Wonderful winter contrast grim past!

While Ol’ Man Winter has been pretending this year he doesn’t know us anymore, could it be he still is sorry for his sins of past years, such as during the “Dirty Thirties” as some oldtimers here remember them?
This is a flashback to those very hard times when we learned much about both severe cold and such hardship as we hope never to experience again! The most severe winters on record coincided with the Great Depression between two world wars.
And it found our parents mostly with empty pockets while the temperature fell at least once to 60 below zero F. Several days were in the mid-50s below zero as your older citizens recall.
Rather than starve, our able-bodied men lined up for town relief money. The “relief line” stretched from the post office corner right to the old town hall steps one block south.
My own father—having only three of us to support—refused to line up but found some tough ways around it instead.
That incredible cold turned the line into stouter men because of all the clothing needed to keep warm while standing still long enough to accept that “pogey.”
This year, our own river has not yet completely frozen over.
But skating, for instance, could not have been further from the minds of the “reliefers” hoping their wait in line could be shortened in time to haul in firewood, which had to be sawn and split first.
Only those with regular jobs could afford to buy coal for furnaces while fuel oil was largely still unknown, along with gas heat. Small electric heaters of the day could not begin to meet this crisis.
Financially, times were tough enough without that awful cold and men were hoping their “long johns” would last until spring. Up to three pairs of pants were commonly worn.
Steam from the horses’ breath seemed to fill the street some days while the teamsters left blankets on their horses until there was hard work ahead.
We went skating anyway on our backyard rinks, after warming up by clearing away the snow, and my dad also built a tall slide for us.
Maybe the kids like me enjoyed more fun than our wood-hauling merited, but parents tried to make sure we could avoid pneumonia. Other childhood diseases, such as measles and scarlet fever, often reduced school attendance.
The teamsters and truck drivers tried to put in full days of work while any extra pay for overtime was something in the future. All they hoped for was time to “buck” wood for their ever-hungry cook stoves and heaters.
Sometimes a sawing machine came past but few could pay the operators.
Meanwhile, mothers looked at empty trunks and closets where extra clothing usually was kept. Sweaters and extra blankets for the beds were always required and as many mothers had several children, you might wonder if all her beds were warm enough.
Sometimes beds would be hauled closer to stoves and some rooms kept shut to save heat.
Then one morning, Dad came in with the announcement, “Boy, it’s cold today—even the Swedes were piling lumber.”
The Shevlin Clark sawmill always kept a huge lumber yard piled high in the east end. Sometimes we could climb and play around those piles, and sometimes lumber would be stolen for fuel.
Meanwhile, out it he country, trucks were kept moving from the gravel pits and fires would be lit underneath to help them start many mornings. The late contractor, George Armstrong, remembered frozen trucks with frozen wheels were common.
We never thought about anyone going south to warmer climes because that would take money most never had. And many walked downtown or to school in those days wondering how nice it might be to drive a car.
Finally after another horrendous winter came the first “big break.” The highway to Kenora, 140 miles long and sometimes called sarcastically the “Heenan Highway” for the then provincial premier, was underway—partially to provide employment and partially to take the heat off the province.
The scandalously low pay of an unbelievable $5 per month came into play then, but the men who responded received meals and warm bunkhouses to sleep in. And they came back to town that Christmas more cheerful and with higher hopes for the future because they no longer were worried about starving to death.
The younger men were in their first Christmas mood in years. Others were not happy about the difficult road work, but what else was available? They were getting into better shape for bush work to supply local sawmills and papermills which began fresh activity.
So our men went after work in the bush with Swede saws or bucksaws, as they called their favourite tools before chainsaws came along. And after three or four years of the greatest hardship this district may ever know, the “Dirty Thirties” finally were skipping away and our men could start looking ahead again.
The Second World War took their minds of all those grim days left behind—but now offered sheer terror for some in their place. And then compulsory war service replaced the financial desperation of those years when famine stalked our communities.
Survivors of both catastrophes still can be found occasionally, but they may not want to talk about them.
• • •
Frank Strain, the son of Agnes Strain (Kerr), a daughter of Barney Kerr, comes as volunteer for Meals on Wheels and reports the only survivor of nine brothers and sisters in that family is now Jack Kerr, the youngest.
I knew all of them here for many years and still could name them all for Frank. Barney, one of three brothers from Ireland, was well-acquainted with my family.
• • •
Bud Cyr may be among very few of this district to offer advice on bee-keeping for this coming summer. He and his father sold honey for years at their Miscampbell farm.
Bud warns against allowing a second queen bee into the hives because queen bees lead swarms and take away your honey-makers if a second queen appears. About that time, beekeeping becomes extra dangerous.
Two queen bees, as Bud reports, are like having two women in the same household.
• • •
“Nutty” has now grown a much thicker overcoat, making him resemble a wolf cub. Would that indicate colder weather ahead.
• • •
There is some suspicion of U.S. influence in our federal election, partly because of Canada’s oil wealth. It’s said Alberta contains more oil than Saudi Arabia.
• • •
Crematoriums as an extra industry is suggested, with such installations being proposed in our town and district. There already is reportedly one over in International Falls.

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