Hay River, North West Territories - 1973 and 2009

The North West Territories is so special to me that it gets two posts!  I have a little personal history with this area so I thought would be fun to share.  Here we go..with a bit of a blast from the 70's to throw in as well.

In 1973 just a couple of months after my 21st birthday I listened to the adventure that we all know now lurked deep in my soul and headed north.  Well, what I considered north - when I talked about being "up north" the locals laughed at me as Hay River is in the southern part of the NWT.  Now that I've been "really north" I get it.  

Hay River then...

Hay River is a community of approximately 3600 people just over the border from Alberta in the very southern North West Territories. It lies on the shores of Great Slave Lake which is the deepest lake in North America at 2014 feet as well as being the tenth largest lake in the world.  In 1973, while I was working as a long distance telephone operator at the telephone company here in Regina I chatted with a co-worker who had worked up there for a few months for CN Telecommunications and I was intrigued by her stories. She told me they were always looking for telephone operators.  I decided that was what I was going to do.  I thought it might be something different to do and the loads of money I would make would pay for an extended trip to Europe. The original plan?  To work at least six months, make my fortune and wander around Europe for six months.  Well...that didn't quite work out as planned but we'll get to that later.  So less than a month after my 21st birthday CN Telecommunications flew me up to Hay River to begin my new job. As soon as I got there we were out on strike - I think I worked one shift and out we went.  As I recall, I had no clue this was going to happen - now I would be googling Hay River and the company like crazy.   We were off work only a week but it certainly put me behind financially.  I had to borrow money from my parents to pay the next months rent.  The so call subsidized rent... that you had to pay the full amount and get a refund later that took forever.   For the first ten days or so I lived in a three bedroom trailer by myself - the first time I had ever been on my own (I still lived with my parents at this point but don't spread that around okay?) and I was terrified.  It didn't help that the back door of the trailer didn't lock properly. On the bright side, the work wasn't bad but as our accommodation was in the New Town and the Toll Exchange in the Old Town it involved a taxi ride both ways  A subsidized taxi but never the less a taxi.  You would try to go with others as some of those taxi drivers were a bit on the creepy side and of course it was cheaper that way as well. Some of the girls moved into accommodation in the Old Town but it was not anywhere I would have wanted to live. And that Northern allowance?  Oh yeah...you didn't get that until you had been there six months. Hmmnm...maybe I am not going to make my fortune here after all.  The work was okay and rather fun at times.   The job involved both long distance calls (the area I was experienced in) and information so that part was kind of fun along with putting calls through to the Dew Line in the Arctic.  Even though I was in the "southern north" I got to talk to people all across the North West Territories. which I loved.   

We were all young and so drinking and partying was the name of the game. I've never been a partier but it was hard not to get involved in it. And they certainly didn't have to twist my arm very hard to get me to take part. My new roommate in the trailer flew into Hay River with pot tucked into her shoe and the partying really began in earnest.  There were lots of guys to date and hang out with as well.

About a month after I got there I was moved into a furnished bachelor apartment in an apartment building that had no sound proofing.

My sparsely decorated apartment showed off my two passions - football and Paul McCartney.  I lost my passion for football after the 1976 Grey Cup (we lost thanks to Tony Gabriel intercepting a pass and running for a touchdown...yes, I never got over that) but as anyone can tell you my passion for Paul McCartney still burns brightly.   I guess that's one formula for having a tidy apartment - have next to nothing! 
My new building was party central. I remember skipping down the stairs after midnight to do my laundry and hopping over passed out bodies along the way. ...oh those days when I could skip down stairs. I remember a drinking game we used to do..oh never mind....it never ended well for me.  I can't face Rye whiskey to this day.  Getting off work at 2 a.m was no barrier- the parties in my building were just going into full swing. How those guys got up and did a full day of construction work is beyond me but we were all young and silly and hey it was the 70's.  Let's just say it was an educational experience in so many ways and leave at that.

As I did not have a car up there I had to depend on other people to drive me around to see the sights. A short lived boyfriend took me to see the falls and another friend drove a few of us to the lake one afternoon when she was able to borrow someone's car.  My parents drove up to visit so we did a bit of local sightseeing.  I would sometimes get four day weekends off but I never went anywhere like Yellowknife or Inuvik even though I thought about it and wanted to see those places   - I was just too scared to go anywhere on my own.  18 months later when I finally went on that trip to Europe on my own I thought "why the heck didn't you jump on a plane to Yellowknife or Inuvik" but I was too scared to go on my own.  Yes, that noise you just heard was me giving my 21 year old self a slap on the side of the head.  Luckily in my next post you will see that I finally got to these places but it took long enough!

I am shocked at how few photos I took - none of the interiors of the trailer (not that it was up to much), no photos of the outside of my apartment building and barely any photos of friends.  Mainly drinking ones which I won't share here!  And I will spare you my Instamatic photos of the falls.  The next year I got my first "serious" camera.

Looking at the pictures above it really wasn't bad - they provided a sofa bed with chair, a dresser and a table and chairs.  Not bad Laurie..(slap!)...why didn't you stay and work and get that trip to Europe? But I was a young lady out of my depth - I grew up in a city - a small city but a city nonetheless with all the conveniences of restaurants, public transportation,  movie theatres....  At this point in my life I had no idea what I was all about, but who does at 21?  I had barely visited a small town let alone lived in one - I must say I hated living in a small town and especially one that had none of the amenities I was used to.  Management at my place of employment was horrendous and I wasn't making as much money as I thought I would - even once the partying slowed down (mainly because all the guys left town as winter was setting in and construction, etc. was done)  and I actually started reading books from the library and giving my poor liver a rest.  There seemed to be 2 things you could do there: drink/party or nerd out and read as they had a decent public library.  No decent restaurants to visit, no coffee shops (don't make me laugh!) the one bar we young out of towners used to go to was in Old Town and nicknamed The Zoo.  It was called that for a reason and women only went accompanied by a man. Not the place you wanted to be taken on a date.  Not that there were too many places to be taken on a date... I went there once with one fellow accompanying about three of us girls.  So we bought booze and partied in our homes or once in a while had a bonfire and partied there.


The local high school known as the Purple Pen.  I thought it was horrible. 

Showing off my Rider Pride in the countryside  and just plain showing off by Great Slave Lake


Two friends and I asked management if we could share a three bedroom trailer that the one friend was currently living in on her own. (with actual carpet on the floors - the height of luxury compared to the trailer I had lived in) We figured if the three of us could bunk in together we might just make it through the winter.  The constant noise in my building was starting to get me down.   However, they said no so they lost three employees.  Everyone was scuttling out of there like rats deserting a sinking ship - either heading home or finding employment elsewhere. After three months (so that I wouldn't have to pay for my airfare up) I flew home.  There was nothing left for me there - the two good friends I had made up there were giving up, disappointed like I was and flying home as well.  In fact, one was on the flight with me.

It was only after being home for a couple of months (and back with my parents...)  I got the overtime they owed me (which I had to fight for) which enabled me not to fly to Europe but to put a down payment on my brand new red (with navy blue racing stripes) Gremlin X.  Don't mock or judge me..oh how I loved that car.  Did I regret going to Hay River?  Not at all. Did I regret leaving Hay River so soon?  Nope...but do regret not backpacking around Europe. (I guess it's never too late, right?)

Hay River 2009


Years later I talked about going back to see how it had changed but wasn't motivated as I knew no one there.  In 2009 that changed.   At the time I was Director of Prairies/North of our national walking club and a club had been started in Hay River.  Nancy, the president invited me up there to meet her club and do some walks so how could I resist.  I flew to Edmonton to visit my sister and then my friend Eilleen and I took the Greyhound bus (sadly that route no longer exists) from there up to Hay River.  Now that was a journey and I appreciated the long drive my parents had done 36 years earlier. We left at midnight and arrived in Hay River that afternoon.  There were a few stops along the way and the driver kindly stopped at the North West Territories border so we could take photos.  Why did I take the bus?  Well I wanted to see the scenery and hopefully get a photo of that NWT sign (my parents had had their photos taken with it on their way up to see me in 1973).  The main reason, however, was financial - I couldn't use air miles for Hay River and I just could not afford to fly.  So far in 2009, I had been to London, Egypt, Jordan, New York City, Las Vegas, North Carolina, North Bay Ontario,Ottawa, Ontario and a walking weekend in Medicine Hat/Cypress Hills in Alberta just the weekend before this trip.  Yes, 2009 was a big travel year for me.  By this time I was an old pro on the bus and the stories I could tell...and will!





 We stayed with Nancy and she and her husband Tom were the perfect hosts driving us all over the place and treating us like queens. It was wonderful!!!  And now the good photos start...



Back at Great Slave Lake....36 years later and probably 36 pounds heavier....maybe more!


I was so happy to see Great Slave Lake again...I had seen it in Yellowknife on a trip there in 2006 but it wasn't Hay River.  I still remember the awe of seeing this lake for the very first time.  On the way to the lake we drove by the old telephone exchange that has now been closed for years.

The next afternoon we drove to Enterprise to walk the route from Alexandra Falls to Louise Falls.

Alexandra Falls 

Louise Falls - it had started raining by this point
Even though the falls may not be as spectacular as Niagara Falls I prefer them as there is no tourist tat around.  It's just you and nature.  I love it.  The 4 km route between the falls is so pretty as well.


Token dog picture - beautiful Sheena who was Nancy and Tom's dog.  She was such a sweetheart.



As you can see the walk between the falls was a beauty.

The next day we joined a group walk along the shores of Great Slave Lake.




No, I didn't walk on the logs - as you can tell by the photo below they were WAY ahead of me.  I sauntered along doing a shorter route and taking photos.



Tom made us birch tea at the end of our walk and it was quite tasty.


The next morning while Nancy was at work Eilleen and I did the 10km walk around the outskirts of Hay River and in town.


There was a path through the woods but we were advised to stick to the road because of bears on the trail filling their faces with berries to get nice and fa for their winter hibernation. 




Yep, the purple pen still stands!


And here is my old apartment building - I am shocked it's still standing to be honest.  I can't even remember which apartment I lived in there.

What a great few days it was and I am so glad I got to revist the place that I still have fond memories of.  Even though life in Hay River did not agree with me on a personal level I am so glad I had those three months there and 36 years later got to see it again. 

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