It was one of those hot summer Calgary days when all the flies on the outside of the window wanted in and the cool air-conditioned air tried to get out. Suddenly my office door burst open and Dale rushed in and plopped himself in the chair beside my desk.
“Don’t you ever knock?
“Why? I know you’re in here, besides I need to hire your services to check out a gold prospect. Are you available for three days?”
“Before I answer that, I want to know where and when.”
“A prospector came into my office yesterday and dumped some rock samples on the table. He told me they came from claims he had staked up in the Territories, and he was sure they would make a mine. I looked at them and saw what looked like gold to me, so I told him we’d go in and have a look at them.”
“Let me see them,” I replied.
The rocks did look promising. They had been chipped out of a shattered quartz vein in a greenstone, a typical host for gold mineralization on the Shield. I put them under the microscope and I could spot little spots and threads of the yellow mineral mixed in with pyrite cubes.
“Yeah, it could be interesting,” I said. “Just exactly where are the claims?”
“That doesn’t tell me much other than the word ‘whale’ suggests it’s near the ocean.”
“It’s on Hudson Bay, just south of Rankin Inlet. Here, I’ll show you on a map.”
“So, when do you want to go?”
“Tomorrow morning, first thing. I’ll pick you and Joe up and we’ll head to the airport. I’ve booked all the flights to get us there.”
“You seem quite sure I would agree to go.”
“You were my first choice.”
“Well, it can’t be any more than three days. I’ve got a cardiologist appointment on day four that has taken months to arrange.”
“No problem. We’ll be back by then.”
As promised, Dale picked me up at seven the next morning. As I was walking out the door, my wife reminded me for the fourth time of the upcoming doctor appointment. We drove to one of the shabbier motels on the North Hill and Dale pounded on the door of one of the first floor rooms.
“Whaady want,” came the snarly reply, followed by a burly man in his underwear opening the door. His tanned and wrinkled face was partly covered by a scraggly beard laced with grey, which matched his long unkempt has which was roughly knotted into some kind of braid. His exposed untanned skin tone suggested a Metis heritage. His face immediately transformed into a smile when he saw Dale, making me wonder how much money Dale had paid to grubstake this bozo. We walked in to the smell of stale cigarette smoke and cheap wine. A young lady, curled up on the bed awoke immediately and ran naked into the bathroom.
“Time to go, Joe. Get dressed and kiss your sweetheart goodbye, we’ve got some planes to catch.”
Joe donned his clothes quickly, stowed the rest of his gear in a duffel bag, gave his lady-of-the-night cab fare and sent her on her way.
We were on schedule as we pulled into McCall Field. Our flight to Winnipeg was on time and we caught it easily.
Two hours in the Winnipeg airport listening to Joe snore, then a two- hour flight to Lynn Lake got us half way.
The next leg of the journey was tortuous. Dale had chartered a bush plane with a local service and was rewarded with his efforts with probably the oldest Beaver still in service. The first Beaver was produced in 1948, and after an hour of riding shotgun next to the pilot, I was convinced this was the one on which they took out the patent. The pilot’s name was Tim. He struck me as being barely out of high school, and did admit he was beginning his career trying to build up flying hours so he could get a real job.
The engine was loud, erratic and provided the roughest flight I had ever encountered. After three hours, I was sure my hearing was gone and my sanity on its way. Thankfully we had to land at Churchill to refuel. I had never been to Churchill, and by his efforts to locate a fuel depot for float planes, I assumed it was Tim’s first visit as well.
While we waited to get more fuel in this airborne coffin, Dale regaled us with anecdotes about the town. Evidently the biggest danger to the inhabitants other the extreme cold is the population of polar bears that regularly roam the streets.. Although it was summer and the roadways were clear of snow, I noticed the main mode of transportation was still the snowmobile.
As we rumbled down the runway, Tim shouted to inform us that our next stop was our destination near Whale Cove.
The next leg was a continuation of the ear-splitting flight over. We landed in a small bay, bordered by a pebble-strewn beach. A small one-room cabin was set back on higher ground. Tim pulled the aircraft as close to shore as possible, and we were able to jump off the pontoons without being submerged in the cold ocean waters. He roped the plane securely to two large rocks, and we all assembled in the cabin to plan the next move.
We decided that this far north we probably had four to six hours of daylight before nightfall, just enough time to hike into the claims, examine, map and sample the prospect and return to the cabin, with the prospect of starting our flight back home at dawn.
Joe had commandeered the only cot in the small room, forcing Dale and I to roll out our bedding on the dirt floor, much to the glee of the little furry creatures that called the cabin their home. Tim slept in the plane.
Early the next morning, he appeared at the cabin door. With a long face, he announced, “We have a problem.”
Dale and I scurried out to see his dilemma. It was obvious. The Beaver was sitting high and dry on the shore, a good thirty feet above the edge of the water.
“Didn’t you know Hudson Bay is part of the ocean and is subject to tides?” Dale asked.
“Nobody told me that when I got this assignment.”
“Okay. There’s nothing we can do. We obviously landed at high tide, and it is now low. We can’t push the aircraft down to the water without ripping the bottoms out of the floats. We’ll just have to wait for the next high water to get her loose.”
The next high tide came that afternoon, but it was much weaker than its predecessor, still leaving the aircraft well above the shoreline. So, we waited, another night at the Whale Cove Hilton serenaded by Joe’s nocturnal music. Finally, the next day with the ocean somewhat higher, we were able to rock the plane into a floating position. We quickly bundled our belongings into the aircraft while we still had enough daylight to get us back to Lynn Lake.
In spite of the temptations of returning to Calgary, Joe decided to remain and expand his prospecting ventures.
Needless to say, I missed my cardiologist appointment, but my ticker continued to function until my next examination in the Fall.