I joined a community choir here in Stouffville, and last night we practised for three hours for the second consecutive night. We are singing a particularly beautiful arrangement of Four Strong Winds by one of our famous Canadian folk singers, Ian Tyson.It was popular when we were moving to Alberta, so it is emotional for me to sing it, especially with the line “think I’ll go out to Alberta, weathers nice there in the fall”. Also, the place the tenor and basses lead with “but the good times are all gone” caught me off guard. Are the good times all gone? As a senior, it can be tempting to think that. For me anyway, I realise my good times of driving across the country with Alex, and the children, are gone!!! We both loved getting into a vehicle, whether it was a welding truck, a new Suburban, or a motor home and later mini vans, and hitting the open prairie roads,or several hundred miles of gravel in the North West Territories, it was always enjoyable to us, and we had the utmost confidence that Daddy was prepared for every eventuality. Ready he was! Last night made me realise, writing will be one way for me to deal with the sense of loss that hit me last night.
My last memory blog got us to Alberta. Before the fist year was out, we had purchased a country 20 acres and older house north of Edmonton about a half hour in a place called Coronado. It consisted of the post office that was in the house we bought, and a railway crossing with one grain elevator that was being dismantled just as we were moving in. Jonathan started school and little Shelly stayed home with me, no preschool or kindergarten in those days, in rural Alberta at least, thankfully.(my sentiments anyway) Also, a big event was Janine Marie’s arrival on November 14 of that year 1972.
Alex transformed the trashy property by hiring a Cat and operator who dug a hole in a low lying area of our property and shoved into it old car bodies, manure piles, fallen down fences, huge piles of tin cans. The lawns were smoothed out and grass planted. This all happened in one weekend, when he came home form the oil field. The transformation left our neighbours in shock. The interior was painted, kitchen rearranged, sanded hardwood floor in the living room, made for a pleasant home. The next spring we planted veggies, and what a garden that was. The children loved the poplar wooded areas, and open meadows with wildflowers.
Alex/Sandy was well into the mental planning of his revolutionary method of building on-site storage tanks. He knew that no oil company would feel comfortable in contracting him to build tanks for them so the self use method was the way to go. He researched the fuel market in Yellowknife and found that there was a spread of price from the rail head in Hay River, on the south side of Great Slave Lake, and Yellowknife on the North Shore of the same large body. HE would require a water front property at Yellowknife to allow fuel to be barged in.
He flew to Yellowknife, rented a car, went to see the mayor and expressed interest in acquiring a lake front spot for his endeavour to bring lower home heating and gasoline prices.to Yellowknife.
The mayor, did a southern mayor scene, pounding his desk and delivering the “over my dead body” speech. Only, Imperial Oil was sold in the Northwest Territories up till then.
Alex walked out thinking that was a little over the top reaction. He drove past the Con Gold Mines, probably the reason Yellowknife exists, and to the rocky shoreline.A young “hippy girl” (it was the 70’s) was fishing on the rocks and as Alex told the story…
“When looking for a suitable property to build a fuel depot with deep water access, just ask a young women who is fishing off the rocks if she knows any available spot”
Well, like so many of Alex’s hunches or ideas, it was not a wasted inquiry.
She said “you should talk to Johnny, I think he owns this property”
Johnny is a short and gentle Metis man with soft brown eyes and a French accent, who had already lived in Yellowknife for years. He had acquired land in Yellowknife before the Government of Canada became interested in the Northwest Territories, so the entrepreneurs had been doing their own thing there, fishing, working in the goldmines. Johnny had tried dealing in Esso products before this and was pushed out of business by the mayor’s friend who had the whole town without any competition at all. When he heard Alex’s plan, he thought for a while and then he said ” Yes, he would make his lake front available for the project of bringing competition to the North.”
So, in future blogs you will hear more about the adventures of Johnny, Alex, Imperial Oil, Texaco, Federal Business Development Bank, then building tanks in Inuit communities in the high Arctic.
The “north” was a dream come true for Alex! Although, born in Toronto, he never fell in love with the city, but rather was enchanted with northern Ontario. He had a teacher who read Robert Service poetry to his class. The whole thing of northern lights, prospecting for gold, thousands of miles of wilderness, opportunity to solve problems, drew him like a magnet.
I remember so clearly, we had only been in Alberta for one year and went back to Ontario for a wedding in the family. Alex saw one of his uncles who asked him “when will you be able to afford to come back to Ontario?”
Not very often did I see Alex speechless, and I don’t know if he even answered him.