Community Memories from Steve Ogrodnic

Steve Oerodnic was born in The Pas, Manitoba.  Like many young northern boys, his chief form of entertainment was street hockey.  They didn't have a puck.  What they used instead were "frozen horse turds.”  They were available all over.  In the 30's there weren't many cars in The Pas; just horses.  Grocery stores had horses for deliveries and the CNR had a team of horses, Steve recalls.

Steve had varied job experiences before coming to Thompson.  When he finished high school, he went into the army and was stationed at Camp Shiloh near Winnipeg. When the war was over in Europe, he volunteered for the Pacific.  Then he was discharged. One of the first jobs he had was as a diamond driller at Lynn Lake.  After that, Steve went to B.C. for about ten years.  He also worked six summer seasons in the Yukon.  He eventually went back to The Pas, however, because his dad was ill.

In 1957 Steve got a job in Thompson.  He started to work with Foundation Construction Company and did that for three or four years.  When INCO was hiring in 1960, he transferred there, working as a yard foreman.

Steve's interest in photography began at an early age in 1935 when he was eight or nine years old. He remembers having a little bullet camera. Later, when he was in the Yukon, he became interested in 35 mm slide photography. His favorite subject was nature—sunsets, scenery, etc. When he relocated to Thompson, he began taking pictures of the INCO site as well. A lot of people would ask what did the area look like before construction of the head frame. With the help of his photographs, Steve would tell them that there was a jack pine here, a spruce over there, a poplar over here. You could see from the photos what it was like before a brand new town sprung out of the wilderness.

Steve describes what conditions were like when he first arrived in 1957.  The site had started in '56 when they were moving all the equipment from Thicket Portage by Cat-train over the ice, to the present-day location in Thompson.  There was lumber, cement, steel, nails, bolts, groceries, all the gasoline and fuel—everything.

The kitchen and bunkhouses were already in place when Steve arrived.  He, like many others, was accommodated in a tent at first.  He worked long hours—seven days a week and a lot of overtime—especially in the summertime when the daylight hours lengthened.  Bulldozers were clearing the muskeg and clay to get to the bedrock that would serve as the main foundation for the plant site.  Steve was in charge of the construction labourers who unloaded the materials needed, and with supplying the carpenters with the necessities for their tasks.  He also worked with a surveyor for a while, and then worked on the boilers.  "When they were pouring cement, we had to have steam heat to cure the concrete.  Sometimes I worked night shift, so during the day I would walk around with my camera, taking pictures of the construction." Steve considers himself a pioneer, observing the changes and development at the plant and town-site.

Steve spoke of how life was kind of lonely, especially for single men.  Around the year ’61, Crawley McCracken, the official caterer, brought in girls to be waitresses, soon to be nicknamed "Crawley's Dollies.”

Steve spent 22 years in Thompson, returning to The Pas in ‘79 to retire.

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