Lucky George goes his last ten miles

“George Armstrong is the luckiest man I know,” J.A. Mathieu told me one day. “He gets a contract to build a highway and finds a gold mine!”
The old logger could be accused of expressing some jealousy here, having just lost a lawsuit that left Armstrong as sole owner of the West End cement plant. Yet J.A.’s explanation on that outcome was simple and unbiased in tone.
“I don’t know how I fit in there,” he said, “because the plant stood on George’s property, the gravel came from his pit, and it was hauled in his trucks both ways. He paid for everything. . . .”
Mathieu for once had made a bad investment and admitted it. Yet it says a lot for our financial titans that they stayed friends to the end of their days. J.A., with his need for logging roads, was among George’s first employers and he never lost admiration for the younger man.
I remembered J.A.’s words when Armstrong drove three of us to Dryden and I realized that the late Mike Hupchuk was along more than likely as George’s regular mining prospector. Our fourth companion was George’s regular chum, Bill Fontana.
Mike eyed every precipice and promontory along the last 10 miles of our trip and kept calling them “anomalies,” in the language of geologists studying terrain that could prove rich. I never heard that any fresh claims had been registered later, but then gold claims are always changing hands here.
George and Mike parted company soon afterwards but Mike and his wife were not pleased, I learned through Mike, who was my friend of early school days at Robert Moore. He had accepted a $25,000 severance cheque, which was not his expected remuneration.
But then Mike spent a lot of years chasing hockey pucks voluntarily except for applause. His name will come up at the June reunion of our historic Canadians, along with those of several other players who should be present but also have passed on.
The Armstrong luck was lasting well during this episode in his highway career. George managed to finish that now popular road in spite of his earlier intentions not to bid on the last 10 miles we saw that day—10 miles of bygone earthquakes or blazes from outer space, perhaps as miserable looking country as any in our whole Precambrian shield.
We travelled parallel to 80 miles of the new highway on a construction trail before seeing this terrible stretch and Armstrong indicated his fears for the future here. Closing in on 80 years then, he had no interest in going broke trying to reach the end of the road he had almost completed.
As it turned out, he wouldn’t have to—although it seemed he felt honour-bound to go on.
When a B.C. builder accepted the contract for that last 10 miles, George must have experienced tremendous relief. He could have just missed his own “Waterloo.”
We watched the western contractor’s equipment roll into town here, much of it seemingly new. But soon afterwards, there came word of that company’s bankruptcy on the job and George went up the road towards Dryden to buy the B.C. equipment.
Now, he was in position to continue and confirm that J.A. Mathieu’s pronouncement about his good luck had been true.
That luck had been tested successfully on previous jobs, such as when he had capped the piers in the Rainy Lake causeway named for his old friend, W.G. Noden, MPP, another Mathieu associate.
For that project, he had braved lake ice with heavy draglines to go along with supervisor of that day, Donny Christian, his idea man.
And George had never flinched while earning an international reputation as engineers all the way from India looked on.
Now all three of our Atlantis heroes, Mathieu, Noden, and Armstrong—locally better respected than anyone in the past—have gone to their rewards. It’s difficult to guess who is missed the most, but there is no argument that local history could not have developed so well without all of them.
One more word here could be revealing: Armstrong is a well-known Irish name so the proverbial “luck o’ the Irish” may never have been put to better use!
• • •
Retired town fireman Hugh Fleming Jr., a new clerk and big help at North American Lumber’s new store, tells about his brother, Greg Boileau, and nephew, Dave, at Atikokan having had success at generating electrical power with Valerie Powre Company.
Greg described the start of all this to me a few years ago, being a friend since our boyhood days. He watched a fast-moving creek tumbling around near Atikokan and was given permission by Ontario Hydro to harness it. They added more creeks and managed to make money at it.
When his son stepped in with windmills and then got the company going on hydrogen power by removing oxygen from running water, Hugh reported everything went well and now there’s no looking back! It all sounds very impressive!
Their company is named for Greg’s wife.
• • •
For Emo’s annual Spring Fever Days and countless other activities, such as the district firemen’s training in Crozier, sales of all kinds, and even early picnics if you preferred, there was never a more gorgeous April weekend, even including that all-out race to Emo for gasoline refills.
The pumps there must have been well drained because with one-third off the price, so many went before the deadline there was a hurry-up warning heard by 10 a.m.
• • •
Well-known Dean McLean from Alberta, the former La Vallee cattleman who has been out west long enough to get excited over beef prices once more, has contacted me with an offer to rent my place for pasture.
With help and advice from his granddad, Arnold McLean, the late district highways boss, Dean and family learned all about changing cow prices—up and down—but he declares from his Alberta experience that cattle are fast becoming a success story again.
Anyway, Dean, I for once refuse to get involved with that market again. Prices are too undependable!
• • •
So in comes Alvin Alexander, whom you might remember for sawmilling, with word that the prison farm down the highway past Barwick was operating well in his boyhood. Alvin gives his age as 75.
Responding to the question I had earlier, he says it was never used for war prisoners though, as some believe, but if you went up before the judge in those days, your sentence might be labour on the prison farm, close to the river, where they kept horses and cows, pigs, and chickens, and raised grain, hay, and gardens.
Today, it’s remembered mostly for its big barn.
• • •
And as you’d expect, plenty of robins came back last week, but some observers say there were other robins that never went away at all last winter.

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