Rapid Bend received its name from a curve in the Sturgeon River, which separates most of the farmers who live along the river and the Prince Albert National Park. A large beaver dam along this river caused numerous rapids and soon this district became known to the surrounding farmers as 'Rapid Bend'.
Family gatherings and get togethers were often held as a pastime for the people. These picnics were held on what is known as Long Lake. The gatherings included such things as, horse races, ball games, horse shoe and bingo. These happy times remain in the minds of many an 'old-timer'.
The first school was built in 1935 - 1936. Wages in those days didn't amount to much, but the people were satisfied with twenty-five cents an hour for themselves, and if they supplied a team of horses, twenty cents an hour was added to their wage. Long hours were spent dragging the logs from the bush and getting them ready for the school building. Everyone pitched in and helped and soon the building was ready for the first day of school.
Miss Hunter was the first teacher and she received a wage of four hundred and fifty dollars a year. They often held dances and parties in the school and it was a sad disappointment to the parents and students when, in 1954, they decided to close the school and bus the students to Big River. The first bus driver was Jim Panter. He drove the bus for eight years and then sold it to Alex Pankoski.
The Big River Community Pasture in the Rapid Bend district came about in 1961 with a land clearing crew of Marsh and Jones starting to clear the land. In 1962, the pasture was fenced and cross fenced on about one half of its expected eight thousand one hundred and forty-five acres. In 1963, the first cattle were entered into the pasture. It was mainly a relief pasture to start with because of the severe drought in the south. Cattle came from as far away as Saskatoon, Viscount and even Regina. Some of the patrons still attend the pasture.
The first manager was Art Kennedy, who looked after the pasture for about two years. Then Sherman Harty took over for a couple more years before going to Jackson Lake pasture when Art Kennedy took over again in 1965. In 1966, the present manager Jim Panter, commenced duties.
The pasture covers about fifty-two quarters of land consisting mostly of sloughs, muskegs or land too rocky to farm>
Up until 1976, when one thousand three hundred acres were cleared and broken, there were only two thousand five hundred acres in tame pasture production. This left two thirds of the pasture in bush, some too thick to walk through because of early forest fires.
The capacity of the pasture in its early days was approximately six hundred to seven hundred head of adult cattle with the present capacity nearly two thousand adult cattle.
Relief people came to Rapid Bend district in the 1930s.
The government sent people out from the city to settle in land too new to their original surroundings. Some arrived in the fall with a couple of cows and a team of horses and little or no knowledge about looking after livestock or what the winters could be like. Most of them didn't last long because if they stayed on the land they would have starved. They were given land that was all bush and most of them with muskeg or slough and with no way of knowing what to do, had little chance of making a success of farming.
In the spring of 1929, we left our home in Norway and moved to Weldon, Saskatchewan for about a year. Then we moved to our homestead in the Big River District, which later on was called Park Valley. The homestead shack wasn't ready to move into, so we spent a week in a rancher's shack. There were mom and dad and four children, the youngest one was six months old. We brought our belongings into the house. The door had been left open and the cows had gone in and out as they pleased and it made quite a hard packed floor of manure, about a foot deep. It was dry with a fair amount of straw on it so it didn't smell too bad.
When we moved from the rancher's house, dad borrowed a team of horses and wagon, loaded up all our belongings and took them to our home, made of logs and plastered with moss. The flat roof was made from rails and covered with sod, but when it rained it didn't stop it from leaking.
We had two small holes under the floor which was the cellar. One day dad brought home some potatoes and before mom could put them in the cellar she had to bale out the water.
The first house on the homestead didn't have a floor in for the first few months we lived in it, only dirt floor. First dad had to do a bit of logging and have it sawed into lumber before he could put in a floor.
The first year our garden plot was very small as dad had to work it all with a spade.
There were no roads, cars, tractors, etc. Dad had one horse and Mr. Vaadeland had one horse. They made a two wheel cart for summer driving and a sleigh in the winter. We had to drive to Big River to do the shopping and whatever business that had to be done. They'd get up about three or four in the morning and drive to town and return late at night. Later on we had our own transportation which was a horse and cow.
In 1932 to 1933, Park Valley was built. Mr. Rivard started a small business with a general store and Post Office. Later on Rene Lemire started up a cheese factory. In 1943, Mr. Rivard sold out to the Lemires and moved to B.C. Rene's dad ran the cheese factory, while Rene and his sister Claire, operated the store.
In 1934, dad built a house with a pitched roof and it kept out most of the rain. By this time we had a few milk cows and dad bought our first cream separator "350 Vega" for thirty-five dollars.
In those days, we never went to the doctor or hospital. When the babies were born, the neighbour ladies acted as midwives.
In 1939, the Lake Four School was built. Our first teacher was Jessie Hoey. later this school was moved into Big River and used as an Industrial Arts building. Mr. E.B. Thornpson started up Lake Four Store.
In 1960, Lester bought land at Rapid Bend. In 1961, Mr. and Mrs. William Gear moved up here from Wierdale. In 1968, Lester and I moved up here and made this our home.
Some of the families who have lived at Rapid Bend are listed here: Aherne, Buchanan, Cruickshanks, Davidson, Lyons, Nordly, Panter, Sherman, Scorgie, Swifts, Webb and Wyngarden.
The need for a school house in the Winter Lake district became apparent in early 1929. A letter written to the Department of Education in Regina by Mrs. D. Smith of Dumble, stated that there were fourteen children of school age. The residents would be responsible for the construction of the building. The nearest school was Bodmin, at least five miles away, which was too far for the young children to travel. Mrs. Smith felt it was the lack of school facilities that kept the settlers from coming into the Winter Lake District. Also, as of yet, there were no main roads.
In August, 1937, Mr. Ferris, Superintendent of Schools, visited this area. He too, saw the need for a school since there were now nearly thirty children of School age.
The first school meeting was held in July, 1937. The elected committee consisted of F. Barone, T. Smith, and R.M. Isbister.
By November 7, 1941, a school house still had not been erected. Mr. R.H. Ferris tried doggedly time and time again to get financial aid for the settlers. At one time, he suggested that a teacher come around periodically and aid the children in correspondence. Mr. Ferris was very concerned with the fact that the people of Winter Lake were unable to pay high taxes.
In the fall of 1942, the residents got together and prepared logs with which to build the schoolhouse. The logs were immediately seized by the D.N.R. The residents were paying high taxes on a school that didn't exist and taxes and tuition fees for the education their children were receiving from other schools. The settlers began to get very upset, many refusing to pay.
Finally, in 1946, the school house was built. The first teacher was Miss Wyman of Erinferry. By January 11, 1947, the school remained closed as there was no teacher available. In May of the same year. Miss Young began teaching at Winter lake and continued until 1949. Mrs. Macdonald took over teaching in the winter of 1950, Doris Speerbrecker taught in 1951, Frank Zawada, 1952; W. Boddy, 1953; Mrs. Ellis, 1954; Mrs. Rusk, 1955; Mrs. Dow Giberson (Murphy), 1957; Mr. Goller, 1960; Mrs. Martel, 1961 to 1966.
The Winter Lake School was not reopened in the year of 1967. Most of the students who attended this school continued their education in Big River.
The small settlement now known as Erinferry was originally named Wrixen after the train master Charles Wrixen, who came in 1925. The name was later changed to Erinferry because the Post Office officials believed the mail would be confused with another Saskatchewan town by the name of Wrixen.
The need for a school became evident in 1933, as the nearest school was in Eldred, up to twelve miles away from some of the settlers.
Mr. Ferris, Superintendent of Schools was the main person responsible for trying to get this school built.
At the first school meeting Mr. E. Miller, Mr. Jack Dolmage and Mr. E. Steams were elected as the school committee. Mr. Dodd was appointed secretary.
The Wrixson School District was named on March 3, 1936. The actual building was completed in 1937 and was built of logs. There were 18 students.
Mrs. Wilma Dovat taught the first year and throughout 1938. Mrs. McIntosh taught from 1939 to 1941. Mrs. M. Grogen took over in 1941 to 1942. Other teachers to serve in later years were: Miss Gartener, Mrs. Wall, Mrs. O'Neil, Miss Chadwick, J. Cooper, Mrs. Fletcher, Mrs Becker and Mr. Potter.
West Cowan, as the name implies, is the farming community on the west side of Cowan Lake. In the earlier logging days, Camp Two was also a part of this district, and to this day, parts of the "Dinkey Road" are still visible although impassable. Although I wasn't here when this road was used for the dinkey engines pulling sleigh loads of logs from the bush cutting operations in the western forests to the mill in Big River, I have been told many stories of these days by some of the oldtimers I have met.
West Cowan was and still is a mixed farming area. Being situated between muskegs, farmers have learned not to rely on 'just grain' for making a living; a good herd of all-purpose cattle is usually kept to compensate for early frosts damaging the crops. One farmer reminisces one year when frost came really early...July 17th. Everything froze black. Most of it came back again, but not to the fullness it would have been. Short growing crops were usually seeded. Wheat, a few years ago, was a very risky crop. Now that the land has been opened, enlarging the farms, the frost doesn't seem to come quite so hard.
Cattle seemed to bring a good price and pasture was plentiful, in the muskegs and on the reserve. This wasn't actually allowed but most people, even the older D.N.R. officers, didn't seem to mind. The cattle compensated for killing a few trees by rubbing on them...by keeping the grass down, thus helping 'Smokey the Bear' keep down the forest fires.
Roads in the earlier days of West Cowan were strictly for the birds. Not too many farmers had a truck...if they had, they wouldn't have needed the ever ready horses to pull them through the mud and mire.
In 1946, one followed cow trails to visit your neighbours. A few years later, after many meetings with the L.I.D., etc., roads soon came into view to accommodate the school buses. Prior to that the children drove their own conveyances to school. Horse and cart in the summer and horse and caboose in the winter. They had lots of fun.
It took nothing, no excuse at all, for all the farming families of the community to get together for a Sunday afternoon of fun and games. While the Dads all played ball with the kids...the moms had already invaded the chosen kitchen to prepare an early supper, all donated, of chickens, meats, salads, pickles, cakes and cookies, and the everloving cups of tea and coffee and soft drink for the kids. After eating to the full, everyone went home to their evening chores.
I, for one, would certainly like to relive the good old days, of just a few short years ago. Where, oh where has all that old fashioned neighbourliness gone? Trucks and cars have helped in lots of ways to enlighten the farmers loads, but certainly have not helped the friendly 'get togethers' we used to have.
West Cowan was and still is, a good place to live, to work, and to raise a family.
Tom met his wife, Barbara, while serving in England during the last war with the Saskatoon Light Infantry. They were married in Northhampton, England, January 5th, 1941. Two of their twelve children were born overseas...Judy, (now Mrs. Murray Ells, of Armstrong, B.C.) and Linda (now Mrs. Fred Steinhardt, of Medstead, Saskatchewan). Tom returned to Canada in April, 1945 and Barbara arrived in January, 1946. They farmed in the West Cowan area until 1958. They then moved into town when Tom took up employment with Waite Fisheries, and later went to work for the same firm in their Buffalo Narrows fish plant, where he is still employed.
The rest of the family are...John (ex-royal Canadian Navy), Susan (Mrs. Susan Gilbert), Donna (Mrs. Pat Panter), David (third Royal Canadian Regiment, now stationed with his wife Sandy and two daughters, Jennifer and Kimberly in Germany), Kathy (Mrs. Doug. Panter of Big River), Peggy (of Uranium City), Norman (of Milden, Saskatchewan), Nova (Mrs, Chuck Morin of Big River), Robbie and Alan at home.
Tom still owns the half section west of town.
Ralph came from Carmel, Saskatchewan in the spring of 1935, with his parents and the rest of the family. He farmed with his father until taking over his own farm, SW 2-56-8-W3. Winters, he worked in the bush and later years at Waite Fisheries. His parents, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Lueken, passed away in 1955 and 1975 respectively.
The Heiberts arrived in Big River to begin farming about 1947. They came from Borden, Saskatchewan. They bought the Jim Clay homestead in the West Cowan area, and lived there until the passing of Mr. Heibert a few years ago.
Mrs. Heibert now lives in Prince George, B.C.
The Kopps farmed for a few years the quarter south of Tom Warriner's and north of John Brecker. They moved to Saskatoon after a few years and worked at the Forestry Farm there. They lived in Sutherland where a few years later, Mr. Kopp passed away.
Jake and Mrs. Miller moved from Timberlost quite a few years ago and purchased the farm once belonging to Mr. and Mrs. William Wilson. They farmed and raised a family there until they moved to Saskatoon.
Mr.and Mrs. Norman Ethier now own that farm.
In March, 1927, the Warriners immigrated from Kirbymoorside, Yorkshire, England, to Tantallon, Saskatchewan, where they lived for their first years in Canada. The flat, humid land of the bald prairie, did not suit Mrs. Warriner's health, so they were soon looking for a homestead in the North. It wasn't long before they were on their way to Big River.
Three elder daughters remained in England, where they had either married or chosen a career. Alice, Connie, Tom and Olive accompanied their parents to Canada. Richard had arrived a year prior to the family. Alice and Connie married two Icelandic brothers in Tantallon, Ingie and Walter Olafson. When the family moved north, Connie and Walter also came to take up a homestead.
During the first years in Big River, a living was hard to come by, so some of the family went to work in bush camps.
In August, 1939, Mr. Warriner was taken ill and passed away. In September, War was declared and Tom joined the services, and before Christmas of the same year, was on Active Service in England.
After building a small house on her homestead, Mrs. Warriner continued to farm there with Olive. She passed away on January 22, 1966.
The Bechtels farmed west of town and were noted for his herd of Ayrshire cattle. They had two sons, Jack (Anne Drangsholt) and Gordon (Helen Wood). Gordon and Helen still farm there after the passing some years ago of Mr. Bechtel. Mrs. Bechtel lived for a number of years in Regina, and now resides in Big River.
They moved to Big River when Mrs. Olafson's family moved here, (the Warriners). They worked and farmed around West Cowan area from 1931 to 1946, when they returned to Tantallon, Saskatchewan. Although now retired as Tantallon Post master, Mr. Olafson and his wife still live on the farm.
Sarah and her husband Jack lived along the lakeshore on the west side of Cowan Lake. Jack trapped during the winter and his summer hobby was experimenting in growing fruit trees. He passed away suddenly, a few years ago and Sarah now lives in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.
Mike came from Carmel, Saskatchewan, to start farming in the West Cowan area. He married the youngest daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Chris Bittman, Lorraine. Mike and their four children, Edith, Mike, Joe and Sharon moved from Big River to B.C. quite a few years ago. Mike passed away suddenly in 1978.
George Thibeault, came to Big River district in 1910, as a small child. In his early youth, he worked in bush camps and at the mill. Later, he farmed the quarter SW 10-56-8 W3rd. He has now sold his land and lives in the Town of Big River.
Both of these West Cowan farmers were born in the U.S.A. They came to Folda and Carmel, Saskatchewan, respectively when young children. After they met and married, they moved to Faust, Alberta, where they farmed for a number of years before moving to Big River in June, 1939, where they farmed the NW 1-56-8 W3rd.
Four children were born - Rosella (Mrs. Jim Teer of Big River), Eleanor (Mrs. Herb Lueken of Big River), Lorraine (Mrs. Mike Klitch of B.C.), and Edwin, the only son (Margaret Fehr).
Mr. Bittman passed away in 1955 and a few years later, Mrs. Bittman moved into town where she still resides.
Herb and Eleanor were married in 1953. Four children were born - Arnold, Kenneth, Sharon and Carol.
Herb farms the NE 2-56-8 W3. Eleanor is one of the friendly clerks in Yurach's Store.
Leonard lives and farms on the place his mother and father lived on for a number of years, about a mile from the nursery along the grid road. Therese, Leonard's wife, was formerly from Green lake, Saskatchewan. They have a daughter, Donna.
Stuart, son of Mr. and Mrs. John Breker, married the former Martha Gillette on May 1, 1959.
They raised five children - Terry, Milton, Kevin, Darryl, and Allison.
Eric and Olga farmed their land in the West Cowan district for twenty-seven years, before Eric's health forced him to an early retirement.
Eric is a son of John Swanson and has lived in the Big river area all his life, with the exception of his war service with the Royal Canadian Air Force. Olga came to Big River when she was two years old from the Ukraine, with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Steve Wicinski. They farmed in the Ladder Valley district. Eric and Olga were married in 1946. They had seven children, Rosemarie (Mrs. Grant of Lloydminster), Mervin (pat Becker, Prince Albert), Darlene (deceased), Bob, Lyle, Murray and Joyce.
They sold the farm two years ago and now live in Big River.
Some of the oldtimers of the West Cowan district who are no longer with us are, Jim Clay, and Tom Giles (who walked to town every Saturday morning to do his shopping and carried it home on his back summer an winter and wouldn't take a ride if offered one). Others were Julius Fritz, Gudmunder Benidictsen, an old Icelander, Mr. and Mrs. Bergland, Mr. Pete Bouchard, Mr. sam Bouchard, Fred Haas, Mrs. Johanna Haas.
Residents that have lived in West Cowan: Mr. and Mrs. John Hoehn, Mr. and Mrs. Tom Warriner, Mr. and Mrs. Dick Warriner, Mr. and Mrs. Herb Leuken, Mr. and Mrs. Chris Bittman, Mr. Ralph Leuken, Mr. and Mrs. Leonard Leuken, Mrs. Haas and Fred, Mr. and Mrs. Eric Swanson, Mr. and Mrs. John Brecker, Mr. George Thibeault, Mr. and Mrs. Ernest Ethier, Mr. and Mrs. John Sandry, Mr. and Mrs. Eddie Zeigler, Mr. and Mrs. Jack Teer, Mr. and Mrs. James Teer, Mr. and Mrs. Mike Klitch, Mr. and Mrs. John Heibert, Mr. Jim Clay, Mr. Tom Giles, Mrs. E. Warriner and Olive, Mr. Julius Fritz, Mr. and Mrs. Lineman, Mr. and Mrs. Roy Gunderson, Mr. and Mrs. Jake Miller, Mr. and Mrs. William Wilson, Mr. and Mrs. William Bechtel, Mr. and Mrs. Gudmunder Beniedictsen, Mrs. Jessie Lamberton, Mr. and Mrs. Jake Ritter, Mr. and Mrs. Walter Olafson, Mr. Joe Sawyer, Mr. and Mrs. Fortine, Mr. and Mrs. Riome, Mr. Mike Croteau, Mr. Romeo Croteau, Mr. and Mrs. Faye Bradley, and Mr. and Mrs. Rainville.
The families still living in the district: Mrs Betty Warriner and sons, Herb Leuken family, Tony Leuken family, Ralph Leuken, John Brecker family, Stuart Brecker family, and the John Sandry family.
Families Part 1.