Log jam, river drive, 1946. Photo courtesy of Longlac Historical Society.

Log jam, river drive, 1946. Photo courtesy of Longlac Historical Society.

Some months ago, I came across two logging stories from Greenstone Region, both told in one magazine article. As the title suggests, the stories deal with danger, death, and grief.

I contacted the author, Ken Plourde, who worked in the Beardmore area in the summer of 1957, staying in the Domtar Staff House. He returned to live in Beardmore in 1960, working for Domtar until 1970. Black Dan, in the article, is the uncle of Ken Plourde’s wife. Black Dan lived with his sister in Beardmore, Merle Smetaniuk.

Both the author and the magazine gave me permission to reprint the article:

Black Dan and Dynamite!

by Ken Plourde

I first worked in the pulpwood industry as a student in northwestern Ontario in 1957, at St Lawrence Corp. (later Domtar), which was originally Brompton Paper. At that time, the companies in the Port Arthur area (now Thunder Bay) were still moving logs by river transportation to lakes and thence across Lake Superior to mills. Others picked up the logs in Lake Superior and transported them by ship to mills like Red Rock, Port Arthur and Thorold. The industry was still cutting pulp by hand, mostly into 4-foot bolts for ease of handling, and for ease of river driving the logs. The 4-foot bolts obviously got hung up less in the rapids, and this length made clearing logjams easier. The downside to 4-foot bolts was the greater amount of handling, and the loads were less stable when hauling pulp on trucks.

Most of eastern Canada used river driving to transport logs to the mill, and many shanty songs and romantic lumberjack tales from the Ottawa Valley area were about these river drives. Indeed, Charlie Chamberlain, of Don Messer & His Islanders, worked and sang in river drive camps in those days. Books have been written about the tough lumberjacks going into town and stirring things up, including the story telling.

One such lumberjack tale involved a logging camp, near Auden, Ontario, east of Lake Nipigon. The camp was owned by Don Clark. Don was a contractor for Great Lakes Lumber and Shipping, and their pulp was hauled to the Sturgeon River for the river drive in the spring. During the winter, the logs were hauled to the riverbank, and piled along the river to be pushed in with a bulldozer at high water. Dan Stasiuk, better known as “Black Dan” because of his dark complexion, was the bulldozer operator who “watered” the logs annually.

In those days, men were not allowed to work alone in the bush without someone with or near them, in case of an accident. Thus, Black Dan had a helper, called a “swamper”, named “Frenchman Lavoie”, and during the course of their work, Black Dan ran over and killed Frenchman Lavoie. This unfortunate accident rested heavily on Black Dan. Sometime later, while Dan was working alone with his bulldozer, he himself was somehow run over by his own machine, and killed. The lumberjack version of the story was that Frenchman Lavoie returned and ran over Black Dan to get his revenge.

In the 1960s, when I worked at Domtar, in Beardmore, they had a depot, office and warehouse to support their operations along the river system from Jellico, Beardmore, Lake Helen, and Nipigon. I was helping out with the river drive when the logs jammed in the rapids on the Sturgeon River. We got out our dynamite, and took the two or three cases to the rapids. We only required a part of a case to free the jam, and since the river drive was almost over, we decided to set off the dynamite rather than store it until next year. There was an old abandoned camp along the river, consisting of three or four buildings, made from lumber and logs, so we decided to set off the dynamite in the camp yard. We set the fuses and piled the boxes together, and looked around for cover. I went behind an old log building about 50 or 60 feet away, then had second thoughts, and moved a bit further away, behind some trees. When we set off the charge, it blew all the buildings away completely, and into small splinters of wood. There was nothing left of the wall that I had first taken refuge behind!

There have been considerable safety changes related to the handling of dynamite over the years. Storage of dynamite storage is much more stringent, requiring locks, metal buildings and chain-link fences etc. The use of dynamite in forestry is now almost exclusively confined to road construction in mountainous terrain (e.g., British Columbia).

(Reprinted with permission of the author & Forest History Society of Ontario – v4, n1, Spring 2013)

Recovering a D-4 tractor, Pulpwood Supply Co. Photo courtesy Longlac Historical Society.

Recovering a D-4 tractor, Pulpwood Supply Co. Photo courtesy Longlac Historical Society.

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Wawa, Ontario.

Wawa, Ontario.

I am a fully paid-up member of the travelling public.

So, when something interesting crosses my path, I am entitled to stop and check it out.

When I was travelling north from The Soo near the end of June, I checked out Agawa Crafts at Pancake Bay. I fought my way through scores of fellow travelers to buy a book and an ice cream. At Old Woman Bay, I checked out the cliff face on Lake Superior to see if the old woman was home. Not that day. Chatted up an older couple who were frolicking on the immense sand beach. Few people know about this sacred spot.

At Wawa I had to drive into town because the store would not come to me. Still, hundreds

Ye olde front porch.

Ye olde front porch.

of people every day find Young’s General Store and linger longer than they imagined they would.

I knew about Young’s General Store, so I deliberately broke my trip to enjoy it once again. How my fellow travelers found it, is beyond me.

It is the dream of every highway community in the country to compel the travelling public to stop and buy stuff. Some communities, such as Wawa and Pancake Bay, succeed big time. Others fail big time, even if thousands of people are driving by every single day.

Tread carefully.

Tread carefully.

Young’s General Store is a combination curiosity shop and museum. Before you step up to the front porch, there are dozens of artifacts to draw your attention. And, if you’re so inclined, a couple of old-fashioned privies to relieve your most pressing needs.

Inside is a wonderland of useful stuff mixed with a hodge-podge of never-buy-

I was bearly startled.

I was bearly startled.

it-in-a-million-years bric-a-brac. You edge yourself carefully down the crowded aisles because you don’t want to break anything that you never planned on buying. When you come across a bear climbing up a pole, you ascertain quickly that it poses no threat.

If you feel you have a thirst, there are beverages. If you feel a hunger pang, there is every kind of confection including a stocked hard ice cream bar.

Outside again, I wandered through an acre of artifacts which were silently succumbing to the weather and neglect . Most of the stuff I couldn’t even put a name to, but it was still interesting.

Freshly imported jams & jellies.

Freshly imported jams & jellies.

Before I left, I bought one item. I didn’t need it, didn’t want it, but I felt I owed the proprietors something. I bought a jar of Backroad Country gooseberry jam. I don’t recall every having eaten gooseberry jam, but I am open to a new experience.

Young’s General Store cannot be accused of being parochial. It probably imports most of its stuff from far-flung corners of the globe such as Dhaka, Bangladesh and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The gooseberry jam came from Amish Wedding Foods in Millersburg, Ohio.

Ye olde farm.

Ye olde farm.

Wanna race, anyone?

Wanna race, anyone?

I'll take this buggy.

I’ll take this buggy.

Slow down! Where's the fire?

Slow down! Where’s the fire?

You can’t buy gooseberry jam at Old Woman Bay. You can’t buy anything at all at Old Woman Bay. All you can do is enjoy the magical place and, if you know it, recall its history. If the mixture of sun and cloud cover is just right, you will see the old woman’s face in the cliff face.

Those colleges that are turning out professional tourism coordinators ̶ they should have field trips built into the curricula. Compel students to visit highly successful tourist businesses such as Agawa Crafts and Young’s General Store. Compel them to visit magical places such as Chippewa Falls and Old Woman Bay. And while they’re visiting the latter, their assignment should be to design successful marketing strategies for them.

Compel the travelling public to stop a while.

I’m not so sure, though.

I kind of like a magical place without too many people.

View of the cliff face on Old Woman Bay, looking south in May 2008.

View of the cliff face on Old Woman Bay, looking south in May 2008.

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Front: Blood group O . . . Rh-Negative . . . "Carry this card with you always" . . . Well, I did.

Front: Blood group O . . . Rh-Negative . . . “Carry this card with you always” . . . Well, I did.

As I was getting bloodwork done in the lab today, I thought, Why not?

I have been carrying this card around in my wallet for half a century now.

It is the worse for wear.

So, why not get it renewed?

The lab technician laughed.

Okay, it was more of a chortle, but I was relieved that it was not a guffaw.

If I were admitted to hospital after an accident, she said, they would test my blood immediately. The card is no good anymore.

Back: "Show this card to doctor in charge." Well, I would have, if I were bleeding.

Back: “Show this card to doctor in charge.” Well, I would have, if I were bleeding.

She suggested that I remove it from my wallet and keep it as a curiosity.

Good idea.

Perhaps I should re-examine that condom that kept it company . . . heh, heh.

Interior: "BLOOD TESTED 26.4.67" And many times since, but this is the only card I ever got. I'll miss it.

Interior: “BLOOD TESTED 26.4.67” And many times since, but this is the only card I ever got. I’ll miss it.

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Looking from the lower falls to the bridge.

Looking from the lower falls to the bridge.

Taking my cue from poet Robert Frost, when I had miles to go before I slept, I stopped anyway.

No, not by snowy woods on the darkest evening of the year. It was mid-day under a scorching sun on Saturday, June 25. I was travelling north of The Soo when I saw the sign announcing an historical plaque.

131c Chippewa Falls-path S side 25Jun2016Not seeing the plaque immediately, I was drawn into the bush by a friendly path and the sound of rushing water. I had arrived at the Chippewa River. Other travelers with dopey smiles were loitering about.

I had stumbled upon one of the magical places on Superior’s North Shore. The river cascades over two ledges and runs merrily under the highway bridge towards the unseen lake. As I learned later, the lower falls is 6 metres high, and the upper one, 7 metres. (For you metrically challenged readers, that 20 and 23 feet.) I joined other pleasure-seekers on the bare rocks of the lower falls. I imagine that in early spring the ledge was smothered in foamy water, but on that day the river coursed through a narrow channel that younger legs than mine could probably overleap.

Looking at the upper falls from the lower falls.

Looking at the upper falls from the lower falls.

The fairy-tale path beckoned to me, and I scrambled up the hillocks to the upper falls. Like the lower falls, woody debris littered the boulders and bedrock. What a pleasant place to spend a summer day, but I had miles to go . . .

Rocks and ledges provide a natural stairway.

Rocks and ledges provide a natural stairway.

Returning on the path, I stopped frequently to admire the plants in the understory, each with its tale to tell. But, I still had miles to go . . .

You know, back in the ’50s, one of the Group of Seven painters had found this river and painted an iconic picture of a Northern stream. He didn’t portray the falls, though, just a stretch of rapids. Perhaps the log jams and brush-and-root piles had spoiled the effect he wanted.

Back at the parking lot, there was a signboard to commemorate the contribution of this artist, A.Y. Jackson, and of his colleagues, whose representations of the Canadian Shield helped formulate our sense of national identity.

A stone monument commemorated the centennial year in 2003 of the founding of the Canadian Automobile Association.

Another signboard advised travelers that they had reached “the halfway point” (exact phrase) in the Trans-Canada Highway. There was a reference to the highway being 8,030 kilometres long. A lengthy notice paid tribute to a booster of the highway. Here is the core of the text:

In 1925, Dr. Perry Doolittle was the first Canadian to cross Canada by car. He drove 800 km (500 miles) of his journey using railway wheels fitted to his car where there was no road. He was a life-long promoter of a highway that could span Canada and he is now hailed as “the spiritual father of the Trans-Canada Highway”.

Strictly speaking, the historical note is accurate. An Englishman and an American-Canadian actually accomplished the journey in 1912 (taking a freighter across Lake Superior), and in 1920, a Canadian did the journey strictly on roads, but he drove partway on American soil.   (I will tell their stories in my forthcoming book on the first Trans-Canada Highway, which followed Highway 11.)

I still had not discovered the historical plaque. I walked a ways up the highway to a café and asked the proprietor about its location. “Someone stole it,” he said, and melted it down for scrap. Not so, his wife piped up. It’s been replaced. The proprietor wasn’t so sure.

Log jam on the upper falls, looking downstream.

Log jam on the upper falls, looking downstream.

I wandered down to the highway bridge. The view of the falls is not impressive. Someone driving by would not be struck by its beauty, but up close it is a beauty spot.

A boy, perhaps 10 or 12 years old, clambered over the railing with a fishing rod in his hand, and dropped down. Apparently this method was the way fishermen accessed the shady shoreline under the bridge. From another angle I snapped a picture of a family fishing.

Fishermen under the bridge.

Fishermen under the bridge.

Back in the parking lot, I inquired of other travelers if they had seen the plaque. No one had seen it. So I concluded that the signboard about “the halfway point” was a substitute for the plaque.

Another word about the Trans-Canada Highway. Today, Highway 17 gets that label. In 1943, the highway link between Geraldton and Hearst, via Highway 11, was completed, and for the first time, Eastern and Western Canada were joined by a road on Canadian soil. Everyone, even the government, called that the Trans-Canada Highway. Motorists had to wait another 17 years for the Highway 17 route to be completed in 1960 from The Soo to Nipigon. In fact, when A.Y. Jackson travelled Highway 17 in 1955, he came to a dead end, but he was able to access the Chippewa River.

On the other hand, Dr. Doolittle, President of the CAA in 1925, never travelled Highway 17. He took to the rails to cross the Canadian Shield.

That tribute to Dr. Doolittle is misplaced at Chippewa Falls. The true halfway point in the first Trans-Canada Highway lies between Geraldton and Hearst.

We have to correct that historical inaccuracy.

And we have to find an appropriately scenic spot for a genuine historical plaque that honours the first Trans-Canada Highway.

A.Y. Jackson's "Stream Bed Lake Superior Country 1955". Image from Reproduction Gallery.

A.Y. Jackson’s “Stream Bed Lake Superior Country 1955”. Image from Reproduction Gallery.

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In these 5 volumes, there are approximately 170,000 words.

In these 5 volumes, there are approximately 850,000 words.

Just the other day, I did two things I had sworn I would never do. And I did them on the same day.

First, I threw away a book.

And second, I bought a Starbucks product.

Both on the same day. Consider this a confession.

Last August we held a monster yard sale on our road in the country. Neighbours joined in. I had hundreds of books for sale, all from my personal library. I have been collecting ̶ and rescuing (but that is another story) ̶ books for 70 years.

The monster sale was a roaring success. Except . . . that very few books sold.

So, over the next few months, I found homes for the leftovers. And I had hundreds, hundreds of leftovers. The other day, I took the last volumes to Thunder Bay. I planned to give them away to the Thrift Store because nobody else wanted them.

When I told them what I had in the boxes, I was turned down. Flatly. Nobody, it seems ̶ nobody reads Reader’s Digest Condensed Books any more. These are good solid volumes, with hours, weeks, and sometimes months of reading pleasure in a single volume. Nobody wants them. Even to build shelving with . . . With a few planks, one could build shelving that reaches the roof. Nobody wants Reader’s Digest Condensed Books any more.

The Thrift Store was my last resort. I had to clear space for our next monster yard sale, coming in August. There was only one place that would accept these books. I drove to the recycling depot on Front Street (near the waterfront) and dumped the boxes in a waste container. There was no one to stop me.


The recycling containers here are lined up around a half-hectare lot.  It's never a busy place.

The recycling containers here are lined up around a half-hectare lot. It’s never a busy place.

It breaks my heart.

I soon found myself wandering the aisles among thousands, yes, thousands and thousands of books. These were books that people wanted, books that people would pay good money for, books that have helped create a chain of bookstores across Canada. And right next to Chapters, under the same roof, actually, is a Starbucks.

Alicia Martin has made a reputation by making sculptures out of discarded books.  Google image.

Alicia Martin has made a reputation by making sculptures out of discarded books. Google image.

Now, I have never patronized Starbucks. And when you hear this story, you will know why.

But, I had a thirst. For some reason, my throat was dry. When I develop a thirst, I usually look for a Tim Hortons. On this occasion, a Timmys was ten minutes away. Ten minutes. In a city, nobody wants to waste ten minutes if there is a satisfactory alternative available. And I, a country boy, was thinking like a city boy. After all, hadn’t I just destroyed several million words in a few minutes? And I knew where there were hundreds of millions more within arm’s reach.

My Starbucks mocha.

My Starbucks mocha.

I marched to that Starbucks counter and I ordered a café mocha. Okay . . . Starbucks does not offer a café mocha. It sells something called a Caffe Mocha. One of the reasons I don’t patronize Starbucks is the pretentious names of its products. I watched the barista prepare the drink. (Only Starbucks has baristas. Every other coffee shop has servers.) She did it all wrong.

I ended up with a mess of soap suds. True, it tasted better than soap suds, but when I met up with Olga, she had a raging thirst. Hadn’t been allowed to drink anything for the past fourteen

My Timmys mocha.

My Timmys mocha.

hours. She tasted the suds and almost threw up. Myself, in the bush, I have drunk water from a standing pond covered with scum, so I was able to finish that concoction.

On the way home, we stopped at Timmys in Nipigon. I ordered my usual café mocha. I watch the server make it, and she did it right. She topped off the foamy crest with squirts of chocolate

syrup. That’s doing it right. And it cost me $2.43 for a medium mocha.

Starbucks had charged me $4.95 for a medium.

I will never patronize Starbucks again.

A lot of throw-away cups go into piles like this. Google image.

A lot of throw-away cups go into piles like this. Google image.

I will probably throw away another book some time soon. That says a lot about the kind of world we live in. And then I will reach for a café mocha again.   And contribute another cup to the mountains of garbage we live on today.

Some habits are hard to break.

Starting our trip on the shore of Onaman Lake, August 1914.  Not a discarded book or throw-away cup in sight.

Starting our trip on the shore of Onaman Lake, August 1914. Not a discarded book or throw-away cup in sight.

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Barton Bay outing.  Photo by Heather Collins, ASWCO.

Barton Bay outing. Photo by Heather Collins, ASWCO.

What caught my eye today was a flotilla of colourful kayaks on Kenogamisis Lake.

I pulled into the Geraldton waterfront to investigate. The paddlers were too far out on Barton Bay for me to contact, but I spoke to one of the supervising adults from the Thunderbird Friendship Centre (TFC). This was the second day of the Geraldton Multi-Sport Camp for Aboriginal youth, ages 12 to 16.

Later in the afternoon, I caught up with Ron Miron, instructor, as he was loading the now-empty kayaks on a boat trailer. He was assisted by Walter Davies, also of Longlac, and by Pete Hohmann of Virginia. How did the kids respond? I asked Ron. “They loved it,” he said.

Cheryl Checkley is the Aboriginal Health Outreach Worker for TFC. She was also out on the lake, so I had to phone her later to get more facts.

Cheryl said this was the first time the three-day event has been staged here. The sponsor is a provincial body named Aboriginal Sport & Wellness Council of Ontario (ASWCO), and their representive, Heather Collins, was also participating as a facilitator. ASWCO covered all costs for the 13 young participants.

On the morning of the first day, Tuesday, July 5, the youngsters played golf at the local course, and in the afternoon, soccer and basketball. Different staff members at TFC were taking turns acting as chaperones.

On Wednesday morning, there was basketball, ultimate frisbee, and dodge ball. After I saw the kayak lessons in the afternoon, the group retired to the Centre for some darts and karaoke.

L to R, Ron Miron, Pete Hohmann, & Walter Davies, kayaking specialists.

L to R, Ron Miron, Pete Hohmann, & Walter Davies, kayaking specialists.

On Thursday, the agenda called for lacrosse in the morning, and in the afternoon, double ball, and capture the flag, acted out with toy guns which shoot foam bullets.

Participants travelled to the golf and kayak outings in a chartered bus. The board of education allowed the gymnasium venue for other games, free of charge.

“I think they’re having fun,” said Cheryl. “I’ve been playing every sport that they’ve been playing.” How does she feel physically? “I actually feel good!” According to the ASWCO website, the organization’s mission is to promote all-round well-being through physical activity, recreation, and sports activities.

Ron Miron, kayaking instructor, met visitor Pete Hohmann of Virginia on one of the many pilgrimages Ron makes to kayaking venues. Pete said he really liked Greenstone, and wanted to learn more of its history.

Ron said he intended to donate the kayak rental revenue to the volunteer-driven, non-profit group in Longlac, Want-A-Pet.

On Friday, Ron is staging what is becoming a popular three-day event in Greenstone, the annual Kayak Camp, this year on Margo Lake. He is expecting 40 participants from all over.

Barton Bay waterfront. If you squint hard, you can see kayaks out on the water.

Barton Bay waterfront. If you squint hard, you can see kayaks out on the water.

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Marcel & Frances dictated this book to a writer and donated the proceeds to charity.

Marcel & Frances dictated this book to a writer
and donated the proceeds to charity.

What’s a senior getting out of bed at 4:30 in the morning for?

Yeah, yeah, besides that . . .

Well, this senior got out of his bed yesterday morning at 4:30 to begin a 2,000-kilometre trip around Northern Ontario in less than a week.

No, I’m not being paid for it.  No, I’m not compelled to do it.  No.  I’m doing it for pure pleasure.

You see, I love to write, and writing requires research, which means finding out how the rest of the world lives, or has lived in the past.

My goal was to reach Timmins by nightfall, with multiple stops along the way at Hearst, Kapuskasing, Smooth Rock Falls, Cochrane, and at roadside.  Yes, from time to time I’d pass a transport or motorcyclist and then I’d pull over on the shoulder and scribble stuff in my notebook and then I’d catch up with the transport or motorcyclist and pass them again.  Yes, that’s what writers do.

Okay, that’s what THIS writer does.

Okay, I did have a companion.  Her name is Garmin.  Okay, Garmin is my GPS navigational system.  Garmin is helpful in countries with wild geography.  Do you have any idea how hard it is to find an address in a foreign village when the natives do not publish maps and they hide the street name signs?  Even Garmin was confused most of the time.

Between Hearst and Cochrane my cell phone went on strike, so I could not reserve a hotel room until suppertime.

Speaking of eating, I was too busy to eat until I reached Timmins.  I thought I deserved a beer.  Research, and writing, is sometimes an exhausting, demanding job that requires dedication, mental fortitude, and physical stamina.

I love a craft beer, which I can find only in cities.  Timmins is a city.  It is chock-full of traffic, and pollution of all descriptions, and crowdedness.  I found a place that serves beer fresh from the tap.  Wacky Wings.

Google image.

Google image.

Wacky Wings is a tavern, not a funny farm.  But its goal is to be a funny farm.

Wacky Wings has everything you can desire in a funny farm – heavy traffic, pollution, and crowdedness.  But the ten spigots of draft beer lined up at the long bar made my decision for me.  I choose the brand that had local flavour.  I chose Stella Artois.  Originally brewed in Belgium.

I sat at the long bar with two other consumers, who were consumed with chatting.  The rest of the crowd preferred to lose themselves among the forest of cedar poles and shady nooks.  I had ten television monitors all to myself.

Two monitors were tuned to a sports trivia channel.  Two were tuned to a poker channel.  Six were tuned to a music video – the same music video on all six monitors.  Eight monitors were the size of Madonna’s bed.  Two were the size of the Senate Chamber – but not so red.  Noise poured out of all ten monitors.

And I couldn’t hear a thing.  That’s city living for you.

Earlier in the day, in Cochrane, I was interviewing an old-timer who worked on the construction of the Geraldton-Hearst highway in the early ‘40s.  He was a teenager at that time.  He loved driving trucks.  He lived in an isolated camp in the untamed wilderness of Northern Ontario and drove a truck ten hours a day.  For twenty-five cents an hour.  And after supper, he put in another four hours overtime, for twenty-five cents an hour, driving a truck along tote roads, shuttling full 45-gallon fuel drums that he loaded himself.

I know you’re wondering what a tote road is.  There are two ways to drive in an untamed wilderness.  One is to drive through the bush, but you hit a lot of trees that way.  The other way is to use a tote road, which is a trail with most of the trees removed.  When you go off the tote road, you cut down a couple of fresh trees, stick them under the drive wheels, and lever yourself back on the trail.

Marcel Labelle loved that job because he loved trucking.  He saved enough quarters that he could afford his own truck, and he grew that truck into one of the biggest trucking firms in Northern Ontario.  Kids in those days, eh?

Back cover.

Back cover.

I love writing.  That is why at Wacky Wings I was prepared to eat chicken noodle soup (the only choice) from a square bowl. Yes, it was a challenge to get the last drops out of the corners.  And I fed myself a Greek salad from a square bowl.  And I gazed at the poker channel, which did not show you any of the cards the players had.  And I gave up on the sports trivia after two seconds.

I read some of the posters behind the bar: “Who says happy is just an hour.”  Yeah, that was a mental challenge. “Steve’s Roadkill Café – You kill it, We grill it.”  Gee, never heard that one before.  And the best one? “People say I have a bad attitude.  I say, screw them.”

When I finally tracked down the Labelles in Cochrane (Garmin was no help), they welcomed me warmly into their palatial home.  We had a great chat.  Marcel is ninety-three years of age, fully follicled, perfect eyesight, excellent hearing, athletic of bearing . . . all of which I am not.  Frances is a diminutive lady, full of grace, passionate about her husband and her interests.  They would not let me leave.  They thrust books upon me, gave me a tour of the estate, and insisted I appreciate their rock collection.  I mean, after you’ve seen an ancient stone knife Marcel retrieved from the Montreal River, a chunk of anthracite from James Bay, and a piece of coral reef from the Caribbean, all you’ve really seen are rocks.  You’d think that millionaires would devote time to more exotic pursuits, such as eating from square bowls.

Eating and drinking are not the only attractions at Wacky Wings in Timmins.  There were several hundred thousands of dollars invested in electronic games that no one, when I was there, was playing.  There were signs tacked up stating that the distance to Santiago, Chile was 9,160 kilometres, and to Attawapiskat, 492 klicks.

Attawapiskat.  A nice Northern touch.  Wacky Wings tells us its franchise was founded to give patrons the ambience of life in the North.  Hence the cedar poles.  A forest of them.

The highlight of Wacky Wings is the outhouses.  That’s what they call ‘em.  One of the Roosters and one for the Hens.  Real Northern lingo, that.  In the Roosters coop, there were three urinals, side by side, in a cramped space.  It would be so much fun to jostle shoulder to shoulder with inebriated patrons as they aimed their pistols at the sweet spots.  And the wash basins were one long horse trough.  Fortunately, when I used it, the equines were stabled for the night.

This morning I woke up at 4:30 for you know what.  I was still tossing and turning at 6:30, so I got up.  I wrote this post for you.  Yes, I am mentally and physically exhausted, but that’s normal for a writer.

And I am having so much fun.

Today I will be having a wild time at Timmins public library and archives.  I can’t begin to imagine what I will discover in the real world of research.

Wish you were here.  In fact, the Labelles have invited me back, along with friends.  Their home could accommodate everyone, but not so, I’m afraid, Wacky Wings.

But you’d probably find Wacky Wings a little dull after what you’d discover in the real world.

Google image.

Google image.

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EXHIBIT A98 – 15

The entryway for the U of Manitoba Archives, in the Elizabeth Dafoe Library.

The entryway for the U of Manitoba Archives, in the Elizabeth Dafoe Library.

I thank you for having goodly postponed the execution of the sentences against me. I shall make use of those days, added to my life, so as to prepare better.”

These are the words of a man condemned to death, addressed to the man who condemned him to hang by the neck until dead.

All Canadians know ̶ or should know ̶ the name and the history of this condemned man. He wrote this letter to the judge while sitting in the Regina jail in the fall of 1885. On November 16th, he was taken out and hanged in the courtyard. His body rests in the churchyard of St. Boniface Cathedral in Winnipeg, in the province that he created. To most Canadians today, to the vast majority of Canadians, he is a hero and martyr.

This display is not so much an archival event as it is a tribute to history, which is what an archive is all about.

Archives sometimes have “special collections” that go beyond documents and images.  In June, the U of MB Archives was inviting the public to view this one.

I am writing this to discuss history, our history, Canadian history. History, my friends, is not found in books (though they can help) or in the words of historians (though many of them do help) nor in the mouths of politicians (who are almost the only Canadians who bother to reference our history because, of course, it serves their purposes).  Guaranteed that you will not find it on Wikipedia.

History can be found in people who witnessed historical moments, or participated in those

Exhibition poster.

Exhibition poster.

moments, or took steps to preserve those moments. You may talk to them if they are still able to talk (i.e., they are still alive), or you may read their words or touch the artifacts they preserved or gaze at the images they created. This is the stuff of history. This is the stuff that writers and historians and politicians interpret.

You can interpret this stuff of history yourself. You may start in a museum or archive.

I spent a week in Winnipeg recently finding stuff about, believe it or not, Greenstone history, and in the process, stumbled upon several moments in Canadian history.

This historical stuff I found about Louis Riel was in an exhibition in the Archives of the University of Manitoba. I visited the archives hoping to find stuff about our local history in historical newspapers based in Winnipeg, that sometimes carried articles deemed important enough for their regional and sometimes national readership. And I did find such articles.

As I entered the archives, I came upon a display window for an exhibition called The Spirit of Red River, featuring Louis Riel. Inside were several display cases with original photographs and documents.

Riel's letter written in 1883.

Riel’s letter written in 1883.

One display showed a handwritten letter by Riel to a Pierre Lavallee of St. Francois, dated 1883. At this time, Riel was an exile from Canada, teaching at a mission school in Montana, and frequently excoriated by the Canadian press and by politicians as the living embodiment of evil. Here’s how he began the letter:

“My Dear Sir and Friend,

I see with great pleasure that you have the trust of the general public. I commend you for that. And I would like to encourage you to do all of what you can to increase this trust; and I wish you will use the very honorable position that you occupy in order to promote the common interests of a cordial union between the Metis and The [French] Canadians.”

Now, I couldn’t read the letter myself. It was secured a couple of feet from my eyes, behind glass. I am depending on the typed translation provided by the archivist, in which I could discern several errors.

Still, you can interpret these few historical words for yourself.

Photo collection.

Photo collection.

Riel was condemned to hang on September 18, 1885. On September 17, Judge Hugh John Richardson granted him a reprieve of 29 days. This brings us to Exhibit A98-15 in the university archives. Riel wrote the following letter, in English, on that same day:

“I thank you for having goodly postponed the execution of the sentences against me. I shall make use of those days, added to my life, so as to prepare better. And If by godly Mercy and favorable human decision, my life is to be spared, I will endeavour to render it more usefull than it has been in the past. I pray to God that twenty nine years be added to your life, in reward of the twenty nine days which you have Kindly consented to grant me.          

My thanks to all those who have so generously contributed and worked to secure me such a precious addition to my days: to you, and to them all, my thanks, but the warmest of my thanks.

Very respectfully

Your humble and obedient

Louis ‘David’ Riel”

Riel's letter to the judge who sentenced him to hang.

Exhibit A98 – 15: Riel’s letter to the judge who sentenced him to hang.

This letter, my friends, is the stuff of history. What do you think of it?

I am not going to review the entire life of Louis “David” Riel at this time, nor debate the merits of his actions or of his accusers.

Suffice to say that the stuff of history is voluminous, and complicated, and often extremely ambiguous, and therefore it is constantly subject to reinterpretation.

Kind of like our own lives, eh?

127d Poster-L Riel Exhibit-UofMB Lib Archives Jun2016 (2)



126 Provencher Bridge ps

View of Provencher Bridge from the tower of Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

I do love Winnipeg.  I am winding up a week in Winnipeg.  Winnipeg has world-class shopping, entertainments, cultural experiences, museums and archives, neighbourhoods, people . . .


Just on general principle, I hate cities.  I hate cities because of the traffic, the pollution, the crowdedness, and I must also mention, again, the traffic.

I just hate driving in cities.

For the first few days in Winnipeg, I took every horn honk as a personal rebuke.  Didn’t matter if the horn was honking behind me, or three cars over, or at the end of a broad parking lot.  I took it as a personal rebuke to my driving skills . . . of which I still have a few.  But they do seem to deteriorate in cities.

Even walking in cities can be discombobulating.  In the downtown, when I’m waiting to cross a busy street, suddenly a chipmunk starts chirping over my shoulder.  I glance wildly about.  No wildlife whatsoever.  When I bring my attention back to the traffic light, which is now signalling me to cross, all my pedestrian companions are halfway across.  I stumble awkwardly behind them.

Parking is usually an ordeal.  Cities are not designed for car parking.  Or is it the other way around?  To begin, signs are confusing, apparently on purpose. Try reading a postage-stamp-sized one at 50 klicks an hour (which is, apparently, the minimum speed, if you wish to appease the horn-honkers).  You can, apparently, park on certain designated streets at certain designated times on certain designated days if you can, apparently, find an open space.  That’s after, apparently, you have managed to read the sign in part or in whole and not, in your haste, in error.

Yes, even when you find a genuine parking lot that will, apparently, host dozens and sometimes hundreds of cars, the ordeal may not be over.  Yesterday, at The Forks, I spent 30 minutes circulating in and out of car park lanes, pausing from time to time for several minutes in the faint hope that someone, anyone, somewhere, sometime would leave.

In a strange city, you may have to learn a new car parking payment protocol.  Winnipeg has pay stations.  You punch your licence plate number into the computer, select the number of hours you wish to pay for (which may or may not coincide with the time you will use), and pay by card or cash.

By the fifth day in Winnipeg, I was so conversant with these pay stations that I was able to help another couple with the protocol.  They were visiting from another city, called Thunder Bay, where, apparently, pay stations are a rarity.

We have no pay stations where I live, in Greenstone, a rural municipality.  We do not even have curbside parking meters.  That gives you some idea of how far ahead of the curve our Municipal Councillors are in the paid parking spectrum.  We do not even have to pay parking to visit our municipal office or our local dentist or to check ourselves into our regional hospital.  Try that in Thunder Bay and you will be slapped, my friends, slapped with unreasonable fines.

I have one more beef with the traffic in Winnipeg.  Picture yourself speeding down a four-lane highway (which is actually a street) in the city.  Being a visitor and being leery of city traffic, you chose the outside (the curbside) lane and away you dash at 50 klicks an hour in the “slow” lane and . . . WHAM-O!

Well, almost wham-o.  Yes, there’s a bloody car ahead of you . . . parked.  Parked in the slow lane.  Parked in a busy lane during peak traffic hours.  Parked.  Not moving. Parked.  And, yes, if I did not mention it, not moving.

I came upon the same car on three occasions parked in the same lane during rush hour.  I do not remember all the other cars I found parked in active lanes at different hours of the day, but there were a ton of them.  What the hell are the parking authorities thinking?

And here’s the topper: yesterday evening, I came across a Jeep Wrangler parked in a slow lane with a FOR SALE sign prominently displayed.

Yes, I hate cities on general principle, but I do love Winnipeg.  And I do love Winnipeg drivers.  I have seldom found a more congenial congregation of courteous drivers.  LOVE YOU, Winnipeg drivers!  I will never stop loving Winnipeg.

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Bush Cat in his natural habitat.  Photo by EJ Lavoie.

Bush Cat in his natural habitat. Photo by EJ Lavoie.

We have two cats  ̶  rescue cats. Our family found Bush Cat in the bush many years ago, starving to death. Bushy is neither equipped nor inclined to hunt his own meals.

Lately, he has indulged an inclination to take short walks in the yard, but he rarely stays outside long. If a mouse or a vole scurries past him, he observes it with great interest.

Several years ago, some animal abuser dropped off an orange tabby on our road (which is in the bush). It was a scary, ferocious creature which never approached us and fended for itself, winter and summer.

Then for a while we lost sight of this cat, which had gone truly feral. In the last year or two, another orange tabby has appeared. It is equally skittish. Olga thinks it is the same cat. I don’t.

Today, for the first time, this orange cat boldly paraded past our patio door. Occasionally, it stopped to peer inside the house. It may have been looking for our other rescue cat, Trouble, which is a small, very friendly gray and white  ̶  and female. Trouble loves the outdoors, and often brings home fresh kills.

For the last few days, Trouble has been wary about stepping outside. She looks all around before she steps over the threshold. Now we know why.

This morning, Bush Cat went out for a short walk. Next, we saw him cowering against the patio door. Following his line of sight, I soon saw why.

The orange cat was stalking him, teeth bared, growling. I took a moment to snap a shot, then let Bush Cat in. (It’s the first shot we’ve had of any feral orange cat on our property, and I couldn’t miss the opportunity.)

The orange terror prepares to spring.

The orange terror prepares to spring.   Photo by EJ Lavoie.

Where Bush Cat had been crouching in fear was a puddle of urine.

The victor savours his victory & the odour of his victim's ignominy. Photo by EJ Lavoie.

The victor savours his victory & the odour of his victim’s ignominy. Photo by EJ Lavoie.

You have to appreciate that Bushy is a huge male cat, neutered, and he is fond of bullying Trouble. Still, he’s a pussy cat, so to speak.

All day the orange cat has been prowling about, peering in the window. It’s hard to keep Trouble in the house at the best of times, and her demand for freedom will be met. She’s a female, and spayed, so we think she’ll be alright.

Meanwhile, Bushy is fixated on the patio door, waiting for the next glimpse of his nemesis. He won’t be asking to go out anytime soon.

Outdoors, our Trouble finds a strategic perch from which to watch for enemies . . . and prey.  Photo by EJ Lavoie.

Outdoors, our Trouble finds a strategic perch from which to watch for enemies . . . and prey. Photo by EJ Lavoie.

[First published on Facebook on 19 May 2016]

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