Last month we went on a magical journey to the wonderful world of summertime play. My recollections and those offered by various readers could easily provide enough material for a book about our great adventures in and around Flin Flon. There’s no book in the offing but let’s again explore the spirit of play that carried us through those great days of summer.
Yes, Phantom Lake drew hundreds of kids who either hiked the Phantom Lake Path or rode their bikes. The more affluent kids – those who cashed in a few pop bottles – took the rattling old Doxey bus to the lake. But there was so much more that a kid could do just a few steps or a short walk or bike hike away from his or her doorstep. And all of it, free!
Kids in various parts of town had their own special games and places of play such as the South Hudson area boys who would head for Spirit Lake for a day of swimming. I guess it’s okay to give the location of this secret spot. Take a drive on the back road from the Creighton freeway to Channing, and you’ll find Spirit Lake on your left just before you head downhill. An email from an old friend, Fred, relates that the lake was great for swimming as its elevation prevented runoff contamination from the mine.
According to Fred, “Fun was finding a galvanized sheet metal bathtub from that era, and using it as a boat to paddle around the lake. Spirit Lake was the good ol’ swimming hole – no swimsuit was required. It also was too deep for water weeds. Still, we would swim across Spirit Lake, then back without a resting place or floats, and we did not drown anyone.”
Our Church Street gang had a few special places too. We would amble off to Second Valley for a day of building dams to hold back the tiny stream of water that drained from the mine and into Ross Lake - later wondering why our hands where bleached white.
A hike down the tracks past the mine site and over to Hidden Lake or an afternoon spent crawling around the discarded mine equipment dump was always lots of fun. Of course, some of our explorations required us to be on the lookout for a company watchman, who would have concluded our playtime with a stern lecture and a threat to report our misbehaviour to our parents. Yikes!
The greatest playground in the world for us, though, was a magical place we called Treasure Island. It wasn’t an island but that didn’t matter to our imaginative minds. On no particular day and for no particular reason a bunch of us boys (and perhaps a girl or two) would gather and ask the inevitable summer days questions.
“Well, what do you wanna do?”
“I dunno. What do you wanna do?”
“Let’s go to Treasure!”
There would be around eight or 10 of us ranging in age from eight to 12 years old who would ramble to the south end of Church Street and into Saskatchewan where we would walk down the Company Road to the footpath that skirted the south end of the open pit. Then it was a walk down the HBM&S tracks towards the lake bottom golf course. Steering clear of the golf course, the lake bottom provided a marvellous play area for our imaginary games of “trench warfare” – hucking bits of damp clay at each other – or skulking through the dense stands of river willow in games of jungle adventure. Meandering along the west side of the cavernous open pit on the way back home, we would pause to stand on the edge to view the sheer 300 foot drop. One of the guys in our gang had a wristwatch so it was part of the fun to throw large hunks of rock over the edge and time how long it took to hit the bottom – early childhood physics experiments!
Was any of this play dangerous? Yep. Were we supervised by adults? Nope. Did we have fun? Yep! Including challenging each other to run across a pool of muskeg and not get stuck! Some did! More fun!
Those were the great days of summer for kids to cross the threshold to all the make believe play the imagination could offer. All day. Free.