Stolen beer and other tales from Timmins pioneer times – by Karen Bachmann (The Daily Press – June 10, 2011)

The Daily Press is the newspaper of record for the city of Timmins. Karen Bachmann is the director/curator of the Timmins Museum and a local author.

HISTORY: Jack Andrews shares stories from working at well-known stopping place along the famous Porcupine Trail

Jack Andrews was an early pioneer in the Porcupine Camp whose story was collected by Magne Stortroen and the Porcupine Camp Historical Society.

Andrews was born in Renfrew County in 1885 and came to work firstly in Englehart in 1907. He ventured north to Cochrane in 1910 but, seeing “nothing to suit me,” he went back to Kelso and worked for J.B. Crawford and Alfred Reamsbottom. In our third and final installment of oral histories, Jack Andrews recounts what it was like to work at a “stopping place” along the famous Porcupine Trail.

“We were in a favourable spot because we were just half-way between Kelso and Porcupine. And we got a lot of trade on that account. The train used to stop at Kelso in the evening and the stages would load up and start to Porcupine.

“Well, they’d get to our place about eleven o’clock at night and we’d have a big meal ready for them. I remember feeding 70 people at night there. I had to get up and help the cookie serve the meals, sometimes, when he was pressed for help. And of course, take the money, that was my particular job!”

“I have no idea how many teams of horses were on the road that year (1910), but I believe that there were perhaps 200 teams. It wasn’t uncommon to see them with a big piece of machinery and three or four teams of horses hitched on to it, because they were taking in the first machinery then for the Hollinger Mill and the Dome Mill.

“They hauled in a lot of machinery that winter – and all the supplies and everything that was coming in, it was terrific! A little booze too!

“The first fall I was there, there was a fellow named George Reekin in Kelso and he had a hotel there and he was very sorry for the people having to drink the water in here and he thought he’d help them out by getting a carload (train car) of beer in kegs and he was shipping them into the Porcupine by wagon as far as Connaught, and by boat up to Hoyle and then by jumper the rest of the way in, you see.

“One of his fellows came as far as our camp, one night, with the load on the wagon and they took him in to give him his supper. Well, while he was eating, a couple of fellows removed a couple of kegs from his wagon. He didn’t notice until he got to Connaught – he came back looking for them but never found ’em.

“When the camp broke up, the empty kegs were found and returned to George Reekin in Kelso – he was a pretty tough guy and we didn’t want to tangle with him.

“I once heard that one can of liquor changed ownership four times between Kelso and Porcupine and wasn’t paid for either, any time – it had been stolen four times during the course of the trip.

“Wages at the time, as I recall were $50 a month plus board for the teamsters – taking care of their horses and driving and everything got them an extra $10 a month. A common rate for a labourer at that time was $2 a day with board.

“Wages in lumber camps of course would be lower. I believe we paid our cooks $75 a month, and would go as high as $100 – a good cook was a treasure and a few dollars extra for a good one was money well spent.

“The sleighs used for passengers were mostly three-seated open sleighs, usually consisting of twin bob-sleighs with a box and seats. They would seat about nine people including the driver.

“The passengers, of course, had to protect themselves against the weather because the sleighs were open, they weren’t covered. Balaclava caps sometimes covered with a large paper bag were common. Fur caps pulled down were also popular.

“A sleigh of this type would carry about nine persons. The sleighs used for freight were common bob-sleighs used in lumber camps. They were fitted with racks to suit the character of the load.

“Policing was carried out by the OPP, who were few in number. There was little real crime. Running booze of course, while quite illegal, was not considered a crime.

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