Down North
A Dependent's Notes of Interest
© Jean Watts 2002

Page 2: Ft. Providence (continued)

An island blocked the view from our windows, preventing us from seeing the river's opposite bank. However, the channel between the island and our bank was still wide enough for the tugboats and barges and the occasional floatplane. To watch a bush plane land or take off was always interesting and exciting.

Bush plane

Fort Providence's population was sparse, but was comprised of an interesting mixture. The three to four hundred Natives of the Slavey band, as in all communities, ran the gamut from highly respectable to quite disreputable. The RCCS establishment consisted of five or so men, plus dependants; two RCMP constables - the local detachment - occupied a compound of their own. A "white trapper," Sandy Davidson, lived during the summer months in a cabin facing the river, just outside the Signals compound fence.

HBC Post

The Hudson's Bay trading post, except for a Native trader, comprised the entire shopping district of Fort Providence. It was usually run by a married manager with a young family, although at times by a bachelor.

Roman Catholic residential school and church

(L to R) dock area, Oblate Fathers' residence, farm and
farm buildings, residential school, RC Mission Church.

The local RC mission residential school pupils were taught and looked after by about a dozen Grey Nuns and three Oblate Fathers, the latter acting also as parish priests.

One of the Grey Nuns, Sister Lemire, a trained nurse, was allowed to leave the residential school to treat any inhabitants who needed medical assistance. In an emergency, she was able to obtain medical advice from the government doctor by radio. He was stationed in Fort Rae, at the end of the North Arm of Great Slave Lake, and visited Fort Providence monthly. Sister Lemire was a jewel, and a tremendous help to all the families of the settlement. The other sisters seemed to be confined to the mission school premises and served as teachers and housekeepers.

The Oblate Fathers preached their Sunday sermons in three parts, in French, English, and Slavey. Slavey is a difficult language for the non-Native. According to the local Natives, the unfortunate fathers unwittingly said some quite appalling things when they got to the Slavey section. This perhaps provided an incentive for some of the congregation to attend church!

Temporary Quarters

Staff Sergeant Jorgy Jorgensen's wife, Joyce, and their little boy, Kenny, were leaving to visit her parents in England on our plane's return flight two days later. The Jorgensens had kindly volunteered to lend us their house during her absence. Jorgy would batch it with the boys in the single quarters until our quarters were finished building and we could move in. The Jorgensens' frame house was heated by an oil-fuelled space heater on the ground floor and also by a furnace, which I think was wood-burning, in the small, dirt-floored basement.

Five weeks after we had arrived in Fort Providence, on September 17, 1948, our completed quarters were finished and we were able to move in. Jorgy then returned to his own house, but in December his house caught fire. Sadly, in spite of valiant efforts by all, it was impossible to save it. Joyce Jorgensen and her son never did return to Fort Providence. Jorgy went back to the single quarters and in the following April was reposted. Dick then took charge of the station.

Living in Fort Providence took one back to the days of the early settlers in Canada, and one could not help developing an enormous respect for the pioneers. In Jorgy's house, as they had done, I also cooked on a wood stove. This was a real challenge for me, particularly in getting the oven to the right temperature for baking bread and pastry. Lighting it and cooking on the stovetop were not difficult, though. After the stove had been lit for a while, it was convenient having a small supply of hot water on hand from its little side tank.

For Providence RC Sigs compound: left to right:
outhouse, tent (building supplies), refrigerator unit,
PMQ, oil tank, single quarters

The Sigs compound, enclosed within a wire fence, contained, as well as our completed permanent married quarters, several other small buildings including the single quarters, the radio station, and the engine house containing the Lister and Waukesha engines that powered the generators providing electricity to the compound. It also contained a building for the "reefer" (refrigerator unit), a garage, and a two-hole outhouse. Boardwalks connected all the buildings.

Permanent married quarters

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