CHAPTER 9 - Water, Ice and Patricia

With the plane gone, Rod marshalled his feelings and turned to what was at hand to be done. Even when dreams and hopes are shattered, children still need food, clothing and the other necessities of life. He still had his job as Fire Ranger, but the season was coming to a close - what next?

Rod and Toni discussed the matter, and concluded Toni should stay in Berens River, where Ray could attend school and Toni would have the company of friends. Rod would go out on the trapline alone. Toni was not entirely satisfied with the arrangement, but could see special consideration needed to be afforded the children and their education.

After Rod left, the days were busy, but the evenings were quiet, sometimes very lonely. Toni's daytime activities centred around the children - Ray was now in Grade Two, Eileen a very active three year old, and little Helen a busy tot. As the weather cooled and winter set in, one of Toni's daily tasks was carrying water, which she drew by pail from Lake Winnipeg. The snow drifted around the small cabin and accumulated in a bank in front of the door. Toni, water pails in hand, stepped out of the door, donned her snowshoes, climbed over the snowbank, crossed to the bank of the lake where she negotiated a steep drop to the ice surface. The hole chopped in the ice was some distance from the shore to assure its remaining open, and not freezing to the bottom as the weather grew colder. Rod had built a square, open-ended box that was dropped into the hole. Next a gunny sack filled with hay was hung inside the box - these measures helped to keep the ice that formed daily from becoming too thick, which would necessitate Toni chopping the hole out again.

On her daily water collecting venture, Toni would remove the gunny sack, fill her two pails, return to the cabin, remove her snowshoes and enter the kitchen where she poured the water into the tank sitting next to the kitchen stove. Filling the tank required several trips, and, of course, there was always the waste water to carry out. Laundry days more water was required.

They heated the cabin by burning wood - that needed to be split and carried in, and the ashes taken out. In very cold weather, the wood stove needed to be fed constantly.

Baking, cooking, caring for the children made many demands on her time. During her extra hours, Toni knitted, crocheted, sewed clothing, read and wrote letters, plus kept a diary of daily weather conditions. And in the small, close-knit community, Toni visited, and was visited.

Rod's days were filled with checking the traplines, and meeting his own needs in camp. The early months of the trapping season were milder than usual - a small diary, made from brown paper bags and sewn together so the sheets stayed in place, and which he kept during September and October of 1935, contains many references to the water that was still open late into October. On Wednesday, October 30, 1935, Rod wrote:

"Once again I've been sadly disappointed. Last night I woke and heard it rain, when I looked out this morning everything was coated with ice, the wind was in the south-west and it was as foggy as it could be. Shortly after noon had an A 1 thunderstorm, it got so dark I couldn't see a thing in the tent, then for awhile the rain just poured down, this finally settled into an all afternoon drizzle. Did not get out to bring home the 'fool-hen' I shot yesterday, just sitting in the tent and listening to that damnable drip, drip of the drops from the branches onto the tent and always thinking, what am I going to do with myself now and how much longer will this last. I think the full moon will be in about ten days, by then I am expecting a real cold spell. Remember the saying about the man in the wilderness and his mousetrap? Well, I'm so nutty already I got busy today and invented 2 mousetraps. Theoretically they're humdingers, practically, my models weren't so hot but I'd swear that they are better than my neighbours, if I have a neighbour. So now I should just sit back and wait for that beaten trail the world is supposed to make to my door and then just walk out."

Rod's loneliness, and his concern for the welfare of his family dot the pages of his diaries kept during his absences from home. The very sound of his own voice made him realize how alone he was, and his diaries were his way of 'talking' with Toni on a daily basis, although they each had to wait until they were re-united before they could read the others thoughts.

For Toni, the days slipped slowly into December, and as Christmas approached, she began watching and listening for Rod's return. About nine o'clock one evening, as she was reading to the children before bedtime, she heard his footsteps outside. She rushed to the door and flung it open. There stood Rod, utterly exhausted, and with his moccasins frozen to his snowshoes. It was almost impossible to give him a welcome home kiss - the snowshoes were big and bulky and in the way. The children, too, were delighted to see him and wanted his attention. They struggled to get Rod and the snowshoes into the small kitchen where they thawed the ice and managed to remove them. During this process, Rod talked of his trip home. This had been his third day on the trail - he had walked home, pulling his camping gear on a toboggan. He had started long before daylight, determined not to spend another night in the bush, but rather in his own home, with his loved ones. He had not stopped to prepare food - only a brief rest where he had lit a fire to make tea. Toni jumped up to get him something to eat, but he stopped her, asking for coffee only. He was too tired to eat, and too excited to sleep. His camping gear and toboggan were at the lakeshore below the cabin - he had been too exhausted to pull it up the bank. As the clock ticked the hours away, the children grew sleepy and fell into their beds. For Rod and Toni, it was a wonderful homecoming and they had so many things to share they lost track of the time. Several pots of coffee later, after Rod had talked himself out they realized it was four in the morning. In Toni's opinion, they had never been closer than that night - as Rod talked of his catches - "I found a lynx in the trap under that big crooked spruce tree" --- "one morning there was a fox in the trap in the willow thicket" - Toni knew the trapline routes so well she could relate to each of the traps and areas he referred to.

Her other winters when she accompanied Rod for the seasons trapping had acquainted her with the trails and the traps, the animals and the birds who inhabited the area and she could converse with Rod as though she had shared his days away. The loneliness they had felt melted away in the joy of being together again - even if his stay might be brief (Picture 9 - 1).

Picture 9-1 Rod and Toni at Barens River

The seasons changed, and Rod was again working as a Fire Ranger. Their friends, Albert and Clara Caldwell had been assigned as missionaries to Flores Island, off the west coast of Vancouver Island. They missed them very much, and wondered when they might meet again. A letter arrived from the Caldwell's, addressed to them both, with an invitation - "Why don't you pack up your family and come out to British Columbia for a while? There are many, many things here at the mission in need of repair, and we need someone of Rod's abilities to help us restore the mission to good working order."

This job offer seemed like an answer to a prayer. Neither Rod nor Toni had mentioned the coming winter, but both had been concerned about it. The only winter work available in northern Manitoba in those years was fur trapping, and the past winter had been a long, lonely one for each of them. Neither wanted to repeat the experience.

Toni records their sojourn in British Columbia in her diary as follows:

"On October 4, 1936, we left Berens River on the S. S. Keenora en route for Ahousat, B. C. In Winnipeg we stayed with the Best's while doing the last of our shopping. Leaving Winnipeg on the 9th at 9:30 in the morning. The Patterson's came to see us off as well as the Best's. We reached Vancouver at 9 o'clock on the 11th and were greatly surprised to be met at the station by Mr. A. E., Peggy and Pat, and so terribly pleased. We had breakfast at their hotel, then boarded the S.S. Princess Marguerite for Victoria, reaching there in the middle of the afternoon. That night the S. S. Princess Maquinna left Victoria with us on board on our last lap for Ahousat arriving there on the 13th after dark. I was greatly disappointed not to be able to see our new home, but I saw it the next morning. We lived in the midst of the mountains. We lived 'across the creek' until the latter part of January, when Rod had been sick so long and the Caldwell's took us over to live at the school. As we had so much rain and snow and ice and sickness we found that Berens River wasn't such a bad place after all and decided to come back. On our way we ran down to Seattle for a couple of days. We landed back in Winnipeg on the 3rd of October 1937. As there wasn't any job for Rody we came out to our old home on the 9th."

There was more to the time in British Columbia than Toni's succinct diary entry contains. The children were delighted with the mild temperatures and change of surroundings. Toni recalls the blackberry bushes still bearing fruit early in December. Rod was in his element; over-hauling outboard motors, making minor carpentry repairs, helping wherever Albert Caldwell needed his skills. The Schuetze family lived first on an island adjacent to the mission, where Toni walked the 'boardwalk' around the island to Gibsons' Store to purchase their grocery needs. Rod went to work each day in a canoe, paddling his way through autumn rains and mists to meet his obligations.

The mission the Caldwell's were in charge of served the native community. It consisted of a school, the residence where the Caldwell family lived, plus a workshop and a small warehouse. While the Schuetze's were there, the warehouse was empty. The workshop building contained three floors. The main floor was the workshop itself, where the students were given some training in manual skills such as basic carpentry and some mechanics. The second floor contained the boys dormitory and living quarters for a family. Above this was an attic, which could be used for sleeping quarters.

Their life on the west coast of Vancouver Island was a great change from living in northern Manitoba - yet there were many similarities. They still lived in a remote area, where most of the population were native Canadian. But the climate was so different - not much snow, but so much rain, and so little sunshine! Travelling by open canoe to and from work, usually after dark, and very frequently in the rain, Rod's problems with fevers soon surfaced again. He caught a cold and later developed influenza. Pooling all their skills at combating these health problems was to no avail. Rod simply could not overcome the cold. To help him continue with the work, the Caldwell's arranged to have the family move into the living quarters above the workshop. This saved Rod so much exposure to the rain, and allowed him to rest more. His health improved, but he never really was free of a cold or fever for the entire time they lived in the Flores Island area.

As the work on the mission continued, the family stored away memories of walks on the beach, Christian Girls In Training meetings and other functions, as well as those rare, but extremely beautiful days when the sun shone, the mountains stood out majestically against an azure sky, and they felt they were living in Paradise. When the calendar month read July, then August, Rod and Toni began to talk of 'going home.' But Flores Island was quarantined - there was an outbreak of measles and no one was permitted to come to, or leave, the island. As the days slipped by, Albert Caldwell thoroughly checked the system, looking for a way to see Rod, Toni and their children take their departure before time ran out on them and they faced either risking Rod's health during another winter on the west coast, or trying to find an alternate means of reaching Berens River with snow on the ground.

There was a way - Toni never knew exactly how, but they were cleared to travel, and after a brief visit with Rod's family in Seattle, they crossed the continent by train, and October 9, 1937 saw them once again in their cabin at Berens River, Manitoba.

Settling back into a routine, Rod began to look for work. The mail brought some letters, one from an old friend Jake Bjornson. When Rod was about eighteen, he had drifted north out of Winnipeg to the Icelandic settlement at Gimli. Here he met and became friends with Jake. They worked together for the winter, cutting and hauling firewood for local residents. This was a new experience for Rod - they cut the trees in the bush, and hauled them into the open with horses. After cutting them into stove lengths, they hauled the wood to homes with the team of horses. The two men went on to other jobs and locations and lost touch. Now this letter arrived, bringing them up-to-date on Jake's life, and with a special request for Rod: Jake's son, Baldur, wanted to go trapping, and Jake hoped Rod would take the youngster under his wing so to speak, and teach him the things he needed to know. Rod loved trapping, but he and Toni were no longer thinking of it as a livelihood , so he wrote back, sending his regrets and his friendship.

Another spring brought them the news that the Caldwell family was being transferred to the Norway House mission at the north end of Lake Winnipeg. Great! at least they would be living in the same province! And a job opportunity presented itself: the Forestry Branch was planning some expansion at their Lac du Bonnet location and would need a good mechanic, preferably one who could also do some flying. If Rod would be patient for a few months, it should all fall into place. The local manager wanted Rod on staff; the job would be his as soon as the paper work and some red tape had all been dealt with.

Rod and Toni relaxed and enjoyed their time together. Rod had a good job coming up soon, they were living where the climate agreed with Rod's health, and all members of the family were thriving.

When the family moved back from British Columbia, Gustie and Lothar, who had been serving at Little Grand Rapids, Manitoba, with the United Church, also moved back to Berens River. The cousins were now attending school together, and Gustie gave Ray and his sisters an eight month old puppy she had received from some Indian friends. The natives said the pup had red fox ancestry, and while his colour fitted the suggestion, there were some lingering questions about "Micky's" parentage. The children fell in love with him, and he shortly became a "member of the family." Earlier the children had been out paddling around an island close to the cabin and had found a kitten they promptly brought home. The cat loved Micky, showing his affection by rubbing himself on the dog and purring contentedly. The dog did not share the enchantment - in fact, he detested the cat, and only tolerated the feline's attentions because Toni required him to do so!

Micky was a good friend to the children, and the whole family came to love him (Picture 9 - 2). While he looked forward to being invited into the house, Toni only had to offer him a slice of bread to have him go outdoors again. Micky never ate in the house - he always took his bread outdoors!

Picture 9-2 Rod petting Micky, with Eileen, Helen, Toni and Ray taken at Barens River

When the time came for Rod to take up his duties in Lac du Bonnet, the local manager found his wishes had been set aside, and a young man who had the 'right' political connections secured the job he had promised to Rod. Bitterly disappointed, but determined to support his family, Rod looked elsewhere for employment. Again a letter arrived from the Caldwell's - "Could Rod spare some time to come and help put the Norway House mission in order?" Albert Caldwell was not only a man of the cloth - he was also a good worker, one with a reputation for getting things done, and often the church sent him to missions in need of repair or re-construction, knowing he would get the job done, and done right.

Gladly, Rod bought passage on the next sailing of the Keenora, and in Norway House shared a happy reunion with the Caldwell's. Home at the same time was their youngest son, Jimmy, who was serving with the Royal Canadian Navy.

The Schuetze family's resources ebbed and flowed with the times. Jobs were scarce and Rod took the work that was available. Summers were busy, with his job as Fire Ranger (Picture 9 - 3). The Forestry Branch utilized Rod's talents whenever and wherever they could - such as the time the Lac du Bonnet manager sent up an emergency message for Rod to come and help out with their outboard motor repairs. Their mechanic had serviced them, but they would not run. Could Rod please come and check them out? As it turned out, the young man had made the correct repairs, and set the timing as the manuals indicated, based on the motors operation when new. However, as an outboard motor is used, the parts wear and as the wear becomes more pronounced, the timing is thrown off. Rod had learned this lesson many years ago, so he merely applied his experience and the Forestry Branch's outboards, and young mechanic, were set for a summers operation.

Picture 9-3 Looking across the bay at 'Starvation Point' - also in the view are the firetower where Rod watched for forest fires, and the Hudson's Bay post which was managed by Dan Patterson

The Schuetze cabin at Berens River was small for five people, and in the heat of the summer, Toni found she needed to adjust her schedule of housework to allow for it. The sun shone directly on the house in the mornings, making it unbearably hot, so she and the children spent that part of the day out-of-doors. One bright, hot morning, Toni sat on rocks at the edge of the lake, busy sewing or knitting and watching the children at play nearby. The little girls, clad in sundresses, had games - real or imaginary, of their own. The morning passed and once the trees afforded the house some shade, Toni said to the girls: "Stay out of the water, I am going to the house now."

She was involved in her domestic chores, but checked periodically to see what her little ones were doing. Suddenly, Eileen ran in, shouting, "Momma, come quick! Helen fell in the water!" Fear clutched at Toni as she raced for the lakeshore. Once again she saw Frankie in Rod's arms. "Dear God, not again," she prayed.

Splashing into the lake, Toni found Helen floating, face down, with her arms and legs hanging limp. Toni noticed she moved her head slightly. Waist-deep in the water, Toni seized the child, turned her upside down, but no water came out. She could find no bruises of any kind on the little girl, and after moaning a little, Helen was once again herself. After talking with Rod about the incident, they wondered if the dress Helen was wearing was the difference. It featured a full skirt attached to a gathered top and may have caught enough air to keep the little girl afloat until her mother could pull her from the water.

The seasons flowed one into another as the months slipped by. The children were growing up and their parents enjoyed all the time they had together.

From Toni's Diary:

"July 12 (1939), Wednesday - We had one whale of a storm between 2 and 3 this morning. Windows and a few other things were banging to wake us up and then it was on us in a great big roar. It began with hail and wind pounding so hard that one couldn't hear one's own thoughts. I dashed in to the kids to reassure them only to find Eileen already lying in a puddle of water, so I tear into the kitchen for a basin and am being rained on every step of the way. As it wasn't leaking on Helen's bed I put Eileen with her. The lightning flashed continuously. The hatch had blown open and rain was pouring over the stove. Our canoe blew upside down but it didn't do much damage. The hail didn't last long but the rain sure poured. All the ditches were running full and the wind just roared."

A gold strike, this one genuine, at Favourable Lake, Ontario, brought employment to Berens River and to Rod. Favourable Lake was an isolated area with no road access and poor connections for a winter road via an Ontario route. The best possibility for a transportation corridor appeared to start at Berens River and run in an east-northeasterly direction to the minesite.

The mine at Favourable Lake produced a high grade gold ore, and the initial refining was done at the minesite. However, the company knew that a further refining process, to be handled at Boston, Massachusetts, would yield yet another percentage of the precious metal. The issue at hand was how to move the concentrates from the minesite in the Ontario bush and muskeg country to the refinery in the United States. The company decided that a winter caterpillar train road linking Berens River and Favourable Lake would be the simplest and most appropriate approach. With the winter road in place, supplies could be moved from Berens River to Favourable Lake, and on the back-haul the trains could carry gold concentrates. At Berens River, the company built a large warehouse and workshop close to the landing the Keenora and her sister ships used for loading wood for fuel. When the cat trains, loaded with supplies that had been collected in the warehouse during the summer months, arrived at Favourable Lake, their cargo was switched to the gold concentrates that were then stored in the warehouse awaiting another summer's run of the ships sailing the lake between Winnipeg and Norway House. Once the concentrates reached Winnipeg on the ships, they would be transferred to rail cars going east. The company established a base camp at Berens River to service their cat-trains and road building equipment. Next they set about finding men to build the winter road and do their freighting. Rod's mechanical inclinations, his experience in repairing motors, plus his proximity to the work site made him a prime candidate for a job.

From Toni's diary:

"January 6, 1939, Friday: Lothar came over this morning telling Rody that Mr. Wright got back and said he might get a job. So Rody went back with him. He came home at noon just long enough to eat and gather his things together. He went right back after noon ready to pull out with a tractor and load. ..."

Once again Rod was freighting - but this was a little different to handling everything by hand, and portaging everything a dozen times on a trip. The Patricia Transportation Company did things on a little bigger scale.

Toni's diary:

"March 31, 1939, Friday: It was snowing and blowing hard yet, all day. To my great joy, Rody came out of the storm, to us. I believe that I am the happiest person on earth. Rody also got the job of general caretaker and mechanic for the Patricia (Transportation Company) Oh! heaven, no one but we can fully appreciate what a full time, worth-while paid job means to us."

"April 7,1939, Friday: The plane went north after dinner and then Rody came for us with a cat. It was a cold windy day for moving. Augusta (Gustie) stopped in here on her way home from the post office. Rody used some of the huge tarps for partitions so we have three bedrooms besides a living room here in the bunkhouse."

With the job of general caretaker came housing at the Company's site across the bay from the Schuetze cabin. The accommodations were not luxurious, but by living there they could all be together, and Rod would have hot meals, not have to carry sandwiches for a noon meal.

In the summer months, the arrival of one of the lake-going ships also brought a special, tasty treat to the remote hamlet. Ice cream! While the boat was moored at the local dock, many people, of all ages arrived for ice cream cones - since there was no refrigeration in the town, ice cream was to be enjoyed while the ship was on hand to supply it. Venturing down to the dock for ice cream one night, Toni saw a beautiful bouquet of lilac blossoms in the ship's salon. Exclaiming over their beauty, she mentioned they had lilac bushes at home, but they never flowered. She longed to take a spray home to show her children, as they had never seen lilac flowers. One of the men gave her a couple of sprays, but a stewardess brought an armful of the fragrant blossoms and Toni went home delighted.

In the middle of their first summer living at the Patricia Transportation yards, the company decided to do some more building, so the family returned to their cabin.

School classes were somewhat erratic in Berens River. Sometimes it was difficult to find a teacher. Very cold weather prevented children from attending school since both getting there and staying warm in the building were elusive. During spring break-up and fall freeze-up many days could be lost while the conditions for the children to cross the bay were unsafe. As a result, Toni became their intermittent instructor, using provincially approved correspondence courses. To introduce her to her new responsibilities, a local teacher came by with some books, and some counselling.

As the New Year 1940 was ushered in, the Schuetze's reflected that the old year had been rather good to them. The full time employment had provided many things they needed, and the coming year promised more of the same.

The building of the winter road was a difficult and sometimes dangerous task. No definite start-up date could be established, since the weather conditions influenced when the work could start. The ground needed to be well frozen before the crews took their heavy machinery out on muskegs and lakes. Members of the road building crew were brought in on the last ships' sailing of the season, and there they waited until the weather and their boss, Ernie Wright, said it was time to get on with the job.

Berens River offered little in the way of entertainment or diversion during their wait. They were housed at the Log Cabin Inn, the domain of Ma Kemp. Here they rested, told tall and outrageous tales, and drank beer. The local people knew of Ma Kemp's rather slack conditions in her kitchen, but the idle road crew, rightly or wrongly, added much detail to the stories that were told about her cleanliness, or lack of it.

One story was that she had a terrible time keeping mice out of the Inn's kitchen, and the flour bin was one of their favourite haunts. The men said she kept a mousetrap set in the flour bin, and since mouse traps were not easily replaced, she tied a string to it; the mouse then could not run off with the trap. When she caught a rodent in the flour-bin trap, she merely disposed of the critter and continued to use the flour for bread-baking. After all, supplies were costly, everything was brought in by the lake ships, and one could not waste supplies!

The road crew and townspeople alike were pleased when the crew headed out to start building the road.

In January of 1940, Rod set out, for the first time, with the road crew to build the road to haul freight that winter. The distance from Berens River to Favourable Lake was about one hundred sixty miles across country - the road was a little longer, since the terrain was rugged, (Picture 9 - 4) with lakes, muskegs, rivers and hilly country to traverse. The work train consisted of two caterpillars, each towing several supply sleighs carrying fuel, dynamite and other equipment, along with food stuffs, plus a caboose which served as a cook shack, bunkhouse and general meeting quarters.

Picture 9-4 Building winter roads in northern Manitoba

Rod and Toni missed one another very much, and Rod missed watching his children's development day-by-day. Both Ray and Eileen were in school - Eileen found the lessons very easy and her teacher allowed her to progress at her own pace. During the next two school terms, Eileen completed the first three grades. At those times when no teacher was available, or when weather conditions prevented the children from attending classes Toni supervised their lessons; it was another responsibility that came as a concession to their life in a remote area.

For three winters, Rod worked at freighting and building winter roads. He would be away from home for the two or more months the job required to construct the road from Berens River to the minesite, plus the time to return from Favourable Lake with a cat-train of gold concentrates. During the summers the family lived at the Patricia Transportation Company warehouse site, Toni caring for the family's needs, teaching as and when necessary, and Rod fulfilling his job obligations. The semi-annual move from their cabin to the bunkhouse and back was just another aspect of Rod's work.

The children learned and grew - playing a larger role in their mother's life, helping to fill the void that Rod's absence produced. They had their dog and cat, and acquired some turtles that provided some light entertainment, also. Their lessons were daily - sometimes seven days a week, in order to keep up with the courses, and still have free time when Rod was able to be with them. The turtles slept under an old army blanket, heaped in a corner of the kitchen; they listened intently to the voices and music from the radio - wagging their heads in time with the sounds. The children had great fun with them, and even used them as paperweights when they were studying outdoors. At those times when Toni supervised the children's examinations, special instructions arrived concerning how to handle the examination time. The first notation on the sheet was: "Hide the books." They all enjoyed a good laugh - the children would not have thought of cheating on their tests, and Toni knew enough to put the texts away. Years later, Eileen a university graduate, at age twenty, and now a college professor herself, remembered those years of learning from her mother and congratulates Toni on her ability and intuition while working with the correspondence courses. Eileen expressed it this way; "If a teacher can produce incentive and desire in a student, that student will acquire a good education." Toni did those things, and her children were good students.

Periodically, Rod and Toni sailed on the Keenora to Winnipeg to shop, and to see to medical and dental needs. In the city they stayed in a hotel, and went to see as many movies as they could arrange. For the eleven days, more or less that a trip to Winnipeg required, the children stayed with friends in Berens River, and their parents looked on the sojourn to the city as a bit of a holiday. Dental appointments were flexible - the dentists fitted the patients needs into the time they would be in the city. Some days Rod or Toni may have up to three sessions in the dentists chair, and then try to fit in a visit with friends who lived nearby. They relished the change of scene, but found the time in the city was very tiring, and they both were delighted when the time came to sail back to their little cabin and their three children.

Winters brought severe temperatures and blizzards - summers produced their own style of hazards.

From Toni's diary:

"August 15, Friday: We have lived thru a nightmare of horror since last Friday noon. Forest fires have taken their toll of homes and made a ghastly mess of our pretty Berens River. Rody worked all day and night until he was ready to drop. He hauled water with the tractor, plowed, used an axe and everything but mostly hauled water. The dust was so thick that he'd just be coated with it. Our climax came on Tuesday. The fire came roaring down on us from across the river. It was a little before 2 o'clock when it hit here. Rody was still in the bush at the fire on the other side when ashes and partly burned leaves came sailing over and dropping all around. Armed with a fire extinguisher I watched it come. A solid mass of smoke, rolling and tumbling, a rather dirty yellow where the sun shone thru, but ever onward to destruction. I felt as though I were a mere nothing before the power of that huge, cruel, roaring monster. Rody came back and with him were Willis and Fritz. Rody started the pump and we filled everything with water. The kids were in the bunk house while the rest of us patrolled with a watchful eye for burning sparks. When standing down on the end of the dock, one got the full force of the terrific wind and it was just like a blast straight from hell. Burnt needles and bits of wood hailed with stinging force. The buildings were barely visible through the dense smoke. Even with the windows and doors closed enough smoke filled the house to cause the children considerable discomfort, and they were so hot their clothes clung damply to their bodies. Outdoors, though one could not seem to perspire, ones body felt as though it were dried out completely. With bloodshot and smarting, but vigilant, eyes, we kept the place safe. Counting it up there were about 12 different blazes extinguished. Any one of them would have been sufficient to wipe of the entire lay out here. At Boulanger's and MacKay's there must have been considerable ammunition as it sounded like machine gun fire when the fire reached there. This lasted for about 3 hours. We had to keep guard all night because it was still burning everywhere when darkness fell. As soon as the danger was lessened, after supper to be exact, we left the place here to be watched by Percy and we ran to our own place to remove our valuables as the fire was sweeping along the shore at a great rate. Fritz and Gus came with their big canoe and helped us move our things. We could not watch this place and our home, too, so the less valuable had to be risked. It had by then taken all the houses by the shore, with the exception of Tom Boulanger's who had saved his, right up to the school, which was still standing but the fire was very close. Next morning the school, too, was gone but the pump was taken there then and the rest of the houses there were saved. The Keenora spent the night at Sig's Island and came to the Hudson's Bay dock Wednesday morning. Gus and Rody and I went to the powder house (Note - where the Patricia Transportation Company stored dynamite) about 10 that night. We had to walk through a lot of burning bush. One wall is scorched and it seems a miracle that it didn't catch on fire. Rody and Gus put out the fires that were closest to the building. Some of them were right up against it. Yesterday the fire was coming down on us from the direction of the powder house. Bill and Willis were helping Rody and they managed to hold it in check pretty well when a thunderstorm blew up and poured rain for half the night. The men came in soaked to the skin but happy. Today the fire is smouldering in places, but they'll be able to put it out now. An extra fire ranger was put on the job and the forestry plane came in every day, but for all the good that it did they might just as well have stayed away. They did bring one pump. We had wind from every direction during those days, and always blowing hard. If only the rain had come a few days sooner, there wouldn't have been as many homeless as there are now. The bunch from the mission spent the first two nights here as Lothar was at Catfish Creek haying and did not get back until Sunday morning. I can't describe it from day to day because we spent so many sleepless nights and the days were all the same until one lost track of time. One night there was absolutely no wind and the smoke was so dense that anyone going out would have to use the flashlight, and you could see them blinking off and on like some monstrous glow-worm. At night it was ghastly though. You'd see the steady red glow against the sky and every so often it would get very bright as the flames shot skyward on reaching some big trees. It was certainly an awe-inspiring sight. In the daytime flames were not distinguishable but the thick billowing smoke clouds were horrible to see, especially when you stopped to think of what they could and would do. Most of the people moved out to reefs and islands. Rody hauled so much water into the bush that you'd think he brought up about half the lake. We have not yet had our mail this week and I imagine we won't until all this smoke is gone. I hope I don't have to go thru another experience like that was."

Calendar dates during the years Rod worked for the Patricia Transportation Company were often just that: calendar dates. The seasonal nature of his job demanded that he be there when the company called.

Toni noted a rare holiday in her diary:

"December 25, 1940, Wednesday: Our Xmas day was, after all, complete, for Rody came home in the morning to have breakfast with us and spent the day. He is such a darned nice person, so it's little wonder that I am completely nuts over him. The mild weather has made most of the work he's put in on the road absolutely useless, as it's all mushy now. I don't know just when Rody will leave again, I imagine it will be quite soon. But it was nice of Ernie Wright to let him come home for Xmas. The children seem completely happy with what gifts they were given."

The family always had a Christmas tree - usually one selected by Rod, or by the whole family. A walk through the bush close to the cabin yielded a tree of the proportions desired, and once set up in the cabin, the decorating became a family project. Among the trimmings used were real candles, similar to birthday candles. These fit into clip-on holders secured to the branches. In the evening, and with great care, the candles would be lit, with all five family members sitting in open admiration of the sight. Mindful of the risk of a house-fire, the candles were soon extinguished, but the memories of this thrilling sight are indelibly etched on the minds of those who were present to see it.

Rod wrote home often, and Toni to him. The crew was housed in a caboose, where they ate their meals and had their bunks. They lived in very close quarters and knew one another very well. They had a good laugh at the cook's expense on one occasion:

The cook managed the caboose that served as both cookshack and bunkhouse, keeping a constant supply of hot food and beverages for the men working in the cold. The caboose door (Picture 9 - 5) opened onto the trail they had just covered - one day the cook was standing in the doorway, a pot of hot potatoes in one hand, and holding onto the door with the other. The simplest way of draining the potatoes was out the back door - then he didn't have to make a trip to dispose of the cooking water. The train was moving over some very rough terrain at the time, and the cook waited, hoping the caboose would gain some smoother conditions. However, the steel runner instead struck a sharp jolt - the door fell off its hinges, and the cook found himself in a pile on the trail, potato pot in one hand, the caboose door in the other, watching the train slowly leaving him behind. Struggling to his feet, he tried to rush after the caboose, but being so encumbered with a heavy door, plus he could not desert his potatoes, now ready for their evening meal, he was at a serious disadvantage. Some of the crew saw him and rescued him, but there were many comments, and much laughter at the predicament he had been in.

Picture 9-5 Building winter roads. The cats are working on the slope, and the caboose shows the door at the backend

Rod sent his laundry home to Toni, with a member of the crew who happened to be going through Berens River at the time, and usually with a letter for her. Some of Rod's letters remain, and serve to draw into focus the conditions and problems the men coped with as they went about their daily work.

Road Crew, February 3.

Dear Tony:

We are still in Manitoba, not far from the boundary now though. The Manitoba money is gone so we won't be home until the end of the month or later. Will get a cash advance for you thru Fisher (Note: the supervisor) so you can get someone to do your wood and send for whatever you need. Whatever you do don't stint on the grub even if you run the bill at the H. B. (Hudson's Bay) up to a hundred. Since the first of this month I'm boss, under Fisher and he's going to the city for awhile. My pay is now $150.00 and board, we work three shifts, 6 hours on, 12 off. Howard Schlorff is one of the other two tractor drivers, included in the gang are George and young Jim MacKay, Sandy Berens, and Bloodvein Jim. We have a much easier time now that we are working on the 6 hour shifts, but I've got to go out at almost any time, day or night, when necessary. Roy Billington, whose job I've got, has been canned, the radio was his and of course now we have none but we're so busy we don't miss it much. I sometimes wish I could lie in bed and sleep for 2 or 3 days but am feeling fine and fit as a fiddle otherwise. When we get fixed to, and at the boundary, possibly two weeks, we'll be moving to the other end and working back from there. To come back to you, you can probably get Lothar or someone to cut and split and if you are short, or even if you can get a supply of dry wood ahead. He or Augusta shouldn't mind hauling over your heavy groceries and as I said before, don't stint yourself and the kids as it certainly isn't necessary now since I'll be getting in all of this month and probably part of the next. I've had Fisher bring me up a can of tob. (tobacco) when he was down to Berens River last, will need new moccasins soon, will you see if the H. B. or the other outfit have size 10. How are the kids behaving? and otherwise? and how about yourself? Are you getting enough juice from the charger, and how's the weather been there? It's darn cold here at times, especially when one is on nightshift and has to drill rock or fix something on the tractor. We had last Sunday off, I washed my socks and mitts and overhauled the generator on the tractor. I asked Charley W. (Whiteway) to call in for my laundry, thought I might save you a trip over to the Pat. (Patricia Transportation Company office). I'll try and get Fisher to bring the money over to you if possible, if not, he'll send someone I'm sure. Did you find my note in the laundry?

Love to you and the kids, Rod.

Picture 9-6 Watering the road to help it freeze hard and quick for faster use

Monday, Feb. 6th

Dear Tony:

Please include some pipe cleaners with my laundry when you send it back. I asked Fisher to bring me a pair of moccasins from town. We have had our troubles lately and still are having them, put the tractor through in floating bog, worked all Saturday night and all day Sunday getting it in shape again, one of the drivers forgot to put in a plug in the crankcase, the oil ran out and she was dry before he noticed it. The bearings may go if she's not babied up for a while. Howard is out with it just now and he is terribly rough. I cautioned him before he left, but. He shirks on the job too always around half an hour late to start work which means the other shift, mine, has to work that much longer. If he doesn't improve I'll have to can him, much as I hate to. Send me the $1.50 I owe him and if I should have to send him out before I get it, pay him down there if you should see him. This being boss is the bunk, I get hardly any sleep now what with looking after everything and everybody. I like the other driver Jim McLaren who is sub-foreman now. Ernie Wright hauled us out of the bog and Fisher went in with him. Hope you got the $50.00 all O.K. What have the lower temperatures been? Pretty low, I've frozen my nose several times my fingers quite often when I have to work on the tractor, or getting a charge of dynamite into place. Darn good money in the job, but will I be glad when it's all over, I think I'll sleep for a week then to catch up. If you got the $50.00 you're to get someone to cut and split your wood and you're to get some decent grub. Rod.

Picture 9-7 Cat train sleighs hauled fuel and supplies to the crew building the roads

February 13

Dear Tony:

We've picked up the other road crew and are now about ten miles from the mines. Had beastly cold weather. Have been confined to the caboose since the day before yesterday and will be for 3 or 4 days more, got my leg caught between the fender and track on the tractor and got my ankle bruised so I can't walk on it. Oscar came out to see us when we passed his place on Deer Lake. If you didn't get the $50 yet go over to the office and ask for it, they're an awfully slow bunch there. Half the stuff we order we never get, that is parts, oil, etc. Our tractor has been giving us a lot of trouble this cold weather, needs overhauling very badly. Jack Gull is taking my shift while I'm laid up. We'll have to build a new drag, had one brought in from B. R. (Berens River) last week, to replace the one we started out with but it's no good. There's a lot of work still to be done but our gang now is really too large, 15 men. I expect that Fisher will lop some when he gets back, who is hard to say, maybe I'll be one. Regards to you all, Rod.

Picture 9-8 Overhauling the tractors during the road construction time could be very cold work

Berens River Mines, February 21,

Dear Tony:

Well, the tractor and I are both working again, I still have to limp a little but coming along fine. Haven't worn my new mitts yet, but they'll be warm. Chris didn't get to buying me a pair of moccasins, am walking on my socks now, may be the H. B. will have some now, 10, if you should be able to get them and send them with Jim or Charley. Lothar wanted to know whether you could take my place as trustee for the school, I told him that it was entirely up to you, altho I think the less you have to do with that the better you'd like it, you'd get thanks from no one that's sure.

We will be starting to work back now and I expect that we'll be at B. R. about the 10th or 15th, then I think I'll be freighting again.

Chris tells me that Ernie was wondering whether I'd take a steady job with them, overhauling the tractors at B. R. in the summer and looking after things in general. Maybe our luck will change now. Chris wanted to send me to town by plane if necessary when he got back, I told him it wasn't, so he thought I'd better stick around, he took my shift last night from midnight to 6 A.M. Laid off the louse hatcher, (name deleted), several days ago and we've got powder and mercury (blue ointment) now but I don't think I've got any yet. The caboose is rocking like a ship at sea, so I'd better quit.

Need more envelopes and a few sheets of paper, if you should be getting moccasins get a couple of tins of Kingston tobacco, keep one at home and send the other one up.

Just heard that Carl Robinson turned over with his tractor and got hurt. Chris is sending some radio messages from here and is waiting for answers so we'll be here for several hours. You probably heard that the Pat. Trans. got out a big truck, carries 5 tons and hauls 3 loaded sleighs, to use on Deer Lake, if successful the tractors will be split, some hauling from B. R. to Deer Lake, west end, the others picking it up at the east end and taking it on, if we get back in time I guess I'll be on the B. R. - Deer Lake run where the round trip should take about 4 days. Love, Rod.

Rod's summer job with the company was to a great extent, centred on overhauling the tractors and supervising the warehouse (Picture 9 - 9). One other employee worked there - an office man who kept the records of the supplies and gold concentrates as they were shipped in or out on their way to their final destinations.

Picture 9-9 Rod's mechanical abilities were well utilized
in the Patricia Transportation Company workshop

The Keenora arrived from Winnipeg on Tuesday's, on her northbound trip to Norway House. During her stop in Berens River, passengers disembarked, mail and supplies for the trading posts were unloaded, all at the Hudson's Bay dock. Returning from the north end of the trip, the Keenora by-passed this dock and landed at what was known to the locals as the "Chief's Place". This was, literally, where the chief of the Indian band lived, and where the Keenora stocked up on wood to fuel her sailings. The Chief's Place was close to the Patricia Transportation Company warehouse, so the stop filled two purposes: the Keenora was refuelled, while supplies to be freighted in to the mine the following winter were off-loaded and replaced with gold concentrates to be delivered to the railway in Winnipeg for the trip east.

The incoming supplies included dried and canned food staples for the crew, as well as mining equipment and supplies and a volume of dynamite. Each time such a load arrived, Rod worked long into the night, as need be, in order to secure the materials and store them before adverse weather could damage anything. On one occasion Rod was not available to handle the unloading and storage, so the company hired Cubby Green to guard the dynamite overnight, to make sure no one stole any. A friend joined Cubby, bringing along several bottles of liquor. The men drank and talked long into the night - and as Cubby staggered around, seeking something, he fell into the lake and drowned.

Rod had bought Toni a canoe with a small outboard motor, for her necessary travels when he was not around. While there was a school teacher in the settlement, Toni transported the children to school in the canoe. As long as the lake was free of ice, she had her own transportation - it was the 1940's equivalent of a man giving his wife a car.

Micky the dog was their constant companion - when they moved to the bunkhouse at the Patricia Transportation yards, he went along. Wherever they lived, Micky was right at home, doing his thing. And mostly, 'his thing' was chasing and killing skunks. Whenever one happened into Micky's territory, he was in trouble - for the dog barked and harried the intruder until he either killed it, or someone, desperate to restore quiet to the hamlet, came with a gun to help him out. There was a price to pay, though, and while Micky was the one who smelled bad, it was the entire family that had to endure the odour until the dog managed to clean himself along the lakeshore where the rocks, sand and water all worked together to help dissipate the unwanted perfume. Squirrels, too, were fair game in Micky's mind, and many of these little creatures fell prey to his attentions.

As distances go, the mile or more the children travelled to get to school was not unusual. But it was across open water, or in winter the frozen bay. Freeze up was a very hazardous season, as the family came to fully understand in November of 1941.

From Toni's diary:

"November 25, Tuesday: We had quite an experience today. It was very mild this morning so the girls coaxed me into letting them go to school without their snowsuits. Just before noon it started to blow a terrific gale from the N. W. and snowing so hard at times that I couldn't see the island. It didn't do this steady though. Anyway I worried considerably. Then getting ready, I started out just in time to meet them before they'd get on the ice. The gale, however, had brought several feet of water on the ice around the shore everywhere and I couldn't get on the ice without getting my feet wet, which I couldn't afford to do on leaving home. So I used the canoe to get across with. However, as the water had come up considerably the stern of the canoe lay in the water and filled up when I righted it. So I had to pull the canoe up high enough to be able to empty the water out. This wasn't an easy task as the canoe seemed to stick in the snow. Anyway I got across but it had taken me quite some time, as I ran back and forth along the shore trying so desperately to get on. Getting across the ice was a fight every inch of the way. Having been delayed so long I didn't meet the kids until they were already on the ice, having waded almost knee-deep thru water to get on. The girls moccasins and stockings up to the knees were frozen stiff. I got them to put their snowsuits on, which I had brought and then we headed for home. Ray came on his posterior most of the way. Eileen took to hands and knees across the spaces where there was no footing. Helen held my one free hand. In the other I had a pole to test the ice. When we got into our bay I put the girls into the canoe and Ray helped me try to push the canoe back into the water but it stuck pretty tight. So we both had to wade into the water and still we couldn't push the canoe along. Slush on it made it impossible. So I carried the girls ashore and Ray helped me carry and half drag the canoe ashore and turn it over. Then we ran indoors and I immediately set to work helping the girls take their frozen clothing off. I helped them strip and sent them to bed together. Helen shivered so that she could hardly unbutton her underwear, and for some time after she was in bed. Ray had only his footgear and trousers frozen and said he hadn't been cold at all. Then I took my own wet things off and tried to clean away the mess. There was enough water on the floor to wash it at least twice. But I finally managed to get the wet things strung up around the house. I gave the kids each a cup of hot cocoa and they seem to be feeling fine. Rody, too, had quite a time finding places where he could wade thru. Fortunately, he had his waterproof boots on."

"December 9, 1941, Tuesday: Sunday, yesterday and today its been blowing a regular gale. Consequently, the children have missed two these days of school. Gosh! do I hope the storm blows itself out soon. Japan attacked the Philippines and Hawaii on Sunday. So it looks as though the war will be brought to the Western Hemisphere alright."

Christmas 1941 Toni spent with the children - Rod was away with the freighting crew, however, he did return in time to have Boxing Day evening with the family. The holidays were a happy time for the children, but Toni's pleasure came mostly from Rod's presence, however brief.

The weather in the winter of 1942 was spasmodic - first severely cold, then mild - making the freighting difficult, and causing many residents who were weather watchers to voice concern about what might yet be ahead. This comment appears in Toni's diary, and in early spring, the following entries, which have been condensed, once again show erratic weather conditions:

"March 25 to 29: It snowed all afternoon, hard, too. Squashily wet snow. I went to the store and got pretty wet......This snow should help the cats on the road."

"(27th) The storm is still raging with ferocity from the north. There wasn't so very much snow coming down this morning so Ray went to school, but not the girls. Shortly after, the weather became so ferocious that even the island was invisible, but it quit snowing and just drifted around the time when Ray came back from school. Then just before supper the storm struck with renewed fury. Here it is just before midnight and the house, even, is shaking when hit by a sudden blast. It sure snowed a lot. If only the men on the road won't meet too many difficulties."

"It blew hard and drifted all day, even though the sun shone in the afternoon. Ray shovelled paths as we are drifted in terribly. There are bigger drifts around the fence then we've had in years. Carrying water was a nasty job. Ray had to practically plow through the snow. With all that he had the misfortune to drop the shovel into the water hole."

"March 29 - The wind finally calmed down . It was bright and thawed quite a bit around the house. Ray was fortunate enough to find the shovel and fish it out of the water. Then he donned snowshoes and tramped a trail across the lake so it would be easier going to school tomorrow. It looks terrible with so much snow at this time of the year."

The years Rod worked with the Patricia Transportation Company were hard on family life. He quit his job with them about a year before the gold ran out at the mine, and the freighting business shut down at Berens River. It had been a good job, and good money, but as he fulfilled his tasks with aptitude and speed, the tasks became more numerous, and his pay-cheque was not adequate to over his responsibilities. It was time for something new.


©1992,2006,2007 E.Woytowich