april 27, 2014

Bitter cold  day when Doug Donaldson held  a  auction on the old BIRD  FAMILY FARM, fifth line, Halton Twp.

alan skeoch
April 27, 2019

“Hi there, young fellow, what’s new?”, greeted  Bill Brooks the other day.
“Not much…pulled hamstring…too much  rain…too bloody cold.”
“Are you going to the Donaldson auction on Saturday?”
“Down the fifth line by the railroad tracks…”
“Do you mean the Bird family farm?”
“Yes, but operated by the Brecon family now….did you know the Birds?”
“Never met them but my mother and Elsie Bird were friends  long long ago.”
“How long?”
“Perhaps 1920…”
“Meet you there…”

And so Marjorie and I drove up the lane and parked in the field on an absolutely freezing
day…April 27, 2019…Spring flowers could not peep above the ground…tree leaves  wanted
to burst but were afraid to do so lest winter frost bite them to death.

And so the Brecon family auction began

Doug Davidson as auctioneer

His wife as the record  keeper and his daughter as the marker of things  sold and displayer
of things to sold.  It was  a family affair.

A small farm auction that would last two and a half hours.  Most of the crowd were men…some
dressed in rather bizarre garb.

Bill Brooks wore a new pair of gloves as  he stood shivering beside Marjorie who was
dressed for the occasion.  Our dog, Woody, was the only animal present.  In earlier times
the Bird farm had a full range of domestic  animals but none today.  All gone.

Behind the barn were the ghosts of agriculture technology festooned  in the cobwebs
of time.

No bids  on this machine…probably because no one knew wha it was.

The 1966 John Deere tractor brought $7,700.00

The little Allis Chalmers brought $800.00 and was last used  to cultivate a field of garlic.

Now pay attention.  the most unusual object on the farm never got a bid. There were likely some people who never even noticed it.

“Marjorie, come over here…I want my picture taken with this tree.”
“It is the oldest black Walnut tree I have ever seen in my live…must be 8 feet wide or more at the base.  This tree may bee as much as 200 years old.
The historians said that pioneers looking for good  land always looked for black walnuts.  And  here is the proof.   The Bird family may have planted this 
tree but I bet it precedes them…maybe it was a sapling in the 1820’s.”
“Seems to be valued by squirrels.

“Marjorie, take a  picture of my arm…I can reach right into the guts of the tree…hollow.”
“What’s inside?”
“Ghosts…let me take a flash picture…looks like an ancient cave with stalagmites…”
“Wonder it can stand?”
“Perhaps it will go down someday.”

“Alan, we better get back to the auction…the harness is coming up.”
“Harness  is perfect…obviously the Brecon’s loved horses.”

Two chain saws sold for $10…neither of them working.

English saddle sold for $35…and  may some day be used  in a fancy movie…at least we hope so.

Horse collar sold for $50  as did the cast iron implement seat.

The square hay bailer sold for $2,700.00…in perfect shape.

“Alan, what is this machine?”
“picks up bails of hay or star in the field and shoves them to a man or woman on a hay wagon…replaces
human beings.”
“Who  bought it?”
“Bill Brooks…I spoke to him about it and he said he would deliver it to our farm…
are you interested?  Might look good in the garden…or a trellis for pole beans.
Bill had an eye for things of value.”

The two furrow drag plow got active bidding and sold for around $200
to a man who does competitive plowing with an old drag tractor…

“The buzz saw sold for $5.00”
“Who bought it?”
“You are looking at him right now”
“How will you get it in the ruck?”
“I’ll get Andrew to pick it up.”
“Don’t you think our son has better things to do with his time?”
“Payback for the cost of food and lodging for 20 years.”

This is Mr. Brecon…the owner of everything sold today.

“Marjorie, I bought this stove…”
:”You didn’t!!”

Joe Brooks bought this heavy four furrow plow…somewhere around $20

“Been a long time since anyone sat on this seat…moss taken over.”

“How much did you pay for the harness, Alan?”
“Rather not say.”
“More than a  tank full of gas?”
“Why not say?”
“Plan to rent the harness to a movie…best price not be public.”
“In shore, you paid more for this harness that some of the men
paid for those useful machines “
“Horses  are useful.”

“What all we remember most about this auction?”

“The walnut tree…a living creature like this aged tree cannot be forgotten.”



alan skeoch
April 2019

    The summer of 1960 is so deeply carved into my brain that the events remain crystal clear.  The days started off
delightfully ordinary as you will see, then on May 31 everything changed.   

An ordinary life in Toronto in May 1960 was really wonderfull but I never thought much about it.
Our life was safe, affluent, active, open, … and taken for granted.
Lots of friends, enough money to enjoy life and safe streets.

The people in Glasgow were not so lucky….




Wednesday May  18, 1960

CAught the train in Blind River.  Arrived back in Toronto from the Elliot Lake adventure.  Phoned Marjorie from Sudbury as she is still in North Bay…always easy
to talk with her, perhaps for a lifetime.  My brother Eric met me at the West Toronto station and later drove Eric to work at Toronto beaches where he is a lifeguard
with endless stories to tell some of them quite bizarre.  Loved the screwing match story best…Binoculars used to survey Cherry Beach then yell ’Screwing  Match’
to get others excited by illicit sex.  “Where?  Where?”  “Right here  and Eric would show that he held a screw and a  match in his hand.”  I found that really funny.
 Then  proceeded  to the Huntec  office.  A  beautiful day of sunshine.  FloydFaulkner is getting married  on Saturday
then almost immediately will fly to Hudson’s Bay for a three month job.  No time for a honeymoon obviously.  Floyd remains cheerful still calling  me Fucking Al as a
term of endearment.  Then picked  up my passport and health certificate  for entry to Southern Ireland. A flight has been booked…Toronto to New York to Scotland to 
Dublin.   Gord Brand  got me a  day  job in Kinmount using our family 1953 Meteor at 9 cents a  mile.  Dad is not too happy about that for he will have to
take public transportation all the way  from west Toronto to Whitby…couple of hours each way at least.

Thursday May 19, 1960

Got up at 6 a.m. and  travelled fast to Kinmount on empty roads.  Two cow moose  ran  alongside the car just east of  Kinmount.  Arrived  at the hidden job site  
where Paul Head and  Gord Brand were waiting with the Induced Polarization (I.P,) unit all set to go.  Lunch was fittingly eaten and washed  down with a  case
of I.P.A. (Indian  Pale Ale) which seemed  fitting.  Get it?  I.P. unit and  I.P.A. Ale!  We  spent the afternoon laying base line  cable through the bush.  Found a strange
shack in the bush  with a  bunch of dead porcupines.  Disgusting if killed for no reason…hunters hate porcupines as quills get in the mouth and noses of their hounds.
We drove down to Peterborough in the evening staying in luxury at the Rock Haven Motel.  Gathered  in the bar where Paul Head told us tales of Arizona.  Just think
Huntec  had planned to send me to Arizona  ten days ago.  Now all has changed.  Earlier in day we met two large turtles…a painted turtle and  a snapping turtle.
All told it was  a grand day.

Friday May 20, 1960

We drove back north to the anomaly which is a few miles east of  Kinmount.  Stopped  for breakfast at a beautiful spot with a waterfall beside it.  Continued north 
as  road  changed  from triple lane paved to double lane to single lane to gravel to a grass covered trail.  Sounds joyful?  Not so.   Every  square inch of  our exposed
flesh  was dinner for the damn black flies who are at their peak  right now.  They are ravenous.  We only managed to completed less than  two lines, This machine 
(I.P.) can be quite dangerous…500 volt shock if foolhardy.  We  are careful.  Drove back to Kinmount which was really jumping for a change…summer people have
arrived.   I was too tired and dirty for any socializing.  We  are putting one hell of  a lot of mileage on the ’53 Meteor which  is a bit of a worry as it is  our first
family car and treasured by all.  Phoned mom from a Kinmount telephone booth which was  loaded  with mosquitoes just waiting for someone like me.

Saturday May 21, 1960

We  got a good early start in the bush today.  Voracious flies everywhere drove us on so we managed to finish the job by 6.30.  I left immediately for Toronto. Thick fog 
but managed to make it home by 9.30…250 mile in three hours. “The damn car is  full of black  flies!”, exclaimed  Dad who  went after them with with a swatter and
insect spray.

Sunday May  22, 1960

We  drove to the farm today … mom, dad and  me…too much wind, fog and rain for effective  planting but managed to get some vegetable plants in the ground.
The dog loved the mud.  Later paid a short visit to Uncle Frank and Aunt Lucinda at their farm up the road.  Tested  the Turam E.M. unit on our  farm by laying 
main cable attached to motor generator snd grounded at both ends with steel  rods…apparently need couple of ground rods at each end…pounded in with sledge.

Monday May 23, 1960

Bought a pile  of film for the trip to Ireland then we drove Eric to his lifeguard  station.  Then mom, dad and I went to the horse races at Old Woodbine track.  Dad  had 
a friend  at the gate that let us slip into the first class  section.  “Look straight ahead and follow me, do not look at the gate keeper.”  I lost  a bit of money but Dad made
a few dollars. Foggy track.  I think Dad and Mom missed  having Marjorie with them at the track.  Her enthusiasm is catching…loves the horses.  Gambling is secondary
 Then we drove back to Cherry Beach and picked up Eric.  We all went for supper at Bassel’s restaurant then home  to bed.  Typical
family day.

Tuesday May 24, 1960

Drove to the office on O’Connor Road today.  What a luxury after the long hot trips on the street car and TTC bus.  But taking the car really puts a load on dad to get from our
house on Annette Street, West Toronto all the way to Whitby  I don’t know how he does it frankly. Barrie Nichols gave me  my flight tickets…strange  route via New York and  
Scotland to reach  Dublin. Also $300 in expense  money.   Gord Brand and  Paul Head left by Land Rover for  Arizona.  Collected $44.31 expenses  for use  of the 53 Meteor…
covered 480 miles.  Dan Bereskin arrived from Saskatoon as a  seismic assistant and was immediately sent to Niagara Falls  on a project.

Wednesday May 25, 1960

Final preparations at office.  Seems like a  number of the professional staff would like to be on this job.  Why me?  Simply because  I used the Turam system  on the Alaska
job last summer. The other guys are no longer with the company.  My Good luck.  Took it easy at home then decided to visit Bob Taylor and his wife Anita (Simmons) Taylor…both are very happy with no financial problems
like poor Bill faces.  Missed their wedding while I was in Alaska.   Seems strange to have friends that are married.

Thursday May 26, 1960

All ready for Ireland now.  Went to Scouts and  handed out uranium  samples from  Elliot Lake for the lads.  Then we  all zipped over to the Dairy Dell for a milk shake.

Friday  May 27,1960

Final briefing.  Dr. Norman Paterson asked  me to demonstrate the AFMag.  One of his secretaries then typed a report on the demonstration.  She inadvertently referred to me as  Dr. Skeoch.
Barrie Nichols took me aside saying I must pretend to be a permanent employe… experienced using the Turam.  (a  Swedish  invention)  I was flattered that they trusted me so much.  Determined not to let anyone down.

  Picked up voltmeters
and maps  and  drove home for the last time before the flight to Ireland.

Saturday May 28, 1960

Last chance to shop in Toronto.  Bought technical books, rainwear, self-timer, filter, map case.   Still time to plant so got 30 tomato plants for the  farm.  Dad  had  a good
day at the racetrack…cashed some tickets.  I wish  Marjorie was here rather than in North Bay.  Mom and I went to see ‘Our Man in Havana’ .  We weighed  my luggage
which was 40 pounds overweight.  Shiela Baird dropped by and cannot believe I am flying to Ireland.   I have trouble believing that myself.

Sunday May 29, 1960

Dad kicked  me out of bed for an early  start to the farm where the three of us put in A full day’s work.  Uncle Art with cousins John and  Norma Skeoch came up to the 
farm later…Art and  Dad, brothers, had  a beer or two.  Drive back  to the  city and  went to Presbyterian Young People’s Society meeting as usual.  Shiela Baird showed
her slides of Europe and gave me some good addresses in Ireland.  Went to Red  Stevenson’s  after…nice to have so many  friends.

Monday May 30, 1960

HERE  GOES.  Lots of well wishers…address of Mrs. Langford in Glasgow…Doris gave  me  $2…Mr. Cook (Dad’s gambling  buddy) drove  me to the airport…Doug and Harry there 
for send off, gave me that rosary which made us  all laugh…overweight $60,75.  Met a Boy Scout/Rover Scout from Sarnia.  Nice greeting from TCA stewardess.  And takeoff to New York.  Fantastic  airport. KLM (Royal  Dutch
Airlines) had a  man meet me and escort to KLM terminal.  Luggage did not follow though.  I did have a bit of time to explore then boarded at 6.25 p.m. in a rush…got window seat
with no window. Flight will take 9 hours.  Dutch  are very friendly,  always  smiling.

Tuesday  May 31, 1960

I did not get a wink of sleep all night hemmed in by young children on all sides…some kicking…John, Henry and Raymond were assumed to be my children which was quite a shock…do not
remember name of the other one.  Suddenly a new world opened up to me…made me think.


   So many things were whirling through my head….fragments of the past that were so meaningful.  

Village of Mauchline about 1900…Kilwinning might have been same in 1844

1) My Great Great grandparents had boarded sailing vessels at Kilwinning, a port not
far from Prestwick airport.  They did so in 1844 and 1846…Agnes Skeoch sailed for Canada first along with three of her children…Jame. James and David Skeoch, boys were so full of energy 
while crossing the Atlantic that their aunt Margaret feared they would be swept overboard.   Agnes Skeoch husband came two years later in 1846 Robert Skeoch with the rest of the
children.  Why didn’t they cross together? I have no idea, perhaps the other children were just too young.   And the bigger question, why did they decide to leave Scotland?  We have no family records to suggest distress or starvation.  They were lucky.  The Cholera pandemic hit Scotland in 1847 brining horrific death rates as described later.

2)  As our plane circled to touch down the green fields of the Scottish lowlands emerged.  The Skeochs, according to letters saved by my Aunt Elizabeth, had  a
farm somewhere below…perhaps near Stevenston…or Mauchline.  Less clear since there are no records to prove it is  the possible connection with the long 
gone village of Skeoch near Stirling where family legend states two orphan boys were found on the battlefield of Bannokburn in 1415.  The boys were placed with the convent of St. Skeoch, an
obscure Irish Saint of the 9th century.  We think it was  a convent but could have been a  monastery.  No matter, the legend says the boys were named by the mother superior.. James and John
Skeoch.  Where was the convent?  Who  was St. Skeoch?  Assuming the place was a convent, where was that convent?  Was it in the village of Skeoch?  Was the story even true?  Perhaps
a core of truth. (*In 2o19 I found the Chapel of St. Skeoch, a ruin about the size of a garage, a  long way from here near Montrose, north of Edinubrgh.  Nearby is the Rock of St. Skeoch (also named St. Stay)
also called Elephant Rock.   Seems a long way from the Bannockburn fields of the Skeoch Steading.)

3) I wonder if the Skeochs back in 1840’s celebrated the poetry of Robbie Burns.  Much of it was written about the land below me as the plane throttled down for a landing.  Burns was a 
womanizer and his  poetry gave eternal life to so many Scottish girls who once roamed these fields below…and had love affairs with Robbie.   Did a Skeoch lass ever get involved?

The Belles of Mauchline  (excerpt…by Robbie Burns in 1784)
Miss Miller is fine, Miss Markland’s divine, 
Miss Smith she has wit, and Miss Betty is braw: 
There’s beauty and fortune to get wi’ Miss Morton, 
But Armour’s the jewel for me o’ them a’.

4) Now sweeping over the Isle of Bute and here below is the Skeoch Wood almost enclosing the seaside town of Rothesay.

5)  And there to the North…distant… is the sprawling 62 square miles City of Glasgow.  Long long ago in  1553 Sir John Skeocht (sometimees spelled Skewyhche0 was procurator of Glasgow. Procurator?   An agent of the government perhaps in charge of the finances of Glasgow.  Procurators in ancient times were officers of the Roman empire entrusted  with managing the financial affairs of a province…agents of the Roman 
emperor.  The word  continued to be used  long after the Romans vacated Britain.  Was Sir John Skeocht a relative?   What would  the city be like.  A family letter written in 1866 was not comforting. ” We too often see daily in our streets the degrading effects of alcohol; not to speak of the numberless cases which our eye never meets”   (Walter SMITH 1866 TO Robert Skeoch, Fergus, Canada West)

I had a layover in Scotland…one night and  part of two days.   Was Scotland going to be like I  expected?  What did I expect?  Bagpipes,  tartans, Scots reciting the poetry of Robbie Burns.
Those three things I knew were unlikely.  Glasgow was about to open my eyes. 




   Prestwick was the touchdown  point for Lancaster Bombers being ferried from North America to England in World War II…Hundreds to those planes came in here.  Most made it across
the Atlantic non stop.  One out of every ten,  however, did not make it.  That was an acceptable loss  rate.  The top military people in Great Britain were even prepared  for a  loss  rate
of  50%…one out of every two.  They were just that desperate for Bombers to carry the war to German cities. So the big Lancasters  made in Toronto and  elsewhere in North America
were ferried  to Gander, Newfoundland…and  Goose Bay as well.  Then they were topped off  with fuel and  flown  by  civilian  pilots,  168 of whom were women.   One of these pilots 
whose son I interviewed  long ago gathered his crew together before each flight and asked one simple question.  “If something fails,  do you  want me to go straight in or try
a flat landing in the Atlantic?”  Most crews  said  “straight in” because they new survival  in the cold  Atlantic  was unlikely…perhaps  only a few minutes before the biting cold of the water
shut down the body.  All those bombers leaving Gander landed  here in  Prestwick.

The smaller aircraft…fighter plans…could not make the Transatlantic  flight so semi-secret bases were built in Greenland for refuelling.  These  flights were also dangerous.  Just to
find  these two USAF bases was  a chore.  To land  required skilled navigating up a  long fiord, then making a sharp turn and fast descent to an airstrip hastily built in the 1940’s.  Those 
Greenland Bases are  now empty.  Have been so since 1945 when US forces just pulled out fast and left much  behind.  They are unreachable ghost bases readily identifiable
by the rusting hulks  left behind.

Low oblique aerial view of the Transport Command Delivery Park on the Northeast Apron at Prestwick airport, Ayrshire, showing aircraft marshalled after being flown across the Atlantic. Among the aircraft shown are Consolidated Liberators, Douglas Dakotas, North American Mitchells, and Canadian-built Avro Lancaster B Mark Xs.ww2today.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Prestwick-aircraft-283×214.jpg 283w, ww2today.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Prestwick-aircraft-295×222.jpg 295w, ww2today.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Prestwick-aircraft.jpg 800w” sizes=”(max-width: 595px) 100vw, 595px”>
In 1945 Prestwick was the touchdown point in Britain after the long flight from Gander, Newfoundland.
Not all the planes  leaving  Gander landed safely.  One out of ten disappeared.  A few  that had engine
trouble were able to land  in Greenland,  But finding the semi-secret landing strip was  not easy for
big bombers.   it was hard enough for spritely P 52’s, Mosquitoes and others.

                         This Lancaster heavy bomber  may have been made on the outskirts of Toronto.  How can you tell that this  is a veteran bomber and not the kind that were touching down in

Lancaster KB864, Sugar’s Blues, was a relatively new airframe, having flown to England in January 1945 and been allocated to 428 Ghost Squadron. Sugar’s Blues’ nose art, a copy of the famous pin-up girl by pin-up artist Alberto Vargas, was painted by squadron artist Tom Walton. Sugar’s Blues became well known in Canada as it was chosen for a cross-Canada bond tour. Instead of being bomb silhouettes, the 21 bombing mission marks are silhouettes of a diving female. PHOTO:  Bomber Command Museum of Canada Collection
Our cousin, George Freeman, who I never remember meeting, was killed when his Halifax Bomber was 
stitched with explosive shells from a  German night fighter.  George was a mid upper gunner with not much
chance to defend HX 313 – the Blonde Bomber, because night fighters liked to attach  from 
behind and under.  His best friend,  Victor Poppa, was the tail gunner.  As HX 313 caught fire and began
its death dive, Victor was thrown out of the rear bubble and fell free.  His parachute was  only attached  by
one strap which he had to reach up above his head  to yank  the rip chord.

RCAF Lancaster Mk. 10s (all built by Victory Aircraft in Malton, Ontario) line the taxiway at RAF Middleton St. George before their mass departure for Canada. PHOTO: Bomber Command Museum of Canada Collection
How  many of these heavy bombers were lost in the war?  So many  that, even today, I can hardly believe
the number.   Avro Lancaster bombers lost totalled  4,171.  Handly Page Halifax  bombers lost totalled 2,627.
And  with these losses were thousands  and thousands of young men.   The Lancaster Bombers pictured
above were being repaired,  prepared, refuelled in readiness to fly to the Pacific after 1945.  That never
became necessary once the atom bombs were dropped  on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.,

The is what the abandoned Greenland  base, called Blue West 1, looks like today.
Leakage from these barrels colours the water trickling into the fiord.


Passengers wait for their flights at Renfrew Airport in Glasgow in April 1960 next to an Aer Lingus sign. Other airlines serving the airport included Scottish Airways and British European Airways. It was a domestic airport serving the city of Glasgow until it was decommissioned in 1966
Scotland first class lounge 1960…where I caught flight with Are Lingus to Ireland

We landed  at Prestwick which to me was a  bleak barren place   Seemed  like the bleakness of  war was still being fought. 

Prestwick  did  not share that fate of Blue Base 1 in Greenland, i.e. abandoned and forgotten.
. The reverse happened to Prestwick as the former military base became a bustling international airport. 
 But not a fancy airport in 1960…just 15 years after the end of World War II.  

GUESS WHAT?  Elvis  Pressley landed  here  in March on his way  to serve

with American forces  in Germany.  He  was  received  royally.  

Elvis meets local fans at the perimiter fence and signs autographs

My reception was  not as welcoming.  No  sleep on the airplane  made  me  very doze
and I fell to sleep on the hour long bus  ride to Glasgow.

Downtown Glasgow was not what i expected.   The city buildings are layered with a  century’s worth of   coal dust which
   I had expected a city much  like Toronto with lots  of  open  space and modern buildings.  Trees and parks.
Glasgow was the  reverse of these expectations.  Barren…never saw a tree. Somehow I had to get to an address outside my hotel (St. Enoch).   With help from many locals, i managed to get heading in correct direction by subway.

Stone staircases  in the tenements were worn, dark, damp and disconcerting…as above.

A life of despair: These images of Glasgow slums in the 60s and 70s include a father and his children sat silently in their Gorbals tenement flat in 1970. Above the fireplace, the wallpaper is peeling and clothing has been hung on a makeshift line to dry

GLASGOW in 1960 was one of the most poverty stricken  cities  in England, perhaps Europe.  Families were crammed  into dreary blackened  stone
tenements  that stretched as far as my eyes  could  see.  This family pictured above is keeping warm in front of their coal  burning
cast iron combined furnace and  cook  stove.  It is  hidden by their wet laundry.   Most of these tenements  had no  running water and
the toilets were small brick buildings in the rear of the tenements.   Others  may have had running water but families  shared toilets.
I was there in 1950 just as slums  were being cleared and replaced with tall apartment style buildings with running water.
It was very dreary.  Shocking!    My  warm reception by a nice elderly lady  almost made my eyes 
water.   There was a social  life in spite of the poverty.

Demolition of these stone built tenements  was just getting underway in 1960 and continued through the next few years. 
At some point local authorities realized the old buildings were worth rescuing and modernizing but in 1960 that was  given
little thought.

This picture, taken in 1960  shows the stone tenement ‘back yards’ with the 
back  built outdoor toilet.   

Each apartment had these cast iron cooking and heating units  built into a chimney system.


Tuesday May 31, 1960 (continued)

Today was one of those unforgettable days that get burned into memory the details  of which when told could be upsetting.
Why upsetting ?  Because my words may seem arrogant.  They are not intended to be such, The city
of Glasgow was a shock to me, a 22 year old Canadian  raised in a working/middle class  part of Toronto.  Before leaving 
Toronto, a great many people were interested in my summer job… no people moreso thant our next door neighbours,
the Hobsons who had recently emigrated from Scotland. They rented the third floor of the house next door and were overjoyed
to be in Canada but at the same time a bit homesick

“Alan, you must visit my mother in Glasgow.”
“One night layover before flight to Dublin.:’
“Grand…you will have time then.  She would  love th see you.”
“How will she know?”
“I phoned her last night to tell her…she wants you to come for supper.”

And so the visit was planned.  I would drop in on Mrs. Langdon for a  short visit.  KLM had already given me tickets for 
meals at St Enoch hotel along with ferry service from Prestwick to Glasgow.  Had a shave and converted some money to British 
pounds then had a  luxurious meal in the hotel dining room before venturing in search of Mrs. Langdon.  That was the upside.
The downside was  Glasgow’s grime reflected in faces of people on the street.  A fast judgment and hopefully  wrong.  I decided
to ride the “Underground” rather than take a taxi.  Twice I got off and climbed to the surface just to see “what suburban Glasgow
looked like”.  Depressing.  Seemingly endless black tenements.  No trees, no grass…no cheerfulness.  Found Mrs. Langdon’s
building and climbed the dark stone stairway to her floor.  Knocked and received a joyous welcome.  

“Come in, Alan, I’ve heard so much about you…and  about Canada.”
The apartment was tiny, perhaps  two rooms…a bed room and the combined kitchen and living room at
the centre of which was a back cast iron coal burning stove which also served as  a cooking facility.
“You must be hungry!”  I had  just eaten a huge meal at St. Enoch Hotel but dared not say that for
a special supper was underway.
“I have a  special meal for you…steak with a fried egg on top…a specialty.”
“Looks wonderful.”  My gut was already full but I somehow made room because I knew this was a great
occasion for Mrs. Langdon.  Her friends kept dropping by … Georgia and many others.

Now the genuine warmth of this greeting almost made me cry.  Grown 22 year old male. When I left Mrs. Langdon’s 
place the place seemed less  bleak.  The lyrics of “I belong to Glasgow” may not exactly fit this visit for there was
no alcohol involved but the spirit of the song fits perfectly.

“I belong to Glasgow
dear old Glasgow town
There’s something the matter with Glasgow
Cause it’s going roon and roon
I’m only a common old working lad
As  anyone here can see
But when I get a couple of drink on a Saturday
Glasgow belong to me.”

A tram packed full of passengers makes its way up Arygle Street in central Glasgow in April 1960. It is a number 26 service heading towards Farme Cross in the Rutherglen area of the city as well as Partick on the north bank of the River Clyde 

After dinner Mrs. Langdon and Georgia took me on a short tour of the Glasgow they knew best…old 
churches and old trams.  What I could not help but notice and yet say nothing about was the sickly appearance
of so many of the people.   How should  I show gratitude?  Without insulting my hostess?

“Mrs. Langdon, the people at KLM gave me this pass for an evening dinner at St. Enoch’s,  I will have
no time to use it.  Could I give it to you?  Otherwise it will be wasted.”
“St. Enoch’s, now that is a grand place.”

And just before I left Mrs. Langdon said  a strange thing.

“It’s too bad you have to leave  tomorrow for you might like to have seen the Skeoch Wood?”
“Skeoch wood?
“Yes,it is a grand forest cheek to jowl with the seaside town of Rothesay on the Isle of Bute”
“A forest?”
“Aye, forest still standing in spite of timbering…a castle inside the forest as well.”
“Is it far from here?”
“Not so far…a day trip for us.  Ferry service to Rothesay.”

Skeoch Wood, Rothsey, Isle of Bute, Scotland.  
(Idea of visiting the Skeoch  Wood put in my mind May 31, 1960, Glasgow)

When I went to bed in that “grand old hotel, St. Enoch’s” I had the  feeling the events of this day, May 31, 1960,
would last a lifetime.  Both sides of Glasgow.  The seamy, down at the heels, Glasgow that is so obvious.  And also
the upside of Glasgow that Mrs.  Langdon showed  me…warm, loving, laughing, unvarnished.  


BEA Viscount at Renfrew Airport, Glasgow, 19 April 1960flashbak.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/2326675828_9b3774c5f0_b-300×195.jpg 300w” sizes=”(max-width: 709px) 85vw, (max-width: 909px) 67vw, (max-width: 1362px) 62vw, 840px” kioskedhash_production=”12042_789c0fc788c3ce28e43ff2fa453660d3″ data-kiosked-context-name=”kskdUIContext_675d431b9ffb884c4bfd59fd72288cec” apple-inline=”yes” id=”8F9A606C-E4D9-4F64-BA33-37A7CE80F763″ src=”http://alanskeoch.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/2326675828_9b3774c5f0_b.jpeg”>

On June 1, 1960 I flew to Dublin  Southern Ireland on an Aer Lingus flight.

Alan Skeoch
April  2019



In 2014, Glasgow was  rated as one of the ten most dangerous cities in Europe.

Glasgow gangs were notorious in 1960…called razor gangs in earlier decades when strait razors were the weapons of choice.  I never came across
them.  Never felt in danger.  Did feel depressed by the poverty.. The People spoke nicely to me, gave directions, made me feel  welcome.  I was not looking for trouble. I was Sober.
It was daylight.

The situation could have changed dramatically had I shown support for either the Celitc or Ranger football clubs.  Violence was easily triggered by an offhand remark like “Are you a Ranger or Celtic?”
The City of Glasgow. even today in 2019, is sectioned off …    The Celtic Football Club draws Catholic and Irish supporters.  The Rangers  draw Protestant and British supporters.
  Ranger and Celtic fans share strong yet opposite religious convictions. Hate each other though neither groups are likely  to be
seen in churches.  Hard to believe.

 “How dangerous is Glasgow?”

Here are some of the responses:

“Glasgow is not at all dangerous…it is one of the friendliest place in Scotland.The social life is  amazing.  The banter is wicked and you will never run outa friends.
As for dangerous, everywhere has  their ‘not so great’ areas…”

“Glasgow is extremely dangerous if you want to corner a slice of the heroin trade or licensed taxi trade. Otherwise it is fine….There’s a lot of fun to be had…”

“Glasgow is dangerous to your health.  The traffic exhaust and the cigarettes will kill you before any of the people will do you harm. The people are wonderfully friendly
just used the same common sense in Glasgow that you use in your own city…”

“Glasgow is violent…”  Murder rate is higher than London, a much larger city, and the murder rate in Glasgow is more than twice the national average.”

“Glasgow is a  crime hotspot with three times as much  crime as the Scottish average.   Violence is where Glasgwegians excel.  Drug related  crime is twice the national average.
They are twice as likely to carry offensive weapons. They also encourage sectarianism …”

    “Glasgow has four of the most deprived areas in the UK.”

    “My family and friends have lived in Glasgow all of our lives and have never had any experience with crime.”

    “I don’t know how many fights I’ve got into.  Lost count.”

    “Most places are safe except for the Hen Beaters Arms

    .  Don’t go there.”


The Skeoch family was lucky…incredibly so.  We got out of Scotland in 1844 and 1846.  Our relatives left behind were not so lucky.   Hopefully you will read the letter
below as it puts a human face of the cholera epidemic of 1847.

When our water
supply is  compromised as in floods and  broken water lines,  then cholera follows.  Today as well as the deep past.  The cholera bacteria is  cunning.  It waits  for opportune moments and then 
reproduces like there is no tomorrow.  And for cholera victims there is no tomorrow.  They die.   Death from cholera  is fast. Sadly, The last part of the body affected is t he brain so cholera victims know
what is  happening but cannot resist the millions and millions of tiny cholera bacteria that wrack their body.  They die.  Whole families died in their homes.

 Cholera bacteria is carried by human beings and lives in our lower intestine.  In times of natural disaster or times
of compromised water systems, cholera celebrate the chance to reproduce and infect as many people as possible.  We require water to survive.  We must have water.  And we will  drink water even
if the source is questionable.  

Glasgow, Kilwinning, Stevenston…all towns, villages, farms of Lowland Scotland…were suddenly exposed to a cholera epidemic in 1847.   Why?  Overcrowded tenements  with unbelievably  dirty toilet
facilities.  Tenements with outdoor toilets shared by many people was one source of the epidemic.  Communal water pumps close to these outdoor toilets allowed
the invisible tiny cholera bacteria to get into the stomachs of thousands of people very quickly.  Worse than the outdoor “privies” was the placement of so called ‘water closets’ in homes across Britain.
These water closets were a cruel joke.  They may have seemed sanitary when used  and flushed but they were not so.  There were no sewer lines! Where did the excrement go then?  The human waste 
simply dropped straight from the water closet to the cellars of overcrowded tenements or the high class family homes.  Every basement was a  dung heap…had  been so  for ages.  If the pile of dung
got too deep then dung collectors were hired to shovel out the basement and dump it on nearby or distant fields.  Dry dung was bad but wet dung was infinitely worse for the the Cholera Bacteria just
loved the combination of dung and water.  The bacteria could  replicate with the speed of summer lightning.  

Today public sewer lines make a cholera pandemic unlikely.  In 1847 Glasgow there were no sewer lines.  20,000 people were crammed into dilapidated tenements. As many as sixteen
people were observed sleeping in a  single room.  The dung piled up.  As if that was not worse, the city was  crowded with horses…thousands of them.  Public streets were littered with horse dung and
urine.  Where to put it?   Domestic  animals destined for slaughter were also a  problem.  Street-side butchers often just threw animal waster ‘over the fence’…innards, blood, bones.  The same
was done with fish waste.  Glasgow smelled terrible.  Like a  sewer.  So did every city in Europe but Glasgow was  particularly bad because of the poverty and congestion.  Some really poor people, often
children, rummaged for rags and cast offs in the dung heaped basements of homes and tenements. All was ideal for the spread of cholera.

The letter below was sent to Margaret Watt an aunt who emigrated with the Skeoch family in 1844.  The letter shows  juts how cholera affected neighbours in the 1847 pandemic.

TO  Miss Margaret Watt,
c/o James Wylie, Galt
Canada West
Kilwinning, 5th April, 1849
My very dear friend,
 We would have answered your letter long ere now had it not been of my brother George’s illness and Death which has made a sad blank in our family. He was in Dalry as a doctor and had good Practise but the labour was too sore on his constitution which gradually gave way and was more or less in trouble for 15 months.  He was in sore trouble but made no complaint. He said it was of (no) use to complain. He came to us about a month afore his death.  His death took place on the 21st December last.  His trouble began with … enlargement of the liver and ended in Dropy (?) Painful as our case is there has been cases of a more depressing nature in our place.  James Kirkwood Inn (?) his mi… at a Little Drang… One morning he went …to his shop and hanged himself.  And James Brown in Glasgow cutted his throat and was buried here.  This is Janet Brown’s son and old Janet is dead also and Old Margaret Woodside died this week.  Mrs. James Service (of) Glasgow died last week and Old Robert has died also and Mrs. Love in Kilbride, your mother’s cousin.  And John M(?)iller, your fathers cousin in Saltcoats.  His death took place under rather painfull manner.  He went to Ireland(?) with his brother James.  He left the ship one morning and was never more heard of.  William Jack in Townheed (Townshend?) that is John’s brother is dead.  Old Mary Janis fell in the  fire and was burned to death, and Joseph King’s wife is dead also.  Your cusing (cousin?) daughter Mary Ferguson is dead.  His death was very distressing.  Doctor Brown gave her a Pother (potion? Polter?) and she never a wake but sleepet away.  Our town and neeberhood has been visited with the pestilence which  have carried a great number of our town people away.  We will name …full of the many that is carried of.  Matthew Patterson that is Jean Bickets man with a five hours illness.  James Small, Sae Mill David Tumbrie that wrought on the hoods(?) also his wife and son all with a five hours illness and Margaret …daughter of the William Allan Smith and Jean Dickie , Miller Dickies daughter and John  Baillie … Brae and Andrew Service and old Mrs. Clark that is the Late John Clark’s wife and … Young and Old Mirvin young and Ann Craig, Decon Dunlop’s weedow (widow?)  and … Dick and Helin Brown – Dr. Brown’s Doghter and Jean McClane came to wate on him died of it also.  Andrew White and Margaret Hanna his wife and John his brother.  All these died in a few hours illenes (illness) . It commenced at the  … (iron?) works the week after the New year, and … (exited?) the town a week afterwards.  Above 60 died at the … works above 50 in our town.  Let Ann Allan know that James Cowel and Elizabeth Allain his wife died in a farmhouse illense (illness?) at Irvine. All the above is of Cholera. Geory(?) Jena good-mother Elin Biggart in Stevens(t?)on also died of Cholera. All the surrounding towns as as bad as Kilwinning.  Mr. Watson died at Polock-shas(?) of Cholera.  He was late scool-master in Byers(Byens?). he went into the Established Church of Scotland.
  There was prayer meetings at the time of the Cholera…  The town had a strange appearance the time of Cholera you would not have (hardly?) seen a person on the streets at night.
I ommited to menson (mention) Elizabeth Allan’s death after a long illness.  The late William Allan clock maker daughter.  Let
Ann Allan know that there is a great change in his uncle James Famly.  … George and Robert are all dead. 
                                             Yours truly
                                              Jean Whyte
 n.b. Write us soon.





Note:  Answer the short question at the end of this  article…re  tomato soup

ARMED United States SAC (Strategic Air Command) B 52 nuclear bomber in flight.

Pebbly Conglomerate pillar preventing the ceiling of Can  Met Uranium Mine from collapsing…Elliot Lake,  Ontario 1960

alan skeoch
march  2019

Monday May 9, 1960

Reported  to the office today…long TTC  trip from west Toronto to 1490 O’connor  Drive.  Another summer in the bush no  doubt.
Last year in Western Alaska was a real adventure .   Two Sikorsky S52’s,  a 30-06 rifle and expected to know  how to run
a Turam Geophysical instrument.   Three big events that bowled me over.  

Where to this year?  Barrie Nichols told me over the phone to prepare for Arizona.  Hot place, I  thought. Full of snakes was the
next thought so I hot footed down to the library to bone up  on rattlesnake bites.  According to a  book if the rattlesnake sinks his
fangs into a leg, then encourage bleeding.   Suck the venom and  blood  out of the wound  right  away.  Yuck!  How can I suck
the blood  out of my  own leg.  Only some wiz bang yoga  guru can do that.   Got to get a snake bite kit from the company if
they expect me to go  to Arizona.    Nice part about Arizona would  be the absence of black  flies, moose flies,  deer flies…maybe.
Certainly will have lots  of these blood  sucking bastard  mosquitoes.  Malaria?  Wonder if they carry malaria.  Look  on the up
side,  Al, they made a lot of good western movies in Arizona  with John  Wayne.  Hi-yi-yipppy-yi-yay.  Arizona here I come.

“So, Barrie, I am all ready for Arizona…got big hat like John Wayne.”
“Change in plans, Alan…”
“Change?”  (not another Groundhog River ordeal…no, no, no!)
“Ireland, Alan, get your bag packed  for Ireland.”
“What about my snake bite kit?”
“No snakes in ireland, Alan.”
“Right…funny that I spent last night in the library checking out rattlesnakes.”

Spent the rest of the day getting my papers ready…passport, etc. then phoned
Marjorie and mom to let them know about this Ireland  adventure.

Tuesday ,  May  10, 1960

“Alan, hope you remember how to use the Turam, Ronka and an electrical resistivity outfit?”
“Think so…yes!”

But deep  down I was not that confident.  Last summer in Alaska, there  were five us running
the Turam.  I was just a helper to Bill Morrison who knew  everything about the Turam.  We were
a  two man field  crew…the other two man crew were Don Van Every and ian  Rujtherford…the three
of them seemed to know all about the Turam.  I  was just learning. But I made good  notes and watched

      the set up system.  Now a year later those guys

are gone and suddenly I  am  top  man.   I thought it was  only in war time that a private gets boosted  to
an officer because all the officers are dead.

“Crate  all the stuff up…we’re shipping it by boat to Dublin today.”

So we weighed, measured,  labelled, itemized a pile of stuff.   Enough to fill 8 crates…then had to get
stronger crates.  

Eric  and I  went to a movie show that night after I got Rev. Currie to sign my passport papers.

Wednesday May 11, 1960

Picked up the Turam from Charley Houston and  had new crates made.

Then Dr. Paterson…Norm…said, “Alan, get ready  to go to Blind River tomorrow…you will be  going
underground at an Elliot Lake uranium mine…mine has  been shut down…you will be  the last human
beings down in the cage.”
“What about Ireland?”
“Still going there  so make sure you fill out that list for Irish  Customs.”

Phoned Marjorie in North Bay…We are a couple…love her…but no time to
stop in North Bay on way  to Elliot Lake.

Thursday  May 12, 1960

Nailed  the top on the last crate.   Found a Ronka EM manuel to study.  No time for lunch  or
even  a cup of coffee.  Packed draughting supplies and resistivity outfit for the Blind River/Elliot Lake job.
In evening I went to Scout meeting and the Rover Crew gave me a  Rosary for protection in Ireland.

Mom and Eric dropped me off at the West Toronto train  station for Blind River.

Wednesday  May 13, 1960

Wonderful night sleeping in a birth on the train…even better waking up to a sumptuous breakfast as a panorama of
Canada whirled  by.  Sudbury appears like face of the moon…depressing.  Studied Ronka manual…best to know what
I might be expected  to know.  Got off train in  Spragge, a place that looks  like it sounds, then took taxi to Elliot Lake.
Impression?  Bad.  Abandoned  trailer camps, repossessed vehicles in car dealers, even more cars stripped naked.
The boom days  of Elliot Lake are over.  Is  it a good thing that the need for uranium has  tapered off or a bad thing?
Either way Elliot Lake is no longer a  boom town…now a bust town…heading to become a  ghost town.  We will live
in a CanMet guest house, very modern. CanMet mine once employed  1,000 men  but has now been stripped to a  workforce 
of 70.  We only saw less than 10.  Apparently the mine has  just been kept open long enough for us  to complete our survey.
We will eat our meals  in an immense empty dining hall once  operated  by the caterer Crawley and McKraken.  One of the
men assigned to us, Harry McGinnis,  said waitresses were expected to do double duty as hookers.   Probably another mining story that has
been inflated. Suppose the prostitute story could  be true though.  Which reminded me of an  age old  comment about
successful mining ventures.  “If the hookers arrive, you know the mine is going to open.”

We  tested the Ronka  on the beach of a lake above the mine.  Apparently the lake is now leaking into the mine stopes and shafts.
We will see if that is  true as we will be going down the shaft in the case tomorrow.   Abandoned machinery here and there.

Dateline  Friday  May 13, 1960

 “What is  happening here?”
 “Do  you mean what is  happening to Elliot Lake?”
 “Yeah…This was supposed to be a boom town…instead  I  see a  lot of stripped cars and  House For Sale  signs…and  not many  people wandering around.”
“If  you read  the papers or listened to the news, you  would  know what has happened?  
“Too much Uranium  235 around?   Radioactive town?”
‘Don’t be silly…that U 235 is rare…maybe only a  few of those atoms  in a  pound of  uranium…No danger here except maybe the tailings  ponds.”
“Town feels depressed.”
“Population moving out…once  had 24,000 people…dropping…lucky if 7000 will remain.”
“How  come?”
“The Yanks just said they would not renew the contract after 1962.”
“Cheaper uranium;m in a Saskatchewan mine”
“Maybe, the  Yanks already have 18,000 nuclear weapons…ought to be enough…”
   (NOTE: Not So, by 1965, the US nuclear arsenal reached higher than 20,000…since then it has been markedly reduced)

Atom bomb testing  was in full swing in 1960.  Many detonated  on the deserts of the American Southwest.  All  of them
using enriched uranium from the mines located at Elliot Lake, Ontario…nicknamed  our ‘Atomic  City’

“Who knows he truth?  I know one thing…”
“What’s that?”
“The Cold  War is still on big time.”
“Right…get reminders every  day…”
“Yep, those  Christly  big B 52’s are over us every day…way up high…can see their con trails across the sky.”
“And they are carrying Atom  bombs using  Elliot Lake uranium 235.”
“Why do you always but that 235 in the conversation.”
“Because that kind of uranium makes the bombs…U 235 is an unstable uranium atom…easier  to knock around and  loosen some neutrons…that’s what
makes the atom  bomb work, you know that of course.”
“Heard it often  but cannot understand how a few fractured atoms the size of peppercorns let loose enough power to blow  cities like Hiroshima and Nagasaki  off the map…kill thousands.”
“Apparently there are 100 pounds of uranium in each atomic  bomb but only 1 pound is fissile…”
“Fissile?   New  word to me.”
“Means it is  capable of  nuclear fission…capable of the big bang you might say.”
“What happens to the rest of the uranium.”
“Turns somehow to radioactive  dust…nasty stuff…lasts forever.”

Deep underground  at Can Met mine was eerie.  Absolute silence.  Absolute darkness…except
for the  occasional  explosive release of a roof bolt and  collapse of  a piece of the rock  ceiling
somewhere in the blackness.   The rock/ore was quite beautiful as you can  see in the glare
of my flashbulb.

“Have you ever seen uranium?”
“Well, we are about to see a lot of it at Can Met.”
“I thought the mine was empty.”
“No  mine is ever empty.”
“Why not?”
“How do you think the roof of  mine  is held up?”
“Wooden timbers?”
“Long ago that may have been the case but not now.  Roof of the mine
is  held  up  by great thick pillars  of rock….most of which contains  ore.
Pull those pillars and the whole goddamn mine  will collapse…as  you will see.”
“As I will see?”
“Yep, a lot of the pillars in Can Met have already been pulled.  The mine is finished…you will likely
hear parts of  the mine imploding…bloody dangerous  place.”
“Why are we going down there then?”
“Beats me.”
“Looking for minerals in a mine that is  collapsing…makes no sense.”
“I think  we  are just going down there to test the Ronka E.M.  unit…to see how it works  when
surrounded  by mineralization…maybe not…to tell the truth I am just following orders … not sure why we are going down in the cage.”
“Too modest, Alan.”

 “Not so…do not get some  kind of inflated idea of my role…I was just an instrument man…not a decision maker…best image might

be a “fly on the wall”  but there were no flies down at the bottom of the mine…could not see one anyway as  it was pitch black…

This is our crew getting ready to do a  Ronka EM survey deep in Can Met Uranium Mine.  A mine engineer
whose name I have lost is giving directions so we would not get lost in the darkness.  That might be me
wearing the Ronka hoop which was composed of tightly wound copper wire.   


Elliot Lake was the poster boy of a boom town.  In 1953, uranium was discovered…lots of it.  More uranium than anywhere else in the world
just a few hundred feet below the network a sparkling clean lakes and  rolling forested hills of this Shangri la of  Northern Ontario.
Lots of uranium found just at the time  when  the US was about to feverishly build atomic bombs as defence against a possible World War III against the Soviet Union.
By 1960, when we  were dropped deep into the stinking depths of  Can Met Uranium mine, the United States  had built over 18,000 atomic bombs using Elliot Lake
uranium.  The population zoomed to 25,000 by  1959 with 9 mining companies in operation.  

This is the ‘dry’ at Can Met, a hot air room in which  miners  hung their mine  clothing on hooks
that were then drawn to the ceiling.

Can Met Mine  had a short 4 year life, 1957 to 1960, and in that time  processed 2.5 million tonnes or with a uranium content of  between 2 and  3 lbs per tonne.
Early  atomic bombs  contained  10 pounds of enriched uranium 235…only 1 lb of which detonated.  The blast from an atomic bomb was created when the unstable  Uranium 235 atoms were split thereby  releasing
a  vast amount of energy by a chain effect atom splitting.  I know that is hard to understand.  How can such a small knocking around of Neutrons release  such a vast amount of energy.
Even scientists in the 1960’s were nonplussed.  “I am become death, the shatterer of worlds,” quoted scientist Robert Oppenheimer.
“The unleash  power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe,” said Albert Einstein. They
were both correct.

IN 1960, I was just a kid with an exciting assignment.  A chance to explore an empty and  collapsing mine deep down in the bowels  of the earth.

Now  how many people get a chance to do  that?   In our case  there were only five of  us decending in the battered cage at Can Met uranium mine.  After us The mine
was to be totally abandoned to the forces  of nature.  Gravity would cause the mine ceilings to fail…to implode.  Water was seeping into the nooks and crannies
where collapse had not or would  not occur.  The mine was dead and dangerous.  And,  God it was exhilarating to be down there.  An adventure to last a 
lifetime.  I slipped a small chip of uranium carrying ore into my pocket and still have it 59 years later..  Very  pretty.  Perhaps a little  radioactive
as well.  Only 1% of the uranium ore  was the unstable  U 235 so he danger was minimal.  And we would only be underground  for a few days even of
the radioactivity readings were three times what is considered safe…i.e. a count of 293, far above the 100 safe level. Or so I was told.  Sounded like bull shit
to a 22 year old optimist.

Exposure proved far more dangerous to the men whose jobs involved  8 hour underground shifts five days a week for years and years.  Little was said
of these dangers at the time.  Miners, most of them, did not think long term. Paycheck to paycheck.  Good pay checks. The need  for raw uranium to feed  the military needs
 of the Cold War trumped  any protest.   The atom bombs were more
important than human health.   And the mining jobs paid well.  Elliot Lake was a boom town for a few years…miners flocked there by the thousands, many
of them new  Canadians.   Some renamed the town “Atomic City”, a name that had  no tragic overtones.  Houses were built as fast as  possible many of them
using the rock  waste from the mine itself as foundation  stone.   Houses whose  foundations were so  radioactive that large  air  conditioning fans were eventually installed  beneath
the floors.  Worse, however was the discovery that Elliot Lake miners had twice  as many cases of lung cancer deaths than average…81 deaths as opposed to
45 in a control group. “It is certain that exposure to radon leads to an increased risk of  lung cancer,” wrote investigators. It was the Steel Workers Union of America
however that took action in 1976 when their man, Paul Falkowski, stated, “If anybody does not like  to go to the hospital with lung cancer, he should have  a 
very  close looks the Elliot Lake situation before he signs  on.”

High pay muted any concerns.  Mining was a dangerous occupation where risk of injury or  death was just accepted as normal.  So why
get worked  up over high levels radon gas?   There were no government warnings.  It was only late in the life  of  Elliot Lake that Mr. Falkowski, the union activist, came to
town with dire warnings about long term lethal consequences.  

 Better to revel in life of the boom town where a car salesman could sell  13  cars a day, every day.
And if the  dealership stayed open at night the sales could double.

As  with all mining boom towns, men far outnumbered women in Elliot Lake in the late 1950’s.  Ten men for every woman.  Pimps were  fast to see  opportunity
in that imbalance and  prostitutes  were moved into town as fast as the cages full of young miners went up and  down.  The prostitutes were housed in trailers that
could be moved around whenever police seemed troublesome.  Even trucks became moving brothels. Hookers activity was  so blatant that on mine payday trucks  would back right up to the 
mine buildings offering sex services without delay.   And if the police  showed up, the tail gates were swung up and the truck driver would look for another spot.
Elliot Lake was the reverse of the rock tune “I don’t get no satisfaction…”  Quite the reverse song  might have been hollered…”We all get our satisfaction at 
the cage  door.”

Then in 1959, just a year before we arrived for our short visit,  the winds  of  change began to blow.  The United  States announced  it would buy no more uranium from Elliot lake after 1962.  Elliot Lake’s boom became a  bust almost overnight.  Hence the Trailers abandoned along with cars stripped of anything valuable and left as hulks began to appear.

Elliot Lake did  not die completely.  There was a  short need for uranium for CANDU reactors and Ontario Hydro nuclear electricity installations.  But not enough.  By the 1990’s the last two operating mines in Elliot Lake
Denison Mines  and  Rio  Algom also closed down.  The uranium ore had  been depleted and the demand  for uranium was no longer strong.

Elliot Lake avoided becoming a boom  town when the community 
attracted retired  persons that move to the town by the bargain prices for the former mine community homes.
Back to my journal now…
May 14, 1960

Can Met Uranium mine is almost abandoned   We  will be the last human beings to enter the bowels of the earth and see the gravesite of a uranium mine that cost 25 million dollars to open in 1957 and  closed this
year,  1960, never having made enough money to cover costs.  Four years.  I wonder  how many atomic  bombs were made from the  2.5 million tonnes of  raw uranium ore  blasted and  scraped  from the walls?
Apparently 2 to 3 kg. of raw uranium were  recovered per  tonne of ore.   Estimates are that each atomic bomb contains 100 lbs of uranium so there was enough 
uranium to make many  atomic bombs.   Why did the United States not renew the contract?   Not because pressure to end the madness of the  Cold  War, that’s for sure.  Cheaper uranium mines 
were found in Saskatchewan was the big reason.

Can Met Uranium Mine had passageways that were wide and high.   Enough room
for front end loaders  and Tip cars  to function with ease.  All passageways had  once
been lit with electric lights.  These were gone when we went down. But lurking in the darkness
were many abandoned  vehicles like  those picture above.  It was a bit frightening when
the  cones   of light from our headlamps  suddenly revealed these  machines

The cage was just that…a big cage capable of carrying small bulldozer down or a shift of  miners up.  Except for us it was empty.  Harry McGinnis was our cageman, guide, and entertainer..  Decending was

disconcerting but not nearly as  scary

as the mine runways and stopes.  Today We descended at 8 a.m. and did not resurface until 12 p.m.  The  last scoop mobile ferried us from one point to another eventually
we completed 293 determinations  with the Ronka E.M. unit.  Our head lamps shot out cones of light that made  the blackness quite sinister.   Every sense was disturbing.  

Sight?  We saw walls 
black  with carbon beneath which was the pebbly conglomerate that held  one or two percent Uranium.   Once in a while. two or three large machines were revealed.  Hulks.  “Too old to be
saved…they…stay  down here as she fills with water. Quite  frightening really when a cone of  light suddenly reveals an immense yellow mine machine.


Sound?  Most of the time no sound whatever.  Then there would be a loud bang as a roof  bolt gateway.  Or, worse, a dull but powerful boom as some roof collapsed in s stope.  Some sounds were
close  by  but most were  distant.

Smell?   There was a damp smell of water mixing with spilled oils or other unknown chemicals.

Taste?   Might be imaginary but there seemed to be a metallic mouldy taste in the  air.

Touch?   A kind of wet slime on the walls as the  water from the lake  far above  us was working its way  down into the mine.   Some  low spots were now filled
and we had to wade our way along.

Some  of the mining machines were brought back to the surface for use by the nearby Denison Mine.
I have no idea  what this  machine did underground but note two points:  1) It has a  very low
profile which suggests it worked in the stopes and  may have been a machine that helped loosen ore.
2)  Imagine this  machine fitting into the ‘cage’ that took miners down.    Much too big for the cage
we used so  how this machine got down the mine is a bit of mystery.   Probably lowered in parts and
then put back together.  If  this was so, why did it come back up in one piece?

May 15, 1960

Our temporary home is the former staff and guest house intended for high company officials.  Luxurious.  But never used much and now  vacant.  Can Met built this guest lodge, a large bunk house for
single males, 22 houses for families, and a milling complex.   All dominated by  two winding towers for two shafts.  All now  abandoned. “Pearsons” was A  local name for the homes as many felt Elliot Lake had been
abandoned by Prime Minister Lester Pearson.

This is  the Can  Met Exective Lodge.  A building that had hardly be used…fully filled with period furniture of the 1960’s.  Buildings like this were built for miners 
with families while  single men lived  in larger bunk houses.  In 1960 a great many of these homes were boarded up with sheets of plywood.  In the town of
Elliot lake there  were many homes that had been built privately by residents.  On the hung For Sale signs  but there were no bidders.  Many people lost much
when the town mines  closed.

We went underground again at 8 a.m. today.  Five of  us.  Bob McConnell, Alan Peglar, Joe Weber, Harry McGinnis and me (Alan Skeoch).  The mine is quite  spacious, enough room for scoop mobiles to pass each other
in the main passageways.  One  of these scoop machines was provided for us to travel on  he  main haulage way to the  eastern border of the mine.   This scoop was the last moving vehicle in the mine.  There were
many other machines  stuffed into the stopes on each side of the haulage way.  Dead machines.  Seemed like  driving through a graveyard, underground,  with coffins on all sides.  Absolute silence broken
occasionally by loud BANGS!

These roof bolts  are  much smaller than those in Can Met and the  wooden pieces were iron slabs in
Can Met.  But, as  in all modern mines, roof  bolts like these helped hold up the ceilings.

“What was that?”
“Roof  bolts giving way…she’s collapsing you know,” said our guide  Harry McGinnis.
“How come?”
“They pulled a lot of the pillars as they  moved out…got as much high grade as they could.”
“Thought we were down here to see if the mine could be saved.”
“Where  did you get that idea?  No mine  can be saved  if the pillars are pulled.”
“Nothing to hold  up the ceilings in the stopes?”
“Not a damn thing…maybe I  can  get my mother in law  down here to do  that.”  (Harry had
an  odd sense  of humour, more of which we would hear.)
“Look over there.”
“Pile of rock?”
“Yep, that’s where one  of  our shift bosses got telescoped.”
“Yeah, the big chunks just folded him up  like a telescope.  Dead.  Stone dead.”
“Was that common?”
“One  of  the cat drivers drove right into the “grizzly”…mashed  him to a pulp.
“What’s a ‘grizzly’?”
“A crusher…takes or ore  and smashes it into little  bits that go up top on conveyor belt.”
“Grizzly as in grizzly bear, right?”
“Harry has his own names for just about anything.”

I slipped This tiny piece of ore into my pocket in 1960 and  have kept it ever since to remind
me just how surreal this  Elliot Lake job became.  I was never sure why  we went down in that mine.
The uranium is hidden  away in what is called a  pebbly conglomerate. Shiny.  No, you
cannot see any uranium.   To get uranium  it would be necessary to give this chip  a bath
in Sulphuric  acid to dissolve the mineral…and  then a secondary bath in ammonia to precipitate out
the uranium only 1% of  which would be U 235…radioactive form.  But it is from pieces
like this  in my hand that atomic bombs are made.

Note: What does ‘fissile’ mean?   It means that this rare  U235 of uranium will explode
in a nuclear chain reaction when brought to a critical mass.

We had our lunch on a big flat piece of rock in a stope that was sealed off by a sign, “Dangerous”.
Lunch was gritty…or seemed  so.

May 16, 1960

A motor generator for the Turam was scheduled to arrive in Sprague this morning.  So we did our drafting
while Harry entertained  us  with stories about Can Met.  He spoke with humour and emphasis.
Whether truth was present as well was not clear.
“Can Met spent $36,000 on air conditioning that never worked.”
“There are  $50,000 jumbos that sat underground  and were never used.”
“The haulage ways and stopes are filled  with abandoned mine  equipment.”

Mac, Joe  and  I set up our motor generator and laid  out our spread wire through the mine into
parts were we had to crawl through piles of rubble from roof bolt collapse.   I am beginning to
think this Can Met adventure is meant to show the people from Denison Mines that our Tram
EM units are trustworthy and  can discover underground conductors.  So there may be a connection
to the  upcoming job in Ireland.  Maybe Denison execs  just want some kind of  proof. But I have
no idea why we  are down here.

Joe  Weber is a former Nazi released in 1953 from some sort of prison for war criminals. He loved
telling me stories about expensive errors made by Can Met Executives…called  it a company founded
upon greed.  Strange he would do this as  Can  Met is his employer.  Then again he would soon lose
his job as  happened  to most Can  Met miners.  I suppose some of them were transferred to the main
Denison uranium mine which  was nearby and still functioning. While others were just let go.

We continued to be entertained  by Harry McGinnis who nicknamed the Can  Met warehouse as
“the whorehouse” since  “each time you go there for a  part or machine, you get screwed.”
“There are  $50,000 worth of spare parts for a nonexistent machine.”  True or not?  I do not
know but find it suspicious that the figure $50,000 is used often.  “Stealing gas is common to the
tune of $1,500 a  month.”   I wonder if these stories are just being said for my benefit.

May 17, 1960

Harry McGinnis was very drunk today  when he arrived at our cook house.  “Spent all night at the
Legion.”  The Legion turned out to be a shack built by his friends somewhere in the nearby bush.
We  went down in the cage at 8.30…rattled all the way down.  Took some readings with the
resistivity unit.  Quickly finished and began  hauling in the grounded cable.  Walking  alone
in the  blackness to the far corner of the mine is a bit frightening but also triggers curiosity.

Joe  Weber does not have a good word to say about anything or anybody…likely a result
of  his war experience.  We never probed that very deeply and he never offered  an explanation
as to why he spent the years from 1945 to 1953 in some kind of military prison.  Best not known I guess.

When I took a picture of the boys on the scoop, the flashbulb exploded.  Somehow  the walls of 
the mine amplified the noise making it soundl like a  cannon or, worse, a roof bolt giving way
above us.   

Harry spent some time criticizing the pope today and then turned back to his favourite subject, his
mother in law who he described as having a personality ‘harder than a whore’s heart’.
We ate lunch  on top of what Harry called a  ‘Portugeser’…a name that made no  sense

“Why is this large slab of rock  called a Portuguesor?”
“Good reason…see where it fell from the ceiling up there.?”
“Yeah, big gash.”
“Well, it fell down on a Portuguese … lots of them worked here … some
of them are under these big pieces of  rock…so we  call them ‘Portuguesors’
Truth or fiction? Hard  to say.


“What little lakes?”
“Surely you remember them…lovely lakes…Williams Lake, Bear Cub  Lake, Stollery Lake, Smith Lake and Long Lake?”

“They still exist in a way…but not as  they were.”
“They became the Tailings Ponds for the chemicals used to get the uranium.”
“Do  you mean the Sulphuric Acid and  Ammonia.”
“Precisely…so  much acid in the Tailing Ponds they  need lots of fresh water.”
“How long will that be”
“Long long time.  The  Ponds are checked  regularly for leaks but some treated effluent
does drain off into Serpent River and then Quirke Lake.   Tailing Ponds are one of the
down sides of  the mining industry.”
“Can people swim or fish in those lakes any more?”
“Are you kidding.  They are fenced off from the public even today…NO GO ZONES.

Here is another mine machine rescued from Can Met.  Behind it is a lake that was slowly percolating down
into the mine passageways and stopes.   Not far away are other beautiful lakes which became less
beautiful as more and more ‘tailings’ were piped into the waters.  These Tailings ponds remain dangerous
and  have to be tested every year in case  of leakage.  Sulphuric acid washed to dissolve the uranium from
the crushed ore.  Then ammonia was used precipitate the uranium from the sulphuric acid  solution.  Once
this was done and the uranium recovered the soup  of sulphuric acid  and Ammonia and other pollutants
were deposited  in the tailing ponds resting there for all time.

Is this Bear Cub Lake today?   


Our job is  over.  Still not sure why we were working underground in a  mine that 
had no future.  It might have been a double kind of test.  First, to see if the Turam and Ronka
worked…i.e. registered high readings in a place  where high readings should 
be expected.  And second,  maybe the Denison people wanted to see if I really  knew
what i was  doing…i.e. they needed some kind of  assurance before sending me
to Ireland.   Truth?  Someone must know?

Next stop was the village of Bunmahon, County Waterford, Southern Ireland.  Above 
is a picture of  Denison Mine Geologist John Hogan enjoying a pint of Guinness with
me in Kirwin’s pub where  we spent many evenings.

No one will ever walk through these dark passages  ever again. Can Met is a grave.

alan skeoch
April 2019



“IN his recent book, The Doomsday  Machine, Daniel Ellsberg argues that probably the greatest nuclear threat today is ACCIDENTAL nuclear war— that is, a false electronic
alarm  triggering a pre-emptive strike by either the U.S.  or Russia.   Over the years there have been a  number of chilling close calls.”…”Trump is  now heading in the opposite 
direction, embarking on modernization of U.S. nuclear weapons.”

Linda McQuaig, 
Toronto Star Columnist

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The B 52 Stratofortress heavy bombers first rolled off the Boeing assembly line in 1953 and  since then 744 have been made.   In 1960, the year we were working for a few days underground in  Elliot Lake, Boeing delivered
106 brand new B 52’s to the American Strategic  Air Command for service as a nuclear armed   strike force should America be attacked by the  Society Union.  B 52 bombers were in the air all the time…i.e. some bombers
were always ready to strike back should a nuclear war be  triggered.  The B  52 could fly  85,000 miles in one mission.  Really the only limit on the B 52 was the possible fatigue of its crew.  Boeing eventually delivered  
744 of these heavy bombers to the USAF of which 76 are still operational today, many based  in Minot,  North Dakota.  At the peak of the Cold War we could see B 52 contrails every day as they overflew Toronto
at 50,000 feet.  All were armed  at that time with nuclear weapons  many of which  contained  Uranium from  Elliot Lake.

The con trails  of these B 52’s that caused us to build an air raid shelter in our cellar.  And stock it with a dozen cans of tomato soup and one old studio couch and a potential pair of laundry tubs  filled
with fresh water providing mom had time enough to fill these tubs.  Silly?   Pointless?  Comforting?  All of these.  Would  we let the neighbours and  friends into our shelter in the event of nuclear war?’
That was a big moral  question at the time.

“The B-52 is an Air Force plane that refuses to die. Originally slated for retirement generations ago, it continues to be deployed in conflict after conflict. It was the first plane to drop a hydrogen bomb, in the Bikini Islands in 1956, and laser-guided bombs in Afghanistan in 2006. It has outlived its replacement. And its replacement’s replacement. And its replacement’s replacement’s replacement.”  New York Times



When that Atom Bomb was dropped by the B 29 named Enola Gay on  Hiroshima  in 1945 the destruction of  global civilization became a possibility as the United  States
and the Soviet Union began to mass produce nuclear weapons.  Hiroshima and Nagasaki became familiar to all.  When the first nuclear atom bomb exploded over Hroshima about
99% of the uranium that was supposed to undergo a chain reaction did  not do  so.  A very small percentage  of the explosive (fissile) uranium, maybe 2% exploded while the
remainder became radioactive  dust.  Deadly dust.  How  big was the explosive material?  About the size of a  peppercorn…7/10 of gram…the winght of a five dollar bill.  That was 
enough to level a two mile radius and kill 80,000 people.  Did the uranium come from Elliot Lake?  No.  It was the sudden need for uranium after Hiroshima that made Elliot Lake
the uranium capital of the western world.


Enriched  Elliot Lake  uranium was used in the bombs that blew  apart some  islands in the South Pacific Ocean  after similar explosions polluted parts of the American  southwest.
This  ended  when scientists such as Canadian Ursula  Franklin detected  Strontium 90 in her son’s baby teeth…radioactive fallout from above ground nuclear testing.  The result?
 U.S. President John Kennedy negotiated with the Soviet Union a Nuclear Test Bomb Treaty banning above ground testing of nuclear weapons.

The Test Bomb treaty did not end nuclear testing nor did it prevent the squadrons of B 52 bombers loaded with nuclear bombs from taking to the air each day so that in the event of
nuclear a surprise nuclear attack by the Soviets  the airborne B 52’s could deliver a return devastation as so graphically portrayed in the film Dr. Strangelove.  Elliot Lake was involved
in the bomb  business until 1962 when the US found a  cheaper source of  uranium  in Saskatchewan.

As a high school kid in the 1950’s I can still remember the con trails of those B 52’s that regularly overflew Toronto high up in the sky.  Like many other Canadians, I built an air raid
shelter in our cellar…one old studio couch, a dozen cans of tomato soup and  other cans pilfered from mom’s supplies.  “Mom, if an A bomb happens, run down  cellar and turn
on he ware in the laundry tubs, fill both of them…we will need that water.”  It was primitive effort. How could all  four of us  sleep on one narrow couch?  What if  a  neighbour waned
in as the city burned?  Where would we go to the toilet?  What would we do when the water ran out?  How could we cook the tomato soup?  Where would we go to the bathroom?
How could we be sure radioactive dust did not blow in from the cellar windows?  Sounds silly, but in the 1950’s fear of nuclear Armageddon was as real as the nose on your  face.
 As fate would  have it, one summer job with Hunting
Tech and Exploration Services sent me as  an instrument man helping Abul Mousuff do a  seismic survey up and  down the St John River Valley.  One of our base lines passed right through
the wooded area near Andover, New Brunswick where a B 52 crashed killing all crew except one who mysteriously was able to parachute.   On that crash sit I picked up this small
piece of melted aluminum that was  once part of the B 52 fusillade.  Fortunately that plane was on a  training flight and  was therefore not carrying nuclear bombs.  Or so we were told.
Other B 52’s also crashed in those years, one  of which crashed  in the eastern USA and the failsafe blocks all failed save one on a  nuclear bomb.


I put my fears on the back burner for the last 50 years.  No one in his or her  right mind would  start a nuclear war?  Right?  And the main enemy during the Cold  War had  collapsed  and
morphed  into Russia and a whole mess of  splinter states.  So what’s there to worry about?  Worry?  I think a stronger term is needed…FEAR.  Every time I see the President of the
United States walking or talking, I cannot help but notice the man behind him.  You’ve seen  him as well no doubt.  He  is in a  military uniform and  carries a brief case.  Ever wonder
why he shadows President Trump so  closely?  Inside that brief case is a button.  By pressing that button the President of the US can launch a massive number of nuclear rockets aimed
at specific targets.  At the same time 80 or more B 52”s crews will scramble and rumble down  runways from bases in the Western defence perimeter.   Then, perhaps a  little later,
nuclear submarines roaming the oceans of the world  will launch another bevy of nuclear rockets.

No one  would be that stupid?  How long does  a US president have to make such a should  destroying retaliation?  Five Minutes!  Let me  put that in big type…FIVE MINUTES!
The final decision rests with him alone.  And that is major worry today since President Trump takes pride in being unpredictable,  impulsive and often unable  or unwilling to listen
to advice.  My fears are not just mine.  In an article titled Nuclear War Should Require a Second Opinion (Scientific  American, August 1017, P.8)  the editors wrote 
 “In just five  minutes an American president could put all of humanity in jeopardy…that’s how  long would  takeoff as  many  as  400 land-based nuclear weapons the US to loosed…after
an initial  ‘go’ order.” Once  launched there is now way to stop them for there is no self-destruct switches.

One man, the  President of the US  decides.  And  he has five minutes to do so.  All other aspects of this  nuclear arsenal has checks  lest  a lunatic goes nuts.  Long years  ago we took
our boys to  a desolate place in North Dakota.  “Boys, behind that barbed  wire fence where that concrete bunker noses above he ground, there  are nuclear rockets encased in cement silos.
Extremely dangerous.  Somewhere nearby, invisible to us, are  two men in a control room.  Those  rockets cannot be launched  unless both get a “go” signal to do so.  Two men who have been
checked  as mentally stable and  responsible.”  That fact is some comfort.

Why then cannot the president of the United States  have a failsafe scenario where he must consult some other person before pressing that Armageddon button?  Get a second opinion in other words.

This article by the  editors of Scientific  American is concerned because Donald Trump, President of the United States “aspires to be ‘unpredictable’ in how he would use nuclear weapons.”

Now here is the big question.  Should our family start buying cans of tomato soup?


While we were doing this seismic survey across  the soil where the B 52 crashed we  heard several very strange stories
about the crash.  Was it an accident or was it madness…i.e.  deliberate.  How did  one man manage to bail  out?   The final
report on the crash  is reassuring but is it correct?  

Andover, NB Bomber Explodes In Flight, Jan 1957

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Andover, N.B. (AP) — Frozen woodlands near here were searched today for one Air Force man still missing from the crew of an eight-engine B52 bomber which exploded in flight yesterday. Seven bodies were found and one man parachuted with minor injuries.
Hundreds of Air Force men, Royal Canadian Mounted Police and French – Canadian trappers and guides, warmly garbed against temperatures which went far below zero, hunted for the missing man.
A spokesman from the jet plane’s Loring Air Force base at Limestone, Maine, said the man may have parachuted. He said two parachutes were reported seen by residents of the area but that “they lost sight of one of them.”
The spokesman said Capt. RICHARD A. JENKINS, the commander of the craft and one of those killed, was at the controls, his head partially covered by a visor-type hood used in reflex tests. With the covering the pilot can see the instrument panel but cannot see outside the plane.
Six bodies were recovered in the wreckage or the deep snow yesterday. A seventh was found in part of the plane early today by searchers carrying portable lamps.
Several hours after the crash of the B52 jet bomber, an Air Force B29 crashed on landing at Bergstrom Air Force Base, near Austin, Tex., killing six crewmen and injuring three others.
The public information office at Loring identified five of the seven victims of the Andover crash as:
Capt. RICHARD A. JENKINS, the aircraft commander, Huron, Ohio.
Capt. WILLIAM C. DAVIDSON, Stockton, Calif.
Capt. JOHN E. McCUNE, Hayward, Calif.
Capt. MARQUID H. D. MYERS, Tracy, Calif.
T. Sgt. RAY A. MILLER, Racine, Wis.
All were married and all but DAVIDSON had children.
The only known survivor was:
1st Lt. JOE L. CHURCH, Charlotte, N.C.
A spokesman at Loring said a team of Air Force flight safety experts from Norton AFB near San Bernardino, Calif., and officials of the Boeing Airplane Co., would take part in an investigation of the crash. Boeing builds the eight-million-dollar, swept-wing B52s.
Brig. Gen. William K. Martin, Loring Commander, said in a statement “an unusual maneuver may have resulted in exceeding the flight limitations of the aircraft.”
In Washington, the Air Force said the pilot was undergoing a reflex test wherein the flyer’s eyes are partly shielded and the plane put into an “unusual position. The pilot then must right the craft.
The Washington spokesman said the plane apparently had been “placed in a position beyond its capability.”
The plane was the fourth B52 lost by the Air Force on training flights since February 1956.