Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The Pas celebrates 100th anniversary

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THE PAS -- Like any celebration a century in the making, the centennial of this proud northern town follows plenty of hardship and happiness.

From fur trading and bustling forestry to a notorious murder and near economic collapse, The Pas stands as one of Manitoba's intriguing stories.

And it will be the stories -- not the dances and guided tours -- that will be the true highlights of the town's 100th anniversary celebration this weekend.

The Pas always seems busier than its population of 5,513 warrants. Then again, it is a service centre for the neighbouring Opaskwayak Cree Nation and other reserves.

Its smooth streets wind through cosy neighbourhoods built when homes still had character. The town is sufficiently condensed that, unlike its neighbours in Thompson and Flin Flon, it has no public transit.

Originally inhabited by the Cree, the area became home to a French trading post in the 1700s. Incorporated in 1912, The Pas went on to serve as the starting point and headquarters of Hudson Bay Railway.

And with northern Manitoba largely undeveloped, The Pas earned its title of "the Gateway of the North."

"You stopped here first to get your medical and then you jumped on the train," says Doug Taylor, a friendly faced longtime resident. "There were a lot of people coming to this town just to move further north (to work)."

Of course, many others came to stay, including Jack Hebert, a cheery probation officer with a salt-and-pepper beard.

"When we moved up here in 1960, it was basically a farming and railway town," recalls Hebert, who was just nine at the time.

With The Pas surrounded by wilderness, forestry entered the mix, with lumber giant Tolko now the primary employer.

A dark chapter began in 1971 when Helen Betty Osborne, an aboriginal woman attending high school in the town, was murdered.

It took 16 long years for a conviction. The four men finally implicated were all Caucasian, triggering a painful racial divide.

"There was true prejudice then," Taylor, 65, says candidly. "I expect there probably still is that, but not to the same degree, not even close."

In early 2006, the town's collective heart dropped faster than a towering spruce chopped at the base.

Tolko, unable to glean sufficient concessions, announced it was leaving town. More than 560 jobs would be lost.

Following a personal meeting with then-premier Gary Doer, the designated white knight, the dissenting union agreed to vote a second time. The result, to a large degree, saved The Pas.

Throughout its storied history, The Pas has produced its share of famous sons.

Gord Leclerc of CTV Winnipeg was raised here, as was former federal Liberal leadership contender Gerard Kennedy. Famed wrestler "Rowdy" Roddy Piper spent part of his upbringing here, too.

The Pas has achieved national acclaim for its annual Trappers Festival, which in recent times has attracted the likes of then prime minister Paul Martin and comic Rick Mercer.

The festival is a vivid demonstration of the "outstanding community spirit" MP Niki Ashton sees in The Pas, but it is far from the only one.

Taylor, a retired forestry worker, remembers how residents united to solve their former biker-gang problem: "The locals kind of just ran them out."

It's that sort of mettle that has kept generations of families in The Pas. The folks here stick together and have for a long time.

"Everybody was pretty much equal," says Taylor, recalling his impressions of the town after moving here more than five decades ago. "Nobody had a lot of wealth and you played with everybody. So that's the small-town part that I like -- not much of a class difference between people. It's a little different today, but not a lot."

Looking ahead, Taylor is optimistic. Beyond forestry, The Pas and area has a fast-rising aboriginal population, grain farming, a rail headquarters and an expanding University College of the North campus.

"It's going to grow because it's got a lot of diversity," Taylor says.

 

Jonathon Naylor is editor of The Reminder newspaper in Flin Flon.

jonathon_naylor@hotmail.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 2, 2012 A6

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