Community Memories from Jim Heis

Jim Heis arrived in Thompson in 1959 from Sudbury, Ontario.  He was hired by Inco as a shift boss.  His job was to supervise the contractors working to sink the mine shaft.  Jim’s wife, Ardyth, and children remained in Sudbury awaiting the completion of their house.

Finding experienced miners was a problem. In February of 1960, 70 men were hired from Vancouver. They were nicknamed ‘Tramp Miners,’ so called because out of every ten men, one was a miner and the other nine came from the ranks of the unemployed.

Work hours in the early days were long, usually 15 hour days, seven days a week. The turnover of employees made it difficult to maintain and to train a dependable crew.

When his family arrived, they moved into their unfurnished home. Painting was in progress and landscaping was non-existent. Their back yard was a sea of gumbo where the children’s rubber boots disappeared. And a bulldozer sent to level the yard got stuck.

On the job, there was a big push to begin production, exacerbated by the difficulty of finding dependable personnel.  Jim tells of a group of Irishmen—a whole crew of them—who decided to go “home” because of the unrest in Ireland.  In spite of the difficulties in training men, there were, amazingly, few accidents.

Jim soon determined that there was too little ore being produced in proportion to the amount of rock waste.  He was sent to T3 Mine as a general foreman and was given free rein to do whatever was needed to improve production.  His ideas of using smaller scoop trams and a different method of mining resulted in a remarkably higher grade of ore being produced.

Some of the problems encountered were worrisome. Most feared were the timber fires and water in the mine shafts.  Jim tells of one incident where diamond drill holes were causing water to enter the drifts.  Divers were called in, but their attempts to find the source of trouble was unsuccessful.  Jim acquired a boat, ropes and canvas, and with the help of a couple of the crew, dragged the bottom of the drift and within 45 minutes had found the source.  Sometimes one had to be creative!

Jim had been well trained in First Aid while working for Hydro in Ontario.  He tells of a worker who broke his leg and was bleeding profusely. With the help of a couple of crew members the leg was bound and the bleeding halted.  

Another time, he was responsible for resuscitating three men who had become trapped after a cave-in.  He also tells of a close call for himself when flying rock from an air blast narrowly missed him. 

Jim did not believe that anything could be gained by going on strike, and cited his experience in Sudbury where 39 supervisors had to keep the operation going, which was usually manned by several hundred men.  When a strike was called here in 1981, Jim resigned from his job.

He remained in Thompson for a couple of years, in the meantime looking for a place to retire.  He wanted an older house, a ‘fixer-upper’ with a hit of land.  He eventually found it in Minitonas, Mb. 

When asked about negative aspects of life here, he mentioned the pressure of long hours in the early days, camp living and the lack of amenities.