Monday, July 16, 2018


    When I lived in a far northern arctic settlement we had to have a person who looked after all of the maintenance required for daily living. This person saw that the generators were running for our electricity, that we had water, that sewage and garbage were looked after, that our furnaces always had a supply of oil in the tank and anything else that had to be done. On top of this the guy had to be able to work independently, have good communications skills, get  along with others, plan for a year ahead. So you see this person had to be just about everything. 

     My person was Ernie, a French Canadian, who was born and raised in a fringe area. The family eked out a living by working part time in the bush and producing their own food and many other necessities of life. This background made Ernie  an all round handy man. In these communities they only spoke French.

     Ernie was a bachelor and a very jovial , amicable kind of guy who enjoyed life with very little.

    Ernie joined the army early in the war as it was a place to eat and get some pay. Ernie purposely chose an English unit as he wanted to learn English. On his first day his group was lined up and they asked for someone to volunteer for a job. He stepped out and said yes which was probably the only English word he knew. What he'd volunteered for was to type. He'd never seen a typewriter before . He always laughed about that one.

    Now after the war a high percentage of government employees were veterans. So Ernie came by his job in our settlement. He was well able to live in isolation and was a good cook and housekeeper.

    The only vehicle in the community was a J-5 which was a small tracked vehicle like a pick up truck. This vehicle was used to haul things around the community. Every time it moved it was loaded with kids who wanted a ride. Kids visited him every evening. Ernie liked the kids and they liked him.

    Ernie kept the diesel engines running to produce power. He was creative. They expected him to keep our houses supplied with water, but they didn't give him a water tank. Ernie got some plywood and built a big box to haul the water. He knew that a wooden box would hold water just like a metal tank. He had a pump and pumped water from the lake into the box. He came to our house and used his trusty pump to pump water from the box to a tank in the house. In the winter he oversaw the cutting of ice that was used for water in the winter. Again he built a sledge to haul the ice to our house. 

     So it was a great situation but Ernie had one major flaw in his character. He was an extreme binge drinker. Many men like Ernie would come to an isolated settlement or a "dry" camp where they could limit alcohol consumption. Two or three times a year Ernie brought in some booze. He would drink until the bottle was empty. He became a completely different person. Anger raged. He would turn off the electricity hoping that I would challenge him. I never did and after a few minutes the electricity would come on. I would avoid him at these times as it could be more than unpleasant and completely unproductive.

     When Ernie left for summer holidays he would always say, "I don't know if I'm coming back." For his summer holidays he would go to Montreal and it was one long binge. Three or four weeks later Ernie would show up on a plane and with a big smile would tell us he was happy to be back.

     I've often wondered what demons drove Ernie to the extreme binges.