Kittson County Historical Society

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Back in the late 1940's, I grew up in the city of Winnipeg. We had an ice box that kept our food and milk cold. The upper portion had a door that opened and the block of ice was placed in side.
A tray caught the water and it had to be emptied regularly. My job was to take my rubber tired "road king" wagon and head to the "Arctic Ice Co" for a block of ice. We lived in the middle of the block so I had to go north to the end of the street. then three or four blocks over, towards downtown. The tougher section seemed to lie in that direction. With my quarter clutched in my hand I would make the journey with my trusty wagon trailing on behind. The last section of my journey was down an old dark and dirty back lane. When I reached the loading dock I would trade my money for my eighteen to twenty square inch block of ice and then make a bee-line for home. Depending on the temperature, the ice melted rather fast, dripped from the wagon and left a wet trail behind me a half blind indian scout could follow. This was one time haste did not make waste. The round trip did not take an hour unless I wandered, on the outbound section. The trip home was rapid as I was afraid one day I would get home with only water. What I hated about going for ice was the fact that I was regularly prayed upon by ruffians that stole my quarter and I was forced to go home with no money and no ice to face a dressing down by my parents. I still remember some of my fathers advise. Particularly "stand up like a man and defend yourself. Yea, right. For gosh sakes I was only eight years old and felt like five. There were times when I took a round about ways to reach my goal to avoid being robbed. At some point the dressing down I received when I got home grew worse in my mind than fighting back. Also, unaware to me, I took on a spurt of growth at a time I deceided I had had enough. The next time I was attacked I stood my ground, fought back, caused one bloody nose and some ripped clothes, including my own, and completed my mission. In the months that followed I was jeered at and had stones pitched at me but never again robbed. I never forgot the lesson. The damage to my clothes was more than the value of the quarter but my parents never said a word

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Hi Glen, While in Minnesota a cousin of mine who still lives on the old farm out of Humboldt and his sister who does not live there both told me the story of cutting ice blocks from the river in the winter months. How they would cut them from the frozen river and haul them home to put sawdust around them in the icehouse and some on the entry porch. These blocks would last all summer they said.
In 1950 and 1951 I worked during the summer months at wilderness tourist camps in Northern Ontario. During the winter months they hired men to cut ice from the lake and store it in ice houses at the camp.
The key ingredient was lots of sawdust. It started out with a thick bottom layer of sawdust and then block by block the ice was dragged into the ice house. Each layer was covered with three or four inches of sawdust. When the building was filled with ice , every spare inch was filled with more sawdust. The big insulated doors were closed tightly and left till the camp opened in spring.
I can recall being sent to the ice house to get more ice to fill two or three old fashioned ice boxes in the main lodge. The first step was to shovel off the top layer of sawdust and get down to the ice. Most of the blocks were too huge to move so it was necessary to split off more manageable pieces and haul them by cart to fill up the ice boxes. We used a broom to sweep off most of the sawdust, then a pail of lake water removed the rest. Care was taken to replace the sawdust in the ice house so that the ice was always insulated. The sawdust was always wet from the melting ice and difficult to shovel but it was amazing how long the ice would last.
Originally the ice was manually cut with large buck saws. I hole was first cut in the lake and then the work began. It was very dangerous work because each block of ice that was hauled out of the lake left an ever widening hole where a careless step on the slippery ice could result in a ice cold dunking.. In later years large circular saws were used to cut the ice in squares but this was even more dangerous. As each row of the ice blocks was cut free they were all floating and very unstable. If you fell in, the ice could close over your head and there was little chance they would get you out alive.
In the 1960’s, when I lived in Kenora Ontario I helped build the annual Winter Carnival Ice Palace out of huge blocks of ice taken from the Lake of the Woods. A local company that had cut ice for years for the Canadian Pacific Railway, provided the ice for the palace. Again it was a very dangerous project because of the open water at the job site. Someone came up with a new idea on how to harvest the ice and the company reluctantly agreed to try it. Instead of cutting the ice all the way through to the water, the saw cut stopped about a foot from the water. When all the cubes of ice had been cut the first block was broken up and removed in pieces. This left at least a foot of ice for the workers to stand on. At that point each large block of ice was split from the lower ice and lifted out of the hole by equipment and loaded on a large trailer. This way the water was kept from flooding in and all the blocks were removed while keeping the entire site dry. When all the blocks were removed a hole was poked in the lower level of ice and the entire site was flooded and allowed to freeze. After the new system had been used I can recall the old foreman, who had been cutting ice the dangerous way for almost 50 years, cursing and saying, I wish I had learned about this idea years ago. It would have made the job a lot safer and a lot dryer.” The irony was the company stopped cutting ice a year or two later as there was no longer a demand for it.

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