The next morning was a cold one. I woke up to the sound of a pair of ravens beckoning Pappa to come out to feed them (he has them trained, which is not surprising since he has a long history of adopting wild animals). The yard was heavily covered in frost, and the water buckets beneath the eaves troughs had frozen over completely.
Going upstairs, I smelled something familiar. Pappa had started a pile of homemade pancakes, a staple of my early childhood and a recipe that he often used while living out in the bush. I distinctly remember one time as a child that he convinced me that his buckwheat pancakes tasted best with molasses rather than syrup, since syrup won’t keep out in the middle of nowhere. Idiot child that I was, I poured that blackstrap molasses all over my pancakes only to discover that it is about as edible as road tar.
After breakfast it was off to the mine site. My brother and I made picnic lunches for everyone, Pappa and Mona grabbed their walking sticks, and we headed out of town under low, gray clouds.
“Now the road that we’ll take,” Pappa told us on the way out, “is built on the trail I blazed before the mine started.”
In my mind, this meant that meant that we would move down a stretch of a kilometer or two. Instead, that bloody road ran closer to ten. And if the brush on either side of it was any indication of what it once looked like, blazing that trail would have been a heck of a job.
After parking the cars and bundling up, we walked past the gates to the old mine site to my mother’s first playground. It was next to the site where Pappa’s trailer had been, a big flat stretch of rock surrounded by birch trees and covered in lichen. While I was busy taking pictures and playing with my tripod, Mona wandered off up the trail and the three of us spent a frantic twenty minutes trying to find her again.
Mona now recovered (she had just hiked up to Rooster Rock and back while we were fussing over a rather boring patch of ground), we set off further into the site. The sun was finally starting to peer through the clouds and the air was warm enough that my face no longer felt like it was going to get sheared off by the wind. Before long we had reached the top of a gentle incline that was topped by a large square of concrete blocks.
“That,” Pappa told us, “is Stanrock 1.”
Stanrock 1 was a uranium mine shaft that ran down something like 3800 feet, and it had once been capped by a structure that Pappa described in great detail but about which I can remember virtually nothing. I remember him saying that it was the first of its kind in some way, and that it worked very well, and that he helped design it, but that was all peppered through technical mining jargon that flew right past me.
More interestingly, Pappa said that Lester B. Pearson, former Prime Minister of Canada and MP for Algoma, had once arrived there on a surprise visit with a bunch of dignitaries. Pappa said that Pearson had ended up getting his shoes into a puddle of machine oil and Pappa had to help clean them off. That was the first time I had ever heard about Pappa meeting a Canadian Prime Minister. Somehow, in all the stories he has told me, that one only now made the cut.