Community Memories from Wayne Hall

Wayne Hall, well known and long-time resident of Thompson, grew up in Ontario.  After working at several temporary jobs, he responded to an INCO ad, and was hired in Sept. 1961.  Over the years, many local businesses have changed hands and locations, and it isn't easy to recall what the city map might have looked like in the early '60s.  However, Wayne has a clear picture of the scene, as it was when he disembarked from the train station.  "The station was quite a bit larger than it is now.  There were a couple of gas companies that had boat fuels and a machine shop occupied by Dominion Bridge.  Further on towards town was a Cochrane-Dunlop warehouse.  Along Station Road on the right -hand side was the Smith-West Diamond Drilling Company. The Northern Lights Plumbing Company was where a furniture store is now located.  Next to that was a business run by Len Kearns where TVs and radios could be repaired and driver's licenses purchased.  Thompson Supply was next to that where Thompson Ford is now located.  Across the street where the coffee bar is, was Thompson Painting and Glazing.  Where Rick's Marine is currently situated was a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet, and an A& W where Santa Maria Pizza is now.  Nickel City Motors was then Thiessen Motors, a G.M. dealer.  On the corner where North Central Mall operates their business was a Beaver Lumber store. Revelstoke Lumber Company was located where Home Hardware now is situated.  There was a small garage where Chrysler presently shows their new vehicles."

Wayne describes his impressions of the INCO camp.  “We were taken by bus to the camp where the INCO parking lot is now.  There were about ten H-huts, which were quarters for single men, two men to a room with laundry and shower facilities.  There were two huge kitchens where you went for meals.  A skating rink, gambling hall and a Hudson Bay Store were part of the camp.  On the south and east sides were rows of tents.”

When Wayne walked into his assigned tent, he looked across the room and there was a fellow he had gone to school with all his life.  So it was—these kind of things happened all the time.  Wayne felt that the men were well treated. The food was excellent and plentiful.  Lineups were a nuisance but tolerable.  Wayne worked in the refinery in the tank-house area—five eight-hour shifts and then a change, working three shifts altogether with two days off in between.

Wayne says the work wasn't hard but he didn't really like the industrial environment, so after three months with INCO he found a job in town. There was a company putting together a poolroom and restaurant operation in the Strand building, so he went to work for them, and in about four months he was running the place.  After about four years he decided to move on to other things.  Wayne worked for a company that put together a miniature golf and go-cart track where the Steel Centre is now located.  For the next ten years he alternated between the Burntwood Hotel and the Thompson Inn.  He worked briefly for Scott National and then he ran the Harvest House Restaurant in City Centre Mall for six years, then the Mystery Lake Hotel for about fifteen years.  For the last thirteen years, he’s had his own company.

Wayne has enjoyed his life in Thompson. "It's home after all these years.  It's been a fantastic opportunity to see a whole community grow and change. The Strand Building housed the Post Office, an Insurance Agency, Gift Shop, Men's Clothing Store, and a Barbershop, in addition to the theatre.  The present site of the Homeless Shelter used to be the only beer vendor in town.  People lined up for both the movies and the beer store and, at times, the two lines would get mixed up, making for an interesting exchange.  The Canadian Tire store used to be the Hudson Bay store and they sold everything—groceries, clothing, furniture, you name it.  The Professional Building was at its present site in '61, but there was nothing else on that side of the street. The present RCMP building was originally the Municipal Building.  The Royal Bank used to be in the front part of the Thompson Inn.  The TD Bank and the Bank of Montreal were both located in houses on Poplar Avenue."

Wayne found most people to be friendly, perhaps because they were isolated from their families.  The average age at that time was 18. People with gray hair were usually visitors.  He remarked that Thompson could be called a true international community, with people here from around the world.  He was told that at one time there had been 60,000 men on the INCO payroll, an indication of the transient nature of the community.  With no recreation, there were a lot of house parties.  If one wanted to go to a party, you just grabbed a case of beer and drove up and down the street until you saw a whole bunch of rubber boots on the doorstep.  The parties were friendly affairs and it was a social outlet, he recalls.

It was a common practice during the early days for people to share accommodation and that was true for Wayne.  At one time, he shared rooms with three bank workers, dividing the costs of rent and food.

Wayne met his wife Jan while working in the poolroom where she was an employee.  Because he was the manager, he was not allowed to fraternize with employees.  He found Jan a different job at Firestone.  “Love will find a way,” he reminisces.

Wages were very good in Thompson compared with elsewhere.  His starting wage, as he remembers, was $1.35 an hour.  In spite of good pay, there were many who couldn't tolerate the isolation.  Wayne spoke of people packing up and leaving, which was the right thing to do, Wayne says.  "Because if you're somewhere you don't want to be, you may as well leave."  Wayne knows of people who had finished their time with INCO and couldn't wait to go. " It was like a prison sentence to them."

Wayne was never disturbed about the climate, having lived in Northwestern Ontario.  He does remember one winter in particular in 63 and 64.  An April snowstorm brought a deluge of snow that inundated the town.  The kids were climbing the drifts off the Plaza and sliding down on their toboggans.  Siggies Restaurant in the Plaza had an outside door and a tunnel had to be dug in order to get into the restaurant.

The Thompson Plaza did not always look like it does today. Wayne remembers the opening of the mall. The centre was totally vacant with stores around the perimeter—a liquor store, furniture store, Bank of Montreal, CHTM Radio, and CESM TV, a small cable network that featured shows taped in Winnipeg a week earlier. Wayne tells how it was a standard joke. Guys would have somebody over and they'd bet on the outcome of a football game. Of course, the visitor would lose the bet because the game was a week old. There was also a drug store in the Plaza owned by Florian Soble, a branch of Cochran-Dunlop, as well as Eaton's and Sears outlets.

There were few aboriginal people in town according to Wayne.  Some would come in from outlying reserves on the train, shop, and return to their communities.  There were people from a great variety of countries, many of whom left their homes because of conflicts.  There were a lot of ethnic clubs that provided contacts for people dealing with language barriers.

The first hospital was built near INCO to serve the workers and community needs, and was donated to the town by INCO.  Most of the buildings started out small and were added to as the need arose.  That applied to the hospital as well as the schools.  The original curling rink was a metal building on the corner of Oak St. and Thompson Drive.  The arena was constructed of buildings from Bird, MB. which were dismantled, shipped here by train, and rebuilt.  There was just the C.A. Nesbitt Arena at first, and the Rec Centre and front lobby.

Wayne says that it was fascinating to watch the community grow.  "You could go out every week and have a look at a new construction."  He watched the beginning and completion of many structures—the Cameron-Hoe Building, the post office, the Mystery Lake and Burntwood Hotels and Bowling Alley.  "When you see a whole community being built, you know it is something you will never see again.”