.
After the unusual experience in the election I was asked to destroy the ballots and was faced with a practical problem of how to destroy 171 times 9, or 1,539 ballots. In my hotel room I first tried to burn them in the bathtub, but that set off the fire alarm. After that hullabaloo died down I tried to flush them down the toilet, but they floated, did not flush easily and choked the toilet. I cannot I remember just how I got rid of those ballots but I was a very unpopular hotel guest, and was never again asked to be Chief Teller at a National Convention.
As a board member of the national body of I.E.A. I was given several opportunities to leave Yellowknife and visit Toronto. We also took advantage of going "outside" on vacation, usually to Bahá'í Summer School to conscript young single Bahá'ís to pioneer to Yellowknife. We met a wonderful young Dutchman, Willie van den Hoonard in Banff and a young woman named Marg Rumple, who worked as an upstairs maid at the Banff Springs Hotel, and Marlene Richardson who worked in the Bahá'í National Office in Toronto. We made them an offer that made pioneering much less scary. We said that if they came with us to Yellowknife they could live with us until they got a place of their own. We guaranteed that they could find a job within one week, and told them that if they did not like it we would pay their fare back home again. All of them came and settled. A lovely young woman Marlene Penteluke who used to babysit for our kids swore she would come to see us when she finished high school and sure enough she showed up and in a few months, decided to become a Bahá'í.
One trip I made to Toronto, the N.S.A. of Canada sent Jamie Bond to meet me and ask us to cease and desist as there were other places that really needed Bahá'í pioneers. He asked if I could persuade Bahá'ís to go to those places, but obviously our method only worked for the place where we lived.
We never had to lock our door and on one of my trips away from home, a young Indian man, John Ross, who was a wonderful boxer, got a little squiffed and came to our house in the small hours of one morning. Eileen was sound asleep and wearing no clothes when she suddenly was wakened by John shaking her and asking for me. Dulled by sleep and a little scared Eileen said "Oh no, Jack is in Toronto and wont be back for a few days. John just nodded and left the house to walk back to town. All the time we were there we never locked our door, we had native people visit and stay with us for extended periods. In all that time never once was anything stolen.
A young Eskimo man, Johnnie Weetaltuk, came to live in Yellowknife. He had been the second Eskimo man to become a Bahá'í in Canada, the first being Billy Ekomiak who lived in Ottawa. Johnnie had been in the major release movie "The White North," based on a book written by Canadian author James Houston. I remember walking with Johnnie Weetaltuk over the ice to Indian Village and John telling me of how he had once walked all day in snow and ice only to find that he had returned to the place where he set out. The North can be treacherous.
Alex Frame came to Yellowknife as a teenager and made a major contribution. Alex worked for CBC Radio and had a children's program where he was Uncle Alex, and interacted with the kids. One seven year old boy asked Alex "What is it that goes all around the room, nobody can see it, but everyone knows that it is there?" Alex walked right into this kids trap and said "I don't know. What is it?" "A fart", replied the kid. They did not have the ability to bleep out things like that and it was a live program. Word spread around the school playground and by next day all the kids in town knew about it. Alex's popularity grew, but he left Yellowknife and forty years later is still with CBC in Toronto as head of all programming in Canada. Have you no ambition at all, Alex?
Dan and Helen Kelly:
The Kelly family pioneered to Yellowknife, Dan and Helen, and their three teenaged children. Dan had owned a pharmacy in Dundas and quickly found a job in a local pharmacy. Dan one time told me that he was happy working for someone else as employee theft had been a major problem for him down South. Dan soon became my golf partner and we enjoyed a regular Saturday game trying to ignore the blackfly that swarmed on the greens as we tried to putt.
The Kelly family anxiously waited for their furniture to arrive from Hamilton, Ontario, but when it did I got a phone call at work. The moving company who had quoted them a price to move their belongings said that their bill was going to be twice the amount quoted and refused to unload the furniture until they got paid. Dan asked if I could refer them to a good lawyer so I gave them the name of old friend Mark de Wirdt. He saw them immediately but advised "All you can do is pay them. The same thing happened to me when I moved here". Things were different in the North although not as different as they had been. Mark told me that in the earlier times a lawyers fee was 50% of the amount in the deal being signed. It is no wonder that most companies of any size engaged their own lawyers.
The Kellys made a fine addition to our community as they were experienced and dedicated Bahá'ís and willingly used their home as a drop in centre and a place for emergency sleepovers. Often when you visited them on a morning, you had to climb over recumbent bodies in sleeping bags on the floor. A few of these guests were the young Dogrib social activists who would later hammer out agreement with the government for the establishment of the "Dene Nation".
Bill and Houri Skuce:
With the Kellys, the Boss's and the Boyds we now had three families who provided a sound base and places to hold meetings and social events. We were rising up in the world, but things were to get even better. The Bahá'í National Assembly decided to encourage the work we were doing and to purchase a home that could be used as a Bahá'í Centre. In the Old Town section of Yellowknife, for about $7,000 we purchased a house from a man called Frenchy Lameroux who was in the transport business. It needed work but it had a hall on the property with a big old woodstove made from an oil drum. We fixed the house up as well as we could and then another Bahá'í couple moved in, Bill Skuce, an artist and his city raised elegant wife Houri who was Persian. It must have been a great shock to Houri, for while our native friends thought that the house was rather nice by their standards, it had no running water and sewage was by "honey bucket". They bravely stuck it out and Bill got a job working for the territorial Government. He was responsible I think for the design of two N.W.T. emblems, the "three legged" polar bear that is still used on automobile and truck license plates and the image of three figures in parkas holding hands in a circle, representing the White, the Indian and the Eskimo people.
About this time we had a very distinguished guest, a Mr Samandari who was travelling with his son, Dr Samandari. Mr Samandari was over ninety years old and was a Hand of the Cause and the last man alive to have known Bahá'u'lláh. He was a tiny man and wore a long black coat and a very long scarf when he arrived at the Yellowknife airport. I t was forty degrees below zero and we anticipated a slow moving old man., but when his feet hit the ground he moved so fast we had a hard time to keep up with him.
One of his functions was to authenticate the handwriting of Bahá'u'lláh, and he spoke little English, his son Dr Samandari acting as his interpreter. Dr Samandari was now a man in his fifties. He had spent much of his life travelling, living out of a suitcase and I understood that he had not seen his son since he was fifteen years old. The Bahá'ís in Yellowknife were deadly afraid that Mr Samandari my die while with us, and none of us any idea of how to handle a funeral for such a unique person.
Little Robert showed up at all the meetings that were held, sitting in his little baby chair, and Mr Samandari referred to Robert as "my faithful friend." Virginia Evans was a young Bahá'í who worked as a waitress at the Yellowknife Inn, and she was approached by some natives in the hotel lobby asking "who is the holy man?". They had a sense that someone special had arrived. When he visited our home I offered him the "lazy boy" chair, but Mr Samandari declined, saying that was a chair for old men.
One of the meetings that we held was very strange. One of those present was Chief Jimmy Bruneau, Chief of the Dogrib Nation who was over 80 years old, and still ran a trap line and hunted and fished for a living. He spoke no English and was almost deaf. Someone attending spoke Chippewayen and English, another could speak Chippewayen and Dogrib and Mr Samandari spoke Farsi and Arabic.
Mr Samandari gave a talk which sentence by sentence Dr Samandari translated into English, then it was translated into Chippewayen, from that into Dogrib, and finally someone shouted this version into Chief Jimmy Bruneau's best ear.
Mr Samandari told us how at the age of 16 he had lived in Acca and had been present when Bahá'u'lláh attended a feast there. His stories were simple but touching, such as how Bahá'u'lláh went round the group at the feast and personally gave each person a flower. We were all sad but relieved to see Mr Samandari leave us and it must have been one of his last teaching trips as he died within the year, leaving the world bereft of this wonderful link to our Bahá'í history.
Willie van den Hoonard:
A young Dutch Bahá'í, about 22 years old named Willie van den Hoonard who was newly landed in Canada came home with us from that Summerschool. He quickly found a job at Giant as a Surveyors Assistant and lived near us in the Staff House where he quickly made many friends. A six man exploration team, including some friends of Willie's, went out by plane to the Barren Lands, looking for ore bodies. They came back six weeks later swearing that they never wanted to hear another word about the Bahá'í Faith. None of the six were Bahá'ís but they found that they could not stop talking about it.
We had many fun parties at our house with games and lots of food and laughter. One of Willie's friends was a young man named Fred, and both Willie and Fred played the piano. Strangely Willie who was a straight arrow played swing and pop, and Fred, who was a party animal, played classical music. That is they did until someone threw the Staff House piano out of the second floor window. Their parties were more uninhibited than ours.
Willie saved his money while working at Giant which helped finance his university education and he went on to get his doctorate in Sociology. For some time he was the Bahá'í Representative to the United Nations in New York and later became a full Professor at the University of New Brunswick. He also wrote a fascinating book about the lives of the early Bahá'ís in the Canadian Bahá'í Community up until 1948.
A year after Fred and Willie both left Yellowknife, Fred showed up again. He had a good job as a guard in a correctional institute near Vancouver, but found that there was something missing in his life. He quit his job and came back to Yellowknife looking for that something. Fred had an interview for a job as a guard at the Yellowknife Correctional Institute, but the Head of Correctional Service, while interviewing him said"You are living with the Boyds. Does that mean that you are a Bahá'í?" Fred told him that he wasn't, but that he had no right to ask that question as it showed religious prejudice.
Fred finally decided what was missing in his life was the Bahá'í Faith and decided to become a Bahá'í, but never got the job. Fred moved back to Vancouver. Some time later Eileen senior was working for the Government and found the record of another persons interview on the file. It stated that he was not to be hired because he was a Bahá'í. The Head of the Correctional Institute was strongly involved with the Baptist Church.
A young Eskimo woman named Florence Kalinek came to live with us and brought her mother and her nine year old daughter. Since I was on call 24 hours a day at the mine, I could never ignore a telephone call, and Florence had a brother in Inuvik whom she did not want to speak with. He was very shy but would often telephone us about 3 AM under the influence of alcohol in some cheap form, and want to speak with Florence. He was hard to get rid of and would also complain to me about the size of his telephone bills. Florence and Dave Springay hit it off together, and eventually got married and are still married all these years later and living in Whitehorse, Yukon Territories.
From time to time we keep in touch with Dave and Florence by telephone.
A fine young Bahá'í man named Buzz Gibson moved to Yellowknife and eventually found work in the mail room of the Government of the N.W.T. He was a friendly, gentle person and when my wife Eileen took little Eileen on a trip to visit her parents in Scotland, he stayed in our home and looked after little Robert who adored him. While overseas, Eileen picked up some of the latest fashions of the time and turned many heads in Yellowknife with her new mini skirts.
Hand of the Cause John Robarts influenced our lives several times and in most loving ways. On one occasion we attended a Bahá'í Summer School at Sylvan Lake, Alberta, and John was one of the featured speakers. Eileen and I had decided that in the light of the need for the Bahá'í Fund, Bahá'ís should not have life savings, but should donate it all. We approached John with this proposition, expecting him to confirm our ideas, but he said "Of course Bahá'ís should have life savings."
John came on a teaching trip to Yellowknife in 1969 and we were wondering how we could use him effectively. We got press and radio interviews lined up and debated whether to hold a public meeting with him. The public meetings we had seemed to have zero results, but we thought that for the sake of prestige, we should hold one anyway, to show the flag. The Bahá'í friends dragged out old friends to the meeting, some coming for the first time, others who had been around the Bahá'ís for years without showing any signs of wishing to join.
John gave a good talk, not a brilliant one, but one I had heard him give many times before. After the talk he mingled with the audience, while we had coffee, and I saw in a little group in one corner that someone was signing a Bahá'í membership application card. This was unusual and exciting. A little later he was in a group at another corner and we saw that someone else was signing a card. It went on like that, some people who heard of the Faith for the first time that night and others that had been around Bahá'ís for many years all were signing Bahá'í cards. By the end of that evening the Yellowknife Bahá'í community had six new members.
Having Marlene Richardson in our community really helped things along as she was an attractive young woman and her men friends, trying to shine in her eyes, came with her to our meetings. One of these was a Northerner named Andy Steen who later became a Bahá'í. Andy was an accomplished artist and played the guitar. At this time our community was very attractive and people were flocking to our parties which were rocking.
Another friend of Marlene's was Duncan Pryde. Duncan had come from my hometown in Scotland and was something of a legend in the North. At age 18 he started work for the Hudson Bay Company, assisting a Factor in some far Northern outpost. He had a great aptitude for languages and learned to speak seven Eskimo dialects fluently. In 1967 he was given a federal grant to develop an Eskimo dictionary of grammar.
Duncan loved adventure and was not afraid of hardships and started exploring remote areas. He made one amazing trip which was written up in Time Magazine, dated May 2, 1969 traveling by dog sled and canoe from Cambridge Bay to Inuvik. He came to know of some of the mountain climbing marathons I had done in Scotland and wanted me to join him on one of these adventures, but I knew nothing of canoeing, dog sledding and Arctic survival and was now a settled family man, and declined.
Duncan had an ego to match his talents and took advantage of Eskimo hospitality in the wilds to leave several young girls pregnant. Maybe some of this was talk but he joked about it, saying "They should have a little pride in themselves." Duncan never became a Bahá'í but for some time was a Member of Parliament, with the most widespread constituency in Canada. He visited his constituents regularly spreading his favours widely. He threatened to campaign on his next election with the slogan "Vote for Daddy".
In the Time Magazine article he tries to point out the needs of his native constituents and is quoted
as challenging Prime Minister Trudeau to join him on a dog team journey "get out on a lake at forty or fifty below, where you have to skin out four or five caribou with your bare hands because your mitts are going to get wet with blood and freeze. Let the Prime Minister of Canada see not merely the Arctic of the white man, but the Arctic of the Eskimo and Indian.. Tell the swinger of the south that the swinger of the north wants to meet him." When the message was conveyed to Trudeau, the PM did not say yes and did not say no. but asked "Is he in shape?"
Not your usual politician, yet he truly cared for the native people and certainly was a colourful character.
Slim Lubeseder was a very large fellow who worked as a Surveyor at Giant and was a long time Bahá'í. We played a game one evening when a paper bag was passed around and what ever you pulled out of the bag you had to wear. When 250 pound Slim drew a lady's underskirt from the bag and gamely climbed into it, I thought that Jonas Sangris was going to die, he laughed so hard. Jonas that day before coming to the party had hired out his dog team to a geologist and had run twenty miles ahead of the dogs to break trail. Slim used to say that if you ever met a bunch of people gathered together who had no business being together, they were probably Bahá'ís. We were certainly a diverse group.
Noland and Bernice Boss:
Noland Boss was the very first Bahá'í to live in Yellowknife, moving there in 1953 and thus becoming a Knight of Bahá'u'lláh. Noland worked as a Safety Officer at Con Mine across town from Giant and was always on the go. He was very modest with a quiet sense of humour, volunteered for many community needs, and in all the time I knew him I do not remember seeing him sit down. He married Bernice and they lived in a very small house in Yellowknife. They were without a doubt, the very bedrock of the Faith in Yellowknife. Noland came from a farming family in British Columbia and used to use some country expressions. One of these was about his three mischievous sons and went "A boy is a boy, two boys is half a boy, and three boys is no boy at all". Bernice and Noland were very relieved when the fourth child was a girl.
Bernice had a friend Jessie, who worked as a law clerk and assisted our LSA with any and all legal problems. Eventually Jessie became a stalwart Bahá'í and married Del Hamilton who became a Bahá'í after we left the North.
Al and Eileen Vale:
Al and Eileen Vale lived in Hay River, some three hundred miles Southwest of Yellowknife, and were often visitors. They were very mature and loving Bahá'ís, but made our fledgling Bahá'í Local Spiritual Assembly feel very valued and mature when they sought our advice on problems. Al and Eileen started to build a very large dream home from scratch made of hand hewn logs, but sadly Al died before it could be completed. Eileen, who is the sister of the poet, the late Roger White, all these years later, still lives in Hay River.
Dorothy Weaver was a young woman when she pioneered to Cambridge Bay where she worked as a school teacher. Her dad, Craig Weaver was a very devoted Bahá'í in the Toronto area, but was very much against Dorothy pioneering to the Arctic. Perhaps he was right. Dorothy had some harrowing experiences as an attractive young woman, one of which was being attacked by a sled dog and requiring 19 stitches in her face. Dorothy came to visit us in Yellowknife to "recharge her batteries" and in the process, recharged ours. Dorothy married Bahá'í pioneer to Greenland, Bill Kerr, but contracted cancer and died at a very early age.
At a large Bahá'í Conference in Toronto in September 2002, hosted by the Association for Bahá'í Studies we saw a lovely face from the past. She used to be Margaret Rumple and pioneered to Yellowknife about 1966. Marg was then about nineteen and had taken first year at the University of Toronto, but did not plan to return there. At that time she was working as an upstairs maid at the huge Banff Springs Hotel. She moved North with us and has remained there ever since. Marg married an Inuit chap and now has five children and eight grand children and had a baby with her at the conference which she was planning to adopt. She must be about 55 years old now but the years have been physically kind to Marg and she does not look much different than she did when we first met. She lives at Baker Lake, NWT with her children and grandchildren. What a spirit.
Rosemary Kirby (Thrasher)
We still keep in touch with Rosemary who is now about 57 years old and lives in Inuvik. We spoke to her tonight by telephone and caught up on her news. They have five adult Bahá'ís in Inuvik and it is a struggle still to achieve and maintain Assembly status but Rosemary never quits. She had a stroke some years ago and lost the use of her right side. With typical determination she taught herself to walk again and to type and write with her left hand. She has been writing children's stories and is working with an illustrator to complete a book.
One day her husband Tom Kirby came home and found Rosemary weeping inconsolably. He had been writing her early memories and when she wrote about having to leave home at the age of seven she totally broke down. "What is your story called?" asked Tom. "The Mission Boat," said Rosemary. "You should call it the ship of tears", said Tom. In our phone conversation Rosemary said "I guess I had never dealt with it."
As I mentioned before, arsenic occurred naturally in the land around Yellowknife. Sometimes this would leach out of swamps into surrounding lakes, and the Territorial Health Officer would declare certain areas off limits for swimming during the brief season of hot weather, when the temperatures would occasionally reach above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. We found out that there had been for years an unacceptably high level of arsenic in our drinking water. The Government had been aware of this but kept it secret as they took a year to build a huge 18inch diameter pipeline to convey pure water from the Yellowknife River. As mentioned in the introduction, this is how Eileen became deathly ill. A word of warning as soon as the problem was discovered and everyone could have been using bottled water for drinking.
Arsenic leaves a bitter taste.
The teaching work was going so well. The Bahá'í community had grown from two when we arrived in Yellowknife to about 35 people. We were gradually being recognized as a worth while organization, the potential for growth was strong. Eileen had looked after four young children and had three house guests to feed and care for most of the time. She worked full time and still had the lions share of housework to do, but her health was crumbling. We were going through the same pangs as all pioneers who desperately wanted not to quit their post. We wanted to hang on but needed to leave. What to do? At Bahá'í Summer School at Sylvan Lake, Alberta in 1969 we again saw dear Hand of the Cause John Robarts and asked for his advice. What did John tell us? Stay at your post? Buy your grave? No. John said, "Of course you must look after your health. That is your first and only priority. You have done wonderfully well, others can carry on the work."
We would have liked to move to the Vancouver area and I signed up with an executive "headhunter" company, but there was nothing available. I heard of an opening in Sudbury at the parent company of Giant Yellowknife Mines, Falconbridge Limited, went for an interview, and that is how we ended up in the Sudbury area. I was hired as Assistant Mechanical Superintendent in the Falconbridge area.
We arrived on September 8, 1969 exactly four years after arrival in Yellowknife. We had gone to Yellowknife with two children and returned with four. At that time Sudbury had five Bahá'ís and was struggling to reach assembly status, but we had to stay in Falconbridge as my job required me to live close to my place of work. That is how we started to open Nickel Centre as a Bahá'í Community. The Bahá'ís in Sudbury at the time were all fairly new to the faith. Terry and Caroline Spratt, Keith Vivian and Marion Pine (later Marion Vivian) and Penny Hubbard, were a wonderful, spirited group of people and we worked closely together in those early days.
The newly appointed Commissioner of the Northwest Territories was traveling around his domain, visiting remote communities and getting to know the people. While visiting an Inuit village he had to obey the call of nature and since there were no flush toilets, he had to use what was available, in this case an outdoor wooden toilet. Several planks were missing on the little building, it was dilapidated but still serviceable. The Commissioner accepted the situation and went about his business then suddenly came bursting through the door, his pants around his ankles, red in the face, shouting "You knew about that! You set me up!" This particular toilet had not seen much use and some swallows had built a nest inside, entering and leaving through an opening in the rear wall. One of these little birds, homeward bound, had goosed the Commissioner. Both survived the ordeal to tell of it later but I don't know which was the most shocked.
1. Before 1961 when the road to Yellowknife was built, the North was opened up by water transportation, by ice roads across frozen rivers and lakes and by bold pilots in small bush planes. Cat trains were utilized using Caterpillar Tractors to haul sleds laden with freight through woods and across frozen water. One time a Cat train owned by Sheck Bros. of Yellowknife, one of the best known winter carriers, established a record by roaring forward day and night, covering the 650 miles from Grimshaw to Yellowknife in 14 days. Sometimes these trains would encounter pressure cracks on the lakes which could form a barrier up to 14 feet high and stretch for miles in either direction. Equipment had to be carried to bridge such barriers. Sheck Bros had one great setback when they lost two cats through the same hole in the ice. The lead Cat was pulling a cable 150 feet ahead of a bigger Cat and behind that was a train of 15 sleds. The lead Cat crossed a crack in the lake which was covered by snow, then the ice under the heavier Cat began to give way. They should have cut the cable but probably thought that it would be useful in recovering the sinking Cat. Unfortunately the lake was 300 feet deep and both machines went down. The insurance company was unhelpful and the loss helped to put the valiant Sheck Bros out of business.
2. Just like the early astronauts, Red Hamilton had "the right stuff". In 1930 his family moved from Saskatchewan to Fort St John to homestead, but things were very tough and Red seized a chance to move further north. In 1932 a trader named Ross saw an opportunity in bringing fresh things to the north. He gathered 45 pigs, 5 cows, 100 chickens, feed for the crew and animals and ten tons of other supplies loaded it all on a scow and Red managed to get hired as crew. This floating menagerie then headed for Yellowknife. At the dangerous Vermillion Chutes the animals were offloaded and safely herded around the fast flowing water. Red was tied to the stern of the scow and went through the Chutes with it. His job was to throw a rope to men on the bank at the downstream end. The scow went over with a huge splash and Red disappeared but the scow survived and Red, as usual was up to the task of saving the day. On reaching the Great Slave Lake the scow became ice bound at Fort Resolution with all the animals and cargo. The pigs had to be slaughtered immediately and sold locally or salted for sale next year. The scow with much of its freight and the salt pork eventually went on to Aklavik, but Red settled in Yellowknife.