Harry Husak's life at Dore Lake.
Harry Husak was born in 1902, in the West Ukraine, at the village of Storomischckyns, which is near the town of Pidwolochysko. The capital city of the area was Lemburg. Harry's father's name was Bill Husak and his mother was Lena. Harry has one brother, Andrew, who lives in Storomischckysns today. Harry had another brother, who died in Warsaw, Poland during WW II. Harry lived in Europe during the time of political chaos and war. When he was eleven years old, Russian mounted police came to his parents home one evening and took his father away to the army. He still remembers the troop movements of armies through his country in 1914.
"We kids watched as the artillery pounded." He goes on. "They pushed one way then the other way. The army only left one cow for three families, no milk, nothing to eat. Mother used to wash the wheat, boil it, put on a little honey, and then we ate that." "My dad from 1914 to 1916, was on the battlefield all the time. In 1916, the Russians imprisoned him, took him to Siberia and he was working down there. He come back home in 1920." After the war, Harry bought a small farm and then spent two years in the Polish army.
Harry left a turbulent Europe in 1927, and immigrated to Canada seeking a better life. He first resided in Brooks Bay, Saskatchewan, as a farm labourer until 1928. In the fall of 1928, he was employed as a labourer at the Nipiwin Bridge. When Harry completed this job, he went to work in the bush cutting logs.
This is the story of Harry Husak,
as told by him to Peter Kuter-Luks.
Harry Husak (left) and Geir Thorden (right) 1973.
"I came to the settlement of Big River in 1929, looking for work. I had never been this far north before. I didn't know anyone who I could stay with until finding a job. I was on my own. All my belongings were packed into one package. Still had a few dollars in my pocket to get me by for several days."
"Big River was a small settlement, with no roads. I walked about the place, anxious to find work. People here seemed quite busy, doing their daily chores. The community had a sawmill, fish plant, freight sheds and several horse stables. Horses were used to haul timber from nearby logging camps to the saw mill in Big River. Everything was done with horses in those days."
"Freight was hauled from Big River to Northern settlements and camps. Teams hauled freight to Buffalo Narrows and even to La Loche. But teamsters could only haul freight to northern points during the winter. Lakes, rivers and muskeg were then frozen, making these trips possible. Teams pulled sleds loaded with all types of freight, distributed all through the north. Yes, sleds and wagons carved a trail through the wilderness of northern Saskatchewan."
"I kept looking and asking for work in Big River. I wanted to work so I could earn money and make a living."
"I finally found work and was hired on with the fisheries in Big River. My salary reduced to a meagre fifteen dollars per month, after working at the plant for almost five years. A man couldn't make a living on those wages. So I quit my job. I had saved a little money in the past five years. Now I was out of work again. I packed my gear and set out once again to find work. This was in 1934."
"I was in luck. I met a man in Big River by the name of Erick Erickson. Mr. Erickson had come to Big River from Foam Lake, Saskatchewan to do business here. He and I talked for a while. Through our conversation, Erickson found out that I was in need of a job. I had told him where I had worked and the wages I had received. He understood the situation I was in."
"Mr. Erickson told me that he had a store at Beauval and fish nets in the lake. You operate my store and look after my fish nets and I'll pay you seventy-five dollars a month, he told me. I could not refuse such an offer. I agreed to the deal, we shook hands and I was on my way to Beauval."
"Beauval was many miles farther north of Big River. Now that I had another job, I would have to find a way to get there. I set out and arrived in Beauval in 1934." "Beauval had a Church and a Mission School. Children from outlying areas in the north came here to attend. The children were boarded here and received an education".
"People in Beauval made their living by hunting, trapping and fishing. It wouldn't take a hunter very long to shoot a moose or deer. There was always plenty of fresh meat on the table for families. There was a lot of wildlife in those days. Nobody went hungry."
"Roads were then unheard of. All travelling was done by canoe in summer and in winter, a team of strong husky dogs were harnessed to a sled."
"I worked for Mr. Erickson in Beauval for three years. I felt that the time had come that I needed a place of my own. The opportunity came quickly. I met a man who had property for sale at Dore Lake. I had saved my money and was now able to purchase the land, lock stock and barrel. We came to an agreement and the deal was made."
"I would like to mention here, that while I worked in Beauval for three years. . . they were all fine people, who worked very hard, bringing up their families."
"I came to Dore Lake in 1937. I located my property, looking at it very closely. Solid timber stretched clear to the lake shore. It would take a lot of hard work to clear out the trees. I wanted to clear the timber so I could have some land where I could grow things. With an axe and saw I began chopping down trees."
"There was one particular tree I remember cutting down. I wanted to see the age of this giant tree. After it was lying down, I counted 125 rings. The size of such a tree cannot be found in Northern Saskatchewan anymore. I began working, cutting the tree into planks and other useable lumber for building." "I recall getting 700 board feet of lumber out of this one giant tree. People say, it takes a tree almost 80 years to mature before it is suitable to be cut down and used for lumber."
"Yes, I worked very hard and long hours to clear the piece of land where I now live. Later, I bought a team of horses to pull roots and stumps. Then I bought a plow and worked the land. At last I had cleared nine acres, a piece of would-be farm land carved out of the wilderness."
"I purchased grass and sowed it on the cleared land. It grew very good for the first year. I then bought livestock, cattle and a flock of chickens."
"I remember having forty-one head of cattle one year. I also raised five horses. Cattle and horses needed a lot of feed. There was enough hay I could harvest from my nine acres. Hauling hay from Big River in those days was too expensive. But then things turned bad. High water flooded the land, time and again. I couldn't raise any hay and I didn't want my livestock to go hungry. Most of my cattle were then sold, but I kept a few milk cows."
"I trapped and fished in the Dore Lake area in those days. Talking about trapping, the second year I was here, I trapped sixty-five foxes. It was a very good harvest, in fox fur alone. I also set out fish nets. Fish I caught, I would pack, load and haul these to the fish plant in Big River with my team of horses. One particular winter I made ten trips to Big River. I slept under the stars three times. The temperature was then fifty below."
"Communication was also very good in those days. If a person got sick and needed to be taken to the hospital, we would contact a plane. It wasn't very long before an aircraft arrived in Dore Lake, summer or winter. The plane would land on the Lake. The pilot was from Big River or from Prince Albert."
"I also raised a lot of mink. One year I had 1,100 of these little creatures. Then a terrible disease struck. Distemper killed all of them. It was a great loss to me and it cost me a lot of money for my own pocket. But these things happen. There is nothing a person can do about an epidemic."
"I remember when the fish plant was built here near the lake shore. Men brought equipment from Big River to Dore Lake and set up a saw mill. Trees were cut down the lumber used to put up the buildings. The fish plant, some of the original buildings can still be seen at its former site. Now the structure is slowly decaying. The fish plant when in operation was operated by Mr. Erick Viden. Mr. Viden was a very nice gentleman, one of the old timers of this area. Erick Viden passed away in 1980."
Harry Husak celebrated his 79th birthday in 1980. He had lived in Dore Lake for more than 40 years. Harry is still very alert, talkative and has a good memory despite his age. Harry continues to keep active, doing his daily chores around his home. Harry speaks highly of the residents of Dore Lake.
"They are very fine people," he says. "Anything I need or a little help around my place, there is always someone willing to lend a hand." Harry concludes by saying: "I don't know what is going to happen in the future. People in the old days worked very hard to make a living, now things are so different. Times had changed."
He rose from the chair, behind the kitchen table and walked toward the old cast iron stove which he still uses for cooking and to some extent to heat his home. He reached into the box of wood, removed a log and placed it into the crackling flames.
Another day in Harry Husak's life had come to an end. A man who came to Dore Lake in 1937, carving out of the wilderness a home and a piece of fertile land with his bare hands. A place where he had remained for over forty years. Harry is alone, but very happy and content.