#5 Manning Depot, Lachine, P.Q.
August 23, 1943
Again, I'm writing to you before I receive your letter, but as long as I have interesting things to write about, I'll do that rather than wait. Right now I have something that may be of interest to Art and Gloria, as well as to you and Dad.
I've just met a very interesting man who worked for the Hudson's Bay Company for fifteen years, and I've just had a long talk with him for the last hour and a half.
As you may already know, there is an Indian Reservation near here and one of the boys had visited the place, and he began to speak about the place, mentioning the Ojiba language. It was then that my new friend, Allan Black ( He's Scottish to the core), told us he could speak the Ojiba, for he had spent sixteen years working at Hudson Bay posts.
To begin with my story, I'll tell you what he looks like. He's about my height, has red hair, a puffy red face, well built, but not too large, has a Scottish accent, and he comes directly from Aberdeen, Scotland. His parents had a farm there, and at the age of nineteen he joined the Company. The Company's head office is in London, England, and agents go all over the country selecting workers. Allan was hired and sent to Nippogan House where he worked for a year and a half under a manager, and then he had the post to himself.
I asked him many questions about the Indians (Ojibas), and he said they were much the same as before. But the Company treats them fairly, since today they have a sense of values, but if you cheat them, you're sunk. They still like highly coloured prints and beads. Their needs are still fairly primitive, and so life, Allan said, was easy in Nippogan House. He learned their language, and found it good to know them, since they are an honest group of people.
He worked for awhile in Long Lac, later went back to Nippogan House for ten years. For six years he was at the Ogoki Post, and just before he joined up he was in the fur buying house in Montreal.
The best season of the year was from November to the end of May, and it was during that time that the Indians brought in fox, ermine, otter, etc. Some of the best trappers are women, such as one older lady, who is over fifty years old, who brought in fifty-five fox furs, which she had caught between November and Christmas.
The system used for valuing the furs was simple: if the skin was worth $20. , he would place twenty matches on the counter. Since the Indians took goods as barter, the matches were removed, but the Indian knew eactly how much money was being offered, and very little real money was used in transactions.
Al!an was the sole white man in Nippogan House, not another one for about two hundred miles away at another Hudson's Bay post. He said it was all right while he was young and could enjoy the marvellous fishing and hunting that was possible, but as he got older, such a life became monotonous. He's now thirty five years old.
He said that things such as sugar were quite expensive since everything had to be flown to the post by aeroplane, and furs went out the same way. Allan made many trips that way, but for most of the year he lived in isolation. When he was at Ogoki and Long Lac he travelled on the C. N. R but he saw little of city life until he worked at the head office in Montreal. Head Office was moved from London, England. to Montreal, Canada, because of the war.
The posts where he worked were all in northern Ontario, but there are about two hundred throughout Canada and Labrador. His salary was $200 a month. In a season, November to May, one Post would collect about $80,000 in furs. During a season an Indian could collect, in barter, up to $1100, so, not only the white man, but the red man made a profit. All that fur catching, drying, buying, tanning and manufacturing goes on just for the rich people who purchase the fur coats, wraps, muffs and choakers. Allan married a girl from Port Arthur, where she is now living with his three year old daughter. It was in Port Arthur that he joined the Air Force.
He had worked for the Company for ten years before he had a vacation, and was then given nine months in Scotland. To me, he seemed like quite a guy, even though he is very unassuming, and appears to be a farmer, even though he has experienced things that very few others have.
Last Sunday, Stewart and I went to La Fontaine Park in Montreal, and looked at all the animals in the zoo, and later paddled a canoe around on the lake- Stewart doing most of the paddling, since I'm not very good at that.
You'll be surprised to know that Willie Clark is boarding at Mrs. Hall's, in Sunny Brae, N. B. where I boarded, before coming here to Manning Depot, Lachine, P. Q.. Willie tried to join Trans Canada Airlines, but failed his medical, was advised of work at Clark-Ruse, took that job, and is now in the Moncton.
By the way, I've got a new pair of glasses from the Air Force.