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Bachelor Lake Float Plane Base – Our Cree Neighbours | Flights of History
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Con and Barb Campbell arrived at Bachelor Lake, in the Abitibi region of Québec, in mid-August 1950 to manage the Gold Belt Air Service float plane base there.

 

This is the sixth in a series of excerpts from Barbara’s journal, “Bachelor Lake Daze,” published with the kind permission of Dr. Sandra Campbell and Con Campbell, Jr. Their mother wrote her journal after the family left Bachelor Lake and moved to Rouyn, Québec, in 1953.

 

To view all posts from “Bachelor Lake Daze,” click on the Gold Belt Air Service category below the main title at the top of the page.

 

A short bio of Barbara Van Orden Campbell can be found here: http://wp.me/P790K9-6J

 

 

 

Hospitality by the Gallon

 

By the end of September nearly everyone that was going out for the winter had gone.  The drill foreman and his wife had left, as had most of the men from the mining camps. Con and I now shared the lake with Alphonse Truchon at the Fecteau base a hundred yards away and two local Indian families who would drop by from time to time. These people lived at Opawica Lake, about eight miles to the east of us.  Since we were strategically located on their route to the Waswanipi post*, we often had visits from them.  They were Cree and spoke a polyglot tongue of French, English and Cree.  They were all related through marriage though I never did get the relationships fully straightened out.

* The Hudson’s Bay company Waswanipi post was located on an island in Waswanipi Lake. It closed in 1965.

 

Before freeze-up, when the lakes were still open, our Cree neighbours would arrive by canoe, having portaged from Opawica to Billy Lake and again into Bachelor Lake.  As they kept canoes in each lake it was not a difficult trip.  They would come into the cabin without knocking and sit themselves down at the table without speaking a word.  I would make tea by the gallon, and plates of sandwiches, which they consumed with the hungry thoroughness of a swarm of locusts.  The sugar bowl emptied quickly under their onslaught and I filled it many times to each pot of tea.

 

 

Map showing the lakes mentioned in this post: Opawica, Billy and Bachelor Lakes are on the right, while the much larger Waswanipi Lake is shown on the left. Quebec Route 113, not yet built when Barbara Campbell wrote her journal, connects Val d’Or and Chicougamau. Bachelor Lake lies about 100 km from Chibougamau.

 

Our visitors seldom spoke to Con or me unless we addressed them directly but chatted back and forth among themselves with much animation.  The one I liked the best was Angus, a hunchbacked lad of undefinable age.  He was ever polite and cheerful and was obviously a favourite with the others.  His remarks were predictably followed by gales of appreciative laughter.

 

The men were always warmly dressed for the weather but we never saw any of the girls or women wearing slacks. Even on the coldest of blowy winter days they came in wearing only a light jacket over a cotton dress.  I shuddered in sympathy, imagining the cold trek up the lake, facing that flaming northeast wind with the temperature at 35°F below zero!  They all wore moose hide moccasins for use with snowshoes and soon Con and I were wearing them too.  They were light and comfortable, and dried quickly.

 

 

Swooping in by Dog Sled

 

After the lakes froze over and the snow came, our Cree visitors traveled by dog sled.  Their approach was heralded by our two dogs having hysterics and rushing about with their hackles up and their legs stiff. Then the sleds would come swooping around the point pulled by four or five of the most emaciated-looking creatures I had ever seen. Mangy and unhealthy looking, they apparently never had more to eat than was necessary to keep them going. So thin were they and so hopeless their eyes that I couldn’t bear to look at them as they collapsed outside the door.  There they curled up in the snow for hours while their owners drank tea first at our cabin and then at Alf’s.

 

I asked Alf why the dogs were so thin when the moose hunting had been good that fall. He told me that they kept the sled dogs like that so they wouldn’t be heavy enough to break through the crust on the snow while pulling the toboggan.  In the summer, he said, the dogs were turned loose to fend for themselves and lived on partridge and rabbit until fall.  Their harness was nothing but bits of rope, wire, and rags without any apparent plan or design but the whole apparatus seemed to work efficiently.

 

We had visits from these two families for as long as we lived at Bachelor Lake.  There were times when a delegation would arrive every day and then weeks would go by without a visit.  When they came, they would settle in for the whole day, arriving with the dawn and staying so late they must have had to finish their trip in the dark.  Smiling and hungry, they ate with great gusto while they visited with us and then they would descend on Alf for a repeat performance.

 

 

Alf’s Secret Skills

 

Alf took a special delight in these Indian visitors because unbeknownst to them, he had an excellent working knowledge of the Cree tongue and understood everything they said among themselves, always observant, always amusing – but seldom flattering.

 

As fall turned into winter, there was a gap in their visits since neither canoe nor dog team could travel from the beginning of freeze-up until the lake was frozen solid enough to support their dogs and toboggans. We were busy enough at the Gold Belt camp, getting wood cut and stacked for the winter and ordering provisions to come in by air to keep our larders stocked during the in-between season.

 

 

End of this excerpt. Watch for the next one up soon!