Account of the Career of a Guelphite, Ronald W. Mackinnon
Publication Date: 1964
Sometime about 1834, a Mackinnon family emigrated from Scotland, and settled in the Hillsburgh district. The father, Lachlin, died in 1862. He had five sons – John had a general store in Rockwood, and later became evaluater for the Guelph and Ontario Trust Co. He was the father of Judge R. L. Mackinnon. Another son, Angus, was for many years one of the senior doctors in Guelph. Malcolm and Duncan remained on farms around Hillsburgh. The youngest son, Archibald, was a lawyer and Master in Chancery of the County of Wellington. He married Elizabeth Winstanley, and they had two children, Florence, who taught in the Guelph Public Schools and then went out West as a missionary, and Ronald, whose career is herewith given.
Only 100 miles south of the Arctic Circle, where from September to June the Frost King holds sway, lies Fort Norman, where the Imperial Oil Co. owns the farthest north oil structure in the world. Here Ronald Mackinnon was manager for many years. He went out West two months before his 18th birthday, on a Government Survey, and traveled all over the middle west and far north until he went overseas. He enlisted as a private, and recruited men in Alberta, took them to Valcartier Camp in Quebec, got a Commission in the Canadian Engineers, trained at St. John, Quebec, transferred to the Royal Engineers, was sent to France to help arrange the first offensive with tanks at Cambrai. There he worked 20 hours a day for a week, was sent back of the lines to rest, and promptly got pneumonia. After he recovered he was sent to do experimental engineering work in Richmond Park, London. He left that in August 1919, with the rank of major, and returned to Canada.
He was engaged by the Imperial Oil Co. and sent to Norman Wells in the Northwest Territories. After a few years work, the wells were capped, but in 1932 they were opened again to supply oil to the mines in the Great Bear and Great Slave Lake areas. Then, they soil the oil at 20 cents a gallon at the wells, which they had at first sold for $2.00 a gallon, or $2.50 a gallon in trade for furs. Up and down the Mackenzie River, the gasoline was bought for outboard motors, gas lamps, and lanterns, and of course for the mines.
When the Imperial Oil crews first went up the north it took 11 to 20 days by boat from Edmonton, or rather from Waterways. When at last the airplanes came into use, they saved much time. One year, Ronald M. came all the way down to Edmonton (1500 miles) by dog team. He had to walk more than half the way to avoid freezing. It took him two months all but a day with fast teams! An Indian guide would go with him 50 or 100 miles and then return with the dogs, while Mackinnon would go on with a fresh guide and team.
During the few weeks the weather allowed them to work, the crew had breakfast at 6:30 and worked until 9 pm. In spite of the ground being frozen like a rock for a depth of 50 feet, excellent garden crops were produced in the six inches of unfrozen black loam. From early in June till late in July, artificial light is entirely unnecessary at night. It is quite light at midnight.
Ronald Mackinnon was given the King George VI coronation medal, though the Department of Mines and Resources, for helping to open up the far north of Canada. He died in Calgary in June 1952, and as requested in his will, his body was cremated, and buried in the little cemetery he had carved out of the wilds at Norman Wells on an Imperial Oil plane, accompanied by his sister and Mr. Arthur Stewart, a great friend of his. As there was no minister at Norman Wells, his missionary sister took the funeral service. The Imperial Oil crew asked to be permitted to erect the gravestone – a memorial to this Guelphite in the far north of Canada.