Thursday, 15 September 2016

It's Who You Know

My father's stories of his youth in the small city of Cornwall Ontario had an undercurrent of his parents' savvy in how they dealt with people.  His mother was able to get him into a French school when normally it was against the rules, because she knew someone at the school board.  And she also got him a job working as a machinist for the company that built the Saint Lawrence Seaway in the mid-1950s.

Due to a shortage of trained workers, men were brought in from elsewhere and they stayed on site or at the homes of many local folks.  One of the men who boarded with my grandparents was Peter Gauthier, who ended up being Dad's boss on the job as well as a good friend.

Early in the construction phase, a large building was erected near the Moses-Saunders dam site for storage and maintenance of machinery, as well as the fabrication of steel rebar supports.  Dad was a member of a group who were responsible for measuring and threading the rebar supports to order.  He worked at this for one and a half years until construction was completed.

Afterwards Dad's father found him a job at the Cortaulds chemical plant where he worked, to do quality testing on cellophane at a new facility next door.  In this job there were four teams that worked six-hour rotating shifts: three on, one off.  The shift schedule wreaked havoc with a young man's social life - he was unable to pursue much of a relationship or hang out with his friends.  So after less than a year Dad decided to quit and join the Royal Canadian Air Force with hopes of becoming a pilot which would provide him a steady job and income.

For almost two years he trained on various aircraft at Centralia Ontario, Moose Jaw Saskatchewan, and Gimli Manitoba.  One summer he had some leave time, and offered to drive home with one of his fellow students who was Dutch and wanted to see some of Canada.  The man found it hard to believe that it would take three days to drive from Moose Jaw to Cornwall, but Dad gave him a tour that he wouldn't soon forget.

Despite Dad's best efforts he failed an advanced flying course on jets, which disqualified him from the pilots' program.  However he retained fond memories of the experience and later in his life he often spoke of the first plane he flew, which was a yellow DHC-1 Chipmunk.

After his stint in the Air Force he returned home to Cornwall and made plans to marry and settle down, but that is another story.

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