CPR Section House

CPR Section House

Friday, February 11, 2011

Unwanted and Unloved Guests

Railroad gangs were brought in for building new track and for repairing old track during the good weather , which usually meant anytime after the frost left the ground until it returned in late October. This was hard work at the best of times but it was miserable work in Northern Ontario.

 May to June ...blackfly season . Blackflies rose from the high waters of spring melt and choked anyone outside , entering every oriface one could think possible . Every landing meant a piece of flesh disappeared . The warm , sweating bodies of gangs and section men alike were easier to bite . Their faces would be swollen from hundreds of bites . Eyes , ears and  hairlines bloodied by their pursuors . As long as it was daylight , there were blackflies . As long as a person was outside , there was a cloud of them contantly in motion around the head , relentless in their pursuit of flesh .

Moose would sometimes break out of the forest heading towards the ponds and rivers bawling their frustration as a cloud swarmed  the large ears looking for hairless opportunity .Their eyes would be caked with a mass of moving insects , each one tearing away a bit of  tender skin. Moose spent most of blackfly season immersed in water , constantly ducking their heads for a few seconds relief at a time . And when they popped out , the cloud was still there waiting for them . They would bawl and cry for relief . As it was for moose , it was for men - an easier target for the lack of hair and hiding places . Many a railroad section man or member of a gang was driven to tears or to quitting a job because of blackflies . (In the cooler more northern areas , there was winter and there was blackfly season... and nothing else .)

 http://www.nfb.ca/film/blackfly  In 1949 , after a short period working dam construction in Northern Ontario , Wade Hemsworth expressed his experience in what has become a classic folksong . It was put to film by the National Film Board . Each spring when Blackfly Season approaches , my brother posts this classic to the social network as ' heads up ' ...'it's here!'

What is the best Blackfly Repellant ?

If you can't wear net gear , the only other option is Avon's 'Skin So Soft' . The story goes like this . A woman who had bathed with Skin so Soft was outside with her husband during blackfly season turning the garden . The woman's husband noticed his wife had no blackfly cloud , while he was being driven 'insane'. They finally figured out that Avon's product was not popular with the insect ,  so he began to apply the oil to his skin . Blackflies be gone !
When he informed Avon of this miraculous effect , the company wasn't to happy to be associated with insect repellant , and would not acknowledge the attribute in their advertising . Northern Ontario desperation spread this news quickly , and company-sanctioned or not, it got the reputation . Sales skyrocketed during Blackfly season . Men found that applying as a repellant , they got relief... especially if their bodies warmed up during outside labour . Eventually , Avon relented and accepted that if it wasn't for the blackfly , this product would not be selling as well - it was the primary reason for purchase . Advertising followed suit . The perk for the men... it left their skin smooth and soft ...and it worked pretty well for mosquitos , too .

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