Sunday, November 14, 2010

My Grandparents In The Larder Lake Gold Camps

John Haddow worked at the Kerr Mine in Virginiatown from 1909 to 1912. In that last year my uncle Gordon was born, the first of John and Elizabeth’s children to be born in Canada. That same year also saw the closing of the gold mines. The decline in population was dramatic. By early 1907 over 4000 claims had been staked in the area and nearly 2500 men lived in the camps. But the gold proved to be elusive and by 1911 the gold rush was over and the population of the area quickly dropped to about 400 people. A year later when my grandparents left Virginatown it had become a virtual ghost town with less than 100 residents.

His brother Arthur also left the area and headed south to North Bay where his wife Isabel and their children were staying. While there he worked in the bush camps and on March 23, 1916 Arthur enlisted in the Canadian army and served in Europe. Soon after the war the family would be back in the Temiskaming area and would start farming not far from my grandparent’s place.

In 1922 a horrible fire swept through Temiskaming district taking the lives of 43 people and destroying over 1500 homes. To the south, the town of Haileybury was 90 percent destroyed in what would become one of the 10 worst disasters in Canadian history.

Arthur lost everything and his wife was taken to the New Liskeard hospital with injuries. They would keep struggling until late March 1928 when they packed everything up and returned to North Bay where they remained until Arthur’s death in February 1957. Isabel followed him in 1961.

My grandfather was able to get some free land near the small community of Milberta, in Kerns Township, Temiskaming, through a government settlement act. Eventually they would use some of their own meager savings to acquire more.

The land had no buildings on it when they first arrived, so my grandfather arranged to buy a small vacant house on a neighboring property and dragged it over with teams of horses and rollers. Later as the family expanded, more sections would be added to the farm house.

And additions to the family were not long in coming. My father Wilfred was born in September 1914. He was followed by Roy in 1917, Lillian in 1920 and then Vernon.

In those early years my grandfather would bring home some much needed extra cash by working the winter in one of the nearby logging camps.

The settlement of Milberta was founded 15 years before my grandparents arrived and was situated on a hill that gave a view of the surrounding farms. As settlers began pushing further into Temiskaming’s ‘Little Clay Belt’, the community grew. A post office had opened in 1901, and shortly afterwards a one room school. Other businesses included a mercantile store, black smith’s shop, S. Eplett’s store and the T. Newton Hotel. In 1903 a Baptist church followed by a Presbyterian church. Just after my grandparents arrival in the area a small telephone company was formed.

Throughout the war years John Haddow’s farm grew with large acreage of wheat and livestock that not only included cattle, hogs and chickens, but a very large flock of sheep. As a boy I can remember that shearing time was a big affair at the Haddow farm.

In 1925 tragedy struck the family when the oldest son Tom, just 3 months short of his twenty-second birthday, died of a ruptured appendix. In September of that year Tom had been working as a miner at one of the recently re-opened gold mines in Virginiatown. While in the camp he began to develop stomach pains and as the condition worsened he decided to leave the mine site and head home to Milberta.

The return trip must have been brutal, with the last few miles covered on foot. He arrived home on September 17 and unaware that her son was dying of appendicitis, my grandmother Elizabeth tried a number of home remedies including plasters. When it became apparent that Tom’s condition was getting worse he was loaded onto a wagon and taken the 8 miles into New Liskeard where there was a small hospital.

It was here six days after he had staggered home, that he died. He was buried in the Milberta Cemetery not far from the family farm and would one day be joined by his brother Roy and my father Wilfred Haddow.