Alma and Joe Pruden arrived in the Big River district in the early 1900s. Mr. Pruden established a job at the sawmill. They later moved to Dore Lake, where Joe took a job with the I.C. Fish Company, making fish boxes.
When the children were old enough for school, the Pruden family returned to Big River and Mr. Pruden began working at the Nursery. He also fished and trapped, logged, and delivered mail up north. The mail was transported by canoe in the summer and by team in the winter. On each journey, Joe would fish on the return trip.
While living in Big River, the Pruden house burned down and the family had to live in the forestry tent until a new place was found.
The Prudens had ten children: five are still living: Frank, Mary (McMahon), Caroline (LaFontaine), Rosie (Mann), and Violet (Gerling). The four Pruden Boys signed up for the war and the youngest son was killed overseas. Victor, his brother Fran, and a friend were out in a canoe when it overturned. They managed to get to shore, but the chill of the icy water and strenuous work made them sleepy. The men rested on the beach in the warm sun and Victor died of exposure.
Mary remembers when her sister Dora was born at Dore lake. The children were staying at the neighbours when they heard a gun shot. Mr. Pruden explained that he saw a large rabbit carrying this little baby and he fired a shot to scare the rabbit. It had left the baby and ran into the bush, so that was how Dora arrived.
The Pruden children often took a bobsleigh, started from Tower Hill, now Waite's Hill, and would slide all the way down to the old livery barn.
Mary Pruden (McMahon) worked on a farm doing chores and house work for five dollars a month. Frank worked around Big River and area all his life. He would attend to the freighters horses and trappers dogs in the winter. Frank worked on a farm, thrashing, for fifty cents a day. Frank also cut ties, fished and worked on the road construction to Cree Lake. He was considered an experienced fisherman at the age of sixteen, as he had been helping his father since he was eight years old.
Out of the ten Pruden children, Mary and Frank are the only two still living in Big River.
Jack Rae came to Canada from Scotland in 1904 and spent some time in Manitoba and Alberta. He came to Big River in 1910 to work in the mill; he was employed in the mill until it burnt and then worked in various small mills at Ile-A-La-Crosse, Buffalo Narrows, and at Stoney Lake in O.P. Godin's mill. He and his wife, Alma, ran a stopping place at Stoney lake for the freight swings. Mr. Rae has been a long-time pioneer of the district.
His memories of the early days revolve around the mills, the bush and on freighting throughout the north, Jack Rae became a well-known figure.
His wife, Alma, came with her parents from Domremy, Saskatchewan, when about fifteen years of age. Her parents, Lusenda and Alfred Ethier, came to this district in 1910 in search of work. Their family consisted of the following: Pamelia (Sweeney), Laura (Wilson), Rosanna (Isabel), Alma (Rae), Delina, Emile, Ernest, Zenon, William and Andrew. The family came by wagon and moved into a mill house near where the Pharmacy is now.
Pamelia, Laura and Alma worked in the hotel at that time. Mrs. Rae remembers working very hard for wages of twenty-five dollars a month. The highest she ever received was twenty-eight dollars a month.
Her happiest memory of the early days were the many dances they had. Often the orchestra would play until early in the morning; people would continue to dance even though everyone had to work the next day.
From a previous marriage to Mr. Blanchette, Alma had four children: Grace, Rose, Rita, and Peter. Several years later after Mr. Blanchette's death, Alma married Jack Rae.
Jack died in 1978. Mrs. Rae still resides in Big River.
Mr. and Mrs. Fred Redhead moved into the area in 1942. The family first settled in the Beaupre Lake Game Preserve as Mr. Redhead was in charge of this district.
Later, the Redheads moved to the north end of Delaronde lake. Some of their dear and close neighbours were Edwin Olsen and family, the Kilbreath family, Olaf Neilson, the Schmidt family, and Chris Christianson. Close is estimated from anywhere between ten to twenty miles along the lake shore. The people in this area would often have Sunday dinners, birthday parties, and old time dances.
The form of transportation was by boat in the summers and by horse and sleigh or tractor in the winter. Mr. Redhead had a motor toboggan which he used for patrolling the large district. On occasion, planes would be flown into the area, and since there were no airfields, the planes would be equipped with skis or pontoons.
Mr. Fred Redhead was a field officer with the D.N.R. He was transferred from Ile-A-La-Crosse to the Beaupre Lake Game Preserve.
Mr. Redhead was often called upon to fight fire. At one time Fred and his crew were attempting to put out the flames and the Redhead family was preparing to evacuate, as the fire was so close that ashes were falling in their yard. luckily, the wind shifted and the family did not need to leave.
Mr. Redhead made the newspaper headlines with the rescue of three R.A.F. pilots. These men were Aussie Pilot Trainees flying from a base in North Battleford. They were forced to crash land on the shore of the lake, and Mr. Redhead rescued them from the muskeg area. The men were given some brandy and some good home cooking at the Redhead home and soon recovered. Later, Mr. Redhead returned to the area to find the wreckage and helped to pull it out by tractor and sleigh.
The Redheads kept a two way radio as a form of communication, and as a source of help to pilots who flew by visual means.
The Redhead family later moved to the Sled Lake district, and then to Highway junction thirty-two, now known as the Forks.
Flora would run a stopping place in these areas for the fishermen, loggers, trappers, and visitors. Mrs. Redhead was known as the "Hostess of the North".
The Redheads had seven children: Jean, Louise, Douglas, Fred, Ron, Donald, and Gertrude.
Fred passed away in 1966, and Flora died ten years later.
Earl Reedarrived in Big River in 1930 from Saskatoon. He homesteaded on the north end of Stoney. Mr. Reed remembers when he was crossing Stoney lake during a blizzard and his team of horses went through the ice; he spent the entire winter in the hospital as a result of this accident.
Earl cut ties, worked in the mill, freighted, logged, and farmed. He married Betty Snell in 1950 and they still reside in the farming district north of Big River.
Betty has been a cook for a number of years. Her first job was cooking for her father in a camp across Stoney. When she started there were ten men, but by spring she was having to cook for a total of thirty-two men.
During the depression, the camps were on rations of syrup and sugar, so cooking was difficult. In 1943, Betty joined the army and served until 1947. She was a cook during this time.
After the war, Betty cooked for the D.N.R. for nineteen years, until 1971.
Oscar Reed and Mike Skopyk were in partnership for several years. They ran a small sawmill and shingle mill and also cut ties. They broke land for five dollars an acre. Most of the buildings out at Greenmantle were built with lumber and shingles from their mills.
Oscar remembers when they sawed and piled cordwood for seventy-five dollars into the boxcar on the railway tracks. Block wood cut and piled, sold for one hundred dollars per boxcar load. Logs for the first school in Greenmantle were sawed by Mike and Oscar. When the school was finished a fire swept through destroying the new building.
Oscar married Helen Neale in 1947. They bought their present farm the following year and have farmed there since. Oscar and Helen have three children, Bruce, Scott, and Doug and have adopted Fred and Brenda.
During the Depression, Samuel and Martha Reed, with their son, Oscar, were forced to leave Saskatoon. There was no work and the Depression was getting the best of everyone. Samuel bought a team of horses and they left Saskatoon with their belongings, to Grenmantle.
The first winter they stayed at their son's place. Earl had moved to Greenmantle earlier. In the spring they started building their own cabin on their homestead and moved in that summer.
Samuel also did construction work. He was the Superintendent for the work being done for the Cold Lake Air Force and was the foreman for the construction of Burns.
Samuel and Martha also ran a stopping house for the people going to town from Greenmantle or Timberlost. It was a long ride to town and the people were grateful to have a place to stop and eat and to feed their horses.
Samuel and Oscar, after their arrival in Greenmantle, took out a contract on ties, and sold them to O.P.Godin's.
My father Tom Reed, his wife Ida, their three daughters, Sarah, Dorothy and myself, Florence, a nephew, George Reed and Cliff Kemp arrived in Big River in the spring of 1934.
We travelled by horses and wagons. One wagon had a canvas shelter which served as our home en route, while the other one contained all our belongings. We girls and George rode horseback and drove our cattle.
Someone had told dad some glowing stories about Big River, a place where fish were for the taking and wild game was in abundance. This turned out to be very true and so I am sure that's the reason why he chose Big river to be our new home.
We pulled into town and stopped close to Godin's store. While sitting there wondering about our future, a friendly lady came over and started talking to us. I'll never forget Mrs. Milligan, since she was so cheerful and encouraging.
While talking to this woman, we couldn't help but notice the newspapers she had wrapped around her legs under her stockings. Later we found that they served the purpose of protecting her legs from mosquitoes.
We camped across Cowan Lake, close to the forestry, until dad could find a place for us. It wasn't long until he found Ted Otte's, a place about two miles north of Big River. We spent the summer there, and since it was close to the lake we were able to fish. The wild raspberries were abundant that year, so with lots of cream we were able to really enjoy them.
Dad was able to find work at what they called a relief camp. The government was levelling off some land for an air strip.
This is the land where the rodeo grounds and golf course are presently located.
Dad got twenty cents a day plus some clothing, his boots, and a package of tobacco and papers once a week. He also got one dollar a day for the work of four horses. He worked there most of the summer, and during this time he had filed on a homestead across Cowan lake, about three and one half miles from town around by road. we built a log house there and moved that fall.
The men worked at anything they could find that winter. Cliff went fishing on Dore lake and dad freighted fish.
That first winter was hard on our stock. Horses that came from the prairie would get swamp fever from grazing in the swamps, so we lost some horses. Also, one of our cows got caught in a snare that was meant for a coyote. She was lost for ten days before we found her. We doctored her diligently, but her foot finally fell off where the wire had cut in. The foot had probably frozen from the lack of circulation, therefore she had to be destroyed.
Dad finally set out with a team and sleigh and a load of freight for Buffalo Narrows, then went on to Fort McMurray, and Yellowknife. Dad more or less made his home there, coming to Big river to visit off and on, until his death in 1966.
Mother lived in Big River until her death in 1965.
George worked around Big River for a few more years, served overseas in the war and finally went to Calgary and married.
Dorothy married Dave Blatz in 1935, and Sarah married Jack Teer in 1937.
Cliff Kemp and I were married in the log house on the homestead in the winter of 1935. We worked out at Sundby and Anderson Logging Camp, and later Cliff worked for J.K. Johnson, booming logs down Cowan lake until the Timber Board took over the business.
Cliff and I have six children: Leonard, Jack, David, Bob, Ruth and Norma.
The Riley family came to this district in 1933 from Saskatoon. Albert Riley took a homestead in the Greenmantle area. His brother-in-law, Sam Reed took the homestead next to the Rileys.
Horses from the south were not accustomed to the swamp hay in the area and the Rileys lost all their horses because of the swamp fever. They bought two oxen to help them continue their farm ploughing.
Olive and Albert had three children: Christine (Sandry), Bill and Helen (Leach), all of whom live in the Big River district.
Mr. J.B. Roberts arrived in Big River around 1910. He was a carpenter and worked on the construction of the sawmill. After completion, Mr. Roberts worked in the sawmill until it burnt in 1913. The mill was reconstructed and later torn down in 1921, at which time the Roberts family moved to prince Albert.
Mr. and Mrs. Roberts had three children: E.L. Roberts, Mrs. Vera Allan Falls, and H.J. Roberts.
Mr. and Mrs. Robert Roth moved from Mildred in 1935 because of poor soil and crop failure during the Depression. They were farmers who came to big river in search of better land. Mr. Roth homesteaded on Egg Lake, cut pulp, logged, and even ran a sawmill for a while.
He would haul pulpwood twelve miles to town by oxen; this was a slow form of transportation so Mr. Roth purchased a team of horses and all hauling was done by team and wagon.
One of their six children still lives in Big River, Bill Roth.
Mr. Roth passed away several years ago.
Families Part 12