The Rakings by D. L. Greene

Chapter 22

     Tom Lamb was, and is a notable figure North of Fifty-Three. He is a son of T.H.P. "Ten-Horse-Power" Lamb, an Englishman who taught an Indian school on The Pas Reserve. An energetic and enterprising man, he quit teaching and opened a trading post seventy miles down the river at Moose Lake, in opposition to the Hudson's Bay Company. He and his diminutive wife brought up a large family. They provided for their children's education by employing a teacher or governess in the home. Tom Lamb, Junior, never advanced beyond a very elementary school junior grade, but he inherited much of his father's energy and vision.

     We spent some happy summer holidays at Lamb's post and the Mission House, voyaging up and down stream in Tom's old eight ton launch, "The Premier". On night trips up stream we slept on boxes of fish. By this time, the early thirties, the Bay Company had abandoned Moose Lake and Tom's father had moved to Tisdale, Saskatchewan, where he became mayor of that town.

     One afternoon I sat on the marshy shore of Moose Lake and listened to a recital of Tom's boyhood days and his hopes and fears regarding the future. In reflective mood he talked about happy days spent by himself, his brothers and sisters canoeing, and watching the rats and beavers building their houses. "I wish that my children might enjoy these same outdoor pleasures, but", he lamented, "the rats and the beaver are trapped out - unless they can be brought back." This is where Tom showed his visionary spirit - the wild life must be brought back; to this undertaking he dedicated his future.

     He outlined a project he had in mind. There was an island of 55,000 acres cut off by tributary streams of the Saskatchewan that might be constituted a muskrat preserve.

     Apart from the conservation angle there was also an imperative need to provide a fresh source of livelihood for both Indians and white people. So Tom told me he had applied to the Manitoba Government for a permit to close that island to public trapping. He proposed to raise the water levels on the island by a system of dams and ditches thus enhancing the area as a breeding ground. But Premier John Bracken was proving difficult. He doubted the wisdom of Tom's project. But the naturalist persisted and for three years he kept up his agitation. In the end the Premier granted a permit with the comment that Tom might proceed if he wanted to make a fool of himself.

     After three years of protection the first harvest of pelts yielded some $15,000. Indians did the trapping at an agreed price per pelt. The rat ranch was proving itself a successful venture.      The Dominion Government which was burdened with
responsibility for many hundreds of Indians in the north entered into an agreement with the Manitoba Government to set aside another large tract for supervised trapping. Then the Provincial Government designated yet a third area for the benefit of Metis and other residents in need of assistance.

     Indians were allowed to catch three hundred dollars worth of pelts each season for which they were pad twenty five dollars per month throughout the year. In Saskatchewan a somewhat similar plan was operated at Cumberland House with the Hudson's Bay Company administering the scheme. An old resident of the North told me in Winnipeg one day after three conservation projects were all functioning that there were no more "poor Indians" in their country. Tom Lamb's plan was not so impractical after all.

     Meanwhile, Tom finding canoes, speed boats and launches too slow for his fast moving enterprises, went outside and learned to fly a plane. He flew home with a neat little craft and almost before he knew it he was doing commercial flying from The Pas to the Arctic. Toms the well known Lamb Airways came into being. Tom's six sons became pilots and mechanics who have figured in the construction of flying fields for military purposes away North West of Churchill and wherever development schemes are undertaken.

     Tom himself has been grounded because of a heart condition. He has been the subject of countless newspaper and magazine articles. One reporter claimed that he is the most difficult man to interview because his alert mind jumps so readily from one thing to another. One of his latest projects is ranching on the flats about Moose Lake where he is running a large herd of shorthorn cattle.

     He and his wife Jennie, have been taking tours around the world - a far cry from their canoe trips up Thirties. The damming of the Saskatchewan River at Grand Rapids now in process will eliminate the ancient Indian Reserves of Cedar Lake and Moose Lake and necessitate the removal of Tom Lamb's far flung enterprises. For his enterprises like the show must go on!

     Another personage who was to enter closely into our family circle was a typical derelict whom I shall call Harry. This representative of the human flotsam and jetsam so often encountered in the storied North first oozed into my consciousness out of the smoky and aromatic atmosphere of a Flin Flon mining camp kitchen. His badge of office - a long white apron identified him as the cook. His ruddy countenance glistened with beads of perspiration attesting to his labours over the red-hot range. He materialized out of the scullery's blue haze in swirling disarray indicating that he was more concerned with seasoning the dixie full of mulligan stew than
with maintaining sartorial elegance.

     He drew near and subjected me to a close scrutiny. I could feel his question's why I was roaming uninvited about his domain. Then he noted my own symbol of profession, a white reversed collar, he fell into an easy army attitude and greeted me with a comradely "Good morning Padre". We exchanged a few platitudes as he attended to the wants of a hundred hungry miners gorging at the long dining room table.

     I was about to depart, with my objective a Chinese cafe, but Harry invited me to stop around and have a snack after his regular patrons had finished their meal. He served me a substantial dinner for which he refused to take any pay. "It's on the company; they can afford it". I invited Harry to attend my services in the community hall and he agreed to do so. I was skeptical but I felt rebuked when occasionally I saw him sidling into a back seat.

     My periodic visits to Flin Flon ceased with the appointment of a resident Missionary to the camp and Harry faded from my memory. Then one cold January day while visiting in The Pas hospital I found my fiend of the camp kitchen. He was on his back with his hand, arms and face swathed in bandages. His breathing was laboured and his condition serious. There were various versions of what had happened - stories of burns received in a shack fire and of frost bites due to exposure while lying incapacitated at night on an icy street. Delicacy forbade my pressing Harry for an explanation but it seemed there had indeed been a New Year's party.

     Anyhow Harry spent many months in hospital undergoing medical and surgical treatment which included considerable skin grafting, and as he told it, enduring the nursing of Sisters and young aides. When the bandages were eventually removed from his hands there were several fingers missing. Still there remained weeks of dressings. Harry was not a complacent patient. He was critical of most everything. There was an aura of antagonism about him. Nurses were negligent and meals were abominable. Because of his culinary knowledge Harry could analyse a bowl of soup without benefit of test tubes. If these savoury dishes did not please his optical and olfactory senses he rejected them untouched.

     He feuded with the Sisters. Towards one of them in particular he developed a strong antipathy. Nothing she did ever pleased him. Eventually he was allowed to walk out for a few hours every day. At this juncture he simulated repentance for his attitude towards his sparring partner, conceding, "At least Sister, you have done one good thing in this world." Her face lighted up with pleasure at this medium of praise and he added, "Yes Sister, by not marrying you have saved one poor man a lot of grief."

Back to Chapter 21     Onward to Chapter 23

Return to the Main Page