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AT MOOSONEE, ONTARIO non-fiction

Story ID:4792
Written by:Richard Laurent. Provencher (bio, contact, other stories)
Organization:Retired
Story type:In Memory
Location:Truro Nova Scotia Canada
Year:2009
Person:Richard L. Provencher
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Our Ski-doo roared loudly one late January evening in 1967. As I hung on tightly, my friend Denny tore around the town of Moosonee, interrupting people from any leisure activities, or perhaps sharing a glass of St. Georges wine.

Only .95 cents a bottle back then, brought in by train from Cochrane, a slow 180 miles away. Slow because the Ontario Northland Railway tourist train, the Polar Bear Express, hardly zipped past 30 MPH due to the area’s muskeg ground.

Dennis was an adventurer, always looking for a thrill.

Wine in my own belly melted any lingering icicles, and the speed of our machine tearing around snowdrifts emboldened us to shriek and holler good wishes to inquiring faces staring from windows along Moosonee’s only two streets. Nothing new to them, it was normal to have the locals whoop it up a bit, except Denny came up with a new idea.

“Lets head for the other side of the creek,” he said. In the summer it was easy to discover a path down the embankment and find a shallow crossing over Shore Creek, situated in the middle of Moosonee. Right now an abundance of snow masked any clear path, and Dennis’ steering kept wavering as we headed for the Creek.

Above the engine’s whine, I heard him yell, “Let’s go across the foot bridge!”

“Why not?” I answered directly in his ear, thinking it provided the quickest connection to the other side. My parka managed to keep my body from turning into a chunk of ice.

And my frost-tinged face numbed my thinking for a few moments until I saw the footbridge coming up.

Suddenly, something ticked in my brain. “No, Denny, TURN!!”

“WHAT? CAN’T HEAR YOU?” And his maniacal laughter carried across the chilly night.

I managed to reach around his waist and give a good tug to avoid the approaching entranceway. Finally something registered with Dennis and he joined me in turning the speeding machine away from the too-narrow entranceway. It could have been tragic.

I suppose, two local fellows having some fun, and running amuck thinking they could maneuver across the bridge. We were suddenly awestruck as our machine smashed its way through a snow bank and sailed into the air.

We jumped off, before the machine tumbled into the ravine.

Our laughter must have bounced from one end of town to the other. After extracting ourselves from headfirst plunges into the deep snow, Denny expressed himself with a mighty GREEEEAAATTTT!

Many years later I discovered Denny was killed flying his own aircraft. When I lived in Moosonee for that one year in 1967, I often heard him wish for his own Cessna. I’m sorry to have lost touch with him after returning to southern Ontario, where I married and eventually moved to Truro, Nova Scotia.

But old memories laid to rest were recently rekindled. A contact from his married daughter Peg, now living in Ottawa, stirred fond memories from 40 years ago.

I was able to share with her times shared with, her father, Dennis. Such as discussing the sad living conditions a number of natives endured. And wishing to record those images of a brave and stalwart people able to overcome severe hardships, we both took pictures.

They are now on a website for anyone to see. They depict scenery and some individuals living in minimal living conditions. An example is a 9’ by 12’ tent for a family as well as modest buildings, which housed proud Cree people, who survived difficult conditions for their children’s sake. Many youngsters grew up well educated, and able to provide a very good living for their families.

Renovations at the Moosonee Lodge where I rented a room, caused me to move in with Dennis and his family. Although for only one month, I discovered the kindness he and his wife, Carol, shared with their many friends. Peg told me her mom died about four years after the death of her husband.

Isolation was very hard on the ladies, living so far north. The only shopping opportunity was the Hudson Bay Store, with the balance of Main Street boasting a restaurant, OPP Station, Post Office, all on a muddy one-quarter mile street. As usual, summers meant loose dogs around.

And hoisting groceries high saved them from salivating dogs.

I also remember fishing with Shane, one of Dennis and Carol’s sons and then preparing a small campfire as we rested. There was no need to go further than a quarter of mile across the swampy earth, to catch our limit.

Shrub trees dotted the landscape on the outskirts of the village. And no one ventured very far due to the ferociousness of the mosquitoes. They made camping or hiking an impossible dream.

One day Denny took me hunting partridge. “How far do you want to go, Dick?” he asked. I learned they coveted a fringe of woods on the edge of Moosonee. As many as 25 ruffed grouse were seen in about fifteen minutes and we quickly had our limit of five each. It was simply amazing and all within sight of the village.

So much to remember, friendships forgotten now re-charged. Dennis and his family were such good friends while I lived there. One morning, around three am, while I was staying with his family, a rap came at the door. Dennis got out of bed cheerfully, invited his visitor in and they shared conversation for perhaps half an hour.

I was too lazy to get up and join them.

The next morning, Denny told me, “The fellow only wanted a drink of wine. Besides he was lonely for some company.” That was my friend, considerate and possessing a special love for Native Cree who lived in the area.

And he’s the kind of friend I shall never forget.

* * *

© Richard L. Provencher 2007
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