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Friday, 21 February 2014

Buchans

The town came into view in the distance, buildings in the middle of the wilderness. Except for the little community of Buchans Junction, about thirty kilometres away, we were as far into the wilderness of Newfoundland as it was possible to go, by road.

Rick finished work at Light and Power in Corner Brook and I finished work at Student Aid in St. John's. He visited my family in Mount Pearl for a few days and was headed to a teaching position on the southwest coast of Newfoundland while I was headed to Buchans to teach Science. Rick had a car and drove onto the Buchans highway at Badger to drop me into Buchans.

It was a beautiful day when we got there; the heat of late summer was oppressive that Labour Day.  Rick left me at the Teachers' Hostel. I'll never forget that feeling, watching as he drove away. It was windy and dry, so the wind, which came to be a familiar companion of the next number of years, was blowing around a fine sand/dust. There weren't many trees or grass in the community which I found unusual. Our house in Mount Pearl was bordered by a green belt and everyone had lawns that they groomed with such care. Here, in the middle of town there were few trees or grass. It was different from my home. I didn't know what to think that first day.

I was assigned a room at the hostel, unpacked and made my way to the school. The school seemed old but clean, parts freshly painted. An auditorium/gym had a low ceiling and was small. The lab was adequate. I was pleased overall and looking forward to the first day.

The Teacher's Hostel housed teachers from two schools and the female teachers worked really well together. It was good to live with other teachers. There was always someone to talk to and I never felt lonely that first year. It was good to share problems and ideas with fellow teachers. I can honestly say that staying there was the best thing I could have done that first year.

Buchans had a Teachers' Hostel because it was a company mining town and housing was difficult to acquire. The hostel ensured that teachers who came to the community had a place to live.

The cook/housekeeper, Rita, was just excellent. She provided the cooked meals and we shared the grocery bills and took turns doing the menu for a week. We took care of our own washing and rooms. It was like residence in university but we had money now because we were teaching. 

At twenty-one, it was an ideal place for me. I saved for a car and by Easter that year I bought my first one. I was so proud of it. I had also saved and paid off my student loan, before the interest started to accumulate at the end of the interest free period. Since I had lived at home, my loan was small.

It's funny how a place can grow on you. The dust that settled everywhere was a product of the mining process but it was also a reflection of the hard work of the people, some of whom gave their lives in the effort to extract the minerals from the earth. The dust was a part of life there. The content of the soil made it difficult to grow things in town as well. However the surrounding wilderness gave perspective as to how hard the people had worked to build a community there. We were surrounded by wilderness which could be beautiful but harsh in the cold, biting winds of the winter months when drifting snow resulted in white-outs. However that same location enabled some of the best winter activity anyone could want. Summers were hot and beautiful as well.

When I think of Buchans though I think of the people, hard working, talented, warm and accepting of new-comers, which they, their parents or grandparents had been at one time. There was a terrific work ethic and children were open and appreciative of everything. The men relied on each other at their jobs and the result was a tremendous sense of community. When the mine eventually closed, they fought to keep the town alive and they succeeded.

I eventually became principal of one of the schools but the personal cost to me of that job was too great. We left there, not easily though, and our daughter who had been born while we were there, always considers herself as being from Buchans, rather than from Grand Falls where we moved. In Buchans children played outside and had the freedom to go throughout the community. Such was not the case in our neighborhood in Grand Falls. It was a big adjustment when we first moved there.

Our family was lucky to have had the experience of Buchans in our lives. It was a unique, special place that we were lucky enough to call home.

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