|Goats on roof in Coombs, BC|
|Columbian guy tossing salmon.|
All new employees at the mill were hired on a trial basis and after 30 days they would get their union card if things worked out. I kept a close eye on the calender that first month.
|MacMillan-Bloedel pulp mill 1973.|
|Me getting the lumps out of the lime kiln.|
To someone not familiar with a pulp mill it can appear to be a bit intimidating . Motors are humming away all over the place. There are metal ladders and catwalks leading to different equipment. There are all kinds of ways to get injured or be killed. Probably the most creepy thing was sewer gas. Apparently if you smell it you are moments away from death.
So what was Port Alberni like back in 1974? For starters it had the 3rd highest per capita income in Canada at the time. The pulp mill was running 3 shifts a day. Things were good. It was quite common to see a Corvette or some other flashy sports car parked in a driveway. Young guys would often get summer jobs at the mill through their dads who worked there and between the decent wages and not having to pay rent at home a shiney new car was a possible goal.
At the top of the hill stood the Woodward's Department Store. (Similar to The Bay or Eaton's) They also had a large grocery deparment. The 1950s group, The Platters, made an appearance that summer at the original Barclay Hotel. (I'm not sure if it burned down or was demolished years later.) The Exorcist and The Sting played at the local movie theatre. (Not the new one that was built years later.) If there was going to be a strike mosr preferred the fall hunting season as the time to do it.
I believe I started working at the mill in February. I pretty well mostly hung out with the couple I was living with.
We would have a few beers every now and then and even though this was the peak of the hippy era, for whatever reason we didn't get into smoking pot. As the weather warmed up we would sometimes go out to Sproat Lake a few miles away for a swim. Sproat Lake is the home of the large Mars water bombing planes that have helped fight California's brush fires numerous times. We never made it out to Long Beach that year and that may have been due to the questionable reliability of the Isizu Ballet.
I had to find another place to live and managed to get a room in a rooming house. The guy who owned the house worked for Household Finance (remember them?). He was kind of full of himself and gave the impression that he had it made at HFC. He had a divorced girlfriend with a kid who was kind of demanding. Sometimes she would phone and ask for him and I would make out like I didn’t recognize who she was asking for. Just before I left a couple of guys came around to the rooming house. They repoed the Household Finance guy’s car and slapped some kind of court order on the house. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.
One day I decided to bike up to Mount Arrowsmith. I took the highway up the huge hill until I came to the dirt road that led to the mountain. I ditched the bike in some bushes and started hiking. I stopped to take a break and was taken aback by some very strange birds that seemed to have no fear of humans and came within a few feet of me. I later learned that they are called Moose Birds and are part of the jay family. I kind of lost track of the time and suddenly realized that it was getting dark fast. Fortunately, I found a small unoccupied cabin and lit myself a fire in the stove. I ended up spending the night there.
I think it was sometime in late November that I inserted my last time card into the time clock thing at the mill. I had done my time. I had saved enough to buy a car. I flew back east and bought a 1968 Ford Falcon and drove it back out to BC. It wasn’t the last time I would see Port Alberni.
|Car Insurance for my first car, a 1968 Ford Falcon.|
|Original mill grinding wheels.|
|Photos of pier area|
I received a few e-mails from Sally Anderson in Port Alberni and I think we determined that her husand was the marine I worked with at the mill back in 1974.
I gave Don Barkley a call in Port Alberni. I also worked with him back then. Hadn't seen Don in about 35 years. This past Sunday Don phoned us and said he was in Lantzville where we live and had just attended a funeral nearby and would we like to have a beer with him and his wife Darlene? Spent a pleasant hour or 2 with them at the local pub along with Linda. Will see them again.