(taken from a family history)
by Eric L. Johnson, born October 25, 1933
NOTE: many (but not all) of the photos referenced here are found in Eric's two photo pages in the photo album.
Foreword from the author:
An account of Cassiar life would not be complete without mention of the bunkhouse dwellers who added so much to the prosperity of the camp, yet contributed little to the community life. In the early years, the Cassiar operation was staffed mainly by those same men who did not share the family amenities of the camp - and their view of life there was substantially different. All were hard-working, and most were responsible men - there was no place in Cassiar for those who chose not to work for a living -- unemployment there was zero!
Most were quiet law-abiding individuals who kept to themselves, but among them were a minority of "characters" who made life "interesting". Those rascals are the ones that pop up in conversations among old-timers, forty years after the fact. Their escapades and foibles are the spice of recollections - at least among men folk.
However, those tales may offend some, but I genuinely hope those people will forgive the few crudities that follow. Nostalgia softens harsh events of the past, but as one might guess, far more sordid and savage deeds remain unchanged in my memory -- those events I chose to not to mention. If my accounts might appear to denigrate the Cassiar community, I apologize - there is no such intent.
I was born and grew up in a farming district 130 miles north-east of Edmonton, Alberta. After completion of high school there, I worked in Edmonton for a year and then went to work with a crude oil pipeline in the Pembina oilfield from 1955 until 1957. Tiring of this, I worked the next three years at Uranium City, Saskatchewan, as a carpenter; short work seasons, but excellent money - I made more than twice as much in six months as I had for a year in the oilfield. Laid off in fall, unemployed all winter, I was broke by spring. However, I liked the north country, and in spite of 10 to 12 hour days, working six days a week, I enjoyed the people and the work. In 1958, I got married and promptly had a family - life became more serious and a stable income became important. I had planned to go to university after graduation from high school years earlier, but that would not happen until 1962. In the meanwhile the 1959 season went well, but by fall prospects became gloomy. The United States cancelled a uranium contract with the Canadian government, and all development at Uranium City came to a halt, never to fully recover - a major recession was underway.
For me, 1960 was a very grim year. We had settled into a basement suite in south-east Edmonton, and I was collecting unemployment insurance, which provided only enough for rent, food, and little extra. Then in mid-January I got sick, and was found to have hepatitis - where did I get it? in the UI line-ups? I had to go to the hospital where I spent more than three weeks before being sent home. The effects of hepatitis lingered for much longer, and even by April I was still weak and unfit for work. We had found our place on 83rd Street was not very good (asshole landlord), and in April moved to another basement suite, this one very good, at 9135-79th Avenue. I began looking for work then. But, the recession which had cancelled development work at Uranium City last fall was now affecting most industries - particularly construction and development in the north country which I had come to like. During May I applied for work with two dozen companies, but did not call George Hall (the construction company I had worked with from 1957 to 1959) since I was sick of him - he had little work anyway. The consequences of a major recession - which we first felt in the sudden shutdown of the Lake Cinch project in late 1959 - were now widespread.
I had been on unemployment insurance for over six months, and was getting desperate. Among the many places where I had left work applications was the North-West Chamber of Mines in Edmonton. I kept dropping in, asking about openings, and finally about the first week in June I was told I could go to work at Cassiar, B.C. as a labourer. I didn't argue with the measly $1.62 per hour, with very little overtime, offered me. I was hired on June 10, 1960, left Edmonton; my air fare was paid to Watson Lake, Yukon, although the cost would come out my pay cheques unless I stayed with the company for at least ninety days. It was a grim day when I boarded a CPAir Convair 240, leaving Charlotte, Don, and Lee behind. Although my spirits were very low, by now I had at least decided a big change was needed - but in the meanwhile I had found work. As always, a new job had me apprehensive. Although I knew I could learn quickly, I was never overly confident, and I worried needlessly about possible problems.
I got off the plane at Watson Lake (my first time in the Yukon) where a Cassiar Asbestos Corporation bus picked up me and two dozen others. The Cassiar mine, mill, and camp was about eighty miles by gravel road off the Alaska Highway, in British Columbia - just south of the Yukon boundary. The Cassiar mill and camp were located in a valley about 3000 feet above sea level, and the mine was about two miles away, but at almost 3000 feet higher in elevation. We arrived at camp about 10:00 p.m., and were immediately shown our temporary quarters which was a large one-room bunkhouse with about twenty-four cots in it.
We were then shown the cook house, and had the routines explained to us, and then given a meal - not nearly as good as we had got used at the mine camp cook houses at Uranium City. The Cassiar eatery was operated by a cut-rate catering company from Edmonton, but in charge was a German, although the kitchen was staffed largely by Greeks. Steaks and good meat cuts were seldom seen, and desserts were third-rate. Bag lunches for next day's work were requested on a form, and eight hours later the paper bag, filled with sandwiches and a dessert, with one's payroll number on it was waiting. After having eaten our pre-work meal, we grabbed our lunch bags, filled up own thermos bottles, and walked to the mine dry where we changed to work clothes. The manhauls were waiting to take us up to the mine.
At the upper end of the camp were a number of company-owned homes for families - possibly forty of them, a school, a soccer field, two churches, a curling rink, about four new bunkhouses for men, a women's bunkhouse, the laundry, the cook house and dining room, the recreation centre, the post office and company store, an R.C.M.P. building (two Mounties there), and the huge steam and power plant with its mountain of cordwood. A fine, new, recreation hall, complete with a substantial library, was built in the fall of 1960. One-quarter mile down the road were a half-dozen old "summer" bunkhouses, then the mine dry/mine headquarters building where buses picked up men for the ride to work, and the huge truck and machinery maintenance centre. At the lower end of camp was the mill complex and the tramline terminal. The road in from the Alaska Highway reached camp at that point.
On my second day in camp we did not work, but I met a number of fellows, and among them a decent young Irishman, Paul Hyland, and a Dane, Kenny B. Larsen. The three of us immediately set off up the nearest mountainside (less than a few hundred feet from the bunkhouse), and scrambled to maybe a thousand feet up - trees were very scrubby, and only the valley bottoms supported any heavy growth of timber.
Next day I went to work at the mine, taken up by rather smallish twenty-passenger buses called the "man-hauls". Grinding and bumping up the rough road, negotiating maybe a dozen switchbacks, we were at the ore level in half an hour. For those working the peak, it was another fifteen minutes in a smaller truck with a canopy on the box. With regularity, the road to the peak would be blocked with rubble from a blast set off at the end of the previous shift. More than once, we were taken as far a truck could drive, and then scramble on foot, five hundred feet or more up a steep ravine of loose rock which led us to the "saddle" where the peak lunch house and powder magazine were located. Bulldozers could usually open up the road in a couple of hours.
On my first day of work, skies were clear but still very cool. I was given a pair of rubber safety boots and a hard hat, both of which I paid for, and at the mine I was handed a bucket, a geologist's pick, and gunny sacks. Half a dozen of us, mostly university students who were only summer help, were led to the site of the latest blast in the ore level where we proceeded to pick and sack high-grade - wide veins of pure, beautiful greenish-gold, asbestos fibres. This hand-picked long-fibre stuff was worth about $1200 per ton, and each man could pick several hundred pounds per day. Had it not been hand-picked, the ore would be crushed, and at the mill it would have been difficult to separate into grades; the lowest grade, short-fibre, asbestos was worth less than $125 per ton.
It was there at the mine where I learned more about the mining company. Cassiar Asbestos (and many other remote mines) had a bad reputation, hiring many European immigrants at sub-standard wages; just "off the boat", not understanding English, they were immediately hustled to isolated mines, and so on, where they were a form of captive labour. There were several ethnic groups working here: mainly Greeks in the cook house which was managed by a German; mainly Irishmen in the shops which were managed by an Irishman named Dick Kirwan; at the mine one shift was almost totally Italian, and another of many Germans; there were many other employees from Bulgaria, Hungary, Finland, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia. Management was largely Canadian since the company was owned by Conwest Exploration of eastern Canada. There were a few Canadians on the production gang, although many of them were native Indians; I was thus part of a minority group.
At the mine, I was given various labour jobs, and one interesting day I was sent to the "cirque" for a clean-up job. A cirque is a natural bowl-shaped hollow on a mountain side, carved by glacial action. At Cassiar, the cirque was a thousand feet below the mine on the lower north slope of the mountain. There the company had driven a long adit beneath the ore body, and were doing some limited asbestos mining. However, the adit was chiefly the starting point for diamond drilling to determine the outline of the ore lens (body). A very small crew worked there, using usual underground mining equipment, a diesel locomotive and a compressed air locomotive. A sub-contractor did the diamond drilling. There, outside the adit, we cleaned old timber and burned it. The foreman found a couple of half-sticks of "powder" (explosives), and to my surprise, he threw them in the roaring fire - they simple burned - no explosion! This powder was 60% Forcite (one of many types of powder, which is popularly known as dynamite) - sawdust soaked with 60% nitroglycerine, in a cardboard tube one inch in diameter by eight inches long. Powder can be handled safely when well-stored and fresh, but when old and after having lain outside for any time the nitroglycerine seeps out (looking like drops of honey accumulated on the surface of the stick), making it extremely dangerous - simple shock will detonate it.
I frequently took my camera to work, and got photos of some of the mining equipment at the adit on that day, July 10 (photos C145 to C148). On the evening of October 23, 1960 (I was on day shift - this was my time off), I got the O.K. to go underground in the adit, and spent a couple of hours in the mine taking flash photos (photos C185 to C194). No electronic flash then, I used blue flash bulbs which were one shot only, then thrown away. Pictures I got of two miners, Joe Zeniuk and Albert Kutsche, at work did not turn out so well because of the mist and haze caused by the compressed air drills used in the drift.
For a short time I worked with a couple of other men at preparing for blasting at a rock bluff at one of the switchbacks on the road between the ore level and the "peak". The switchback was so tight that most vehicles, including pickup trucks, could not make the turn without having to stop, back up, and then proceed - the switchback had to be widened. Myron Kenyon (born in Manitoba), Walter Bovalenta (an Italian) and I began the job by rigging twelve-foot ladders to the steeply sloping rock face of the bluff on the far side from the road. Not very good at heights, I had a tough time as we worked up, driving in anchor steel for attaching the ladders to the face, nearly vertical in places. Finally, after about ten ladders had been secured, we reached a flat spot on top of the bluff where drilling and blasting would begin, possibly one hundred feet above the road. There we barred off loose rock and proceeded to haul up compressed air hose and drills for a miner who would begin the actual drilling and blasting - I was relieved when our part of this job was finished.
While on this job the first day, I learned a little about marmots, better known as "whistlers". Those wary rodents can be heard but seldom seen; when sensing danger, they relay warnings with a sharp whistle, and soon disappear into burrows. We had left our extra clothing and lunch on a ledge near the bottom of our ladder work, but when we came down at lunch found the paper bags had been ripped open; only scraps of the food remained although our thermos bottles of coffee were untouched. At first we thought it might have been the work of ravens, although we had seen none. The shift boss then arrived and informed us the mountainside was riddled with homes of marmots, and that they were surely the culprits. Thereafter, we drove a six-foot length of drill steel into a crack in the rock, and hung the lunch bags on the end, well above ground. We never went hungry at lunchtime after that.
I worked at the mine for more than two months before the mine foreman, Rupert McKenzie, finally learned I was not a student here only for the summer. I told him I was interested in getting on one of the big drills. The fact is, most of the permanent labour crew would never be anything but labourers, and he saw in me a little more. I was handed to Heinz Beyer who was shift boss of a predominantly German crew, something that suited me just fine, and became drill helper to Ernie ("Shorty") Berne; only about five feet tall, he was a native of Bremen. Shorty's previous helper, Dale Carin, had just become a driller on another shift. Drill helper was actually one of the best jobs on the mountain, and it got me a small pay increase along with a shift bonus, since I would now be working afternoons and graveyards in addition to day shift.
Mining took place on two levels: at the "peak" crews were literally cutting off the top of the mountain to expose a bed of asbestos ore several hundred feet lower; at the part of the ore formation exposed on the mountain 500 feet lower was the open pit asbestos mine. At the lower levels, smaller drills and shovels worked, mining ore which was hauled to a jaw crusher and fed by chute to a gyratory crusher and a cable tramline below the ore level. The ore then moved by buckets on the tramline, about two miles to the mill in the valley below. At the peak, the big drills and big shovels worked, cutting thirty foot benches. Trucks hauled the waste rock and dumped it on the other side of the mountain. It was there at the peak where I began work on an Ingersoll-Rand Drillmaster.
A huge machine, the Drillmaster had its own General Motors two-cycle supercharged diesel driving a vane-type air compressor and an auxiliary hydraulic pump. All was mounted on a frame on caterpillar-type tracks driven by compressed air motors. At the business end was the operator's cab and a forty-foot tall tower which supported the drill motor and 35-foot drill rods. The tower could be lowered (laying down over the compressor unit) for stability when moving over rough ground. The drill motor and drill hoist were air-driven, while the power wrench, dust collector, and drill legs (set down to level the rig, once on site, to begin drilling) were hydraulically-driven. Shorty's drill was No. 601, while Walter Schmidt had No. 602 - cabs on the drill which contained all the working controls were small (standing room for two) and had heaters, but only No. 602 had a two-way radio - it was the only radio permanently on the peak, and on it one could contact shift bosses, foremen, and the main camp. The cab had windows on all sides, and a window in the roof from which one could see the drill motor and the upper part of the tower. The drill also had several lights for night shift use.
Drilling rate depending on the rock we were mining; hard and brittle quartz drilled quickly, but dulled bits fast, while other rock was tough and slow to drill. A drill could sink as many as four 6-inch diameter 35-foot deep holes, or as few as one, per shift - although there was an unwritten agreement among drillers never to "over-produce" for fear management would come to expect that consistently. Holes were spaced on a 10x10-foot grid pattern, and once 100 or so holes were drilled, powdermen would move in, load the holes - with several thousand pounds of explosives - and string out the blast ignition cord (Primacord). Three types of explosives were used: Forcite sticks 5"x12", sacks of Hydromex, and bagged prilled ammonium nitrate sensitized with diesel fuel. An hour before a blast, the whole mine was shut down, men moved to safety, and machinery was moved away. The powderman then ignited a slow-burning fuse connected with a blasting cap to the blast ignition cord. He had already alerted a crew on the ore level who began to sound powerful twin air horns - a three-second blast followed by a three-second wait, repeated again and again, until the explosion took place. After the blast, the powderman walked onto the site, and if all had gone well, he informed the crew below who sounded one very long blast on the horns to signal "all clear". At camp more than two miles away, the warning horn could be heard, and all would stop to watch the mine up the mountain; suddenly a dark cloud shooting up from the mountain would be seen, and something like ten seconds later, the rumble of the blast would be heard; sound travels at about 1000 feet per second, thus it would take more than ten seconds for the noise of the blast to reach camp.
On the ore level, blasts were smaller because of softer rock and lighter powder loadings, but rock fragments would still sail hundreds of feet through the air, raining down on the crusher house/lunch room where everybody took shelter. At the peak, blasts were much bigger. Machinery was moved to the saddle and trucks driven in, dump boxes up, to protect the equipment and the shack. On one day shift blast, Albert Kutsche and I stood waiting for the blast with cameras ready. We had time for one shot and even before we were able to dive underneath the trucks, flying rock was raining down, rattling off the trucks - the pictures turned out very well. One night shift some fellows decided to have some fun and put a couple of fused 1x8 sticks of Forcite into an empty 45-gallon drum, lit up the fuses, and rolled the drum down the dump on the east side of the saddle. The explosion was monumental and shift bosses from below were instantly on the way up to the peak, fearing some major disaster. Yes, some reprimands - but no firings - were dished out.
As a helper on the Drillmaster, I swung the drill steel into place, handled the hydraulic power wrench that unscrewed steel connections, changed the tungsten-carbide drill bits, kept the dust collector operational, and refueled the diesel tanks. I also washed down the machine regularly. I was never too busy, and on day shift had lots of time to walk around, taking pictures, talking with the other drill helper (John Rosanovitch, a German), and helping the powderman George Sautzner (a Canadian-born Hungarian). On night shift I seldom got enough rest in the bunkhouse, since I usually had spent the day hiking. At the drill, once a steel or bit change had been made, I would lie down on the fuel tank and stretch out - the diesel's fan blowing warm, dry, air over me, and with the soothing roar and vibration, I would soon fall asleep, even on very cold nights. Meanwhile, Shorty was watching the drilling progress, and as soon as he cut the drill throttle for a steel change, the diesel would suddenly slow down to an idle, and I would wake up and leap down ready for business.
I learned the operation very quickly, and Shorty had me running the machine many times while he went and chatted with Walter Schmidt, or went off for coffee. Shorty also drank a little too much booze some evenings, and came to work just a little too drunk. His good friend Heinz Beyer (the shift boss) would then tell me to take over the drill "until Sho'dy feels a liddle better". If he was not quite so drunk, I would simply take over the rig as he slept, hunkered up on the floor of the small drill cab. Actually, one man could completely run the drill by himself, but it meant several ups and down, and ins and outs, of the cab to make steel and bit changes. Once a drilling rate had been set, the controls could be left set, and sometimes a half hour would go by without a change needed. This is where experience came in - just from the change in sound of the hammer working, one could tell when to make feed adjustments. I learned several tricks of drilling - like when the bit ran into fractured ground where rock cuttings would not be blown back up the hole - then there was the danger of a stuck bit, jammed in hole and the very difficult to haul out. This often happened near the edge of an earlier blast, and the driller had to constantly watch progress - the usual solution was to dump buckets of diesel fuel into the new hole, where it would cake the cuttings which would then plug the fractures, thereby forcing air back up the hole around the steel, carrying cuttings with it.
I should first have mentioned the heart of the rig, which consisted of the air-driven drill motor which slid up and down the tower, raising and lowering the hollow drill steel with it. The drill motor rotated the drill steel, and the spent air from motor was directed down the hollow drill steel, to a four-foot long section screwed onto the bottom end of the steel. The air passed through a "butterfly" valve in this section which caused a "hammer" within it to rise and fall rapidly, striking the upper end of the drill bit at the bottom end of this mechanism. Thus, as the drill motor turned the bit at about thirty r.p.m., the hammer struck the bit at about five times per second. The spent air from the hammer passed through the hollow bit to the cutting inserts and carried rock cuttings up the hole, around the steel, to the surface. The overall result was a six-inch hole in the bedrock, going down at the rate of from four to fifteen feet per hour.
The peak was a far busier place than the ore level. The two big drills were there, in addition to the biggest shovel on the property - a 3-1/2-yard P&H, and three or four 20-ton Kenworth "Dart" dump trucks. In 1961 new 36-ton International "Payhaulers" were acquired. At the peak operation, the shovel operator set the production rate - he was the most important machine operator there. Drilling and blasting could easily keep ahead, and trucks always waited to be loaded by the shovel. The skill of the shovel operator could be judged by the number of trucks he could fill per shift, how full the truck boxes were, and how well he handled the shovel - some were very hard on the machine, breaking down often, while a good man babied his machine, and yet produced. The dirtiest job at the mine was that of the shovel oiler; he was the man that kept the shovel lubricated and fueled, often looking forward to becoming an operator himself. The shovel was shut down one-half hour before quitting time, and the oiler would then start his most unenviable job. He would already have had a small heater going to melt a semi-solid lubricant, which even when hot would barely flow. With his tar pot he would walk up the shovel's boom, and pour this tarry stuff onto the cables, sheaves, and gears, coating all heavily, thus lubricated and ready to go for the next shift. The oilers clothes were always thick with the black stuff, and his hands were not much better. It could also be a dangerous job, but in the end, if he became a shovel operator, he would be the highest hourly-paid worker on the mountain.
We had a lunch room right on the windiest spot of the peak, a notch in the ridge called the "saddle". On day shift the top brass was often about, and we had to be careful, but at night everyone eased up, often taking exceptionally long lunches, some even catching a little sleep there. However, the mine superintendent, Trevor Horsley, was one tough boss who didn't tolerate many mistakes. He was known to show up at the mine on any shift, just checking - and he occasionally caught men unaware. One night when I was asleep on the fuel tank, Shorty saw Horsley coming, and cut the throttle - and I was awake and on my feet instantly, thinking that a steel change was needed. At 6000 feet elevation, the mountain was a strange place at night, very windy, and drifting snow practically every month of the year. I saw foxes there, as others had, apparently scavenging lunch tidbits, and ravens were always there in daytime for the same reason. I've already mentioned marmots, although none were near the immediate mining area.
Night shift could be a bad time. Too many men came to work hung over or without enough sleep. One truck driver drove right off the road on the ore level and went down the mountainside for several hundred feet before stopping; he had gone to sleep at the wheel although he denied it. No one had even missed him, and it was a couple of hours later when he finally scrambled back up to the ore level - bruised and freezing. Another driver hit the "backstop" too hard with the rear wheels of his truck (backing up to dump waste - it was hard to see at night), when the backstop broke through; he jumped out about 100 feet down, but the truck kept bouncing another 400 or 500 feet farther, knocking everything - box, cab and all - off the frame. The operator of the Tournadozer, a rubber-tired bulldozer, left his machine for a minute and apparently did not set the brake (he said he did), and the 'dozer rolled off the road, down the mountainside for about 1500 feet, bouncing wildly, breaking off all the wheels on its way down. They looked for a week before finding one wheel far down the slope - yes, all of those vehicles were repaired.
Some of the truck drivers were pretty cocky, and a wild Irishman named Don Downey always had the shift bosses worrying. I saw him step out of the cab, and trot alongside the truck as it rolled along at idle - a show-off act that could have been disastrous had he stumbled. Many of the truck drivers really did not have much experience, and they could not cope with changing conditions and weather. Downey was a good example. Several of the Kenworth trucks were to come down from the peak one morning before daybreak, and Heinz warned them all to take it easy, a light snow had made the sharp switchbacks slippery. We rode down with the shift boss in his truck, and after having made the third switchback, we looked up to see a truck, front wheels at the edge of the bank at the first switchback, headlights shining into space. Heinz instantly said, "That God-damned Downey!" He made a U-turn, and sure enough - Downey, now scared shitless, had come into the switchback far too fast, and only with pure luck had he stopped the Kenworth on the brink. No, he wasn't fired or given time off - he had learned a lesson.
Still, Downey was liked by most. He claimed to be an semi-pro boxer, and from sparring matches I saw, I think it was so. He had a reputation for being tough, although he was not a particularly big guy. He was always antagonizing the Italians , who unsure of his capabilities, would not mix it up with him ("porco dio!" was one of Downey's favourite expressions). A couple of times he would take off from the mine at the end of shift, and run/jog all the way to camp - even beating the man-haul once or twice (on the steep switch-backed roads, it couldn't average any good speed). He was also an entertainer, and in the man-haul would bring his ukulele to work, singing traditional songs like the old Australian ditty, "The Wild Colonial Boy".
As I mentioned, I was on the German crew, which I soon learned was the best bunch on the mountain. I always enjoyed their talk during lunch breaks. While Shorty had been too young to serve during WWII, he had a lot of stories to tell. He definitely was not an intellectual, but he was one damned good character. Heinz had been on the Eastern Front during the war, and had some grim stories to tell of his service there while in the army - as a boss, Heinz was first-class. I also liked our drill doctor (a "mek-khanik") named Theo Glazel; he had been an aircraft mechanic during those awful winters in Russia. I remember at the start of day shift when Theo would call on the radio, "Zix-oh-two drill - is everything O.K.?", and I'd answer (that was in 1961 when I was a driller) saying all was well, and he would close, "alright, I comin' up anyway". If the drill quit during an afternoon or night shift, it would simply be down until morning. The biggest problem was plugged fuel filters - dirt and water - and Theo would arrive in his black rubber coat and pants, hard hat (ears sometimes covered), cigar in his teeth. With bare hands he would take off the filters, clean or replace them, seemingly unaffected by the wind and sub-zero cold - I suppose it was warm compared to the Eastern Front.
I always enjoyed starting the Drillmaster's diesel engine in very cold weather. We would first take out a plug on the supercharger housing, and into the hole begin to spray ether from an aerosol can. At the same time we would press the starter button. Turning over slowly at first, the engine would gradually spin faster, and as it began to make rapid knack-knack-knacking noises from ignition of the ether in the combustion chambers, dense white smoke wafted out of the exhaust pipe. Within fifteen seconds, the engine was turning over fairly fast, and then suddenly roar to life on the diesel fuel (at that point we released the starter button) black smoke now pouring out of the exhaust pipe, engine revving up to full speed at 3000 r.p.m. Running very smoothly and cleanly now as it drove the howling air compressor, in a few minutes the engine would just as suddenly drop down to a fast idle when pressure in the air reservoir reached 125 psi. I always loved that routine - big noisy engines have always impressed me.
One big machine very important at the mine was the bulldozer. Operating the blade-equipped International TD-25 was a good friend named Willie Byron (see photo D101). On several night shifts when our drill was down, I would climb up with Willie who would be shoving piles of waste here and there, building up truck back-stops, plowing out roads, and towing the big fuel tank to the Drillmasters. He would let me take the controls and charge around the peak - lots'a fun, a lot like a big sandbox. There was only a metal roof over the seat and controls on the bulldozer, no glass at all, and only a canvas curtain about waist-high around the two-wide seat. Even on the coldest nights it was comfortable - with hood panels fastened down alongside the engine, the big radiator fan directed warm air right onto the operator - however, if it was snowing hard, one could get wet as the heat melted snow as it blew in. Willie was a great guy, of Icelandic descent (Byron = Bjorn), he had come here from north of Winnipeg. He never drank and was one of the best-liked family-men in camp. The Byrons had four daughters (I think), and Willie once joked, "We would probably have had more kids, but we finally found out what was causing them".
There were many family men at Cassiar, but bachelors and fellows like me made up the greater part of the work force. The newer arrivals in the old "summer" bunkhouse (which were full year-round) and those with seniority in the new "permanent" bunkhouse close to the cookhouse. Our clothing was kept clean by the company's steam laundry which did a magnificent job of down-sizing practically anything offered. We could go to the cook house for a late evening snack, and the recreational had pool and badminton tables. Alcohol was not a major problem at Cassiar. The company had strict rules about excessive noise in the bunkhouses but there was the occasional odd drunken flare-up at night which usually ended up with reprimands next day - sleep was an important commodity.
Most men were fairly sociable, but there was the odd loner who kept to himself. I remember one old miner (some might call him a typical old bachelor) who sat in the mine dry one morning, patching a ripped seam at the crotch of his work pants - "Speed-Sew", which was nothing more than a glue, was the substitute for needle and thread. All went well, until the end of the shift when, in pulling off his pants, he found he had solidly glued his pants to his long johns. Others never bothered to patch or wash work clothes, simply discarding them when they fell to pieces.
One friend, Myron Kenyon, decided to make some wine in his room's closet. On the top shelf he place capped, glass, jars which he had filled with sugared fruit, and all appeared well until one day when he opened the closet to find the goop had fermented and spilled out all over his good clothes below - what a stench besides. The Kenyon boys were well-known in camp - brother Gene, Floyd, and Myron - all great workers and good-natured fellows. They had come to Cassiar with their father during the start-up days. However, father had quit Cassiar, but had the boys hand over their pay cheques which were used to pay for a farm that he had bought in Manitoba. When I left Cassiar, all three were beginning to tire of not seeing their hard-earned wages.
The two biggest ethnic groups at Cassiar were the Italians and the Germans; both loved soccer and despised (it seemed) each other. I never watched a match, but I was told games were often never completed - brawls and fisticuffs broke out and referees lost control. There were also many eastern Europeans in the camp, three of whom I remember well. John Kamber was a highly-educated Czechoslovakian (he read everything in sight - lunch breaks would find him reading while others gabbed), but he worked at the mine as a "rock picker". Walking up and down the truck haul roads with a long-handled shovel, he pitched sharp rocks aside - rocks which could cut up truck tires. He was perfectly satisfied with this menial job. Another labourer was a Bulgarian - I can't remember his name - who would join us in the lunch room. Having finished his sandwiches, he would take a baseball-sized cooking onion, cut it with his pocket knife into segments and eat it as anyone would eat an apple. "Never catch a cold" he told us. Another mine labourer was a Yugoslav named Miftar Arifovic - I later learned that in fact his name was Arifovic Miftar, but he never bothered to have it corrected. I suppose it was the result of an immigration application made out in error. He was a short swarthy guy with bad teeth, barely able to speak English; he seemed to be nearly illiterate even in his own language. He had a room in my bunkhouse, and I got to know him at the cook house. Miftar had worked at one of the big Ontario uranium mines which had suffered the same fate as the mines at Uranium City, and out of work, he eventually reached Cassiar - he was a friendly cuss.
One day Miftar said to me, "You write letter?" - at first I thought it was a statement, but soon found he was asking me to write a letter for him. He dictated in very broken English, and I wrote: he had a girlfriend in Port Arthur, mother of a boy and girl, and living with an old man - yes, his girlfriend! Well, once into this routine, I had to read the letters she sent him, and hustle off the next missive. At first the letters said little more than "how are you" stuff, but things deteriorated, and he had me writing nasty things, telling her what she could do to herself - I tried to get him to tone down the crudities, but he said, "No, you write!". A billet-doux from her and all was well, for a time anyway - when with kindly feeling towards her once again, he would send her $20 or so. I must have written a dozen times for him. He was actually a gentle sort, and I suppose like many others in the camp, he was simply lonely. He had seen my camera, and one day said (or asked), "You take picture for me?" Of course I said yes, and ten minutes later met him outside. I had never seen him in anything but grubby work clothes, so it was a shock to see him in a sharp, long, white, trench coat (contrasting with his very dark complexion), black hair slicked down, broad toothy smile, and brand new shoes and pants - eastern European dapper! He wanted photo prints, and I had told him he could get such only with black and white film - which was what he actually wanted. They turned out well, I gave him the negatives, and helped him order prints - and soon had copies off to his girlfriend, "Pinky" (her daughter), and "the boy" (her son). The camp had many others like Miftar.
Among the many Italians was a driller who worked that miserable Joy 500 on the ore level. I can't remember his last name (was it Menara?) but his Christian name was Angelo - he was only about 4-foot 10-inches tall and his good friends had nick-named him "Piccolo", which I think means "little one" or something close to that. In about March of 1961 he flew to Vancouver and bought a 1959 Chevrolet sedan. He had never driven before in his life, but got a driver's license and set off for his first highway experience behind the wheel. At the time the highway north from about Quesnel, B.C., was not yet paved and with ice and snow, it was probably the worst part of winter for driving. Perched on a big cushion, Piccolo drove - by himself - the 1,200 miles to Cassiar without problem.
Andy Postmus, a Dutchman, was one of few who I could have an extended conversation with. He worked in the mill. A Roman Catholic, he played the electric organ in church for Sunday services. However, he was not overly religious, and I would accompany him to the church on weekdays when he would rip into jazz and pop tunes, not the least intimidated in a House of God - although he did turn the volume down should other less liberal Catholics be within listening range.
When I arrived at Cassiar in June, 1960, I lived for a week in a big open, temporary, bunkhouse, but was soon given a bed in a two-bunk room in the old "summer" quarters. On a different shift, my room partner was a guy name Joe Sheehan, a Drillmaster operator. He moved to one of the new bunkhouses soon after. I would meet Joe again at another mine, five years later - there he was better known as "Whiskey Joe".
Five years later (in the spring of 1965) I had just finished spring exams at UBC, and found summer work with Brynnor Mines at a very good hourly rate to run a Drillmaster at Bynnor's open pit iron mine near Ucluelet on the west coast of Vancouver Island. I was told only that the company had some problems with the present (and only) driller. To my surprise I found he was my one-time room partner from Cassiar, "Whiskey Joe" Sheehan - a bachelor (of course) he was an Irish immigrant who had come to Canada in the early 1950s. Yes, he was the one that had prompted Brynnor to hire me - he had become a little bit unreliable because of his drinking. However, Tom Salmon, the mine boss, liked Joe and gave him many breaks, overlooking his odd missed shift. I helped Joe on the drill for a week, and he showed no resentment at all. After my arrival, he missed only one shift - the only day I got to run the Drillmaster, which was a newer model, with a taller tower, than the ones at Cassiar. There was a much bigger drill at Brynnor - a Bucyrus-Erie which was used only on the pit floor, for blasting ore - but only one drill operated at a time. I stood around on the Bucyrus-Erie as Joe ran it (it really needed no helper) for a few days, and was finally given other work to do. I became an ore truck driver for the rest of my three-month stint at Brynnor.
Meanwhile, back in 1960, for a couple weeks a guy named Burke Powelson (a student, here for the summer only) moved into Joe's bunk, but he soon moved to another room with a friend who had come north with him. He, Kenny Larsen, and I went on a few good hikes into the surrounding hills. Taking Burke's place in my room was a Hungarian fellow - he was a good, quiet, room partner, but one morning I woke up to see him standing on his bed, holding a coat-hanger with his hand which was covered with a wool sock - he had unscrewed the bulb from the ceiling, and was poking the coat-hanger into the socket to get a short-circuit in order to blow a fuse. The problem was my good friend Kenny Larsen, in the next room, who would turn up his phonograph a little too loudly for the Hungarian - so, a blown fuse and the music would stop, temporarily anyway. But, more about the Hungarian.
Back in 1958, in Uranium City, my boss had hired a carpenter, a Canadian of Norwegian descent. I can't remember his name, but he had arrived with a chip on his shoulder, a pretty husky guy, he was always antagonistic. Always looking for scraps, and a self-styled tough guy, the jerk's mouth was continually in motion. In late summer, one Sunday morning, I walked into the bunkhouse where Harvey and Nels (two other carpenters) quietly pointed at someone on a cot, huddled in the fetal position, facing the wall. Once out of the house, they explained it was the Norwegian guy - apparently he had been beaten up badly the night before. After the Saturday night beating, he missed work Monday and Tuesday, he had not eaten in that time, and finally showed up on Wednesday - hunched over, shuffling, his face a mess, bruised and swollen - much subdued and hardly speaking a word to anyone. Everyone grinned at his earned reward, without an ounce of sympathy for him, and he quit (probably in shame) about a week later.
No one knew the circumstances of the event, but the answer came in 1960 at Cassiar when the Hungarian became my room mate. He was a rather soft-looking, somewhat fat, with a very strong accent. A gentle guy, he played a button accordion beautifully. We got talking about the North, and I learned he had been in Uranium City two years ago, and he then told me about his reasons for leaving the town in mid-season. On a late Saturday night he had stopped at the infamous Acme Cafe for something to eat (the Acme was the lowest joint, kept open to cater to the drunks wandering out of the beer parlour, and so on - a rough place). While sitting down next to old Lars Larson (one of the worn-out alcoholics in town) who was noisily slurping a bowl of soup, the Hungarian jokingly said "Don't make so much noise, old man". On the lookout for a scrap our Norwegian pal, who happened to be sitting on the next stool, leapt up in defense of Lars, and knocked the Hungarian to the floor, thinking this would be an easy win and an ego booster. He stood over the Hungarian cursing, but timing his move, the Hungarian reached up; "I grab him by the balls and pull, he fall down on the floor, and I jump up and kick him all over". Knowing that had he not worked over the Norwegian well, he could then have been given a worse licking in return - so he kicked until the Norwegian was senseless. The Hungarian, in fear, then made for home and stayed in hiding all day Sunday, afraid the R.C.M.P. might come to get him, and on Monday he caught the first plane out. However, he told me he was actually more frightened that this madman would find him and kill him for the terrible kicking he had taken. I congratulated the Hungarian, and with pleasure told him he need not have worried: the Norwegian somehow had got home, no one reported the scuffle to the R.C.M.P. (events like that were not rare at the Acme Cafe), and he remained immobilized for almost three days. Sometimes the good guys win.
It was a little embarrassing a few weeks later, when I moved into Kenny Larsen's room - his partner had just left camp. I had known Kenny for several months - he spoke English well, and was a self-styled geologist. Born in Denmark, he had spent a couple of years at a U.S. military base at Thule, Greenland, where he had worked with food services. Although we worked different shifts and had different sleeping schedules, I got along well with him. He also liked hiking in the mountains, rock pick in hand.
Getting back to the Bulgarian rock picker; he had left home two years earlier, and one night decided to phone his family back in Bulgaria. About 6:00 pm, right after dinner he plunked himself down in the phone booth in the old recreation building, and midst the click of billiard balls and noisy talk, he sat there as operators along the line began making connections. This was long before satellite relays, and connections were made stage-by-stage, manually - each one consuming much time. At 2:00 am he gave up and went to his bunkhouse, having made connections only as far as Italy. What a contrast to today's instantaneous calls.
In the bunkhouse, especially in the evenings, I missed my family very much. I wrote Charlotte twice a week, but was lucky if I got an answer once every two weeks - which for her was really prolific. Sometimes all I could think of was the return to Edmonton, as soon as I had made enough to get a small dollar cushion, but in June and July the end of the work season was an awfully long time in the future. I was making about half the money I had made in Uranium City the year before, but my own living expenses were lower - my room and board was deducted from my pay cheque. I sent Charlotte all I could every pay day, keeping only enough for clothes, film, and minor expenses. I hiked a lot, especially when I was on afternoon or graveyard shift, often going to work with little or no sleep in the past eighteen hours. I hiked all three of the mountain ridges surrounding the camp, even in bad weather - it kept me busy, and I did enjoy the mountains. I took a few photos and occasionally went out painting with my oil set - I've still got a few of these 8x10 panels.
One day I hiked up the mountain to the north of camp and followed the ridge to the head of the workings on the old Telemac lead/zinc/silver mine. Clearly visible from the Cassiar mine directly across the valley, the Telemac property had proved to be too small to develop. Little remained except for chutes, and piles of ore. I slid and scrambled down the main working which was a wide vein of galena/sphalerite in limestone. Making this more interesting was an abundance of common garnet crystals. At the foot of the chute were the remains of buildings, and when I stomped onto the floor of what had been a shack, a fox darted out and soon disappeared in the low bushes. That had been another of those very exhilarating hikes into the hills which I enjoyed so much.
Some days, when skies were overcast, or when I felt less energetic, I went for walks through the bush and along Troutline Creek which flowed eastward down the valley in which the camp lay. At the upper end it was truly beautiful, and near camp equally good. I painted several small 8x10 panels in that area. But, as one moved eastward and approached the mill site, mill tailings lay on the ground and on the bushes and trees. Prevailing winds blew from west to east, generally sweeping much of the fine powdery stuff from the mountain of mill waste which became the dominating feature of the whole camp - an enormous heap - a small mountain in itself. To the south of the pile the stuff lay several inches deep and in wet weather was a slippery, slimy, grey-green mess which choked vegetation. For a mile or more downwind, the bush was heavy with the fines. Although the form of asbestos (chrysotile) from the Cassiar mine was said to be far less hazardous than that from the mines of eastern Quebec, the fines must surely have been a danger to some degree.
Years later, while I worked at other jobs, the very word "asbestos" was cause for panic among safety committees and workmen's compensation groups. I once saw a laboratory cordoned off with yellow tape while men outfitted with respirators and protective clothing moved in to remove an offending strip of woven asbestos (the relatively safe long-fibre stuff) from the door of a small oven that had been operating for thirty years - gross overkill. I wonder what those people would think could they have seen drillers and helpers on the ore level brushing 1/2-inch thick layers of asbestos from their clothing at the end of a shift? When I left Cassiar in 1961, I was given a beautiful souvenir - a styrene sample box containing the various grades of asbestos offered by the company. I still have this box of "hazardous material" today.
In 1960, I got far out of camp only once, in late September, when I went with three others to Watson Lake. I had a Saturday off, having finished afternoon shift the previous midnight, and would not go to work until Sunday morning. Joe Sheehan with whom we rode was just off night shift at 8:00 a.m. and had to be back for work at midnight - i.e., he got no sleep at all. The eighty miles of gravel road took less than two hours to drive, and in Watson Lake I soon saw all there was to see, so joined my friends in the bars for beer - the sole reason two of them had come. In five or six hours I drank half a dozen beers, nursing them since I couldn't take alcohol well, stepping out for a sandwich a couple of times. I still don't remember what we talked about, but it seemed we were having a good time, and time passed quickly. By 8:00 p.m. we were on our way back from the bright lights of Watson Lake, Yukon, population about 200 - the next biggest centers were Whitehorse, Yukon, 300 miles to the northwest, and Fort Nelson, B.C., 300 miles to the south-east.
Weather deteriorated in October, and although I could not hike any more (snow was already on the ground), I began to cheer up, knowing I'd see Charlotte, Don, and Lee soon. Finally, it was announced: the mine would be shut down for two months, starting in mid-December. I could hardly contain myself, and finally, on the morning of December 17th, laid-off workers piled into two chartered buses bound for Edmonton. I had been in Cassiar six long months. We stopped only for lunch breaks, and something like thirty hours later, I was home in Edmonton. I can't express the feeling I had when I walked back into our suite, back with my family again. Don knew me, but Lee didn't seem to know who I was - he was only 9-1/2 months old when I left - a six month absence was too much, but it wasn't long till we were all on good terms again. It was, I think, the best Christmas I had in all my life.
For almost two months (December 1960 to February 1961) I relaxed, enjoying every hour with my boys. I had signed on unemployment insurance when I reached Edmonton, but was determined that would not become a way of life for us. I now had a sort of plan, although I knew I would be going back to Cassiar, since in winter Edmonton had little work available. The Chamber of Mines called me in on February 9, 1961, and re-hired me with Cassiar Asbestos, but now at $1.67/hour; on February 21st, I was on a chartered bus, northbound to Cassiar. I was in better spirits than in June of 1960; the recession was easing, job outlook was improving, and I knew I would be quitting Cassiar within four months. On the bus I had my entertainment equipment: rock pick, oil paints, camera and film, geology books, and writing paper. I was once more in the old "summer" bunkhouse.
The mine looked even more grim in February, as we prepared for start-up. All heavy equipment had been taken to camp for major service and overhaul if needed. Bulldozers cleared up the working sites, and for a couple of weeks I worked as a helper with Shorty. He had gone to Mexico for the two-month break, and had come back in terrible condition - weak from too much drinking and carousing, shaky, and short of breath - like several others who had taken the same holiday "route". Then the other driller on our shift, Walter Schmidt, decided he wanted to move down to an inside job at the new recreation hall. Unlike Shorty who was a bachelor, Walter had a family and company house in Cassiar. Heinz asked me if I would be willing to run the drill, and of course I jumped at the chance - No. 602 became my drill. Not everything went well, and I had to ask Shorty for help at times, but I was soon drilling footages almost as good as Shorty was.
My friend, twenty-two-year-old Jack Graham (born and raised in Edmonton), was rehired in 1961, and went to work at the secondary crusher up at the mine, but he wanted very much to drive the Kenworth trucks at the mine. He had been in army cadets and bragged about having had a lot of experience driving army "deuce-and-a-half" trucks. I had no idea what he meant, until I finally realized this was the tandem axle 2-1/2-ton military truck commonly seen at army camps. Jack was a cocky type, and after badgering the shift bosses for some time, he walked up to mine superintendent Horsley and bluffed, saying, "Either you let me drive a Kenworth or I quit". I was standing nearby listening, as others were; Horsley looked Jack right in the eye, waited a couple of seconds and said, "I guess you've just quit". Poor Jack was given no option, and regretting his brashness, he left camp next day - unfortunately, he had not yet got in his ninety days, and had to pay his own way out, in addition to having to pay for his ride in too. Jack thought of himself as a tough guy, but I thought he was alright anyway, and was sorry to see him go. (see photos D111, E91, E92, E95, E96, E97). I met Jack again in 1965 when I worked a part-time job underground at the Britannia Beach copper mine - Jack was then a contract miner.
On the bus ride north, in mid-February of 1961, groups formed according to ethnic background, and by chance I got a seat with a shy-appearing guy named Kelly Royle-Thome. He was a Canadian (a minority group at Cassiar), and had got a job at the mill; since I thought he was O.K., and he thought the same of me, we were able to get beds in the same room of one of the old permanent bunkhouses, but as was most often the case, our shift and sleeping hours seldom coincided (see E103, Kelly with Brian Sorlie). Kelly neither drank nor smoked, but he had led a varied romantic life. Like a few others in camp, he was "in hiding". He was apparently from a well-off family north of Calgary - he never spoke of a father, only his mother. He was about twenty-five years old, and had worked for four or five years at the Eldorado mine at Port Radium, in the North West Territories. He had operated a dredge which sucked up mill tailings from the lake bottom - tailings which had been extracted of radium years earlier, but now being reworked for uranium. There he had made BIG money, but the dredge had shut down permanently in about 1959 when the tailings were eventually worked out. Kelly then decided to go into business for himself.
Kelly leased an Imperial Oil Company service station and cafe near Okotoks, Alberta, and proceeded to spend far more than he took in, playing around too wildly with the waitresses. Finally, after a year of big losses, the lessor moved in and closed the station down, leaving Kelly with thousands of dollars in unpaid bills. Kelly had money in the bank, but pulled it all out and went for a long holiday in a car on which he had not made payments for several months. In January, of 1961, he first went to the U.S. where he blew some money (on women), then headed for the Yukon for three weeks before coming back home, where he abandoned the car - by now he was nearly broke. Afraid creditors might be closing in on him, he learned that Cassiar Asbestos needed someone with his qualifications, and he was hired to work in the mill. He was a bit jumpy for a time, fearing bill collectors might find him, but by June he had relaxed - apparently forgotten.
Kelly had intimately known a woman I had met in Uranium City. A very good-looking Métis woman, Sally Erasmus had worked as a cashier (among other things) in several towns in the North, including Port Radium where Kelly met her. In 1968, Kelly visited us in Vancouver - at the time he was on holidays from his job at the Canadian Tungsten mill in the Yukon. He did not have much time for us, as he had a room at the Hotel Vancouver where he was catching up on love life via high-priced ladies; appetite satisfied in four or five days, he headed back North. I never saw him again.
Another rascally sort was a French-Canadian named Lucien Moreau, a truck driver on the ore level. One spring morning, on our way down from night shift, we came on a half-dozen horses that had obviously been galloping about, and were sweaty and steaming. Lucien's comment was, "Oh, look at dat 'orse, she are sweating under her h'arm". His wife lived in Vancouver, and he got permission for a week off to go visit her. We wished him luck as he left on the company truck's daily run to Watson Lake. Several days went by, and we heard from another employee returning from Watson Lake that Lucien had not got past the girls and the beer in the Watson Lake Hotel - he spent the whole week there. Looking a little wan, and much-subdued, he came back to work - he kept silent about of his failure to reach Vancouver.
In late March of 1961, after six weeks in camp, I was asked if I wanted a room in the newer permanent bunkhouses, in the middle of the camp and closer to the cook house and recreation centre. These were much better bunkhouses than the old frame buildings; I felt bad about leaving Kelly, but I took a room in one of the log buildings prefabricated by a company called "Panabode" - rooms were warmer, quieter, and had better beds. This time I got an Italian guy for a room partner - he worked a different shift, but I had no problems, as most people there respected each others' right to quiet and privacy. I was there until I quit Cassiar.
By May I had confirmed plans to quit, but told no one until two weeks before I left. In the meanwhile I made an effort to see more of the district, since there seemed little chance I would ever come back. Among the truck drivers at the mine was a Tahltan Indian named Ira Edzerza whose home was the historic village of Telegraph Creek on the Stikine River, a place I wanted to visit. I learned Ira would be driving there, and made a deal with him - I would pay for one-half the gas for his Fargo pickup truck, and ride with him and his family. Early on the morning of June 3 we set off on a road that had been pushed through from the coast during construction of the Alaska Highway in 1942; although trappers and gold seekers had been in this territory a hundred years earlier, only trails existed until WWII. The road, however, had deteriorated and was narrow and rough, slow-going, and bridges were in poor condition. The bridge over the Cottonwood River was in danger of being swept away by high water (highway workers had it guyed to trees with cables), so Ira's wife, his son, and I walked across first, and Ira then cautiously drove the truck over (photo N66). Near Dease Lake we came to a washed-out culvert - a gash five feet deep and about six feet across. Ira and I walked back to the site of an old sawmill and returned with several big spruce slabs which we laid across the gap. Very slowly, with me signaling, Ira inched safely across. Not more than a mile on, along the edge of the lake, high water was a foot deep over the road, so again we got out and walked along the hillside above the road, as Ira slowly plowed through the water. From here there were no more water problems, but the narrow road was in places only a notch in the cliffs high above the Stikine River (photos N71, N76, N83). After looking over abandoned Tahltan village (photo N73 - an Indian settlement wiped out by small pox), we made Telegraph Creek by 4:00 p.m. - it had taken us more than eight hours to drive the 175 miles from Cassiar.
The Edzerzas stayed with relatives on the reserve (photo N80), while I got a room for the night with the McPhee family in town - Telegraph Creek was a small, slow-paced village, at the head of navigable water on the Stikine River (photo N79) - down river 100 miles was Ketchikan, Alaska. Two of the McPhee boys worked at Cassiar; their father was Scottish, but their mother was one-half Indian. I enjoyed the stay, walked all over town (what there was of it), and later listened to many of Mrs. McPhee's stories of earlier days (she was quite a talker compared to her husband) and enjoyed her photo albums. Next morning I got a picture of McPhee dumping daily garbage - the dump was a pier built out over the Stikine River (photo N78). The McPhee's were mentioned in Hoagland's book, Notes from a Century Before. At Telegraph Creek it was already summer, and fruit trees were in blossom - a sharp contrast to Cassiar on the eastern slope of the mountains, where fruit trees could not survive, summer had only arrived. It was an all-too-short visit, but I had enjoyed it all very much. Ira's description of so many things en route made the whole excursion one of the better events in my life. Next morning we set off, and had no trouble, since in the intervening twenty-four hours flood water had receded, the washed-out culvert had been repaired, and the Cottonwood River bridge was now out of danger. We arrived back in a far less hospitable Cassiar country on the evening of June 4th.
I had not yet seen enough though, and I borrowed Myron Kenyon's 1958 Chevrolet for two short trips down the valley from the Cassiar camp. On June 8th, I and three other fellows visited the abandoned village of Centreville, a relic of the short-lived Cassiar gold rush, and a couple of gold prospects on Quartz Creek - one accessible only by either a seat hung on rollers on a cable, or by a shaky cable bridge (photos G46 to G50, and C119 and C120). My passengers were: Brian Sorlie, a student from Edmonton; Myron Kenyon, one of three brothers (the others were Gene and Floyd) from Manitoba who had worked at Cassiar for several years; and a Swiss fellow (I can't remember his name) who had left his country to avoid military service. Our second trip, with the same gang was on June 13th. This time we visited Troutline Creek, Snow Creek, the Glen Hope mine, and the Hanna Gold Mine (photos G51, G52, G53, C223, and C224).
I had visited the Hanna Gold Mine a few months earlier with another driller named Dale Carin, a Yugoslavian (Croatian); at the time the gold property was known as the Copco mine for its two small-time developers, Jack Copeland and Jim Couture - both one-time employees of Cassiar Asbestos. They had known about this early discovery and were watching it, and promptly re-staked the claims when the owners failed to pay the claim renewal fee on time. It was an interesting little show, with plenty of visible gold. I got one photo of Copeland, Couture, and a helper, with a jar of mercury-amalgam in hand, recovered by a primitive method of gold extraction. In the summer of 1964 while working at the old Laforma mine (of the early 1930s) west of Carmacks, Yukon, I learned the mill and extraction set-up there had been bought for the Copco Mine. Nothing more than a pilot mill, the elliptical-roll crusher was capable of processing no more than five tons of ore per day. Of course Copeland and Couture had very limited funds, and were looking for a buyer with money, eventually finding a Dr. Hanna (I think) of Whitehorse. I don't think the property ever became a producer of consequence. For our tours of early June, 1961, we had super weather for a great finish to what to had been a lonely and generally miserable five months for me.
Back in April and May I had written several oil refineries and chemical plants in Edmonton, applying for work. In May I got an encouraging letter from the Canadian Chemical Company, telling me of an up-coming job competition. Timing was perfect, as I had planned to leave Cassiar in mid-June anyway. From what I had seen of mining camps and northern communities, I did not want to raise a family there, and I also knew Charlotte would not like anything away from the city. With few visible opportunities in northern camps, too many young people quit school to go to work at local industries. For those that wanted higher education, it meant boarding school in bigger centers far from home - expensive and not good for good family upbringing. At Cassiar, management appreciated me, and Heinz reminded me that I could easily get a company house, if I were to bring up my family. Trevor Horsley, Heinz, and Shorty had been very good to me, and I dreaded telling them I was quitting - but, about June 2nd I spoke to Horsley (who I knew least well), and gave him notice of leaving. Heinz and Shorty were very surprised, and I could only make up some excuse like "Charlotte would not leave the city", and I couldn't stay away from my family any longer - actually, all true. I felt genuinely bad about deceiving them, since in fact I had planned to quit ever since arriving in February, but I felt I had little choice, since the family came first.
My last shift was on the afternoon of June 14 (photos C225 and C226) - it was a sad day in one way, and great one in another. On the morning of June 16, I left Cassiar in the company bus for Watson Lake. That spring I had met a young guy named Brian Sorlie; I had done some hiking with him, and he also had enough of Cassiar, and was also bound for Edmonton. He was trying to make enough to get back to university, and had just got a good offer from the CNR, for whom he had worked in past seasons. Another young city fellow who had come to Cassiar only a month earlier had decided he couldn't take camp life, and had also quit. After having his fare in deducted from his pay, he was all but broke, but figured he could somehow wangle a ride to Edmonton. He practically begged Brian and me for a loan, but sorry as we felt for him, we had little enough money for ourselves. We had several hours to look over Watson Lake - a fine day - but finally the CPAir DC-6B arrived and we were off. Since I had quit, I had to pay my own way out, although my fare in (back in February) had already been covered by the company. It was a cheerful, tearful, reunion in Edmonton. This time both of the boys greeted me as if I had been gone only a couple of days.
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