Saturday, 17 January 2015

Reminiscences of a Military Brat - Part 2 - We Move to Bagotville, Quebec

As I mentioned in my previous entry, I was born in North Bay, Ontario in late 1955 and very shortly afterwards, the family moved on to our next base, located in Bagotville, Quebec. This base was quite in the hinterland of Quebec, near the Saguenay River and at the time, close to the cities of Chicoutimi and Arvida. (It seems that the area may now be called Saguenay City.)

Aren't I a happy camper.
We moved there when I was still a baby, I think just a few months old, but we stayed there until 1961, and I completed Kindergarten and Grade 1. We lived in a standard PMQ for a family of 3, a duplex with two bedrooms upstairs; one shared by Rick and me and one for my sister. My parents had the room downstairs, actually a dining room, but used mainly for a bedroom. That left a family room and kitchen, as well as a basement, small as I recall because the furnace was located pretty well centre of the room. That was the laundry room. To my recollections, I thought it was pretty big, but, then again, I was just a baby. Many years later, when I was in the military and living in one with my family, I found myself walking into doors, cursing the narrow halls. It's all perspective, eh?

With my best friends Raymond and Bernie Finnegan on the back step
As I recall, it was a unique base, definitely a mix of English and French - speaking families. The base schools were also quite different; they were set up as the Catholic and Protestant schools (I attended the Catholic one) and, at least in the Catholic school, it was further broken down by the English and French speaking classes. So generally, my friends were fairly limited to those I went to school with and those that lived next door to us.

Graduating from Kindergarten with Anne Louise Smith and Raymond
I did enjoy myself there, although school, for the first time, was sort of traumatic. I remember standing out in the playground with all these other kids for the first day of Kindergarten; we lived close enough to walk to school, wondering what the heck I was in for!! But of course, it turned out OK. School was fun and I did OK. It was fun area to grow up; a nice playground near the school and PMQ's, a wooded area right behind our house, that I spent much time in with my friends. I seem to recall an instance where we walked through a wasps nest as we followed the neighbour's German Shepherd, Sinta, through the woods. Never ran so fast in my life and was stung many times. My mom's remedy, a hot bath and relaxing in my pyjamas on the front porch later on. It worked.

Me on the right, the short guy. I don't think there are any Hall of Famers there.
Every summer, the base would send a big truck around behind the PMQ's, with a big smoking machine on it that was used, as I understand, to kill the mosquitoes. I don't know what the smoke was made of, but we kids had a great time running after the truck and through the smoke. In the winter, there was an outdoor rink that was frozen and used all winter for hockey (of course, what else?). The snow was piled to the top of the boards and the parents could look down on us as we played. The hockey doesn't stand out in my mind, I played one winter and I don't think I was any good. But there was a nice clubhouse beside the rink, with a snack bar and there was nothing as good as a hot chocolate and hot dog with mustard on a cold winter day.

Chris and Rick always looking out for me
I don't know what Chris and Rick were up to, they were that much older than me. They had friends, I know; the Finnegans, who lived two doors down had children their age. And, of course, they had to babysit me when Mom and Dad went out. Even there, I think my parents were involved with curling, but I may be wrong. They were when we lived in Chatham (Part three of this story), I know for sure.

A Trip to Timmins to visit the Dumoulins (Dennis and Laurie Lee)
Even so far from our relatives in Northern Ontario and Quebec, we still had visitors in the summer, or went on our own treks back to family. It could be a long trip, first down through the Park to Quebec City and Montreal, then back up to Rouyn, Kirkland Lake and Timmins, but as you can see, we did enjoy our visits.

I think my First Communion
I mentioned that I went to the Catholic base school; one of the aspects of our education was, of course, the religious aspect. They did cram it in there; in Grade One, I did my first Penance, Communion and Confirmation. Did it mean anything to me at that age? Probably not.

The area we lived in, around the Saguenay, was very French, of course. It didn't impact me as I was fairly young and lived a relatively sheltered life on the military base. I think it was harder for my mother; she spoke very good French, but it was proper school - Parisian French and, from the stories I heard growing up, the locals were very insular and could pretend not to understand. TV, which was a new thing, was mostly French, but I don't recall any difficulties watching cartoons, Huckleberry Hound Dog, Yogi Bear, etc. in French. Shows like CBC's Front Page Challenge were still in English, so we had a mix.

Basically, I recall life being good, living in PMQs a good thing. We lived there six years and at the end, the base was getting very noisy. The Voodoos were coming in and replacing the Sabres, so in some ways, I was glad to be moving further East to Chatham and leaving the Voodoos behind. But, at the same time, it was a very sad time when we moved; part of the military life I didn't really enjoy, that being leaving friends behind and having to start over in a new location.

So, in 1961, after finishing Grade 1, the family packed up and headed to the Maritimes, to our base in Chatham NB. That will be the next instalment. I hope you've found this somewhat interesting.

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