Now & Then: Allan Clark

Al and Diane at home

Allan Clark

Allan, a cheerful, amiable gentleman and a good friend, spent much of his career at Hydro One, ranging in jobs from forestry, linesman to management. His true passion was always hunting and fishing. Further to that desire, Allan has assembled an impressive line of trophies from antelopes to alligators. His home boasts several deer mounts as well as the cranium of an 11 foot alligator, teeth intact. He has also challenged and landed a 127 lb halibut while on vacation, sacrificing a few stitches from a ‘surprise’ appendicitis surgery a day earlier. After retiring from Hydro One, and during the time of his charter business out of South Baymouth, he helped many happy clients catch lots of lake trout, rainbow trout and salmon.

Al’s dad Donald, originally from Midland, was an avid hunter and fisherman too. Donald also worked for (then) Ontario Hydro, and he was transferred to Manitoulin from Stayner in 1939, when the HEPC, the Hydro Electric Power Commission, needed a linesman in Kagawong. It was hard to get people up here at the time, but the north was excellent for an outdoorsman. “Dad started as a linesman and eventually retired as an area foreman. Ron Tideman, our uncle, married to dad’s sister, was the manager at that time. My mother Eleanor (nee Patterson), hailed from Toronto. She met dad at Wasaga Beach in the late 1930s and they married in Mindemoya in 1940. Dad had to borrow a car from Ron to get to the wedding.”

Allan was born to Eleanor and Donald Clark on March 12, 1942. “A neighbour and Aunt Betty helped mum with the birth. Doc Strain arrived by horse and cutter, a little too late. Earlier that day, mother had been down on her hands and knees scrubbing the floor, so it would be perfect for the doctor. Unfortunately, the slippery floor was hazardous for dad who kept losing his balance that day. He quickly created a non-slip surface with ashes form the fireplace. “Mother was mortified.” 

Allan would have five siblings. Margaret is married to Tom Stringer, living in Green Bay; Marilyn, married to Mike Farquhar; Ken, married to Shelley; Anne, married to Eric Parsons; and Jim, married to Melody, all live in Kagawong. “Our original house was the Hunt house, up the hill in Kagawong. It was two doors down from the candy store on the corner today. (Boo-Bah-Loo Candy)

Wedding Day

“I remember riding my new tricycle on our deck. That fall, I was on the same deck, when I was captivated by the exciting scene below. A herd of cattle was moving along the road right in front of us. Bill Hillyard was directing the cattle with a hired hand and a dog. Some of the cattle wound up in our yard but his trained dog would come and coax them back into the herd. The cattle were angled towards the dock in Kagawong where a boat was waiting to take them to Toronto.”

“There were no boys to play with on the hill, but I had friends, Gail Fisher and Carol Richards. Occasionally Bruce Gordon came up to play. The kids in town had to go by our place to get to school which was the building where the Main St. Café is today. Stan Gordon’s mother, Maime Gordon, was our teacher. Despite her best efforts, recess was my favourite subject,” Al admits. “Mrs. Gordon did take us for nature walks, and they were the best. She would name all the trees, the plants, even the weeds and we became familiar with all of them. We also learned about various breeds of cows and horses, all very practical things to know for a farming community. We were tested on all these items too.” 

Another highlight for Al was walking home from school. “I would head down to the river and find a snake, then sneak back up and reveal this reptile in the proximity of a female.” Connie and Judy Elliott were two of these girls subjected to random fright attacks. Other good times happened when Al visited his Patterson grandparents in Toronto. “If we were lucky, we went to the Exhibition in late summer. Grandfather liked to take me to see the exhibits.” 

The head of the 11 foot alligator rests on a small table at home

“When I was old enough, I thought about earning money picking dew worms for dad and his friends. I was about 10 and I made two cents for each worm. That money got me my first bicycle. Dad introduced me to hunting and fishing. Dad would hang his deer in the back porch. We didn’t have a fridge, so the meat had to be canned. We kept two pigs in a pen in the back. They lasted two seasons until mum got tired of feeding them, then we ate the pigs and she was happier.”

High school was in Gore Bay where the nursing home is today. “We were on the top floor and we had to rotate at three in the afternoon to the old municipal building downtown for some of our classes. Occasionally we were left alone at the C.C. McLean site because the teacher was busy at the other site. The best part of high school was science, finding an experiment that would blow up.” Allan went as far as Grade 10. “I spent four days in Grade 11 before realizing there was no hands-on work here, just a lot of languages and a distinct need to learn the operation of a typewriter. I was 17 and I left to do what was more important to me at the time, making a paycheck. I applied to Hydro, INCO and the Navy.”

Both Ontario Hydro and INCO wanted Al to go for a physical. “The Navy told me they were recruiting in the spring and would get in touch with me then. I decided the Hydro work would be more familiar and less dangerous, compared to mining, below the ground.” Ontario Hydro asked Al to move to Matheson and work with the forestry division. “They trained me to cut down trees, do trimming and spray chemicals where needed. We weren’t aware of the dangers of 2-4-D and 5T so much back then, and we would occasionally hit our partners with a blast when we were turning around, or the wind caught the spray.”

Terrific catch!

After four years of forestry work, Al was transferred to lines. “By then I knew all the safety regulations and the background of hydro work practices. I could tell how much voltage was in the line by the size and type of insulators that were used. Despite the three years of seniority, I took line training. We used spurs to climb the poles. In later years that was a lot quicker than getting a bucket set up. We dug holes by hand to set up lines.”

“We did all the needed jobs at that time, from domestic work to industrial work. I liked the variety of all the tasks,” Al relates. “Poles were put in during summertime We worked with high tension wires in the winter when swamps and rivers were frozen, and you didn’t need a boat. When asked if there were any close calls, Al confirmed “no close calls; you are either there, or you make a mistake, and you are not there. We don’t talk about close calls.”

Al met Diane Haley in 1962, in Matheson. She was training at the Ottawa Civic Hospital as a nurse. She graduated in May of 1966 and the couple were wed in October of that year. After two years, the couple bought a house on a farm that came with 20 acres. Al continued his work as a linesman and Diane worked at Bingham Memorial in nursing. Both their children, Greg and Colleen, were born in Matheson. The family enjoyed tent camping and fishing. 

Hunting on horseback

After Matheson, Moosonee was the next stop in the late 1970s. Part of the line from Cochrane to that community, the stretch from Otter Rapids to Moosonee, had just been completed. Hydro was going to include Moosonee in their grid system. At that time, two caterpillar diesel engines were producing power for this community. The engines were housed in a box car owned by the O&R, Ontario Northland Railway. It was costly to run those two engines. “I was to commission the line, which entailed flying over it by helicopter and inspecting it. I did that and then I bid on that job, looking for new adventure.” 

“The same day I commissioned the line, the last of the two generators shut down. They hadn’t been repaired because the owners were aware that Hydro was taking this area over. I landed in Moosonee and saw it was totally out of power. By the time I got to the Polar Bear Lodge and asked for a coffee, I heard, ‘We have two feet of water downstairs and we are totally out of power, so no coffee’.”

Al quickly contacted Timmins to recruit helpers to put in a temporary source of power. When that was accomplished, Al was asked to stay put for a while. His application to remain there was quickly approved. The family found housing in an old air force base where Ontario Hydro had purchased two homes. 

Eventually, another linesman from Kagawong was recruited to help in Moosonee. Danny Hone and his wife Pat and one child lived in the second Hydro house. The children of both families attended school in Moosonee for two years and all went well. “By then I was a line foreman and our children were getting older. Diane hadn’t been able to find work. We realized it would be an advantage to live further south.”

A great catch of halibut

Al bid successfully on a supervisory role in North Bay. The family purchased a home in near-by Calendar. Diane found work as Director of Nursing at the Nipissing Manor, the old home of the Dionne Quints. The home had been remodeled and expanded over the years and included an Assisted Living section. The Manor allowed Diane to work a steady day shift. Both children attended Public and High School in North Bay. Son Greg went on to college to train as a machinist. He also got work with Hydro. Colleen went to Teachers’ College and afterwards taught school in Parry Sound.

Al’s first job in North Bay had him supervise crews being dropped off on 80 foot towers with a helicopter to ‘re-tension’ the lines. The family spent 20 years in North Bay until Al retired in 1993. They had bought a cottage in Kagawong, three years earlier and spent the next five years fixing it up. Summers were enjoyed on the island and winters in Calendar. Son Greg and daughter Colleen and their families had already moved back to Manitoulin. Al bought a fishing charter business in South Baymouth the same year he retired from North Bay. He called it ‘Al-E-Cat’ Charter, the logo was a big cat holding a fish on his back. He spent 22 years taking guests out for fishing trips on the big water, catching many large fish and keeping his customers happy. He retired from that business in 2015 but kept the boat.

It was also a time for travelling. In 2000 Al and Diane went to Alaska in their truck, bearing a slide-in-camper that Al had rebuilt. “It was a beautiful six-week trip just for the two of us.” It was abruptly postponed for three days while Al had an emergency appendectomy in Fairbanks. “The ambulance picked me up in the campground which left Diane to drive the truck and camper alone to Fairbanks. Thankfully, the $25,000 medical bill was entirely covered with our insurance.”

Al was quickly back to his Alaskan fishing, pulling in a 127 lb halibut and sacrificing a few of his stitches in the process. Thankfully, he had a wife who happened to be a nurse. She helped him when he finally shared this information with her. Al went on to leave his own mark on local history by winning the ‘best dance prize’ while twirling with a Can-Can girl on stage at Diamond Lil’s. This time no stitches were lost. Al grinned as he shared, “My reward was her garter which I had to remove with my teeth. It was all in good fun.”

Family camping with the tent-tailer

“We were back to Alaska in 2002 with brother Ken and his wife Shelley; they had the same 32-foot fifth-wheel trailer as we did. We had another great trip travelling the same moose-bound route and doing a considerable amount of fishing.” A highlight on this trip was Jack London’s Bar in Dawson City. This bar kept a toe soaked in formaldehyde, reputedly the toe of an old prospector who had suffered with frostbite. This toe was added to drinks for those with iron-cast innards. Customers were expected to down the beverage and hold the infamous toe between their teeth to prove that they had completed the required due-diligence as outlined in the bar rules. Diane was compelled to honour this expectation and managed to down her drink and bite the toe. The foursome also went back to Diamond Lil’s but this time there was no dancing.

In 2004, Al and Diane moved to their new home where Al lives today. “We had it built so we could get out of our cottage, which was sold to Richard and Colleen. Wild deer and turkeys would wander through our new yard during the year and we would put feed them in the winter.”

“We still wanted adventure, so we looked into elk-hunting in Colorado, antelope hunting in Wyoming and alligator hunting in Louisiana. We both loved the excitement and the fine scenery,” Al continues. “I recall searching for wild horses in their natural habitat in Wyoming. We were told to check out the box canyons and sure enough that was where we found them. Both Diane and I enjoyed their natural grace, unrestrained in their desert-like environment.”

“Fishing for alligators is similar in format to what you see in the show called ‘Swamp People.’ A fishing line baited with a rotting chicken is hung from a tree. When the alligator takes the hook, you move towards him in the boat and shoot him in a specific spot on the top of his head. You can use a .22 and this kills him quickly. We eat all that we shoot, so we harvest the front legs and his tail and freeze them. We have also sold alligators to Troy of the Swamp People.”

A trip to the East Coast, in their fifth-wheel camper, had them tapping their toes to good old-fashioned Newfoundland music while being screeched-in. “Bob and Anna Lewis came too. I went cod fishing just off Woody Island and brought in my limit. We had such a good time.”

Sadly, Al lost his hunting partner suddenly on May 2, 2017. Diane had been baking some bread at home when she began to feel dizzy. Al took her to the medical clinic where her dizziness got worse. Dr. Bedard saw that she was having a stroke, and immediately accompanied her to Sudbury in the ambulance. The next day, there seemed to be some recovery, but sadly she passed away later that day. “I lost my best friend; the mother of our children, my hunting and fishing partner,” He adds softly, “It was a very difficult time.” 

On their fishing boat near South Baymouth

“What was an important event in my life? Meeting and marrying Diane and having our children. What am I most proud of? I am most proud of my family. Recipe for happiness? Iron out problems right away before the sun rises the next day and don’t give up easily on your relationship. You can work it out.” 

“My favourite time of the year? It is the crisp weather of fall when hunting and fishing are enjoyed and most of our trips took place. Favourite television shows? Adventure intrigues me as well as any outdoor shows and documentaries.” 

“My strengths? Hard to say, perhaps, hunting and fishing. I will always recall pulling in that 127 lb halibut, and the five by five-point elk as well as that 11 foot alligator. What’s still on my bucket list? Seeing Kodiak Island in Alaska as well as Dutch Harbour where they film the ‘Deadliest Catch.’ In the town of Homer, Alaska, there is a brass plaque with all the names of fishermen who died at sea. One in seven people owns a plane there, so there is more risk in just living there too. Planes land on roads and taxi to the wide areas of the road when necessary.”

“What family event did I enjoy most? Camping with my family at the mouth of the French River or at the beach in a hidden area below Calendar. On August first weekend each year, we would head for the Benjamins area by boat and go camping with the kids. Associations that I was involved with? Fish and Game Club in Moosonee and Calendar, as well as the Fish and Game Club here, but I am not active there now.”

Alligator hunting in Louisiana

“Manitoulin is definitely a special place, clean water and fresh air abound and there are still not too many of us living here. Wyoming is similar. You can drive for six hours and never see another truck. There are more cattle than people there. Here on Manitoulin, it would be even nicer if we could get rid of the windmills. Nevertheless, it is always a good feeling to come over the hill and see the Island in the distance on the way from Espanola. I have been to many places and this place has always felt like home to us. All our family has gravitated back here. I have found a buddy to share some adventures with and I have made other new friends, so I am not likely to ever leave.”