C.I.L: Recollections from the Plant Foreman

Sam Rowley was the first Plant Foreman at the C.I.L. explosives plant in St. Clements and had also worked brushing and clearing the property in the early 1930’s, some years prior to them erecting buildings.

Sam recalls that when they built the buildings they were placed far apart and had sand enclosing them, so that if there was an explosion that it would blow straight up, rather than spread sideways. The first Plant Manager was a gentleman called Mr. Dean Irvine.

Sam relates that you had to change into your work clothes on the job site and the company supplied the clothing, even the steel toed safety boots. When you finished work you had to strip and shower before putting your own clothing back on at the end of the shift. The company laundered and supplied all clothing used on the job.

The company allowed no smoking, matches or lighters on the site nor cameras. If you were caught ignoring the safety rules or regulations you could “get fired right on the spot”, said Sam. lf you wanted a smoke, you had to wait for your lunch break and then go down to the end building (main office) for your cigarette etc.

“You had to really know what you were doing in that place,” Sam said. For instance you were not supposed to run, you had to move slowly and be especially careful when you were shoveling where the shells were mixed and made.

Sam says the women who worked at the plant filling up shells, picking and boxing them in 50 lb. crates for shipping by boat and CNR were great workers. It was good for us having ladies about, made us watch our language and actions.

It was called Brainerd Siding and we used to also load boats and launches as well as barges down on the Red River. Taking explosives to the mines up towards Bad Throat (Manigatogan) and on the east side of Lake Winnipeg.

As far as the CIL Buildings go, there was the big garage and then the main office, the mixing house, the cartridge house and the four magazines where you put your powder.

The CNR tracks came right into the compound. I remember that the CNR used to ruin hay crops and the sparks flying from the engines used to cause fires and us a lot of concern.

Sam remembers travelling to Nobel to look at the new explosives operations and techniques and also going to Calgary, to work on the new explosives Plant there. The Calgary operation ceased about 1 I /2 years ago, mostly all of it was demolished in 1978/79.

When asked about the 1945 explosion at the Brainerd Siding Plant, Sam says, “That was a puzzler, I was down at the other end at the time. There were three people killed. It was very sad and made a terrible stir in the community at the time. “

In conclusion, Sam mentioned that the procedure when you close down an explosives area you set up explosives in strategic positions and set it off and this more or less clears the area so that further use of the land can be planned in relative safety.

Sam’s memory is sharp, and he has no problem remembering people, places, and events.

By San Rowley

Posted in Early Businesses, Manufacturing.