By the time we left The Pas in 1939, Flin Flon had grown
to be a city of some 12,000. Besides Flin Flon I also saw Sherridon in its primitive state.
We held services in a shanty converted into a tiny church. This was located on a two mile
trail through the bush connecting Sherridon with the old trading post of Gold Lake Manitoba.
Once I descended the sloping shaft of the Sherridon copper mine. Only once. Falling copper prices caused this mine to shut down until prices improved prior to the Second World War. For some time Sherridon slumbered an eerie ghost town with only a skeleton caretaker staff and its two hundred empty company houses.
Guerny Gold was another mine that enjoyed a brief existence. I rode into that community from a point on the Sherridon line, seated on top of a huge truckload of supplies that bumped along over a corduroy trail, looking down upon the top of the driver's cab. My prime purpose in that visit was to locate two teenage boys who had fled from a broken home. I found them living in a shack and working for the mining company. There was a small log schoolhouse in which I held a Service and baptized a baby. I recorded that baptism in Christ Church register with a note added "First baby baptized at Guerney Gold." The first baptism at Guerney Gold and I believe it was also the last baptism there, for the mine closed abruptly. I rode out from the mine on a truck carrying several boxes of dynamite.
Our years at The Pas coincided with the great depression of the thirties. Our rectory was the target of countless seekers after handouts. Every mixed train in and out of town to and from Flin Flon and Churchill carried a full quota of job seekers. The river was lined with jungle fires where men broiled fish to be eaten with loaves handed out daily at the bread line.
Camp Six a few miles south of town housed some sixty employable out-of-works. They filled up a few hours daily making a brave start on building with shovels, picks and wheelbarrows the projected hundred mile highway to Mafeking. We local ministers drove out to camp and conducted weekly sing-song Services.
We had a Social Welfare Commission in The Pas, a voluntary group organized at the request of the Town Council, for which I acted as treasurer. We met once a month and passed payment of bills for provisions and clothing, for destitute families. There were no baby bonuses in those days. I represented the Government on a committee which dealt with cases of desertion and neglected children. My largest file of correspondence concerned this work. Looking back from these lush days it seems hard to realize that such conditions existed within our short memory.
In addition to the sawmilling industry at The Pas with his payroll of four hundred, there were wholesale houses, fishery firms, mining investment companies, modern hotels with appropriate names like Opasquai and Cambrian, and lesser hostelries down to "Bacon's Two-bit Flop", where you could rent floor space for your bed roll for twenty-five cents.
The Pas was a cosmopolitan town where on side-walks you would meet
smartly clad business men, geologists, mining engineers, ladies attired in latest New York costumes,
trappers and prospectors, and Indians with their spouses decked out in bright headgear. People made
their own amusements and went in extensively for local talent entertainments, music and drama
festivals, picnic, sleigh rides, and bikes. Many residents had cottages at Clearwater Lake which
was reached by Hudson Bay line trains.
During our first year Bishop Thomas of Brandon established the work of his Bishop's Messengers at Cormorant Lake, Mile 42 on the Bay line. Miss Marriott and Miss Harrold built a neat little church, a cottage and a Parish Hall close to the railway track. I held a service to dedicate the Church site, a broad flat rock. There they carried out a most effective programme of religious and social work. Later another work at Waboden, Mile 137 was developed on similar lines by another pair of workers. As Rural Dean I visited these centres for Sacramental Services.
We arrived at The Pas in time to witness the last one of the first series of the classic Dog Derby, the two hundred mile race to Flin Flon and return. We had a grand-stand view of the start if the race from the Rectory. There was a crowd of perhaps two thousand assembled on the river ice. The dogs strained to be off at the crack of a revolver fired by Premier John Bracken.
There were shorter freight team races and an ox was barbecued. Other events of the day included the singing of an anthem by Christ Church choir and the playing of selections by the local band. Charlie Hill conducted the choir and "Steenie" Thorsteinsen led the band. Dr. Robertson announced events which were relayed by telephone to Winnipeg and there broadcast. The world was beginning to hear the people north of Fifty-Three.
At Herb Lake we had a popular young missionary, the Rev. W. A. "Happy" Gilbert, whose advent upon the scene and subsequent activities border on the dramatic. He was a youth who broke his academic career in Toronto and acted for a period in Hollywood. On his return to resume his Theology course at Wycliffe College he explained this action to columnist Gregory Clark thus, "I have seen old actors and I have seen old clergymen; I would prefer to become an old clergyman."
His first mission field was in Northern Manitoba. He was a familiar figure on the trails and the mixed trains of the North clad in parka, jeans and high boots or moccasins. Albeit, his was practical gear for traveling in a pioneer post. There were wheat and lumber trains traversing his domain to Churchill, new shipping port to England and Happy decided to explore this route by cargo boat. He worked at the Port as stevedore loading lumber and sailed through the Straits for the Old Country. On his return he described his ramblings through the streets of London and Paris in trapper's garb and beard.
On completion of his Missionary engagement Happy signed on as Chaplain on a luxury cruise to the orient. I received a card from him from St. Helena were he said he was wondering what Napoleon
did when he
was confined on that Island. He was afterwards Rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Walla Walla,
Wash. Here he was a voluntary visitor at the Washington State Penitentiary.
Always interested in extending a helping hand "Happy" took up the case of a prisoner whom he came to believe had had been sentenced for life for a crime he did not commit. He gained the attention of Earle Stanley Gardiner and enlisted his support in an effort to have this prisoner, Clarence Boggie released.
The story of the ensuing lengthy investigation of Boggie's case and its happy ending forms a thrilling chapter in Gardiner's "The Court of Last Resort." Boggie was released!
During Happy's absence on that trip to England I visited his Mission for Celebrations of Holy Communion. I went out by truck from Mile 81, H. B. Railway to an arm of Herb Lake, and then in a trapper's home made boat twelve miles across Puella Bay to Herb Lake. The boat carried the trapper's wife and baby, a cargo of supplies and three sled dogs, and towed a canoe. We had not gone far before a heavy rain came down. We managed to throw a tarp over the woman and child. The trapper was over busy bailing out water from his leaky craft, and guiding the canoe which raced down following waves as though bent on holding our barque. I worked my passage by batting down the dogs which persisted in trying to leap overboard. We did arrive safely but I was never so glad to get out of a boat.
I was given hospitality by Mr. Hugh Vickers, Justice of the Peace, known locally as "The Judge". He was an elderly widower who had attended Oxford University and was typical of so many educated men who have gone into the wilderness to find peace and happy contentment. He had a neat cabin situated on a beautiful bay and he was an accomplished housekeeper.
He helped High School students with their Latin for that language was then on the curriculum. He coached Mission Divinity students with their New Testament Greek. A Lay Reader in the Church he conducted Services on occasion and officiated at funerals. He was destined to suffer a great sorrow when his trapper son was lost through the ice one winter. At the spring breakup he found and buried the body of his son.
There are many known personages in The Pas whose names are woven into the legends of Northern Manitoba. "The King of the North" was a good camp cook so long as he could be kept away from the liquor outlets. "Old Saxon" was a man of mystery whose past remained a sealed book. He camped at selected spots about the lakes and rivers and described his occupation to me as "Just dawdling along". The "Diamond Queen" kept a stopping place at Mile 81 and dominated every situation. My old classmate, the Rev. William Brailsford was one time conducting Bishop Thomas of Brandon on a tour and they stopped at the Queen's for lunch. The hostess recognized the Bishop's Episcopal attire and assigned him to the seat of honour at table. She took one look at Mr. Brailsford in trapper's togs and decreed, "As for you, you'll pay before you eat!"