Back in 1976 my friend and I decided to try our hand at nickel mining and travelled to the wasteland known as Thompson, Manitoba. The money was great (a staggering $6.30 an hour!) and adventure beckoned as we packed a car full of meagre belongings and, with my friend’s older brother, made the early summer trip from Victoria.
We passed through Winnipeg during a police strike (can you say ‘anarchy’?), I fell in love with ‘Tammy’, a fellow camper in Banff National Park whom I never saw again, and eventually arrived in Thompson, Manitoba, north of the 55th parallel and an excellent vantage spot for viewing the Aurora Borealis. Heading to the hiring office the next day I secured myself a position and started work a few days later. I had no idea what I was getting into.
My job entailed working at 1350 feet below earth in the cold, wet Birchtree mine, digging in mud and rock, eating lunch in a small cave dug into the side of the mine tunnel and enjoying the constant inky blackness. You’ve never seen darkness until you’ve been in a mine. It’s creepy.
Winter is no fun when you’re living north of the 55th parallel. Daylight lasted barely a few hours and there were days when I didn’t see the sun at all, waking in the morning, heading to the mine and returning home well after sunset. It sucked.
Life was a series of (mis)adventures, mostly set in the various bars and pubs, breaking the monotony with occasional 8-hour trips south to Winnipeg. I got tired of it very quickly and, after a near-death experience when a large (very large!) rock fell from the tunnel ceiling and landed 30 feet away, headed back to Victoria in the Spring of 1977.
It was one of those youthful adventures and I’m glad I did it but am even more happy that I had the sense to leave. Mining is not fun. Take it from an ex-miner.