Part 7 – [Geraldton : An Alternative History}]

Geraldton CNR station (two-storey building) and express office, looking northwest in 1938. The original water tower stands behind the Geraldton Hotel. All photos from Greenstone History Collection.


The C.N.R. Station was the meeting place for all the citizens
of Geraldton[. Every] evening ,about 8 p.m. rain [or] shine,
all ventured to the station to greet new people arriving or
to wave goodbye to those leaving.

The first station master was Mr. Rtiza (sic) and the first and
only telegraph operator was Chuck [McLeod,] who arrived from Jellicoe
in 1935 and stayed all his working [life]; Chuck died in 1975.

If the old station could tell stories[,] it would relate many
happy and many sad tales. It is now a summer camp at Wild Goose
Lake, moved there by Nick Ewacha and renamed Hooterville.

Frequently on a Sunday morning a happy young couple took the
train to Hornepayne to be married. Rev. Bradbury and his gracious
wife welcomed all. At time they even had to provide the witnesses,
and always Mrs. Bradbury served tea. Then it was back to
the station for the trip home to Geraldton to begin a life of
married bliss on the stormy sea of matrimony. One eventful Sunday
in the hurry to get to the station on time[,] the young couple had
forgotten the marriage licence, without which the ceremony could
not take place. The next Sunday they were certain the important
licence was available and the [marriage] did take place.

Often young wives would arrive to take up residence with
their husbands, all dressed in city finery, only to experience
a very strange sinking feeling as their high heels sank slowly
into the muskeg. Their young husbands would take them gently by
the arm and escort them to a waiting car for the short journey
to one of the townsites .Thus began a happy marriage.

Summer Sunday morning trains were [known] as “Fishing Specials.”
The train would be crowded with fishermen all decked out with
fishing gear, each carrying a [precious] can of fishworms, [imported],
at great expense , from Nipigon. Fishworms do not exist in muskeg.
The gracious train crew would [accommodate] the fishermen by making
a special stop at what was known as “The Iron Bridge”. Catching
the evening train home with their well tanned faces burning, and
their chests swelling with pride, they would show off their day’s
catch to all the other passengers. Many a shy bride [received] a
fishy peck on the cheek from a fisherman and some, even a fish to

During World War II many citizens turned out at the station
to bid young men and women who were going to serve their country[,]
goodbye and [God speed].There were times when sick people waited
at the station in a taxi until the train arrived to take them
to Port Arthur for further treatment. Some made the trip,[others]
died [en route] [waiting] for the train. On one occasion Art.
Johnson, a large friendly [dark-skinned] man,] chose the station
as a place to end his life as he stepped in front of the engine
and the wheels passed over his body.

John Uhran (sic), The Popcorn Man , attended the station [crowd]
every [evening] with his vending machine. The popcorn machine
was mounted on a [two-wheeled] axle and pushed along with [two]
[wheelbarrow-like] handles . As John made the popcorn[,] he sat on
one of the handles.

Most [people]asked for lots of butter and then another paper bag[,]
please ,to prevent the [dripping] butter from [soiling] their clothing.
This [perturbed] John [, who would] mutter, [“Lots of butter, lots of
bags”. Popcorn John, as he was referred to[,] was a most obliging
person. If a little child stood for a long time watching the
corn popping and drooling over the succulent smell, John would
give the child a bag of popcorn. Mother usually came along
in a day or so and paid the money owing by their children. I
feel [certain] there were many bags of popcorn that were never
paid for, but were much appreciated by the lucky recipients.

The problems of getting married brought to the fore the need
for churches in Geraldton. In 1935 the Roman Catholics built
their first church on Second Ave. N. W. The Anglicans built
their [first] church on Second Ave. N.E.[,] and the Presbyterians
built their first church on Main Street (where [Deluxe] Taxi is

Tony Mascotto visited Geraldton from Sioux Lookout, seeking
employment,in 1935. He managed to get [work]at Hardrock Mine[,]
erecting the surface buildings[. While he was gainfully employed[,]
Tony was very observant and soon [realized] that [transportation]
to the mine sites was soon to be a necessity and that a taxi
would be a good business to start. When the carpenter’s job
terminated, he returned to [Sioux] Lookout and purchased a used
sedan, shipped it to Geraldton by the CNR[, and it arrived] ready to
open up the first [taxi] business. There were no roads as yet[,] so

[words missing].

During the waiting period[,] the people gazed [fondly] at the first
taxi, as it stood in the snow bank. The first trip was made
in March of 1935 over frozen muskeg to the mine site, probably
Little Long Lac. There was one rule [understood] by all prospective
passengers. “If necessary, passengers will be asked to assist the
driver, by helping to shovel snow, or push the car if it [bogs]
down in the muskeg.” The famous Joe Errington took his turn on
the end of a snow shovel, on one occasion. By August

John Mascotto had joined brother Tony in the flourishing
taxi business, then boasting 6 cars.

The first road was Mine Road (Main Street)[,] a trail from the
train tracks direct south to Kenogamisis Lake. It was corduroy[,]
so named because the trees were cut down and laid across the
intended road way. As the frost began to come out of the ground[,]
the corduroy road began to sink . The mines offered to provide
the waste slag [material] from their operations as [ballast] for a
road bed. Many wagon loads of slag were hauled to the intended
road and dumped . The great C .D. Howe of [“What’s a million”]
fame and the M.P. for this area, at that time,made arrangements
for the CNR to haul train loads of cinders from Hornepayne to
Geraldton to be used as a base to build the road on. This was
handled by men with shovels [hauling from the train on wagons to the road].

During construction of Mine Road, mining slag was hauled on a dray on a temporary light railway in 1936.

Raynor Construction came to town and built roads connecting
all the Mine Townsites to Geraldton[.] This first road link was
completed in 1938. There was a monument in [honour] of George Raynor
[erected] at the fork in the road (where [Arena Road] still is[.]
[That] monument, rather the worst for wear[,] is in the basement of
the Town Office.

The people living at the townsites were anxious for a link
to town and few if any had their own cars. They approached the
Macscotto Brothers about starting a bus line. Goldfield Bus Lines
was started in 1937 with a fleet of 5 [buses].

Where there are young adults[,] there are bound to be children.
Mrs. Holmes[,] who owned and operated a restaurant in Geraldton[,]
started a private [school] for her own children in the spring
of 1935. Teacher Mary Grant had 5 pupils[:]Marjory, Dorothy and
Tim Holmes, Bud Douglas[,] and Billy Halo. They occupied one room
in the [restaurant].

In the late summer of 1935, twenty [ratepayers] met for the
purpose of creating [Errington -Ashmore] School Section #2. The
first School Board was composed of people from all religious
faiths, to provide an education for the children. Mr. E. T.
[Paquette], chairman[,] was Roman Catholic. Mrs. D.W. Neill, treasurer[,]
was Presbyterian. Mr. L. Scher,secretary[,] was Jewish. They had to
make their own tax roll, collect the taxes and operate the school[,]
which was held in St. Andrew’s [Presbyterian] Church, then on Main
Street. Miss Webster taught 21 pupils in September and 37 by
December. School [enrolment] increased at an alarming rate
that alarmed the School Board . By October there were 44 children
and a second [classroom] was opened at [St.] James Anglican Church
on Second Ave, N. E.; the third [classroom] followed in short
order and was held upstairs at Chapples (Bay Retail now). The
[teaching] staff had increased to three, Miss Webster at the
Anglican Church, Miss Helen Perry at the Presbyterian Church[,]
and Miss [G. Holkes?] at Chapples.

Mrs. D.W. Neill was elected Chairman of the School Board,
and persuaded the [ratepayers] to build a [2-room] school. LaFayette
Gold Mine Limited had donated the land for that purpose (where
the Public Library is now). [Before] the building [had] started[,] the
plans changed and a [4-room] school was built with washrooms,
a furnace[,] and much to the [delight] of the children[,] water fountains.
The first Christmas Concert in the new school in 1937 was a great

View of Main Street and Third Ave. SW in 1938. The four-room public school, which eventually had a second storey added, stands on the edge of the firebreak constructed around the community after the Great Fire of July 1936.

The mines built 2 schools[,] one at Little Long Lac Townsite to
[accommodate] the children from Little Long Lac, Hardrock ,and [Mac-
Leod] mines and [Lahti’s] Camp. Bankfield school served the
children from Bankfield, Magnet, Tombill and Jellicoe Mines.
The School Board soon found out that they needed even more
classrooms and they added another 4 rooms to the Public School
by [putting] on another floor. [Enrolment] was 137 and classes were
added for grades 9 and 10. School buses were provided
for transporting the students from the Jonesville area for
the three coldest months at a cost of $40.00 for the season.

The Gyro club were a very active group at that time and
provided playground equipment for the school grounds. They built
a beautiful, large [wooden] slide for the children. It was a joy
to behold [during] the winter months and many parents enjoyed a
slide on a [winter’s evening]; [but], alas[,] come summer, many a child
had to visit the doctor to have a large [splinter] removed [before]
they could sit down to supper.

St. [Theresa’s Church decided] to provide Catholic Education[.]
On July 11,1938 , at a public meeting[, the] motion [was] made [that]
read, “That a [separate] school for Roman Catholics be established
in the Public School section of the Town of Geraldton, in the
Townships of Errington and Ashmore.[“]

Trustees elected to the first Catholic [Separate] School Board
were [Rev.] Father Marleau, Hugh Kielt, M. Daneff, J. D. Rankin[,]
C. J. Gatien and W.R. Douzan.

The first classes were held by [Father] Marleau in 1937 at the
Church Rectory, even [before] the school was recognized . Classes
were held in the Burden Block in 1938 with Mr. Tyne and Mr.
Langdon as teachers.

The [young] mothers were having trouble providing milk for their
children[;] the only available milk was canned, which does not
taste very good as a beverage.

One day the Keatly [brothers], from Dorion, arrived in town and
met up with [Con] Velyan. They were looking for an outlet for their
milk. They managed to talk Con into the [dairy business]. Con
ordered the [necessary] equipment from [Eaton’s catalogue ̶ ten-gallon]
cream cans for [shipping] the milk and a big ladle for filling
the containers. He also had to build a small [dairy] (milk house)[,]
8 feet square.

When the train arrived in the morning[,] Con was waiting on the
station platform with his ladle and the mothers were lined up
with their own containers ready for fresh milk[. What] a treat for
their children[!] The customer paid 36 cents a quart, but, who
really knew how much a quart was? [Then they] hurried home with their
precious milk [before] the flies caught up with them. Within 4 days
of beginning [business,] Con’s milk sales had [doubled] and he had to
hire a bottle washer. Alex Tweedie was hired to wash bottles, in
cold water, rinse them, in cold water[,] and to pour the water in
a pit lined with stones to allow for [drainage] and [cut] down on
the fly infestation.

Con soon had to sell the [dairy] business[;] it cut into the
time necessary for his regular business[,] the Toronto Bakery,
later renamed several times to Dawson, Dominion[,] and finally
Geraldton. He also had many partners over the years ̶ Sam [Velanoff],
Pete Belja, George Lazarovich, Bob Westover and Wilson Spurr.

Red McKay had taken on Herb Moat and [Micky] Nielsy (sic) as
partners and the dairy business flourished[. The home deliveries
had increased so much that they had purchased a horse called Bob.

Palm Dairys (sic) of Fort William were interested in getting into
the milk distribution business and sent Dave Quarrells to town
to see if the present owners would sell. A lot of discussion
took place, but the present owners were holding out for a higher
price. Finally Mr. Quarrels in [desperation] shook his briefcase
and stated,” I have $10.000.00 to buy the dairy, but, if you
[wish,] I can set up in opposition and freeze you out.” This
capped the deal and the [dairy] was sold.

Mr. Quarrels decided the next night to have a party for the
former owners, and not a drop of milk was consumed. During the
party[,] a lot of reminiscing took place and “old Bob” was mentioned
and [praised] for his efficient [services] . Red McKay mentioned
that [Bob] hadn’t] been included in the plans to sell the dairy,
but he would probably enjoy the [farewell] party. Dave Quarrels
mentioned Bob may be a [smart] horse but few if any horses could
climb stairs. Then the two men got to betting and a bet was set
at $50.00 that Bob would indeed climb the stairs of the Marriagi
hotel to attend the party.

Red headed for the barn and came back with “Old Bob” in
tow and the horse calmly followed Red up the few stairs to
the wide veranda, across the veranda and into the hotel lobby.
There was [quite] a commotion when the hotel owner stopped the
horse from going [upstairs] to the party and ordered him to [vacate]
the [premises].

Bob took a dim view of the insult and emitted a great whinny,
which alerted Dave of his imminent presence. Dave rushed down
the stairs and said[,] [garbled language.]

[Red] by this time was in poor shape[,] so “Old Bob” took him
back to the barn, entered the stall[,] and bedded [himself] down for the rest
of the night.

Red managed to get home, how he did not [remember]. When
he woke up the next morning and [realized] what had happened[,] he
had dreadful thoughts of how he would manage to get “Old Bob”
down the stairs of the hotel and back to the barn. He was on his
way to the barn for a bucket of oats to coax “Old Bob”
back to the barn when he was greeted with the friendly whinny
from his horse as he usually [greeted him] first thing every morning. Red
heaved a great sigh of relief “The Geraldton Way”.

View of Main Street looking north towards Daneff’s Store in 1938. On the left, note parking ramps, open sewer ditches, and wooden sidewalks. On the right, from R to L, the Mariaggi Hotel (later renamed Thunder Bay Hotel), a taxi stand (still there in 1970), Rexall Drug Store, as wells as the Geraldton Tea Room (with the round windows), Presbyterian Church, and just before the tracks, Cochrane-Dunlop Hardware, with its elevator tower peeping over the roof and a flag flying.