These are Jim’s ten stories, as told to his daughter. Recorded January 2022.
Jim was born in Orillia ON in 1933. His family moved to Kirkland Lake when he was young child, where he stayed until he finished grade twelve. In his last year of high school, his parents moved to Rouyn-Noranda, Quebec, so he went off to grade thirteen at Ridley College in St. Catherine’s. Most of these stories are from the North.
1.When Jim was quite young, his father showed up one day with a pony in the back seat of his car. He had to remove the seat in order to get the pony inside, so he came home without the back seat of the car. His father had been in North Bay working on a project, and after work, he and a pal had a few drinks and he ended up buying a pony to bring back for Jim and his brother to ride around town. He quickly realized that this wasn’t a good idea, and the boys never did get a chance to ride the pony, which he sold not long after that.
2. Jim’s father also had a hobby breeding black cocker spaniels. In their backyard they set up a kennel in the garage and a dog run outside. There might be up to ten dogs at a time. The neighbors complained about the barking from time to time. Jim had the task of snaring rabbits to feed to the dogs. By the time he was about twelve years old, he would go out on Saturdays and set the snares in the fields near their house, and then on Sundays, he’d go and get the rabbits and bring them back. Then they boiled them on a hot plate set up outside the garage. As you can imagine, that was not very popular with the neighbors. I think he really loved that job — being outside and snaring rabbits. When the dogs were old enough, Jim’s Dad would take them down to southern Ontario somewhere and pay a trainer to show them. I do remember seeing a lot of the ribbons and prizes that they won for him.
3.When Jim was a young teenager, they lived in Kirkland Lake. It was a gold mining town, and Jim’s father was the mine manager there for many years — this would have been from about 1935 through 1949 or so. As a mining town it attracted a lot of single men, as jobs were plentiful. As a result, there was a bordello, or what my dad called a whorehouse. It was well known in the area, and it wasn’t too far from where they lived. Jim was maybe 14 at the time, and he had a part-time job delivering meat to the bordello. He liked to talk about that a lot – maybe to shock people a little. He said he was often invited in for cookies and a chat with the Madame, who was really nice to him and asked him about school. One time he remembers she tipped him fifty cents, and he was thrilled because he was only earning twenty-five cents an hour, so a fifty-cent tip was a big deal.
4. A few years later, when he was trying to make money to go to university, he had a summer job as a laborer on the crew that were building Highway 11, that connects Northern Ontario to the South. He was the youngest crew member – maybe 17 — and it was pretty physical work — blasting and making way for the road. He was paid $0.90 an hour, which was $0.10 less than everybody else was getting. The other crew members included several indigenous men. One of them who was an elder went to the foreman and said, “That just doesn’t seem right. He’s doing the same job – he should be paid the same money”. So, they went on strike for him. They said, “If he’s not going to be paid, we’re not coming into work tomorrow”, and they didn’t — they went fishing instead. The foreman said, “Okay, we’ll pay the kid the same”, because he didn’t want to lose them for more than a day.
5. On that same job, there was guy they called Frenchie, who had a pickup truck. One day after work, Frenchie was going to the next town for a beer and he invited anybody who wanted to go along. So, my father, who was underage, jumped at the chance, and an indigenous guy also went along. When they got to the pub, the owner said, “I’ll serve you two, but I won’t serve the Indian”. They got up and left and instead went to the bootlegger, who also said the same thing. So, Frenchie said, “we will go pick up a six pack and go to the gravel pit.” My dad would always say he didn’t understand why the indigenous guy didn’t get more upset and angrier about it, but in hindsight, he realized that he had no power over how he was treated. I think that was a pretty eye-opening experience for him.
6. He was quite proud of his father, who accomplished many different things. When the family moved to Rouyn-Noranda, Jim’s father was hired by the mining company to set up a bunch of small mines in towns in the area. While he was there, he invented a special drill bit made of tungsten that was a pretty significant improvement. He also invented some kind of scraping device to use on the roof of the mines. A few years later, they moved back to Onaping in northern Ontario, a small community ‘in the bush’, as my dad described it. He was the manager of one of the mines there and one of the things he did was persuade the company to build a golf course for the employees since Onaping didn’t have a lot for people to do. Someone commissioned a painting of the golf course for his parents that Jim eventually inherited. He said that my sister and I were ‘testers’ for the swings that were installed at the golf course for the kids.
7. In addition to all the other things Jim’s father did, he enjoyed cooking — mostly candy and fudge. And he also liked blood sausage. Jim remembered when he and his brother were taken begrudgingly to Sunday school by their mother, they would arrive home and their dad would be in the kitchen cooking Sunday breakfast — scrambled eggs, blood sausage, cheese, and sometimes pie. They would cut the whole pie in quarters, and serve a quarter to each of them! Because his mother wouldn’t eat her whole quarter they would always get a little extra. Seems like a lot of pie!
8. Jim mostly told stories about his dad, but he did talk about his mom on occasion. She was adopted and while she had a very good life with her adoptive family, after she got married and had children, she wanted to find her birth parents. At that time, it was not easy to access that kind of information and she was pretty upset about that. Jim often said she thought it was partially responsible for her addiction problem later in life, (that and living in the bush for a few years with not much to do!) although she did get that under control eventually. But it fed into a kind of a sadness in her. Jim felt that maybe her life could have been a little different if she had that information. It’s just his interpretation obviously, but it seemed significant to him.
9. One summer when my sister and I were young, our Dad, Jim, took a job as a foreman on a construction project, building roads on Manitoulin Island. He had two kids at that time and was between jobs so he needed to work. His friend, who owned the construction company, offered him the job and he was hesitant because he didn’t know anything about construction, especially using dynamite, which they had to use to clear the rocks for the roads. The friend assured him that he had an expert demo guy who would set the charges so he didn’t have to worry about that. One time, the guy set the charges but he didn’t take the proper safety precautions, and a rock flew up and landed on a house and went right down through the roof. Luckily there was nobody home at the time, so no one got hurt, and the company paid off the homeowners. He didn’t stay long on the job after that incident because he didn’t want to be responsible for that kind of trouble. It is interesting because my older sister remembered the story as the rock going through the kitchen window and that there was a woman inside! Perhaps the story got a little embellished with each telling – who knows.
10. This story is sort of typical of their lifestyle. My dad was finishing one job, and before he started another one, my younger sister and my parents took a trip to Europe for several months. They were living in Cornwall at the time, and I was in Grade 13 in Toronto, so I didn’t get to go on the trip. After returning from the trip, my dad had to find a job quickly. He was pretty depressed by the prospects in Cornwall, so they moved back to Toronto. He finally got a job teaching at Northern College in Kirkland Lake. It was ironic that they ended up living near Cornwall (where my mom lived during high school) and then moving to Kirkland Lake (where my dad attended high school). They stayed there for ten years or so, and loved it there. I always think of them as very restless people, always on the move to new things — more than most people I would say.