Facebook page now called Nipigon History. It should be auto changed in Google.
Daniel Dean Gapen, Sr., 89 years of age, passed away peacefully at the St. Cloud Hospital on Saturday, November 20th, 2021.
He was born April 9, 1932 in Duluth, Minnesota. For the first years of his life Dan was raised in Minnesota’s Arrowhead country at the Hungry Jack Lodge on the Gunflint Trail. The family then moved to Nipigon, Ontario, where they began operating the Chalet Bungalow Lodge, a tourist fishing and hunting Camp on the Nipigon River, which at that time was the road’s end.
Dan began tying flies under his Father’s instruction at the age of 6, including the Muddler® Fly which his Father, Don, created on the shores of the Nipigon River.
Don also taught Dan the art of guiding and river running. Dan was a fishing guide from the age of 14; the principle fish being the world-famous Brook Trout, Northern Pike, Walleye and Lake Trout. He began guiding moose hunters at age 15.
Dan’s Military title in the Army was Specialist Third Class and was stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia. His military service included guiding Military Officials fishing, frog gigging and hunting.
He worked diligently with Congress and Senate Members in the 1970s to instrument legislation to preserve running waters, first in Minnesota for the Mississippi River, then nationally to enact the Wild and Scenic River Bill.
In the late 1960s Dan formed the Gapen Tackle Company and created items such as the Ugly Bug® Jig and the Bait Walker® Sinker. He continually strove to bring to his fishing public lures and products that would genuinely work in catching fish.
He loved to work Sports Shows and visit with his fishing friends and customers, and to give fishing seminars. Dan was the author of many books, both on ‘How-To’ catch fish, and legend/stories. He was contributing writer for many national outdoor magazines and syndicated columns for decades.
Dan co-hosted and was guest on numerous TV shows through the years, and filmed and produced The Sportsman Channel’s “Fishing the World With the Ol’ Man and ‘Bobber’ Anne”, alongside Anne Orth, the 30-year employee of the Gapen Company and best friend to Dan. He loved to film underwater video, trying to capture on film fish striking Gapen lures!
Dan was a Father, Grandfather, Cousin, Son, Partner, Brother, Uncle and Friend. To most he was a true Legend, one of the top Anglers and Storytellers of our time, much loved by those who knew him.
He is survived by his children, Deborah Gapen, Sandra Gapen-Dahl, and Mitchell Gapen. He is the beloved Grandfather of 19 and Great-Grandfather of 38.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Betsey and Don Gapen, and his sister Vaughn Thompson. Deceased children are Danette Gapen, Daniel Gapen, Jr., and Walter Scott Gapen.
Condolences may be expressed by email to the Gapen family at email@example.com.
Family and friends are invited to attend a Celebration of Life at the Monticello Community Center at 505 Walnut Street, Monticello, MN 55362 on December 12th, 2021 from 1pm to 4pm . A short memorial and military honors service will be given during this time.
Dan had many loves, especially friends and family.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be sent to the Minnesota Fishing Museum, or the Tunnel to Towers Foundation (the severely disabled Military members group). You may contact them directly or send gifts to the Gapen Family at P.O. Box 10, Big Lake, MN 55309
Interviewed Wednesday October 4th, 2006
I didn’t know that there was another highway until I asked Irwin why those were two accesses to the golf course. That’s when he told me that’s where the old highway was – the original one. Suicide Hill was changed too with the new highway. It was more of an s-curve before. I moved to Nipigon in 1953 and then I left in 1956 and I came back in 1958. When I came back in 1958 we had a beer store which we didn’t have before. We had a plywood mill and the high school was in Red Rock. That was in the two year span that I was gone.
I believe the high school was built in Red Rock because of the finances because of the mill. I think it was a matter of the tax base. It all happened in the same year, the plywood mill and the school. The town was booming then. When you went uptown you had to look for a parking space for your baby carriage in front of the Bay. You had to squish your carriage in to find a space to park that carriage. In the winter time it was nothing to cover up the babies and put them in their carriages and stick them outside to sleep. I’m serious! Nowadays you wouldn’t think to dare leave your baby lying in a baby carriage outside alone! You would be charged probably! Imagine that!
We lived in Greenmantle when my daughter started school and there were over fifty-eight kids on that street. That was also when Greenmantle houses were first built up there. We bought one of the first houses that when up – when you go the M.N.R. you turn right it was the third house right next door to Atwill’s. The house was just built the year that we bought it because we bought it brand new. That was the year before Kenny went to school and he’s forty-five now. That’s something interesting too – we have to go by there because up the back lane there you’ll see a big oak tree and I believe that’s the only oak tree in Nipigon. I planted it there in the late 1960’s. I just went out and bought and wanted to have an oak tree. Everybody told me it wouldn’t grow but I talked to Blake not too long ago and he said it’s huge. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an oak tree up here. I keep forgetting to drive around and take a look at it. I was sitting here earlier and thinking what Nipigon used to be like. Nobody had any money! Phone up Zechner’s, put your grocery order in and if he was working and if you had a small kid at home – no problem – as soon as all then Thompson kids were home from school, he would take all the kids in the truck and go to Zechner’s and pick up the groceries and deliver them right into your kitchen. And if you had money you paid for it and if you didn’t Zechner carried you until you had money. If it hadn’t been for old Florian Zechner there would have been a lot people in a lot of trouble. I think people seem to forget those things. You could phone for groceries if your list was small or big. He would let you charge with no questions asked. I don’t know how many people he carried.
There were two Jewellers – Kriff’s and Sheckner. Then there was a restaurant which was Joe’s snack shop and then there was the Rendezvous Restaurant and Liberty Café was there also. Right where the library is was the Roxie Café and across the street was the Misty’s Grill. I mean everything was just booming! I think there were about three thousand people in Nipigon. There were a lot of bush workers that there isn’t anymore. There were a lot of boot-leggers too. And there were Taxies running back and forth to Thunder Bay and to Beardmore too. We used to get a bottle of ____ for one buck too ($1.00). Sometimes it was something to get that dollar too! It used to be five dollars for a night out.
Well Irwin was making a dollar and a quarter an hour when we bought our first house down on Duluth Street and we had a baby and that’s what he was making. We charged a lot of groceries and we always paid our grocery bill eventually. During those years when you didn’t have the cash Florian Zechner carried a lot of people. Visa credit card started up in the 1960’s and when it first came out it was called Chargex. The only one that didn’t jump on the band wagon at that time was the Bank of Montreal and they still stick with their own Mastercard. The first telephone was Northern Telephone.
And this is kind of interesting too and maybe people aren’t aware and some would remember the Kinsmen and the Kinettes in Nipigon. We were both chartered members of that group. But there was before us years before we started over some forty years ago. There had been another Kinsmen Charter in Nipigon at one time and this was the second time it had been chartered in Nipigon. It was our group that started the senior supper – there were twelve Kinsmen and twelve Kinettes and it was us that started that Senior Supper every year. So it’s nice to see it continue on. There weren’t enough members and they lost their charter. And once you turn forty years old you can’t have any voting rights – no – you can still stay on but you’re considered a K40. You can still belong but you don’t vote or hold office which in a way is good because it keeps the younger ones involved. I think what happened too was a lot of the members – there were so many changes with the OPP and Bell Telephone was in here and different ones that were coming and going and I think that there were too many transient members. And once they got transferred and they’re gone they are hard to replace. They did lose their charter because of lack of members. It was a good group and we had a lot of fun. It was here for quite a while! When Cameron Falls closed down we had a group that moved all the playground equipment down to the arena.
Now this Rotary thing, that was fifteen years ago. What happened was Rotary was for years the “old boys club”. There were no women in the club period! Women were not allowed. In fact there are still a few clubs now that still won’t allow women join their club. The Port Arthur Club tried the Rotary International to confirm that I was the first female Chartered President in the world but they were never able to confirm that. They were going to put up signs in Nipigon about it. I still think I probably was. I was just sitting and having coffee with Peter Young and I was asking him about the Rotary. Peter help out the Thunder Bay club and the Marathon club, he helped get those off the ground. We got people talked into it around here and it took a while but then we had enough to get a charter. We had twenty-two or twenty-three when we chartered. Some people there were three, four or five people – we had an awful time to get enough members. Finally we got it off the ground and they’re doing really well. Well the main goal for years was to wipe out polio in the world. There’s certain classifications that members need to join and they only allow someone with certain classifications in the club. We’re not members any anymore – we’re retired now. You also need to attend sixty percent of the meetings in order to stay on as a member.
We camp all summer. We’ve also been Legion members and it’s been close to forty years now that I’ve belonged to the Ladies Auxiliary and a few years as member of the branch. I was the first female bank manager in Nipigon. I was first female bank manager at the Bank of Commerce in Red Rock. I was Bank Manager at the Royal first then we had a grocery store for a while so I ran that. The store was right across from where the old hospital used to be. That was our confectionary store! Then after we got rid of the store I went back to work in Red Rock at the bank. I worked there for eight years. I left before that bank closed in Red Rock and I came back to the Royal Bank in Nipigon. Now I’m on my second career working at H & R Block. That’s full time from January to April and then one day a week after that.
We have two children – Kenny and we adopted a daughter. There was always something for the children to do but Kenny wasn’t the kind that cared to much for sports or anything competitive. Its not that activities weren’t available for the kids, there was plenty to do. It’s just that he never really got into hockey or stuff like that. We didn’t worry about the children. Hockey was big thing with the North Shore League. Before there were seats in the old arena they would have about two thousand people at a hockey game.
This a cute story that you’ll like. When Kenny was born and that was at the old hospital with Dr. Wells. So this is my first baby and I’m thinking well there’s supposed to be some horrible pain with this. The doctor asked me if I was having contractions. “No, no pain or contractions but the baby is moving every minute” I told him. So he told the nurse to check me out. “Get her down to the delivery room” and I was laying on that gurney and of course my feet were up in the stirrups. So I’m laying there and these stirrups aren’t very comfortable and I want to roll over on my side and I can’t. So I started puffing and the doctor asked me if I was having any contractions yet? I said “no” and he told me that I was having one now. And I said “no, the baby is just moving”. This went on and on and on. And finally I said “oh I feel like a cigarette” and the doctor turned around to the nurse which was Sibby Nachuk. The doctor turned to Sibby and he said “get those oxygen tanks out of here and go down to the room and get her a cigarette” and she did. Without a word of a lie I was hanging on that delivery table on my side smoking a cigarette waiting to have a baby. Can you believe that? When you tell that story nowadays, people think you have to be joking – and that was the gospel truth.
Now we live out here and there’s bears and our little thing would go after the bear and of course the bear would go after him. I just feel better when Irwin goes to town that he takes the dog. The wolves are getting closer too.
Those were the days too if you’re kid was sick or you were sick you phoned up the Doctor, even the doctor in Red Rock. They would take the information and the Doctor would close his office at five o’clock and he had his little bag and he would start making house calls. Doctor Somerleigh would come out and the Doctor from Red Rock, you could call them in the night no matter what time and twenty minutes he was right at your back door. It was so different. Even the post office, Johnny Dampier was the post master. When he closed that post office on Christmas Eve, he loaded every parcel that was sitting there, in his car and delivered them. That’s all the part of the past. We had no T.V. and we didn’t have computers and things like that and it seems to me we did a lot more things.
In the 1950’s there was a dance every Friday night at the Elk’s and there was no liquor served there. All you had to do was step out the side door and somebody would pass the bottle around. And any of us that were underage we had a friend that had a house on C.P.R. property so we would go there to drink because the town police couldn’t come on there. And we were all underage! That dance hall was full every Friday night. I think one of the saddest things is the lack of social skills that in my mind relate directly to the computers. Try and carry on a conversation with those people about something and they’re totally lost. My granddaughter is like that and it’s very sad how computers have changed things.
Even the cars – last summer I hit someone’s bumper and my husband wasn’t impressed. It was a fiberglass bumper and I wouldn’t want to hit anything with my car and depend on that bumper for anything because I barely touched that other car in the parking lot and it just wrecked that bumper.
The Liquor Store has been here as long as I’ve been in Nipigon. At the same spot too! The Beer Store came after that. At one time they had a little pass book and they had to give that book in every time they bought something. It was a Liquor Book – I may stand to be corrected on this but it was the way to control bootleggers. But there were a lot of bootleggers. I must say that you didn’t need a lot of money to have a lot of fun. Actually my aunt was living here and I came to live with her when I started high school. My aunt’s husband worked around here doing bush work and whatever. That’s what I should have done was finish high school! I went a head and did all this other stuff and I never had time to go to school. Maybe that’s what I should do now eh! Well I had enough of that for a while and went out to work and then I moved to Lindsey. And I got a job in Lindsey and I stayed at my grandmother’s. I worked night shift and then went to Business College during the day and when I worked day shift then I went to classes at night. I did that for about a year and then I worked at a sewing factory. That was an interesting job, sewing flies in army shorts. I did forty-eight dozen pairs a day. They were all military supply issue and they would inspect everything. There’s another little happy phase – with experience I met a lot of different people, it’s the real world. That’s why I came back up here, Irwin followed me down and we got married. He came up for a holiday that’s what it was and he was making a dollar an hour in Lindsey. He was just getting into the electrical end of it and he wanted to be an electrician. And we borrowed a hundred and twenty-five dollars through Household Finance to come up and visit here by train. We thought we were rich! Can you believe it? So anyway he’s was talking with his friend Mark Banning when we were up here and Mark said if he wanted to come up here and work for him he would give Irwin a dollar twenty-five an hour. Well were we going up in the world or what? So we went back and packed all our belongings – everything we owned in the back seat of our old car and came back up here to Nipigon. That’s how we ended back here – for that extra .25 cents an hour more.
Even those couple of years that we lived in Lindsey. We would know a couple of the people that we worked with but when you went home at night you didn’t know who your neighbor was. You didn’t know who lived across the street. Even in those days city living wasn’t all that great! It was very different when I first came here there was a large Finnish Settlement. And those people stuck together. Years ago when I worked at the Nipigon Café there were two Finn cooks in there they wouldn’t speak English to you unless they had too. And they spoke perfectly good English. And some of them never did learn much English because they felt they were here first and why should they. Well Irwin was born in Fort William and I have his Grade One report card at home and it says failed. Underneath that word it says “it would help Irwin a lot if he learned to speak English”. That has to be hard on a child.
I think the thing that hurt Nipigon a lot was that by-pass. That’s another thing that happened in those two years. That happened in 1957 because that wasn’t there when I left in 1956. You had to drive around the Nipigon Café and that was the way all the time. And all across the Canada and you see it in the Muskoka area all the devastation there of the quaint little trading posts and gift shops and little restaurants. It used to be beautiful drive through there and all these places were thriving. They’re boarded up and falling down. It’s pathetic. Anybody going across Canada you used to have drive through Nipigon, at least they would drive through Nipigon and they would look around and spend some money shopping – we lost all that.
My great grand-parents were one of the earlier settlers in the Huntsville area and in fact they’re both buried there. There is a book written about the early years of the Muskoka area – and there’s a picture of my great grand parents in that book and there’s story of how they settled in that area and what life was like. We used to drive through to Niagara on what they called Blossom Sunday in spring. It’s all under concrete – its shopping malls. Where are all the fruit trees and farms –it’s sad. It’s not the same anymore. The orchards on Prince Edward Sound across the bay from Belleville – called the sandbanks. It was something to see, it was like a desert all this fine sand washed up from Lake Ontario. We used to go there on Sundays and what not and there were orchards after orchards after orchards. And in the fall they would have their jugs of apple cider for sale and different things and it’s all gone. It’s trailer parks, campgrounds – we can make all the money without doing the work of the orchards – they’re all gone! We keep looking for things to bring the tourists and keep letting go of the things we have. You know that Nipigon River Bridge and as famous as that Nipigon River is and what’s its famous for and you look across the bridge on the left hand side – that would never happen in the States. There would be picnic tables there and there would be a sign, there may be a flower garden. Not something that would have to cost thousands of dollars, it’s pathetic. Look at our lookout up on top of the hill as you’re going out town – one picnic table way over in the bush. That’s pathetic!
NIPIGON HISTORICAL MUSEUM February 22, 2006
Resident of Nipigon
Children; Rita, Donna, Nanette, Georgie.
I came here from Bathurst, New Brunswick in 1945. I was single and was 22 years old. My wife and I were married in 1950. I came here because there was no work back home and I heard they were hiring in Red Rock at the mill. It didn’t work out that way for me though because I ended up working in the bush. When I first came here I came up by train, which cost me twenty two dollars for the ride to get here. I came up here with a couple of other guys but hardly any of them stayed here, one of the guys got married to my sister and they went to Hornepayne and was a Foreman in the Bush there. My other chum went to B.C., and my brother came up with me and a couple more but they’re all passed away now. The one guy who came up Urban Luce he stayed and is still here he worked in the Cabin. Three or four of the guys I came here with all moved to B.C. It didn’t take no longer than it would take today and it took three days to get here. The trains were run by steam engines back then and there was no diesel then. I landed down by the Little Mill, and there was a little CN station there and there was no houses down there then, it was all bush and when I got off there I thought “Holy cow, there’s nothing here”. There was another station up by the main street which was the CP rail line and there was a water tower up there for the steam engine to fill up. There was only one house down by the CN railway station and I thought “Where the hell are we now?”. The next day when I woke up I thought “Gee I’m not going to stay here very long by the look of this place. There was only the one house and there was no lights, Brevo’s was the only house there, they just burnt that house down last year. There was nothing in Nipigon in those days, the Ovillio and the Nipigon Inn which was where I stayed for about 75cents a night which payed for your room and board. There was a taxi stand at the corner on main street beside where Doc’s store is, and all they had there for their office was a little shack. Nick Salo was there too and he had a store and E.C Everett had a store too and I remember E.C coming into the Bush camps to sell the workers pants, and socks and suits but he would make exchanges with you instead of getting money.
There was nothing but bush up where Greenmantle is. There was nothing up on the highway either just a trail up there. Rajala’s owned a lot of land then and it ran all the way to Red Rock and where the trailer park is too. They still own land and there’s a lake in behind the trailer park and he and his wife are buried there and one of their grandchildren too. He owned all the way from where the police station is and across the Golf Course road and up to just past where the weigh scales is. They passed on all their land to their children and they had at least seven kids.
Back when I worked in the bush, everything was done by hand not like today with everything being automatic and I probably wouldn’t have gotten hurt like I did. In our day, we had to haul a buck saw into the bush and we had to pile all the wood by hand and when the cut was all done in the winter and fall the wood was hauled out by a team of horses and we would be up at five in the morning to work and sometimes it was thirty or forty below and even sometimes fifty below. The first camp I went to on the river drive was camp 16, and the first bush camp I worked at was camp 43 and I worked for Nipigon Lake Timber. That was the area up by Polly Lake and we used to take the horses up from Polly to the camp in the fall. Sometimes there would be thirty or forty horses kept there and we would bring them up the road. There were barns at the bush camp to keep the horses in when we needed them in the fall and winter. We stayed in Bunkhouses which were made out of logs and sometimes there were 75 to 100 people to a bunkhouse. I also worked in Beardmore at camp 72, and I worked at Black Sturgeon in camp 14 on this side of Gull Bay.
We had portable saw mill’s here too and we used to saw ties and we loaded them into box cars, there was one down by the Plywood Mill way down at the far end by the lake. They weren’t very big mill’s there were two of them down there and they were portable and we used to saw ties for Don Clark and he sold them to CN or CP. After we sawed them they peeled them and took them out of the water and there were guys there peeling the ties and I used to holler down to the guys from the Saw Mill and I had a team of horses and I would haul the ties to the CN station that was down that way. We used to haul the ties there and we had a raft there, then we had to load them by hand and there were two guys to load and one guy in the truck. I used to load 1800 ties a day and I got paid 2 cents a tie and I would make sixteen or seventeen dollars a day which was big money in those days. There were a lot of smaller outfits too back then including Don Clark. Ken Buchanen got started back then because he inherited his father’s company but he always worked when he was a kid.
When I first went on the river drive there were two taxi stands here. There was Nykannen and he was doing the hiring for the Great Lakes Paper Company so we got there in the morning and they were hiring for the Red Rock Mill right on the street. I had just quit from a mill down home and I quit to come here so I said to myself “I just quit from that mill why should I work for a mill here”. So I put my name in for the River drive and I went and seen the guy who was hiring and he said “I’ll take you up tomorrow morning” he said. There were three or four of us who were hired that day and he used to drive us up the Cameron Falls road by taxi to camp 16 which was the Elizabeth Lake road and was where the Great Lakes had their road. He would drive us and drop us off at the beginning of that road and from there we would ride in on a four wheeled wagon on the back of a tractor that would tow us behind it. You couldn’t get into the camp by vehicle because of the shape of the roads you’d get stuck for sure, they didn’t have roads like they do today. Highway 17 wasn’t built then they started to build that later on to Marathon and it was all gravel there for a long time.
I first started to work at the age of fourteen in New Brunswick and I worked on the river drive there. I made fourteen cents an hour. For a while there was a paper mill down there and they had camps all over. I got hired on at the paper mill because my dad worked there and that was the only way to get into the mill there was by family. The first job they gave me at the mill was cleaning bricks the red little bricks they saved and we had to clean the mortar off, In those days they saved everything. There was lots of bush down there, I think one time in Quebec, Shelter Bay was the name of the bush camp there and we used to have to take a ferry to get to work. I remember it took a long time to get to work because the ferry made stops all along the way and they would deliver mail because there was no road all along the St. Lawrence. Then finally we got to Shelter Bay, you couldn’t get out of there in the winter time we had to get out by plane. But, I worked whenever there was work. I used to do rafting down here in the Nipigon Bay and we used to send the wood to Great Lakes Paper Mill and there was big tubs down here that would grab a hold of the rafts and we used to drive the wood down the river under the bridge. They used to beach comb down in the Bay, Leo Lespi, and Carl Atkinson, and the Dampier’s beach combed too. The money wasn’t the greatest in Beach Combing but it was something to do and they made ten percent of everything they pulled in. When Don Clark died his son took over the business and he didn’t do very good with the business and it folded up and that was the end of our job. So then I worked with the Construction Company in 1954, as an iron worker and I got paid 50 cents an hour, and I did that job for 25 years and I worked all over, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and I used to go three months at a time sometimes. My wife and children stayed here and I would go to work. I was up in Little Lake and Fox Lake for three months at a time and it was tough in those days because you had to leave your family behind. When I worked in the bush in the winter time I would be gone for six weeks at a time there too because you would stay there in the camp. They had everything there for us to live they had Cooks and Cook-ees and we were well fed. We paid 75 cents a day for room and board and when our saws broke we paid for that too. If we broke our buck saw blade it would be a dollar and something and it would come off our pay cheque that we would get once a month or a cash order which was an advance along with our room and board There was a scaler that would come into the bush and scale the wood, every two weeks he would come and scale. Dr. Jefferey would come up every once in a while to pull a tooth or something but there were no doctor’s stationed at the camps so you had to survive the best you could. If you got hurt it took a long time to get you out because there were no planes to get you out so you either came out by horse or by truck if it could get in. I worked in the Bush up at Black Sturgeon too and at the time I worked up there I remember there was only two camps. They were pretty big camps though and the name of that outfit was Pigeon Timber. We got up at five o’clock in the morning and we finished at six o’clock when supper time was and we would get back and harvest the horses, come into the camp and wash and everybody would be eating just like a bunch of wolves because we were so hungry and then to bed. When I worked at the Black Sturgeon camp they would bring us a hot lunch right in the bunch. We would cut the wood in the summer time and in the winter time we used the horses to haul the wood out.
When I came here it was just after the war and there were hard times then and everybody suffered. My wife was working at the Pine Portage camp when I met her in 1948 and she worked in the commissaire which was where they came in and played games and had something to eat. She worked in the Post Office there too and the camp was split into separate dormitories with the girls in one camp and the boys in the other. There were married couples there too but they slept in separate quarters too. I went there to eat quite often and you could eat for a dollar. I was working up at Pine Portage on the Slasher and we had to slash all the wood from the lakes before they flooded the lake out. We also slashed the hydro line trail that ran from Pine Portage all the way to Thunder Bay. We stayed in tents in the winter time and when you came in at night after work everything would be frozen all the eggs and potatoes. It was contract work and so it was cheaper for them to pay us then to build camps. Pine Portage wasn’t there when I first came here there was a beautiful river there before they put the dam in. If you were to see the river before they built the dam, it was terrible what they did to that river. When you used to fish on Lake Superior you could come up the Nipigon River and up to Lake Hannah and Lake Nipigon. They built Cameron Falls, Alexander dams first to supply electricity to the Thunder Bay District and then they built another one up at Pine Portage.
?Salo had a camp up the Cameron Falls road and he wanted to know if I wanted to go and cut Poplar for him, so I went up and my wife and I built a little shack to live in. And it was just big enough for my wife and I who was pregnant at the time with our son Georgie. So I took my wife up there into that little shack which we built just by Jessie Lake. The only way we got food up there was Fred Shwetz who used to take groceries up to Pine Portage for Zechner’s store and he would stop by our place. I dug a hole in the ground to keep the food from spoiling and I put a wooden box in the ground and the meat stayed good. We cooked on a Coleman stove and it was alright to cook that way. When it was close to my wife’s delivery I had been gone down to the Rossport Derby and my mother in law lived in Nipigon and our son was born then. My wife would walk from our cabin all the way into Nipigon and sometimes she would get a ride, but everybody walked then because not too many people had cars. There wasn’t that much work here at that time , Abitibi had camps up Cameron Falls but that was long before we went. What brought Nipigon up quite a bit was Pine Portage and the Gas company too. At that time you couldn’t get across the tracks at lunch time because it was that busy. You couldn’t get a place to stay either because all the bush workers, and pipeline workers were renting down town. There were a lot of tourists in those days too because the fishing was so good, and in the summer time it used to be just packed here. The Hudson’s Bay store did really well then too. A lot of people contribute the fish loss to the river drive but that’s where the fish would hide was under the logs, and they blame it on pollution from the mills but after they built the dams was when the fish declined. I was working on Lake Superior in the bay and when we used to come into the Nipigon docks you could just see big schools of Pickerel there. And where the Nipigon Bridge is we used to go down and fish Pickerel there Dr. Somerleigh fished there and a bunch of others and you could see the Pickerel running through the river. You could pretty near walk across the river then and then they built the dam at Pine Portage and that was the end of the Pickerel there. There were big trout there and everything and the fish would go and spawn up into Lake Nipigon but then Pine Portage came. It also hurt the commercial fisherman too because where the dams are is where the fish would go to spawn. You used to be able to swim down at the Mudflats too but they diverted the water down there. There used to be a little creek down there too but that’s where all the smelts were. We also used to get smelts in the Stillwater Creek down at the bottom of it where it flows into Lake Superior.
Back then there was only one Forest Warden who was Garr Evans, not like they have now which is a whole bunch of “Conservation Officers”. If you were walking down the street in Nipigon and there was a forest fire, and they saw you they would recruit you right on the spot to go and fight the fire. That was in the sixties and you couldn’t turn them down then.
Billy Milne and Johnny Ahl used to bring supplies out to the camps and they stopped up in Beardmore too. Buster Gagnon used to work on the boats too for Domtar on Lake Helen. When we worked here we got paid by the day and we made six dollars a day. There was a union started in around 1955, and all it did for us was go on strike. I was 64 years old when I retired and I’ve been retired now for about 16 years.
JENNIFER MCCAULEY INTERVIEWS 2006
Transcription from audio tape
Nipigon Historical Museum Grant
Devona LeBar (Duncan)
Father Ross Duncan
Grandparents: Mary (Finlayson), Downey Duncan
“Cameron Falls area, as I remember it, had around 30 – 40 houses in it, with a pool, church, school house, recreation centre etc.
My Grandmother Mary came to Nipigon around 1950 when my Grandfather died. She was the Head Cook in the bush camps in the Cameron Falls and Pine Portage areas for approximately fifteen years beginning in the 50’s. Pine Portage was a busy place when they had the log booms which were dangerous. I stayed with my Grandmother all summer, and on week-ends and I never learned how to swim as a child because my Grandmother was always afraid I was going to drown with all the fast water surrounding the area. Mary was an excellent cook and at Pine Portage camp I remember there were around seventy to eighty men stationed there and I remember setting the table for all the men and it took me an awful long time. Ike Mutch was the Supervisor/Foreman for Abitibi Price, and he ran the camp where my Grandmother worked.
There were a lot of bears back then hanging around the camps and they would try to get into the building by clawing at the door to get at the meat that was stored in the camps. There were also outdoor root cellars that were dug into the ground that were used to preserve the food. I remember a couple of incidents with the bears where my Grandmother slept in a chair all night with a gun in her lap protecting me from a bear that was trying to get into the camp. Another time there was a bear standing in front of me at the screen door and I remember screaming as loud as I could and the bear ran off.
The men at the camp were fed well with all kinds of trays of food including cakes, sandwiches, fruit trays, cookies, tons of baking and big meals. They only paid around $4 / day for their food and lodging, which wasn’t much considering how well they were fed. My Grandma was Head Cook and had a lot of Cook-ees working under her whom she would direct as to what she wanted done and they would answer to her, they did all the prep-work like peeling potatoes etc.”
JENNIFER MCCAULEY INTERVIEWS 2006
Transcription from audio Interview
Nipigon Historical Museum Grant
September 6, 2006
Resident of Nipigon
“I grew up in Port Arthur which is now called Thunder Bay and I worked at Woodside Brothers as a machinist apprentice.
In 1955 I moved to Red Rock as a mill wright and I got married. Then in 1968 I went to work of Ontario Hydro at Cameron Falls, and I am still here as a mechanic for Hydro.
I now work at Founder’s Museum in Thunder Bay, not because I don’t like this place but I like old machinery and they have building full of old machinery up there and nobody to work on them. So I go up there one day a week and try to get their machinery running for them. They have a couple of little railway speeders like the putt putts but there isn’t enough track and things could get out of control. There is a train there I worked on and it’s from 1910 and I worked on that for a few weeks and got it running and it works good now.
I lived out at Cameron Falls from 1968 to 1972 and then we moved into Nipigon. There were about fifty houses there and I think 30 of them were moved into Nipigon and the rest they sold of tore them down.
The town wasn’t that much different than what it is now (2006 -BB), the Plywood Mill was here already and two grocery stores. Saunders store was here but it closed down and then he moved over to Red Rock which is run by his son. There were more hotels bust other than that it’s pretty much the same. The curling rink was built in the mid 70’s because it wasn’t there when I moved here in 1972-73 so it was a few years after that.
In the old days Cameron Falls was a pretty busy place, they had at one time a store and a Post Office, a community hall and they had T.V. Cable set up. At the height of Cameron Falls there was probably 700 people because, like I say, there were at least 50 houses. At one time they had a school and I think by the time my kids grew up they had bussed the kids. We bought the house we had at Cameron Falls.
The railway wasn’t working when I lived there (it was a long time before we came). We used to go hunting and we walked up the old railway which ran all the way to South Bay.(This would be the Tramway that Don is talking about that closed circa 1910 –BB) There are places up the Frasier Lake Road you could see the old railway still.
At Cameron, when I was a mechanic there, we had a crew of about 25 people and there were three plants; Alexander, Cameron and Pine Portage, and we did all the maintenance including major overhauls.
An overhaul was a pretty big job, it would take two to three months approximately. We also went to Terrace Bay and looked after the Hydro plant down there. At one time Virgin Falls was used as a dam they used to control the water level of Lake Nipigon which controlled the flow of water to Cameron Falls and the Alexander Plant and I think, when they built Pine Portage they blew the middle of it (Virgin) and they diverted water from some of the rivers up north into Lake Nipigon to get more water flowing down the Nipigon River.
We worked on the hydro electric turbines and generators and we made most of our own parts. I was basically a heavy equipment mechanic and the plant that was at Terrace Bay – they had also diverted water there from some of the rivers up north. The Kenogami River normally ran north eventually into James Bay and they had to make a diversion channel from there and they ran some of the water into Longlac and some into Lake Superior. It’s a little harder to do things like that now with all the environmental protection.
At that time there were probably about a dozen workers at the plants and they would have eight hour shifts. The river drive came down too and there were sluices at each plant. When I worked at Cameron there were a few of the workers who lived in Nipigon and traveled back and forth to work from there. They also had a bus from Nipigon to Cameron Falls which I drove for many years. I think now at the plant they work four ten hour shifts since I left there in 1993.
Gerry Brennan worked with me up there who was also Reeve of Nipigon, was a district mechanic foreman. And there was a Nick Usala and an Andy Davidson was under him (Gerry) and Ted Nyman and Russ Walker. There’s still a few around Nipigon yet – there was Ron Larson, who just passed away about a year or so ago – he was our rigger and also our mechanic.
I liked working out there and I liked living out there, too, we were in the bush all the time. My kids grew up here, they were about six and eight when we moved into Nipigon.
My brother and I both built camps beside each other out at Jackpine. We built our camps in 1965 and I think we paid $375.00 for the lot out there which at that time wasn’t much because it’s Crown Land and every so many years they’d open up new lots – there are twenty lots there now. Now they go for around $50,000.
On the Nipigon River I remember when I moved into town they were still using the sluices at the plant and we had some maintenance work to do on the machinery for it. There was a sluice at each plant and there were log booms here in Nipigon the logs would come down the river and then they’d catch them in booms. I guess some wood went to Thunder Bay, but I don’t know too much about that.
My wife, Leona, stayed home with the kids and they turned out good.
In Nipigon for fun we mainly spent our time out at our camp and we went boating and fishing and a lot of moose and bird hunting because we like being in the bush - that was the great thing about being in Cameron Falls.
Burt Douglas was a Reeve of Nipigon for a while and he was also Chief Operator at Cameron Falls.
Don included a letter from Elinor (?) (I am thinking Elinor Barr- BB)
…Thank you also for the info and photos about the Old CPR Cemetery in Nipigon. The stone marker is for a Swede, as you probably guessed, Per Rubert Burstrom from Northern Sweden. He was only 31 when he died leaving a wife and little girl. I found his death noted in the record of Zion Lutheran Church, Fort William. He is listed as Rybert, but everyone called him Charlie. The story is that it was a mining accident, an explosion, that killed him and blinded his brother Gottfred. Gottfred went on to buy the Kimberly Hotel in Port Arthur, and ran it himself. They say that he could tell the denomination of any bill just by the feel of it, and nobody could cheat him because of this. Another brother Oscar, owned the Vendome Hotel.