Tuesday, 18 February 2014


From : Museum Musings by L.M. "Buzz" Lein  May 15, 1984

Prices paid for fur by Independent Trader McDougall of White River in the year 1897:

3 large black bear, nearly prime  @$10  = $30

105 large beaver                           @$6  =  $630

31 small beaver                                     =    $108

15 ermine                                   @$0.10 =$1.50

3 prime Fisher                                        = $24
1 damaged Fisher

2 prime cross-foxes, good                     = $15

11 assorted Lynx                                   = $20

26 Martens; some not very good         = $59

4 common mink                                 
11 prime mink                                      = $15

2 otters                                                  = $24

75 assorted rats                                     = $7

1 skunk                                                  = $0.30

Unlike Aitken of Mobert, McDougall didn't need to ask permission of his Employer to buy fur.

Monday, 17 February 2014


Museum Musings by L.M. "Buzz" Lein  May 15, 1984

When the HBCo finally saw the light and moved their Pic River Post up to the main line of the C.P.R., they selected a section called Montizambert for its location.  It is near the discharge of White Lake.  It was an ideal location for a store because of its easy access for trappers who were working the watershed area of the White Lake.  And the area between the C.P.R. line and the south of the Pic was trapped out during years of use.

Montizambert somewhere along the line was changed to Mobert and that is what it is called today.  It has a special significance for us because we were there first in 1937 and then again set up housekeeping not far from there in 1941.  We have a clear mental picture of how it looked then.  We were there again (near by that is ) in 1945 and 1946.

Before you read any more , get out your road map and check its location.  West of White River on the C.P.R. line near the discharge of White Lake.  Look at it well and see if you can realize how isolated it is - then as now.

William Aitken was the man in charge of this store in 1897 and he was having a tough time.  His boss was Alexander Matheson whose mailing address was " Red Rock, Nepigon, Ontario".  About this time period Matheson had been put in charge of the Lake Superior District and Mobert was one of the places where he had jurisdiction.  We know this great stuff because we read up on it.  And we know about William Aitken because we have a copy of his copy book for the time period 1897-1898.  It sure is hard to read because the copies are not like the crisp clean sheets that come from a modern copier.

We don't know how William Aitken made out for copies of his  letters to his boss and others before he was given a copying machine by Matheson.  Before you get all choked up about Matheson's generosity, wait till we tell you what it was.

It looked for all the world like a table top fur press.  It required a special kind of paper and a special kind of technique.  The inks of the day were not waterproof and this is why this technique worked.

This copying paper was called "Stout Buff" and was glowingly advertised as an excellent substitute for written duplicates.  Saving manual labour - what they mean by this is that it wasn't necessary to have someone hand write a copy of whatever the message was.

The instructions for use were - for copying ink recently written, damp well ( not soak! - L.M.L.) this copying paper. Put it on top of the ink written original and screw press it down so that the moistened ink of the original will soak into the "Stout Buff". If you have pressed it correctly for the required time, when you lift it, you have a copy of what was written.  And if what we are looking at are samples of the technique, then this copying method sure left a lot to be desired.  We suppose that it was a matter of learning how because some of the copies are surprisingly clear - particularly the copies that were not written in Spencerian Script.  If you are not sure what Spencerian Script is, go look it up in a Calligraphy Book.  One of the reasons this cumbersome process worked for William Aitken was because he wrote very few letters and these as short as he could get away with.

Visualize the set up at Mobert. Aitken, the store manager is probably there by himself.  There is no radio. There is no road. Mail, when it came is delivered at the whim o the section men of the Trudeau Section.  He had to send a courier to Trudeau to even see if there was any.  Because the store was small, his stock was small and there is no indication how this was delivered.  He doesn't mention a way-freight.

He starts off the brand new year of 1897 by sending a couple broken muskets to Montreal for repair.  Now, why Montreal when they could have been repaired in Fort William?

 On the second of February, he acknowledges receipt of the copying press mentioned above.

On Feb. 3rd, 1897 he writes to Alex Matheson Esq.' Nepigon (not Red Rock this time) " The monthly statements  of this post have been closed and sent to Trudeau to be mailed from there.  I have not bought any fur along the line since a little that I bought from O. Jalbert (Heron Bay) on the 18th of Nov. (1896) and I don't know if he has any at present to be disposed of.  Mr. McDougal and Hogan of White River (independent traders?) have quite a lot of fur before Xmas and were going to let me have first, and therefore wrote to you but got no reply and after waiting a long while I had to write to the parties saying that I would not be able to transact with them at that time." "Mr. Hunter wrote to me some time after saying the Mr. Ross of Missanabie bought it all or a large part of it from them.  I was sorry to let this chance pass me because I know I could have made quite a little on it at that time."

One has to wonder what was going on.

Here was an apparently experienced trader who wasn't about to stick his neck out without his superior's OK.  One also has to wonder why Matheson didn't answer the guy's letter.  Even given the tardiness of mail delivery of the time there were ways of communicating at regular intervals. The traders of Missinabi didn't have any trouble about deciding whether or not to buy it.

Saturday, 15 February 2014




Sunday, 9 February 2014


January 7, 1985

We have mentioned before that our historical battery gets charged anew when we discover something or someone that knows things that we do not.  That may not be very good English but it conveys the right kind of meaning.

Sixty-five years ago - 1920  to be exact, Corporal William Oram of the Royal Canadian Mounted police arrived in Nipigon in response to a cry for help from the town.  They were being plagued by a horde of migrants all looking for work or food or both.  And there were the usual grifters among them.

1920 was an unusual year for Nipigon.  There was a lot of construction going on and men were pouring in.  Elsewhere in Canada a depression was setting in but it hadn't quite got to Nipigon.

The Little Mill was in the process of construction and start-up.  Don Clark was cutting for the Little Mill.  Ontario Hydro was still building at Cameron Falls and employing a considerable number of men.  The Canadian Northern Railway ( now C.N. ) had not finished their building program but were close to wrap-up.

With all these men coming and going, and some of them not being any better than they should have been, the Nipigon police force was having a hard time to maintain law and order.  Since the town's force at that time consisted of one constable, the poor guy probably was run off his feet.  Ollie Steen was that man and it was probably at his insistence that someone give him a hand.

As noted above William showed up in the fall of 1920 and stayed until the summer of 1921.

How do we know all this?  Easy.  86 year old Bill Oram is alive (1985) and living comfortably in Fort William - sorry, Thunder Bay.  Not only that but he has a clear memory of his Nipigon Days.

The story of Oram's life is a tale of continued adventure, but we are concerned at this time with his Nipigon experiences only.

Oram volunteered to come to Nipigon.  He arrived in the fall of 1920 and took up residence in the Mounted Police headquarters.  This was a small shack that was situated about where the Legion is now; just below the brow of the hill.   It seems to have had but two very small rooms - one for Oram to sleep in and the other for a sort of lock-up if same was required.  He did his own cooking with groceries that were supplied because he was on detached duty.  It was just as well because his pay was $0.25 per hour and he was on call twenty-four hours a day.  He didn't get paid for 24 hours - he was just on call.  Good thing he wasn't married.

The first thing that Oram did after he got to town and settled in was to go around and meet all the main men in town.  There was of course, William McKirdy and his sons Jack and Stewart.  There was a Jack Fisher as station agent (C.P.R.) with Elmer McLaughlin as his helper.  The game warden was Jack Cummings ( father of Hugh, if you have a long memory). Harold Atwill was a councillor; so was Frank DeFazio.  Bert Cummings, brother of Jack was a fire warden but he would not have been working there in the winter.

At this time, Oram says, there were scarcely 300 people as permanent residents in Nipigon.  The business section was from the Hudson's Bay store along Front  Street down to about where the Normandy Hotel is now (Ed. was -as it has since burned). Oram also says that the Hudson's Bay store was not open while he was there.  This seems odd, but Oram was there and we were not.

Oram's social life was almost nil because there were no people there that he could have a social life with.  Each Saturday night he would go over to McKirdy's where in an upstairs room, he would sit around and talk with Jack and Stewart McKirdy; Jack and Bert Cummings, and Harold Atwill among others.  Their repast was tinned sardines and soda biscuits as supplied by McKirdy.  They also had a few drinks but Oram says they did not play cards - they merely sat around, talked and enjoyed each other's company.

Oram was also a musician and at this time he was playing trumpet.  He undertook to teach Nestor Manilla who was  and accomplished accordion player, to play the trumpet but he wasn't in Nipigon long enough to see it though.  He played in a trio that consisted of Shorty Stanley on piano, a chap named Brittan (or Burton) on drums and himself on trumpet.  They played from commercial orchestrations but Oram couldn't remember any of the numbers they played at that time.  Bill still has a number of instruments in his home and while we visited there, we got to blow the oldest trombone we have ever seen.

Oram's work involved mostly infractions of the liquor laws of the times, whatever they were, but liquor was the cause of almost all the ructions in town at that time.

Oram was hardly in town before he was visited by a local man who offered him $1000 if he would be out of Nipigon on a Saturday night.  Oram refused and made sure that no liquor came in by train for anyone.

He was hardly in Nipigon when he got a call to go over to the White Hotel and lunchroom that was situated about where Harold Clarke had his GM Showroom and garage. (ed. now Mac's 2014).
He found an inebriated fellow sitting on a chair in the ante room with an eye hanging down on his cheek.  HE stuffed it back into the socket, bandaged it and sent someone for Dr. Morrison.  He then went looking for the perpetrator and found him in the hotel.  The guy outs with a knife and slashes Oram across the wrist.  Bill then beaned the guy with a heavy flashlight that he was carrying.  It was his only weapon.  HE took the culprit to Thunder Bay to Court there. Twenty-five cents an hour doesn't seem like very good pay for this kind of work.

It wasn't always good Teacher's Highland Cream Scotch or Sandy McDonald's Scotch that caused all the ructions.  There were Hoffman's Drops a plenty and very easy to buy.

Another time, Oram was "making a patrol" to a place called Checog about 6 miles east of Nipigon. (Anyone know where this place was ? Not on our maps - Buzz) He intercepted a couple fellows who were going into this Checog reserve with about 100 coke bottles filled with a mixture of a lot of coke and a small amount of rum which they were going to sell to the reserve residents for $1.00 per bottle.  And it wasn't the first time that they had done this.

Joe Sault was the Chief there at that time and it was at Joe's place where Oram says he was treated to the best stew that he ever tasted.  It was Skunk!!  Joe told him all that was necessary was that the skunk be killed quickly before it could activate its scent gun.

After Oram got back to town he searched and found two cases of brandy in a guy's room in the Ovilio Hotel.  We hadn't realized that this hotel was there that early.

The guys with the fortified coke were locked up in the town jail which at that time was about where Dr. Somerleigh's Office is now . (Behind Dewhurst's building 2014 - ed.)

Since one of the main reasons why Oram was in Nipigon was the prevalence of so many guys riding the rods, he solved his problem with them by going to the Red Rock Station west of town where the freights all stopped and made the guys all get off the train.  He would then march them along the track to just west of the Nipigon Railway Bridge where the freights would stop; the drifters would get on again and be whisked out of Nipigon to other locations east.

Oram is not a big man but his red tunic must have commanded a lot of respect because the fellows didn't gang up on him at all.

Another interesting event occurred when Oram was again making a "patrol" in the Spring of 1921.  He discovered a moose that had been shot;  its tongue and nothing else removed.  He followed the tracks in the snow and found four more dead moose, again with nothing but the tongues removed. Oram tracked the culprit by following the tracks in the snow. Took the guy to court in Thunder Bay.

One of the reasons that Oram was a single man was the fact that the RCNW Police rules and regulations required that a constable had to have 1500 dollars in the bank and permission from the Commissioner.  In addition, force members signed on for definite periods of time for service.  As Bill says, its not easy to accumulate 1500 bucks at $2.00 per day.  It was true that they received $3.00 for each arrest made and $2.00 for each attendance  in the court but the reason why marriage permission was slow in coming was largely because once married, the Force had to supply an officer with a place to live and provisions to go along with it!

We think that Oram really enjoyed his stay in Nipigon because he has such clear memories of it.  He lives alone now in his own house in Thunder Bay after being retired more than 20 years ago from his job as mechanical superintendent in one of Abitibi's Thunder Bay mills.  Well, he is not quite alone.  He has sons and daughters in town and many grand and great grandchildren.

And he shares his home with an 18 year old pigeon that thinks he is people and has free run of the house!

Saturday, 8 February 2014



By Neil Nylund, Beardmore Ontario
November 4, 1981

In the fall of 1949, I was assigned to a timber cruising job with two professional foresters, whom I will call Jim and Buzz.

The location of our camp was about seven miles north of ozone, off highway number 17.

On October 5th, we packed our 7' x 9' tent, and supplies to the location, at the foot of a mountain, by a small creek in a cozy mixed stand of deciduous and coniferous bush cover.  We set up our tent and made a comfortable bed of balsam boughs, covered by two 90" x 90" eiderdowns, one of which was placed under us, and the other over us.

The first day the three of us ventured out to look over the timber situation, and in the evening arrived at our camp, hungry and almost too tired to eat. The next morning Buzz and Jim decided to appoint me as cook, while the two of them did the cruising.  While I was preparing the first meal I noticed a large weasel on the edge of the camp area, his coat was already three-quarters white.  I threw him some scraps of meat. The next day he was back again observing who had moved into his territory.  His movements were so fast that for a minute I thought that there were several weasels present.  He seemed to be looking at me from several different places at once.

As time went on he remained around the camp and was getting tamer, even accepting bits of meat, which I placed on a moss covered log.  I noticed his coat was getting whiter as time went on. His favourite meat was hamburger.  I kept putting the food on his favorite moss covered log and now instead of carrying the meat away, he ate it all on his feeding station.  One day I placed the hamburger on the toe of my rubber boot, and low and behold, he jumped on my foot and ate the meat.  By now he seemed to have lost all fear of me.  I kept on feeding him off my toe and eventually my knee and then my shoulder.  He accepted the food on just about any place I put the meat, but to touch him was still a no, no.  As soon as I made any sort of movement with my hand, he was away in a flash.

One day, as I was peeling potatoes, he climbed up my leg and onto my shoulder and proceeded to smell the lobes of my ears.  I left him alone and from then on we became fast friends.  Since he was so small, although big for a weasel, I decided to give him a big name, so I named him George Fleming Wilhelm Washington.  By now he was around camp all the time as long as I was there.  his favourite look-out, was a scraggy diamond Willow, which he used to climb just to look around and then come down if he saw nothing that was disturbing.

My two friends didn't know anything about my strange pet and I didn't tell them, for when they were home to camp, George Fleming Wilhelm Washington was nowhere in sight.  At night he used to come and see me in bed and sniff about my face.  I would take some lunch for him and put it beside my pillow, which he eagerly seized, and carried away.

One night in particular, I prepared a foot long piece of garlic sausage, and placed it in the usual place.  As I was reading by a candle light, as usual before falling asleep, along came G.F.W. Washington, to scrounge something to eat, so I let him clinch his teeth on one end of the sausage and we began to have a game of tug-of-war.  He would brace his little feet and pull and growl in a fit of temper, while I pulled at the other end.  This was repeated for several evenings.  One night as we were having a sausage wrestle, my friend Buzz awakened, unknown and looked over my shoulder.

"What in hell is going on?" I heard.

At last, George Fleming Wilhelm Washington was introduced to my friends, and I gave them a full report on the activities of my little pet every day when they arrived from the bush.

After our job of cruising was completed we left the camp intact, and later on I returned with two other men to break camp and pack out our supplies.  Sure enough the weasel was still there waiting for me, as tame as ever. I left him a generous supply of hamburger sausage and bully beef to last him the rest of the winter, and as I was leaving with my pack on my back, George Fleming Wilhelm Washington climbed up to his look-out, shoulder high in the diamond Willow and looked at me with his beady eyes as much to say, "So long pal it's been nice knowing you - Be seeing you some day - maybe."

This story is true - not like some of the stories Neil has been known to tell.  If you have to ask who the Buzz is, you should be exiled to Hurkett.  The "Jim" mentioned is today (Oct 1981) Professor Thomas Bjerklund of the Faculty of Forestry in the University of New Brunswick.  he used to play hockey for Nipigon back in them there days.  -L.M. "Buzz" Lein

Friday, 7 February 2014


February 9, 1984

In Bert Salonen's 1929 Evening News Chronicle, there is in the Nipigon Section an article about Granny Thompson.  No relation to Jack or Maurice.  Long ago E. C. Everett took a picture of Granny when she was sweeping up some wood chips at her woodpile.  Her tiny house was situated on the same corner where Red Winfield lives now (1984 - ed.).

Granny has descendants living in Thunder Bay.  We know this because we spent a couple of hours talking to them in the Museum a couple of years ago.  They left some photos and some written info which should be on file in the Museum.  We have to resurrect these. (Not sure if they made it through the fire of 1990 - ed.)

That long-ago reported who was talking to Granny really blew it because instead of an interesting look into pioneer life, all he got was filler.  You'll know what we mean in a moment or two.  Granny was ready to talk by the way the interview reads but the reported didn't know the right questions to ask.  He had never read any local history.

We learn at the opening of the interview that Granny was married twice. The first time at age 18 to Patrick Cuyley.  If that name was Cooley or Cayley, it would sound better.  The second time to James Thompson.

Taking a few liberties with the intent of the interview, it would seem Patrick lined up a job on railway construction with the C.P. R. and then went back to Ireland to pick up Granny.  We call her Granny because her Christian name is not given.  As noted above she was married at eighteen.  Since this interview was done in 1929 when her age was given as 83, that she was probably born in 1854 and arrived in Canada about 1872.

We'll let the reporter of the Evening News Chronicle take it from here:

"Where was I born?  Why, in the capital city of Ireland in good old Dublin.  I was three weeks crossing the Atlantic Ocean on a sailing vessel, and almost six weeks getting to Nipigon from Halifax where I landed, for we had to go through the States by slow degrees to Minneapolis, thence north to the Lake of the Woods and the settlement called Rat Portage (Kenora).  Over land and stream we finally made it to Port Arthur, and from there set out on a small sailing boat for Nipigon."

"There we about 100 people on that boat coming to Nipigon section.  I remember when the engineers came to pout through the line for the Canadian Pacific Railway, and my first husband, Patrick Cuyley, later became foreman on construction between Red Rock and Jackfish.  At that time, I was living at the Little Jackfish."

From our knowledge of what was going on, Granny is on safe ground when she says she saw the engineers laying out the line.  The first gang of surveyors started there in 1872 and were still at it when Granny arrived about 1874.  As a matter of fact the construction of the C. P. R. east from Thunder Bay started in 1883.  The surveying had to be done or almost done.  By 1884 this section seems to have been completed as far as Red Rock.  It wasn't till early in 1886 that the line was fit to run trains over slowly.

And note how she got to Nipigon Section - they must have travelled by canoe from Rat Portage to Port Arthur.

Re-read that bit about a sailing ship and 100 people on board coming out of Thunder Bay en route for the construction sites.  In 1874-75 there was a regular steamship service out of Thunder Bay east.  There were several of them making this trip regularly.  It seems to us that a sailing ship that could handle 100 passengers together with the crew needed to operate it must have been a heck of a ship. We have not in our reading encountered this particular type of transport. So why didn't that early day reporter ask about it?

Granny also is reported saying that when she arrived at Nipigon there was scarcely anything but bush and the Hudson's Bay Co.  The Hudson's Bay Co. built their first store on Front Street sometime between 1895 and 1900.  There was no place called Nipigon - on the Section known as the Nipigon Section.  The town was still in the future.

Mrs. Thompson is now quoted as saying that she met His Highness the Prince of Wales (1919), Col. Theodore Roosevelt ( a cousin, not the real famous one) and the late Lord Strathcona (Donald Smith).

She also recalled, that school was held in the Hudson's Bay Factor's quarters.  The only time The HBCo had factor's quarters was when the Bay was down on the mud flats.  This could be about 1904 or thereabouts.  She mentions that Donald MacDonald, future deputy of the Dept. of Game and Fisheries, got part of his education there.Maybe. MacDonald, up until Revillon folded just before the end of WW2, was the District manager. Hardly be going to school.  HE had a fair education before he got to Nipigon.

Mrs. Thompson speaks of pioneering hardships.  Our female readers will please remember these are Mrs. Thompson's words and not ours.

"Women of these days (1929)  do not know what it is to have to work. I have always been wearing an apron.  I learned the lesson early that if you want anything done you have to do it yourself."

An that's all there is about pioneer hardships.  That reporter really missed one golden opportunity.

Again a quote from Mrs. Thompson - " one fond memory was when she cooked flap jacks, stacks of them for the men engaged on construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway. We'll betcha.  One fond memory indeed.  Cooking pancakes was an early, early job and all over a hot stove.  It's not exactly the number one desirable job in the cooking business.

And that's all there is.  As we typed we weren't thinking too kindly about that early day reporter. Here he had a goldmine of pioneering information standing right there in front of him.  Gotta be a him -  a woman reporter would have got enough info to fill several books.  Not this guy.  All he accidentally comes up with ius that Mrs. Thompson was a cook with a construction gang in the days when the C.P.R. were building their road bed across the north shore of Superior.

Before the C.P.R. built their bridge across the Nipigon River, there was on the west bank and just a little north of the bridge, a small white building that rumour has it was a boarding house.  And that Mrs. Thompson either ran the place or cooked there.

As he left, the reporter noted that Mrs. Thompson was a most benevolent person.  But she kept the little kids who played around her corner well in line.  Ask Andrew Hardy what Mrs. Thompson's nick name was ..."Devil Woman" - she was always chasing the kids who were mucking about in her garden."