Murder trials bring up strange memories

Yet another murder trial has come up and again the air is full of questions about the most famous one of all here—the so-called “hot stove murder case.”
This has hung over our heads like a black cloud although the terrible offence actually was committed some 60 miles east of us on the railroad, right at the spot, Banning, where I had my first job after high school.
Now, while I was no authority on the subject, I have a different opinion about two of the personalities involved in the four-man gang that was tried in our district courthouse, three of whom also were hanged here (it is believed that was the last execution by hanging anywhere in Canada).
A younger associate went to prison.
Their motive for the murder was robbery.
Down east, where I was stationed while the headlines chased after everyone who came from Fort Frances, the story was sensationalized. The names, though, meant nothing to me until I came home on air force leave in 1944 and accompanied my mother to hear the trial.
Imagine my amazement when two of the men being escorted up the courthouse steps were fellows who had treated my like a younger brother only three years earlier.
We had worked nights together, under the headlight of a dragline, installing a ditch next to the tracks and close to a humble home where a mother later died so horribly.
I never saw Mrs. Jamieson, but some of her motherless children came to Fort Frances.
It was late June when I finally found employment, having applied everywhere men were being hired—papermill and sawmills—going down the tracks regularly by bicycle and out to farms.
Then I “lucked” into the railway office and chose night shifts of 13 hours at 30 cents an hour. A day shift of 11 hours would seem more sensible if I had only known what was coming at me (eight-hour shifts were still not common).
So I jumped on the “local,” a passenger train used before our Causeway was created, and found the bunk car that was to be my home that summer. This was only for a couple weeks at Banning before we went west in the district to Barwick and Pinewood as the job proceeded on to Winnipeg.
That summer is remembered for the bad poliomyelitis outbreak.
Three of us were wearing hip waders and wielding long-handled shovels to smooth the banks of a new ditch for draining a muskeg. Meanwhile, swarms of blackflies and mosquitoes were eating me alive!
I looked down the ditch and marveled at how a pair of young guys seemed to be quietly enjoying their talk while ignoring the pests.
“We smoke a lot,” they explained, generously offering me the “makings,” tobacco and cigarette papers, which I quickly learned to twist into homemade smokes and practised diligently.
I kept on smoking for many years, too, until it suddenly became unpopular, but I would still thank the Skrypnyk brothers from Atikokan for saving my job that long night.
I may have developed some immunity through years of swatting such flies, but never before or since have I been attacked so vigorously. Today, usually, there is some form of fly dope to smear on or spray. Out there, believe me, there was just no relief!
As we continued working together, the brothers insisted on doing any axe work that came up when we moved the dragline ahead on its wooden mats. Apparently, they were worried I could hurt myself in the darkness when we moved away from the light, so I carried the poles they cut and admired their ability as woodsmen.
We parted company soon afterwards, but I still find their kindness so much in contrast to the cruelty that came later. Even liquor would not be any excuse, but other influences must have been very strong to change their natures to powerfully.
I’ll never know but sometimes if I come upon a ditch in the darkness, I may imagine I can see the glow of a cigarette there. Then the old memories will rise up again and bother me, taking me back to Banning!
• • •
Our Allan Cuppers are drifting together again now, and the latest old Canadian to arrive the other day was Alex Kurceba, or “Kelsey,” remembered as our suicidal defenceman who regularly threw himself on the puck but never seemed to get hurt at it!
Kelsey was a great partner for captain Sambo Fedoruk or the late Dun Sampson as the Canadians frequently worked with only three blueliners.
They could sometimes get help from their all-star forward Ike Eisenzoph, and also when younger players like Ben Beck, Bill Galbraith, Bill Borlase, or John Hazel became available.
Now they are into their 50th anniversary planning for June. I expect their goaltender, Bill Cleaveley, also may be checking in soon. Alex and Bill were not local natives, but practically everyone else grew up right here.
• • •
The dairying Kaeminghs were featured in the Times last week and there are few better known families in this district.
Although mostly on dairy farms, Ted has his sons running Esso at Emo now and looking after most of our fuel needs while he continues developing his residential subdivision there.
His brother, Henry, finds time for coffee occasionally with us and gives a fascinating account of the family, besides identifying all those named Arnold, which was his father’s name.
Incidentally, Henry, Ted, and their late brother, Arnold, had nine sisters. They came from Holland.
• • •
Coach Dave Allison at Milwaukee managed to square accounts with the Winnipeg Moose last week, and will be back in Winnipeg again next weekend.
This is halfway through their 80-game American Hockey League schedule. He expects to win at least half of the next 40 games to reach the playoffs.
• • •
Author James Andrews’ book, “Mountain Pilots,” is selling well so an order for a reprint has gone to his publisher. The western U.S. pilot-prospectors are happy with it and James claims it’s paying its way nicely.

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