I ran across a funny meme online the other day. it went something like this:
My daughter: Can I go to my friend’s house?
Me: Take your phone and text me every 20 minutes to tell me you’re okay.
Me when I was 10: I’m off to the abandoned quarry with my pals.
Mom: Dinner is at 5
That’s a pretty good summation of how things have changed in a generation.
While my mother was concerned for my safety — I bitterly recall her not allowing me and my siblings to chase the mosquito fogger truck on our bikes like the other kids — she didn’t know where we were all the time.
There were those glorious couple of hours after school where we were free to run. And run we did. Right to the mine tailings pond.
I grew up in a town called Cochenour, part of the Red Lake gold mining district in northern Ontario, near the Manitoba border. The road ended there. There were no roads north of us. There were five towns in the district and each had at least one gold mine.
Cochenour had a population of about 700 people and the head frame loomed over the town. And in the bend of the road into Cochenour was the tailings pond. Or as we called it The Cyanide Slimes. Or just The Slimes.
Were we told not to go near the Slimes? Yes we were. Did we heed that advice? No we did not.
The Slimes were a siren call to many of us. There they were in all their gray glory, just waiting for us to play.
The Slimes had a strange and fascinating substance, a sort of dense cake-like crust, about two inches thick, and underneath, liquid.
So the idea was to walk across the pond without breaking the surface and falling through. You wouldn’t drown in the liquid, it was only about a foot deep, but it would probably eat your shoes. As it did to a friend of mine, young Robbie. We escaped after school, still in our school shoes and hit the Slimes. He went through and threw his school shoes in the dog house to hide them from his mother. I don’t recall how that worked out for Robbie. Probably not well.
Anyhoo, when you got out to the middle of the tailings pond, you started gently jumping up and down to get the liquid under the crust moving.
It would roll under the crust like an unseen wave, and we would ride it.
I shudder to think now, of how many chemicals and poisons were in those tailings.
But it was the 1960s. As those who grew up in Kimberley while Cominco’s Sullivan Mine was in full operation know, the 60s were the time before the world began to wake up to what they were doing to the environment.
We had no concerns about playing in the gray muck.
After the mine closed, and the tailings pond became more flooded with water, it would freeze in the winter. You could skate for what seemed like miles through a dystopian dead tree forest.
I had an opportunity to go back to Ontario several years ago and checked my former playground out. It has been completely reclaimed and now looks like a lake, though I don’t know that I’d drink the water. But it is much improved.
Still there’s a whole generation of kids who will never experience the wonder of bouncing on a trampoline composed mainly of cyanide.
Probably a good thing.