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LIVING IN THE BUSH

September 14, 2006. 

Our family had not been in Canada a full year yet when my dad got a job working in the mine in Creighton. When he went to apply to INCO in August of 1952, he was weighed, and then asked if he spoke English. My father replied, “Yes” and was hired on the spot. Little did they know, or seem to care in those days, that he didn’t know much more of the language than that! He would be paid $60. per week, a vast improvement from what he had earned since coming to Canada the previous October. He needed to support his wife and five children so he took the job. This was very difficult for a man who had been raised as a farmer in Holland. Going underground was inconceivable but what was he to do in this new land? Now to find a place to live first for himself, as he was to start work immediately, then for his family. Dad got a room in one of the boarding houses in Creighton Mine. At that time there were several such rooming houses in the little town. He lived there for six weeks all the while searching for a house for us, his family, whom he had left behind in St. Charles. Finally someone told him about a house which was about two miles behind Creighton in the bush and was owned by a man named Julius Ranta. Since there were no other options, dad rented this place for us for $25 a month. Then he managed to come to St. Charles to tell us we were moving to Creighton very soon. My mother was very happy since the people of St. Charles spoke only French at that time, and with my father gone she was extremely lonely having only her children to talk to.

With what little money they had, a truck was rented to bring our meager belongings and us to Creighton Mine. Dad had given the driver instructions as to the location of the house he had rented for his family. He could not accompany us, as he had to go to work his afternoon shift from 4pm – midnight. We needed the money desperately! As the driver reached Creighton he drove up the Hill and turned right at the top onto Wavell Street. He then proceeded onto this narrow bush road and kept driving. By this time Mom was very frightened and had begun to cry. Where was this man taking us? She kept asking him if he was sure this was the way to our new dwelling. He assured her it was but he must have begun to wonder himself by this time. Finally we drove into a clearing and there it was, our new home. It was actually an abandoned farm with sheds, an outhouse and rusted equipment lying around. We were so glad that our journey was over that we children were excited to explore the place. However mom insisted that first we had to help to carry everything into the house. I looked after my baby sister Marianne who was just 3 months old at that time while my mother and two brothers, Ronald and Willy, set up the beds. My brother Franky was only four years old so he was not much help. When my father arrived home around one A.M., my mother was waiting up for him in this strange house so far from civilization. We had lived in a small city in Holland and were accustomed to having neighbours all around us. So began our lives in Creighton Mine.

The next morning dad took us to Creighton Mine Public School to register us there. What a warm welcome we received from the principal, Miss Ursula Black! Miss Black was very tall, quite an imposing figure, who was loved by everyone in town. She placed me in grade 5 with teacher Keith MacNaughton, Ronald in grade 4 and Willy in grade 3. The teachers could not have been more helpful and encouraging to us.

Just six weeks after we had moved there some hunters walked out of the bush carrying two long poles. Hanging from these poles was a large dead black bear! We were astounded! The thought that wild animals lived in the forest surrounding us had never crossed our naïve immigrant minds! From then on my mother insisted that we always play in the clearing where she could see us. She stressed that we should be careful and on the lookout for wild animals on our way to school and to church on Sundays. I don’t know what we would have done if we had seen a dangerous animal! We learned very quickly that the beautiful deer, which we saw often, would not harm us. Foxes, porcupines, squirrels and other small animals were a common sight. Our puppy had an unhappy experience with a porcupine. He chased it up a tree then stood barking at this unknown animal. Of course the porcupine reacted to protect itself by sending down numerous quills. These were embedded in the dog’s snout. Yelping loudly, the puppy rushed to the kitchen door. This was certainly a new problem for us! What to do? My dad did the only thing he could think of to relieve the dog’s misery and proceeded to pull the quills out using pliers while my brothers held the dog. Another new experience!

Every morning mom would give us our sandwiches and fruit and off we’d walk to school. Mom often said that none of us were ever sick that year because of the daily exercise and abundant fresh air. Dad walked to the mine of course. He worked afternoon shift one week and day shift the next. The winter was a challenge although at the time we did not see it as such. Snow was still an exciting novelty to us as this was only our second winter in Canada. On day shift dad made a path for us and when he was working afternoon shift we made our own. One night while he was coming home from afternoon shift, it had snowed, and the path had blown in. As a result he became lost and disoriented. He finally arrived home after daybreak. My mother was a nervous wreck, certain that she would never see him again. That’s when the decision was made that we would not spend another winter in the bush. Whatever we had to do to find another place to live we would do it. The answer to that was picking blueberries! Once mom and dad realized that there was money to be made doing so we were in the hills around the house all summer long. We children were expected to do our share of picking the tasty juicy berries. When we came home with our full baskets dad would cut cardboard lids for them. He then carried these to the train station in Creighton on his way to work and they were shipped off to Toronto. Some time later the cheques would arrive to be saved so that we could achieve the family’s goal of moving into a neighbourhood in the fall of 1953.

It had been an eventful year with the death of baby Marianne and the birth of baby Mary Alice (Liesje), adding to the stresses, which my parents especially experienced. No electricity, the outhouse, thunder storms, snow storms, no neighbours, were all huge factors in our family needing to get out of there. My parents were able to put a down payment on a house in nearby Rockville (aka Dogpatch) in September of 1953 and life settled down into a more familiar routine.

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