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Trail Blazers: Colourful memories in ‘Silver City Linings’

Trail Blazers is a weekly feature in partnership with the Trail Museum and Archives
The Tadanac Staff House. Photo: Trail Historical Society

by Sarah Benson-Lord

Trail Museum and Archives

For this week’s Trail Blazers, we head back to February 1972, when rumours abounded regarding the closure of the Tadanac Staff House, formerly located in the 200-block of Kootenay Avenue in the picturesque neighbourhood.

The staff house replaced the “bunkhouse” in 1929 and provided a home for Cominco workers for decades.

In its time, it housed over 2,000 employees, all paying anywhere from $45 to $75 rent, meals, and clean sheets weekly.

In his whimsical editorial, Silver City Linings, of Feb. 11, 1972, “Cliff Floodgate” shared some memories of co-habitation amongst his colleagues.

Some excerpts are below.

Before you proceed, please note that some of this recounting is quite colourful.

In an effort to maintain the flavour, only the most offensive was removed.

“With a twinge of regret, I hear they’re closing the Tadanac Staff House. The regret is not for the vent; it’s for having to live in the place as long as I did - about a year and a half. Back in the early fifties, Trail was overflowing with Waneta Dam and smelter revision builders. You could rent out your garage for living space as long as it had a floor and a stove. So I guess I was lucky to get a room in the basement of the staff house.

It was a peculiar room. You had to climb over the bed to get at the dresser – or was it the other way around? I asked why. “Oh,” somebody said, “it’s not actually a room. They used to keep the floor polisher in there.” Somebody else said, “When they designed this place on lunch hour, the forgot to include a stairwell. The rooms beside the stairwell they built had to be cut in half to fit it in.”

Other characteristics in residence included an alcoholic, a hedonist, and the most untidy person I’ve ever met. After the alcoholic checked out, we cleared I forget how many dozen dying and dead soldiers from his room. Every drawer, every shelf was as loaded as he had been most of the time. One of the maids got very chummy with the hedonist. In time, she thought she’d landed one of Cominco’s up-and-coming young engineers. He forgot to leave a forwarding address when he decamped suddenly.

We conned the untidy type into counting the change he threw into a bowl on his dresser every night. The overflow pile added up to over $300 not counting smelter milk tokens, slugs and foreign coins. People seldom visited him because there were no uncluttered chairs to sit on. Once I did visit and sit – on some microscope slides that crunched dismally under a bag of laundry which I took to be a cushion.

There was no TV then, so we played a lot of ping-pong. Bridge and cribbage were popular card games; poker was discouraged after a couple of the lads couldn’t pay their room-and-board bills due to gambling losses. One crib player got a 29 hand and yelled so loudly and long that our resident grouch called a cop. He arrived in about 10 seconds – from his room down the hall!

The food was frightful! We used to sit near the phone praying for invitations out to Sunday dinner. Tadanac parents with eligible daughters sometimes obliged. A few of the daughters were somewhat harder to take than the food, but several young bucks met their wives-to-be on those welcome outings. Then we hired a first-rate cook, and staff house meals suddenly became gourmet affairs. Cominco eventually “stole” her to help avert a strike by badly-fed miners at Riondel. Back we went to crabapples.

I think we were sleeping on the same mattresses they’d moved over from the old bunkhouse back in ’29. Nobody could understand why we thought we rated new ones a mere 25 years later. So we stuffed the holier ones with unclaimed odds and ends from the laundry and demanded an inspection. It worked; we got new mattresses – and a healthy hike in the rent.

I left the staff house – as did many others – because the rules forbade connubial bliss on the premises. Our tiny apartment up the Gulch seemed like a palace and our meals like banquets after the accommodation and fare at 211 Kootenay Avenue. The bliss, of course, could not be enhanced by comparison.”

What a lively description.

At the time of its closure, only eight men (retirees, in fact) called the Staff House “home.”

It became the Cominco Training Centre and was demolished in May 2006.

Did you spend time in the staff house?

Share your stories with us!

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Sheri Regnier

About the Author: Sheri Regnier

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