Housing Came with the Job in Northern Ontario Mining Communites – Michael Barnes

In earlier years in the teaching game in Ontario, school boards were able to secure teachers because they were offered accommodation at either free or a cheap rate as part of the deal.

One young teacher had a house in an isolated community in 1956 for $30 a month. Now mind you it was not worth that much because it was cold, leaned in the wind and had no amenities, but at least the place to live was an incentive to take the job.

Big mining companies like Falconbridge and Inco in Sudbury offered their educators most pleasant living quarters. Many of these were for single men and women and  were known as teacherages. Actually there were places for other employees as well but none had a job specific name like those for teachers.

The mines in the smaller camps provided homes for many workers. Kirkland Lake had a whole hierarchy of places according to the importance of one’s position. Some of these survive today. The mine manager and superintendent level places were always some of the best houses in the
community.

In Timmins, mines like the Preston East Dome had their own townsites. More recently the big Dome Mine finally abandoned its paternalistic policy of providing places to live and removed its houses simply because the ground on which they stood was needed for mining.

An example of a complete town which was built to service one mine is found at Virginiatown, hard by the Quebec border. The houses are privately owned now but visitors easily note a striking similarity between several styles of residences. In this town the former grand company guest house now serves as a retirement home.

The Hollinger Mine was one of the great mines of the world and among all the other benefits of working there was the use of a company house. At first these houses came with a flat roof for easy erection but after the experience of a couple of northern winters, the Hollinger provided all such properties with a sharp peaked roof. That way the snow did not linger.

One had no trouble locating the mine houses. For a start there were streets of them, all parallel, all the same. Well, not really, because there were green ones and red ones. That was from the shingle or roofing paper which was used for siding. Actually they could have had the only other available colour, black,but that was thought to be rather dreary.

The original houses had no basements and boasted backyard privies until the amenities of water and sewer were provided. Houses like those on Messines and Cambrai Avenues in Timmins were identical so newcomers had to watch out for street signs in order to fetch up at the right locations.

The company correctly assumed at first that the worker tenants would be mostly young men with small families. This was just as well as the basic structures had one bedroom, along with a kitchen outfitted with basins and washboards. The wood stove for the whole house was located in the living room.

Later three bedroom homes were provided and these also had the luxury of a dining room. During this period Hollinger built houses in various location in the city and these had a more varied style of siding.

These arrangements of houses built by one of the largest mining companies in Canada came with much of the amenities one would expect of a modern subdivision. Tennis courts, playgrounds and even a meeting hall were provided.

Mine maintenance men looked after housing repair and renters received free paint with which to spruce up their company homes.

Today the Timmins Gold Mine Tour draws people from across the continent today. One of the buildings set up as a museum of early mining life is # 45 Messines Avenue. Restored to its former state the house with its familiar siding,white strapping and solid wood storm door has been furnished to the period of the twenties and thirties when miners were darned glad to get a
company house.

Lots of jobs in the north still come with accommodation provided by the employer.Teachers, police officers and other company workers get housing provided in places like Moosonee and Moose Factory.

Today, as in the early days of company housing, its nice to get a place tolive that comes with the job. Making it a home is the responsibility of the tenant.

Michael Barnes is a published Canadian author who has written extensively on Northern Ontario. Michaelbarnes53@hotmail.com

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