MUSEUM MUSING BY L.M . " BUZZ " LEIN
February 9, 1984
In Bert Salonen's 1929 Evening News Chronicle, there is in the Nipigon Section an article about Granny Thompson. No relation to Jack or Maurice. Long ago E. C. Everett took a picture of Granny when she was sweeping up some wood chips at her woodpile. Her tiny house was situated on the same corner where Red Winfield lives now (1984 - ed.).
Granny has descendants living in Thunder Bay. We know this because we spent a couple of hours talking to them in the Museum a couple of years ago. They left some photos and some written info which should be on file in the Museum. We have to resurrect these. (Not sure if they made it through the fire of 1990 - ed.)
That long-ago reported who was talking to Granny really blew it because instead of an interesting look into pioneer life, all he got was filler. You'll know what we mean in a moment or two. Granny was ready to talk by the way the interview reads but the reported didn't know the right questions to ask. He had never read any local history.
We learn at the opening of the interview that Granny was married twice. The first time at age 18 to Patrick Cuyley. If that name was Cooley or Cayley, it would sound better. The second time to James Thompson.
Taking a few liberties with the intent of the interview, it would seem Patrick lined up a job on railway construction with the C.P. R. and then went back to Ireland to pick up Granny. We call her Granny because her Christian name is not given. As noted above she was married at eighteen. Since this interview was done in 1929 when her age was given as 83, that she was probably born in 1854 and arrived in Canada about 1872.
We'll let the reporter of the Evening News Chronicle take it from here:
"Where was I born? Why, in the capital city of Ireland in good old Dublin. I was three weeks crossing the Atlantic Ocean on a sailing vessel, and almost six weeks getting to Nipigon from Halifax where I landed, for we had to go through the States by slow degrees to Minneapolis, thence north to the Lake of the Woods and the settlement called Rat Portage (Kenora). Over land and stream we finally made it to Port Arthur, and from there set out on a small sailing boat for Nipigon."
"There we about 100 people on that boat coming to Nipigon section. I remember when the engineers came to pout through the line for the Canadian Pacific Railway, and my first husband, Patrick Cuyley, later became foreman on construction between Red Rock and Jackfish. At that time, I was living at the Little Jackfish."
From our knowledge of what was going on, Granny is on safe ground when she says she saw the engineers laying out the line. The first gang of surveyors started there in 1872 and were still at it when Granny arrived about 1874. As a matter of fact the construction of the C. P. R. east from Thunder Bay started in 1883. The surveying had to be done or almost done. By 1884 this section seems to have been completed as far as Red Rock. It wasn't till early in 1886 that the line was fit to run trains over slowly.
And note how she got to Nipigon Section - they must have travelled by canoe from Rat Portage to Port Arthur.
Re-read that bit about a sailing ship and 100 people on board coming out of Thunder Bay en route for the construction sites. In 1874-75 there was a regular steamship service out of Thunder Bay east. There were several of them making this trip regularly. It seems to us that a sailing ship that could handle 100 passengers together with the crew needed to operate it must have been a heck of a ship. We have not in our reading encountered this particular type of transport. So why didn't that early day reporter ask about it?
Granny also is reported saying that when she arrived at Nipigon there was scarcely anything but bush and the Hudson's Bay Co. The Hudson's Bay Co. built their first store on Front Street sometime between 1895 and 1900. There was no place called Nipigon - on the Section known as the Nipigon Section. The town was still in the future.
Mrs. Thompson is now quoted as saying that she met His Highness the Prince of Wales (1919), Col. Theodore Roosevelt ( a cousin, not the real famous one) and the late Lord Strathcona (Donald Smith).
She also recalled, that school was held in the Hudson's Bay Factor's quarters. The only time The HBCo had factor's quarters was when the Bay was down on the mud flats. This could be about 1904 or thereabouts. She mentions that Donald MacDonald, future deputy of the Dept. of Game and Fisheries, got part of his education there.Maybe. MacDonald, up until Revillon folded just before the end of WW2, was the District manager. Hardly be going to school. HE had a fair education before he got to Nipigon.
Mrs. Thompson speaks of pioneering hardships. Our female readers will please remember these are Mrs. Thompson's words and not ours.
"Women of these days (1929) do not know what it is to have to work. I have always been wearing an apron. I learned the lesson early that if you want anything done you have to do it yourself."
An that's all there is about pioneer hardships. That reporter really missed one golden opportunity.
Again a quote from Mrs. Thompson - " one fond memory was when she cooked flap jacks, stacks of them for the men engaged on construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway. We'll betcha. One fond memory indeed. Cooking pancakes was an early, early job and all over a hot stove. It's not exactly the number one desirable job in the cooking business.
And that's all there is. As we typed we weren't thinking too kindly about that early day reporter. Here he had a goldmine of pioneering information standing right there in front of him. Gotta be a him - a woman reporter would have got enough info to fill several books. Not this guy. All he accidentally comes up with ius that Mrs. Thompson was a cook with a construction gang in the days when the C.P.R. were building their road bed across the north shore of Superior.
Before the C.P.R. built their bridge across the Nipigon River, there was on the west bank and just a little north of the bridge, a small white building that rumour has it was a boarding house. And that Mrs. Thompson either ran the place or cooked there.
As he left, the reporter noted that Mrs. Thompson was a most benevolent person. But she kept the little kids who played around her corner well in line. Ask Andrew Hardy what Mrs. Thompson's nick name was ..."Devil Woman" - she was always chasing the kids who were mucking about in her garden."