From the Archives · History

In Praise of the Lowly Poplar

Photo by Gyuszi Bacsi

This piece, written for my newspaper column On the Rock in 1992, was written under the heavy influence of the great Walt Whitman, whose literary blood also coursed through the veins of Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, though I’m hardly in their league.

Still, it remains one of my all time favourites…

Last Saturday, in the Valley at least, was a special day that likely went uncelebrated by most of us.

Saturday was, you may recall, the first day of a glorious long weekend. But it was also the day that the poplars, burnished by a hot sun, caressed by a dry wind, burst their buds, releasing the first leafy foliage of summer.

It was an achingly beautiful sight, the timorous green against an azure sky, a dazzling relief to the harsh monochromes of winter and spring.

Maybe it’s time we paused to contemplate the lowly poplar. We Northerners, (and I am as guilty as the next) tend to take it for granted, dismissing it as “a garbage tree” or “an overgrown weed.”

Long scorned by the sawyer as a nuisance and by the wood burner as a greasy fibre that burns too hot and too fast, poplars tend to grow quickly, rot prematurely, and snap perilously in high winds.

And yet it is the most ubiquitous of deciduous trees in these parts, supremely adapted to the difficult latitudes of the Canadian Shield, thriving where its nobler cousins, the maple, ash, and oak cannot gain a foothold.

And I wonder, too, whether most of us here On the Rock are not a lot more like the poplar than we care to admit.

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From the Archives · History · Holidays · Mining

Christmas on the Rock

Christmas on the Rock. One of my “One the Rock” columns which appeared weekly in the Northern Life, Sudbury’s community newspaper. This one, dated December 20, 1998:

The first Christmas of the new century dawned clear, cold and bright over the Nickel Range, and no one was more excited by the day’s prospect than Joseph Poulin, a fact that did his mother’s heart much good.

Since September she had watched Joey, a mere slip of a boy and only 13, trudge off to work each day in the rock house of the Canadian Copper Company’s new Creighton Mine. With the onset of winter and the shortness of days, this meant that Joey left home before sunrise, and returned long after dark each night.

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From the Archives · History · Interviews · Mining

In Search of the Lost Chicago Mine

Last week the following missive appeared on my Facebook wall:

Hello Mick!

I’m not sure if you remember my Grandfather, Robert Bryenton? You once did a story/column/article about him. He is a World War II veteran. Lived alone in his home on St. Pothier Road in Whitefish.

The reason for this message is to inform you of his passing. You may not even remember him, but you were very important to him.

Over the years, your name and the article have been a topic of discussion, frequently.

Thank you for telling his story.

God Bless,

To be honest, I hadn’t thought of Bob in years, but I remembered him vividly. His granddaughter Melissa was kind enough to send along a PDF of the original column, which I’m sure I hadn’t read since it was published in the summer of 1995. I believe I can see why the old man apparently treasured it so.

Here is that column, complete and unabridged:

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