Issue 10 of Tamarack Magazine
19 November 2003
Deep River Mackenzie High School
Interviews for the "Swisha" project community memories were conducted in colaberation with the Schoolhouse Museum by students of Deep River Mackenzie High school for use in their annual "Tamarack" publication .
Excerpts from "Tamarack" follow
DES JOACHIMS (Swisha) TENT CAMP - by Jim O'Kane
This small tent camp was established sometime in l946 at Five Oaks It was located on an existing road which connected highway 17 and Des Joachims. Some years later it became the site of the Nuclear Demonstration Plant (NPD).
It was a temporary camp for Ontario Hydro engineering and survey employees involved in preparing the dam site for construction. Final topographical and geological information required by Toronto (Ontario Hydro Headquarters) to confirm all pertinent information before issuing final project drawings was being obtained by residents of the camp. In the meantime the main camp site was being established, farther up river.
Massive amounts of aggregates necessary for concrete and road building requirements were being stockpiled close by. In addition survey parties were busy establishing the dam site location and the high water contour line for clearing of the area to be flooded by the dam.
The area requiring clearing actually extended 80 miles up river to Mattawa. Diamond drillers were also busy obtaining rock core samples to determine the rock excavation requirements of the dam site.
This was my first experience living under these conditions but as it turned out, camp life was quite comfortable and working conditions were good. I spent the winter and early spring there and then was relocated to the staff house at the main camp. We were fortunate to be involved in field testing of the first Ski-doos , but most of our work was carried out on snow-shoes.
Employees located here were generally engineering /survey types along with necessary support staff for kitchen -maintenance and transportation requirements. Other employees were located at different sites. Employment opportunities were limited in the country at this time but things were starting to pick up after the war. Individuals couldn't be too choosey about what they did or where they relocated as long as it was work which wasn't that plentiful in 1947.
This was my first job as a draftsman. Working conditions were quite good here as living accommodation and transportation to the various job sites were provided.
As I recall the camp consisted of a number of tents of various sizes (9 or 10) to house personnel and provide kitchen/dining room and storage facilities. The tent structures consisted of 2 tents (inner and outer) with a support frame consisting of a wooden floor and a 4 foot wall all around. Obviously no facilities were provided except for a washing area. A barrel stove using three foot long cord wood for fuel provided more than adequate heat at times. It was dutifully attended by a bull cook 24 hrs a day.
The tents had spaces for 8 cots. A large table was provided in the middle for card games etc. When transportation was available we would go to Deep River for a movie and a shower. The cost for board and lodging was one dollar a day which seems a real bargain at this time, however carpenters at that time were paid 60 cents an hour so that puts things in perspective. Food was served dish up style, that is all food was placed on the table and passed around, and not served from steam tables as it is to-day. The meals were always excellent and adequate.
REMINISCENCES - Earl Ruhnke
Having worked at the Des Joachims Hydro Dam construction site from 1946 until 1951, I saw the project grow from nothing into a large operating Generating Station. I came to Des Joachims from a part time job in a butcher shop in Pembroke to begin work full time in the food services part of the new construction site.
The first year we lived and worked out of a tent camp at the corner of the old Mattawa Road and a road from Highway 17 to where the NPD station was later built.
Some flashbacks of those years:
1. Living in the tents was hot in the summer and very cold in the winter.
2. No running water. Outhouses and flies.
3. Bears breaking into screened-in storage area and eating off a side of beef and tearing the top off the old ice cream coolers to steal butter.
4. A bullcook was to keep fires going in the stoves in each tent on winter nights. One night he was drinking and fell asleep. In the morning roll-call, the foreman fired him. He hit and knocked down the foreman. The Police were called, and they took him to Pembroke. He came back in the afternoon to get his belongings and stopped in and said, "If I knew it was going to cost me $28.00, I would have hit him twice".
From the food services area, I was transferred to the accounting Department. As a field checker, you went to all areas of the project to record badge numbers of the employees you saw. This record would be checked the next day against the foreman's time sheet. If a number was shown with hours credited that was not checked, a follow-up would be made. There was the odd foreman that got in trouble for putting time in for employees not working.
There was one job that we field checkers did not like. Mr. Richardson would come in and tell us to go to the Cafeteria and record the badge numbers of all employees in line before the noon whistle. These employees would lose and hour's pay. They in turn would warn us to "keep our heads up" out on the job.
Every Thursday was "Steak Night" in the cafeterias. It was one meal not to be missed.
Pay day was twice a month, and to accommodate the employees, Bank of Montreal in Deep River would send three or four employees with cash. They would be escorted by the OPP and Charlie Kerr riding in his jeep with shot-gun at the ready.
Three tragedies come to mind:
1. Three carpenters drowned when the footbridge they were working on fell into the river.
2. The Bailey Bridge collapse. The last section to be put up over the water collapsed and took six lives. At the sound of the alarms a lot of us went down to help search the shore line. I knew the six - it was very tragic.
3. Jack Rustin was accidentally run over by a large truck. His passing was terrible.
One event which stands out in my memory is the lowering of the last steel gate to stop the flow of the Ottawa River through the main dam. The sound went from a loud roar to absolute silence when the water was stopped. Once the dam was closed the water drained away from the lower side of it and excavation on the tailrace could begin
During the five years I worked at Des Joachims the number of employees went from 20 or 30 to 2,500 which made for a busy time in the pay office.
The Rec Hall with bowling teams, pool hall and theatre all helped pass the time in the evenings.
As the project was coming to a close, the last jobs were to take down the camps, bunkhouses, cafeteria, etc. There were only two of us left in the clerical staff, (Dorothy Moreau and myself). Back in those days we had vacation pay stamps and Unemployment Insurance stamps to put in employee's books as they were terminated.
One day, a man who identified himself as Mr. Miller, the new Superintendent, came into the office and told us we had to get out in the next four days as they would be tearing the office down. The stamps had to be kept in a secured area so I took them all to the Otto Holden Dam project at Mattawa, and Dorothy moved her office and records into the Women's Dorm. She would phone me twice a week with the names of those being laid off and I would bring down their vacation pay and UI stamps. We worked this way until the project closed.
REMINISCENCES - John Levesque
"I was born in 1925 in a little parish called Riviere Ouelle about 25 miles away from Quebec City. Mostly Catholics and only two families of English speaking people were there. The English-speaking people had their own graveyard and my mother told us that if they were not Catholic we were not supposed to mix with them.
I decided that there was not too much to do in the Quebec City so I came up to Rolphton in 1948 with 5 others from my area in a taxi; none of us could speak English. At that time I was 23. We got hired at the dam anyway. That was when the dam was just at the beginning and we started right away. There was a guard there who spoke both languages, so he did the translations for us.
Among the people from Quebec City, I was the only one to stay, the other ones only stayed there for three months, one guy stayed with me for about three years. I had learned a bit about carpentry work in New Brunswick and Quebec, but at the time I wasn't very good.
I suppose my parents didn't like me working there. At first they were saying, "you don't speak English" and "you will get lost out there." Eventually they could see the fact that there was no work for me in Quebec and there was no money in the province at that time. So when they saw that I was doing well in Rolphton they were happy. They came back a few times after the dam was built. It was nice to see my dad's face when he first came and saw the dam.
The first time I went to the top of the dam it was so high, I looked down and got dizzy, but you know we got used to it. It worked out good because at the start of the construction I was working at the bottom and as the dam went on I gradually worked higher and higher off the ground, so I got used to it fast. It was quite a project back then.
That's where I saw a cableway for the first time. The cableway is a structure where one side was anchored down. Parallel to the other side about a half a mile further, it was on a crane. The crane used to go back and forth and on that cable there was a big pulley and hooks and everything. So when you were on the dam and you wanted to get some wood at a certain place the workers would fill the carriage and the cable way would bring you the supplies to where you needed them.
So where they started at the big Coffer Dam, they pumped the water out and you cleared the rock - the labourers were the people who cleared the rock for you - and put some anchors down and we would come in there and start to pour concrete. Everything was done by the cableway because you were in the middle of the river.
When it came time to close the river, they put a barrier at the back of the piers to stop the water from this side and let the water pass on the other side. The water had never been stopped there but the control dam controlled the water from getting too high on our side.
When they plugged the whole river, you should have seen the sturgeon and pike. I met one guy who caught a sturgeon that was about 6 feet long because when they took out the water it was still full of puddles and the fish were everywhere. It was quite something.
I was a carpenter; just a carpenter. At the time there was no plywood and we used lumber which was about 5 or 6 inches wide. They didn't start to use plywood to near the end of the construction. I remember there were 3000 people working there.
Around 1949 they got a lot of immigrants, we use call them DP; "Displaced People". There were about 1000 for labourers. They could not speak English, so they had their own boss. He was a German, quite a guy. During the winter we dismantled the forms, and the labourers, because it was really cold, made a fire on the river about 250 feet away from the dam. They had a chain of guys about every 4 feet so everybody could get to the fire and bring wood to it. That's how they did it in Europe, but we wondered, because over here we would just get a sled or use some other method to get the wood to the fire.
Those winters were awful; I remember driving 2-inch nails in -40-degree weather. It was very cold, and if you had to take off your glove to hammer some nails, as soon as you were done, the glove would be back on your hand so fast.
There were good memories and there were sad memories too. In the beginning, when I got there, the Cable Bridge was already built for the people to walk across on. It was only one man wide and it fell at the beginning; 6 people died because it was not well anchored
You had to be careful. It was a dangerous job because there was so much going on. The cableway was bringing lumber and concrete just above your head all day, and so you had to constantly keep your eyes open. Sometimes workers wouldn't tie down the loads properly, I remember once a load of cement spilled and buried a worker.
When you had 3000 men working at once it was pretty hectic. Most of my job, because I was young, was to climb on these piers and build shoots for the concrete to travel down. Let me tell you it was quite a job, especially when you had to set the shoot at an angle so the cement wouldn't move to fast from the top. For this job you couldn't be afraid of heights. I used to walk on the top of the wall about 100 feet in the air, you would not be allowed to do that any more.
They had trouble-finding people to work there because, of the fact that you would be working high in the air over flowing water, it was a dangerous job. Most of the time there was a few safety regulations because we heard that the previous dam had killed quite a few workers.
We used to start to wear hard hats for the first time and many workers would complain that they were not easy to work with. 'If you don't like it,' the foreman said, 'this isn't your place to work'.
The immigrants didn't know too much about the safety regulations because of the mixture of languages. They used to put their hard hats down and never wear them. So, as a practical joke, my buddies and I nailed their hard hats to the timber. When the foreman came around he would say, 'Where is your hard hat' and they tried and tried but couldn't get their hard hats because they were nailed to the timber. After that the workers always kept good track of their hard hats. We used to always do practical jokes to pass the time.
If you wanted to take a vacation, you could take a vacation after 6 months but I never took a vacation. I was so far from my family, so I used to stay here during Christmas time and summer because I didn't have a car.
There was lots of overtime. The money was good, because, most of the time I would work Sundays because I had nothing else to do. Every weekend a foreman would pass through camp asking workers if they would like to work and I would usually say yes.
On Saturdays during the summers we didn't work and we used to go down to Pembroke. There used to be somebody with a car that would bring us. The hardest part was finding the liquor store. I didn't know it was called a liquor store because I spoke French. I had to walk back and forth in Pembroke for 2 hours until I finally found it.
After a couple of weeks in Swisha I went to the local store and I tried to buy shoe polish for my boots. I tried to say it and the clerk couldn't understand. I showed them my boots and they thought I wanted new boots, so I had to go behind the desk and take it.
I had no money so I worked hard and saved up to buy a car when I went to Mattawa. It was a 1951 Chevy and it was the first time that GM had an automatic transmission. I was really proud of my buy I remember always washing it. The girls were attracted to that.
You couldn't have too many hobbies there. There used to be a good cafeteria and bowling alley, I used to bowl. There was also a gym. Another good hobby was playing cards. There used to be 2 hotels in Swisha and quite a dance hall there. Every Saturday there were big parties, and fights. I wish I would have had many more high points but I was single at the time.
There was a change in the surroundings, but a certain number of people stayed there for a while. When I got there, Rolphton was only just a bunch of shacks. It was built just for the construction of the dam and after that it changed.
There used to be a railway station in Mackey, and that's where I got my tools that I ordered, but that station disappeared. The village of Mackey disappeared all together; the graveyard is still there but the church is gone now.
One hotel at Swisha is gone now too, because of the water level rising. There was also a waterfall up in Deux Riviere. It was fairly well known and that is gone now too. It is sad to see in Rolphton where they tore down the colony. There's nothing there now.
Of course we were proud to work there. We were one amongst 3000 workers. When my kids were grownup I used to take them there saying, "this is where I started my adult life". I used to work there and help to make this dam what it is today.
I stayed in Rolphton till the end. I was there when they opened up the dam because I was there since day one; they considered me very good. They transferred me to Mattawa in 1950. I worked on the dam in Mattawa, for Hydro, and that's where I met my wife. From Mattawa I went to Deep River in 1952.
I made friends for life, and the friends I made during the construction of the dam are still my friends today. One good friend got married and I lost him for about 40 some years until he had heard that I had died. He worked for hydro, so he was always all over the place.
About 10 years ago we were in Florida and I heard that he was in a neighbouring town. I got the phone number and made contact and we finally met for the first time in 40 years. Ever since then we used to go back and forth to their place. Another friend lives not too far away from here, and some of my good friends have past away.
The dam opened up a way of life for me, before I didn't even think about being a carpenter. I learned a lot there. When I got to Swisha I could not speak English, I didn't know too much about the area either. It changed my life, for sure."
REMINISCENCES - Ernie Boudreau
My great grandpa Donnelly was the reeve of the Township of Head in 1856 and we all grew up in Mackey. The first time I heard about the dam was back when I was young. My parents would never upgrade their house because Hydro was going to come and buy them out. I can remember them saying that from the time when I was a little gaffer.
Hydro didn't do anything until 1942, and then they didn't work on it from 1943 to 1946 because of the war. After the war was over they started again.
A lot of people came to the area because of the dam. There were lots of jobs. No matter what kind of trade you had, there was always work.
I don't think the local people were really satisfied, I don't think they got enough money for their properties. Hydro had a guy to evaluate the property and I didn't really care for his ways and means of doing it. Maybe some people were happy, but we had no choice, Hydro came and said, "Now this is what we're going to give you," and that was it. They gave you so much for your property and you were forced to leave. You might have been able to go fight them in court, but how are you going to fight Hydro? They were just going to end up taking it anyway.
All the people had to be displaced from their homes and surroundings to rebuild. Hydro didn't rebuild things. They had to combine the Mackey and Stonecliffe church. The priest at the time was Father O'Brien, he went down to Toronto and I believe it only cost us $1000 to rebuild, Hydro paid for the rest. There were a lot of unhappy people in Mackey, because they didn't want to go down to Stonecliffe for church.
The people who sold their houses either had to move away or move out onto the new highway. After the dam was built, there was no more buying or selling of houses, it was all done before the construction began. They flooded wherever they bought all these houses. The water came up gradually and was creating a lake. It didn't just come up over night because it took some time.
I didn't come home from the war until 1947 after I got shot overseas, so the project was well on the way. I was concerned about just getting home, let alone worry about the future. Finding work was important because I had to live.
I got married in 1948, and in September I started to work with the survey crew. I enjoyed the survey crew because we were outside and I had been kind of cooped up. Some of them I didn't like as much as others. I had fun working with those guys, they were a different crew than what we had in the army.
We would get up and go to work for eight o'clock, and we'd come up to Stonecliffe. They had headquarters there and then we'd go out to wherever we were surveying. I was lucky, I got to do quite a bit of bookwork because my boss knew I was just coming home from the hospital. He was good to me.
A lot of our surveyors lived around Rolphton. They were mostly young, married guys that tried to have their families with them. At the end of the day, we would come in at five o'clock and go back to our homes. My favorite part of the job was going home at night!
They surveyed and did some diamond drilling to see if the base of the rock was solid enough to set the footage for the dam. They did all kinds of clearing for space for the water. They cut all the trees down. They didn't need to blast for the clearing; they just cleared all the way along the river to Mattawa. The surveyors were measuring running lines, so the people could clear as high up as the water was going to flood.
When that job was finished, I observed the diamond drilling in front of the dams. The dam at Swisha is 196 feet deep - we had to drill just as deep as the dam was high.
I didn't do the drilling; we had designated drillers. I studied the core. We had to put it all in trays and check for seams in the rock to see what kind of footing it would be. There was blasting at the dam and at the tailrace under the bridge at the Swisha. We drilled about 47 feet; one of the deepest spots that we had to drill.
They drilled with a three or five-inch core and dug all that out to make the tailrace.
At the tailrace I was checking loads of rock and material that they took out.
Then I got on with Westinghouse, where everybody helped with different tasks regardless of their trade. I worked at Westinghouse for quite awhile and I helped install the generators.
I found that workers just came, worked, and left. They didn't settle at the colony. At the colony in Rolphton there might have been 40 houses. The bosses lived in those houses, but most of the workers lived in camps, that were big long huts with quite a few people in it. Some on the Quebec side, some on the Ontario side. They had three cafeterias that they could go and eat their meals in. The only women that were working in the colony were in the cafeteria and in some of the offices. There were no women that I knew of working on the construction aspects of the project. Women in the offices were either supervisors or clerks, but not out in the field. We didn't have any ladies with us on the survey crew or diamond drilling.
When the project was getting closer to being finished the construction crew members would move out of the houses and a permanent guy would move in there, like an operator, electrician or a tradesman.
I can remember a few accidents. There was one that I remember, on a bailey bridge. It ran across the river to the Quebec side. It broke and I think eight guys went into the rapids. I don't know if they all drowned, I think most of them did. There were other accidents when the big trucks were hauling the rock out of the tail-race; right down near where the bridge is. One man was run over when the truck skidded. A couple of guys were buried in cement at McConnell Lake. Several guys were killed when they were cutting and clearing the old logs.
We got to work quite a bit of overtime and made extra money. I worked anytime that I could. I flowed with the tide basically. Any little bit of money was a good thing for us. Most of our guys took advantage of it. It was a good job, the best I had in a sense. Compared to the army - where I made $1.30 a day, we got $0.65 or $0.70 an hour when we were working with the survey crew.
REMINISCENCES - Ruth McAnulty
I worked in the cafeteria, serving meals three times a day. I found getting up at 4:30 in the morning a little tough and you didn't want to stay up too late at night.
Working at Swisha, the chefs and cooks prepared everything. We had to put out all the food on the steam tables. We would have to make bags and bag of lunches and cut the bread, cut the pies, make the toast, make and serve the tea and coffee, serve the soup, serve...well serve everything.
Sometimes we ate before the men came, so we could clean the coffee and tea urns, the tables, clean the steam tables, you had to clean them with a little step ladder, just so we could have time before the next meal. And there used to be ketchup , mustard, salt, pepper and sugar to fill. We had to make sure that they were full and that they were all clean. Then we had to polish the silverware.
Then we went back to our dormitories, we had a little rest, we could even sleep if we wanted to. I found that you had quite a bit of time between meals, but you worked six days a week.
Every second weekend you had Saturday and Sunday off, everybody rotated, a lot of the men who worked would just go home. Sometimes they would only work on Sundays. So there wasn't quite as many as during the week, so half the staff would have the weekend off then the next week the other half would have it off.
We were never given tips like a restaurant, it wasn't like a restaurant. We never saw any money. The men were paid by check, and when the men ate and slept at the camp, lodging came right off their checks so their take home pay would be a lot less. There would be no money involved. We got room and board plus our pay in form of check.
REMINISCENCES- Georges Leroux
I worked for a year at McConnell Lake and for a year at the Main dam. When I started work at the dam I was a laborer. That lasted for about two weeks because my toolbox was on the train with one of our companies. We waited two weeks for the toolbox to come.
I helped build the forms to hold the concrete at the main dam. I was always working in carpentry and occasionally I would pour cement, which was part of our job because we worked on the frame. I never minded the height, so my partner and I were always on the scaffold. They would lift us up and carry us around, that was the good part.
When I got to the camp I didn't know if I was going to stay there, but the job was good and so was the pay. I looked around and found a cabin to move my family into. We had parties and there was a lad I knew who played music. He would say, 'You supply the ladies and we will have a party.' He brought the beer and the music. We had a great time. Maybe once or twice a month the other lads and me used to go to the old community center in Deep River to watch a show.
My neighborhood was very good. There were two thousand men, and there were two hotels. Mostly single men lived there, but a woman could walk there at night and never be bothered. There were a few families from New Brunswick and from Quebec. There weren't many places to stay, but I was lucky. I got a cabin, while most people lived in a campsite.
We worked nine hours a day; we had to do that before we made any overtime. One time I worked from seven o'clock in the morning all the next day until 11 o'clock at night. They didn't want to pay us 24 hours a day; they'd pay us 23 hours a day because you had to have eaten. We weren't awake all that time, but we were on the job 24 hours a day. We were teamed up. There was this shack, so I'd go and get a couple hours of sleep, and my partner could come and wake me if something happened.
I was fired one time. We were living in the equipment site at the Swisha. We had to go to the Ontario side to get our pay. After five o'clock, that was a big walk to go over there and come back. So my partner and I, we got a big ladder and put it against the dam. Just then, the Superintendent shows up and says, 'Where are you going and what's your number?' So I gave him a false number and my chum did also. So the Super said, 'Ok you're fired, don't bother coming back tomorrow.' Buddy says, 'We are going to shave, wear a hard hat, and change clothes, then we'll go to work.' So that's what we did. The next day the super was working on the catwalk and we were down working below, and he sees the foreman. The Super says, 'I fired two of your men last night.' The foreman asked who they were, and the super didn't know. They didn't know who to fire, so we kept on working. They never found out.
At the job there were quite a few displaced people after the war. There was a doctor working labor because you had work one year of labor before you could go in your trade. We worked side by side with a doctor. They had it hard. I saw a lad in a pair of rubber boots, he had to take a dirt bag and put it on his feet--that was what he used for socks.
If you do an honest day's work you will get along fine. Construction isn't a steady job, no one is trying to steal it. In construction you are part of the gang right away. I got along with all of my foremen. In construction, keep your nose clean and you're going to make it.
REMINISCENCES- Bill Reinwald
I started working at the dam, on the roads in 1947, on construction, and eventually I had 31 years at the Des Swisha dam. I worked for some of the construction companies that built the roads from Moor Lake Station right through to the village of Des Swisha and up through to McConnell Lake. I also worked for the survey crew, taking topography readings, and looking at land contours.
When I started on construction they were drilling all the rock where the dam was to be built. They had to go down and put anchors in the rock, which were maybe two or three inch round steel with a big eye on it.
From construction, I got into the construction machine shop. I worked on the lathes, the shaper, in the machine shop. If they wanted shafts trimmed down, something cut. We had a big machine shop, you could drive big trucks in, not the tractor trailers but big trucks. There was a machine shop a garage, a blacksmith's shop, welding shop, pipefitting shop, all in that one building. I was on the lathe for about, well, 1947 to 1951, that's when I moved into the powerhouse, and of course they had a machine shop there, too.
Four or five years later, the foreman left and I got the job. I was still in a position I could work the machinery if necessary, I wasn't in a Union, so I could go operate the equipment.
There were nine guys in the machine shop in the plant, but the total crew at the Swisha was 92. That's operator's, guards, electricians, carpenters, mechanics and labourers. I've gone over it in the last four or five years, I think there's ten left. They've all gone, all died. That was a long time ago and of course a lot of those men were a lot older than I was. I was 18 when I got out of school, when I moved into construction.
They brought people in from other dams that were finished work, like down in Stewartville, but they bypassed the Swisha and went to Mattawa because there was no work left. I mean, there was camps on top of the hill where the old Hydro colony was, there was another set of camps down the steep hill, there was another camp at McConnell Lake. It was a different construction company that did most of the work at the McConnell dam, but at the other 3 there were 5000 men that worked.
I moved to old Moor Lake Road in 1954 and moved to the colony in 1981. There were 47 homes in the colony. There were some called permanent, and some were called Faircraft, depending on what rung of the ladder and what group you were with.
They had a Rec. Hall with 6 bowling lanes, 2 pool tables, they had a card room, they had a auditorium with shows every week, and they had parties of course, for New Year's and Easter, they'd have parties in the Rec. Hall. And they had a shooting range underneath. It was pretty well self contained, we had an awful lot to begin with, some people from Deep River would come up and bowl in our league. There was always something going on. It was open every night and there was a supervisor there, they had a stand for pop and stuff like that. There were workers in the colony too. Grass cutters, snow removers, gardening, labour.
REMINISCENCES- Bob Reinwald
Before the construction of the dam they had to build a new road to Moor Lake Station. A rock cut came right down to the edge of the track when they were building the road. They had to cut the rock to get to the station. They brought a gang of men in to drill the rock and blow it out in a matter of weeks, maybe months.
I remember there was mud right up to the axle once at Moor Lake Stations. The only way they could haul stuff out to the highway was with bulldozer and a big old set of sleighs. All one spring, that's the way they got stuff back and forth.
After I took carpentry in high school, I was with construction at Rolphton in a carpenter shop between 1948 and 1951.Every day was different there. A lot of people who we hired at the carpenter shop weren't carpenters. Those were the people I had to watch. There were saws and planers, and if anyone was going to get hurt, it would probably be one of these new guys they hired on. I had to keep any eye on them pretty close.
Nothing was routine with construction, but you could see things going ahead. On construction you build forms for the dam and you could see where they went. You could see everything being built.
There was tower on the Ontario side that ran on tracks. The tower ran back and forth on shore. The tracks would go maybe a quarter of a mile; just enough so they could move the width of the dam. So if they wanted to pour concrete here, that's fine, if they wanted to pour over there, they could move it on tracks. There was a 3-inch cable from the tower that ran across the river to the Quebec side, and a trolley that ran across the cable. That was the way they delivered a lot of the stuff along the dam. The operator was inside the tower. He couldn't see a thing. The other side was half a mile away, so it was all over telephone. They would say 'drop it down 4 inches,' he'd drop it 4 inches. It was taken for granted that he was going to drop it exactly 4 inches.
The only cement mixer was on the Quebec side, but it was eight stories high. There used to be a conveyor belt across the river too, and that's how they poured concrete. You bring it along and dump it in the draft tube form. What you do is you take the form down to the cement plant and completely encased in concrete, and it's set, they take the form back out again, so it leaves an opening in the concrete.
In behind the cement mixer on the Quebec side they had rows and rows of different sized gravel and sand -mountains of it. That's why Bell Lake is so big; all the gravel came out of it. It all came from the Quebec side, across the belt.
The dam was a big project. The trouble is they wanted to get it built the fastest way. If you didn't pull your weight up, they'd just fire you; it's as simple as that. We had a plant superintendent; he was ruthless as far as anything. He'd drive by and if there were six men standing there, maybe having a smoke, he'd fire the whole bunch. Yep, they were gone, out of there; go get your time, the whole business. It was hard to get good people because this was right after the war, 1948, but he didn't care. If you weren't working you shouldn't be there I guess. The men didn't mean a thing to him.
He caught my brother once. My brother was a machinist, working at the machine shop one day on the lathe. It's tedious work and sometimes it takes an hour to go from one end to the other. The superintendent walked in and my brother was standing there, eating a sandwich, go and get your time. He fired him right here because he was eating a sandwich on the job. So my brother went to the boss and said, 'I just got fired.' The boss said, 'What do you mean you got fired? I didn't fire you.' So my brother said, 'No, but Richardson fired me.' So the boss went and got old man Richardson, brought him over and said, 'When your making out your slip for him, make two. One for me and one for him, cause we're going together.' He said 'OK, don't let this happen again.' So if it wouldn't have been for the boss, my brother wouldn't have a Hydro career.
The colony was made as an operator's colony originally. Most of the people came from the city, so nobody would go there. They had to live in Deep River or build a house right away, so Hydro built what they call a Hydro operator's colony to try to get operators there. After awhile they didn't need as many operators, so it became the Hydro colony it is known as.
You get into a little trouble now and again I guess, but I have no bad memories of working at the dam or living at the colony. My kids told me it was a very good place when I lived in the colony. I often said to my kids, 'Well you know what, there are other places we could have lived,' and they said, 'Dad. You couldn't have picked a better spot.' It was a great place to raise a family. Everybody knew everybody. I have a friend in town; she knew as soon as I met somebody that they had to be from Rolphton, because we were like one big family. We worked together all the time and we lived with each other too.
We didn't have any spare time; there were too many kids. There was always something going on though; we had movies at the Rec.Center one afternoon a week. All the kids in the school were out at 3:30 so they would march down and go to the theatre for four o'clock. We had a church too; it was like the Cape Cod type. It was a nice little church; Hydro built it. It wasn't United, or Presbyterian; they called it a community church-it wasn't built for any denomination. It was a good life in the colony.
REMINISCENCES - Cecil Brown
I lived in the bunkhouses at the Colony, but my family lived in Alderdale, a small place five miles from Powasson, so I used to commute there on the weekends. The bunkhouse was quite warm because of the body heat and extra heaters. There were upper and lower bunks, one person would sleep under and the other over so each would fit about 20 to 25 people.
There were people of all ages there, but not to many teenagers; it was pretty rough work. We worked hard all week long, outside! After awhile of being there, I found that it was a fairly friendly atmosphere. I got to know quite a few people over the years; you had to get along with your buddies.
For safety those days, you had to look after yourself; there were no beeps when those big trucks were backing up or any of that sort of thing. You had to be wary of what was going on around you. Now there are safety features and things that are meant to prevent accidents.
At that time, I didn't really know too much about the dam, I just knew that it must be built to provide work and much needed power. However, the flooding did cover some farmland and some of the highway and railroad had to be changed and rerouted, but at that time that didn't bother me.
I worked as a carpenter at the dam. Our days were eight hours long and began with waking up in the morning and having breakfast in the cafeteria. You had a little badge that you had to show every time you went to eat, but after awhile they got to know you and you didn't need it anymore. Then you'd go off to work. I built forms and worked on the decking out at McConnell Lake dam. You'd have to be at work at eight, so if you had to truck up to McConnell lake, then you'd have to get ready sooner, at about 7:30 or quarter to eight. The truck we used was a big flatbed truck. They would jam a whole gang of men in it. Then, at the end of the day, we would get back and go to the bunkhouse and then you'd be done, you'd be tired.
The hardest part of the job was working in the winter right close over the water on the deck. The fog that rose up from the water made it really hard on the hands, although you'd get accustomed to the cold to a certain amount. In the summer they had the lumber piled up on the main deck and there was no rail. One time a carpenter's helper was trying to remove a board from the pile. When he worked the board lose? Splash! Both he and the lumber ended up in the water. When he came up, we snatched him out. It was a good thing that it was summer.
The easiest part of the job was when you got the skill saw and didn't have to use a handsaw, but there weren't too many skill saws around.
One day, we were taking down the water tower at McConnell Lake and we started by taking out some supports. A fellow climbed up to help, but once he got up there, he could barely get back down. We got him down safely, but it was very dangerous. That was when all the things were being taken down around McConnell Lake.
I was the last carpenter to leave. I was just crating a lot of material for shipping near the end. In those days you had a job and you would work to the end, so I did. When I first came down to the dam, they had people at both camps. After awhile they just kind of slowly went away and I was the last one to leave. It was kind of hard to see people just go, especially when they closed the second camp and we rented a house. There were three of us living there, then two were laid off and I was all alone. That was very tough; it is not fun to live in a house with no one to talk to. In the winter there was no one else there to keep the fire, so when you went in after work it was just like going into a woodshed.
REMINISCENCES - Morris Barr
I began working at Des Joachims G.S. in the fall of 1946 working with Fraser Brace Diamond Drillers from Sudbury. Drilling an old river
bed at McConnell Lake. Hydro wanted the core from the rock, we hit rotten wood down forty feet below surface.
We worked all winter, housed in tents on the old Des Joachims Road. In the spring of 1947, the material and equipment arrived at Chalk River an had to be unloaded off the flat cars. Aluminum houses were moved to Rolphton and the materials to the dam site.
Then began erection of the cableway and two towers were built on each side of the river, with the direction of the Provincial Engineering Company. They lost one man.
Hydro erected the Bailey Bridges, this was done for use of a conveyor belt, to pour the concrete for the dam. I had just walked across the longest span of bridge and climbed down when it collapsed, six of my men drowned. I shall never forget that day and often ask myself why I was spared.
We set up another bridge on the ground exactly the same and tested it for wind and all other possible elements. Found no other problems, and built another without any trouble.
I also worked on sluice-gates for the dam, to raise the level of water to pour concrete. I did the same at McConnell Lake. Gantry Crane handled the gates, traveled back and forth across the dam when all was finished on both sides of the river, gates were torn down and sent to Lacave.
I stayed with Hydro until 1957.
REMINISCENCES - Harris Hawley
When I was a kid, we used to live on the old road going up by the Bonanza about half a mile from the main village. There were about eight houses within a mile, up the Dumoine Road. Hydro bought out anybody that lived in that comer. Hydro came to my dad and said, 'We're going to buy you out,' and he said, 'I don't want to sell.' Hydro said, 'You've gotta sell.' It was just an old log house and they gave us $800. This was in the fall and we had to be out in April, so we moved and rebuilt.
I worked for Ontario Hydro as a handyman during construction. It was a busy place during the dam construction. The first time I worked for them, I was on a little farm tractor and I had a helper with me. We used to go down to the spring and bring water around to the guys that were working all over. I'd bring lumber and nails for the carpenters and piping for the pipe fitters.
The second time, I worked at McConnell Lake crusher and I was there for about eight months. I drove a truck, and that was the big thing for us young lads. You got to sleep all day in the truck and drive around all night. You burnt more gas a night than you did on the job.
At Ontario Hydro, men were coming and going steady. You could quit today one place and you could go and get hired tomorrow at another place. Men were always getting fired or quitting or getting hired again.
We had the Colonial Bus Line come through the village here twice a day - to McConnell Lake, and through all the camps. If you wanted to, you could jump on the bus and go to Pembroke or North Bay.
The village had two little hotels. You didn't go in and buy one beer, you went in an you bought maybe six, then you went outside to drink it. We'd sit there and three or four guys would buy a case. It got pretty dark and some of these guys got pretty drunk, so you could always go and steal the odd beer.