How North Bay Got Rid of Its Inferiority Complex
Until the Quints came along, the frustrated Bay was “a good place to go fishing.” Now it’s a prosperous midway swarming with tourists, flying saucers, nudists, jet planes, would-be millionaires and the most lip-sticked women in the country
NOT SO long ago North Bay, which now among other distinctions claims to be the place where you are most likely to see a flying saucer, had a well-developed inferiority complex.
The reasons for this civic psychosis weren’t readily apparent. Situated on big and splendid Lake Nipissing, 220 miles north of Toronto, it was the oldest large centre in northern Ontario, and the prettiest. In front, the island-studded azure lake faded into a piney postcard horizon at the French River; behind, a high plateau was the advance shield of a range of majestic hills which rolled east to the valley of the upper Ottawa. It chuffed with railway activities; the transcontinental lines of the CPR and the CNR boomed through and it was the base and head office of the Timiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway, now the Ontario Northland Railway. Geography made it the distributing hub of much of northeastern Ontario and a large slice of northwestern Quebec. In short, it was a stable community in a beautiful and strategic location and its people enjoyed a fine standard of living.
But since comparison often jaundices a point of view, North Bay suffered because its yardstick was the spectacular mining area to the north and west —Cobalt, Sudbury, Timmins, Kirkland Lake and Rouyn-Noranda. One by one, as discoveries of silver, nickel, gold and copper were made, the names of these places flared into headlines; their street talk was of millions of dollars, and there was a rush to them from halfway around the globe.
And at North Bay nothing much changed and nothing much happened. The seasons came and went and so did the trains though with bigger pay loads. The citizenry began to feel a frustration akin to (hat of rear-line (roops when confronied with the deeds of the infantry. Seeking some succor, (he Bay grasped determinedly at the (¡tie, Gateway oí the North. The poor old Bay, chuckled residents of the mine towns, it’s a good place to go fishing.
Today all that is changed (hough the pickerel fishing in Lake Nipissing does continue to be among the best anywhere and a fisherman doesn’t have to exaggerate after a day at nearby Trout Lake, either.
The stupefying coincidence of having the Dionne Quintuplets horn just ten miles away near Callander started a tourist traffic which a hyper-active Chamber of Commerce developed as a “curiosity trade” and then, as the Quints grew up, transferred the emphasis onto an “unparalleled” fishing grounds. Now there’s a permanent flow of tourists (hat increases every year and which has become the Bay’s greatest source of income, close to $6 million annually. With obvious relish, North Bay suddenly shoved its neighbors from the limelight and its own position was not diminished at all when North Bay became a link in the continent’s defense chain as a result of construction of a $15 million RCAF base now near completion.
Most bolstering of all to local egos, a large deposit of columbium, a rare strategic metal, was discovered last year at (he spooky Manitou Islands, five miles away. A wild staking rush followed and
Widow of the Bay's founder still livcs in her original house. She's Mrs. Jeannie Ferguson.
BOSS of the RCAF's $15-million air base is an acefrom World War II. W\C John Braham, who wears the DSO and two bars, and the DFC and two bars. It's a major training base for jet crews flying CF-l00s.
was publicized as far away as Australia. That put the Bay in the mining big leagues and, with one eye cocked northward to see if the mine towns were looking, citizens discarded (heir cloaks of self-consciousness.
North Bay’s red-haired mayor, Merle Dickerson, puts it this way: “It’s been painful indeed playing tenth fiddle, but we’ve come into our own. When our mining developments mature, we’ll take over from Sudbury as the largest city in northern Ontario.” The mayor, a stocky blue-eyed individualist, arrived in North Bay in 1939 as a traveling salesman with a line of radios and refrigerators which he has parlayed into a realestate package of sixty apartments and houses.
“But,” warned a booster, “if there’s war with Russia we have one of the world’s leading opportunities of getting blown off the map.”
This is thought unlikely by most residents, yet they’re aware that their city of 20,000, plus 10,000 more in the immediate suburbs, could be prime target material. That’s because an RCAF base begun three years ago on the plateau behind the city houses the chief striking arm of Operation Pine Tree, the joint U. S.-Canadian northern defense system. It’s the major base of the Canadian-built CF-100 jet and the training centre for its crews.
North Bay’s squadrons are alerted and guided by a string of U. S.-manned radar stations and by numerous units of the automatically controlled, Canadian-designed McGill Fence, now in wide operation. Secret installations, some of which are so obviously located they aren’t much of a secret
on the local level, fan into the hinterland north of the city. The swish of aircraft is a constant sound above it; the school kids are so familiar with the whine of engines a lot of them know wit hout looking whether it’s a CF-100, a T-33 training plane or a Sabre which has wandered in from another air force base.
People have reported seeing flying saucers frequently since the RCAF came to town. According to the North Bay Daily Nugget, one of Canada’s most aggressive and successful small dailies— unique in (he fact that it is employee-owned— a total of 10 “official sightings” have occurred since the winter of 1951-52. This inspired the Nugget to state: “There are flying saucers in the sky over
North Bay. They have been seen with amazing regularity. It is virtually certain the objects are ships of revolutionary design flown here from outer space, possibly from another planet in the solar system.”
This brought from a gentleman named Coral E. Lorenzen, who described himself as nat ional director of the Aerial Phenomena Research Organization, of Sturgeon Bay, Wis., a citation in which he said the Nugget was “the first paper in the world to voice its belief in the interplanetary theory as a solution of the flying saucer enigma.”
The Nugget was somewhat nonplussed by this honor. The managing editor, C. M. Fellman, says with a slow grin, “It, does not necessarily follow that the Nugget believes there are little men in the machines. In fact, you might say the Nugget definitely does not believe there are little men in them.”
The saucer-sighters invariably saw orange-reddish balls at night and silvery stars by day. Many doubted their own eyesight until the RCAF announced two sightings. WO W. J. Yeo, a telecommunications superintendent with 16 years service, and Sgt. D. V. Crandell, an instrument technician, saw a red ball darting about above the base for eight minutes and 43 seconds Jan. 1, 1952, as they flooded a skating rink on the station. Four months later, WO E. H. Rossell, a man with 13 years service, and Fit. Sgt. Reg McRae saw a similar apparition over the base as they drove in a car toward North Bay. Both incidents were officially reported to RCAF intelligence at Ottawa. Since then the lid has been on any further sightings by personnel.
But flying saucers are chiefly a wintertime preoccupation in North Bay; in summer, citizens are too busy with the tourists to bother with them. Main Street in July is as congested as a county fair with garishly garbed visitors pushing past airmen, railroaders, diamond drillers, lumbermen, Indians from the reserve just west of the city and chic housewives pushing baby buggies.
More Lipstick Per Head
The railroaders are the major working force in the city. They are on their way to the CPR yards near the lake, or the CNR station in the centre of town, or the new Diesel shops completed in the east end by the Ontario Northland. There are four diamonddrilling companies in town. The Indians are heading for the regional office of the Indian Affairs Branch or the regional office of the Ontario Department of Lands and Forests, or maybe they are just on a good time. The housewives feel they have a national reputation for being chic; a consumer survey reported they buy the most lipstick per capita in Canada.
Tourists number about half a million a year and about forty percent are Americans. They spend about $5,700,000 annually which is more than the combined payrolls of the three railways. In spite of the fact that the nearest point of entry is 265 miles away at Sault Ste. Marie and Americans have abundant opportunity to exchange their funds before reaching North Bay, more than $1,600,000 of U. S. money passes through the city’s banks each year.
The visitors bed down in 377 resorts, of every description and degree, within a 40-mile radius of the city. They can choose attractive motel rooms on Highway 11 or Highway 17, housekeeping cottages with three-piece bath, overnight cabins or backwoods camps accessible only by boat or bush plane. The clean green land teems with game and many camps open early in the spring for the bear hunt and late in the fall for the deer hunt.
On the northern highway to Timagami and the eastern highway to Timiskaming, deer can often be seen at the roadside. Occasionally a bear or moose wanders into the populated outskirts. Last summer golfers at the North Bay club had a double hazard for a couple of weeks: the course is located near
the end of the east-west runway at the air base and jets blasted across at treetop level as players fidgeted with drives and putts; meanwhile, a bear skulked in the bushes, frightening several women into double bogeys.
The district’s most bizarre resort is the Sun-Air Freedom Lovers club, a nudist colony on a small pretty lake eight miles east of the city. Here devotees get together in the altogether from all sections of the U. S. and Canada. Peeping Toms haven’t much of a look-in for the place is surrounded by steep wooded hills and the only entry is by a bush road the nudists hacked out themselves.
Though baked in the sun, North Bay’s nudists are extremely thinskinned. A telephone line is strung along trees on the bush road to the camp and visitors are supposed to phone into the camp before entering. But the day l visited the place the telephone wasn’t working, so I drove right in. The lake glittered between fine white birches. A man with a bald head, wearing brown running shoes, emerged from the bushes and approached my car suspiciously. Behind him were three women. They wore white running shoes, pink running shoes and blue running shoes.
I explained I was a reporter and mv guileless countenance apparently melted all suspicion for soon I was receiving a long dissertation on the philosophy of nudism. I was invited to have a swim in the lake and I took one in my birthday suit.
The North Bay nudists, a highly moral group, were shocked when a man who was charged in police court in southern Ontario with having obscene photographs said they were taken at the North Bay camp. Actually, they were routine photos such as nudists seem to delight in taking of each other.
What is probably Canada’s most concentrated tourist area extends along the shore of Lake Nipissing just southeast of the city. Here in a five-mile strip are 55 camps which can accommodate 2,700 people. They are filled from June to September. Hub of the area is Sunset Park, haunt of artists and professional wrestlers, who work out on the gleaming sand. Tim Horton, defense star of the Toronto Maple Leafs runs a gas station. Susie Turner, former Balmy Beach footballer, operates a miniature golf course.
In the early boom, after the birth of the Quints, Americans sometimes turned up in July equipped with snowshoes but today they are too well-informed for that. Instead they bring water skis and race along the waterfront behind high-speed boats. Shad flies emerge from the lake by the millions early in June but are gone by the time the season is properly under way.
Lake Nipissing, fifty miles long and twenty wide, its shore shaded by trees, has an excellent beach on its east side. The grade is so gradual that toddlers can safely run at large. Motel operator Orm Churchill has a standing offer of a dollar for every stone that’s found as far out as a man can walk. No one has collected.
The lake is considered America’s best breeding reservoir for pickerel, known to Americans as walleyes and therefore labeled such in literature of the Chamber of Commerce. Because of the good breeding and feeding conditions the heaviest fishing doesn’t seem to deplete the lake.
Since the Quints, now grown young women, left the district the Chamber has turned to the pickerel as the next best attraction. The chamber’s membership is one of the largest per capita in Canada, with more than 500 paid-up members. More than 25,000 enquiries are made each year at the chamber’s bungalow headquarters where secretary-manager Bruce McLeod and a staff of three dispense information.
“Only a small fraction of newcomers to the district come to ourií fice; most tourists are now repeaters,” says McLeod, a former journalist who sparks the unrelenting campaign to attract visitors. The chamber dispatches 30,000 packages of vacation literature each year. Delegations make regular junkets to sportsmen’s shows in the U. S.
Mass fishing, probably unduplicated anywhere, occurs when the pickerel season opens in May. Sometimes 600 boats ranging from leaky punts to landing barges are jammed together in a strip a few hundred yards offshore where the fish come in to spawn in the early spring. On the long public dock jutting from the heart of the city there’s a forest of fishing poles. If you don’t look out, you’ll get hit on the head by a flying fish, as grandfathers, stenographers and schoolboys yank them in. They’re taken by the tens of thousands (ill well into June when the heat disperses them to colder water at the centre of the lake. Every once in a while game wardens nab somebody with 150 or more. The daily limit for pickerel is six, a fact that seems to deter no one except the wardens.
Hut Nipissing’s friendliness is as treacherous as the smile of a poisoner. Scarcely a year passes without several drownings when boats are swamped by the huge seas which rise suddenly before strong winds. It’s advisable to stay near shore unless you’re equipped with at least a 16-foot boat with a ten hp motor. The lake’s major tragedy occurred Nov. 7. 1892, when 27 men drowned as the John H. Fraser, a boat transporting lumberjacks, burned and sank. Every year the waters trap dozens of people overnight on the five Manitou Islands.
Islands Make Them Sick
These curious, densely wooded islands were t he scene of the discovery of columbium mixed wit h uranium and tantalum which set the district on its ear. They have long been considered a hoodoo by both white men and Indians and were apparently a single island when Champlain made his initial trip through the district in 1615; his journals report an island with a lake in the centre, which can’t be found today. The tribe at the lake was widely known and feared as sorcerers by the Hurons and Ottawas, though Champlain reports that the Hurons bought fish from them. The modern Indian avoids the islands and insists that anyone who stays overnight on them wiil get sick. There’s the fairly implausible possibility that intense radioactivity, as turned up by Geiger counters in the columbium discovery, may in the past have been strong enough to cause illness.
The radioactivity, which led to the discovery, was first noted two years ago by an American tourist who seems to have had a Geiger counter along just for sport. He mentioned it to Martin Vanclieaf, a veteran prospector who was associated with James Kenmey, an ex-Noranda field man who had earlier revived a defunct mica mine east of the city. When rock from the islands was identified as pyrochlore, Kenmey recognized it as the host of the “jet-age” metals, columbium and tantalum, hitherto produced in tiny quantities in Africa and Norway and also a minute byproduct of some metallurgical processes in the United States. Diamond drilling showed the metals were present in great quantity, with about 15 times as much columbium as tantalum.
Columbium is a top-priority defense metal which is being avidly stockpiled by the West. In the rock, it is brownish-black. It becomes grey
when treated. Its peculiar merit is an ability to remove brittleness from super-temperature alloys. It is vital in the manufacture of jet engines, for it can make them last twice as long. It’s also essential for rockets used in warfare, and has several secret uses in guns. Its civilian uses have never been fully developed because there hasn’t been enough of it. Generally, it should be used in all alloys subject to a temperature in excess of 800 Fahrenheit. Its own melting point is a phenomenal 4,370 degrees.
When the news got out more than 4,000 claims were staked in a stampede along the lakeshore, through the city and into the townships behind it. Amateurs staked private homes, the city dump, the big limestone Roman Catholic Pro-Cathedral of the Assumption. cemeteries, summer cottages and the city waterworks. The township of West Ferris, guided by Reeve John L. Shaw, who had co-owned Great Manitou Island till he sold it to the Inspiration Mining and Development Company for a large block of stock, abruptly withdrew sale of public lands. Promoters roamed the countryside, trying to make deals with farmers and settlers.
Newspaper editors and the public didn’t know columbium from Swiss cheese and, in fact, thought the uranium, just below commercial grade, was the major ingredient in the discovery. Hut the bulk of the staking of built-up areas was on private property on which the registered owner already held mineral rights. Invasion of private lands without the consent of the owners was illegal and hence the staking was also void. The confusion was spectacular and resulted in widespread publicity. The stock of Inspiration Mining and Development Company, a local diamond drilling firm which had obtained control of the find by agreeing to drill it, rocketed from 70 cents to $5.10 within a week.
North Hay had always been a town of stock-market plungers; now a frenzy held the community. The number of accounts at the Draper Dobie brokerage office leaped from 2,200 to 3,000. to establish some kind of a per capita record for speculation. The office didn’t have air conditioning and although it was twenty below outside a girl was detailed to keep opening the door to let the cigar and cigarette smoke out. The stock hurtled past on the hazy tape by the bushel as shop girls, clerks, doctors, dentists, schoolteachers, railroaders, merchants, mechanics and everybody else with a few' hundred dollars watched with feverish eyes.
It dived to $2.65; some were forced out, others mortgaged homes and cars to keep it. It rushed forward again to $5.10. Some got out at this point, others held, expecting it would go to $10 when a much-anticipated engineer’s report, fortified by glowing rumors, was made public. Hut the report said much of the ore was inaccessible because it was too close to the bottom of the lake; it had become clear, too, that a major metallurgical problem faced those who wished to extract it from the pyrochlores. The stock plunged; many lost their shirts; to them the Manitous were indeed a hoodoo.
Since then, additional diamond drilling has revealed an immense and accessible ore body running up to fifteen million tons. The stock moves today between $2 and $2.50.
The whole giddy situation was recorded in detail in the Daily Nugget, as is almost everything else in the Bay. The Nugget came into the hands of its staff in,-1948, following the death of W. E. Mrson, an irascible publisher who also a vned the Sudbury Daily Star and radio station CKSO at Sudbury. Mason,* noted for tightfistedness, and a man who made numerous enemies by stick-wielding editorial policies, astonished many people by outlining. shortly before his death, a plan whereby Nugget employees could get the paper for nothing down. Moreover he offered to toss in $10,000 as working capital till the employees made some money of their own. The plan was carried out by his executors at a purchase price of $240,000 including the advance of $10,000. Each employee shared according to length of service and position.
“The stories about the old man’s roughness and toughness are an injustice to him. Where will you find somebody else who would do what he did for us?” asks Jack L. Grainger, now president of the Nugget. Grainger, 39, started as a printer’s apprentice.
The 55 new owners hoped they could pay off the estate in seven to nine years but under a directorate of editorial executives they did it in five. This year the paper will move into a new building erected at a cost of $150,000 on Worthington Street. Circulation has jumped from 8,000 to more than 12,000 and advertising linage has increased from four million lines when the employees took over to six million lines a year now.
The Nugget probably covers its area as well as any Canadian newspaper, large or small. To get the news it spends money on a scale comparable with dailies twenty times its size. Many of its stories have a bushland background; it hires more airplanes than all other provincial dailies in Ontario together.
Springboard to The Scotsman
North Bay is a rabid hockey town; its rivalry with Sudbury reaches a near-maniacal pitch when the hometown Trappers engage Sudbury Wolves. The Bay considers itself the underdog and its sweetest triumph occurred two years ago when the Trappers knocked the Wolves out of the Senior OHA playdowns with an overtime goal after a five-game series. However, since then the Wolves have been regularly walloping the Trappers. North Bay will soon have a new stadium, for the taxpayers approved a $400,000 structure at the last election.
North Bay’s radio station CFCH, the first station in northern Ontario, was built by Roy H. Thomson in 1931. It turned out to be the small springboard which launched Thomson’s fabulous career in radio promotion and newspaper publishing the latest acquisition of which was The Scotsman in Edinburgh.
The founder of North Bay was an earlier financial genius named John Ferguson who at the age of 21 guaranteed himself millionairehood by a single deed. In 1881 during construction of the CPR between Mattawa and Lake Nipissing he had a job delivering mail on horseback to an advance party working at the lake. He guessed immediately that a divisional point would be established there, hurried to Toronto and for $150 obtained a settler’s title to a huge sector of lakeshore. He was right and today all of North Bay east of Algonquin Boulevard and all the lakeshore southeast lo Sunset Park is on land he acquired.
North Bay got. its name when Ferguson wrote the words on a keg of nails he wanted delivered to the northern bay of the lake. He built the district’s first residence which is today hidden behind a business block on Main Street. He also acquired most of the site of the town of Callander, which he named after his home in
Scotland. Ferguson died in 1946. His widow, Jeannie, still lives in the big rambling house behind the line of stores. Walking into it is like being time-machined back into another era. It is furnished beautifully in the mode of the 1880s and is perfectly maintained.
A fabulous personality at North Bay before the turn of the century was Judge John Doran, who dispensed justice frontier style. His son. J. J. Doran, turned out to be a heavyweight boxer of near-championship calibre. He bought a town hotel and did his own
chucking-out. Later, he established the north’s first brewery at Sudbury. Now in his seventies, he owns five breweries scattered across northern Ontario.
The Grand Trunk Pacific reached the Bay from Toronto in 1899. Then in 1902, the Timiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway got started toward Cobalt, and was later extended to James Bay. In 1915 the CNR main line was completed across northern Ontario. Because of its location. North Bay became site of northern Ontario’s only Normal school, which has trained hundreds of teachers for frontier
schools. Scollard Hall, a Roman Catholic secondary school for boys, and St. Joseph’s College, a school for girls, were built at North Bay for the same reason. Currently under construction is a $9 million mental home which will serve all northern Ontario. And next on the list, thinks Mayor Dickerson, should be a University of Northern Ontario. “We are not prissy about titles today,” he says, “but you could legitimately call us the Capital of the North.” The Mayor, it turns out, hasn’t seen any flying saucers. But he expects to any evening.