Sunday, 27 September 2015

Father Joseph-Marie Couture, s.j. The Final Part (of six)

A L K Switzer, March 4, 1964

Father Joseph-Marie Couture, s.j.  The Final Part

Some Observations by Those Who Knew Him

It is an interesting side-light that one of the motives that attracted him to the Jesuit Order was that he loved company and felt that in an Order he would have more companionship than as a secular priest – and then he spent the greater part of his life in as lonely a situation as one could possibly imagine.

The local people who knew him well, Roman Catholic, or Protestant, French , Indian or English, without exception testify to the fine character of this man.  He was patient, dedicated, loveable, and strong both physically and spiritually.

Father Rolland stated in a recent article that Father Couture loved God more than nationality.  This is confirmed by all who knew him, that he didn’t debase the Church by using it as a vehicle for other ends than preaching of the Gospel.  As Father Rolland said, to the English he was English,  to the Ojibway he was an Ojibway, and to the French, French.  When he was travelling or visiting  with Indian families whose food dishes were different to those of the white man he insisted on eating whatever they had for themselves whether it was rabbit stew, bannock, boiled fish, dumplings and salt pork, beaver tail, moose nose – he wanted to be as they were.

He was fond of hunting and fishing, and particularly enjoyed an evening of good fellowship with his friends over a game of “500” with good natured conversation.

Although in Longlac he got many of his meals with the family of Nicol Finlayson and later that of Emil Finlayson, he himself was an excellent cook, and would entertain his friends periodically with a delicious bean feed made by bringing the presoaked beans to a boil for just a few minutes and then carefully placing the full pot with a tight cover in a well insulated box where the beans cooked slowly for 8 or 9 hours.

He was a good singer and made records of hymns, masses, etc. and distributed these to the Indians so they could be aided in their devotions during his absence.

On a hunting or fishing trip he was always one of the gang and could be counted on to do his full share of all the chores.  Those who were privileged to accompany him on these trips eagerly looked forward to the occasion.

He regularly conducted prayers when out on such a trip but nevertheless was able to divorce teaching and devotion from pleasure so that neither suffered.

He had a happy manner with everyone, he didn’t order people to do things but would suggest.  For instance if someone had borrowed a tool or bit of equipment without his knowledge, he would quietly say “I think there is something missing here, I wonder what could have happened to it?” and it would reappear.

He had a fine team of MacKenzie River Huskies, about 125 pounds each – of which he was very proud.  Their names were: Prince (lead), Tiger, Higger and Wolf – wheel dog next to the toboggan.

Once Father Couture spoke to a Protestant parent in Longlac and said “ Are you aware that your children are sitting in on my catechism classes?”  The parent said “ No, but if you can put up with them it is all right by me.”

His cabin was crudely constructed with one room – later a lean-to shed was added – and was cold and drafty.  Mice were plentiful and Father Couture who kept a “22” rifle behind his chair just for this purpose would reach for it when he saw a mouse and shoot it.  Once when he saw two eyes peering in a crack from the shed and heard a meowing, he reached for the rifle and fired, then went to see the results. He had shot a cat and behind it were two aluminium plates which were never quite the same thereafter.

The cabin was such that even when there was a good fire burning , if there was a wind blowing you had to stay down wind of the stove to remain comfortable.  Frozen meat would remain frozen in the winter time if left next to the wall.

Here is a remark from one of his Indian parishioners.  “Father Couture was one of the priests that worked and gave his whole heart and life for the Indians.  He worked hard to teach them catechism, prayers and singing, both in Latin and in Indian.”

“He used to visit the Indians along the Railroad and in the trap-line camps, travelling on snow shoes, sleeping on the ground in the wigwams and often had not proper food to eat on these visits to the Indian camps.”

“Father Couture had made many open hearts to the Indians where-ever he had been. He is remembered by many Indians of the Norther Ontario and when news spread telling of his death in 1949, many Indians living both on the north shore of Lake Superior as well as the far northern part of Ontario, and at home here in Longlac, were all in tears.”

An English Protestant told me that at his funeral it was remarkable how Indians came from hundreds of miles away to pay their respects – a demonstration of the love which they felt for him and also of the effectiveness of the “Moccasin Telegraph” about which he loved to tell.

He was a great man and even as he sleeps here in this church, the example that he set of unselfish devotion to Christ and his fellow men can be an inspiration and guide to those who follow him.

“If we sit down at set of sun

And count the things that we have done,

And counting, find

One self-denying act, one word

That eased the heart of him who heard

One glance most kind,

That fell like sunshine where it went

Then we may count the day well spent.”



End of this series of Posts.

Father Joseph-Marie Couture, s.j. Part Five

A L K Switzer, March 4, 1964

Father Joseph-Marie Couture, s.j.  Part Five

The Resident Priest


“Resident” is a poor title to describe a man who still had nine mission centres to vist along the railway,  but is used to indicate that the long canoe voyages, dog team trips , and flying visits were ended.

In 1940 the new presbytery was completed by Father Hamel and the old cabin built for Father Couture in 1928 was transformed into a wood working shop.

When illness kept him confined to the Longlac area in 1941, it took five priests to replace him – two on the River Albany, two on Lake Nipigon and a secular priest who helped out along the railway line.

In December 1945, The Sisters of Christ the King established in Longlac to teach school, care for the sick, teach cooking and sewing to the families under their care.

At the end of January in 1947 the 25th Anniversary of Father Couture’s ordination into the priesthood was observed.

At the time the Longlac church burned, April 1, 1948, Father Couture was bed-ridden in l”hotel-Dieu in Montreal and that Autumn he returned to the College of Sudbury.

When Father Couture was seriously ill March 3, 1949, Marcel Caouette visited him to read to him some letters.  He stayed that night to give the sisters who had been nursing the Father, some rest.  Father Couture expired in Mr. Caouette’s arms at 5:00 a.m. March 4, 1949 – a great man who had given his life for his faith and friends.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Father Joseph-Marie Couture, s.j. Part Four

A L K Switzer, March 4, 1964 

Father Joseph-Marie Couture, s.j.  Part Four

Life as a Flying Priest


Each summer, Father Couture would travel again into the regions of Ogoki, Fort Hope, Lake Sainte-Joseph, etc.  but in 1932 he found the going tougher;  lack of money, abundance of mosquitoes,  burning sun and a serious ache in one knee which hindered him when walking.

He discussed with the Department of Lands and Forests the possibility of using their planes on his trips but found they didn’t go in the direction required.

In 1932 he wrote to the General of the Jesuit Order to see if he might obtain a plane.  He pointed out the hardships and the difficulties of trying to keep in touch with his widespread flock.  He secured permission from his Provincial to obtain a plane providing that he didn’t build up any debts or count on help from the Order.

He went to Sault Ste. Marie and took flying lessons from the Department of Lands and Forests’ pilots.  He was an apt pupil and learned quickly although at the time he was 47 years of age.

His health was excellent except for a little deafness in the left ear and a tendency to arthritis in his right knee.

George Phillips his instructor, suggested he buy a “Moth” plane – a stable machine and not costly – only $5000.  To raise funds he wrote to friends, rapped on doors in towns and villages.  By February 1933 he had raised $1500. Securing money in the depth of the depression was far from easy.

In 1933 he entered hospital at Cartierville for a successful operation on his right knee.  In Montreal he met up with a fellow Jesuit, Father Tom Walsh, and they discussed the problem of money for a plane.  Walsh suggested a visit to Noah Timmins, a generous mining magnate.  At Timmins office they met Leo Timmins, son of the mining magnate and a former college mate of Walsh.  Leo was limping.  In the ensuing conversation it developed that Leo suffered from arthritis developed from a skiing injury.  Father Couture told him of his successful operation by Doctor Samson and suggested he see the same doctor.  Timmins had an operation and was cured. ( Three years later Timmins in gratitude gave Father Couture his third plane, a “Waco” which Timmins bought from Louis Bisson for $8,000).

Father Couture finally settled on the purchase of a second-hand “Gypsy Moth” bought from de Haviland in Toronto for $2200. The plane was piloted by Louis Bisson, a young aviator of much talent.  He delivered it to the Sault for Father Couture.  The plane had red wings with a large white cross painted on it and was aptly named the “Santa Maria”. Louis Bisson served Father Couture for four years 1933 -37  without pay as pilot par excellence, cook and altar boy.  The Indians called him “Bemissewinini” – the man who flies- . in those days there was neither radar nor radio and gas supply was a tremendous problem.  Bisson said in 1943 –“It is easier to cross the Atlantic today than it was some years ago to fly in the north country.”

In July 1933 they made a 4000 mile trip across the District of Patricia, starting off their journey by making two life-saving missions.

The “Gypsy Moth” was old and in poor shape.  In the fall Father Couture acquired a second plane – a Bluebird, but it lacked sufficient power and a better plane was needed.  Money to pay for those needs was always a problem.

Later that year, 1934, a small mine “Sainte Therese”  started up south of Longlac.  The promoters promised that if it was successful they would help the Indians. It could mean money to build a school, a convent, a home for the teaching sisters.  The mine operated for tenor twelve years then closed down.  Although all gold mining is a gamble and people who invest know that they stand to win or lose, Father Cadieux in his book suggests that it bothered Father Couture that his name was used to sell shares and possibly because of that some people who might not otherwise have done so, lost money.

Father Couture received his pilot’s license January 27, 1936 though he already had 300 hours and 50,000 miles to his credit as a co-pilot.

In the autumn of 1936 a plane dropped in to visit Father Couture, piloted by Father Paul Schulte, German priest who had founded an organization to furnish missionaries with modern means of travel.  He promised Father Couture help, but the war intervened before anything could come of it.

In late 1936 Louis Bisson received a letter from high Church authorities inviting him to organize an aviation service for the Arctic Missions, which request he accepted.  Father Couture was left alone to fly the rounds of his 36 missions.  Later he was aided in his flying by Marcel  (Buster)  Caouette.

In 1940 Father Couture’s northern trips ended, for two years earlier, the Oblate Fathers took the far northern missions. The third and last plane the “Waco” was sold.

Father Joseph-Marie Couture, s.j. Part Three

A.L. K. Switzer, March 4, 1964

Father Joseph-Marie Couture, s.j.  Part Three

Life as a Paddling Priest

Father Couture’s apostolate for purposes of description may be conveniently divided into three main stages, viz:

His trips by canoe – 1920- 1933

His trips by plane – 1933 – 1940

His subsequent ministry from 1940 until his death (March 4, 1949)

He secured his baptism as a travelling missionary of the North in the summer of 1920 when he visited the Albany with Father Desautels.

On January 25, 1922, at the age of 36 he was ordained a priest.  Sept.  8, 1922, Father Couture with eight others left for Florennes, Belgium for his Troisieme An ou ecole du Coeur – a year of post-graduate studies required for a Jesuit. He returned to Quebec, May 24, 1923.

At this point his biographer states “he will work all his life near the poor Ojibway of Northern Ontario, having no other desire than to help them spiritually and materially.”

In the first thirteen years of his life as a missionary he travelled each summer about 2000 miles by canoe and in the winter about 1500 miles on snowshoes and by dog team.  The hardships he endured on these trips can only be appreciated by those who have spent months at a time paddling through the North, living out of a packsack, or in the winter have driven a dog team pulling a heavily laden toboggan through difficult country.  And driving a dog team is a misnomer, for usually the teamster must go first to the heavy work of breaking trail and encourage his dogs to follow.

Listen to Father Cadieux’s description (taken from Father Couture’s diary) of a portion of his first summer with Father Desautels.  This was about May 20, 1920, when snow may be expected and often ice is still in the Northern lakes.

“At sunset, Father Desautels sticks into the ground a slender stick at the top of which burns a candle held by a bit of birch bark; by its feeble flickering light he reads his breviary.  Father Couture ends his reading, then rolled in his blanket, he goes to sleep. Not for long.  A chilling wolf howl wakes him in the middle of the night. His woollen blanket can’t cover at the same time both his shoulders and his feet. He shivers the remainder of the night and it will be the same quite often throughout this trip.”

“At daybreak the two travellers launch their light canoe on the waters of Lake Harris;  at the far end is a portage which leads to Lake Cache. Ah!  That portage, where is it?  They search for two hours among a string of islands large and small;  they are mistaken twice in the direction, and at last, towards evening they find the proper trail.  Too tired to portage, they pull into an island to camp.  They pitch their tent on a rocky place to be dry.  Bad weather threatens. Suddenly the storm breaks.  Beaten by rain, hail and snow, they remain there several days, shivering.  To complete their misery, Father Desautels catches cold, one side of his face is swollen, one eye is almost closed.  His stiffened jaw hinders him from eating. It is a swelling broken open in five different places. I hope that the illness will not prove mortal thinks Father Couture! Whilst he builds a big fire before the tent he cautions his superior to be careful.  And then as the storm diminishes in intensity, Father Desautels ‘ good health returns.”


The second summer he returned North with Father Belanger. He was learning the Ojibway tongue and how to travel in the North.

The third summer he was at Wikwemikong on Manitoulin Island learning the beautiful but difficult Ojibway language.

In 1924 he had mastered the Ojibway speech well enough to conduct his missions in that tongue.  That summer he made a trip with Father Vincent Beaulieu of the College du Sacre-Coeur at Sudbury – from Bucke (Savant Lake) on the north line to Lac Saint-Joseph then back to Hearst and from Pagwa to Ogoki and return.  On this trip as on all others the work and the hardships and the lost time are incidental to the object of the trip viz preaching, teaching catechism, blessing marriages, visiting the sick, consoling the bereaved and settling differences.

In February, 1925 he was attacked by arthritis, a malady that would continue to bother him periodically until his death.

In 1927 he used an outboard motor on his canoe and one present resident says that when he returned after a summer on one of these odysseys  in the North that the motor would be battered and worn out.

In 1931 he was accompanied on his trip by the Reverend Father William Hingston, Provincial of the Jesuits of Upper Canada, and by a seminarian, Father Alexandre Rolland, who was ordained in 1934.

From time to time he called in the Indians for a few days of study.  These study periods would last three days with questions, answers, songs, prayers, etc.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Father Joseph-Marie Couture, s.j. Part Two

A.L. K. Switzer,  March 4, 1964 Part two:

Early Life of Father Couture

Father Cadieux’s task as a biographer was lightened by having access to 140 letters written by Father Couture to his sister Madame Alfred Avard, mother of Longlac’s Jean-Louis Avard.  Father Couture too left a few leaflets – about 30 – concerning himself and his thoughts.

Born of the union of Francois-Xavier Couture and Celine Audet,  October 17, 1885 at St. Anseline-de-Dorchester, Province de Quebec, he was the sixth child and first son in a family of six girls and three boys.  He was baptised Joseph-Xavier.  His father was a Road Master with the Quebec Central Railway.  While he was attending primary school he fell ill.  He was a voracious reader and at this time showed a strong desire to emulate Francois-Zavier, who with Loyola was one of the founders of the Jesuit Order.

He took a commercial course at Sainte-Marie de Beauce and then evinced an interest in taking classical studies.  In 1902 at the age of 16 he entered the College de Levis.  He found Greek and Latin roots not particularly to his liking and longed for action and fresh air.  At this time he was offered a job as fireman on the Quebec Central by his uncle Onesime and he told his superior he would like to take it.

The Superior reasoned with him.  Then Joseph Couture declared awkwardly “but Monsieur L’Abbe, I haven’t a calling to the priesthood…I like …the young girls.”  They talked the matter over together and before the discussion ended student Joseph was convinced that he was called by God.  At Easter 1906 he attended a “triduum” or three day prayer session at the Novitiate of the Jesuit Fathers in Montreal and at that time his final decision was taken.

Following this he spent five months as a fireman on the Quebec Central Railway and on September 13, 1906 he entered the Novitiate of Sault-du- Recollet.  On his entry to the Novitiate at Sault-du-Recollet he produced a bottle of whiskey from his pocket.  His uncle Onesine had given it to him as a present saying “my boy, in case of stress take some, it will give you courage.” A little astonished the Father Superior laughingly told him that the apprentices were not accustomed to taking strong drinks and it would be necessary to sacrifice the bottle.  Joseph explained that he didn’t drink but his uncle had given it to him to please him.  He offered it to the Superior to be used for the sick, - as for him he would put his faith in miracles.

On the completion of his apprenticeship Joseph took up literary and philosophic studies.  He was a real student  - long hours were the rule. At this stage he took the name Joseph-Marie Couture. In July 1913 he left Montreal for Spanish, Ontario, an apprentice missionary at the age of 27.  At the Indian Industrial School in Spanish, Father Napoleon Dugas,  the Superior, was among those who welcomed him.  After four years of mastership here he counted on returning to Montreal to begin his theological studies, however, he was prevailed upon to remain another year as the need for good teachers was great.

Finally he got away to start his higher studies but “hardly had he begun his theological studies than he received a message from his Provincial, Father Filion, asking him to set out again for Spanish.”  It was 1918 and the death-dealing influenza had hit.  For eleven days and nights out of night-marish fourteen, he and Father Gamache nursed 105 critically ill children and six Fathers and Brothers.  Despite heroic efforts on the part of Joseph and Father Gamache, eight of the children died.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Father Joseph-Marie Couture, s.j. Part One

A.L.K. Switzer  March 4, 1964

Father Joseph-Marie Couture, s.j.

Ne-endamishkang – “The One We Love To See Come”

Who was Father Couture?

How did he earn the name so full of meaning, “Ne-endamishkang” given him by his Ojibway children?

The story is an inspiring one told with sympathetic understanding by a fellow Jesuit, Father Lorenzo Cadieux, S.j. in the book “De L’Aviron a L’Avion – from paddle to plane – published in 1961, and which won the Prix Champlain – 1958.

In the next (while) I shall tell you a little about this much loved man of God with material taken from Father Cadieux’s book, supplemented by interviews with many persons living in Longlac, Geraldton and Nipigon who knew the man well.

History of the Roman Catholic Church in Longlac

As a background to my remarks on Father Couture it may be well to briefly review the earlier history of the Roman Catholic missions in this area.

White men were in Longlac at least as early as 1763 for there is in the National Archives in Ottawa, a map dated in that year which indicates the position of Long Lake.  At least as early as 1800 the Northwest Fur Company had a post on Long Lake on the clearing now owned by Mr. Verdun Gauthier and known to some as the “Old Hudson’s Bay Farm”.  In 1814 a Hudson’s Bay Post was established adjacent to them and the Hudson’s Bay Company has been here continuously since, having taken over the Northwest Fur Company in 1821.

In 1831 Father Frederic Baraga carried his mission throughout the coasts of Lake Superior.

Father Nicholas Fremiot visited the Nipigon area in 1852.

Dominique du Ranquet was in the general area in the period 1853 – 1877 and it was he who inaugurated the spreading of the Christian gospel in Longlac in 1864. Each year thereafter until Father Couture, first resident priest, took up his abode here in 1927, there was at least one visit annually by a priest.

1877-1880 Father Joseph Hebert was the missionary priest. It was he who with Father Gagnon cut the logs for the first Roman Catholic Church here.

1880- 1897 – Father Joseph Specht

1898 – 1906 – Father Napoleon Dugas

1907 – 1910 – Father Prosper Lamarche

1910 – 1912 – Father Napoleon Dugas

1912 – 1924 – Father Charles Belanger

1924 – 1949 – Father Joseph-Marie Couture ( died March 4, 1949 – buried in crypt of the Church of the Infant Jesus, Longlac)

1949 – 1963 – Father Alphonse Hamel ( Died March 14 (?) 1963 and buried in Indian Cemetery, Longlac)

1963 – Father Alexandre Rolland

The first Roman Catholic Church in Longlac was completed in 1884.  It was 28 feet by 38 feet and the foundation logs may still be seen. The floor was of whip-sawed tamarack planks and the interior was lined with sheets of birch bark as would be used in making a tepee or canoe.  This was on the shore of Long Lake not far east of the present “Mac’s Tourist Camp”. In 1888 a 104 pound bell was installed and His Excellence Monseigneur Z. Lorraine, Bishop of Pembroke was present for the ceremony of blessing.  Sometime about the turn of the century the church was moved to the Hudson’s Bay Farm.  Parts of this building were moved about 1921 to the site on which we  are gathered tonight and became the well known red-painted church30 feet by 40 feet which burned down April 1, 1948.  The tables, benches and altar railings were these used in church #1 and #2.  In the same year the present fine edifice was erected, largely due to the efforts of the late Father Hamel and with generous help from Archbishop Charbonneau of Montreal and Bishop Landry of Hearst.

So much for a little history of the area and a brief glance at the names and terms of service of the priests who were here.  Now let us take a look at the man whom we came here to-night to remember and whose memory we came to honour.

End of part one:

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Symposium on Viking/Norse and American Indian Cultural Integration, 1000-1500 A.D.

Symposium on Viking/Norse and American Indian Cultural Integration,  1000 – 1500 A.D.

Missouri History Museum

5700 Lindell Blvd. in Forest Park

Date & Time:


Saturday, September 26, 2015 at 10 AM – 4 PM

Scandinavian Picnic –

Sunday, September 27, 2015 at 12 – 4 PM

Blue Heron Pavilion, Valley Park, MO

Online reservations:

General Admission $27.37

Boy Scouts, Order of the  Arrow:

All scouts wearing their uniforms and regalia are admitted free to the event!


Myron Paine, PhD

Author: Frozen Trail to Merica: Talerman (2007) and Walking to Merica (2008).  Lenape Lenni Indian and Walam Ulam expert.

Ralph Rowlett, PhD:

Naskapi & Inuit Folklore, Legends

Eric Hinrichs, PhD:  Nordic & Algonquin languages, DNA

Author:  Viking Christian Missionaries to Americas – 1000 – 1500 A.D.,

500 Years of Viking Presence in America



Steve Hilgren, Bonnie Rasmussen & William Smith:

Artifacts, lectures, books, historical documents

& film: Kensingtonsteinensgata  (The Mystery of the Kensington Stone)

Freda Cruse Hardison

Talk on the ‘Birth of the Ozarks” Intermarriage & Integration of Native Americans in our own Missouri Ozarks!


75,000 Pageviews reached September 23, 2015
Thank You

While I was chasing bears out of our garden
 you guys just read us right into another thousand Pageviews.

Saturday, 19 September 2015


Buzz Lien’s  DOMTAR BUYS SMOKE!  February 5, 1974

When a company injects a million dollars into the cash flow of an area, it should not go unnoticed. When the same company provides the transportation companies with nearly two million dollars, the bells should ring out, flags should unfurl and rockets should streak across the commercial sky.

Domtar Woodlands Limited, of Red Rock, Ontario, have done these things. And, they have done it with style, class, imagination and plain, ordinary sawmill residues of sawdust and shavings.

Once upon a time, sawdust and shavings were a source of real annoyance to sawmill owners.  Small sawmills in woodsy locations had mountains of it around the place.  Larger sawmills at rail sidings spent all kinds of money just burning the stuff top get rid of it, while at the same time polluting the atmosphere and infuriating local housewives when the fly-ash product  of combustion settled out on the clothes that were drying on the line.

Before this, long, long before this, sawmills dumped this stuff in streams and lakes where it drifted downstream out of the way, not doing the fish or wildlife any good.  But, this was before it was discovered that wild life could be obliterated much more efficiently with DDT and other pesticides.

In 1969, Domtar Woodlands purchased the great and noble sum of 133 oven-dry tons of sawdust to see what the paper mill could do with it.

In 1970, the purchases for the year zoomed up to 1,000 tons, still nothing to get excited about.

But, in 1971, after a lot of hard head-scratching by a lot of people, some break-throughs were evident as the mill used 30,000 tons of residue.  Hearst and Thunder Bay supplied most of it.  In 1972, after more successful head-scratching and break-throughs, 90,000 tons of what used to be turned into smoke became a useful  product when it was turned into pulp.

1973 was a banner year.  Things went much better because 94,000 tons of sawdust went in one end of the mill as wood fibre and came out the other as part of a saleable product.

City dwellers, and indeed people who live and work in forested areas, do not really realize that the day of easy availability of virgin fibre has passed away.  It is of great importance that our natural resources (fibre) are used to the very best advantage. There can be no better illustration of this than the use of sawdust and shavings in the manufacture of pulp.

And, when the one million dollars that was spent to acquire the material is spread across Northern Ontario, it has a definite plus affect on an economy that is still too narrowly based on the production of wood fibre.  The nearly two million dollars that were spent to get one million dollars worth of material into Red Rock should spread a warm, pecuniary glow among the people who in railway cars and trucks brought it in.

The course of true love never runs smoothly and Domtar’s affairs with sawdust and shavings does have its bumpy moments.  But, these bumpy moments are becoming less bumpy and the relationship cozier and cozier as experience and techniques combine to turn the affairs into a prosaic domestic relationship.

There doesn’t seem to be any reason why the bulk of the technical problems that beset a new and novel process cannot be solved before the end of 1974.

We are betting Domtar can do it!

Buzz Lien's PULP CUTTER OF '49

Buzz Lein’s  PULP CUTTER of ‘49

A pulp cutter is a husky individual that gets up at the crack of dawn and goes into the bush where with great rapidity and much skill he commences cutting little logs out of big trees.  He never gets a chance to cut in strips where the timber is really good.  That is always reserved for the fellow who is cutting alongside of him.  From the time he hits his strip until a little after dinner,  he cuts down the trees and saws them into bolts along the rabbit trail that he has swamped out.  This trail is ten feet wide according to him.  It is only four feet wide according to the strip boss and the stumps are high enough to be used for lookout towers.

Along this trail and at regular intervals are little clearings where he piles up the wood that he has cut.  A great deal of thinking and ingenuity goes into this.  It is essential that he get a minimum amount of wood in a maximum amount of space.  To further this worthy ambition he stays awake nights thinking of ways and means to accomplish it.  He has already tried putting in plugs; crooked sticks and knotty bolts but he knows that that won’t get by the scaler.  So the wood is carefully piled according to a plan worked out over the years.  When the scaler comes along he will stand back and look at it, wondering how the hell so little wood get piled in such a large space without leaving any holes.  This worries the scaler but makes the cutter glow with happiness for the rest of the day.

After battling all day with heat; flies; brush; poor timber; dirty ground; long walks to work; poor tools; ruining expensive working clothes; wearing out lousy files; arguing with strip boss’s; scalers; walking boss’s; contractors and anyone else who thinks that the cutting regulations are not being followed he drags himself back to camp, completely exhausted after making about $12.00 in six hours.

In camp, there are about 50 more men all engaged in cutting pulp.  The only  difference is that these fellows all have better timber and are working much closer to camp than he is.  After having washed up and put on clean clothes, he discusses the happenings of the day with his fellows.  During the course of these conversations there may be casual references to women and liquor.  By the time the conversational ball really gets rolling, the bell goes and they all troop in for supper.

For some reason there are never any good cooks in a pulp camp. The cookees are just about the slowest things that ever skidded a plate along a table.  The table is invariably bare except for bread and butter; meat and potatoes; Two or three vegetables; pies; cakes; cookies;  various condiments; tea; coffee and milk.  The cutter never stays in the mess hall for more than six minutes, completing the last of his swallowing about halfway between his place at the table and his bunk.  He usually takes on during this brief sojourn in the cookery, enough food to keep a tribe of Indians for a whole winter.

After his post prandial smoke, he ambles over to the office.  He doesn’t want anything but it is a good way to kill a few minutes.  Since the clerk hasn’t done anything all day, he will be glad to see him and to pass the time of day with him. In between the time he first gets this idea  and before he actually arrives at the office, he thinks of several things he might as well discuss with the clerk while the other fellows are lined up behind him patiently awaiting their turn to buy the few little items that they need.  In the first place there is that matter of a difference in his scale slip of some .0000038 points. He might just as well have the dough as the company.  In the second place this would be a good time as any to check up on his income tax.  That so and so of a clerk is picking on him and that’s for sure.  He has no business taxing him as a single man when he has put down on his tax form that he is personally maintaining a self-contained domicile and is looking after his three young brothers, a crippled uncle, his great grandmother and thirty seven orphans.

After this brief and stimulating encounter with the clerk – which ended in a draw – he goes back to the bunkhouse to read; smoke; talk to his chums or just loll around till it is time to go to bed.  He may or may not feel the pangs of hunger and go for a coffee.  He may even file his saw or touch up his axe.  When he tumbles into his well- made bed and draws the blankets up under his chin, he drops off into a deep and restful slumber, so that when he awakens in the morning he will be in great shape to go forth and give battle.

After spending about 42 days in camp, the cutter discovers that he has a few bucks on the books and that since the jobber is drawing interest on this money, he might just as well go for a holiday and spend it.  His nerves are pretty well shot anyway.  The moment this wonderful idea hits him, there is loud cry for the strip boss and scaler.  Orphan number 23 is dreadfully ill and his presence is required at home at once. The clerk and strip boss and scaler know how it is.  He really should have given notice ahead of time but since this is an emergency he knows they won’t mind clearing him at once.  The clerk and the scaler and the strip boss are all suspicious as hell but they can’t take a chance.  Maybe this is an emergency.  So the cutter gets cleared and away he goes in an expensive taxi to the nearest town.  Forgotten are all the things that were worrying him a few days ago.

Once in town, cheque cashed, room reserved and all dressed up in his good clothes, you can’t tell a cutter from a Woods Manager or a high school teacher.  In fact some woods managers and high school teachers have been cutters. Its only after the cutter has been in town for a few hours that you can tell the difference between him and a high school teacher.  He goes into business for himself then. Invariably the first thing that he tries is to put the local liquor store and brewers’ warehouse out of business.  This has never been done in the memories of the oldest inhabitants but it isn’t because it hasn’t been tried. Our cutter won’t make out any better than his predecessors.

Depending on whether or not the cutter gets rolled, his stay in town will be about two weeks at the most.  During this period, he will be viewing the world through a warm comfortable fog.  He will also purchase many meals that he doesn’t eat, give away much money to bar flies with sad stories and purchase one of more taxis.  His popularity will flare briefly and brilliantly.  It finishes abruptly when his last penny goes out of his pocket.

Borrowing enough money from the hotel keeper to go back to work, our disheveled and sick cutter morosely finds his way back to his camp the best he can. He rolls into the camp yard and peering painfully through blood red eyes he looks to see what is new.  He totters over to a bench in the sun and practically collapses on it.  Through the haze he recognizes one of his chums beside him.  He leans over toward him as if to impart some secret of great importance.

“Boy!” he croaks. “Boy.  Did I ever have a good time!”

Buzz Lein: Domtar Woodlands and its influence on the Community of Nipigon, 1973

Buzz Lein, August 27, 1973

Domtar Woodlands and its influence on the community of Nipigon

When twenty-one year old John C. Burke arrived in Nipigon in 1909, he had no way of knowing that sixty-two years later, in 1971, he would return to see trains running over the right-of-way he had surveyed from Nipigon to Red Rock for the C.N.R.  John Burke was delighted to see that the engineering office of Foley Brothers, contractors, where he had labouriously worked over his survey notes  by the flickering light of an oil lamp was still there and still being used by people who still made notes, maps, and estimates.  The sign over the door says “ DOMTAR WOODLANDS LIMITED” in 1972.  As John Burke reminisced, one could see the moose on the right-of-way, one could taste the cheap whiskey that sold by the water glassful, one could hear the gay chatter of the local girls in the old Finn Hall that stood where  Clarke’s garage now is. [2015 = Mac’s Mart]

But Domtar Woodlands office building had a history even before this.  It is rumoured that it was originally built just after 1900 for Nipigon’s first resident doctor.  Certainly the square nails used in part of its construction would indicate it came into being about then.

Domtar’s next door neighbour, a small Anglican Church, was built in the early 1890’s by an Anglican prelate whose children had learned to speak Ojibway while playing with the little girls and boys on McIntyre Bay on Lake Nipigon in the 1880’s. This same prelate’s son eventually became the Bishop of Moosonee and Metropolitan Bishop of Toronto.  The tiny graveyard speaks of Alexander Matheson, Hudson’s Bay Company, retired, of Andersons and Olsens who died during the construction of the C.P.R., of the infant sons and daughters of the pioneer families of Nipigon.

Across the street from the Woodlands office is what was once the Scandia House, “the” place to stay in the days when the bulk of the traffic was by water.  It is not too recognizable now in its middle class d├ęcor, but eighty years ago, this cement block boarding house must have rocked to the sound of lonesome and homesick Scandinavians gradually becoming accustomed to the strange new ways of this wild, isolated wilderness in which they found themselves.

And just up the street is the Catholic Mission, established in Nipigon in 1906, the first permanent home in this area for people of this faith.  It is true that Pere Mesaiger, who was here with LaVerendrye in 1727, would never recognize it , nor would Pere Fremiot who so painfully snowshoed to Lake Nipigon from Fort William in that never-to-be-forgotten cold of February of 1852.

Another of Domtar’s neighbours is the first permanent Protestant establishment.  Even Methodist Peter Jacobs might have seen this one.  But the land was acquired for this Presbyterian Church not from the Hudson’s Bay Company, but from the Governor and Company of Adventurers of England Trading into Hudson’s Bay.  A truly grandiloquent landlord of what was probably a scruffy, sandy lot covered with scrubby jackpine in 1899.

Domtar’s building is [ now,2015, was] at the junction of Second Street and Newton Street.  Second Street is just off the old portage from Red Rock [Post} to Lake Helen.  Newton Street is named for the swinging Irishman who was the Hudson’s Bay Company man in charge of the Red Rock Post in the 1880’s and early 1890’s.

After Foley Brothers got the C.N.R. causeway built and the right-of-way built up between Red Rock (of 1972) and some distance north of Nipigon, they left the area, and their engineering office seems to have been acquired by a fur trader named Sanderson who left nothing of himself behind except a reputation for stinginess and his name on a street. Sanderson rented the building out as a dwelling.

The late Carl Sjolander acquired the building in the late 1920’s and he was a fit occupant.  He was a character who left behind him years of service to the town and many delightful stories which were still going the rounds a few years ago.  It was said that he knew every cornerpost and every lot marker for miles around Nipigon – because at one time or another for some reason or another, he had changed or moved them all!

In 1942, Brompton Pulp and Paper acquired the house from Sjolander and after some slight remodelling, used it for a woods office and that has been its purpose to now.

In a small town, thirty years is a long time.  It is also plenty of time for community-minded employees to give of themselves to the community, and during this three decades the gifts have been worth while.

Stewart Young (Great Lakes Paper) worked and lived in this building. So did Bill Turner (Vice President, retired, Ontario Paper Company).  Julian Merrill was never at a loss to improve Nipigon’s civic image, Russ Hallonquist was an excellent Reeve.  Bruce Pow, Bill Christie, Cliff Elder, Jack Wynes, Pete Lacasse, Bill Schultz, Steve Farrell are remembered names.

The impressive contributions of Don Stevens and Bill McKinley to the curling Club.  Frank Polnicky’s invaluable aid to the arena construction and the United Church. Murray Wilson on church construction and on school boards at the expense of his own time. Ernie Smith’s years of service to the High School Board.  Bill Baker’s selfless service to the Public School Board. Bill Moore’s tremendous contribution to town planning boards over many years.

And the names could go on.

It just didn’t seem right that Domtar should suddenly and quietly disappear from the community after more than a generation of integrated life. It didn’t seem right that after all those years the roots should  be salted.

It was therefore suggested that Domtar should give the nearly 6000 citizens of the area a going away present, reversing the trend of what usually takes place. When their Woodlands Department moved to quarters in the main mill office building at Red Rock, Domtar donated their Nipigon property to the people of the area for use as a museum, to be used as an area museum and as a base of operations for the Nipigon Historical Society and  as a centre of operations to do the basic research that will lead eventually to the reconstruction of LaVerendrye’s Fort Ste. Anne. This was a poste du nord originally built in Nipigon by La Tourette in 1679 and rebuilt by LaVernedrye in 1717.

Here, in this museum, will be kept a record of what went on in the past.  It is important because everything now was built on everything past.  As will be the case in the future when what happens then will largely depend on what is happening now.

Thanks to Domtar Woodlands Limited, there is a very good chance that this will come about.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Buzz Lein: Last Raft on the Nipigon

Buzz Lein Forestry Articles: August 27, 1973

Towing & Rafting

The last raft to be moved into the Red Rock Mill holding ground was a 5,000 cord effort that was safely delivered after an uneventful tow time of three hours during a rare spell of Domtar weather (ideal for rafting).

This is the raft that had to be left in the Sturgeon River in 1972 when the rains didn’t come and even the muskrats had to portage when they went upstream or down.  Neil Arthur battled some of wood into the river.  Ernie Kivi had the overall responsibility.  John Ahl was an interested observer as he was required as a rafting consultant.  Art Steinke made a couple of trips up and down the river to see how it was done. Jiggs McInnis and Ed Conway were along to guess how much wood was left in the river.

Then in 1973, Ernie went back and finished cleaning the wood out of the river and at the end of June saw the Abitibi tug, Orient Bay, depart for the last time from the mouth of the Sturgeon River.

Abitibi, with foremen George Flett and Henry Hill, took this wood down to Lake Helen where Bob Matchett picked it up and delivered it to the mouth of the Nipigon River. Here it was picked up by Stubby Lanktree in the mill boat, Dorothy, and by Howard Leitch in the Abitibi, Goki.

All water delivery in the Nipigon has now ceased and there will probably be no more.

Buzz Lein's Forestry Article : November 7, 1973

Buzz Lein  Writes About :  Prosperity, November 7, 1973

Prosperity in Northwestern Ontario is directly dependent on the availability of wood fibre. Without it, there would be a dramatic and catastrophic change in the economic climate.  There would be no Marathon, Terrace Bay would vanish, Red Rock would again be a section house, Thunder Bay would assume depression status, Dryden would be a ghost town.

Wood fibre isn’t of any use until such a time as it has been torn apart and put back together again in a commercially desirable form, whether it be Kraft paper of grocery bags, bleached pulp for further processing or two by four’s for construction purposes.  It is this tearing apart and putting together again that is the heart of Northwestern Ontario ‘s economic prosperity.

Trees have to be cut down, limbed and cut into manageable sized logs. Logs have to be transported to the place of utilization and every step of the way there are costs added to costs until by the time a log gets to a mill its value has augmented from nothing to a considerable something.  And, of all the labour required to move wood from stump to the mill, 65% of it is used in cutting the tree down, taking the limbs off it, moving it out to a road, and cutting it up into logs that are to be hauled away.  The cost of woods’ labour in Northwestern Ontario  Is reported to be the highest in the world, so that when this is related to the labour content of tree processing, it has a very sad effect on the profit margins that the wood fibre processor must have.

And, it is this profit margin which pays for increased sales taxes, wages, all Government socialized benefits, increases in transportation, increases in the cost of raw material of all kinds.  For some mystifying reason, Canadians still think they get all these things for nothing and from huge profit laden companies with head offices in Utopia.

It is an axiom that the hungry wolf runs the fastest and the farthest. Because companies need more fibre than manual labour can (or will) produce, means must be found to augment the manual methods of harvesting with mechanical methods. And, it is only when all wood fibre users get into a short labour supply situation that an effort will be made to run farther and faster in the direction of mechanical harvesting.  It is also sadly true that they will be all running in different directions and over different length courses.

The need for mechanical harvesters is imperative, urgent and here now. Wood fibre producers have to mechanize or they are not going to survive.  It is as simple as that. And, they no longer have years and years to develop these machines.

The importance of having more and better harvesting equipment in the woods is more than obvious.  This equipment is a survival kit for wood fibre producers if they are to maintain their economic well being.  If this same equipment can be developed  and made in Canada, then it will help our Canadian economy.

It looks very much as if what is ahead is a lack of fibre for the mills.  This lack will come about in two ways.  One will be a lack of reserve fibre available and there isn’t much that can be done about this. The other  lack will be due to an inability to supply the machinery and people needed to harvest the crop.  It doesn’t make any difference to a machine whether or not the trees are numerous, scarce, tall, short, limby, branchy, or anything else.  It will do exactly as its operator directs. Yet all these things have an effect, usually adverse, on the production of manual workers. If there are not enough manual workers to make up for the lack of harvesting machines, then there will not be enough fibre produced at a reasonable enough price and then all consumers suffer.

Mills can make paper (or lumber, or pulp) from high cost fibre.  They cannot make a product of any kind from no fibre at all.

There is now and there always has been a need for wood-harvesting equipment. The financial success of it depends on it being a better than average product, backed up by a better than average service with better than average customer relations. Any piece of equipment can be sold under conditions like these.  It is surprising how many equipment manufacturers seem to forget these rules after they get a product well underway.

It is too bad, really, that wood harvesting has to be carried on in remote areas where people are few, biting insects are numerous, and the places have unpronounceable names along with unforgiveable extremes of climate.

The development  of successful tree harvesting equipment in Eastern Canada is dependent upon the success of a shock treatment from some external force. The first part of the shock is here – the labour shortage.  The second part will come when fibre producers suddenly become aware that not enough is being done in the area of mechanical harvesting.

There is also a third part of this shock.  It is frequently fatal and will come with the sudden awareness that planning has not been done well and that fibre processing plants will have to close because there is no way to supply them.

It could happen here.

Buzz Lein: Forestry article, February 6, 1974

Why Are We Tolerating it Now?  Industrial Foresters, Speak Up.

By: Buzz Lein , Industrial Forester, Feb. 6, 1974

I am an Industrial Forester.  I am part forester, part engineer, part ecologist and part myth. I live and work in Northern Ontario where I am never seen, never heard and never believed. I help to cut down and harvest nature’s trees. I build roads and bridges. I worry about the effects of having too much of our area covered with over-mature and decadent trees.  I wonder where al the small trees are going to come from to keep paper mills going a few more years hence;  and, I wonder , on occasion, why the role of an Industrial Forester is either completely ignored or completely misunderstood.

The fact that an area is dependent on its forests and trees for its economic well-being does not in any way mean that the dwellers therein are any more aware of the industrial forester’s role than a person who lives in a factory town where the only trees are those that  appear about the end of December each year, are greatly admired for a few days and then discarded.  It is just not possible to relate to the function on an industrial forester unless one takes the time and trouble to go see not only what he is doing but where  and how he is doing it.  The gas pump jockey who never gets out of town may get all emotional about cutting down  trees and wilderness areas without having the foggiest idea what it is all about.  The manager of the big service centre who refuses to go camping because there are flies that bite is never going to understand why trees have to be cut down when they are “ripe”.  And, the Insurance salesman who has never spoken to any kind of a forester will recoil in horror at his first sight of a clear-cut area.

These good people are typical of people who live in forested parts of the country.  Mill workers are not normally knowledgeable about either the natural forces that produce the raw material or the mechanical processes involved in moving the wood from the woods to the mill.  And, when people as close to the use-process as mill workers are not clear about what goes on in the forest, it wouldn’t be right to expect that other people in industries not forest –based should be more knowledgeable.

Why doesn’t the industrial forester do something about alerting people to forest happenings?  Why doesn’t he show his knowledge of the woods?   Good questions.  And, easy to answer.

He doesn’t alert people to the forest happenings because he doesn’t know how to do it.  And, he doesn’t know how to do it because he has received little or no training in this art.  In addition, he receives practically no encouragement from his superiors to do anything like this because his superiors  are also industrial foresters and are labouring under the same handicaps he is.

Now, combine this “ isolationism” with a species  that is few in number, widely scattered, generally living comfortably in small towns where their activities are out of the main stream of public awareness, and the end result is complete public silence.

In 1974 ( or any other year that’s handy) , complete public silence from experts in the wood harvesters’ field cannot and should not be permitted.

Why are we tolerating it now?

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

73,000 PAGEVIEWS by August 25, 2015

A very Big thank you to all the readers and viewers of the Nipigon Museum Blog Posts. That's a thousand views in just ten days! Business is booming!
Visitation is up at the Museum this summer too.
Watch for us on various Fishing TV shows throughout the winter coming up. Lots of action in July and it takes a while for the shows to be produced. The hundredth Anniversary of the catch of the "still" world record Brook Trout caught their imagination.
This week may see a film crew from England catching some of Ontario's history as it happened in Nipigon all those years ago.
I see where someone was trying to locate where Split Rock is on the Nipigon River, not sure if Google Earth would show it just above Cameron Falls dam site. I'll get a map up for you later.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Nipigon River before and After the Dams

The slide show that flips between old and current views of the Nipigon River was a big hit during the Brook Trout Festival weekend.  It will run the rest of the summer. The light blue in the map is the old river as it flowed before the dams were created. The darker blue is today's river.

Mills Fish

Mills fish mount moved under glass.
This was the winner of the Mary Pickford trophy in 1936.
Nipigon River catch.

Fin colour after 79 years of mount.

Beads used to imitate water drops.