Owens, Charles T. (Chuck)
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Memories of the NWT&Y RS


Baker Lake 1948

I arrived in Baker Lake just as winter set in. The official greeting party consisted of Sgt Jack Chestnut, Bill McLaughlin, Mike Young and Hank Hoiland.

I was told that here in the north a shower or bath during the winter wasn't really necessary as working up a sweat in the very cold temperatures would not happen very often. Also there were no washroom amenities whatsoever - number one was just outside and a number two was in the engine room, which was more convenient for getting rid of the bucket if you happen to be the unlucky one, and the wind was blowing.

The one thing that sticks out in mind is the monstrosity of a cook stove that our very good cook Jimmy Petrey had to put up with. This was a wood stove converted to oil. For some reason every once in a while it would quit delivering oil and when this happened the trick was to pull the plug from the wall, this usually happened when it was real hot. Consequently all hell broke loose, the covers went flying, stove pipes came down and soot all over the place, and Jimmy turned from white to black.

There had been several letters and wires sent requesting a new stove but to no avail. Bill McLaughlin, who was now in charge, sent the following message to the CO:

"A new cook stove is urgently required. The cook is terrified."

The answer received was: "Retel please adv ser no, mod, no, mfg, no, and any other pertinent info."

Bill's reply: "Retel have checked stove out completely, no serial no. No model. No manufacturer's name. Mfg must have been ashamed of himself. The cook is still terrified."

Three weeks later we received a brand new enterprize stove. The old one was put out the window as it would not go through the door? It must have been built first and then the quarters built around it.

There are many, many stories to tell about Baker Lake.

Hunters and Baker Lake

Ennadai Lake

Cpl Joe Murree, Tommy Harper and I landed by Norseman in July 1950, to replace Joe McIsaac and his crew who had been there for a year. We were just in time for the airlift of oil supplies for the oncoming year.

A floating dock was constructed, and anchored by butter boxes filled with cement, this was a huge help in unloading the fuel from a Canso aircraft and transferring it to 45 gal drums. Everything went smoothly until one of the Cansos punctured a hole in its hull and had to make a mad dash for shore - and our dock, where it sank. As it pulled along side it gave the dock quite a bump, sending yours truly into the ice cold water. This is not your normal sponge bath taken during freeze-up time.

The last plane arrived before freeze-up, in mid September, bringing some fresh rations along with the mail? What it did not bring was the canteen supplies, in particular tobacco which was to replace the tobacco we had lent the civilian engineers who had been working on the station. This meant we would be out of smokes for a month or so. I can assure you that not a butt, nor anything that even resembled a butt, could be found until Arctic Wings arrived two days before Christmas with a little of oh-be-joyful along with cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco etc. This no doubt created a cloud of smoke over Ennadai Lake, the likes of which has never been seen since.

One other instance occurred while i was on day shift, Jimmy Petrie our cook advised me he was going for a walk and where he was going. This was customary in case something happened to him. Shortly after he left, I heard a crackling noise coming from the kitchen area and went to see what this noise was. As I entered the kitchen area I saw the top of the cook stove was covered in flames and the flames where shooting up the wall.

The cause of this was a bucket of grease someone had put on the top of the stove, there was a huge foam fire extinguisher hanging on the wall. I turned that sucker upside down and it spewed out foam like you wouldn't believe. This killed the fire on top of the stove as well as the fire on the wall. We never did determine who put the bucket of grease on top of the stove. It was fortunate that I was able to get out the back door with the remainder of the foam still pouring out of the extinguisher and not spray some of the civvie engineers working around outside.

While at Ennadai Lake, Cpl. Joe Murree and I built a runway on the ice 5000 feet long 200 ft. wide for use by the Air Force to retrieve the Canso that had cracked up while hauling our fuel and rations the summer before. Construction took approximately three weeks, temperature ranged between minus 52f and minus 38f - quite cool on the hands and heels.

Mine and Tommy Harpers departure from Ennadai Lake after fifteen-plus months at this very isolated station - population four - was without warning.

I just happened to tune into the RCAF frequency of 6240 and heard an A/C calling EI via Morse code, and requesting our weather. His ETA was only forty minutes away. Our weather certainly was not the best: with the ceiling 1000 feet, visibility half a mile, and winds of 30 mph. The lake was very rough with snow squalls, I may have been stretching it a little, but after all there was a good possibility that we could be relieved from this place by Mike Carter and Bill Rogers who where on the A/C.

The pilot on this Canso was a WW2 vet with over 5000 flights under his belt and he had been to Ennadai several times over the last two summers with our fuel supplies and rations.

After unloading the A/C as explained by Bill Rogers in his story which was a little tricky with our twelve foot cedar boat and five hp kicker, it took several trips to load the civilian engineers and their baggage along with any freight coming in along with Mike and Bill. We had very little time to greet our old friends and pass along any info that would be useful to them as the captain was anxious to get on his way before the weather would get worse.

We taxied on up the lake for a ways and then we were off. The lake was very rough and the captain was having quite a time to get the plane up on the step and into the air. It seemed one minute we were airborne and then suddenly we were back in the water. There was water coming down through the blister window and I thought this was one hell of a time to sink. After spending fifteen months or so here, and us with money in the bank and I had 89 days leave coming.

The door to the cockpit had been swinging open giving us a view of what was going on up there. The difficult takeoff was no doubt due to all the weight of the carpenters' tools etc. Once we were in the air, the captain looked back at us with a big smile. At this point I asked Tommy if we should open the bar. I pulled out a twenty-sixer that I had stashed back 15 months ago. Things were looking and feeling quite rosy by the time we arrived in Churchill.

Although it is very difficult to pinpoint any particular incident while serving my seven years with the system, the one that keeps cropping up is from Ennadai. It is a small Eskimo boy about seven years old biting into a small lake trout he had just caught on a homemade fishing apparatus. I thought at the time what a hell of a way for a little Canadian boy to live.

Beaverlodge Lake 1952/54

I arrived in Beaverlodge Lake in September 1952, greeted by WO2 Bill Morris and Cpl. Cameron. Prospecting for uranium was at fever pitch. There were prospectors by the dozen, and anyone else who thought he could make a dollar.

Our radio shack was no palace. It was a building, 20 ft. x 12 ft. which served as a signal office and living quarters. Two double bunks, along with a long wave transmitter and the receivers. There also was an AT-3 short wave transmitter in another small building which was remotely operated. This small station was a very busy place. Our record for one day was 367 messages - mostly commercial.

We also had ground-to-air communications to look after. The most memorable air contact was an aircraft belonging to Eldorado Mining and Refining coming in from Port Radium to Beaverlodge. Our first contact with this A/C was at 1615 hrs. The pilot advised us his ETA was approximately 1700 hrs. Slim Cameron asked him if he would require the flare pots lit. He said no. Shortly thereafter, he requested them as it was getting dark. We were told that only half of the flare pots had fuel and the pilot was advised of this and told to delay his landing until the flare pots could be put in place. The pilot acknowledged receipt of the transmission, but then decided to try to land anyway. He apparently became confused with the lights from some of the trucks heading up to the runway and the flare pots. Consequently he came in crossways to the runway and landed up on the hillside, where he encountered a huge stump that tore off one wing and a motor. The miracle of this whole episode was that none was killed or injured. There were twelve passengers and crew on board along with a huge piece of mining equipment. Immediately, the station became a beehive of activity with everyone wanting to send telegrams. However there was only one control. Bill worked most of the night putting it all together to assure everyone that everything was done correctly.

Bill and I had the job of running the 16mm projector for the theatre and of course one of the pitfalls with this was the cat-calls whenever the reel broke down, but we got used to that.

One of the outstanding things about Beaverlodge was the food we were served in the company dining hall. This was served up by Anne Storm who was the chef and assisted by her husband Charlie. She had staff of approx. 40 and served 1500 hungry miners in an hour and a half with three settings. The food was excellent.

- Charlie (Chick) Owens