Our Vikings were well-respected!

TV’s much-ballyhooed “History of the Vikings” is probably the same as what little we were told in school about those dauntless Norsemen, Eric and Red and Leif the Lucky—only told with more pizzazz in the modern movie manner which turns them into bloodthirsty pirates.
Having grown up among our local Scandinavians who enjoyed a well-deserved reputation for mild manners, the Vikings don’t ring quite true as savages intent on horrible crimes in order to rule the new world they found over here.
From our many years of admiring the skills of the big Swedes, neighbours such as Eli Johnson, Eric Pearson, and Harry Christiansen, as woodsmen and carpenters, it’s difficult to cast them as heavily-bearded, fierce-eyed, and wearing war helmets adorned with horns!
Also sailing their ships into barren Newfoundland, where there never seemed much future for men who preferred to make their fortunes in timber.
Christiansen was a builder of wooden boats without peer in these parts but Eli, while hitting the tall timber along with his countrymen for decades since they landed, was more inclined to float in quietly with hundreds of cords of wood in tow for sawmills.
And Eli had a reputation for finding a water route wherever he needed one to serve the cutting camps. He’s go down the long lake drives with employer J.A. Mathieu waiting to pound him on the back for chalking up another profitable season.
Meanwhile, Pearson was running his own show to the east of Eli at Glenorchie where, with help of two skilled hockey-player sons, he had his own mill and—for some reason known only to the Vikings of the horned helmets—he also ranched considerable cattles there as did Eli at Barwick.
The story never grows old of how Eli once grabbed a charging bull by the horns and flipped it, rodeo-style, onto its back, bawling loudly one day at his farm. Our own Viking giants earned their neighbours’ admiration repeatedly for their feats.
I knew Christiansen longer than these other giants, but Eli was my regular coffee partner mornings at the old Ray S. Holmes counter after he retired. He was always accompanied by a very young son, one of several I met.
Eli and I shared a grandson and as the boy grows, I watch to detect whether he will ever approach Eli’s great size.
It used to be speculated when Eli and Eric Pearson would both be towing log booms down Turtle Lake, who might win in a hand-to-hand tussle. No such struggle ever occurred, or it might have made the earth shake!
Once Eric proved on a hockey trip from Kenora that he could lift and hold a car for long enough for someone to change a tire!
I first became acquainted with that master builder, Christiansen, during the hungry ’30s when he roomed with the Tim Callaghan family across from the town’s old fire hall.
It was said he had done much of the building on the Rainy Lake Hotel. Later, Harry was making jewellery boxes and novelties while awaiting a start on hew houses.
As a superintendent on papermill construction jobs after that, he used the right language—Swedish—to engage the laid-off Shevlin Clark sawmill workers, who were his countrymen.
He soon had them working for Paul A. Lawrence, also a Viking-type but American born.
After that, Harry purchased the town’s old water pumping station at the river before the water started to come from pumps by the lake. The old river plant became his workshop, where many a Fort Frances youngster first learned good carpentry.
You couldn’t call Harry a tough guy, maybe like some other Vikings, but he was a great musician as an accordion player!
Eventually he got back to Norway to spend $3,500 on a new squeeze-box that he wouldn’t even allow his rival, Elmer Norlund, to try out! Although they were friends in Vassa Lodge, the Scandinavian Club here, Harry was being careful!
Our Vikings were not all physical giants like Eli, Eric, and Harry but these men were of such outstanding size with intellect to match, it’s no wonder their Viking ancestors were the terrors of the seas!
But television has it wrong in describing them as rogues and terrorists. Most of us would agree that we never met one of these Norsemen we didn’t like!
• • •
So, here’s that old gossip again with his questions concerning not merely developments around the “condo castle” but all along the waterfront, including as far east as Pither’s Point beach.
If the town can cheerfully rip up and repair streets everywhere this fall, will it be content to go on ignoring the park railroad crossings?
Sure, I know the park is supposed to be owned by the natives now, but hasn’t there been any agreement reached concerning park maintenance? Those crossings are disgraceful!
• • •
Allan Kielczewski, home again from another Winnipeg hospital season, corrects my memory of the Williams of Kettle Falls, our hosts in last week’s column. The hotel keeper that fall was named Bob and not Charlie Williams, and Herb was not his son.
I had never met them before nor seen them since but Allan was their regular neighbour, both at Rat River and Rainy Lake, and later on Namakan Lake to their east.
• • •
A former member of the old Lands and Forests staff here checked into town to coffee last week among faces he knew about 1967, before his department became the Ministry of Natural Resources.
Herb Henry, here with wife, Valerie, was recalling when Big Bill Darby headed the downtown staff before they got their own building, while Paddy Ryan looked after the forest fire hoses and crews at the river.
Herb was in timber management from 1957. Their present home is the Sudbury area.
• • •
Mr. and Mrs. Bill Watts were recalling my long-ago visit to their Blackhawk farm while a huge eagle was spending time with their milk cow as if the pair were on the best of terms.
• • •
When I told a woman that I didn’t recognize her in her new glasses, her husband said there would be new teeth next because when she woke up and sneezed that morning, her false teeth flew onto the floor and were quickly snapped to pieces by her small dog!
• • •
Smoke-free restaurants may be great for non-smokers but some operators are going broke.
A Kenora restaurant is reported closing and Joe Gray says where Saturday mornings used to be good for sale of 20 books of Legion draw tickets, now his sales are down to two books!
• • •
Congratulations to Bill Sinclair, whose walking has been greatly improved by his new plastic knees. Now he thinks nothing of climbing to his upstairs apartment!

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