Part 8 – [Geraldton : An Alternative History]

View looking northeast at First Avenue North in autumn 1936. The key to dating this photo is evidence of the framing of the Strand Theatre immediately north of the Gordon Block. Moving counter-clockwise, one sees the Geraldton Hotel (originally named Morin Hotel). The water tank and tower is owned by the Geraldton Hotel, drawing its supply from Reesor Lake.
Next, an empty lot. Then Daneff’s Store. In the southwest corner of the frame, the Imperial Oil agency for bulk oil and gas. On the right, a lumber pile. The freight cars are parked on the siding. Sitting on top are transients, a few of the many thousands of unemployed men criss-crossing the country during the Depression in search of jobs or, at the very least, sustenance. Beyond them is the CNR Station on the main line. Some of the more adventuresome transients appear to be relaxing on sticks of lumber, while those on the cars are not taking the chance that the train will pull out without them. On the other hand, there are two or three figures at the top of the water tower ̶ are they locals or transients?
In this era, the community has few sidewalks, though there is one from running from the tracks to Daneff’s Store. The car in front of Daneff’s is parked on a ramp, a common structure along Main Street where they bridged the sewer ditches.
It is possible that the flatbed truck belongs to Gerry Reeves, who arrived with the first commercial truck in June 1936. After taking a look around, he was prepared to load his truck and tractor on the train and return to the Lakehead, but he didn’t have the money. Instead, he acquired enough business to found Geraldton Transport.
Incidentally, the summer and fall of ’36 brought a flurry of building construction, giving rise to the label “muskeg metropolis”.
Photo Greenstone History Collection.


The world was in the midst of the great depression when gold
was discovered in the Geraldton area. News of the discovery was
flashed across the country and the unemployed flocked to the area
in hopes of finding employment as the mines began operations.

The CNR had railway police stationed at both Jellicoe and
Longlac and the [hobos] were dispatched from the trains at both
locations. They then had to walk the tracks to Geraldton 21
miles from either [direction]. These poor penniless men had been
without a job for some time, in most cases[. One ]must remember
that there was no [unemployment insurance] or welfare for anyone.
If you didn’t have a job[, too bad;] neither did lots of other people.

They seemed to [congregate] just east of town along the
tracks and settle in. [As] the warm weather came[,] the population of
the Jungle increased. Each morning they walked to the operating
mines looking for work and back again. From Jellicoe mine to
town was about 10 miles on gravel road. They usually returned
very discouraged.

They tried to help and encourage each other and at times
3 or 4 would band together and be real buddies. They shared
all their worldly goods, cut each [other’s] hair, shaved with the
same safety razor and sharpened the blade by rolling it back
and forth inside of a drinking glass[. It] was supposed to sharpen
better if there was a little water in the glass to keep it

A gentleman calling himself King of the Hobos had his picture taken in Geraldton in June 1936. The photo (p. 192 of And the Geraldton Way) shows Charles Pearse in droopy trousers, a cap and suit coat, and a vest plastered with all manner of badges and crests. See the sidebar.

The mines had an arrangement of [staggered paydays]. This
was partly to [accommodate] the two small banks, where the miners
lined up outside the [banks] waiting to get indoors to pick up their
money. [It] also meant that there was no need for large amounts
of money in town at one time. [Paydays occurred once] every week[.
Some] mines paid the [5th and 15th and the others the 10th and 25th] of
the month. [It] was very good for the local economy[;] there was
[always] someone getting paid and going shopping.

[Paydays] were especially good for the Jungle people[. They]
could [panhandle] outside the bank and get some cash for the
necessities of life. Some miners would give money ,but, others
would rather take the [hungry] man into the restaurant for a
meal. One time there was a Jungle man treated to [three full course
meals on one evening.] He was well fed indeed,but, wondered if
he would ever get a few cents to [purchase] a packet of razor blades
or a bar of soap to wash himself and his clothing. [People] who
had been camping in the Jungle did not forget their buddies if
they did get work[; they] would treat their friends to a meal [or]
a drink and sometimes cash till they managed to get work, or
left town.

Back at the Jungle, the men knew it was going to be a long
summer and so they set up a real camping area. Some made [lean
-tos] to protect them on rainy days[; other] went all out and built
log cabins. They could scrounge [boxcar] doors for roofs and
doors for their cabin.

They had an ingenious assortment of hunting and cooking
equipment , and kept a smudge fire going constantly to keep the
flies and mosquitoes away, no fly dope in those days. One could
get a partridge, or [maybe] a squirrel with a slingshot.Their
cooking buckets were castoffs from some previous prospector
who left them behind. Their eating utensils were taken when they
[managed] an infrequent visit to the [restaurant]. Replacements were
always [available] if you could afford a [5-cent cup] of coffee .
The Jungle operated for the summers of 1937, 1938, 1939[.]

In September of 1939[,] World War 11 was declared and the Jungle
[disappeared] forever . The unemployed joined the armed services
and went off to war to serve their country. They were then
certain of 3 meals a day, a change of clothing and a warm bed
at night.

A sidebar . . .

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