MY 3 TOURS OF DUTY IN CORAL HARBOUR
In April of 1975 I was transferred from Thompson to Coral Harbour to replace a radio operator who had frozen one of his hands. During the winter Coral Harbour was a 3 man station. The supervisor was Fred Lang & my fellow RO2 was Ron Konzleman. We had 2 techs Bill Webster & Alex Petlikau. There was a 3 man Upper Air station that did 2 runs a day.
The accomodations in Coral were decent; we lived in an H-hut. The Airport Manager, Bill Duffield, had divided the hut into loud & quiet wings. I chose the quiet side. Meals were okay at that time; the cooks really weren't that good or creative but the kabloonahs in the Hamlet were always delighted to accept an invitation to come out & dine with us.
We had a "rec club" which was really a bar with a pool table, shuffle board & darts. Coral Harbour itself was dry & our drinking was restricted (in theory) to the confines of the clubroom & to kabloonah invited guests. Needless to say it didn't always work out that way. Within short order I found my self as the President/Treasurer of the Rec Club. I didn't really mind; it was a good time waster.
The summer of '75 was eventful. Fred left at the end of June, just before Marine season opened & Canadian Coast Guard station Coral Harbour fired up. Ernie Pihlstrom replaced Lang and we got 2 more operators.....George Laidlaw & Ron Mauthe. George was an interesting character. He was a professional radio operator who worked for M.O.T. during Hudson Bay marine seasons then travelled the rest of the year. At that time a radio operator with George's credentials could always get a berth on a vessel & that's how he earned a living while travelling.
George had been an extra in a David Niven film "The Best of Enemies" which was filmed in Israel. George got a non-speaking part as a British soldier. The rec club had a contact with a film distributor in Winnipeg who provided us with 16mm versions of Hollywood films. My contact didn't have a copy of the film but after I explained why I was looking for it he called around & located a copy in Toronto. I don't know how he got it but the gent in Wpg was so interested in George's experience he provided the film free of charge. I didn't tell anyone about the movie |& one night working alone I made up a big poster that I set up in the kitchen " Tonight's move is Best of Enemies starring George Laidlaw and David Niven". Needless to say George was quite pleased.
That summer the official cartography of the island was done by Can Forces members. They set up a tent camp, brought in several Hueys & a couple of single Otters and they were very busy..... and thirsty. We struck an agreement for them to use the bar in exchange for providing the beer at mess prices which we were allowed to mark up. All they wanted was the ability to use the bar & they took the empties. I'm positive our little arrangement was outside NWT rules. In any event the rec club made a lot of money that summer.
An uneventful Marine season came & went. Konzleman had been replaced by Ed Burrow & Ernie was relieved by Jim Rhodes. Bill Webster also left & his replacement was Ken Ivey who was there on a 6 month tour. He really missed his family. Our head cook, Norm Frost, turned 65 and was replaced by a real chef Bernie Smolders. Bernie was obviously struggling with what we now call PTSD. As a teenager he was press-ganged by the Nazis into being a slave labourer. He was a head chef at one of the hotels in Winnipeg but periodically he needed to get away from the crowds. Luckily for us his sojurn away from the big city brought him to us. It was a nice change from Norm's humdrum routine of average (t best) meals.
The rest of my one year tour flew by & I was transferred to Regina. I didn't think I would ever see Coral Harbour again, but I was wrong.
In 1977 I dodged a transfer to Thompson by taking a Coast Guard tour then in December of 1978 I took a 6 month tour which wound up being 8 months due to a problem that developed with the RO3 who I won't name because he was removed for incompetence & I took his place on a temporary basis that ran until the beginning of Marine season.
In 1982 I saw a posting for supervisor in Coral Harbour & I contemplated applying but decided not to. It is one of my life's regrets that I didn't at least try to make one last trip to CYZS. The aeradio has been replaced by a communuity radio and the old compound has been replaced by a small terminal building with locals doing the work.
The Upper Air techs considered Coral Harbour to be a plum posting given that most of their sites were in the High Arctic. The h-hut had been remodeled & during my last tour we each had a mini-suite with our own bathroom & new furniture. We also got a tv channel. Originally we had the Vancouver feed but it turned out too many of the locals were staying up all night watching tv so it was changed to the Newfoundlamd feed which went off the air around midnight our time. Not such a good deal for the midnight operator but better for the locals.
Before I end this I would like to say a few words about the Inuit who worked at the airport. I have a lot of time for the Inuit because of my relationship with them. To a man they were cheerful & friendly. My particular friend was a janitor, Mikitook Bruce. Mikitook was a famous hunter and gregarious prankster. He & I played pool almost every day. He would come into aeradio, give the Kohlsman altimer a smack & sit down and have a visit. Supervising the Inuit took a deft hand because they could, on a whim, decide to go hunting or just not show up. On my first & last tours the APM after Bill Duffield was Tony van Eindhoven who was married to an Inuit woman. Tony had a good relationship with his crew & they responded to his efforts.
Anyway, that's a Coles Notes version of my experience in Coral Harbour. I enjoyed my time there and met some terrific people in the process.
(I hope this isn't too long. I tried to keep it so readers wouldn't lose interest)
30 March 2020