Cookhouse Christmas 1941
By Ken Kristjanson
In early August of 1941 my father and his brother Hannes, along with my uncles Pete Peterson and
Eddie Jonasson, returned to Gimli in time for the Icelandic Celebration. They had been white
fishing at Big Black River for two-and-a-half months on board Booth Boat #10.
After a very few weeks at home, my parents drained the rain barrels and locked the door of their
modest home on Fifth Avenue and, with my brother Robert in tow, we all walked the four blocks to
Gimli Harbour. Along the way we were joined by my uncle Hannes, aunt Sophie and my cousins
Beverley and Eddie.
At the Harbour was Booth Boat #10. All week long my father and other men had been loading this
gas boat with all sorts of wondrous goods. There were twelve inch spikes, lumber, axes, mallets,
cooking equipment, bedding and groceries. This was going to be a great adventure for us kids —
none of us were yet of school age. I remember that trip in late August as if it was yesterday. It
was a beautiful summer's day as we travelled at seven knots around Gull Harbour lighthouse. As I
remember, the trip took about nine hours.
We were going to Albert's Point on Humbuck Bay. First to build a dock and then to await the
arrival of the m.v. Barney Thomas which would bring an additional group of men and provisions.
These men were independent fishermen who contracted to sell their catch to my father. They
brought their own gear but my family would provide the room and board. My mother, Annie, and her
sister Sophie were the cooks. The freight boat would also bring Victoria Malinowski who would
also act as cookie and to help keep an eye on the kids.
On arrival at Albert's Point and before the heavily loaded gas boat was barely tied up, we kids
set out to explore what was to be our home for the next seven months.
The first thing that caught our eye was an eight foot stove sitting incongruously on the beach.
My father and Hannes had bought the stove the previous winter from a Winnipeg hotel that was
converting from wood to gas. The freighter had brought it to its current location on their last
trip of the winter. It was to be the crown jewel in the new cook shack that was as at the moment
merely a good idea. In the meantime it sat in all its majesty on the shore, looking rather a
Looks notwithstanding, my mother immediately took to the iron beast like a long lost friend. We
helped her gather up drift wood and in a very short period of time she had a fire roaring.
Looking back on the scene, I am sure that even Sam McGee would have approved of the blaze.
And so in the middle of a pristine beach, under a flawless canopy of blue sky, my mother and aunt
made a huge cauldron of coffee. From the oven where the finest chefs in the fancy Winnipeg hotel
had cooked standing rib roasts came the smell of freshly baked buns.
The boat was unloaded shortly before dark and someone lit the Coleman lantern. We all sat on fish
boxes enjoying the summer evening. The men smoking and drinking coffee and we kids trying to stay
awake. My mother squeezed my father's hand and said, "It doesn't get any better than this."
The next day construction of the dock began in earnest. The previous winter, in preparation, the
men had cut down giant spruce trees and, with the aid of a small crawler tractor affectionately
called "mule train", the logs had been hauled just to the water's edge. Now these timbers were
floated out and with brute force and a giant pulley, they were hoisted vertical.
My uncle Siborg was a bear of a man who swung a sledge that must have weighed 200 pounds. He did
this standing on the cabin of Booth Boat #10 and the piles were quickly embedded in the silt at
the bottom. Cross beams were spiked in place and the process was repeated.
One of the new hired men was a young aboriginal by the name of Arnold Harper, a man who would
work for the Kristjanson brothers almost steadily for the next 40 years. He wanted to swing the
giant maul. My father said be very careful for if you drop it in the lake you will go in after
it. As fate would have it, Arnold took a mighty swing and both he and the giant sledge went
straight into the lake. When he surfaced and while still treading water, he yelled out with a
grin, "Don't worry, I am still holding on to the sledge!"
The completed dock constructed in 1941
The days flew by in a flurry of activity. The dock got built. The new cookhouse got built. The
stove, with the help of green poplar trees acting as rollers, and 12 men pushing and the mule
train pulling, was set in its place of honour. The men then applied themselves to the task they
had come for ... and fishing was good that fall. The tug Barney Thomas regularly brought in the
mail and provisions and in turn took away the fishermen's catch.
With fishing under way, we kids worked hard at playing from morning until dark and every day
brought something new.
Albert's Point is situated in a sheltered bay with currents ideally designed for the entrapment
of all manner of flotsam and jetsam. After a storm, we would find drift wood and lumber, boxes
and fishing gear. The wood would be salvaged to be piled neatly to dry and then it would be cut
to length to feed the ravenous monster in the new cook house. There would also be all sorts of
items that we kids could use to build castles forts or even pirate ships. One time an old 20 foot
skiff drifted in. The men pulled the half submerged wreck on shore. They then cut it in half,
fastened a makeshift door on it and for years used it as a smoke house for savory smoked goldeye.
The fall fishing season came to a fruitful conclusion that year and some of the men went home.
Most, however, stayed to wait for the lake to freeze over and spent their time preparing the gear
for the winter season and laying in a supply of wood. But the lake was in one of her ornery moods
that year. She would freeze and then a strong south wind would come and break up the ice. This
was excruciating for us kids, since a frozen lake was our signal that Christmas was finally
We were allowed to choose one toy which Santa would ship via the tractor train and so we had each
studied the toy section of the Eaton's catalogue in great detail and agonized over the decision
in order to make the best possible choice. The boys picked trucks and Beverley chose a Shirley
Temple doll. The orders were discreetly placed with strict instructions to Eaton's mail order to
ship the items to Riverton. From there the freighters would bring them to Albert's Point when the
ice was strong enough to hold the weight of their tractors, which should have been well before
But the day before Christmas arrived open water still showed. My parents quickly mobilized the
crew. They cut down spruce trees and made small wheels. Boards were painted and wooden wheels
were attached. Pop bottle tops adorned the sides of the handmade trucks and old cigarette
packages were pressed into action as windshields and cargo. One of Beverley's old dolls was given
a passable make over. Fishermen with gnarled hands and weather beaten faces were given the task
of stringing freshly popped popcorn for tree decorations. Others used foil from cigarette
packages to make stars and other tree ornaments. Like school boys again, they tried to outdo each
After the endless wait that only really children know, it was finally Christmas Day. Following a
magnificent feast of venison and ruffed grouse, the sound of sleigh bells could be heard outside.
The Coleman lamps were dimmed and a rumpled Santa entered amidst loud singing to disguise his
voice. We kids awaited with wild anticipation while Santa explained that his sleigh had broken
down and he would bring our expected toys later.
In the meantime, he said, he had the elves do a makeshift job for us and thousands of other kids
around the world. He handed out the wonderful handmade gifts and then left amidst loud choruses
of White Christmas.
This was 1941. War was raging all over the world. Before us lay Dieppe, Stalingrad, D Day and
countless other battles. A new order would emerge when it was all over. But tonight there was a
different sort of battle on our agenda. It was 7 o'clock. The new cook house, which had served as
our boisterous Christmas headquarters, was suddenly silent. A dozen or so men, three women and
four kids sat perfectly still. The battery powered radio was turned on and we held our breath
until it had warmed up enough for the familiar voice of Foster Hewitt to fill the room: "Hello
hockey fans in Canada, the United States and Newfoundland!"
And as we all settled in to close our perfect Christmas Day, we were warmed on the outside by the
massive stove brought from the fancy hotel in Winnipeg and warmed on the inside by the closeness
of our family and the kindness of the fishermen who worked late into the night to bring joy to
the kids at our cookhouse Christmas.
There were many unexpected treasures and humble heroes during that adventure at the fishing
station in 1941— even our beloved Leafs seemed touched by the cookhouse magic and we listened on
the radio as they won the Stanley Cup that year.
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