Commercial fishing, got its start in the Buffalo Narrows and Ile-a-la-Crosse area in the early 1900's.
One of the first companies to come to that part of the country to catch and buy fish, was the McInnes Fish Company of Edmonton in 1916. This company fished on Peter Pond Lake
establishing its headquarters on the west side of the lake. Other early fish buyers were George Rizer, (established in 1911) and later in the 1930s, called Big River Consolidated Fisheries. Clarke's from Meadow Lake and in the picture on the right, Waite Fisheries Ltd from Big River (established in 1930). Fish was hauled by freight teams from the northern lakes. The freighters had to travel on the lakes as much as possible because there were no roads and few trails to follow.
Sometimes they had to cut trails for short distances where they had to cross country. With the snow deep on the lakes, a trail had to be ploughed, this was accomplished by using as many as eight horses to push the plough. The teams and sleighs followed in single file. Sometimes as many as twenty "outfits" formed a procession called "freight-swings". This was an impressive sight as they wound their way north, loaded with supplies for the northern communities as well as supplies for themselves. If they didn't reach a stopping place such as Halvor Ausland (photograph upper left, holding two jumbo whitefish) operated at Deep River by nightfall; they would stop and build a fire and rest for a while. They couldn't stop for very long because the horses had to keep moving to keep from freezing, due to the bitterly cold weather. On their return trip, they hauled approximately seventy, 150-pound boxes of fish. When they reached Big River, they would unload the fish at Rizer's warehouse and receive their pay, which ranged from one to three cents a pound. It wasn't much money, considering that a trip would take from two to three weeks or longer, depending on the distance they had to haul and the difficulties they encountered along the way.
The horse swings were gradually replaced by "cat-swings", which made freighting more comfortable for the men because behind the cat, was a caboose for the men to live in. Stopping places were no longer needed, as the men ate and slept in their cabooses. The men would take turns driving the cat, in that fashion, they could travel day and night without stopping, and could make a trip in a much shorter time than it took with horses. With improved roads, "cat-swings", were replaced by trucks, such as the ones shown in the photograph taken at Deep River. They hauled supplies from Big River and Meadow Lake for the northern communities and on the return trip hauled fish south to market. Being equipped with snowploughs on the front of the truck, they maintained the ice and winter bush roads all winter, this allowed the for some use of cars and trucks on the ice roads in later years. As the market became more demanding, aircraft, such as the Anson shown in this photograph taken at Deep River and other types of aircraft, were used to speed delivery of fish to all parts of Canada and the United States. Local fishing around Buffalo Narrows began in 1918 with a Norwegian named
Tom Pederson, others soon followed. When Halvor Ausland first saw, what was to become the town of Buffalo Narrows, he was later to recall that there was only one house in Buffalo Narrows at that time and it had been built by Tom Pederson.
Mr Ausland started his commercial fishing business upon his arrival at Deep River. As well as running his trap-lines, he had fishing outfits on Churchill Lake, (known locally as Clear Lake), Big Peter Pond Lake (known locally as Big Buffalo Lake), Frobisher Lake (known locally as Island Lake) as well as Deep River. Winter fishing was a hard cold affair. The equipment consisted of horses and sleigh, hay for the horses to eat, nets, needle bars and chisels to chop through the ice, axes, shovels and food. Fishermen worked in pairs and two men could handle a fair amount of nets in a day. Fishing began in the fall after the lakes and rivers froze over and usually began with setting nets. Once set, the nets usually stayed in the water for the duration of the fishing season, but were moved if the fishing spot did not produce results. Setting nets, consisted of cutting a hole in the ice approximately two feet across.
A "jigger", was then placed in the hole and ran out the expected length of the net, where another hole was cut and the jigger was taken out of the water. A running line was then attached to the net and it was pulled into the water. Floats at the top and lead weights at the bottom, kept the net positioned properly to catch fish. The fishnets, were usually 50 or 100 yards long and were strung in lines of no more than twenty nets. Halvor Ausland was to later recall, that in the early days of commercial fishing, you could catch as many as 200-300 jumbo white-fish overnight in a 5 1/2 mesh net. Unfortunately, years of over-fishing reduced this to next to nothing and a jumbo whitefish was rarely seen. In the photograph (top left), Halvor Ausland is shown holding two large jumbo whitefish. The next two photographs show Charlie Ramsay, an employee of Mr Ausland, clearing nets and on the left, lingcod or Mariah, as they were called in the North, caught for mink feed on hook lines. Commercial fishing in the summer was limited as the fishnets were made of cotton, which rotted quickly in hot weather. In later years, fishnets were made of nylon, which was far more durable and lasted much longer. The next two photographs show a large pile of assorted fish caught for mink feed, the fish were stockpiled and kept in a cold storage building to ensure enough fish was available in times of shortage.
Most of the fish in the photograph are walleye, tullibee, northern pike, whitefish, and Mariah. There were very few lake trout, as they primarily inhabited the colder lakes farther north. Also shown in the photograph is Halvor Ausland's snowmobile or "snow bug" as it was called in the north, built by Bombardier, it was a godsend prior to roads in the area. It was used extensively in the north for transportation, fishing, freight hauling and numerous other uses. In later years, Halvor Ausland ceased commercial fishing because of poor fish prices and his growing mink business. His energy was directed toward his expanding fur farm and as with any business, costs were of primary importance and fish offered a low-cost food supply for the mink and foxes. In the summer, boats were used for fishing and fishing operations were carried out in all kinds of weather to ensure food for the voracious appetite of the mink. In later years, a large cold storage building was constructed to stockpile fish in times of short supply. Shortages occurred in the fall and spring when warm weather made the ice unstable and it was dangerous to venture out on the ice. This building (photograph below right), is shown under construction in 1948. Unfortunately, in later years, the building burned to the ground due to a malfunctioning oil heater and a new, but the smaller building was erected. However, it served it's purpose well over the years.