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My Youth in the North

By William Henry Crandall

These are four undated and unsigned pages written by William Henry Crandall, father of Robert Hunter Crandall, around 1958. The pages are unsigned, but RHC recognizes the handwriting, and although undated they are written on the back of old documents dated as late as 12 December 1958.

Whatever it was that prompted me to leaving my comfortable home in New Brunswick to help build a railroad in Northern Quebec, I will never know. Perhaps it was just itchy feet. In any case as a kid of sixteen with a high school graduation behind me, I thought all I had to do was to offer my services, work hard and in a short time I would have the world at my feet. I guess every kid has a similar idea, perhaps it is all to the good that they have. My destination was a place called Davy Lake, which is located about ten miles north of the present town of Amos, Quebec, which at that time was called Hurricane River. (It is) spread along a right-of-way of what is now the Transcontinental Railway. At intervals of approximately ten miles were the engineering crews that were to survey and construct the new railway. Log cabins, six or eight at each residency had been constructed on rivers and lakes the previous winter.

My job was to be a roadman with the Davy Lake crew. I arrived at the end of steel on the T&NO (?) railway from North Bay, crossed Lake Abitibi on a flat bottom, side wheeled boat which landed me at a place called Molesworth River. From there I had to walk, a distance of 35 miles following a well beaten path which was he preliminary line of he future railroad. I didn’t like that walk. I had been told to stop at the various residences for food and shelter. At each stop I had my leg pulled plenty, the stories I was told about timber wolves, side hill gaudgers (?) and tree squeaks my hair stand on end and I was a very thankful boy when I arrived at my destination and was assigned to my quarters.

After two months at Davy Lake the crew was split up and I was sent to a new location known as Beaver Dam. Ten miles west of Davy Lake, Beaver Dam was an ideal location situated on a lake one half miles from the right of way in a deal flat country of jack pine. Three of the crew were from my home province, which helped a lot as in spite of the fct that I was terribly homesick I started to enjoy life in the wilds.

We had been at our new location a short time when I discovered that the lake was full of fish and the woods full of partridge and other small game. We did not have a firearm of any description in the camp but I found the birds so tame that I tried snaing them with a rabbit wire on the end of a jack pine pole. This worked all right and as a result I supplied the crew with a partridge meal once a week.

The days passed quickly, black flies were our worst enemies, and they certainly made our lives miserable. But, with plenty of fly dope in the day-time and a fly net cover our beds at night we managed to survive.

Partridge started to get scarce around the camp so I had to hunt further afield. On one of these expeditions and just as I was about to slip my rabbit wire snare over the head of a partridge, the woods echoed with the most dismal how that I had ever heard. I froze in my tracks. I was scared. I thought of all the stores that I had heard about timber wolves and figured, well, this is it. I don’t know how long I stood fully expecting to have an animal of some kind jump on my back, but when nothing happened I became braver and turned my head to search the woods as far as I could see in each direction. I was further assured when I did not see a pack of snarling wolves and made short tours of exploration in different directions. I was attracted finally by a whine from some small animal. Following the sound I came upon the strangest sight that I have ever seen. Sprad around in an area about six feet in diameter were seven small puppies scarcely bigger than new born kittens, while lying helplessly on her back was the mother. It was obvious that she was too weak to tend to her brood but when I approached a little closer she became a raging demon. Fangs flashing and snapping, she attempted to get on her feet in a last attempt to protect her babies. Her attempt was a sad failure and finally she collapsed and lay still watching me, meanwhile, with eyes that seemed to be pink in color. The mother was pure white. In my early school days I had known a boy with pink eyes and white hair. He was called an albino so I figured this mother must been an albino dog even though I had never heard of one.