Hometowns shape us

Last week, I mentioned in this space a webpage called "Share Your Memories - Oshawa's Municipal Heritage Committee" at:, which is dedicated to "Keeping Oshawa's Heritage Alive." While my hometown of Oshawa is a lot bigger (and for that matter older) than Thompson, it was in many ways, at least as I recall it from growing up there, a lot like Thompson in being a working-class blue-collar town.

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The men in my Nipigon Street neighbourhood - guys like Earl Kirkpatrick, Snow Wilson and my dad - were often working six days a weeks, with overtime on Saturdays when they were on day shift. If they were on nights, they'd be busy flooding the Nipigon Park outdoor rink at 2:30 a.m. - after their eight-hour night shift ended and they went to bed - so us kids could skate the next day. That's how I remember my dad.

Instead of going to Inco and down into a mine or working at the surface in a refinery or smelter, the men (and they were invariably men back then) I knew in the 1960s carried their metal lunch pails into the factory at General Motors to build cars and trucks. When they were leaving at the end of their shift, they punched the same clock they had coming in.

I spent the first of five summers as a university student, beginning in 1976, working in that very same West Plant in the high-seniority Completely Knocked Down (CKD) department my dad had retired from the year before. Some of his buddies were still there; some I had heard about for years and met for the first time.

My first job was hammering large wooden crates together. It was just an amazing cavernous building that old West Plant with great big windows and wooden floors. I remember once going across the tunnel (or bridge, I'm not sure now how it was referred to) connecting the West Plant and the North Plant over Division Street. Later that summer, I hung rads in the rad room of the old North Plant across the street.

Being blue collar or working class, as Oshawa has shown, doesn't mean not valuing your heritage and recording your history. It means building on your history. The Canadian Automotive Museum was created in Oshawa in 1961. The city at various times has been known by mottoes that include "The City that Motovates Canada" and "The City in Motion" and, most recently, the "Automotive Capital of Canada"(sorry, Windsor.)

Are the mottoes a bit cheesy? Sure, something like extra old white cheddar, to some tastes.

But history isn't just for Adlai Stevenson eggheads.

History and heritage is for anybody and everybody, whether it be Oshawa or Thompson. When I need to know something about Thompson's history, and I quite often do, I'm likely to turn initially to Wayne Hall, Volker Beckmann or Steve Ashton - all very different characters - but a trio who have been here almost forever and have in common a willingness, indeed an interest, in passing on their historical knowledge to all of us who just care enough to ask.

Or I might head over to Thompson Public Library to yet again borrow Graham Buckingham's 1988 book, Thompson: A City and its People, or Hugh Fraser's, A Journey North: The Great Thompson Nickel Discovery, from 1985. As well, Heritage North Museum's website at with its "Community Memories" section includes a wealth of Thompson history. Want to know more about Dr. Blain Johnston; Jim Heis; Bill and Wilma Harrison; Ed and Elsie Davis; Bill Laing; Don and Louise Johnson; Axel and Doreen Lindquist; Faye Hansen; Garfield Gillis; Harry Lamontagne, Ken Bigalow; Lovey McTavish; Mike Rutherford; Norm Rayner; Paul Zurrin; Red and Mary Sangster; Vivian Clarke; Steve Ogrodnic, Bob and Vicki Fleming; Tom Hicks; Lucy Zimola or Otto Bindle? Its right there, no further way than reaching for my keyboard.

© Copyright Thompson Citizen


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