The Babysitter

In the winter of 1968 I was assigned a house fire case, while working as an Insurance Adjuster. The house was situated on a rural road north of Kenora and had been totally destroyed by fire.

I interviewed the husband in the hospital where he was being treated for serious burns to his face and hands. He had been babysitting three children while his wife drove into town to the laundromat. His youngest child was only a few months old while his second child was about five years old and she had a neighbor child, a similar aged boy visiting with her.

The father was a hard working pulpwood cutter and fell asleep on the downstairs couch. He was awakened by his daughter and her friend and found the house filling with smoke. The children had been playing in the upstairs main bedroom. The baby was in the children’s bedroom down the hall. The investigation later determined that the two older children were tearing up pieced of newspaper and using matches to set them on fire on top of the bed. When the quilt on the bed caught fire the room quickly filled with smoke. The children panicked and rushed downstairs to awaken the father.

He was awakened from a deep sleep with the children tugging on his arm. It took him a few moments to realize there was a fire upstairs and the baby was still it its room. He rushed up the stairs and rushed down to the end of the smoke filled hall. As he grabbed the baby and headed for the stairs the fire in the bedroom burst into flame. It was at that moment he realized the other two children had fallowed him upstairs. The smoke was getting very bad and he yelled at the children to follow him as he carried the baby downstairs to the living room.

Once he had the baby outside and he has stopped coughing, he saw the boy was safe but his daughter was missing. He immediate rushed backed into the smoke filled house and rushed upstairs. By then the flames were spreading out of the bedroom and into the hall. He had to push past the flames to reach his daughter’s bedroom but could not find her. By the time he escaped past the flames and smoke in the hall, his face and hands were badly burned and he collapsed on the ground in the yard.

By this time a passing motorist had gone to a phone and called the volunteer fired department. The flames quickly spread and house was totally burned to the ground. The father was taken to the hospital and the baby and young boy were uninjured.

Later it was determined that when the father went to rescue the baby, his daughter must have followed him and was left behind when he escaped with the baby. The little girl would have been suffocated by the smoke, before the fire reached her.

I was at the scene of the fire the next more and everything was reduced to a pile of ashes, contained by the walls of the basement. An Ontario Provincial Policeman was on the site and I was there when he located the remains of the little girl. All her extremities were burned off, leaving only the small body. It is one thing to read about a fatal fire in the newspaper but a dreadful reality to be present when a body is recovered.
While the father eventually recovered from his burns, he never really recovered from the loss of his child.

New Drapes


In the mid 60’s I moved to Kenora and rented an older house for my family. High on the priority list was the purchase and hanging of the living room drapes. Starting a new job complicated my life so hanging drapes “was not very high on my “to do list”

Once the new drapes arrived the pressure on me increased, so one Saturday morning I took on the challenge.  After gathering my tools I realized that I would need a stepladder. The woman I rented the house from lived next door and had a teen age son who I was not impressed with.

A quick visit next door produced a new step ladder and a long proud dissertation from the teen ager who had just finished building the stepladder in shop class. It was a typical five foot stepladder, all freshly painted and it appeared strongly built.  I soon had it home and set up.

Anyone who had ever hung drapes knows that installing  the hardware is the hard part.  I was busy measuring and screwing the hardware in place when one of our new neighbors down the  block decided to come and visit. She and  my wife (1st marriage) sat talking in the kitchen and then decided to inspect the new drapes.  I was instructed to hold a section of the drapes high into proper place. To do so I sat on the top of the stepladder, holding the drapes in a perfect position.

What happened next was hard to follow. The ladder suddenly split in half, with one pair of legs going north and the other pair going south. I landed on my right side on my hip which hit the top step of the ladder, which was now lying on its side.  I was aware of a lot of noise and screaming and a sever pain in my hip.

As I crawled off the  debris and over to the couch I was almost certain my leg was fractured near the hip. I can remember someone asking me it if was hurt and if they should call an ambulance.  I kept saying, “just give me a moment to gather  my wits”

Eventually the worst of the pain subsided and I realized nothing was broken. I stayed on the couch for a couple of hours then managed to survey all the damage and figured out what had taken place. The hinge for the new ladder had been jury rigged out of some soft heavy wire rather than a commercial hinge. The feet of the ladder slid on the hardwood floor with the result the poor hinge simply pulled out of the holes and the ladder collapsed.

As I fell, the section of the drape I was holding hit the floor first and was under the ladder when it hit the floor, resulting in two large rips in the new faboric.

The south pair of legs skidded across the floor and struck a record player and sent it flying, before punching a hole in the living room sheetrock wall.

The north pair of legs went north across the room and sheered off a leg of a large TV.  The top of the TV was home to a number of china figurines which slid off and onto the floor. Before hitting the floor they bounced off my head which was in their path. The scene was strewn with smashed china, sheetrock, a TV leg and abused curtains. As I lay on the couch, waiting for the pain to subside, my wife stepped forward and said,

“I suppose this means you won’t be putting up the drapes today?”

George Lee

George was an electrician who lived and worked in Kenora, Ontario for many years. He was born in the Lake of the Woods country, but never learned how to swim.

One day he allowed himself to be talked into a boat ride to a cabin on the lake, in order to fix an electrical problem. The property owner picked George up at the main dock in an old home made flat bottomed boat. George was not impressed with the boat but he felt committed to the job so jumped in.

It was only a few miles to the cabin on an Island and the weather was good when they left town. Once out on the open lake the waves were much higher and the boat trip became a lot rougher. George sat near the front of the boat hugging his tool box.

Within sight of the beach the boat suddenly nose dived into a large wave, filled with water and instantly sank. George lost his tool box but managed to grab the outboard motor fuel tank that was half empty and floating.

The owner of the boat, who was a good swimmer, swam for shore. Once on the beach he ran down the shore line where a family was picnicking with their boat dragged up on the beach.

Without asking permission he jumped into the boat , started the motor and raced back to save the electrician who was having trouble keeping his head above water.

George was saved, and later in the day a diver recovered the boat and the tool box. When the boat was on the beach it was discovered that the old boat had been constructed with iron screws which were badly rusted. The last big wave had caused the bow of the boat to spring open so that it rapidly filled with a torrent of water.

George continued working as an electrician, but stayed on the mainland.

The Finlander

I met Arnie in the early 70’s when he lived in a house south of Kenora, Ontario. He built himself a log cabin on the east shore of the Lake of the Woods and was a great carpenter. One winter, while continuing to work on the cabin he had an accident. He had just put a new saw blade in his table saw and while cutting some wood trim he cut his thumb off!!

He described to me how shocked he was and how badly he started to bleed. Other than his big white dog, he was alone, with no one to help him. He realized that he needed to drive into town to get help at the hospital but first he had to shut down the cabin. He rushed around bleeding profusely, turning off the furnace, the lights, and locking the doors. He managed to find a towel to wrap around his hand to limit the bleeding. His dog Tina realized something was wrong and cowered in a corner of the room.

Eventually Arnie staggered out to the truck and headed for town. His dog sat in the truck with him but sat as far away as possible. On the winding and hilly drive to town it was difficult to drive very fast and he was afraid he was going to pass out and drive into the ditch. Arnie eventually got into town but rather than go further to the hospital he stopped at his house where he fell down and passed out from the loss of blood. His wife was at home and an ambulance soon had Arnie in the hospital and taken care of. They were unable to reattach the thumb as it was left in the cabin many miles away..

Many years after the event Arnie and I were discussing the accident while out at the cabin and having a few drinks. He confessed that the whole episode upset him badly and he had trouble getting over it. When his hand had healed enough he returned to the cabin and found it still in the same condition when he left it.

Not only was the table saw covered in blood but the thumb was still lying there. At the time of the accident the pain had caused him to shake his hand up and down dramatically, while yelling and cursing at his own stupidity. The result was that not only was there blood on the floor but on the walls and ceiling. Instead of simply wrapping up the hand and jumping in the truck he went round and closed up the cabin in the usual manner. He turned off the furnace and the lights and locked the door. He left a trail of blood where ever he went and on what ever he touched. The amount of blood loss made it look like someone had been butchered in the cabin. In the end it was necessary to repaint most of the walls and ceiling. The entire situation badly upset the dog, particular the yelling and cursing, and it was many weeks before she would go near her master.

During our talk I learned that during World War II, while living in Finland, Arnie was in the Finnish Army and fought against the Germans. At one point he and a group of fellow soldiers were on ski patrol and ran into a lager group of Germans. They were forced to flee and were chased by the Germans. They came to a river which had steep banks on both sides. With difficulty they got down the near bank, abandoned their skis and swam across the river. As they were climbing the deep snow on the far bank the Germans caught up and started shooting. Of the dozen or so Finnish soldiers with Arnie all of them were shot and killed and only he managed to escape.

Because of this tragedy and all the other bad experiences he suffered during the war he considered himself very lucky to have escaped without a scratch. Cutting off his thumb made him relive his close escape and bring back all the war memories. It was these buried memories that upset him more than the loss of his thumb.

Blood red apples

When I  was a young RCMP recruit in training in Depot Division in Regina, Saskatchewan there was a strong connection with police activities in the city of Regina and the rest of  the province. Any new crimes caught our attention and we could never get enough information.

In the spring of 1955 a murder occurred in Regina and the details slowly filtered out in bits and pieces. The case was simple and quickly solved. Three elderly seniors were living in a ramshackle house on the edge of town. The woman that owned the house had two male companions living with her and sharing expenses.

It seems a so called senior love triangle formed and the dominant couple eliminated the third party by stabbing him in his bed while he slept. Within a few days the warmer spring weather made it necessary for them to seal the bedroom door to the deceased room as the smell became very strong.  Paper and cloth was used the fill any cracks and holes.

As spring advanced neighbors started to notice the smell and the couple was forced to seal the one exterior bedroom window which was not air tight.  Conditions continued to worsen to the point a next door neighbor phoned the police, who quickly arrived. A simple walk around the house in question left no doubt something was seriously wrong.

In due course the police gained entry and then forced open the deceased’s bedroom door. The crime scene was shocking and hard to comprehend. The body was dressed in long red winter long johns with a knife still protruding from his chest.

The upper half of the body was hanging over the edge of the bed and the bed itself was covered in hundreds and hundreds of maggots. It was impossible to enter the  room as the entire small bedroom floor was a mass of writhing maggots at least three inches deep.

The criminal investigation team and Corners office had to shovel a path to the body in order to extract it.  Gas masks were required during the entire procedure.

In the end the house was crushed and burned, then buried on the lot. During  interrogation the responsible couple admitted everything and were obviously in the early stages of dementia. They were both place in secure mental facilities, until they died.

The ultimate conclusion to the story came when during her interrogation, the woman complained that shortly after the murder she went down the basement to recover a box of fresh apples. Blood from the upstairs bedroom had seeped through the floor onto the apples and she had to wash them all off  before they could eat them!

Very few details reached the public. There are times when it is not necessary to know all the details.

The Johnson Farm

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An old rural mailbox at rest.  The farmer has died and his wife is in the nursing home. The land has been rented out and the house sits vacant. The heartbeat of the farmyard has slowed, and come to a full halt.

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The final act was to tear out the mailbox and post from the edge of the rural road, leaving it hidden from view, leaning against an old shed. A mailbox that has held a lifetime of messages, good news and bad.

4-8-2011 014A typical old red barn sitting in a farm yard which has now turned into a hay meadow. It always seems so quiet when I visit an abandoned farm. I try to imagine the place back when it was a busy working farm with teams of horses harnessed up and hard at work. Milk cows lowing in  the barn and chickens running to and fro, chasing bugs.

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The barn windows have been beaten and weathered through countless storms till only a single pane of glass remains.

4-8-2011 021 The door to this old farm building has seen a lot of activity. Those days are gone and the farm has been abandoned. The boards are weathered to the point you can just barely see the remains of the original bright red paint.

Weathered door & hardware

The door has sagged so the hardware is no longer in alignment. I love the old style latch and handle that was probably crafted in the shop out of left over materials.

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The steps and porch of the house have been taken over by raspberry canes, as life struggles on. Long after these photos were taken the house was destroyed and the remains buried.

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The outhouse has served its time and is slowly being enveloped in vines and ferns.

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I took these photos over ten years ago and in recent years the farmyard has been  purchased by a young couple who have move in another house. The barn has a new steel roof. Children’s voices are once again being heard and so the cycle repeats itself.

The Chair Lift

This is the town of Banff, Alberta, Canada, nestled in the Bow River Valley, deep within the Canadian Rockies. The photo was taken from Mt. Norquay and shows Mount Rundle towering over the town.

I was posted here in the mid 50’s as a young RCMP constable. The town had a winter population of about 3,000 which grew in the summer to ten times that amount. It was designated a Red Serge detachment so the full red dress uniform was worn while on duty.  Dam the tourists!

Banff was discovered by Canadian Pacific Railway surveyors and became Canadas first and most famous National Park. Banff sits 4,537 feet above sea level. Mt Rundle sits at 9,673.

A call came into the Detachment that a woman had been injured on the Mt. Norquay Ski Lift, which is used in the summer to take tourist to the top of Mt. Norquay for a great view of the valley. The accident had occurred near the chalet where the lift starts, about half way up the mountain. The injured woman had already been taken to the hospital in Banff when her injuries were reported.

The company that operates the lift and ski slopes was in the process of building a new ski jump for the upcoming winter.  Large trucks were hauling rock and dirt fill to the new site which required that they pass under the Chair lift cable.

This view was taken from the mountain, looking north, and the two cables in the photo can be traced downwards to where they begin at the chalet in the center of the shot. The truck was traveling from right to left on the road that passed under the chairlift cables.

After dumping it’s load the truck headed west but the driver failed to disengage the dump box gear. As a result, the box of the truck started to slowly rise again until it was fully raised.  The front of the box had an angle iron frame that normally supported a spare tire but at the time of the accident it was empty and stuck up above the box, similar to football goal posts.

The woman in the chairlift met with the truck as it passed under her.  The chairlift was designed with an arm rest that swung in front of the rider once they sat down.  At the same time the arm was also connected to a foot rest that swung into position and gave the rider a place for her feet.

Both the truck and the chairlift moved in a slow steady fashion. The angle Iron on the front of the truck box was at its greatest high as it met the chairlift.  The angle iron pushed the woman’s feet to the side and hooked over the foot rest.

The first indication the truck driver had of a problem was when the front wheels of the truck slowly raised off the ground. As the cable took on the weight of the truck, the truck started to move left up the steep mountainside. At the same time the woman and the chair were pulled down by the weight of the truck.

The lift cable was attached to a huge counter weight that sat in the cable lift operations building. It was hinged on the two front corners that faced the mountain.  It was designed to keep the cable tight as passengers got on or off the lift. Later it was discovered that the lift was so designed it could have pulled the truck up the side of the mountain with little trouble.

It was at this point the foot rest snapped off and caused the truck to fall back to the ground. The sudden release of the weight of the truck caused the counter weight to fall back and suddenly take up the slack on the cable. This caused the woman and the chair to be launched upwards as if from a sling shot. The rider flew out of the chair high overhead but on an angle towards the mountain.  As a result the distance to the ground was less than if she had fallen down on the ground by the truck.

The truck had no damage and the chairlift only required a new chair. Fortunately, while the woman was badly injured, she had no memory of being launched skywards, nor the crash to the ground.

Afterwards, all truck traffic was forbidden to drive under the chairlift cable.

LOWISA

I just read recently that L.O.W.I.S.A. is holding its 53rd race on the Lake of the woods. The above names stand for Lake of the Woods International Sailing Association.

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The first race was in 1966. A Winnipeg friend of mine owned a 24 foot Shark sailboat and was anxious to enter the race. He invited me to help crew the boat, mainly because I was familiar with the lake and could help keep the boat off the reefs.

In the first five year I sailed three times with Gordy  Kunselman and we had a great time. The event took place over six days and traveled 250 miles around the Lake of the Woods in a counter clockwise direction and involved over 200 sailboats of various sizes.

The Shark class was built by a Canadian, particularly for the Great Lakes, and was designed to go like hell when the strong winds blew.

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One year the race started in Kenora and the rainy weather and high winds curtailed a lot of the boats as it was too rough. That year we won the first day race as the weather was ideal for the boat. It was our only win as the shark was not designed for calm sailing breezes.

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The majority of boats sail in a large group so there was lots of friendly inter-reaction between boat crews, trying to pass slower neighbors.  At the start of one race two large sailboats were at cross purpose and one punched a hole in the cabin of the other with the bow of the boat.  No one was hurt  and the boat damage was minimal and did not leak.
The collision was in slow motion but the force of the wind in the sails makes the inertia of the boat keep going, so that the striking boat rose up out of the water and looked like it was going to climb onto the victim.  When I returned to work following the race I ended up being assigned the insurance claim and having been a close witness saw it all.

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When the weather turned bad most of the boats headed for sheltered bays while our Shark flew like the wind.  A photo of rough water never shows it as bad as it is.

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In this photo we are leading the pack and only a few boats are in sight behind us.  That being said, when the wind died down and we were becalmed, everyone seemed to leave us behind.

On the occasions when the wind did not blow, packs of boats drifted together with the crews having to fend off boats that got too close. With no wind, the silence on the lake resulted in everyone hearing what was said on every boat all around us.

The tension mounted as everyone tried to put up lots of sail in the hope of moving ahead. In the dead quiet moments it was easy to hear boat crews blaming each other for moving around too much and slowing the boat down. Husbands haranguing crew (wife) was a cause for great laughter.

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In calmer weather when a large group of boats was jockeying through a rather narrow channel, one boat left the group and tried to pass everyone by hugging the shore line.  I happened to be watching the boat because I knew it was heading for shallow waters and a particular reef.

In front of an audience of over fifty people this large and brand new sailboat, that slept six, ran up on the reef. The boat rose out of the water in slow motion and stayed upright until the large keel of the boat was out of the water.  Then the boat came to a full stop and slowly rolled over on its left side, sails in the water and hull lying high and dry. It was difficult to salvage the boat later without scratching the fiber glass hull.

At the end of each days race the entire fleet spent the night in the harbor of a selected tourist camp.  Evening campfires allowed people to mix and share the stories of the day. Many people slept on their boats while the rest set up tents.

Trying to fall asleep was not too hard because all the fresh air and exercise left everyone dead beat. With a hundred sailboats sitting in the harbor it was inevitable that some lazy sailor failed to secure the halyards (used to raise the sails) and in the light breeze of the evening, the irritating sound of “Ching, ching ching, ching” (caused by the aluminum wires banging on the mast) caused someone to swear at the offender, followed by loud laughter from the group.

The race will take place again this year (53rd) in August at Kenora, on the Lake of the Woods.

 

Eloise’s Wilderness Trek

img499Back in the mid 70’s, prior to becoming an English Teacher, Eloise ventured into Northern Ontario on a number of canoe trips. In this shot the guide is paddling while she fishes for the next meal. The canoe is piled high with all the camping gear and equipment.

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The guide is multitasking, paddling and trolling for fish at the same time. We are on an unnamed pair of lakes that could only be reached by portaging the canoe and gear through the woods. A small island provides a perfect camping spot.

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The tent is up, the cooking area erected, and the evening campfire site is ready. The island is about a quarter of a mile from the mainland and we are at least twenty miles from civilization.

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Fishing for a big Northern is a daily activity.

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At least we won’t go hungry this evening.

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Future English teacher, substituting as camp cook.

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This is what she looks like when the fish are not biting. Many a student of English experienced this look when things were not going well. (I am going to die when she sees these pictures!)

The James A Ryan – tugboat

 

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The Minnesota and Ontario (Mando) Pulp and paper company at Kenora operated a small fleet of tugs that were used to haul large rafts of pulp logs to the mill. The logs were fed into the mill from the lake and processed into newsprint, the largest percentage going to Minneapolis, MM.

This photo show the James A. Ryan hooking up to the log boom, where it had been temporarily parked near the shore where I lived. The boom would be hauled miles down the lake to some bay where the pulp wood cutters were at work.  The cut logs were dumped into the lake and confined by the log booms.

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Each tug was accompanied by a smaller craft that assisted in the operation of the tug and log boom. It was also used to recover any logs that escaped the boom and might be a hazard to other boaters. When in motion the raft was rather large and held many  hundreds of logs, but moved at a slow speed so it was easy to see and avoid.

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In this view the tug is gathering up the log boom and preparing to move the raft to the mill. The tug operation was terminated many years ago but the tugs are on display in a couple of parks in the Kenora area. The pulp mill no longer operates and was torn down.