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The Comic Art of Lynn Johnston Part XIX – Moving from Lynn Lake (and Some Brand New Lies)

One of the most difficult thing to get my mind around was Lynn’s story about their departure from Lynn Lake due to a mine closure, and The Comic Art of Lynn Johnston does not make it any easier. The difficult element is the most basic one: Why does the dentist, who has no association with the mine, and whose wife can work anywhere and afford to live anywhere, have to leave town? We will discuss it after the cut.



Katie:

By the mid-1980s Lynn Lake’s economy was strained. Tensions mounted as people left the dying town. Kids ran about at night, pushing down fences and breaking windows. Ruth, a retired teacher; and Tom, who was the mill superintendent for Sherritt Gordon, had lived and worked in Lynn Lake for thirty years. Even they were feeling the rejection. The added stress gave the family incentive to move away sooner than they had planned.

Lynn:

It was 1984, and we were mentally separating ourselves from northern Manitoba. Our plan was to stay in Lynn Lake until the population decreased and facilities were closed. We knew this would take some time.

Me:

They moved in 1984, so I am not sure how thinking about moving in 1984 is “move away sooner than they had planned.” So now let’s throw a little truth into the matter and discuss the history of mining in Lynn Lake, Manitoba from this website:

http://miningwatch.ca.nmsrv.com/blog/2004/5/27/after-mine-lynn-lake-manitoba

The Lynn Lake ore body was discovered in 1941, but Sherritt Gordon had been mining at Sherridon, 250 kilometres away, since 1931. When the Sherridon ore body was depleted, the company built 120 housing units at Lynn Lake and the first mining began in 1952. Sherritt Gordon Mines Ltd. opened the A Mine in 1953, and then the Farley Mine in 1961. These were nickel/copper/zinc mines. The town population peaked in 1975 at about 3000.

The mine started to run into problems after 1976, and the Town began a desperate search for other economic activity. The opening of the Fox Mine (48 kilometres southwest of Lynn Lake) in 1961 held off disaster, but with the closure of the Fox Mine in 1985, Sherritt Gordon and the Government of Canada undertook a $9 million project to diversify the economy. The NorthWest Community Futures Corporation was established to "facilitate private and local community involvement in planning and economic development strategies, and the communication of these results to interested groups."? Sherritt Gordon used the money to retain the experienced mining industry workforce until they could open the MacLellan Mine (an underground mine with an estimated 5 year life), and to retrain the workers as gold miners, as well as to transfer employees to the nearby Ruttan Mine (which they also owned). Manitoba contributed a $2 million loan from the Community Reserve Fund to the MacLellan Mine development. The mine closed a few years later.


Me:

When they moved to Lynn Lake in 1978, the mine was already in trouble and given that Tom Johnston worked for the mine, there is no reason Rod would not have known that. He was moving there to become the flying dentist to give dental work to First Nations communities in the area. Clearly he is not moving to Lynn Lake for the money or the increasing population, so neither of these things would have really been a motivation for him to leave. One thing I notice this time through this story which is new is the idea that Dr. Rod Johnston is not going to leave until the facility is closed and that means 1985. It appears Lynn is trying to give the readers the impression that the Johnstons were good folks who were going to stick it out until the bitter end and they had no choice but to move.

However, this is not the time when the family actually moved. They move in 1984. In Treasury #3, Lynn reprints an article from the Winnipeg Free Press and in it, she gives the actual reason she moved (watch for it.)

Winnipeg Free Press dated November 2, 1983 Portable artist leaving Manitoba

Johnston, also known to Manitobans as a Lynn Lake resident, will soon be leaving the province to take up residence in North Bay, Ont., where the family has purchased some land. Johnston says she is “portable,” but adds she feels almost apologetic about leaving.

“On the other hand, it’s time for us to go,” she says.

With Lynn Lake uncertain future because of possible mine closing, Johnston says the town has become unstable and is shrinking rather than growing, adding, “the more and more depressed the community became, the more and more attractive this (North Bay) properly started to look.

And, her work demands that she travel a certain amount. With the airlines cutting back on some northern routes, getting about can become difficult, she says.

But the family won’t move from their home of six years until Katie, five and Aaron, 11, finish school in the spring, she adds.


Me:

There you have it. The only time she mentions the reason. The airlines are cutting back on their northern routes, it’s cutting into Lynn’s ability to travel, and so Lynn wants to move to a place with a better airport. It is a perfectly fine reason but it probably would not sit well with her family who was already complaining about how much time she was spending away from home. (See part XVIII) “Let’s move to a place with a better airport so I can spend even more time away from home.” Yay!

Also, note that the date of the article is in 1983, so that land in North Bay was purchased no later than 1983, but it could have been purchased even earlier.

Katie:

The town became divided between those who were planning to leave and those who would never leave. There was a sense of betrayal as families packed up and moved away. The news that Dr. Johnston and his family would soon be moving, too, did not go over well. After all, Lynn recalls, “we would be taking away the only dental clinic for hundreds of miles. Patients would have to drive to Leaf Rapids, Thompson, or Winnipeg for dental work once we had left.”

Me:

Leaf Rapids is 66 miles from Lynn Lake. Thompson is a 199 miles from Lynn Lake. Winnipeg is 673 miles from Lynn Lake. I have often suspected that the people of Lynn Lake would not take the departure of Dr. Rod Johnston very well, but this is the first time Lynn has ever discussed it. I can completely believe people would have been upset about this. For many people unable to make those kinds of trips on a regular basis, it would effectively mean the end of their dental care. If Lynn was forcing the move, I expect she would have gotten a few negative comments about it. Considering how obsessed she is with receiving compliments, this would have been a very tough time for Lynn.

Nevertheless, recent Lynn Lake history has shown that the mine left a lot of toxic chemicals in the ground, so getting out of there was probably a good thing for those folks who want to avoid cancer.

Lynn:

Lynn Lake had seen much better days. People were finding work elsewhere, shops were closing, windows were being boarded up, and it was time to move on. Many people were setting their sights on Winnipeg, but we liked the north. We wanted to find a place that had the same small-town feel as Lynn Lake and yet had a thriving population.

A MOVE TOWARDS CIVILIZATION

Me:

I love this title. It says it all, because it is effectively saying that Lynn Lake, Manitoba was not civilization. Slam!

Katie:

Lynn and Rod were certain they were going to leave Lynn Lake. They contemplated their options: “We considered moving to BC, but a serious rift between my mother and myself made moving west out of the question.” Not interested in moving to Winnipeg, where many Lynn Lake residents were headed, they set their sights on Ontario.

Rod’s work required him to do a lot of flying. The aircraft he had purchased when they moved to Manitoba had been a good plane, but it was getting old. It was evident he would need to get a new one before long. One of the friends Rod had made through the countless hours he had spent at the Lynn Lake airport was a water bomber pilot, Bob Graham, whose parents were living just outside of North Bay, Ontario. Bob suggested this might be a perfect location for Lynn and Rod to relocate: it is considered a northern community, but it is driving distance to both Ottawa and Toronto; it is surrounded by lakes and wilderness; and it had a relatively large population, multiple industries, and a large airport.

Me:

First of all, Lynn flat out says that she wanted to move to BC, but could not because of her mother. She may not realize this, but in her attempt to slam her mother one more time, she has inadvertently given us proof that:

a. Getting away from her mother was her primary motivation for her leaving Vancouver to go to Hamilton and North Bay, Ontario.
b. Getting away from her mother was her primary motivation for not returning to Vancouver when she did not find animation work, when Doug left her, or when they left Lynn Lake.

Second of all, since the story about Rod capsizing that plane in the Yathkyed Lake and the corresponding canoe trip cartoons managed not to make it in the collection, Lynn seems to have decided to create a brand, new story about the reason why they had to buy a new airplane -- it was getting old. Admittedly, it probably was getting old at the bottom of the Yathkyed Lake, but I think the part about it being underwater was more of the reason it was no longer being flown than its age. That plane went under on August 11, 1981, and so Rod and Lynn would have to have gone plane shopping sometime shortly after that, 3 years before they moved to Corbeil.

The plane they buy is the Navajo. She mentions it in this Lynn’s Notes:

Sunday March 10, 2013 Lynn’s Notes:

Canadian Gulf Delta Sierra Tango were the identification letters on the side of our last aircraft: CGDST. This was shortened to “Delta Sierra Tango” when we identified ourselves to the tower for take-offs, landings, and just checking in. DST was a beautiful Navajo, which seated six people and could carry two more if we took out the small portable toilet and the storage cabinet. We had owned various aircraft over the years, but this was a commercial plane, which had been built as a medevac: a rescue craft with an extra door to accommodate stretchers and medical equipment. This was our magic carpet. It could go anywhere! It was equipped with oxygen, which meant we could cross the country at higher altitudes — going over the Rockies safely and easily, avoiding the passes and the turbulence around the peaks.

From the windows of DST, we saw most of Canada and the United States. Rod was an excellent pilot who took no chances; he knew all too well that pilot error was responsible for most airplane accidents. Despite our love of flying, a few years after we moved to northern Ontario, we decided to sell the plane. It became too costly to maintain, and we really didn’t need it as much as we did up north. At the time, I was doing a lot of travel for business, and North Bay has an excellent airport. It was much easier to jump on a commercial flight, which made it hard to justify owning such a fast and fancy machine.

I worked hard to get my pilot’s licence with the intention of eventually buying another aircraft, but we never did. I’m sad to see this chapter in my life over — we had some great adventures. In my next life, I’m gonna fly again!


From Treasury #4 talking about The Bestest Present creation in 1985:

Bill arranged funding through various channels, and we began to work on my first animated film. We chose voices and designed backgrounds, Bill wrote the music, and he sang and he was the voice of John. I asked Bill if my children could play the roles of Michael and Elizabeth, and after they did a reading, he agreed. Aaron’s friend Scott came on board to add his voice to the opening song, and the recording went off without a hitch. It was so much fun. I travelled to Ottawa regularly for over a year, and our Navajo Aircraft was never more appreciated. Rod was our pilot (and the voice of the postman), so the whole family was involved.


Me:

For some reason, Lynn is going to talk about buying a Cessna (not a Navajo) and she is going to tie the purchase into buying the land in Corbeil. If this connection is true, then Lynn is essentially saying that they were looking at places to buy to move from Lynn Lake as early as 1981. While I have my doubts about that, I will note that in Lynn’s 1980 CBC interview, she went on at length arguing with Rod on camera about how much she wanted to move out of Lynn Lake, so it is possible they did location shopping this soon.

Lynn:

We decided to look at a Cessna that was for sale in Collinwood, Ontario, and went down with the whole family to take a look. It was a good little aircraft. Before making the purchase, we took it for a test flight. We decided to fly up to North Bay. We were advised not to fly over Trout Lake and have a look at the scenery.

“But be careful,” Bob warned us, “there’s a crazy lady on a peninsula who shoots at small aircraft!” Intrigued, we decided to check it out. Figuring that a rifle couldn’t reach us at four thousand feet, we circled the property. It was lovely, and it was for sale!

Me:

First of all, in what world do you test drive a plane by flying it from Collinwood to North Bay? That’s like saying, “Feel free to steal my plane and/or never mind burning up my expensive plane fuel.” No, you test drive a plane by flying around in the local sky and landing it right where you took off, most likely with the owner in the seat right beside you watching you like a hawk.

Second of all, I notice that Lynn says they are in Collinwood, the city where she was born, for this outing. Although I suspect that Lynn might have relatives from her father in that area, she has never told us much about them. There is something about this location to the story, but it is not clear what kind of message Lynn is trying to send.

Lynn told the story about flying over Trout Lake before in Treasury #3, but at that time there was no plane purchase tied to the story. I will repeat it here, because it is one of the most outrageous stories Lynn has told in awhile.

Treasury #3:

The article said I was heartbroken. I was to the extent that we were leaving some wonderful friends, but the town of Lynn Lake had seen much better days. People were finding work elsewhere, shops were closing, windows were being boarded up, and it was time to move on. Many people were setting their sights on Winnipeg, but we liked the north. We wanted to find a place that had the same small-town feel as Lynn Lake and yet had a thriving population. North Bay had been recommended by friends who parents lived on nearby Trout Lake (where I happen to live, now.)

Bob and Patti suggested we fly over the lake and see how nice it is, but they warned us to avoid one peninsula because “a crazy lady, who is known to shoot at small aircraft, lives there.” Intrigued, we flew over the property at 4,000 feet, figuring a rifle couldn’t do much damage to us at this height. As it happened, the land was for sale, and we instantly fell in love with it.

Bob and Patti’s friend Lena was a real estate agent who had, at one time, been a psychiatric nurse. Lena didn’t think we needed an appointment to drive down the dirt road, which bordered the land, so we accompanied her down the lane, turned around, and came back. The sun was just going down. There in the glow of our headlights stood Thelma Haggard with her hands on her hips, blocking our exit. We’d been told she was a character. I thought she might be a sweet lady who was, perhaps, lonely and misunderstood, but Thelma was frightening! She was short, wide, and muscular. Her spares hair had been dyed a dark red and was tightly wound around a few rows of old-fashioned metal rollers - - the kind that fastened with an elastic and a small rubber ball. Her long green sweater was stretched over an immense and pendulous bosom, her bum-like cleavage smiling between the buttons. We stopped obediently. She approached the driver’s side window like a cop. She pushed her head into the car and had a good look. Through green teeth, she hissed, “Nobody drives down here without me knowing who they are! You wanna get shot? How can I know you’re not some kind snakes comin’ out here to get me?!” Lena tried to calm her down by explaining that we were interested in buying her property and had only driven down the lane (which was a public access) to have a look. Placated, Thelma agreed to meet us the next day. Without dickering over the price, we made an offer, which was accepted, and in no time the deed was done. As soon as we became the new owners, Thelma accused us of stealing her land and refused to move out of the house.

“That’s OK,” we said, “don’t move. We won’t be leaving Lynn Lake right away, so just make sure the place is kept in good order – see that the pipes don’t freeze.” Thelma replied, “I’m not payin’ no rent!!” “Fine,” we said, “don’t pay any rent, that’s no problem.” “In that case, I’m MOVIN’!” she shouted. And that was the end of it.

Me:

Sadly, Thelma never made it into the comic strip. I think she would have gotten along well with Fiona Brass.

The combination of the 2 books tells me that the people involved with this purchase were Bob and Patti Graham and from this I found the obituary of Bob’s father.

http://www.obitsforlife.com/obituary/800484/Graham-Edmund-William.php

According to the obituary, Bob and Patti live in North Bay, which means that these are not going to be people that Rod knows in Lynn Lake or Collinwood who recommend North Bay, especially since they are familiar enough with the North Bay area to recommend a realtor.

In Suddenly Silver, the story suggests that North Bay was a compromise location between Lynn and the Johnstons, who wanted to stay north (Lynn wants Ontario, the Johnstons want the north); but for some reason Lynn has decided to make North Bay a recommendation from Bob and Patti Graham. She seems to be trying to paint a picture that the thought about the purchase of land in North Bay occurred mostly at the last minute instead of a long time in advance.

Katie:

A red brick farmhouse was situated on a large field with a number of acres of wooded land behind it. The lake was just steps away. Things began to fall into place. In 1985 Lynn and Rod bought the house, the property, and the airplane too. A few months later, Ruth and Tom moved into the farmhouse – a gift from Lynn and Rod, thanks to the success of the strip. Lynn, Rod, Aaron, and Kate moved into a log house down the road, which had conveniently come up for sale a short time after Ruth and Tom had moved. Once again, they were an easy walk down the road from Rod’s parents.

Me:

The move occurred in 1984. However, Lynn has tied it to 1985, which is not-so-coincidentally the closing year of the mine in Lynn Lake. The alterations I notice in this story are:

a. Lynn says they bought that Cessna in 1985. I know that they had the Navajo and that within a few years they would sell it because Lynn said they no longer needed it. The contrast here indicates that not only did Lynn not force Rod to sell a plane because they moved to Corbeil, but instead she actually encouraged him to get a new plane. In other words, it is the exact opposite of what happened.

b. Ruth and Tom move into the farmhouse before Rod and Lynn move into or even purchase the log cabin. In prior versions they moved together. I am not sure if this is to indicate a greater culpability on the part of Tom and Ruth for leaving Lynn Lake earlier, but if it is, it is a strange way to show it.

c. The move occurred a few months after the purchase instead of a long time after the purchase.

d. No Ralph Johnston is mentioned in the move. In fact, Ralph Johnston is not mentioned once in the whole of The Comic Art of Lynn Johnston. Whatever good graces he got from Lynn in Suddenly Silver are gone now.

Suddenly Silver

Soon, our lives would again be in transition as the mine in Lynn Lake gave notice of impending closure and everyone who could find work elsewhere sold what they could and moved away. We had purchased property near North Bay, Ontario, in preparation for the inevitable shutdown and moved to a log cabin in the countryside. The area was far enough into the north to suit the Johnstons. Rod’s mom, dad, and brother, Ralph, all moved with us and we became neighbors again. It was still a five-minute walk to Ruth and Tom’s house, which made everything seem as though it was all supposed to happen. Someone was writing us into a story line just as surely as I choreographed the lives of the Pattersons.

It was a timely transition. Aaron was entering grade six, Kate was starting grade one. The Patterson kids had also entered the school system. Both the real and the imaginary children were expanding their interests and awareness beyond their homes and families. They were developing a growing, if not always welcome, insight into the tougher issues of life. For parents, the day their youngest child goes off to school often marks a time when adult pursuits and career goals come back into focus.

Me:

With Aaron’s birth in April, 1973 and Kate’s birth in December, 1977; it is not hard to work out that grade six and grade one would mean 1984. And in fact, in the old Coffee Talk website, this was a fact which Katherine Hadway herself (in the days before she drank the Lynn calendar-confusing Kool-Aid) confirmed for me.

Lynn:

We were finally living in stable and comfortable surroundings. North Bay is a lovely, old-fashioned community. It has a charming downtown with lots of nice shops, a good airport, multiple grocery stores, couriers, events and activities, and a stable economy. It was a wonderful change. If I couldn’t move back to my beloved British Columbia, then I could put down roots here.

Me:

Poor Lynn. She can’t go back to British Columbia because of the force of evil which threatens her there – her mother! Great is the power of Ursula.

Katie:

Through the kids’ schools and the connection to the dental community, they quickly felt welcomed and at home in their new surroundings. They had moved to a town at the same time as several other young dental families. (Lynn enjoyed being in a place where her husband wasn’t the only dentist.) Instant friendships were made.

Lynn:

My connection to other dental wives was strong and fast. While our children were school aged, we regularly got together at sporting events, plays and parties. We shared daily trivia as well as some deep personal truths. These wonderful ladies became the voices behind Elly’s close friends and neighbours: Annie, Connie, Carol, and Sue the librarian.

Me:

First of all, I like the note Lynn makes about how she is glad to live some place where her husband isn’t the only dentist. I expect when Rod sold his business in 2002, she did not get anywhere near the amount of flack that the Lynn Lake residents probably gave her in 1984.

Carol Enjo was from the Masuda family. Robin Masuda was a chef and the son of friends of Tom and Ruth Johnston and had no association with dentists. As for the others, they could very well have been based on Corbeil mothers, especially given the extreme personality change of Annie after Lynn moved to Corbeil.

Katie:

Naturally, she has incorporated into the strip many aspects of the daily life into the North Bay area, much like she did while living in Lynn Lake. Once of the most recognizable stories is of Elizabeth attending Nipissing University. The school was so thrilled by the acknowledgement and the publicity that they had a life-size “standee” made of Elizabeth. This colourful plywood character “attended” school with the other first-year education students and was photographed with the graduating class.

Me:

This is kind of a cute story and is pretty much Lynn’s only acknowledgment of Corbeil aside from the dental wives and the stable economy and nice airport.

Katie:

Having spent so much of her career living in small communities, Lynn has come to appreciate the support a small town has to offer.

Lynn:

If had begun my job as a comic strip artist in a big southern city, I would not have survived as well as I did. Without the support and the safety net of home, I would have fallen into the publicity trap and become something others wanted me to be. I would have lost “who I am.” Aside from confidence and encouragement, a small community gave me a healthy sense of self.

Me:

First of all, I am not sure why Lynn puts parentheses around "who I am". My first thought was it was a strange Dr. Suess reference like "Sam I am."

Lynn is laying out some strong compliments for Lynn Lake. I do not know the motivation for this. I suspect that perhaps she realizes that calling them a town of adulterers in her 2008 Maclean’s Magazine interview might not have gone over too well, and she might be trying to make amends for that. There is much about The Comic Art of Lynn Johnston that seems to be apologies to people that Lynn has wronged in the past, that are done in Lynn's usual indirect method of apologizing via publication years after she offended people. In other words, it is not really an apology but a way for Lynn to feel that she has apologized.

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