Everyone in Buchans lived in the shadow of Lucky Strike deckhead. Steely crisscrossed supports locked the legs of the towering triangular headframe in place, a Jenga of girders and I-beams atop a 700-foot mineshaft. It crowned the top of Main Street from the beginning, and I expect it will outlast the human desire to take up space on the barren plateau my grandparents and parents made home.
Its rust-streaked silvery steel shone with an allure like gold in the not so roaring twenties and the very dirty thirties, the dying decades of Newfoundland’s colonial history. The mine in Buchans offered a rare opportunity to work for wages. My grandfather’s family moved from the west coast; my grandmother moved from the east coast.
My grandmother had been raised on a subsistence farm with a few animals, gardens, a lake nearby and the ocean within smelling distance. The boys she knew chased girls with eels and her Catholic parents punished their children for walking on the same side of the street as Protestants. I wonder how lucky she felt when she eyed the steely bones of Lucky Strike. The wheel of a giant pulley sat at the top, turning as the cables lifted and lowered cages of men to different levels of the mine, like ants in an ever-expanding ant hill of industry.
I can imagine my grandmother standing on the corduroy road that was Main Street, eyelids pressing together at the clatter and grind of Lucky Strike. I think she would say it had delivered on its promise. My grandparents had work and a company house, and raised a family. They had church and community. “This is a perfect place to raise children,” she still says, even though there are no jobs and there is barely a child left in town. “It’s paradise,” my mother replies, winking in my direction.
My parents were the transition generation, growing up in a town with jobs and amenities, then raising a family in a town with layoffs and cutbacks. Do we stay or do we go? The house is paid for. No one would be crazy enough to buy it in a place like this. We stayed. Home was a word with uncertain meaning in the years they shuffled around the country chasing seasonal work, always tethered to a house in a place where work had ceased to exist. Retired, they live the consequences of their decision everyday as they look out the window onto a street where nothing ever happens. Most of my mother’s family moved to the other side of the country, still connected to us, but only by threads.
I think my mother would say that Lucky Strike doesn’t look very lucky to her. The giant hole beneath it has been capped and the moving parts taken off before they fell off. “How are things in paradise?” I ask over the phone. “I’m glad you don’t live here,” she says. Her voice trails off. I know that she wishes she didn’t live there either. We both wish that wherever we lived, we could be closer together.
I remember Lucky Strike in silence, though it likely had a tired motion in my childhood. I imagine it hoisting in slower and slower motion as the fathers of my friends were laid off, found work in other provinces, and eventually moved their families. The rows of students in my class at school were like rows of damaged teeth—some already missing, others hanging loosely, about to have their roots pulled up and be gone forever.
The company buildings at the top of town were slowly dismantled and the deckheads at MacLean’s and Rothermere mines pulled to the ground and scrapped. Yet Lucky Strike remained, a peculiar piece of derelict scrap metal oddly preserved to define and unite us, demanding we set aside our desperation and hold out hope for the next big discovery that would save us. My hope could not find breath on its steely frame; my identity aligned with the truth of my future.
Leaving Buchans only looked like a decision because action was required. With barely a handful of jobs in town, my graduating class was escorted to the Trans Canada Highway and given the choice to turn east or west. Like my grandmother, I turned west, leaving everyone and everything I knew behind. Images of ore sheds, train tracks, deckheads, buildings with sheet metal siding, they all faded, victims of memory as the rich red mud of the Bay of Fundy sifted through my fingers. I believe I was the lucky one, though I too will always live in the shadow of Lucky Strike.
Listen to Tara Harris read “Lucky Strike.”