May 21, 1939

Yellowknife, N. W. T.

May 21 /39.

Dear Mother:

I really should have written this letter some time ago as we have had three planes in here bringing mail already.  The season was much shorter than last year and the end of breakup came so quickly that it took everybody some time to realise that it had actually occurred.

I kept up my diary for a while so I might as well fashion my letter to it while it lasts.  An April 14th Page McPhee went south for the last time before breakup with AW6 and on the same day George Gilmour arrived, much overdue, with Bud Potter’s old plane the Fox Moth.  Its floats are here so of course it stayed over breakup.

April 17  Frank Smythe went south to Edmonton with the Hornet taking Bill McDonald.  Doug. Wilmot was in here today having obtained a transfer from the job of managing the camp of eight at the Jade Group to that of real prospecting.  He is out now with only one companion with a salary nearly double mine and equal to that of our first class prospectors.

April 19th    Gilmour went south to McMurray via Goldfields returning 21st.  On this day we had a partial eclipse of the sun.

April 21  The operations of the taxi came to an abrupt end today.  It was proceeding along quite close to the island here and about 100 yds from where the tractor had gone thru the ice earlier in the winter when it began to sink.  The passengers bailed out hurriedly but for some reason it was fifteen minutes before it broke thru the ice.  It went down backwards into fifteen feet of water and just the bumper and headlights were showing.  If it had gone down quickly the passengers would mostly [sic] certainly have been trapped as the only door is right at the back on which the car was resting.  

We don’t know what the taxi was doing out there.  The ice didn’t even look good and in places wouldn’t even hold a person as I found out when one foot went through.

A few days later the taxi was hauled out with a block and tackle—how I don’t know.

Mon 24  Gilmour south to Goldfields and back the next day with Bill Jewitt.  There is some open water between here and the Island but is still good walking to town.  We had our first softball of the season playing on the ice.  I think we started earlier last year but the ice conditions seem much different this year and the snow seemed to take a long time to melt thus making it dry enough.

Sat 29  Gilmour made a round trip to Goldfields taking Bill Jewitt back.  On his return he had a ticklish time jockeying the ship up to the slip-way for the last time on skiis [sic] as the ice conditions were very bad.  There is hardly any ice between here and the Island now.  Eric and I took a long walk on the ice south past the Negus and found the ice was still 3 to 3½ feet thick here.  The fishermen had cut holes in the ice to put in the nets and said it was no joke digging through three feet of ice particularly as about ten are necessary for a net; the net being pushed from one hole to the next underneath the ice sith a pole.

Friday 5th May.  The first mail arrives about 5:15 with the fast Beachcraft.  Ice conditions and shallow depth in the narrows at town prevented the plane landing their [sic] but is [sic] was able to find an open stretch in the Yellowknife River about three miles away.  Surely this must be an all time record.  The event didn’t seem to cause nearly so much excitement as last year probably because the breakup period was so short.  This plane had all the first class mail and the next plane bringing both first and seconds class arrived on

May 11, again landing in the river.  The lake is far lower than last year and the harbour at the original camp site is practically dry land.

May 13  We had the sailing boat out for the first time of the season.  There was quite a bit of loose ice floating in the narrows here and we had to do a lot of manouvering [sic] before we could find an opening into the open water but then it was good sailing accross [sic] the bay and back.  The following day we attempted sailing again and after a great deal of pushing managed to reach the Island about 100 yds from shore but further progress to open water was seen to be impossible and now shifting ice had also prevented retreat.  We were marooned on the Island for an hour until a new passage had opened.  After this the boat had to have the paint work touched up having lost a great deal scrapping against the ice.

May 18  Gilmour took his plane out today for a short test hop on floats.  The following day flying was again impossible as the narrows had again filled up completely with broken ice.

May 21 being Sunday we decided to take our lunches and sail the whole day.  So naturally Sunday was the worst day of the week, not much wind, no sun and sometimes rain.  Anyway we headed south and reached the Indian village by 11:00.  Further progress in this direction was impossible as the ice had not broken at all so we landed and explored the village.  There was not a living thing there, the whole village from the oldest squaw to the youngest papoose, had moved out probably on a trapping expedition taking with them their army of dogs.  All the cabins were crudely padlocked but we peered thru the windows of nearly all of them trying to get a suggestion of in what condition they lived.  Most of them had fairly good stoves and were one-roomed, some had beds, tables and chairs, all were very dirty and looked as if they had been recently sacked.  The chiefs cabin was the only one that had shutters on the windows but in the one next to his, probably belonging to one of his kin, we saw a very new-looking portable gramophone and some field glasses.  

Each house had a nearby building made of poles in which were stored the dog sleighs and harness fishing nets and drying fish the stench from the latter being nauseating.  The fish appeared to be the only food they had.  On the beach we found two old rusty gun barrels, obviously muzzle-loaders, and these were the only indications of the age of the village.  Even the crosses in the graveyard had no names or dates but some appeared to be quite ancient.

In the afternoon we headed north up the bay and got quite close to the mouth of the Yellowknife River but it was to [sic] shallow for the boat here and we headed for home just in time too as we were almost ice-locked.

The Ryan claims, for which CM&S paid half a million seemed to be proving a complete dud and operations in this shaft may be closed before long.  The property although in a stage of production loses thousands of dollars each month and even if closed tomorrow will have cost over $750,000.  The Con shaft is making a handsome profit though and has got enough ore blocked out to last at least to the end of the year.

Work in the office has been quite slack lately and I have been able to turn my attention to other than my usual work.  But with the mail coming in again bringing lots of invoices etc we will soon be back to normal.

Today is the 24th of May and I am taking a holiday but don’t know how to spend it.

I had a letter from Bert Swann yesterday and he told me the unwelcome news that Dick and two other Phi Kapps had failed to graduate.  This was the first news I had had of the exam results.  Bert said that over 50% of the graduating commerce class had failed and when that number does it must be the fault of the faculty rather than the students.  Which doesn’t help the matter I am sorry to say.

I suppose there is some sort of American tournament today as it is a holiday and I expect you will all be playing.  I wish I was there too.  I wonder if I would still no [sic] how to hold the racquet.

With love from


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