Winter time, Monday morning, line dancing at the Go-Getters. Rick Olson is there, waiting for Susan, one of our group.
He is chatting over coffee with guys from the carpenters shop. It is very unusual to hear any of the coffee chatter over our music, but I thought I heard the word ‘Holidaire’, which made me think of flying, which reminded that Rick’s dad Harold was a pilot and long-time member of the Flying Club.
I had been working on putting together a story about one of our more colourful citizens and most famous pilots, Joe Amodeo, rhymes with rodeo, not Amodeus. I beetled right over to see if Rick could tell me anything about Joe, and struck pay dirt.
Teenager Rick had actually worked for Joe at Holidaire, Joe’s Red Lake operation, for a couple of summers and knew a whole lot. Rick told me his dad Harold had grown up at the village around the Uchi Lake Mine, about 40 miles northeast of Ear Falls.
This was started in the 20’s, and finally got into production in the late 30’s. It was expanded in 1942, only to be shut down in 1943, apparently on the orders of the Canadian government as gold-mining was not considered an essential activity and the manpower was needed for the war effort.
The village consisted of housing for some 300 families, a hotel, stores, bank, barber shop, and received regular air service from Winnipeg as there was no seriously usable road. Teenage Harold was delivery boy for the Winnipeg Free Press, and Rick has a picture of Harold meeting the regular flight from Winnipeg to collect his newspapers.
Government edict shutting down non-essential industry might make sense in a city, but seems excessively harsh in a community where there is only one economic driver and it actually displaced a whole population, turning people’s home into a ghost town. I wonder what compensation the storekeeper or hotelkeeper got for government-caused loss of their life’s savings.
The somewhat vandalized but still mostly intact mine and village stood for decades, a holiday destination for some of its old-timers. The Uchi Lake site was destroyed, I think in the 90’s, along with Gold Rock and many more abandoned mine sites.
Prime example, the South Bay mine near Uchi operated from 1971 till 1982, with a modern comfortable village for the miners, with retail shops and a Community Center containing a hockey rink, year-round swimming pool, curling ice, accessed by an all-weather road.
The miners trailers were arranged along fully serviced streets, resembling the trailer parks in which so many of us spend winters in Arizona. Perfect for a summer retreat (or even a minimum security prison), it too was destroyed in that sweep, an outstanding example of vandalism and waste.
Blame Ron Brown and his book ‘Ghost Towns of Ontario’ for this – he made a very compelling case for turning Gold Rock into a national-scale Historical Park. Before a ground-swell of support for such an idea could develop, the government bulldozed all these sites flat.
Too bad, there are ‘ghost town’ Historical Parks out west nowhere near as impressive as Gold Rock or Uchi Lake or South Bay would have been.
Back on subject, Harold ended up in the Air Force where he learned to fly. Apparently flying for the Air Force did not earn you a civilian Pilots Licence, and Harold got his from Drydenaire, Joe Amodeo’s Flying school, shortly after he arrived in Dryden, about 1959. Harold was an enthusiastic private flyer, and his Taylorcraft could often be seen in the skies over Dryden for the next few decades; Rick reports he has that still serviceable aircraft and it is for sale.
More flying next week.