Vita Rordam (1912- ) wrote "Winisk, A Cree Indian Settlement on Hudson Bay" (1998 Borealis). The book contains insights into native life gained during two years of working at the nearby federal government radar station and airport known as Site 500. It also documents the changes in northern life brought about by this construction activity. The photographs provide additional valuable information about this northern community, and the book places Winisk into Canadian history.
383 pages, Paperback ISBN: 1888871813676 $24.95 CA
383 pages, Hardcover ISBN: 1888871813110 $41.95 CA
About the Book
This book deals in part with problems faced by a Cree Indian community at the mouth of the Winisk River in northern Ontario, on the southwest coast of Hudson Bay. In 1955 the Federal Government started construction of Site 500 - a radar station and airport across the river from the settlement, and the sudden arrival of some thousand construction workers jolted the natives, whose contact with the outside world had so far been minimal, into a different existence.
In December Vita Rordam joined her husband, Bill, in Winisk and was herself hired by the main contractor, Carter Construction Ltd., for office work. As there were no married quarters at the camp, they lived in a cabin in the native community, travelling to work and back by dog sled in winter, by canoe in summer. Vita, the sole female employee, and the only non-native woman in the area, found her two-year stay in Winisk filled with hilarious, dramatic, exciting, and wonderful experiences.
The payroll part of her job included contact with the native men hired in the camp. This gave her insight into their problems adjusting to a different life style; and when Indians began to come to Bill and Vita at their home to talk about the situation, with a missionary as interpreter, she learned still more about their troubles.
Her full-time job, the travel time to work and home, household duties, entertaining unexpected visitors, and helping to care for the sick (including Bill, who had a severe heart attack in 1956), left scant time for personal interests. However, she got to know her native neighbours, studied the wilderness, spoke to local missionaries, corresponded with professionals, travelled when possible, and hunted and fished with the men, keeping records of all she saw, heard, and learned. These records, supplemented by later data, provided the basis for Winisk.
In May, 1986, a sudden thaw and floods destroyed Winisk, but most of the people were saved, and were later moved to a new, modern community, Peawanuck, further up the river. However the loss of two lives, homes and possessions, and the sudden move into the 20th century, caused confusion, emotional upheaval, and the loss of identity. A simple iron cross is the only thing that indicates the location of the old settlement, but Vita Rordam´s account of Winisk, and her photographs, places the small, isolated community, its people and their way of life, in Canada´s history.