As many Canadian stories do, this one begins with immigrants…
In the 1830s some members of the McCann family came to Canada from Ireland. Through several generations they farmed in Ontario. In the early 20th century Mickey McCann started working as a miner in Timmins. He moved through Canada, mining in towns like Yellowknife, Revelstoke, Britannia Beach and Uranium City. At one time he was back in Cobalt, Ontario, then out he travelled to the oil fields in Alberta, before retiring in Uranium City.
His son, Bill McCann, was born in Uranium City. On August 4, 1964, Bill married Linda, who had come to Uranium City as a small girl. Her father, Jack Woodward, was also the son of immigrants who had come out to Saskatchewan from England in 1907. He had put himself through university and worked as an engineer with Eldorado Mines. He was flying back to Uranium City from Vancouver when he died in the terrible unsolved plane crash of CPA Flight 21 in 1965.
Bill and Linda left Uranium City and lived the wandering life for a while. She worked as an accountant and he as a taxi driver and sometime miner, in British Columbia towns like Stewart, Hudson Hope and Dawson Creek. When I was talking to Linda she described Dawson Creek as providing her first experience with street lights. “There was one,” she laughed.
Meanwhile, in 1972, Bill’s dad, Mickey, had started a new business. It was called “Mickey’s Camp”, and it was located at Mile 81 on Highway 102 in the northern part of the province of Saskatchewan. Mickey at first intended it to be a fly-in camp for tourists. Bill and Linda explained to me that, if you know that part of northern Saskatchewan, the idea made a lot of sense. It is Canadian Shield country …
“all lakes, rocks and water”
… as Linda explained with enthusiasm. Over the years, I have spent time in the Canadian Shield in Manitoba and Ontario. It makes up much of what we Canadians call “cottage country”. I could picture it being fly-in tourist country.
It seems, though, that Mickey’s Camp didn’t exactly turn out that way for Bill’s dad. Anyone, even today, will notice that there are not a whole large number of highways running up through northern Saskatchewan. More and more, the camp came to be a truck stop on Highway 102, a location where trucks on their way up to Uranium City and other northern mines would stop for gas, food and coffee.
In 1979, a fire destroyed the power plants that Bill’s dad was using in Mickey’s Camp. At that time Bill and Linda were living in La Ronge, Saskatchewan, but they had often visited Mickey’s Camp, and they loved the McLennan Lake area. So they made a decision to move up there, they bought new power plants, and they began running “the Camp”.
At that time their two sons were in grade eight and grade four. The school was 30 miles away. For a time, Bill drove them to school and back every day, until the older boy went to Regina, and they arranged with the school for the younger boy to attend only one or two days a week.
Meanwhile, the “best little business in northern Saskatchewan” was very, very busy all the time. There were trucks heading up to the mining camps pulling up along the gravel highway to stop for gas. While they were there they could stock up on food, fishing and camping supplies, ice, a long list of things that people needed up north. As Bill and Linda added items they started giving out a card listing some of what they had for sale. Eventually they began providing more and more items, and they had to add a list to the back of the card. These included purebred malemutes, tow truck services, wild rice, fresh fish, explosives, freezing facilities and cabins for rent…
Coffee, was different. That was hospitality, and coffee was always free.
There were also adventures. The highway wasn’t paved, and in bad weather it could be a sea of mud. Trucks sometimes slid or crashed into the ditch beside the highway. One driver barely jumped safely out of his truck just before it tipped into the ditch. A helicopter once crashed into McLennan Lake. Fortunately, no one was killed, and the helicopter was loaded onto a truck and hauled away.
By the early 1990s, the highway was improved. When I listened to their story, I thought about how busy they must have been. They were the only store and this was the only highway for miles and miles of northern Saskatchewan country. I asked them about this, and they both started to laugh. “We were constantly busy, every moment of the day”, they said. “When we finally sold the camp, we took a deep breath and said, “Whew!’”.
That was in 1992. Being the adventurous people they are, they spent the next ten years or so living in a camp they built on a lake before “moving south” to a town near Saskatoon. And if you look Saskatoon up on a map, you will likely notice that it is not located in what even we Canadians would call “south”.
So, from up on Highway 102, Mile 81, another story from our vast, fascinating home and native land.
Incident at Mickey’s Camp …