Monday, July 15, 2024

The travels of Owen P. Hearty

The following is a transcript of a presentation made by Owen P. Hearty of Vinton to a gathering of the Knights of Columbus in the early 1960s. The presentation, made at the request of Father T. May (parish priest at St. Elizabeth’s in Vinton) details Owen’s work and travels across Canada during the 1930s - 1950s. The hand-written notes were given by Owen’s wife Delima to Pontiac Archives volunteer Venetia Crawford, who transcribed them for this article. Owen’s daughter, Karen Smith, is also a volunteer at the Archives.

Brothers, my travels may not be of too great an interest to you. However, by request of Father May, my name was mentioned to you on account of my travels. Firstly, in the early thirties, I might add this was before some of you brothers were born, not too many of you here present remember the Depression. I went through this but I was very fortunate to have steady employment.
In 1930, I was approached by Dr. Retty, Chief Geologist for a Quebec Geological Survey in Chibougamau. I was to go as a canoe man. We left by train for Oskadano which is on the Transcontinental Railway. There were eight in the party. We had some three tons of supplies which were all in boxes. This had to be prepared in pack sacks. We were no doubt inexperienced along this line. However, when this was all packed, it looked like a pile of pulp. While doing this we were awaiting a cook who was to arrive by train. However, after waiting for some two days, he failed to arrive. Now who was going to cook? Dr. Retty knew that I had some experience in this line and I was elected for the job much to my dislike but the big problem was to come when the first day out at dinner time to get lunch as I mentioned, everyone helped to pack those pack sacks. So where was the tea, the bacon, the butter, the sugar? We had to go into almost every pack to find what was needed. However, dinner over, such as it was, we were on our way again. The route to Chibougamau by canoe was 129 miles. And in those miles, there were 28 portages, some a half mile to a mile. Believe me there were a lot of sore necks and blistered shoulders.
However, after some 23 days, we arrived in Chibougamau – a very tired party. That summer I had to cook and act as rod man for the transit man. We surveyed the Township of Mackenzie. There were several mining properties being prospected that summer, but today it is a prosperous mining community. Now for the next three seasons, I worked for Dr. Retty and Dr. Leslie Bell, still with the Geological Survey Party; one summer in Ville-Marie area and then two summers in Val d’Or. I was rod man for the surveyor and we surveyed the road through from Senneterre to all the mining properties in that area. In the latter end of each season, I was with Dr. Bell in detail work for all the mines in that section.
I forgot to mention that in 1932, I accompanied Dr. Bell to the height of land north of Senneterre doing geological work and mapping the different rock formations. When we were over the height of land where the waters flow to the Arctic, I filled a can of water, carried it back and dumped it into the waters flowing south. It no doubt has long passed through the Ottawa River and down to the Atlantic Ocean.
In 1934, I married and thought perhaps my travelling was over, but it was only starting. I was employed by Noranda Mine for three years as a sampler. I also worked under ground on the 5000-foot level where I developed rheumatism and for the next year, I was a bed ridden patient. I survived that and in 1940, I was called upon by Dr. Retty to make the trip to Labrador.
About the middle of May we travelled by train to Rimouski. Then by ship to Seven Isles. The name of the ship was Jean Bulliant and this part of my journey was not enjoyable, especially the blue waters of the St. Lawrence River. We had to remain in Seven Islands for ten days as the lake we were to land on was not yet clear of ice. While there we did make a trip to the Gulf of St. Lawrence and flew over the French Colony of St. Pierre and Miquelon. Rum runners played along the coast line of the St. Lawrence and many of our party, who were mostly natives of Seven Islands, would meet those boats some distance out from the shore and come back with a supply of French liquor. And if I remember rightly it was bought for $200 a 26 oz. I might ask at this point, did anyone here ever eat fresh salmon? Well you have missed a lot of good eating. Believe me I sure had my share.
Finally, the lakes were clear of ice and our two planes were made ready for the flight into Labrador. We arrived safely and for the next week, we prepared our camp site. Labrador is a very rugged country. The moss on the hill sides and mountains is actually a foot deep. When dry, it is like walking through Corn Flakes and when wet was like soft putty. Wild geese were plentiful, of which we had a few meals and the trout were plentiful. Any spare time we had, we went fishing. Every time you cast your line, you had a fish – 5- or 6-pound lake trout. My job was in charge of the party trenching and blasting operations. I also had to channel sample the great dome of iron which was some 500 or 600 feet high and probably a mile across. This had to be mapped and those were the first samples that were brought out from Labrador. This place is now known as Schefferville. We arrived back in Seven Islands on the 30 of Sept. 1940.
My next experience was in 1953 when I made a trip to the North West Territories, the Land of the Midnight Sun. I was hired by George and Viola MacMillan to prospect for uranium. No doubt you have read many articles about Viola MacMillan, the lady who was president of the Prospectors Association of Ontario. At the present time, things are not too good with Viola over the stock market on the Gulf mining property up in Timmins. However, I have nothing to do with that.
This trip I went by train to Toronto and stayed at the Royal Oak Hotel. I was met there by Viola’s secretary, a little Japanese girl, with my plane ticket and all other instructions. Reservations were made for me at the King Edward Hotel in Edmonton where I was to meet Dr. Ambrose and a student from Queen’s who was to be my partner for the summer. We spent the next day picking up supplies and tools. From Toronto to Edmonton by air it is not very exciting - we were flying so high and over the clouds. Only once in a while could you see the earth below. But the trip from Edmonton was wonderful – a smaller plane – 30 passengers. We flew over the Rockies which were snowcapped with the white sand dunes in the low lands – which I thought was snow but it wasn’t. We flew across Lake Athabasca 150 miles. Here were large ice flows floating everywhere. We landed at Uranium City which is some 75 miles north of Lake Athabasca. We stayed there a few days and then my partner and I engaged another plane to take us to an island on Lake Athabasca known as the St. Mary’s Channel. We were unable to take our canoe and motor along as they were too large for the plane. They would come in by barge later on. We had plenty of supplies and food which we kept under refrigeration in a great crevice in the rocks. This island was only about ¾ of a mile wide in size and here we were grounded for the next two weeks, practically nothing to do but pray that we would not get sick or something. Believe me that island was well prospected. Finally, our canoe arrived and we could then get around to the many different properties to be prospected.
Weather was much different from Labrador – very dry climate here whereas in Labrador, it was always raining and not so many mosquitoes either. No stands of timber, just scrub spruce. I saw butts of spruce 10 – 12 inches in diameter and only 15 feet high. I saw great herds of caribou, thousands of them, and plenty of bear which if time permitted, I could tell stories for hours.
On Sept. 1, my partner had to return to Toronto for the school term. I was given another chap from Calgary. We had to break camp and were flown down 100 miles on Lake Athabasca to a property we had to work in detail and map. We remained there till the end of September. The day before I left, I went fishing and caught a 33-pound trout, of which I cooked some ten pounds. Then I packed it in lard and brought it home with me and had fresh trout two days after it was caught.
I left Uranium City about 4 pm and arrived in Edmonton around 9 pm. I phoned home at 10 pm. Del answered. I asked her the time. She said 12 o’clock. I left shortly after 10 o’clock, arrived in Toronto at 9 a.m., then the flight to Ottawa and arrived at 12 noon. Good to get home after a very exciting summer.

Owen caught some monster trout in Lake Athabaska.
Owen and his group pose with a pontoon plane while surveying near Noranda Mines in 1935.
They also travelled by canoe quite a bit during that time.
A well-worn photo shows Owen and his colleagues camping out.
Owen poses for a photo during a trip to the Northwest Territories in 1953.
Portaging was one of the difficult tasks that Owen and his teammates undertook during their time at Noranda mines between 1933 and 1935.


This article is available free to all subscribers to The Equity. If you are a subscriber, please enter your email address and password below.


If you are a subscriber but have not yet set up your online account, please contact Liz Draper at to do so.


To become a subscriber to The Equity, please use our Subscribe page or contact