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Wining and mining
Lina Dobbin and Almira Swihart remember what is was like growing up in Yk

Danielle Sachs
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Bertolini sisters can remember what life was like in Yellowknife 40 years ago. There have been big changes and smaller changes, but the two agree that this will always be home.

NNSL photo/graphic

The Bertolini family used to own most of 52 Street. Here, Lina Dobbin (Bertolini) and Almira Swihart (Bertolini) stand surrounded by now developed properties. - Danielle Sachs/NNSL photo

"When I was in kindergarten, we had a population of 5,000," said Almira Swihart (Bertolini), 45.

"Mom and Dad came from Italy in 1952, they were one of the 10 families drafted to come and work in the mine.”

Known as Fortunado or Bumbo, the women's father worked at Giant Mine for five years, before moving on to Con Mine for another 33 years.

The family started in a small cabin shared by 11 people where the Red Apple restaurant and Discovery Inn are located today on Franklin Avenue.

"We used to live on one side and my uncle and his family lived on the other. We did that for many years," said Swihart.

They were far from uneventful years. Linda Dobbin (Bertolini) used to play with neighbour Al Seibel's pet lion.

"Sheba the lion was right down the street from us," said the 48-year-old. “We used to go play with her when we were children."

Later, the family lived on 52 Street, in a house which no longer exists.

"My dad bought the whole street on 52, from where the Northwest Tower is to St. Patrick's Church," said Dobbin. "He bought it all for $5,000."

He later sold the properties in the early 1980s for the same amount. "He had a family of seven to look after and he was worried," said Swihart.

The sisters said there was a unified feel to the growing community. It was a place where everyone looked out for each other and doors to houses and cars were left unlocked.

Even the Bristol Freighter airplane that greets visitors on Highway 3 was unlocked and Swihart remembers climbing into it with a friend.

"We were a real close community back then," said Swihart. "Everybody always came to our house because we were the expert winemakers in Yellowknife."

Ordering grapes from California by the truckload, the family traded wine for other items they needed.

"We would go up to Rainbow Valley, which is now called Ndilo, and trade for fish and moccasins," said Swihart.

According to the sisters it was hard work, but it was worth it.

"When mom and dad came up here they didn't have two cents to rub together," said Swihart.

"It didn't matter who you were or what you did, we all worked together to make the best we could in Yellowknife."

Dobbin remembers some of the parties thrown.

"Everytime there was a big event like the Grey Cup all the miners would go to my dad's house," she said.

"My mom was known for her cooking and my dad was known for his wine. There were some real shakers in that house."

Yellowknife has changed a lot since Swihart and Dobbin were children. With a population around four times the size the two have noticed many differences.

"I feel a lot more divided than we did back then and you don't see people help each other out," said Swihart.

"But I could leave today and 40 years down the road if I was still alive I would still say it's my home," said Swihart. "And that's never going to change."

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