Volume 25, Number 147, October/November 2022 The Polish Prince by John K. Leslie
The Mid-Canada Line was a Doppler radar system designed to function as a second line of detection of ‘enemy’ (Soviet) aircraft during the Cold War. It was located more or less along the 55th parallel and consisted of eight main and 90 satellite stations situated from coastal British Columbia to Nova Scotia. Operational from 1958 to 1964, it was too expensive to maintain and wisely closed. Many stations were simply abandoned to the elements.
In 1957 my co-worker at site DDS 218 left the Line. A not so subtle rumour had it that two technicians manning a site near Hopedale, Labrador, were at odds. My great fortune was to have one of the protagonists, Morris Stawniczy, arrive at my site, complete with .22 rifle, his pet Jack Russell, and strong Polish accent. We immediately agreed that each day we would take turns working outside the building. Morris wanted this arrangement, having had a bellyful of conflict at his previous site. The situation was such that personnel had no choice in selection of coworkers. We were tossed together ad hoc. Sharp differences could arise between a pair of strangers, and why not? Thus, “the war within”.
The work scheme was short-lived, although it continued in a general manner as was necessary. On occasion, when supplies were low, one of us would take the rifle and hunt ptarmigan to supplement our stock of food. This was necessary in winter when weather conditions prevented the “chopper” from flying for up to a fortnight at Knob Lake RCAF Sector Control station.
Fortunately, Morris and I were very compatible, even though he professed to skate on the right wing of the political spectrum and I on the left. Indeed, we frequently insulted and chided each other and as often as possible found differences on a wide range of topics. Nevertheless, I found it difficult to believe that laconic Morris could not adjust to the peculiarities of anyone, including the obnoxious. And I’m sure I was obnoxious at times when his little dog and I played hide and seek in the equipment room. When I gashed my head on the edge of jutting equipment during one chase, Morris scanned the bleeding wound, and in derision, stated: “Red suits you”.
Routine check of the diesel fuel tanks meant climbing on top, opening a port and lowering a plumb line. My error was to consider one of the tanks empty, save for a shallow layer of water at the bottom. The purge began just as I made the last turn on the drain plug. Morris grabbed the plug and secured it after a violent struggle against the devilish force of the effluent. We were both soaked to the skin with a mixture of diesel fuel and water and just stood for a few minutes roaring with laughter. Sector Control never discovered the reason for our excessive use of fuel but Morris easily explained the loss of 20 or 30 gallons. Now it can be told!
During a short spell without smokes, in desperation I shovelled snow that was blocking the entrance to dormant construction tents. Perhaps the long-departed crew left a few cigarette butts. Fortunately, I scavenged enough tobacco to roll and keep me going for several days, much to Morris’ amusement. Two years later, a report on the radio described the death of a technician at our station. A black bear unexpectedly came upon the fellow at those very same tents.
We both enjoyed the rugged terrain and simple life in Siberia-like isolation but agreed the Mid-Canada Line was one heck of a waste of public funds. Most coworkers on the Line have faded from memory. Not Morris. He was a trusted friend and a pleasure to know.
We parted when another “war within” developed at a site to the west of Sector Control. Two technicians could barely suffer each other, so I was instructed to replace one of them. As the helicopter rose from the ground a lonely figure stood near the landing pad with his dog cradled in his arms.
Many years later my search for Morris ended when I learned of his death in 1996. His son, “Teheran Dan”, contacted me from the Canadian Embassy in Iran. He told me that throughout life his father remained the same devil I had known so many years ago. So, I sent Dan four photos taken at our station decades ago. They include photographs of Morris dealing with a broken track on a Cat tractor, at a water hole in winter with two buckets hanging from a shoulder yoke, and a posed shot with his precious rifle.