So, who supplied the bread to the Guy Lake and Bob Lake gold mine camps back in 1897? I claim it was F T Brignall from his bakery in Dryden, hauled in daily on the regular steamboat run from the Steamboat Dock in Dryden!

OK, that’s pretty wild, I better document it some. F T Brignall was one of our most entrepreneurial pioneers, arriving here with his family in 1897.  He had worked as a young man at a bakery near his hometown in old Ontario.  There is documentation to support that very first summer he built a bakery and was shipping bread via steamboat to the gold mines, but only for perhaps a year or two, after which he acquired a homestead near Oxdrift  and started a portable sawmill business there, including our district’s first steam tractor.

Sometime before 1907 he started a saw mill at what would be the north end of the present mill parking lot on Earl Avenue, partly powered by Wabigoon River water through a water wheel. He moved quite a substantial farm house from a farm at Davis and Van Horne, and put it next to the sawmill; some might remember it as the Doris Powell house which burned down I think sometime in the 1990’s.

Moving houses was not a big deal in those days; no plumbing or wiring or overhead wires. The foundation was generally tamarack logs, they would jack it up and put poplar logs underneath to serve as runners, and tow it with a large steam tractor, F T ‘s being one of the first in the district.  Some quite large buildings were moved from Wabigoon to Dryden in those early years as gold-mining declined.. It has been reported that they would wear out a set of poplar log runners and have to replace them before getting to Dryden. The barn on our Glengoland farm had started as a sizable house,  moved from a homestead closer to Oxdrift, perhaps by F T and his steam tractor, perhaps from F T ‘s own homestead before he moved to town!

So, exactly where was that bakery? That is where things get interesting.  I suggest it would have been close to the steamboat dock, somewhere west of Earl Ave.  That whole area between Earl Avenue and the river, from the CPR to Duke Street, was not part of the original CPR subdivision which is the core of what became Dryden; it shows on the earliest maps as a ‘Park Lot’.  It is not covered in A E Anness’s Homestead Log Book, where he recorded who claimed what lot in the entire district in those early years.

The first mention of this Park Lot I can find in the Ontario Land Titles System in Kenora is a Plan of Subdivision dated 1907. By then there had been some development on this property – the Brignall sawmill and house, and perhaps the bakery.  I believe the Traders Bank, the imposing building still at the corner of King and Earl was already there, or perhaps under construction.  The plan shows the property cut up into odd size and shape lots as though taking into account buildings and development already there.  Clearly it had been divided up and there was development before 1907, but I can find no formal records.

In 1907, a Plan of Subdivision was registered to Doctor Blair, a prominent investor in Dryden at the time. Many of the lots in the subdivision were immediately transferred to a variety of people.  Except the southern-easternmost part, which would have been the steamboat dock area – it was shown on the plan but not transferred to the sub-divider nor sold.  In fact when the town sold this entire property to the mill for their parking lot in the 80’s, they were embarrassed to find they did not own a big chunk at the corner of Duke and Earl; it was still ‘crown land’.

About 1910 the new Municipality of Dryden and the new paper mill were under study. The mill would be powered by water supplied from a dam to be built on the river, replacing the low dam built a decade before for navigation purposes. This new dam is still there, though its powerhouse was demolished some years ago. It seems fair to assume the water being diverted around the island through Brignall’s sawmill was wanted; at any rate Brignall abandoned the water-powered sawmill site in town, sold his large house and built an even larger one on a farm he purchased near Oxdrift.

Getting back to the bakery, drive down Earl Ave, and you will see the small garage-like building built unusually close to the Earl Ave property line at 34C Earl Avenue.  It has been newly renovated and I must say a very nice job.  But look at it closely; the lot is very narrow, and intrudes into what would normally be an extension of Princess Street, so is not totally logical.  It is built on the edge of the hill, where one might expect bedrock is not far below (the land fell away to the south to the small steamboat dock bay). In the 19th century bakeries had masonry ovens which needed a substantial foundation.  It is built right to the Earl Ave property line, in 1897 that line would have been cut by surveyors, but otherwise the whole area would have been scrub brush.  The lot size and shape suggests the building was built before the lot was surveyed.

The building is all built of finished lumber. Once local sawmills got going, structural lumber such as under the floor would have been rough local lumber, so that suggests it was built very early, before 1898.

The building size and style can, with a bit of imagination be seen to be modelled on the eastern bakery where F T worked so many years ago. In fact, if you study the accompanying photo of that eastern bakery, there is some similarity in the dimensions; in the arrangement of windows and doors, in general layout, ignoring the add-on signboard and lean-to of course.  One might imagine that both were prefab building kits, perhaps ordered from Eaton’s Catalog!

So, a very old building, on a solid piece of ground, as close as practicable to the steamboat dock, a quickly available building package. My best guess is that this is indeed one of the oldest buildings in Dryden,  our very first Bakery!  Supplying bread to the western Wabigoon gold mines via the steamboat dock just across the creek to the south.  Eureka!

An interesting wrinkle, the present owner of this building and author of that very clever renovation is F T Brignall’s great-great-grandson!


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War is hell. During his six years in Europe, my Dad saw his closest buddy get careless with a land mine and blow himself to smithereens – they picked pieces of him off a nearby tree like leaves, but could not find enough recognizable pieces for a proper burial.  Letters from overseas came in a flimsy bluish paper, often written on both sides and up and down, and when one came in my mother would sit down with a tea towel instead of a handkerchief for her tears while she read and reread it, with we rug rats badgering her trying to cheer her up.  War is hell.

The decade just before and during WW2 was especially hard on young people, teens to early 20’s. Not wanted at home as they ate too much.  No jobs.  Placed on a farm or work camp in return for a bed and food before the war.  Displaced all over in or out of the military during the war.  That was before effective contraception and babies born during this decade were mostly accidents, and unmarried young people’s first-born babies were life-disrupting, not wanted, too often resulting in the new family being rejected by their larger family.

These WW2 young soldiers were scarred for life. No such thing as Post-Trauma Stress Syndrome, or whatever they call it now, no support, when they came back to Canada they were just told to settle down and forget it.  Most were displaced from their home community, and if they were new parents they were often not welcome back home.  The war over, they drifted around hoping to eventually find a place to call home.  They had a hard time, and their kids and even grandkids inherited some of those scars.

My Saskatchewan born family eventually ended up at Glengoland, a tiny insular school section outside Oxdrift.  I know little about Anne Laverdiere’s family or early life, except they too ended up at Glengoland for a time.  So I am claiming some degree of kinship with Anne, — we are both oldest kids in scarred, rootless wartime families, settled at the end of the road.  Maybe it is normal for those of us with no ‘home town’ to work extra hard to develop roots and be accepted into their new community, especially oldests.  Certainly Anne and I both did that here in Dryden.

Anne made a successful career for herself as a respected businessperson. As Councillor then as Mayor Krassilowsky she set her private and business life aside to work full-time on behalf of our town – she worked for her community as tirelessly as anyone I know.   Perhaps she was not always right – nobody is, but she was always doing what she believed to be best for the community. Who can forget the masterful job she did leading our amazing 2010 celebrations of our 100 years since incorporation?

She shepherded us through probably the worst trauma in our history, as Northern Ontario Industry worked through an appalling attack from our Province; an attack resulting in a huge loss of jobs in our community; followed by a provincially mandated reduction in Industry’s municipal taxes.  This was meant as a conciliatory gesture to the damaged Industry, but left northern cities facing bankruptcy.

She worked tirelessly at raising our profile in the Province, serving on many regional and Provincial boards and agencies and got our name on the Provinces map in many ways. Does anyone think we would have a new Wastewater Treatment Plant, paid for mostly by others, were it not for her efforts? These plants are one of the largest investments municipalities make, and a key to allowing future growth once we get our ducks lined up.  Kenora by comparison has 60 year old water and wastewater treatment plants and is facing a $75 million or more capital program, while we have state of the art plants.  Who is worse off?

I am so happy with our new Council’s formal announcement it intends to look to the future. They will abandon the focus on the past that has dominated public discussion since the destruction of Drytel.  I think local gossip, ”everybody knows”, puts way too much blame for that debacle on Mayor Krassilowsky and her Council – the picture is way bigger and more complex than that, there is lots of room to share the blame, and she deserves better.  I hope new Council will display as much courage and determination as she did, as they turn our attention toward the future.

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Part 1 Dinorwic

This central part of North America was more populated before the railway than most people realize; travel was by birchbark canoe on our myriad rivers and lakes. A network of canoe routes covered the district, more elaborate and sophisticated than one might think, even including trade routes.  Example, a route up the Albany and down the Berens rivers, regular traffic with salt from Hudson’s Bay going west, and prairie pemmican (sort of like aboriginal Klik, fast food) going east. There was a main north-south canoe route, connecting Lake Superior and the Mississippi through Rainy Lake to Lac Seul and the Albany River.  It came up the Manitou’s and Wabigoon/Dinorwic Lakes, and on through Minnitaki Lake.

When the CPR was built some attention was paid to these routes. The railway was divided into Divisions, ours being from Fort William to Winnipeg, and Subdivisions, we are in the ‘Ignace Subdivision’.  The Subdivision points were Ignace and Kenora; these would be railway towns, with a concentration of maintenance employees and actual train crews.  There was also a railway presence at the midpoint of each Subdivision, ours being Eagle River, also a small crew of maintenance workers at each section, these being (in our area) Oxdrift, Barclay, and what is now Dinorwic, then known as Wabigoon or “Wabigoon Mission’.  Dinorwic then was the intersection point of the new CPR with the old canoe routes and would have been a commercial center or village of some sort, certainly with a Hudson’s Bay Company presence.  And if it was a ‘mission’, perhaps there was a church even before 1882.

The District changed in the 1890’s, with the rise of gold mining activity especially south of Lake Wabigoon, and establishment of the agricultural community at what became Dryden.

As it happened, the CPR line ran over the point of a small bay on Lake Wabigoon, making that spot an ideal place to transfer freight from train to steamboat. As steamboat traffic grew to serve the gold mining activity across the lake, this became important, and the CPR transferred the name Wabigoon to the village growing on that bay, sometime around 1896.

Hazel Fulford, in her book “When Trains stopped in Dinorwic”, reports that an early resident of Dinorwic was named ‘Taffy Jones’ (presumably as early as the 1890’s, Hazel’s story doesn’t really start till after the turn of the century). Taffy was a Welshman, and apparently remarked that there was a town in Wales named Dinorwic.  So, if he was one of the few residents of the village when the name ‘Wabigoon’ was scooped for the new settlement further west, perhaps Taffy nailed down his place in history by putting forward a new name, “Dinorwic”, for his home community, formerly known as ‘Wabigoon Mission”.  If you google ‘Dinorwic, Wales’, you will find it was the site of a large slate quarry, now a tourist attraction.  Bingo.

Part 2, Stamboats on the Wabigoon

One of the things I am impressed by in studying history is how rapidly things got done in olden times, before bureaucratic inertia, ‘environmental’ studies, ‘traditional land use’ claims, and assorted kinds of political interference and graft became such stumbling blocks. Between the opening of the CPR in 1882, and the start of Dryden in 1896, a considerable amount of mining activity got going in our district, including a number of sites south of Lake Wabigoon, culminating in the rise of the (now ghost) town of Gold Rock.  It grew to its maximum population of 800 by 1902, if I remember my reading of “Ghost Towns of Ontario” right.

Supply point for all of these was from the CPR by water across Lake Wabigoon. The CPR main line actually crossed a small bay at one point, so that there was water deep enough for sizable boats right adjacent to the tracks.  Freight could easily be transferred from rail to Wabigoon Lake steamer.

As noted last week, the community of Wabigoon sprang up at this rail-water transfer point, and by the 1900’s there was a network of regularly scheduled steamboat runs all over the lake. In addition to Gold Rock, there was gold mining activity around Contact Bay and in the Guy and Bob lake area accessible from Wabigoon Lake’s West Arm.

All these were served by a regular scheduled steamboat service on Lake Wabigoon. Routes went from the village of Wabigoon to the south end of Dinorwic Lake heading for Gold Rock; to Contact Bay, and to MacLeod’s creek in the west arm.  The water was sometimes too shallow for these boats in the channel from Dinorwic Lake to Wabigoon Lake, so in 1898 the lake was raised by a low dam on the Wabigoon River where Dryden’s Duke Street dam is now.

Dryden did not yet exist, its location was known as “Barclay Tank’, and it was a regular stop on the western steamboat routes. Old mining inspectors reports from the 90’s tell of accessing the Guy/Bob lake mines by getting off the train at Barclay Tank, taking the regular steamboat run to MacLeod’s creek in the west arm of Wabigoon lake, then renting a canoe from the operator there (dare I call it a marina?).  They would then paddle up the creek to the mining area – a mile or two south-east of the present landfill.

John Crerar, one of the earliest arrivals to our community, noted in his memoirs that the CPR in old Ontario sold him a ticket to Barclay when he set out to go to the demonstration farm in the new northwest country in 1896; it was the local trainmen who suggested he stay on the train till ‘Barclay Tank’. He noted that the only building at Barclay Tank, other than the demonstration farm, was a bunkhouse about where the Swanson Block is now (King and Earl), where one could rent a bale of hay to use as a bed, sort of an early motel.

So it is well documented there was regular steamboat traffic to and from Barclay Tank in the 1890’s, but I can find nothing in the historical record as to exactly where the steamboat dock was.

Part 3 Steamboat Dock at Dryden

So, if there was a motel at Barclay Tank and a marina at MacLeod’s Creek to serve the steamboat traffic bound for Guy/Bob lakes gold mines, there had to be a volume of traffic. There had to be a place for passengers and freight to get on and off the boat.  The question then arises, where was the steamboat dock, however primitive it might have been?

This is liable to be a subject of debate, even heavy debate, even, dare I say, argument whenever two or more old Dryden history buffs get together. There are a number of theories defended by various individuals, some even hotly defended.  Remember that the river was lower than now, and would have been narrower and might have run more rapidly at times, and also that steamboats were clumsy things compared with a modern outboard.  I expect the boat would have been mostly filled with a boiler and engine, with perhaps pretty Spartan passenger accommodation, think “African Queen” (Haven’t seen it? Great old Bogey movie).  There is still a remnant of one of the Wabigoon Lake boats laying on the bottom at Boudreau’s Landing on Dinorwic Lake, so we have some idea as to what they might have looked like.  George Wice, in his excellent book ‘Carved from the Wilderness’ refers to the “Dryden Belle”, a steamboat made especially for the Barclay Tank stop, smaller with a shallower draft than the lake boats.

One theory is that the dock had to be on the south side of Sawmill point (or is that Tugboat point), the rocky point in front of the mill.   Presumably passengers would leave the motel, and walk across the railway bridge, then around a considerable swale and the present mill site to the point.  That would mean walking on the ties, between the rails, with nothing below if you slip, while watching for signs there might be a train approaching, hardly a trip for the faint-hearted.  Not impossible – there are tales of people making that journey, even herding a cow across, presumably with the aid of some temporary planks.

Other theories have the dock somewhere south of Duke Street, or at what is now Skene Landing. I have done some detective-ing, and am here to tell you, I have solved the mystery; it was Colonel Mustard in the kitchen with a wrench (oops, wrong mystery).  I will bore you with a full description of my investigation and unimpeachable logic in the next few chapters.

First bit of evidence, John Crerar’s memoirs indicate that he walked south along the river in his tour that first day here, back in 1896. The east line of Earl Ave would have been cut out by the land surveyors as far as Duke St. the previous year, so he probably followed that.  He reported that there was a ravine with a small creek crossing Earl and emptying into the river just south of present day Princess St, and another bigger ravine and creek somewhere around present-day Albert Street.  Both of these creeks were filled in with slabs and sawdust from sawmills in subsequent years, and that is still there, under our neatly finished town.

John reports he made a big loop south, but did not indicate any sign of a wagon trail or road or path.

Part 4, The Dryden Youth Centre

If we want to look for the steamboat dock, let’s look at the river. Fortunately, the town commissioned O. S. Jackson, a local professional photographer to take a series of photos of the town from a low-flying aircraft in 1955.  The museum has a complete set, as does Public Works.  That was just at the start of the major expansion of the mill and the town, and is a valuable reference when looking for ‘how things were back when’.

Get down your copy of “Dryden’s Pioneer Tree, a glimpse of yesterday”, published by the Museum in 1985.  Got no copy? Maybe you should have!  Anyway it is in Dryden Library, or you just have to use your imagination to make sense of the following.

This book’s cover liner is one of Jackson’s aerial photo’s looking southwest across the downtown. It provides a nice shot of the downtown section of the river.  Just east of the mill dam and bridge is quite a large building with a large parking lot, well-filled when the photo was taken.  That is the “Youth Centre”, very much a center of activity in those days.

It was built in the 30’s for the Boy Scouts with support from the mill, primarily as a training hall, and was used by the military, cadets and so on as a military training place during the war. Also used by the Jaycees as a depot for scrap iron collected from the homesteads for the war effort.

After the war it was expanded by the Jaycees and rechristened the ‘Youth Center’, the idea being that it would be a dance hall as well as used by Boy Scouts and as a headquarters for the Jaycees, a very active young man’s organization. Everyone who was a teenager in the 50’s remembers the ‘Teen Canteen’, a town-sponsored dance every Friday night; the place was always crowded.  The building burned down in 1968, and the town refused to allow the Jaycees to have it replaced.  This was a major factor in the disappearance of the Jaycees (and in my becoming involved in municipal politics).

It was on a rock island, now the west part of the mill parking lot, which supports the east end of the dam and bridge, and extends to the north a ways. Not quite an island, it was connected to the shore by a small bridge of rock at its northeast corner; this was blasted open to provide a route for water to escape while the first dam was under construction in 1898.  This passage was used as the tailrace for the water wheel that powered F. T. Brignall’s sawmill, which was between the island and Earl Ave., just south of the buildings in the picture.

Back to the picture. Between the Youth Centre and Earl is a grassy area, with a swimming pool near Duke Street.  This area is all fill; it was originally just a swampy ravine.  A pipe was included in the fill under Duke Street when it was built so river water could be allowed into this area, it became a pond which we are told was used by the settlers as a convenient place to park their horse-drawn wagons to soak and tighten up the wooden wheels in their steel rims.  Later it became the swimming pool shown in the picture.

Part 5 Where was the Steamboat Dock?

So, adding up, we have a creek in a ravine coming across Earl Ave from the east just south of Princess Street, deep enough that John Crerar noted it in his memoirs; in fact Art Fisher remembered it as twenty feet deep! City records corroborate there was such a ravine, we know that much of what is now the TD bank parking lot and Princess street itself are built on quite a depth of sawdust and slabs from F. T. Brignall’s sawmill; this is even discussed in ‘Carved from the Wilderness’.  The creek would have emptied into the shallow bay next to Earl Ave., separated from the rapids where the dam is now by the rock island which used to carry the Youth Centre.  Given one would walk from the CPR, and there was no road or trail past Princess for wheelbarrows or horse drawn conveyance to carry freight I conclude the dock was in the mouth of that creek, just west of Earl, a bit south of Princess.

But let’s look at one more bit of evidence.

Look carefully at the aerial photo we were studying last week (inside cover, “Dryden’s Pioneer Tree, a Glimpse of Yesterday”). You will see a sidewalk starts on the west side of Earl, at a random point a few feet south of Princess, and runs diagonally across the open field to Duke St., a short cut to the mill.  A footpath branches off it and runs to the Youth Centre.  That was in 1955.

OK, all you old folks who trooped to the Youth Centre back in the 50’s and 60’s for Teen Canteen, Jaycees, Boy Scouts, or whatever, focus your mind on that sidewalk. I remember it started with a set of stairs, perhaps 4 steps down, from the Earl Avenue sidewalk.  Remember that?  I also remember the stairs were not concrete, but sort of handmade, antique-y looking, made of flat slabs of dark stone, perhaps slate, laid in mortar.

I think that stair was the remnant of a much longer one, down to the steamboat dock perhaps fifteen feet below, back before 1910 when the river was much lower and before the bay was filled. Can any old-timer’s confirm what I remember about those stairs, or if not tell me I am a senile old fool.  If I am right, those stone stairs are almost sure to be still there under all that fill and pavement.

One more confirmation, one of our first hotels was near Duke and Earl, a bit away from the CP station, but this location makes sense if it were near the steamboat dock! So, mystery solved, steamboat dock was between Princess and Duke, west of Earl, at the bottom of that stair. Probably never described in any early history literature as being too obvious to comment on.

So what does all this mean? Just one more reason the City ought to acquire this property, now the under-utilized mill parking lot.  It is needed for the Arena crowds, and would be a place to put up a memorial to steamboats on the Wabigoon!  And a place for downtown festivals and markets!  Hello City of Dryden, get on it!

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One of my woodchopper friends told me he likes my writing, but he wonders just what I mean talking all the time about loss of freedom and ‘serfs’. What in heck is a ‘serf’ anyway?

Which caused me to do a lot of thinking. Any kind of political discussion is pointless, because political terms including ‘serf’ mean different things to different people, ‘left’ or ‘right’, or ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ or ‘freedom’ or ‘communism’, and in combination, it gets worse – we Contrarians think modern extreme leftists are ‘fascists’(adherence to a group based on an opinion and a leader, utterly intolerant of dissent), while conventional wisdom would say right-wing are ‘fascists’.  Some want to add the adjective ‘loony’ to left; some want to add ‘ignoramus’ to right.  And so on, but I don’t propose to get into a discussion on this stuff.

Some years ago I went to Minnesota on one of those root-searching trips, and met some interesting relatives. One was an elderly cousin who recalled her mother talking about her life as a child in the 1860’s, in a village in the mountainous part of Bohemia (then an Austrian province, now the Czech Republic). She remembered it as a happy time, life in small houses in the village, everybody trooped out to the fields and barns every day to work together as a group, a contented time, not much to worry about.  All the land, barns, and houses were owned by the local nobility, and the people were all serfs.  They could be comfortable with this, born a serf, always a serf, no possibility whatever of ever rising in class.

Actually, they could change their status, if their nobility were bad people and treated them badly, they had the choice of leaving the established order and becoming ‘outlaws’. There were outlaw enclaves here and there –  Robin Hood and his merry men are the most well-known examples, but there were actually whole outlaw villages in the less populated mountain areas.

I also met another cousin on that trip, a very American young lady, and in the process of getting to know each other, the question of ‘what do you do?’ came up, we do identify ourselves by our occupations these days. She announced with matter-of-fact pride that she was a Bartender.  I noticed this particularly, as an example of American culture being ever so much less class-conscious than we Canadians; a Canadian would say ‘bartender’ with a trace of embarrassment, or at least humility, perhaps saying ‘only a bartender’, or ‘a bartender, but I am studying etc’, or even stretch it a bit with ‘in entertainment management’.   Maybe our Canadian class-consciousness is fading since that trip, but still a defining trait.

So I am un-Canadian – I detest the whole concept of Class. I believe we are all made equal, some have more ability with school (really just a knack of dealing with symbols); some are more empathetic, some have better instincts, and when all aspects of the human being are considered we are all made equal. In my ideal world we are all equal citizens regardless of background or wealth.  I have little respect for the most ‘tolerant’ and ‘inclusive’ among us; too often they are stoking their own self-perception as superior or even noble; just another form of social climbing.

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A page from Willy Brant’s diary — Joe was over this morning, pushed back the banks with his oldie-but-goodie skidder/snowplow.  While he was waiting for his glasses to un-steam and his coffee to cool a bit, he came up with “I saw something yesterday you would find interesting.  I think it was in some stuff from BBC.  Seems somebody in Norway has built a giant statue of a moose.”

“Didn’t know they have moose in Norway” from me, which got a look no doubt meant to convey there is a lot I don’t know about Norway. “Anyway, what would interest me about statues in Norway?”

Joe went on “The picture of it was a bit blurry, it looks like some artsie-fartsie modern stuff, really shiny metal or chrome-plated plastic, reminded me of a Bowling Trophy. Anyway,  the interesting part is they sent a request to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, to stop calling their big moose statue the ‘biggest moose in the world’, because the Norwegian one is taller.  Moose Jaw responded that the Norwegian pile of scrap metal might be taller, but the Moose Jaw pile of concrete is heavier, so they will keep on calling theirs ‘world’s biggest’.”  Joe paused, then added “Seems to me you took an interest in this kind of a squabble a few decades ago.”

The light came on. “Yeah, you are right, I even wrote a Letter to the Editor about it, of course I never did get around to actually bringing it to the newspaper.  Maximillian, the World’s Biggest Moose, stands outside the Dryden Tourist Bureau since I think the 50’s.  I got all indignant because we didn’t even respond when Moose Jaw built their moose, I think in the 80’s, and ordered us to stop calling Max the world’s biggest.  I wanted Dryden to respond that ours is a real moose, while their cartoon moose belongs on something like the Flintstones, with its horses face and pig’s butt and elephant legs. Ours looks like a real moose”.

“Well, sort of”, Joe responded. Hmm.  Better argue a bit.

“OK” from me, “So we have a Cartoon Moose in Saskatchewan, and a plastic bowling trophy Moose in Norway, but our Max is a real moose, a powerful, virile Monarch of the Woods, king of all he surveys. We have proof, every fall we see that parade of pretty young lady mooses, hanging around Max’s spot at the Tourist Bureau, laughing at his jokes and batting those magnificent eyelashes at him.  Ask around, every Drydenite has seen at least one of these visitors. Those young lady moose know a real moose when they see one!”

Joe burst out laughing, thinking about nubile moosie girls prancing around the Tourist Bureau in mating season.  So I went on “Oh, we have the world’s largest real moose, all right, even if he is made of concrete.  Those other statues wouldn’t fool a young lady moose for a second.”

“Oookay”, from Joe, as he pulled on his mitts and headed out to his tractor.


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A page from Willie Brant’s diary — Wow, it’s getting scary, don’t think I have ever seen minus 50F for this many days on this many of my neighbours thermometers.  Goats are staying right in the barn, I think some of the chickens got their comb’s froze right in the chicken coop.  It wasn’t this cold back in the 70’s when the ‘progressive’ folk were worrying about the coming Ice Age.

Had to go to town this morning, my niece’s car wouldn’t start, apparently modern cars aren’t made for colder than about minus 10, the computers lose their mind and drain the battery. So the dealer sells you a new battery when you bring your car in, that and lame excuses is about all he can do.  My old 1985 rig doesn’t have a computer and starts just fine, so I went to give her nice new car a boost.

Stopped at Joe’s on the way home to check on him. Good thing, he was looking pretty rough, hadn’t shaved or changed his shirt for a week.  Told him about the new car problem, to which he mumbled “Well, I guess the car companies think the planet is warming up so they don’t need to worry about testing new designs in cold climates any more”!

“Yep”, I tried, “We are making our country poor saving the planet from Global Warming, and freezing our butts off at the same time!”

Joe looked puzzled for a minute, and then said “Oh, the pipeline thing. That’s not about saving the planet, whether we send clean western oil east by nice safe pipeline, or they burn dirty Arabian oil shipped over in leaky tanker ships, Canada is such a small player the planet will not even notice.  The pipeline thing is just another shot in the war to keep what I call Rupertsland down so the Toronto-Montreal axis stays dominant.”

He went off looking for clean coffee mugs, and I put in “Rupertsland? For Pete’s sake, what are you talking about?”

He hollered from the kitchen “Rupertsland, northern and western Canada, the Hudson’s Bay territory the crown ‘sold’ to the new Dominion. The eastern Colonies have to beat it down every so often.  Like when they took the Air Force fighter maintenance contract away from the Winnipeg guys who were doing it for years, and gave it to Montreal even though their bid was higher.  Their explanation was that the aircraft industry ‘belonged’ to Montreal.  Or the ‘National Energy Program’ — that set the economy of western Canada back a whole generation!”

“OK”, I threw in “now I get it. If we are doing history, you could throw in preferential freight rates that prevented manufacturing from developing on the prairies for a century.  We could talk about the guy who called us ‘stalwart peasants in sheepskin coats’, not fully equal.  Maybe we could go all the way back to the Riel Rebellion, when the citizens of Rupertsland tried to claim their place, so Canada sent in the army and hung Louis Riel!”

Joe poured a couple of cups, saying “Maybe it is time for the citizens of Rupertsland to stand up again.  And don’t forget that Northern Ontario is part of Rupertsland.”  He looked downright excited — maybe this weird conversation got him out of his funk.

Supposed to be warmer tomorrow, hope my niece’s car will start

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One of the things that set Dryden apart from other northern communities is the very high level of landscaping of our personal houses. We have better lawns, more tame trees and shrubs, more flowerbeds than the average, by far.  We also have more and better finished parkland, and higher standard street construction than northern towns generally.  I think this is a result of the higher standards people set for themselves, rather than government initiative.  It starts with the fact our original pioneers came to own land and make a home, rather than moving to the edge of the wilderness because there was a job there. That is, we were settlers, not frontiersmen.

The Jaycees, (Junior Chamber of Commerce) grew like wildfire through the 30’s and into the 60’s all across the continent, including Dryden and most northern towns. This was a service club with a twist.  Membership was restricted to men under 40, and its first objective was to provide young men an opportunity to learn and practice leadership skills.  Its second objective was service to the community.  Employment then was in more rigid hierarchies than now, you had to work your way up the Organization Chart before you could practice anything like leadership.  Running community projects as Jaycees provided a rare opportunity for young men to take leadership positions.

Here is ‘The Jaycee Creed’, which was recited by the young men at every meeting:

We believe – That faith in God gives meaning and purpose to human life; That the brotherhood of man transcends the sovereignty of nations; That economic justice can best be won by free men through free enterprise; That government should be of laws, rather than of men; That earth’s great treasure lies in human personality; and that service to humanity is the best work of life.” 

Hopelessly out of step with the modern fashion of entitlement with no personal responsibility, but still a good code to build a life around.

Dryden Jaycees played a large role in the community in those decades.  In the 30’s, they started a wildly successful ‘Clean-up, Paint-up’ campaign giving substantial cash prizes and of course fame to those judged to be doing the best job.  An important part of that campaign was Landscaping, and they offered substantial prizes, I think $25 (equivalent to say $1000 today), for first place.  This no doubt reinforced the settler’s make-a-home mentality, with impressive results.

The Jaycees commissioned what was probably the first full colour 16 mm movie of any kind taken in the Dryden area. It was a roving travelogue of the contestants in the (I think) 1940 “Paint-up, Clean-up” competition.  In other words, it recorded the most highly landscaped homes in the District that year.  It miraculously escaped the 1967 fire which destroyed the Youth Center, the Jaycees headquarters at the time, only to be burned up in the arena/curling rink fire in 1978.  So you will just have to take my word for what was on it.

It was simply amazing. The first surprise would be that most of the nicest home sites were in the rural areas. It is less of a surprise If I explain that before WW2, the rural population was at least 4 times the population of the town, and that most came with that settler’s ethic, to make a home.  Also many rural folks were prosperous before the depression, and most fared better than Canada as a whole in the depression.  The second surprise would be how nice those prizewinners look; larger houses with more highly landscaped yards than you might suppose.  Including more flower beds, perennials and fruit trees, and less lawn than is fashionable now, push mowers in those days.

By the 60’s, we Jaycees viewing the film were not able to recognize all of the places from the pictures taken 25 years before. Two which stand out in my memory were the Norgate farm on East Wabigoon Lake road, and the Bob Johnston farm on Johnston road, both of which fell on hard times during the general decline of our rural area, and both of which still show signs of their former glory.  Also one can still trace the extravagant landscaping around some abandoned places including Mrs Crother’s house on my farm in Wainwright Township.

The 50’s and 60’s saw major growth at the mill, with a large influx of people to the area, along with a decline in agriculture as farms got bigger and as post-war prosperity made small-scale subsistence farming a less attractive lifestyle. We became a ‘mill town’ and a ‘one industry town’, and our rural root an embarrassing relic from the past.  Those bigger, built in the 20’s rural houses became unfashionable and many disappeared altogether.  But there are still signs of that former glory, including the examples noted above.

The town developed very high standards of landscaping of public spaces in the 50’s under the leadership of Parks Manager Bob Johnston. The greenhouse business established and still operated by the Schmidt family has no doubt had an impact, and the culture among our townsmen is still one of maintaining a very high standard of landscaping.  There are ongoing projects to encourage, ‘paint-up, clean-up’, though none on anything like the scale of the Jaycee’s 1940’s projects.  So Dryden’s high landscaping standard persists, something visitors often remark on.

Worldwide Jaycees membership declined precipitously in the 70’s as the entitled generation came of age, and Service and Leadership Training became unfashionable. Canada Jaycees got caught up in the enthusiasm of 1967, Canada’s Centennial, and made some serious errors which added to the decline and helped to see most Canadian clubs disappear, including Dryden.

Generations change. Jaycees is of the past, but it bodes well for our future as we see a Young Professional’s community service group once again active in Dryden.

“Service to humanity is the best work of life”


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