Community Memories from Tom Hicks

Every city requires the knowledge and skills of a team of planners, engineers and construction workers to carry out the establishment of home sites, sewer and water installations, and the building of streets and sidewalks. It was in the capacity of resident engineer that brought Tom Hicks to Thompson in 1957 with Underwood-McLellan, an engineering firm in Saskatchewan. Clearing of the land was already underway, carried out by Nast Brothers. Tom moved here in April in 1958, followed by his wife Eleanor and sons Doug and Glen. 

Tom was transferred to Winnipeg in 1961, but returned in 1967 to work for Ospwagan Construction who were contracted to build the grade for a 20 mile stretch of railroad from Pipe Lake to the mill, as well as doing some underground work for the city. 

One of the biggest challenges for the engineers was the ground conditions in the muskeg areas. R.M. Hardy, a soil specialist, had published a paper on permafrost, but there were no specifics as to how to cope with the situation. When installing underground pipes through permafrost areas, there was a lot of settlement as the ground thawed, causing cast-iron pipes to shear off. After observing the problem, it was soon evident that by removing the ground cover, trees, shrubs, and so on, the ice in permafrost areas would melt and the ground would settle in the summer. 

Quinn Construction did a lot of the clearing and preparation for the water and sewer installations.  They were well equipped with backhoes and dozers. 

Survey crews and some construction workers lived in so-called "shack tents" with wooden floors and sides and a canvas top.  These tents were heated with oil stoves and were reasonably comfortable.  There was a special tent for the cook. 

The engineering people were housed in mobile trailers, set up near the present site of the water treatment plant.  This enabled them to bring their families.  The trailers were outfitted with Hydro power, propane for cooking and oil heat. 

Tom commented that he had knowledgeable and competent people working with him.  He mentioned Roy Bibeau, who took over for Tom when he left, and served as town engineer for many years.  Work hours were long—10 hour days, 7 days a week—at the beginning but tapered off by 1960. 

From 1967-72, Tom freelanced and looked after his farm in Northern Saskatchewan. 

Tom and Eleanor returned in 2004 for a celebration of the Lindquist’s 50th wedding anniversary.  He noted many changes and improvements in Thompson.  It was rewarding to them to see the town growing and prosperous.  From an engineering perspective, Tom noted that there was a deterioration of streets and sidewalks, a costly and constant maintenance problem for all Northern communities that have to deal with permafrost and cold winters.

Tom has fond memories of boating, fishing, and hunting and of the many lasting friendships made. His boys played hockey as youngsters and both went on to play professionally, Doug with Minnesota and Edmonton, and Glen with the Winnipeg Jets.

He felt that Thompson now enjoyed all the benefits of a modern community with a better highway system, modern conveniences and good shopping.

Tom is still a farmer at heart and has a buffalo ranch north-west of Red Deer, complete with a beautiful log home where his family gathers on many occasions.

His parting gem of wisdom: “If you want to keep your kids out of hot water, put them on ice.”

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