My father-in-law, “Ole Hec” McQuarrie was a colourful, ebullient hardrock shaftman and nowhere was this more evident than at table No. 7 (Ole Hec’s table) at Albert’s Hotel, Timmins, Ontario.
George Hector McQuarrie was born in Dartmouth Nova Scotia, was orphaned at an early age and raised by a doting aunt. He was educated in private school where he excelled in mathematics. Things went smoothly until the summer he turned 18 and got a job in a gold mine in Moose River Nova Scotia. He liked mining and would not return to school. By 19 he was working in the shaft.
Cobalt was the hot spot in mining then so Hector said goodbye to Moose River and headed to silver. He started in a shaft being sunk by the well-known shaft contractor Foghorn MacDonald and it wasn’t long before he was leading a shift. When Foghorn was awarded the contract to sink the shafts and do the connecting work for the world famous compressed air plant at Ragged Chutes, he named Hec as leader of the “Nova Scotian” unit. Foghorn always kept the Cape Breton ex-coal miners on one shift and the Nova Scotian “herring chokers” on another shift to avoid dissension (and broken heads).
Hec convinced his “best girl” Elizabeth (Libby) Miller, back in Moose River, that he would have a house and a minister waiting when she arrived in Cobalt. Wedding plans were made by mail and telegraph. It was a 3-day train ride for Libby. Hec and his wedding party arrived at the station only to be advised that the train would be five hours late, so they held an impromptu bachelor party at a local bootlegger’s.
As it worked out, the train was but two hours late and when the wide-eyed bride arrived there wasn’t a soul to meet her. She waited and waited and was ogled and spoken to by nearly every miner that saw her. After being propositioned several times, she hid in the washroom and cried her eyes out.
About the time Hec and his buddies arrived, Libby was considering slashing her wrists. But they picked her up and loaded everyone into the buckboards and galloped off to the Reverend’s house, singing a song about Cobalt (if you don’t live there it’s your fault, etc. etc). The minister’s wife thought the bride was all dewy-eyed from happiness but, in truth, Libby was scared stiff.
A handsome miner names MacIsaac kept hugging the minister’s wife during the ceremony but they finally got the knot tied and everyone headed for the reception hall. With a shortage of dancing partners, the MacDougall brothers canvassed the local brothels and soon there were gals galore. Libby thought these beautifully dressed women were the miners’ girlfriends and their make up and jewelry amazed her.
When the usual Nova Scotia versus Cape Breton discussions took place, Hec’s new suit was ripped apart and he had a black eye that made him look like a raccoon. Hec and Libby were escorted to their new home where the party continued and Libby’s introduction to life in a boomtown was to make coffee and eggs for a group of hung-over miners and tired hookers. Her new husband slept on the floor.
The best man got around to giving Libby the ring in a couple of days and she had serious thoughts about pawning it and returning to Moose Jaw but, with Hec on his good behavior, he convinced her he loved her and that the shiner would soon be gone. Life straightened away and Hec sunk shafts all around Cobalt and when the Porcupine boomed he moved Libby and the two girls to Timmins. He was rock superintendent on the Abitibi Canyon job, worked on the Hoover dam in Arizona, sunk shafts at St. Anthony, Blue Quartz, Coulson, Faymar, Disantis, Thomas Ogden. Hec had not seen large shafts until he arrived in the Porcupine.
Hec built a new house on Elm Street South and moved Libby and the six little girls. I married daughter No. 3 and couldn’t have done better if I had written the specifications.
Ole Hec’ famous hat hung on the back porch for nearly three years after he passed on and it seemed nobody really wanted to take it down. I think they half expected him to come charging up the back steps fuming at himself for forgetting it.