Community Memories from Vivian Clarke

Charlie and Vivian Clarke were among the first residents of Thompson, arriving in 1960.  Charlie was from New Zealand and had decided to return to Canada following the war. He had trained with the Air Force in 1943 and '44 in Dauphin and Calgary.  Vivian was a teacher in Fin Flon at the time where they first met and married in 1951.  Their pioneer spirit brought them to Thompson in 1960, along with their children.  Two other children were born during their time here.

They witnessed many “firsts,” such as the building of the Post Office, Thompson Plaza, schools and the Hospital.  Their house on Silver Crescent was one of the first owner-built homes.  The family first lived in the basement while the rest of their home was being built.  Vivian thought the going price of a home in 1960 was about $1,400, "but of course wages then were a far cry from what they are today."

Vivian considered Thompson to be a relatively safe place to raise a family, especially after the building of the Recreation Centre and the beginning of many activities for young people. 

Schools were being built as they were required by the rapidly growing population.  Their children were often shifted from one school to another as area population changed.

When asked about the disadvantages of early Thompson, Vivian cited the isolation and the difficulties of travel.  The family car was put on the train to The Pas.  Family members would travel as passengers then pick up their car in The Pas to continue their journey.   When roads were finally built, travelers contended with mud, dust and potholes.  Vivian tells of a trip to The Pas in '65 that took eight hours.  Charlie, in dress clothes, had to creep under their car to tie a loose muffler with haywire.

The Bay was the sole shopping centre for food, clothing, furniture and appliances.  It was located where Canadian Tire is now situated.

Recreation consisted of curling, fishing, card-playing and the occasional house party.  Charlie served on a committee to plan the original Recreation Centre, a process that involved dismantling a building in Bird, Manitoba and reassembling it in Thompson.

Charlie was very keen on gardening but found it challenging to obtain top soil.  This pastime led Charlie and Vivian to settle in Wabowden following Charlie’s retirement, where they established a market garden and greenhouse.  Many of the perennials and shrubs seen around homes in the area are probably a product of their greenhouse venture.

Natural gas was never available in Thompson, but propane could be provided by Steel Gas for home heating and appliances.  At first, tanks were installed at the rear of people's homes.  One day, one of their children inquired of one of the workers what the tanks were for.  Thinking to have a bit of fun he replied that they were for root beer.  The children ran into the house asking if they could have a root beer tank too.

Part of Charlie’s duties at first was the maintenance of the tent camps on the INCO grounds.  One of Charlie’s favourite tales about his experiences there was about a young fellow who had his suit dry-cleaned for his upcoming wedding.  Pranks in the camp were a common practice among the men.  The young fellow’s buddies decided to create some excitement by adding some alcohol to the air-tight heater.  The resulting explosion sent a plume of black smoke throughout the tent, covering the young man’s suit in a layer of soot and ash.

From '83 to '85, the family moved to Indonesia, where Charlie was employed to train young men for work in the mining industry.

Pets were an important part of the Clarks' family life.  There was always a dog, and after their move to Wabowden, Charlie managed to tame the whiskey-jacks and squirrels to come looking for their daily treats.

Both Charlie and Vivian enjoyed many years of memberships in the Elks and the Order of Royal Purple fraternal organizations.  They both held office, with Charlie eventually becoming Elks National president.  The main objective of the organizations was service to the community, especially to children and the handicapped.  They sponsored many of the social functions, making life more pleasant for all.  One of their special projects was a “fly in” Christmas party to one of the Northern communities, complete with gifts, treats and Santa.  Vivian has been a member of the Order of Royal Purple for 45 years, continuing her membership in Brandon.  Vivian enjoyed being at a homemaker with time for volunteer work and hobbies.

At the time of this interview, Vivian observed numerous changes in the community with the addition of many new businesses, giving people more choices and serving the population from the reserves. She noted that the population is aging for those who choose to stay after retirement.  "In the early '60s it was unusual to see anyone with gray hair."

After Charlie’s death, Vivian moved to Brandon where two of her children reside. Their other children now live in Winnipeg and Australia.