Community Memories from Bill and Wilma Harrison

Wilma and Bill Harrison arrived in Thompson in 1961, just in time for the grand opening of the Thompson Plaza.  They viewed the town as a great opportunity for developing new businesses.  Their restaurant, in the Plaza, was named ‘Sinclair’s’ and later changed to ‘Siggies.’  Over the years they opened other food services:

• 1963 – Tom Thumb, a children’s restaurant
• 1970 – A&W Franchise
• Queen of Hearts, a stereo equipment shop
• Gondola Pizza
• Camera Corner

They also purchased several houses. Their first home was located on Lynx Crescent. Unfortunately, there was a two week delay in the arrival, so they had to stay at the Thompson Inn thanks to the kindness of Otto Bindle. They recall that their kids were on their best behavior! 

Their hope was to establish a restaurant offering fine dining services with servers, chefs, etc.  However, they found that Thompson, with its large working-class population, wasn’t quite ready for such finery.  There were no drinking establishments except for the Thompson Inn, and they found that occasionally people would sneak alcohol into their restaurant.

Their business expanded to the Meridian Hotel, Baaco Pizza and the Goldeye Apartments, sometimes in partnership with other business establishments.

As in many mining towns, INCO experienced a downturn in the economy. There were cutbacks in 1978 and many people left Thompson. 

Bill and Wilma were involved in the building of a roller rink in the industrial area (B.J.’s) which was later sold to a partner and eventually closed.

Their overall views on the city were positive. They made many friends and schools were satisfactory. It was a good place to raise a family.  On the negative side, according to the Harrisons, the roads were bad. They recall that people had to ship their cars out to The Pas to begin their vacations.  At first, there was a shortage of dependable staff and places for them to live. They often boarded staff members in their home. Work hours were long: 6:00 a.m.. to 11:00 p.m. Air travel was very expensive. There was no bus service in the early days. Most people walked to where they wanted to go.

Bill retired from the restaurant business in 1988. They purchased a place in Florida and spent 12 years there, enjoying the warmth and many visitors. After moving back to Winnipeg, they purchased a cottage in Kenora, Ont. 

When asked about conditions in the early days, Bill commented on the building practices and other events.  The Plaza was the first indoor mall in Western Canada. He said that the homes were not energy-efficient.  Thompson Gas, at first, had big propane tanks situated in various locations around town. Don and Bill Morgan were in charge of the gas business. It was difficult for restaurants to get produce.  Meats were shipped in in huge quantities and they butchered their own meat.

Many homeowners converted their basements into rental suites to meet the needs of the workers at the mine. Sometimes there were as many as a dozen rooms in a basement.

They recall that nurses could not get a job here if they were married—probably teachers too.

Pay-day was described as a ‘rambunctious’ time with a lot of drinking and sometimes violent behavior. They described one incident where a couple was fighting over a baby.  As they quarreled, the child was tossed back and forth between them, "a very unnerving experience.”

When asked if they ever got ‘cabin fever’ they both replied that they were too busy to even think about it. Wilma said her morale booster was to go get her hair done once a week.

They still enjoy trips to Thompson to visit family here and appreciate the beauty of the North, often stopping at Pisew Falls.  They look forward to a pickerel dinner with their daughter Susan.

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