Life in a Company Town: Part Two
This article is a continuation of the “Life in a Company Town” article that appeared in the Winnipeg River Heritage Museum’s most recent issue of the River Echo de la Rivière. Unfortunately, even after the best laid plans, we ran out of space in the Echo and weren’t able to feature all our interviews. Fortunately for us, Nicki Blatz and her daughter Amy Blatz were good sports, and agreed to be featured alongside one another to tell us their experiences of growing up in the company town of Great Falls. So, without any further ado, here they are!
Amy Blatz, b. 1991
Company Town: Great Falls
Years in Town:
1991 – 2009, 2014 – 2017
Q. What was it like growing up in a company town?
A. Growing up in Great Falls was awesome. I don’t remember it being a “company town.” Hydro was the place where my mom and many other parents worked. Hydro helped the community support its recreation facilities which included our community center and the curling rink. Great Falls was a pretty impressive little town. There were kids of all ages and we all hung out together. We gathered frequently at the community hall for potlucks, sports days, holiday parties – so many celebrations and good memories! People would spend their summer days down by the riverside where Hydro helped maintain a swimming dock. We spent so much time outside. It was a safe community where we were able to play freely. Reminds me of a polly pocket town with the sidewalk through the front yards. It made it easy for parents to keep an eye on us kids. Honestly, I could not have asked for a better place to grow up. I’m extremely grateful for my community.
Q. What company/industry was your town based on?
A. Great Falls used to be a “Hydro Town”. The Great Falls generating station was completed in 1922. The great big buzzing white hydro dam is located on the edge of the community. My grandfather and mother worked for the company. The town was based on hydro electricity.
Q. Were you born in town? Where were your parents from?
A. Born and raised. My mom grew up in the same house I did. My dad grew up in Powerview. He and his dad worked in the Paper Mill.
Q. Did your parents work for the company? Did you follow in their footsteps?
A. I chose to not follow in the footsteps of my grandfather and mother. I wanted to chase my own dreams. I’ve been in the city for the last two years, I’m currently finishing up a two-year massage therapy program at the Wellington College. I moved away to get educated.
Q. Have you ever considered moving back to your hometown? And why?
A. Always considering. Yes. Personally I like living more close with nature. When I consider the moments of when I feel most happy and content with life its usually when I’m outside. On or near the water and trees. It’s those priceless moments that make me feel full. Of course my family is there. Many people that I love and care about. I feel like if I am going to work and contribute to an area why not have it be my hometown? Especially when there are so many things that could be done. I like the laid back, easy going lifestyle. It’s not a perfect place and it’s a lot different than what it used to be but nothing stays the same. I try to welcome change and I honestly see a lot of potential and great things that are coming and have come to fruition for the area. I always found a lot of inspiration from Mahatma Ghandi and this quote will always resonate with me. “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Nicki Blatz, b. 1962
Company Town: Great Falls
Years in Town: 1973 – 1980, 1985 – Present
Occupation: Retired, former employee of Manitoba Hydro
Q. When and where did you grow up?
A. We moved to Great Falls in 1973, I think I was 11 years old, and it was May. I remember that was kind of unusual at the time because usually you don’t move if you’re a kid because of the school year. And we moved from Gillam, which was cold. One of the first things that I remember is going down to the beach and we went swimming ‘cause we thought we moved to paradise when we moved into Great Falls, it was beautiful then. I remember me and my brother were swimming, and the local kids thought we were nuts because two weeks before there was still ice on the river. So that’s how I met some of my friends.
Q. What was it like growing up in a company town?
A. I loved it. I had lots of good memories. It was fun, there was freedom there. The summers were down by the dock swimming. Town was basically two streets, and you could make an eight trap. So, we went on our bikes and we would do this track – down round the houses then up by the generating station, and there was a huge hill you got to coast down then come back up. So yeah, it was good. There was kids bowling every Saturday afternoon, and then there was kids curling activities, we had a thriving 4H club, a ski club, we had a TV club.
I had school friends and then I had town friends. They didn’t mesh too often. School friends were in Lac du Bonnet because we traveled on the bus.
Q. What was your house like?
A. We had a one-and-a-half story house. I think our house was actually one of the houses that came from Pine Falls, so when they finished the generating station in Pine Falls my house was moved to Great Falls. I don’t know if you know, our houses faced each other, with the sidewalk down the middle, which is very unusual. I always wanted to live on the other side with the huge trees. And by the way, I haven’t moved, my and my husband bought the house that I grew up in. I can look down the sidewalk now and the trees are beautiful, it’s one of my favourite views.
Q. How has your hometown changed since growing up there?
A. Me and my husband were one of the first group that bought houses when they came up for sale. At that time, Manitoba Hydro was trying to get rid of the houses, didn’t want to invest in any houses, and nor were they investing in the townsite. When we moved to town, Great Falls had a gardener. I believe they even had an arborist there, once upon a time. In the early ‘90s, some friends would come back to town and say, oh my god, because half the houses in town were vacant. Nobody was cutting the grass, eventually the paint would start chipping, it just looked pretty shabby. And then as the houses got sold, there was pride in ownership, and people were fixing up their houses.
The hall too. When I moved back to town, I was involved with the community club and some of the activities, and that’s when I realized how much it takes to make a community flourish, all the work behind the scenes. So, Hydro was trying to get rid of the amenities then, and they wanted the community to look after those things, and so I joined a committee. As a community, we had to fight for what we wanted, and basically it ended up being the curling club and the hall, and the bowling club. It took 11 years, but we finally cut an agreement with Manitoba Hydro that we would get an annual grant as long as the facilities are in existence. And that is how the facilities, like the hall, still survive.
Q. Is there anything you want to add?
A. In a small town, everybody knew your business. And if they didn’t know it, they would gossip about it. Oh, there was different kitchen coffee clutches, right, but nobody gossiped as bad as the guys at work. If they thought that the wives were the ones that gossiped, the wives heard all the gossip from the husbands who talked about it at work.