My recollections of the thirties are many happy ones. As a very young child I remember my father's blacksmith shop and being very frightened when he was shoeing horses. I enjoyed watching him shape the red hot iron into a horseshoe and can still hear the water sizzle when he struck the shoe in a tub of water to cool it. The greatest thrill for us was when he let us turn the handle on the blower for the forge. We would stand and watch the coals turn a bright red as we turned the handle.
My sisters and I spent as much time as we could in the shop until dad would become tired of having us in his way and chase us out. We were always black and kept our poor mother busy keeping us clean.
One person who I remember stopping at the gas pumps outside the shop, to talk to us children was Dr. Murray from Saskatoon. They came up to Big River every summer to spend some time at their cottage on Ladder Lake. Other people who came were A.A. Murphy, Mills, and Hartneys from Saskatoon.
The card parties and fowl suppers in the church basement were important occasions for all members of the family. Corn suppers were held at Gallant's farm and everyone would attend. All the proceeds went to the upkeep of the church.
At Christmas time there would be a concert at the school with everyone taking part. At the end of the plays everyone would join in, singing Christmas Carols and then bags of goodies were handed out for every child in each family.
O.P. Godin's store opened for business after Mass on Sunday to serve the farmers and to provide for a meeting place for friendly visits and discussions. O.P. Godin's also had an ice cream parlour which opened evenings and on Sunday afternoons. A person would be served on round marble tables while sitting on black wooden chairs.
Our family would make regular trips to our grandparent's home in Shell River. The journey seemed to take hours and hours and as a result we had to stay overnight.
I also remember walking out to Ladder Lake with mom and Mrs. Michel. On hot summer afternoons it seemed like the whole town would be out at the lake. Also, during the summer I remember admiring Dr. Afanasieff's beautiful flower garden.
Sliding in the wintertime was a means of entertainment. We would pile on the bobsleighs, and starting on the hospital hill we would end up at the train station. It was a long haul back up the hill, but the sound of the sleighs lingered until late at night. The long swings of freight sleighs going out of town and returning with their loads of fish is another winter memory.
In summer, Mrs. Snell's geese would make their daily trip through the town to the lake; no one bothered them, the old gander made sure of that.
Outside Godin's store were iron hitching rails where the farmers tied their teams while they were in the store doing their week's shopping. Some people came in only once a month as the distance from town varied greatly between the homesteads.
I also remember waiting for the train to come in and people going to meet it. Also people would stand in the post office waiting for the mail to be sorted. The lineup was long both summer and winter, as it was never too cold to wait for the mail.
The annual field days, held regularily on May 24th, always brought out some strong competition at school. The old open air rink near the lake was the site of many thrilling hockey games! Hockey equipment wasn't plentiful, but the game was still fast and exciting. There were no dressing rooms for the hockey players and therefore, players and fans crowded into the small rink house for warmth. Within this building the smell of burning mitts was always in the air.
As children, we didn't realize how hard the times were in the thirties. Since our father had the blacksmith shop and garage, he was paid in cash, or by credit at Godin's store. Sometimes he would be paid with produce such as fish, meat, and potatoes, while some of the customers paid their bills with cordwood.
The thirties as I remember, were a good time in our lives. The forties were the hardest after our father took sick and had to give up his business. However, our family managed to live through it all and it remains a cherished memory.
We were delighted to receive a most interesting letter from Mr. Frank Michie who now resides in Watford, Ontario. Back in the early thirties, Mr. Michie arrived in Big River and spent fourteen years teaching school here. He has shared some of his memories with us of those days and begins by telling how much he enjoyed the many hikes in the woods with friends like Alex Afanasieff, Joe Oldham, Joe Sixsmith, John Corston and Robert Jones, rector of the Anglican Church. Coming from the prairie, the lakes had a great attraction for Mr. Michie and he spent many a pleasant day out boating or sailing. In winter he says, the younger folks went snowshoeing up the lakes and through the woods. The outdoor recreation was great.
Mr. Michie remembers one summer he spent at a fish camp operated by Chris Wopnford and learned a lot about summer fishing on a commercial scale.
He remembers with pleasure the Gloomchasers Club - a club organized to "chase the gloom" from a rather isolated existence. Through the years many members came and went. Some Mr. Michie recalls were: Martha and Len Waite, Joe and Rena Sixsmith, Bill and Grace Gould, and Ivery and Mary Newton.
One of the activities of the club was staging farce comedies once or twice a year. These were a lots of fun to prepare and put on. They were always in the school and were usually well attended. You must remember in those days there were no TV's, few radios, no movies, and a train out maybe twice a week, so an amateur play was something to go to and enjoy.
Some of the plays put on were "Mummy and The Mumps", "The Meddlesome Maid", "Poor Married Man", and "Looks Like Rain". The money raised from these endevours was used to buy supplies for the school. Sometimes the Gloomchasers would have a party and occasionally a boat ride or a picnic.
Mr. Michie recalls that he acted as Secretary in the B.P.O.E. lodge for a while and talks about how the Elks maintained the town skating rink. For a few years the rink was flooded by using the tender of the locomotive from the train, thanks to the co-operation of Dick Bell, the C.N.R. water tower engineer.
Another thing Frank looked forward to were the weekly dances. Big River had its own orchestra, Mrs. Newton or Mrs. Bouchard played the piano, Howard Darbyshire the sax, and sometimes Amidi Chamberland played the drums. Often Mrs. Dolmadge played a violin. The dances would be held in the school, in the pool hall or out in Anderson's mill. Sometimes a team of horses and a sleigh could be borrowed and everyone would go to Ladder Valley. The dances were very pleasant affairs and Mr. Michie says, even now, when he hears songs like "The Ilse of Capri", "Anchors Away", or "Sweetheart Darlin'" his mind goes back to Big River.
Mr. Michie recalls that Mr. James Forbes' home at the Post Office was like a second home to him. He remembers spending many happy evenings there with Mr. Forbes, Fred Buckley, Joe Sixsmith, Alex Afanasieff, Joe Oldham, and the current student minister of the United Church. On some Sunday nights they would go over to Buckley's two room home and enjoy an evening of radio, listening to Jack Benny, Fred Allen, or Fibber McGee and Molly.
Mr. Frank Michie - school teacher in 1935.Mr. Michie's hobby was photography and it occupied much of his spare time. He recalls operating the darkroom in a shack with no heat, no electricity, and no running water! Later he moved to Mrs. Adair's basement where it was warm and by that time Clem Otte had his steam engine going so he had electricity. He recalls the power went off at twelve, so if there was a dance at the school and they wanted the lights on, they had to dash down to the steam engine and throw more slabs of firewood on. They did not complain as it was much better than pumping up the old gas lanterns as they did before the coming of electricity. More of Mr. Michie's memories are included in the school write up and that of the United Church.
I lived in Big River for thirty years, moving there with my parents on April 29, 1927 by train from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. I was four years old at the time.
We stayed at Grannie McKnight's rooming house, situated two doors from the first Anglican Church. I remember my dad pick-a backing me down the track, as it was just too far for me to walk to the CNR water tower. In those days the trains came three times a week and stayed over Saturday evening till Monday morning. My dad was the engine watchman.
In September, 1929, I started school with Martha Myers as my teacher. I was only in school two months, when in the middle of the night, the school burned down. After the confusion cleared we were relocated in the United Church and Hillcrest Hall. Also the first Anglican Church was used for classes.
When school opened the next fall we had a new teacher, Mrs. Margaret Bouchard.
The first years of school I was privileged to have my dinners with the Yurach family, as it was a real hike for me to walk home for lunch, especially in the winter months. Granny Yurach was my barber, as well as a great cook. She even cut our daughter Arleen's hair in the early 1950s.
In those days Bill Yurach used to have cows and geese and ducks in a barn below the CNR Station. We used to get our milk from Yurachs too. On the weekends, Emery Trann and Nick Yurach would deliver milk with Shetland ponies that the Tranns owned.
There were very few cars in Big River in those days - would you believe two of them had an accident on the graveyard hill? One car belonged to Rev. R.E. Smith, the Anglican Church minister and the other belonged to Ernie Brownfiled.
The Tranns had moved to Big River the same year we had, with Dorothy and Emery, Ross and Olive. For many years on Good Friday, whether Easter was early or late, we girls used to go on a hike down the track, for walking was a great pastime. Usually it would be Dorothy Trann, Eva Yurach, Irene Bouchard, Eleanora Anderson, and myself, with Ann Yurach as our guide. We really enjoyed nature at that time, and have such pleasant memories of our younger years.
The Forestry was a busy place too, with the Potters and their boys Rex and Fred. The Christies with Rachel and Hilda plus the O'Conners with Kathleen, Marion, Pat, and Harold, they all lived over the river at the Forestry Reserve. The Forestry had horses and a canoe to get to the out-of-the-way places; roads were only trails.
Jack Hackett and his wife Raty and daughter Jean, came to Big River from Emma Lake, Saskatchewan, to take care of the Forestry Fire Tower at Bodmin.
During the years 1932 to 1937, my dad, Dick Bell, was Scout Leader. They used to have their meetings in Miss Brownfield's room in the basement of the school. Boys like Bill and Jack Maxwell, Nick and Bill Yurach, John Brownfield, the Otte boys, Jim Olsen, and Rex Potter would attend. They would camp out or go duck hunting as this was another great get together with the boys - for we had a boat on the river.
Other people who were part of my younger years were the CNR Section men who took care of the Railway Track. To name some, they were: Rex Mathews, Fred Yurach, Ernie Millward, and Steve Kowalyk.
In the summer months of 1938 to 1939, I was telephone operator, which relieved Jim Young of his tedious duties. I also helped in the Young's house plus taking care of the switchboard from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. plus four hours on Sundays.
In 1940, I worked for Mr. Forbes, who was postmaster and had been for many years. The trains brought mail twice a week at this time. The mail was sorted at night and the people came and picked their mail up that same night. Believe me, at Christmas time, it could easily mean working until the wee hours of the morning, as the 'mail must go' was the rule in those days.
It was during this Post Office job that I met my husband Arnold; we were married in St. Martin's Anglican Church in October, 1944. Arnold was in the army; the following March he went overseas to Holland, returning to Saskatoon in February, 1946. In March that same year we returned to Big River and went to his home on the farm nine miles north of Black Duck Road.
The winter of 1941 to 1942, I worked for Big River Fisheries owned by G. Rizer. They hauled the fish with caterpillar trains from Buffalo Narrows and other points north. At that time Rupert Homer, Bill Kaese, and Ted Wychodzew, were some of the people who worked there.
We did not have a hospital during those times. We had a Russian doctor who had immigrated to Big River. He had experiences and adventures going by horse and cutter, or horse and wagon, to see his patients, working under very adverse conditions.
I had many happy times in Big River, also sad times too, but that was life no matter where one lives.
Reflections Part 2