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True Stories - Memories of Churchill

I have been trying to excavate my room the last few weeks. If you saw it, you would realize that excavate really is the only word that applies. I am in a very small room; since there are 4 of us in a 3 bedroom unit, the girls share the master. I think that's only fair they get the bigger room, but it means I have a lifetime of stuff - and all the stuff of my mom's that I was never able to let go of - in a very tiny room.

I was going through some of her papers and pictures this past week, and I found something she had written as a submission for a book on the history of Churchill. I don't know if the book was ever printed or what it would have been called, but I really enjoyed my mom's story, and I thought it was worth sharing.

Memories of Churchill

By MomOfShaddyr

My father was born on April 7th, 1913 in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Grandpa Mac - 1916
Grandpa, 3 Years - 1916

His parents had come from Scotland to Port Hawksbury, Nova Scotia and later moved to Winnipeg.

Great Grandparents
Grandpa's Mom and Dad

My mother was born on May 13, 1914 in Tyndall, Manitoba. Her parents were originally from Sweden.

Grandma's Mom and Dad
Grandma's Mom and Dad

Dad and mom were married on the 22nd day of May, 1936.

Grandma and Grandpa - Just Married
Grandma and Grandpa's Wedding Day

During their marriage, my dad worked at many jobs that kept him away from home. He was an inspector for the Department of Fisheries.

Fisheries

He spent several years in the Queens Own Cameron Highlanders.

Group shot
Grandpa - 2nd row, 2nd from the left

gramps

He was a fireman for the C.N.R.

fireman

Finally, because of the scarcity of good paying jobs, he moved to Churchill in 1947, planning to return to city life at the earliest opportunity. It was five years before he sent for his family, at Easter time 1952; my mother, two sisters, my brother and myself. My parents lived in Fort Churchill at J-137 until a heart attack forced him into retirement in 1973.

My mother worked as a waitress in the officers' mess and later held the position of supervisor of staff in the sergeants' mess for several years.

IMG_0118
Grandma (first on left) - Staff Supervisor, Sergeants' Mess

Dad passed away November 1, 1975 at age 62, Mother at age 76 on May 29th, 1990. We found this poem in her diary:

To All My Children
Each day's a day of miracles,
of beauty fresh and new,
because it is a blessed gift
that God has given you.
He's there with you each morning,
Your day is in His hands.
The dearest wishes of your heart
He knows and understands
And in the peace of evening
He guards and guides you still
For there's no hope of dream of yours
His love cannot fulfill
Each day's a wondrous gift from God
His love will make it bright
As you travel on his sunlight paths
From morning until night.


Mom loved the sound of Churchill's wind. Years later, whenever I visited her in Winnipeg, she'd have a door or window open just a crack to let in the wind's lament, reminding her of the wolf's lonely howl back on Hudson's Bay.

Dad's hobby was photography, and today I'm thankful that he took so many pictures of family and friends. He loved to play darts and he loved to build things. I remember in particular a kite that nearly pulled me over the side of the rocks before I let it sail to the beach below.

Sitting on the Rocks by the Bay
Mom sitting on the rocks by Hudson Bay

This prose poem that Dad once wrote well expresses what Churchill meant to him:

"In the beginning was the word, and the word was a job for a steam engineer at Port Churchill in 1947, so I went forth to make my fortune. Upon arriving at The Pas, I thought by this time I was at the end of the world. But when they said, "Go North, young man", I obeyed and went to find the end of the rainbow, which turned out to be the end of everything I had hoped for. No gold in them there hills, but a petrifying cold in July. There was no turning back, the die was cast. The iron horse was on its way, and my shekels were running low. To my dismay, I had landed in a bleak, hopeless wilderness which hasn't changed in 20 years to this day. Of all the sad wretches who came this way, only the single-minded chose to stay. They found a paradise among their kind, which proves there can be a brotherhood among the lost and the strays."


Fort Churchill
Aerial view, Fort Churchill

My first memories of Churchill were the endless train ride, and then the disappointment of powdered milk. We learned that many foods we took for granted in the city were not available here. The gravel yard meant we never had to mow a lawn, but they still held lots of snow to shovel. At first I had a long walk to school which was held in an old army building, but before long, to our joy, the new school was built opposite of the commissary.

I remember walking home from school, crying with the cold because it seemed important to follow the teenage style of rolling up your jeans to expose about four inches of bare leg. It wasn't long before I learned that it was acceptable to wear long johns.

While attending school, I worked at the Coffee bar in camp as well as waitressing for dinners in the officers' mess. After leaving school, I worked in that mess full time.

IMG_0148
Getting ready for work

Outside the Mess
Outside the officers' Mess

Next, I instructed in leather work and other crafts at the Craft shop. When that business closed, own, I got a job at the laundry plant. There I was able to meet and make friends outside of camp, town girls like Dora and Emerine, Barbara and Margaret and many others.

Everyone that worked in camp was issued army parkas, wind pants and boots. Since all workers dressed alike, style was no problem.

Although there was no television and only one radio station, camp offered a lot of entertainment. There was a different movie every night, and a free show on Thursdays. There were four tables of ping pong in the men's mess. We could sign our snowshoes or skis, and there were no hills, we could tie a rope to a jeep and ski down the rode. We used this method of tobogganing, too. Skating and hockey went on in the arena. In the summer we played baseball. When we weren't catching the ball, we were slapping at mosquitoes, black flies and horseflies. I decided that Churchill is the mosquito capital of the world!

Dog teams were busy in the winter, but they were tethered and often ill fed in the summer months. I remember once innocently tossing food to our neighbour's lead dog, and starting among the member of the team the biggest and most savage dog fight I ever saw. Once, while walking with a friend, I unknowingly stepped into a horseshoe-like circle of tethered huskies. Just in time, my friend grabbed me back from the lead dog who was straining at his chain, hungry teeth snarling and ready. Sometime later, because a child was killed by huskies, the Colonel of the camp banned all dogs with any husky blood in them. We had a beautiful white husky at the time that we gave to a farm family near Winnipeg.

Although Beluga Whales were a good source of income in Churchill in those days, and once when out whaling with my brother in-lay I shot one myself, the animals I remember best are the polar bears. We learned early to avoid them. Once I got a scare when taking my son Wayne and a friend for his to swim at a popular beach. Suddenly, I saw a white creature swimming close to shore, and almost panicked until I realized that what I saw was a school of beluga whales.

Bears came into camp out seldom, but once we had a polar bear on our back porch, eating out of our garbage can! Many morning when we came to work at the plant, we'd see the show crushed in front of the doors where a family of polar bears had spend the night. You could usually find two or three rooting in the garbage at the dump. They never seemed much interested in people.

One day after school, Shelly, Sylvia and I decided to walk to an old trapper's cabin about four miles out of camp. We were fourteen or fifteen, packing our lunch of wieners and beans, and never thinking of the early dark. Just in sight of the cabin, we saw huge bear tracks crossing our path. How we ran to the safety of the cabin! There we built a fire, cooked our food, and lit our candles. We armed ourselves with an ax, a knife and a broom, but we were much too scared to attempt the walk home. Luckily, a US M-76 track vehicle roared past and we were able to attract attention to our plight. We learned a lesson that day!

Another time, my friend Monica and I decided to walk the 2 1/2 miles to work at the laundry plant. Within half a mile of the plant, I saw a big snowbank move, and realized it was a polar bear! We broke all speed records to reach the nearest PMQ's, only to find the hall doors locked! But the bear must have run even faster in the opposite direction.

During my life, I have lived in many towns and cities, but Churchill will always be my home. In my mind, I can see the drifting snow forming beautiful patterns as the winds pushed it along - the lonely tree with the branches growing only on its south side - the magnificent sunsets. I remember the summer sun seemingly half-swallowed by the waters of the Hudson Bay before it comes up again. I remember the dog teams crossing the Bay - he fox that used to cut through camp each night on some unknown errand - the many ravens hanging around the mess hall door looking for a handout - the beautiful white owls and the timid ptarmigans. All these more than compensated for the long, cold winter that seemed like the would never end.

Ptarmigan
Ptarmigan in the snow, taken by Grandpa

Comments

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
alsogater
Feb. 17th, 2014 05:07 pm (UTC)
This is really nice. Libraries usually put things like this on their 'local history' shelf to help people do local research. It only needs to be printed out - even on a private printer and put together with brads or those spiral things. There may be lots of collateral relatives that are doing genealogical research in the area.

You could look at some of the items like this at your local library in the 973s or local shelf to see examples.

If it were me, I would make sure there was no private info that might jeopardize the family's privacy and send a copy to the library there in Churchill. Or you could call the library and ask if they want a copy of it and email it or share the lj url with them to take a look.

u_must_b_joking
Feb. 17th, 2014 07:14 pm (UTC)
Family history stuff ...
...can also go to the University of Manitoba archives or the Archivist of Manitoba. The photographs would be of especial interest.
shaddyr
Feb. 20th, 2014 03:08 am (UTC)
Re: Family history stuff ...
I have so many pictures, you have no idea!

I might just have to contact them.
shaddyr
Feb. 20th, 2014 02:41 am (UTC)
That's a cool idea. I think I will contact them and see if they are interested. Thanks!
u_must_b_joking
Feb. 17th, 2014 07:11 pm (UTC)
I love family history
Those are great pictures!
shaddyr
Feb. 20th, 2014 03:08 am (UTC)
Re: I love family history
Thank you!
lunabee34
Feb. 18th, 2014 12:31 am (UTC)
This is really, really cool. What a wonderful find.
shaddyr
Feb. 20th, 2014 03:09 am (UTC)
I have some more I was thinking I would post - when I find time. *grin*
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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