A Place That Wasn’t on the Map
Logan Lake went from zero residents to nearly 200 in a matter of months. The first 100 homes were filled with families and workers who arrived from across North America.
Joan and Frank Saunders came from Schefferville, Labrador – a place with no roads in and very few services. “My father was not happy that we were coming here either,” laughs Joan, “because he said, ‘He’s always taking you to somewhere that’s not on the map.’”
“And Logan Lake…” Frank chuckles, looking at Joan.
“…was not on the map!” she finishes.
“When it was built,” remembers Reg Malmas, who had arrived with his young family from Pine Point, Northwest Territories, “[Logan Lake] was the most modern town in the province. Because it was the first town, or place, built where there was no above ground services. All the power lines and everything were buried below ground. And in that day and age it was cheap to run power poles, but the mine had a vision that they wanted a modern town.”
John Mahon remembers the mine’s efforts to attract potential employees to work at Lornex. “It was good because one of the first things we could say was that we were going to rent you a house or sell you a house and the price was very little. What did we pay for our first house?” he turns to his wife, Gladys, “$18,000? $20,000? Whatever it was and you were guaranteed a mortgage because you had a full-time job.
A New Start
Willis McBride, his wife, Evelyn, and their children came from Quebec to work at Lornex a year before Logan Lake was built. “The weekend we were leaving Quebec, the army was on St. Catherine St. That was the FLQ War Measures Act, and it was time to move. Conditions made it so it was really necessary to move.” He and Evelyn and their children lived in Kamloops for almost a year before the town was built.
For Frank and Joan, they were looking for a little less isolation than they had in Northern Labrador.
“We decided, well, maybe we will try B.C. because we liked it out here when we drove out in the summer,” Frank remembers. “And then I wrote a letter to Manpower. I posted it on Monday in Schefferville, Northern Labrador, Quebec, and on Wednesday I got a phone call wanting to know when I could be at work out here.”
It was a booming time in the mining industry across North America. “There were a lot of mines opening up at that time and they were in dire need of mechanics,” he recalls. “So when I got the letter I decided maybe that’s a good move.”
Joan remembers they had a few choices when it came to relocating. “Babine Lake, Port Alice, Stewart, here, and there was one other one. There were five that we could think about going to. And the idea of an instant mining town, a new town, was a good idea,” she explains. “We didn’t think it was far enough north,” she adds. “We wanted to be farther north so there would be more snow and winter activities. I was excited because there was going to be a road, which we hadn’t had before. And it was neat to be in a start-up although some of the others were start-ups too.”
Sheron Malmas remembers that there were ten house keys given out that first week and she and Reg and their kids moved into their new house on Amber Court. She is quite emphatic when she answers the question, “Why did you leave Pine Point, Northwest Territories?”
“To get out of Pine Point, Northwest Territories!” she laughs.
Reg adds, “we had a young family. We had two children. Grant, at that time, was going on five, and then our daughter was only two. The isolation, the distance to a doctor – it was 70 miles from the doctor to Pine Point and he only came in once a week – we just wanted to get out of the north country.”
Both of them laugh at Sheron’s first impression of Logan Lake. “I took some pictures of the house,” he chuckles, “and Sharon said, ‘I’m not moving there!’ She looked at the pictures I’d taken, would you believe this, the 7th of July, with five inches of snow on the ground. And she said, ‘Where are you taking me? At Pine Point in July there’s no snow!’ And the next day it was 100 above.”
Choosing Houses and Moving In
Ken Munro and his family were leaving South Dakota where he had been going to university. He was looking for jobs at mines in British Columbia after previously working in Ontario. When they decided on Logan Lake, Ken came ahead to work before the town was completed. He remembers choosing a house on Beryl Drive because it was available and it had a nice view.
Frank Saunders, who had also come out long before Joan arrived, chose a house for a more unusual reason. Employees were given a map and had a certain number of houses they could choose from. Out of the approximately six layouts he was offered he narrowed it down to three. The reason, Joan is quick to point out, was because, “he wanted to have a backdoor that went straight downstairs. He was going to build an airplane in the basement. And he wanted to be able to take the wing out. There are three houses in town,” she points out, “that are the same layout as this, where you go straight downstairs.”
In his defense, Frank also explains that, “getting furniture down into the basement was a real pain where you come in the door and make a 90 degree turn straight down to the basement. So, it was hard to maneuver a fridge or a deep freeze or something like that around the corner!”
“I didn’t have a lot of input,” Joan adds, “because I was limited to three. I liked the idea of ours backing onto the park because I could take the kids out into the park. And we’ve slid out in the park here too. That’s a nice hill there for little kids. And this was our first house that we had owned,” she adds.
“First and last,” Frank agrees.
Sheron Malmas and her children were staying in Alberta with Reg’s parents while they waited to move to Logan Lake. Reg remembers having a choice of seven houses. “I brought some plans and we looked at them and we picked that house. But other than that, she had never seen the house. And try and pick furniture and curtains and everything!” They moved into their new house at 4 Amber Court on August 1, 1971.
Of the seven homes they were offered they chose the one with the open foyer on a court where it would be quiet and good for the kids.
When the Malmas’s moved in to their new home the basement was already full. “The whole basement was still full of carpet and I mean big rolls of carpet because they were still building some other houses and it was one of the storage areas.”
Willis McBride remembers when they chose their house as well. “Amber Drive was kind of a choice place to pick,” he says. “The way it was laid out, the view, everything. It was pretty nice up there. And, of course, the houses were allocated first to staff by seniority. Well we came in, I think about 10th. And there were three or four picks on the street. I loved the lot,” he reminisces. “The lot was almost level. All four survey pins were obvious. You could see them. And we were not aware, really at the time, of the house that was going up on it. But it would be three bedroom and so on. It was probably one of the poorer laid out houses in Logan Lake, next to the one they call the Pump House. And that’s how come we picked it. We really picked the lot and went with the house. We were there actually almost 41 years,” he adds. Typical of mining towns of that era houses were first chosen by seniority, starting with staff and then moving on to the hourly workers.
Gisele and Gunther Aichele, who came from Castlegar, chose number 17 Amber Drive because it was the furthest along. Before the Aicheles moved in it was also the house where the first town council meeting was held when the house was still vacant and unheated. It was here that the first council and Mayor John Aldrich were acclaimed by the provincial government. MLA Phil Gaglardi presented the council with a flag of British Columbia.
Ken Munro explains that while residents had mortgages on their houses, you couldn’t just come in and buy a house in Logan Lake. “The house went through the mine. And that was in effect for quite a number of years.” It was nearly ten years before that changed but before then if anyone wanted to make renovations or changes to their house they need the mine’s approval. “So you bought the place,” he points out, “but the aspects of what you could do were a bit tight.” In those early days houses couldn’t appreciate because employees could only sell them back to the mine if they chose to leave.
The First Few Weeks
The first few weeks and months in Logan Lake were busy times for the new residents as houses became homes and new routines were established.
“I think the biggest thing at the beginning was trying to get some grass so we didn’t have all this dirt, blowing around and tracking in the house,” Joan remembers. “Some people went with sod, but most of us planted grass and then watered it.”
Sheron Malmas remembers the heat of that August the most. “August it was the warmest weather I’d ever seen up there. It was close to 100 degrees. And coming from Pine Point,” she laughs, “it was unpack a box, lay on the floor. Unpack a box, lay on the floor.”
In those days the only phone was at the engineering office in town and there was no TV yet.
“But it was actually really nice and the people were very close,” Sheron adds.
“Everybody wanted to help everybody,” Reg agrees.
Official Town Opening
At a large formal ceremony in the elementary school library, which was followed by a second and larger one that night in the elementary school gymnasium, the town was officially opened on November 13th, 1971. Phil Gaglardi, MLA and Minister of Transportation, Kamloops Mayor, Peter Wing, and other dignitaries all came and the town residents dressed up in their finest to celebrate. This was also the night when the gym was donated to the school district by the mine to be used as a community centre. A plaque indicating the dedication used to hang in the gym although it has since been removed.
Gaglardi, also known as “Flying Phil Gaglardi”, who was also a Pentecostal minister, commented that he had arrived on a “Wing and a prayer”, having travelled the horrible road from Kamloops with Peter Wing.
Each resident who attended the opening received a ceremonial engraved key, attached to a polished stone. Glen Scott was interested in rock polishing and polished the stones for about 200 keys.
Day to Day Life
While the new town and its new residents settled into a routine a community began to form. Groups began to organize for social activities, churches were meeting in the elementary school gym, and gatherings were planned.
“Oh I think that developed relatively quickly as I recall,” remembers Ken Munro. “… you had to sort of make friends and become part of the community… Everybody was in the same boat so you just go with it.”
Sheron Malmas recalls, “it was a new town, it was a new mine, and everybody was gung ho to do everything. And it was a relatively younger group, between 20, 30s and 40s.”
Gladys Mahon remembers one thing that was a pretty big deal at the time – the phone. For the first while the only phone in Logan Lake was at the town engineering office. “The only hard thing,” she explains, “was not having a phone for a while but then when we did get it, it was a party line. That was interesting.”
“There were six people,” John Mahon explains. “Six or seven on each party line.”
“I was so excited,” says Gladys, “I phoned my mom and told her we finally had this phone and so then she tried to phone me one time shortly after that and the operator said, ‘there’s no such number.’ So then she had quite the time getting them to understand there was really a place called Logan Lake and that they had a phone and the exchange was 523, so she finally got through to me but that was quite funny.”
Slowly, the outside world realized that Logan Lake really existed.
The Best Things & Memories
“When we moved here,” muses Joan, “it was the 20 year mine. We actually thought we would only stay a couple years and go north because we didn’t think this was going to be north enough for us, really. We like snow, we like skiing and that kind of stuff.”
When asked about the best things about living in Logan Lake for all these years, Frank and Joan both agree, “the outdoorsiness, and quietness,” Frank says.
Reg and Sharon Malmas stayed until 1987. “That was one of the best moves we ever made,” says Reg. “We got out of the north country, our kids started school and finished school. And loved it. Both our kids.”
Gladys Mahon is grateful she and John and their kids were able to be together as a family. “We were able to be in one spot and John was able to come home at night instead of commuting the way it was,” she says. “And we met a lot of people. Most people stayed. There were a few that left, but not many. Most people came and were happy to be there and stayed because they were happy. It wasn’t a glamorous life. We were just living a life.”
The Mahons moved back to Kamloops over 25 years ago but still visit Logan Lake frequently. “I can’t say one bad thing about it,” Gladys says. “It was good.”
Although Gisele and Gunther Aichele only stayed a few years, Gisele recalls those first years with a grin. “Oh I loved it at first! I said, ‘Oh my gosh!’ There’s all this freedom, we ran all over the place and it was just wonderful. Actually, you know we had a lot of fun. We made instant friends with everybody, we were all in the same boat.”
Ken Munro recalls his family’s time in Logan Lake with great fondness as well, “I just think it was an interesting time raising a family and working and just seeing a town develop and with all of the growing pains that come with a new community,” he reflects. “I don’t know whether any had mentioned, but you know Logan Lake didn’t just happen, it sort of became [one of] the last mining towns, as I recall, that was developed in British Columbia.”