In the summer of 1974, we headed north to Yellowknife, leaving our country house empty, with good neighbors keeping an eye on it.
FYI, Edmonton is approx 500 Miles north of the US border, and it was another 500 miles straight north to the NWT border close to High Level Alberta. What surprised me, were the barley fields that
were looking good right up to the 60th parallel. There was still land being cleared by homesteaders at that time. What makes Alberta so different from Ontario for instance, is the absence of the rock shield, which gives Alberta more arable land than any other province. The super long days assist with the growth.
Now, just another 500 miles to Yellowknife, and at that time in history, it was gravel. We slept overnight at High Level, and drove north. I recall the clouds of dust far ahead, on the road, indicating an oncoming vehicle. It was a remote road, with no one around to help if you did have trouble.
Finally at he end of a long day and hundreds of miles of wilderness, we came upon a rather modern looking town, with an airport,which is how most folks got into town.
Johnny helped us find an apartment, furnished it almost entirely from his “junk” store. When folks left Yellowknife, they usually called Johnny to come by and buy the contents of their home or apt. so we were up and running quite quickly. By late fall, a fuel tank had been constructed down by the lake.
By later the next year, Gulf Oil (now Petro Canada) was looking for 3 60 Ft high tanks in Hay River, and because they liked the one that was built in Yk. they contracted Alex to build those, starting in 1976.The Federal Business Development Bank president for Western Canada called Alex and said he was coming up to go fishing with him. Alex was not a real fisherman, but he scrambled and he and Bob Whiteway and Dan Byer, who was comptroller at Yellowknife’s largest hotel,rose to the occasion.
Said the banker, while out on the lake,”you have asked for a loan to launch this oil business, but I am telling you, Imperial Oil is going to have you for breakfast, I will give you the money because you will make enough on your tank building to pay us back”
Texaco was agreeable to fill our tank with home heating fuel, so now we were in the home heating business, which turned out to be a heart break, when Esso, just lowered their price to customers, till we were out of business.
The following story is one that Alex really liked about Johnny R.
Johnny, was, I think from Saskatchewan and went into commercial fishing on Great Slave Lake, but in his words ” I didn’t know where those fish were, and I don’t think they knew themselves where they were”. He did not declare bankruptcy, but got a job in the gold mines, deep in the earth, as a blaster. To pay his debtors, he drilled 4 long, long shifts a week, and on the other days he went trapping to look after his family. Because he was such an early settler in YK, he owned several lots in the “old town”; before the government got the idea of taxing property owners.
During the years of trapping and mining, he fell behind in his taxes. By the time we arrived on the scene, it was getting very close to them seizing his land for taxes. With real conviction, he said, “I just didn’t think it was right for them to get my properties.”
One day while on the tundra, he was “drawn” to a certain outcropping of rock in the distance. When he got there he realized it was gold. Alex asked, “how much was there Johnny?” “Maybe the size of the back of a pick up truck”. So Johnny chipped off enough to fill his back pack and tramped back into town. He found an unsuspecting tourist who paid him a discounted amount, enough to settle his bill with the city.He knew if the authorities could trace that gold, it might start a mad rush.
One day Alex was in the mining office negotiating with them for a right of way across their property, to his tank. The man he was dealing with started to excitedly disclose that he had just seen a chunk of gold ore that was so pure, they had never seen anything close to it. He said the person who brought it in, would not disclose the source.. Alex knew and kept his mouth shut.
Later, talking to Johnny, Alex asked, “are you going back for more?”.
“Do you need money?” replied Johnny. Alex thought it might be kind of a good idea, but Johnny said “you don’t need money, you just need to know how to live.” Alex never forgot that. Not to say he mastered it like Johnny, who was perhaps the most contented and happy person Alex had met. He said he would have no part of a mad rush for Gold, “people kill for gold”. he said. I don’t believe he said he would never go back if he needed money personally. We saw little children come to his door, to get their scrapped knees fussed over by Johnny. Local Native folks came to his door to borrow money to go to a funeral in a distant community. “Do they pay you back” asked Alex. The answer was “yes, I am the only bank they have”. Alex saw him on a dreadfully cold night heading to the old town with the back of his ugly vehicle loaded with firewood for a widow lady whose boys had been drinking and failed to look after her.
This was a man who had no church affiliation, or dogmas, but he certainly had integrity and love, and he was always always looking after “the least of these my brethren”.