It is a traditional song that is on Cowboy Junkies' CD Trinity Sessions. It is arranged by James Gordon and sung a capella by Margot Timmins. Gripping.
I like to sing it when no one is around and, very occasionally, at a late night sing-song. It reminds me of my Dad who worked as a heavy equipment mechanic in the iron ore mines in Labrador in the 60s and 70s and in a gold mine in Yellowknife in the 90s.
Labrador. Translates to "The Big Land". And that it is! Over twice the size of the Island, it has a mere fraction of the population. And the population of the Island is not a whole lot to start with! All indications are that Labrador has handy about 30,000 people occupying a total land mass just under 300,000 square kilometers. That leaves loooots of leg room!
Coastal and Central Labrador have been occupied since...forever, by our native people: the Innu, Inuit and Metis. My Great Grandmother was from Lance-au-L'oup on the south coast of Labrador. Western Labrador was settled in the 1960s; Wabush and Labrador City were communities built around mining iron ore and Churchill Falls grew around a massive hydroelectric project.
I grew up in both Wabush and Labrador City. And I will always have a soft spot for northern mining communities as a result I guess. They make for an interesting culture: a blank slate that gets filled with some from nearby and some from far away. I had friends that hailed from Nova Scotia to Pakistan, and everywhere in between. Kids whose parents were nomads looking to make a decent living. Quebec was right next door so you couldn't help but learn a bit of french, even if you didn't want to. The fact that the legal drinking age in Quebec was 18 was incentive enough, but after grade 9 the kids from Fermont were integrated into our high school which provided even more incentive to parle français.
Back in the 60s and 70s, when airplanes were still pretty novel, we would go to the airport to watch the planes take off and land! This was a common Sunday family outing that also included ice cream. We didn't get out much!
Not true of course. 'Out' is what we got a lot of. And a lot of 'out' was during the winter, because there is a lot of winter in Labrador. And a lot of 'out' was on snowmobile, which we called 'ski-doo', despite the fact that Ski-Doo is actually a brand name.
Boil-ups, ice fishing, going to cabins. Sigh.
Part of the magic of a snowmobile trip was the caboose, essentially a bucket with skiis that could be towed on the back of the snowmobile. This is what the younger kids would be tucked into for the trip. Riding in a caboose is one of my favourite memories. The coziness, the ability to slip-slide all over the place, the bumping along over the occasional 'yes ma'am'. Fun indeed.
To celebrate Throwback Thursday, I've included a few new snaps of old snaps. Family shots of some of us enjoying The Big Land and the big, blue sky that there was so much of.
Mining For Gold
We are miners, hard rock miners
To the shaft house we must go
Pour your bottles, on our shoulders
We are marching to the slow
On the line boys, on the line boys
Drill your holes and stand in line
'Til the shift boss comes to tell you
You must drill her out on time
Can't you feel the rock dust in your lungs?
It will cut down a miner when he is still young
Two years and the silicosis takes hold
And I feel like I'm dying from mining for gold
Yes, I feel like I'm dying from mining for gold