Atikokan loses again

Northwestern Ontario has become a gloomy picture with some main industries failing. And now the sadness has spread to Atikokan, which last week supplied this headline to a Thunder Bay newspaper: “Town Cries For Help.”
Atikokan fought bravely to hang on since its Steep Rock iron mine quit producing. It was cheered by the presence of its coal-burning hydro-electric plant, but now that’s also to be a thing of the past.
Along with two friends, I jumped onto a boxcar bound for Steep Rock employ many years ago. But our welding skills were no longer required, so after mixing concrete for the Steep Rock office, we caught the next boxcars out to the Port Arthur shipyards after a month in “Iron Town.”
We ate well in the Steep Rock dining room and had expected to hang on there, but the Second World War had started and the shipyards were booming.
Then the silt from the bottom of Steep Rock Lake started flooding into Rainy Lake, although Steep Rock pPresident Fotherham soon had that diverted into muskegs along the way and Fort Frances was grateful.
Our community got along very well with Atikokan and Steep Rock, and we’ll all be sorry to lose their friendship. We had a number of citizens move there, including our former NHL hockey star, Ed (Sonny) Kryzanowski, and wife, Elaine, in recent years.
Now, Ontario has announced it will close Atikokan’s coal-fired plant by 2007.
Atikokan expects to lose 90 well-paying plant jobs and hundreds of spin-off ones. Thirty years ago, the town’s last major employer, Steep Rock Iron Mines, announced it was shutting down.
The federal government has not offered much assistance to the distressed community, it’s reported.
During my visit there many years ago, Atikokan seemed a happy place while the mine was operating. You could meet people there from many parts of Canada and Sudbury had drillers on the lake in winter, which I was to join in order to sharpen their drills after I took a welding course.
Frank Thorn and Beft Woods were with me when we all took other jobs at the Port Arthur shipyards (now Thunder Bay).
• • •
Mentioning Fort Frances in conjunction with Steep Rock, I should include Art Leger, whose family once owned the cabins on the highway at the turn to La Place Rendez-Vous that later were owned by the late Clark Robertson.
Art was the welder in the Port Arthur shipyards who created the dredges to pump out Steep Rock Lake, an incident which created excitement when the silt entered Rainy Lake and threatened our drinking water here—as well as Rusty Green’s brewery products.
Art had asked me to help him but I got busy elsewhere.
The closest I came to that project was to jump into a rented plane to fly over Rainy Lake for a photo of the long, black line of silt coming across the North Arm.
• • •
On meeting Herb Snow, I remarked that he seemed to have lost weight. This is not to be wondered about considering all the time Herb and his wife have put into grooming landscaping at Eric’s Lund in McIrvine, including the creek behind the late Eric Ericson’s store.
That area has been truly a labour of love for both Eric and Herb, although the present owner never went in for all the ducks, geese, and swans that drew interest for Eric, where many Americans stopped to sign his guest book.
So Herb explains his smaller size: When he found his old weight in a doctor’s book, it indicated his height should be 7’6”!
• • •
The “dog days” are coming. I remember when our mothers used to warn us not to go swimming at the end of summer, when lake water was believed to be bad for us because of diseases spreading in August.
• • •
Local concerns should be directed at the number of hazardous dead or dying trees along some of our main streets and roadways. The town, in the past, did not wait for these to fall over or be blown down by high winds.
I loaned my two-man crosscut saw to Ernie Ballan, a former works superintendent, to take down one huge elm at the corner of First Street East and Portage Avenue years ago.
It was so large around that ordinary saws could not be used and the tree had become a menace, although still alive. Tommy Anderson sharpened that saw and that tree was a lot of work.
• • •
“Johnny Canuck” was the name he gave his small store on the highway at La Vallee. And this name became so well-known, his own name was forgotten by some even after he started a Scott Street business here.
A group was recalling him over coffee and I proved my own memory is not as bad as I thought, being the only one to remember that this merchant’s right name was Mike Kosowick!
• • •
Ken Munn reports deer hunting should continue to be very good around here, judging from the fresh crop of fawns he has been noticing near the lagoon across the road from his home. He has seen at least six fawns there recently, including triplets, twins, and a single.
He recalls when Buster Saunders, the town’s former works superintendent, would take hunting parties into that area every fall.
• • •
Can you remember when party entertainment used to include step dancing, which I have not noticed going on anywhere here lately.
• • •
The huge U.S. cattle herds, such as we see on the Lonestar TV program “Rawhide,” no doubt increased tremendously lately since Canadian ranchers reduced their own herds due to the “mad cow” disease scare.
But the same disease is currently reported below the border, as well, which means fewer cattle undoubtedly there, too!
• • •
The Andrusco’s younger generation keeps on making their mark elsewhere, Uncle Nick reports with pride. His niece, Marina, is married to the manager of the St. Charles Golf Club in Winnipeg.
• • •
McDonald’s restaurant has become one of our best-known stops for holidayers. Not everyone arrives by car—a middle-aged Alberta couple breezed in and out by motorcycle on Monday.
• • •
Eileen McGee has returned from visiting a niece in Tacoma, Wash. It’s already now 15 years since her popular postman husband, Don, passed away.
He was among a series of letter-carriers who died prematurely after they were were led to believe that walking is very good for your health.
• • •
Although I heard of lamas having been introduced here for pleasure riding along with Lorne Caul’s horses, the Alpaca has been appearing in Minnesota.
According to Jerry Benshoof of Hopkins Bay, these cute animals, with their long necks, “make wonderful pets” besides having hair that is used for very warm sweaters.
One can be purchased for $700.

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