Community Memories from Bob and Vicki Fleming

Bob and Vicki Fleming first arrived in Thompson in 1960-61.  Bob had been working for the CNR in The Pas when a strike threatened the railroad workers.  INCO in Thompson was seeking employees.  Bob was hired on in December, 1960. His family move to Thompson the following year.

Vicki’s parents were immigrants from Poland.  Her dad came to Canada in 1927, settling on a small farm in Garland, Manitoba, a few miles north of Dauphin.  He had been sponsored by another family.  His farm income was supplemented by his work on the Hudson Bay Railway to Churchill.  Vicki’s mother and brothers arrived in Canada in 1928.  Vicki was born in Garland.

After Vicki’s father died, her mother remarried and the family moved to Saskatchewan.  When Vicki was 17 or 18 years old, she was considered an “old maid” according to Polish tradition.  It was customary in Poland for girls to marry at 13 or 14, and marriages were often arranged.  Strongly disagreeing with such a plan, Vicki left home and got a job in The Pas, working in a store for $9.00 a week.  Later, she worked as a waitress for the Hudson Bay store and the Cambridge Hotel.

Vicki recalls the many hardships of the 1930s when she was a child.  “We were often hungry.  I remember one Christmas when my brother snared some ptarmigans for the family’s Christmas dinner.  We had worked hard on the farm, picking weeds from the fields by hand.”

The Fleming’s first home in Thompson was on 152 Copper Road.  The area originally had a lot of muskeg that was shaved off and back-filled with slag and then gravel.  Street lights were non-existent and people would leave their outside house lights on so neighbours could find their way home. 

The average age in the early '60s was 24 or 25.  The population was around 2,400.  Vicki recalls that people were very friendly and helpful, and you knew almost everyone.  The town grew rapidly and accommodation was slow in being built, as were all the amenities.  Vicki felt sorry for the men in camps who were away from their families, and it wasn’t uncommon for one of them to offer to buy candy for her daughters.

Shopping became a problem during the strike of 1964 when staff was paid regular wages and the union workers had to get along on strike pay.  Since Bob was on staff, Vicki often had to put up with abusive comments from other wives.

Bob worked as a mechanic, was later put on staff and eventually became a general foreman.  The increasing responsibility was sometimes stressful, but for the most part, he was happy with his work and always felt INCO was good to him.

In 1966, they built a cabin at Paint Lake with the help of their girls.  They bought a boat with a 45 Mercury and grew to like the outdoor life.  Hunting and fishing became their recreation. 

Bob took early retirement in 1985 due to medical problems.  After considering several retirement spots, they purchased a home on the shore of Bowden Lake in Wabowden.

Their daughters were both in Brownies and Guilds during their growing-up years, attending the guide camp at Ospwagan  Lake. They also attended Sunday School and Church regularly in Thompson.  Both girls live elsewhere now; one is in Winnipeg and the other is in B.C. 

Being an avid gardener, Vicki describes the problems of gardening in the early days of Thompson.  "The topsoil in the area is very thin, so to grow a garden or have decent flowers, it was necessary to collect soil and leaf mould in tubs and pails and haul it home."  Vickie observes how climate change is affecting plant life in the North. She also thinks there are more birds in the area now, especially robins.  She has become an interested observer of birds that come to her feeder. 

Vicki is a 52 year member of the Order of Royal Purple Lodge, and was active in promoting the Grassy River as a tourist attraction, and, at the time of this interview, was treasurer for the organization.