Community Memories from Paul Zurrin

Paul Zurrin was working for a plumbing and heating company in Winnipeg when he was offered a job managing a branch of the company in Thompson. Arriving here in 1959, he describes his first impressions. Everyone was young and full of adventure, he says. They were offered a house to live in because he was managing a company. When he arrived in August, there was a total of 139 houses completed and inhabited. Thompson Inn was under construction. The Hudson Bay Store was open. The Starnd Theatre was being built. There were all kinds of construction camps, some building homes, some commercial buildings, and some installing sewer and water. There were mud roads carved out of the muskeg and it was hard to get around when it rained.

Paul's wife arrived six weeks later and was given a friendly welcome.  Paul picked up his wife at the train station.  They barely had the suitcase set down when all the neighbors came swarming in to say hello. People were very sociable and everyone was young.  Paul talks about how no one had gray hair in those days.  For entertainment, there were many parties rotating in different homes.

Although housing was the same standard as in Winnipeg, living conditions were different.  His work was adventurous and demanding, but he enjoyed the challenge and found it interesting to see a community grow out of nothing.

For transportation, his company had a one-ton truck.  They put benches in the back and drove the workers back and forth to their jobsite.  Paul was on a salary of $500 a month. His employees were paid $2.00 to $2.20 per hour. There was really no place to spend money except on food.  Paul said there wasn't much spare time, but he always made a point of taking Sundays off.  At first the only road led to the river, and the second year, a rough road was cut through the bush to Ospwagan Lake.  They’d go out there in the evening in the summer time.  Eventually, a lot of new facilities came on stream.  The Thompson Inn was finished by New Year's of 1959.  The grand opening was a gala event.  A lot of things were happening.  It was exciting to watch, he recalls.

The Zurrins' first son was born in a temporary hospital which was actually comprised of two houses joined together and located on Popular Crescent.  In 1961, the Thompson General Hospital was completed.  By 1966, the town had grown considerably and his children attended Deerwood School, which was completed by that time.

There were no churches when the Zurrins arrived, and services were held in various facilities.  Catholic mass was first held in the Diamond Drill building on Station Road, and later on in the Strand Theatre.  The first churches were built in 1960 - '61.

Like many other pioneers of Thompson, Paul remembers the fire that threatened the town in the early '60s.  The people of Thompson helped fight it.  Everyone got involved.  It started at a construction camp where City Hall and City Centre Mall are currently located. The whole ravine was an area of bush, and the fire spread to the Riverside area.  It was a huge fire with flames shooting into the air, Paul remembers.

Paul was kept very busy, especially in the days before full Hydro power was available. INCO was using old diesel engines to produce power. Consequently, there were many power failures. Every time the power went off, the furnaces in some of the homes would conk out and had to be relit. Paul wasn't sure when the Kelsey Dam began providing power, but it was a very welcome development he says.

Paul had to deal with many problems that he had never experienced before, and people ended up doing all kinds of things they weren’t necessarily trained for.  He says the great variety of tasks he was called upon to do were valuable, not only to him, but also to two of his sons who are in the plumbing business in B.C.  Somewhere else, people would specialize in one job.  Here, you had to do everything that came along.

Some of the disadvantages that Paul cited were the isolation, the long train rides and a shortage of products.  Paul thought that the wives being housebound would probably have more comments about their situation than the men.  He describes the local government as a one-man show. Everything was straightforward.  Bureaucracy was minimal.  Everything was much simpler than now.

Paul thought that his children enjoyed growing up here.  There were many activities going on, and all were centrally located.  Paul and his family always enjoyed the summers here.  The summers were beautiful, they felt.  They liked fishing and that sort of thing.  They'd go up and down the Burntwood River, to Manason Falls.  They explored Mystery Lake.  The road to Paint Lake opened in 61, and that was a real highlight, he recalls.  His family participated in bowling, curling, skiing, etc.  Every time they went to Winnipeg on vacation he remembers saying, “Man, what a jungle! How can you live here?"

An exciting event of family life was the building of their cottage at Paint Lake. They enjoyed the time away from daily, demanding work, the peace and quiet away from the hustle and bustle. They continue to make their home in Thomposn during their retirement, spending part of the winter in B.C. with their family, but always coming back for the summer.