Big River began as a mill town and was built and owned by the lumber company. It is interesting to note that the company was formed several years before any sign of settlement began. The Big River Lumber Company was incorporated in Winnipeg in 1903, and the first small settlement sprang up around Cowan's Mill in 1906. Serious settlement began in the next few years and by 1910, with the arrival of the railroad, Big River had boomed to a population of over three thousand people.
The Lumber Company looked after its employees, and one street after the other was filled with houses and tenement buildings. The Company built the school, post office, police station, hospital, and store. Most people seemed content with this arrangement until the disastrous fire of 1919. With the timber gone, the Company began to talk of moving out. The news affected everyone and personal decisions had to be made. The possibility of a ghost town became very real, and many decided to move-either following the lumber mill to its new location or some other destination.
Big River in 1935.
Document sent to the Department of Education
requesting a school be opened, Jan 26, 1911.
Not everyone lost faith in Big River's future. Some were determined to stay and make the most of things. Five enterprising men, Anton Johnson, E.C. Brownfield, W.W. Turple, Peter Figeland and John Waite formed the Big River Development Company (sometimes known as the Settlement Committee). This small group negotiated with the Ladder Lake Lumber Company and offered to buy the entire townsite for twenty thousand dollars. The offer was accepted and on January 1, 1923, the Development Company took over the town. Each one of the five owners was in charge of and owned his section. New businesses were encouraged and land changed hands many times. New stores, cafes and places of business were constructed as people began to find a place in this new system. It was a difficult task, picking up all the loose ends and making the community function as a whole, without the aid of the Company funds.
One important issue that had to be solved was how to finance the school. With little or no assessment or taxes to support it, the burden of the operating expenses fell on the businessmen of the district. Realizing they couldn't shoulder this responsibility for very long, it was essential to incorporate into a Village as soon as possible. By doing so, more land could be surveyed and assessed, giving the district borrowing power, government grants and more tax dollars. Therefore, plans were made in haste to have Big River declared a Village. This came about on September 15th of 1923.
The first Overseer elected was Mr E.C. Brownfield. The first Secretary-Treasurer, Wm. E. Wakefield and the first councillors were Alexander G. McKinnon and Charles C. Cornell.
Big River continued to grow until it became the largest Village in Saskatchewan.
In 1964, the Department of Public Works built a new dock on Cowan Lake. 1965 was "biffy burning year", as sewer and water were installed in most homes and places of business. The contractors were Brown and Root. A new nurse's residence and the post office were built in 1965 as well.
Big River was officially declared a town on October 1, 1966. Mr Roland Barre was the first Mayor and councillors were Sam Miller, Charles McKenzie, Laura Wilson and Sid Cookman.
In 1967, "Centennial Year" the Centennial Building was built on 1st Street North and continues to house the Town Office and Library. Sam Miller was mayor from 1967 to 1969.
Big River Centennial Building
The town office is located here (2004).
In 1969, Roy Milligan became Mayor. This was the year that the sawmill by the lake burned. In 1970 J.W. Gilbert became Mayor, and the mill was relocated to where the Big River Recreation Center sits today. The landmark of Big River "the old burner' came down in 1971. Mayor Gilbert handed over the gavel to J.H. (Jack) Hartnett in 1975. In 1976, the mill was again relocated to Bodmin where it presently is today. This was also the year that Main Street and Highway 55 became paved. Also, many businesses relocated to the Industrial park on Hoehn Road. A trailer park was also established this year.
Carmen Weir became Mayor in 1978 and it was during this time that the T.D. Michel School was opened and the Recreation Center was built on 1st Avenue North. John Kuxhaus took over as Mayor from Carmen Weir in 1982 and the year of the "Cable TV' came to town. Lots more channels and programs to watch on television. During his mayoralty years to 1994, the Town saw the building of the Lakewood Lodge and artificial ice installed at the Recreation Center. Also, it was the year that we lost our school to fire and was later rebuilt. The town office also became computerized and the berth of our local present-day paper "The Gateway".
Ronald Hartnett took over as Mayor from John Kuxhaus in 1994 and continued till 2000. During this time Big River Ambulance Care LTD arrived, Youth Center opened and closed, The Big River Internet was established and the Big River Branch of the Debden Credit Union opened. In 1997 the Big River Tree Nursery closed its doors. The Big River Health Center was created by constructing an addition to the Lake Wood Lodge and in early 2000 the Big River Union Hospital moved in.
Digger Pond became Mayor in the fall of 2000 and continues to hold the position as this is being published. The 2001 census showed a population of 741. 2001 saw the Co-op Grocery store open on the corner of Highway #55 and Main Street; adjacent to the Co-op Hardware which had been created from Nor-Sask Builders Supply in 1999. In 2002, the council was in charge of the demolition of the Elevator and saw it come down in January. During 2001 the old Hospital was sold privately and was partially dismantled. 2002 saw the sod turning for the New Hall adjacent to the Big River Recreation Center. In 2003, the town had no recourse but to demolish the "Waite's" building because of the hazards the old building posed to the public. Big River Pharmacy was sold privately, and a temporary pharmacy opened in the hospital.
Although in "2003" Big River is still a "Mill Town" with a good percentage of its ratepayer's employed by Weyerhaeuser Canada Ltd, or at jobs and businesses that spin-off from the mill, a new description -"Recreational Paradise" comes to mind. With its unique setting, Big River has the potential to give to residents and visitors alike a place to unwind. Winter sports abound with ice fishing, hockey, curling, and snowmobiling as well as Ski Timber Ridge to the south. In summer there is the "Dock at the end of Main Street" to fish off of, with an area of the Regional Park adjacent for day camping, and another Regional Park campsite with laundry facilities adjacent to the Big River Recreation Center, a 9 Hole Golf course which is in the midst of an expansion, and ball diamonds for the old and young alike to exercise and stay fit for years to come.
Big River is located in a very scenic spot and is noted for the beauty of its setting, and a great place to call "Home".
Map of Big River, 2003.
Entering Big River from the North.
Important Years in Big River's History:
1966 - Big River designated as a Town, on October 1st.
1967 - Centennial Building built.
1968 - Big River Saw Mill Burnt Down.
1970 - Big River Saw Mill opened on New Site - now Rink area.
1971 - Old Burner of 1909 was scrapped.
1976 - Big River sawmill moved to Bodmin.
1977 - Rural Municipality of Big River #555 was incorporated.
1978-79 - Big River Planer Mill moved to Bodmin.
1981 - T.D. Michel Elementary School opened
- Recreation Center was built.
1982 - Cable TV was installed in town.
1985 - Lakewood Lodge Constructed.
- Artificial Ice Plant in Recreation Center.
- Big River Elevator Co-op was taken over from Wheat Pool Operated by Pioneer Elevator Company.
1988 - Big River High School burned down.
1989 - New Big River High School was opened.
- Town Office was computerized.
1991 - Start of local newspaper "Gateway" printed by Porter's Printing.
1992 - Ski Timber Ridge opened in December.
1993 - Video called "Triumphs and Tragedies" produced by interested people.
- John Hoehn , former Town Clerk, and Joe Gilbert spoke of the Town's history.
1994 - Town Office computer upgraded.
1995 - First Annual "Big Shiver" Winter festival Big River
-Ambulance Care Ltd. arrives in Big River.
-Received Grants for a Youth Center, Airport improvement, Internet.
1996 - Big River & District Volunteer Fire Department wins Gold Medal at the Fourth World Firefighters Games in Edmonton.
- Youth Center closes
- Debden Credit Union opens in November
1997 - Katimavik arrives in Big River
- Province-wide new assessment based on 1994 fair market values.
- Three new businesses open, Chays, Crystal's Bakery and Johnson Meats.
1998 - Big River Tree Nursery Closes.
1999 - Nor-Sack Builders Supplies Ltd., becomes a Co-op Center.
- Start of addition to Lakewood Lodge as a Hospital.
2000 - Big River Health Center opens - Lodge and Hospital
- New Subdivision set up by Town 17 lots
- Construction begins on new Sawmill and Planer Mill at Bodmin.
2001 - Big River Co-op renovates to set up Grocery Store.
- Provincial Broomball held in Big River.
- Province Wide Reassessment was done based on 1998 fair Market Values.
2002 - Demolition of Elevator by Town.
- Private sale and demolition of Big River Union Hospital on the hill.
- New Hall started adjacent to Big River recreation Center on 1st St. N.
- Big River Pharmacy closed and sold privately.
2003 - Demolition of "Waites Fisheries" by Town.
- Temporary pharmacy opened in the hospital
Overseers and Mayors over the years:
1923 - E.C.Brownfield
1925 - A. Johnson
1926 - John Waite
1927 - A. Johnson
1928 - Joseph Otte
1930 - G. McKnight
1931 - F. Buckley
1935 - Leonard Waite
1938 - Thomas Young
1944 - Fred Buckley
1945 Thomas Young
1948 - Fred Buckley
1949 Thomas Young
1952 - A. Sundby
1957 - Paul St. Arnaud
1959 - Nels Edson
1964 - Jalmer Johnson
1965 - Roland Barre
1967 - Sam Miller
1969 - Roy Milligan
1970 - J. W. Gilbert
1975 - John Hartnett
1978 - Carmen Weir
1983 - John Kuxhaus
1994 - Ronald Hartnett
2000 - Digger Pond
Submitted by Bertha Smith
Original Burner and first "Beehive Burner".
Burner down in February, 1971.
Beehive Burner at Weyerhaeuser in Bodmin, 1995.
A landmark known far and wide as the original burner. It was built in 1909 to accommodate the needs of the very large mill built at the same time. It burned all the scrap material, which resulted from the mill operation. The burner also had a secondary purpose. It had a hot water jacket up to the first flange. Some of the hot water produced was circulated around town, through underground pipes, to the many company-owned houses.
The burner and its smoke could be seen for miles around. It is said that it was used as a landmark for the pilots of Canadian Air force planes training from their base in Cold Lake, Alberta.
The land on which the burner was located was, at one time sold to Mr J.K. Johnson. He ran a sawmill and used the burner to burn its refuse.
Mr J.K. Johnson sold the land to Sask. Timber Board and they used the burner for many years.
There was a certain point on Highway # 55, coming from the south, where you would first see the burner, and you would get the distinct feeling of coming home.
Following the 1969 fire, which destroyed the Sask. Forest Products mill, several small contractors set up sawmills just north of the site of the burned down the mill. These mills used the old burner. A small beehive burner was set up to handle the shavings from the planer. The Beehive burners were much smaller than the old one and as the name implies, shaped like beehives.
In 1971, the Government in power decided that the burner was no longer safe, and should be torn down. Many people were unhappy, and there was a protest led by high school students. However, the decision was carried through. The burner fell after much hard work. It didn't just give in; it gave the wreckers a hard time. Following its demise, the burner was sold for scrap metal. What a sad fate for such a distinguished old friend.
When the Sask. Forest Products mill was built at the site of 1st Street North, (at the site of the present Recreation Complex) a larger Beehive burner was erected.
In 1973, this mill was closed down and Sask. Forest Products built another mill at Bodmin. A third Beehive burner was used there. In 1986, Weyerhaeuser Canada purchased the operation.
In 2001, this last burner was torn down. Now all the useable refuse is hauled by truck to the Weyerhaeuser Pulp Mill in Prince Albert to be used in the making of pulp. The rougher, less useable material, called hog fuel is also hauled to the pulp mill to be burned in the plant to produce electricity.
Thus ended an era of burners in Big River.
Excerpts from Timber Trails with additions
Big River Elevator, 1995.
Big River Elevator going down.
The elevator was built in 1939 and opened for business in August of that year. It was opened by Searle Grain Company of Winnipeg. At that time, it had a forty thousand bushel capacity and was operated by Mr Ken Knetchell. During 1940, Searle Grain sold an average of twelve carloads of flour and feed per year.
Robert Halliday became the operator from 1944 to 1947. Later Walter Videen and Ed Pederson were elevator managers.
In 1952, Malcolm Scriven became the operator. During his first year, more grain was brought to the elevator than was shipped out. This was due to the grain being used for the horses of the freight swings.
Mr Elmer (Bud) Juker became operator in 1966. In August 1966, Searle Grain and Federal Grain amalgamated into the Federal Grain Company Ltd. This company sold to Saskatchewan Wheat Pool in 1972. Bud Juker continued working as the operator for the Sask. Wheat Pool followed by Bernard Cain and Bob Shultz.
In the summer of 1984, the Sask. Wheat Pool informed the Big River grain producers that the elevator would close on July 31, 1985. The handling in recent years had been too low to justify keeping the facility open. Having been lately assured that their elevator would be safe from imminent closure, the farmers were alarmed and felt it was worth putting some concentrated effort into saving the facility. The ten Wheat Pool committee members, Irvin Amundson, Elaine Amundson, Eugene Swanson, Leo Proulx, Norman Sandry, John Thiessen, Fred Billinger, Bruce Reed, Doug Panter, and Henry Rempel invited the Wheat pool to send a representative to a public meeting in Big River to discuss the situation. It was not turning out to be a successful meeting for the farmers when the Pool representative jokingly offered to sell the elevator to the Big River grain producers for a dollar. Not in a joking mood, Eugene Swanson replied: "Sold". The die was cast, and the hard work was about to begin.
With the guidance of Brian Lloyd, the consultant from Saskatchewan Co-operation and Co-operative Development, a co-operative was formed and registered on August 21, 1985. $50.00 shares were sold to anyone interested. There were approximately 80 farmers in the area but local business owners and other citizens of the community also were overwhelmingly supportive and 282 shares were sold to 202 shareholders.
At the same time, various grain companies were approached to find one willing to operate the elevator. The Pioneer Grain Co. of Winnipeg agreed to take a chance. Many agreements had to be drawn up and Shellbrook Lawyers Bradley and Lane were invaluable to the Big River Elevator Co-operative, now referred to as B.R.E.C.
B.R.E.C. owned the building and part of the land and Pioneer Grain Co. operated the facility as though it was their own. A lease agreement was drawn up with CN Rail because a portion of the building was on their land. Pioneer Grain paid the lease fees and the business taxes and the Town of Big River waived the property taxes. Pioneer kept up the running repairs of the elevator and made various improvements such as installing a Big John spout and painting B.R.E.C. on the building.
The result was that for an additional eight years a viable elevator operation was carried on in Big River. In their last year of operation the Sask. Wheat Pool had shipped 120 000 bushels of grain. From September 1985 to February 1986 Pioneer handled 140 000 bushels. Harvey Rempel and Herman Peters capably served as the elevator operators. Besides the original committee mentioned above, other members over the eight years were Peter Lomax, George Hildebrand, Cyril Proulx, Bob Kennedy, Vern Hyllestad, Dick Bergen and Abe Bergen. On August 31, 1993, the elevator was permanently closed.
The Roman Catholic Church
"Our Lady of the Sacred Heart"
The Roman Catholic Church was established in Big River several years before any other denomination.
The exact date is not known, but a small log church was in use in 1909 and could well have been here even before that date. This little building was located close to the area on the hill where Forbes Street is today. Oblate missionaries and other priests from surrounding Catholic communities would visit minister to the Catholics of Big River.
With the arrival of the railroad in 1910, many people of the Catholic faith were arriving to work in the mill and logging camps. A priest by the name of Fr. Gagne from Quebec came with a trainload of parishioners to add to the fast-growing population. The need for a larger parish church was soon felt and willing hands erected a new lumber church close to the location of the log structure, which was torn down when the new building was completed. Gaudoise Tremblay remembered serving Mass in both of these churches when he was a boy.
The Historic Roll Book shows that Fr. Normand Gagne was the first priest to be recorded in 1911. Baptisms, burials and weddings are meticulously recorded in this beautiful old book, giving us a clear and true record of the past. The first baptism recorded was on May 15, 1911, and took place in the little log church. An infant girl was buried May 15th of the same year. The marriage of Horace Chenard and Maria Godin, a well-known pioneer couple of this district took place in the same little church on October 3, 1911.
The new lumber church was ready for use in the spring of 1912 but was only to remain for a short time before it was destroyed by fire. Fr. Gagne left that same year and was replaced by Fr. Clovis Mollier, the second priest to serve this community. Another church was started immediately, this time located high on the hill overlooking the village and Cowan Lake. This is the same location on which the Catholic Church stands today; in fact, it is the same building with several renovations and repair jobs are done over the years.
During the next few years, several priests came in from Victoire temporarily. These included Fr. Laurent Voisin (uncle of John Voisin), Fr. T.E. Teston and Fr. F Ancel.
In 1918, there arrived a missionary priest, Fr. J.A. Lajeunesse, who not only served the village church, but also travelled far and wide throughout the whole area to bring the Word of God to the Indian camps, homesteaders, and men in the scattered bush camps for miles around. From excerpts of letters written to his mother, we find he compares the church building at that time to a large hangar. He says "he has much work to do as the area has more commerce, more money, more noise, but much less happiness and especially less virtue. It is composed of a transient population, who are hostile and contemptuous of Catholics and especially French Canadians. The entire village and mill belong to foreigners."
Fr. D.E. Paquette arrived in 1920, followed by Fr. J.P. Sanne who was directly out of France and later Fr. Richard Gregorie.
Fr. Defisses came to Big River in 1928 and remained for twenty-two years serving his parish through the hard times of the 1930s and the war years. He is fondly remembered by all that knew him for his devotion and faithful service.
Over the years many improvements have been made both inside and outside the building. The wrought iron cross on the top of the steeple was specially made and donated by Mr Henri Bouchard, as were many of the iron crosses that mark the graves of the early settlers. Much of the beautiful woodwork of the interior of the church is the work of Mr Horace Chenard. In the early years, Mrs Maria Chenard played the organ, as did Mr Thomas Thibeault. There were, of course, many others who contributed to the music part of worship. Some members of the early choirs were Mrs V.Griepl, Mrs Sarah Neilson, Alice Dube and Mrs Fortin.
Many faithful and generous women who first joined the Ladies Altar Society on September 14, 1949, has blessed the Catholic community. The first executive was President-Mrs. Alma Michel, Vice-president - Mrs Urich, and Secretary Treasurer-Mrs. Dion. Membership fees were 50 cents per year. The Ladies Altar Society supported the ongoing work of the church and was also responsible for the many happy community events such as picnics, card parties, bake sale, bingos and even rodeos. Many can still remember the corn roasts and the good times shared at Gallant's farm and the lakeside picnics at Michel's place. In the summer these ladies supplied the room and board to the Sisters who came to teach catechism, and they looked after the Christmas party with the help of Santa Claus Lamothe. The Ladies Altar Society was dissolved and the Catholic Women's League was organized on December 6, 1959. Reverend Luc Gaudet was the Director. The first executive was: President-Mrs. J. Schmidt, Vice President-Mrs. L. Harty, Secretary Treasurer-Mrs. M. Kuzyk, Spiritual Convenor-Mrs. J. Joubert, Education Convenor-Mrs. J. Nesbit, and Membership Convenor-Mrs. A. Michel.
Another organization of importance was the Knight's of the Altar. It began on May 9, 1964. Altar servers belonged to this organization for several years.
The first Parish Council was organized in 1991. The executive was: Father C. Charest, Neil Otte, Don Burant, Ernestine Caissie, Pat Michel, Therese Kazmiruk, Clarence Proulx, Theresa Bevan, Jenny Lueken, Lorna Lamothe, Johanne Otte, and Dara Lowenberger.
Pastors of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Church in Big River:
Father N, Gagne - 1910 - 1913
Father C. Mollier - 1914 - 1918
Father A. Lajeunesse - 1918 - 1923
Father Lascendre - 1923 - 1925
Father W. Desfosses - 1954 - 1956
Father C. Tremblay - 1956 - 1957
Father L. Gaudet - 1957 - 1964
Father R. Vaillancourt - 1964 - 1974
Father R. Gaudet - 1974 - 1983
Father M. Leblanc - 1983 - 1990
Father C. Charest - 1990 - 1995
Father C. Giguere - 1995 - 2001
Father J. Nsiah - 2001 - 2003
Father R. Mugisha - 2003 - 2005
As with many faiths in the smaller communities, men of the cloth are few and far between. As the older ministers retire or pass on, finding a replacement is a difficult job. This happens in the Catholic faith as well. The last number of priests that have served the congregation of Big River has been shared with the communities of Debden, Victoire, and Whitefish, with the priest residing in Debden.
Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Church has served the Big River Community continuously for at least ninety-five years.
Information gathered with permission from the book "Kaleidoscope, Many Cultures, One Faith."
Catholic Church - 2004.
As Taken from Timber Trails, 1979
A small quaint church on the hill was the place of worship for the Lutheran congregation during the 1930s and 1940s. The first pastor was Hans L. Wagner. His mother, who lived with him, was a renowned opera singer of her native Germany. They had fled Hitler's rule and had found their way to Canada and eventually to Big River. Many happy hours were spent around their piano sharing their mutual love of music with their friends.
Rev. R. Sedoe was the next minister and he was followed by Pastor Hangerude. The church withdrew in the late 1940s and the little building was sold and moved to a new location.
As Taken from Timber Trails, 1979
The first congregation was formed in 1938 with Mr Harold Huxted as a minister. The following year, Mr Einer Anderson was appointed and served as minister for many years in this position. At present, the role of Presiding Overseer rotates yearly among the elders of the congregation.
During the first years meetings were held in private homes, then as the congregation grew in numbers, the Legion Hall and the Theatre were rented.
The first Kingdom Hall was built in 1950 and then in 1970, a larger building was moved in from Yellow Creek and this serves the congregation today.
Kingdom Hall of Jehovah Witnesses-2004.
The Evangelical Free Church
As Taken from Timber Trails, 1979
The congregation of this church purchased the small church that had been the Lutheran Church in 1949 and moved it from its hillside location to the Evangelical churches location on Second Avenue North.
Mr Harold Foster was a pastor until the summer of 1951. Mr Ed Kempling followed him and served as pastor until the summer of 1953. Mr Alex McComb came the following year and stayed as resident pastor for ten years.
The little church was sold in 1957 and the school from the Greenmantle district was purchased and moved onto the church property.
For the two years following the time Mr McComb moved away, Mr Dave Anderson came and held services each week. Mr Anderson lived in Mont Nebo, however, and was not a resident here. Mr Isaac Martins was pastor the following year, then Mr Art Baum, again from Mont Nebo, motored up to Big River and held Sunday and mid-week services here. Mr John Penner and family were here from 1969 to 1977. He was also the pastor at Mont Nebo at this time.
From 1977 until 1978, there was no pastor and then in 1978, Andrew Lawson resumed pastoral duties until 1980 at which time Henry Jaegers took over. He was here until 1985 when Ivan Friesen became a pastor in Big River. Ivan left in 1994 and it wasn't until 1995 that Pete Wright resumed pastoral duties. Pete Wright left in 1998. Ken Easterbrook, the pastor at present resumed duties in July of 1999.
Members of the congregation formed a singing group and spent many hours bringing musical pleasure to those confined to the hospital. A Bible Camp on the shores of Delaronde Lake is operated during the summer months for various groups of young people and adults.
The Evangelical Church obtained a new building, which is located on Sixth Avenue. This building was moved from Meadow Lake and could accommodate more people. As the congregation grew, a new addition was added and completed around 1992. In 1999, the church completed renovations of the church that would provide seating for approximately 225 people.
Evangelical Free Church, 204.
As Taken from Timber Trails, 1979
The lumber company built a Protestant church for the people in 1910 and this became known as the Union Church. Many denominations were represented and the pulpit supply came from various clergy coming into the community. Rev. Macklin, an Anglican minister served this church from 1917 to 1919 and Rev. J.C. Cornell held services in the 1920s. Rev. Cornell also farmed in the Eldred district.
When the lumber company moved out of Big River in 1922, it gave the church building to the congregation but the land was sold, along with all the other land the company owned, to the Big River Development Company. This was a group of five local men who bought the entire community from the lumber company. The five men were Peter Figeland, Anton Johnson, Ernest Brownfield, W. W. Turple, and John Waite.
In 1925, the Development Company decided to donate the title of the land to the Union Church and Mr Anton Johnson asked Mr J.S. Forbes to arrange to have trustees appointed to whom the title of the land could be transferred. At this same time, the United Church of Canada was beginning to form and at a meeting of the congregation, Mr Mahoney moved that a vote be taken as to whether it was the wish of those present to continue under the care of the United Church of Canada. The vote was unanimous. At the same meeting, three trustees were appointed for an indefinite term of office, Mr J.S. Forbes, Mr Oliver and Mr E.C. Brownfield. These officials could now receive title to the land, so the wheels were in motion for the Union Church to become the United Church of Canada and owner of the land and church building.
The Union Church built in 1910.
At this point, the Anglican people, having decided to maintain their church, voiced their opinion that they should have had some consideration in the transaction of the donated land and building. Agreement to this claim seemed general and a meeting was called August 26, 1926, at the home of Mr E.J. Oliver.
Attending the meeting were the Trustees, the Board of Managers of the United Church, the Directors of the Development Company, Mr Macdonell of Prince Albert, Dr Murray of Saskatoon and John Waite who represented the Anglican Vestry of Big River. Mr Macdonell explained the object of the meeting was to arrive at an amicable and satisfactory agreement concerning the lot on which the church stood. It was readily agreed that the Anglicans had some claim, which should be recognized in all fairness. The question of what value to be set on the claim was arrived at by Dr Murray states, "Would one hundred dollars be satisfactory?" Mr Waite agreed this would be a very generous offer and he had no hesitation in saying that the Anglican people would accept it. The Trustees also agreed on this sum. Several days later, Mr Forbes met with the Vestry of the Anglican Church in Big River, making them the offer of one hundred dollars in consideration of all claim to the church building and Lot 4, Block 7, Village of Big River. This offer was accepted and the transfer of the title was made to the United Church of Canada.
The first payment of the hundred dollars was made as a $25 donation from Dr Murray, President of the University of Saskatchewan. The seventy-five dollar balance was advanced by the Prince Albert Presbytery and was refunded by the local congregation at twenty-five dollars per year.
So it was that the Union Church of the lumber company days was dissolved and from it emerged two congregations, the newly formed United Church of Canada and the Anglican Church of Canada.
Submitted by Grant Wood
Excerpts taken from Timber Trails 1979.
The United Church in Big River emerged from a series of events beginning in 1910. The Lumber Company in town built a small Protestant church on the east side of Third Avenue, about a block south of Main Street. The white wooden building was the picture of almost any small town church of the time complete with street-side steeple and white picket fence. It was known as the Union Church and served people from many denominations.
In 1922, the Lumber Company moved out of Big River and donated the church building to the Union Church congregation, selling the land to the Big River Development Company. Three years later, the Development Company donated the land back to the congregation. In 1926, this congregation divided. Some of the people joined the newly formed United Church of Canada, and some joined the Anglican Church of Canada. The building was retained by the new United Church congregation.
This building served its congregation well, but by the 1960's it was clear that a new church building was needed. In 1967, a building committee was struck consisting of Warren Wilson, Jim Hartnett, Mary Michel, Dr Eaton, Lawrence Potts, Norman McNabb, Barb Bradley, Norrie Pederson, Neil Wettergreen, Grace Colby and Bill Gerow. This committee was in charge of overseeing construction and raising the local portion of the needed funds. The United Church of Canada's Board of Home Missions provided a grant for part of the construction costs.
The last service in the old church on Third Avenue was on Thanksgiving Sunday, October 6th, 1968. The new cement block church building on Fourth Avenue, just north of First Street, was officially opened on November 10, 1968. This building is still used today.
United Church, 2004.
Many have served in the United Church ministry in Big River. From the 1920s to the early 1950s, there was usually a student minister who came during the summer months. These young men and a couple of young women often held a worship service in town on Sunday mornings and then went off on foot, bicycle, horseback and later by car, to one or more rural points in the afternoon and evenings. Among these points over the years were North and South Stoney, Black Duck, Bodmin, Dumble, Eldred, Erinferry, Rabbit Bluff, Rapid Bend, and Wrixon. The student ministers were housed in a tiny room added at the back of the little white church, a room that even accommodated the 1940 summer minister and his brand new wife!
Through most of these years, cash was scarce. In 1933, for example, a special fund was created to raise money for the student minister's meals and supplies. Church members were encouraged to contribute their pennies to the Cent-a-Meal fund. The summer season saw $2.30 raised, with a further $2.50 contributed over the winter. Some of this fund paid for meals at the hotel, while the rest purchased mantles for the lamp, a frying pan, gas, and Oxydol.
The first student minister to arrive in Big River under the United Church of Canada was known locally as Jim Waters. He is now Rev. Moir A.J. Waters and lives in Ontario. Mr Waters spent two summers on this Field and remembers the many trips he and "Baldy", his horse, made to and from Eldred. He mentions his good friend, Gordon Phillips, who was the Anglican student minister at that time. Rev. Waters has written two books and one of his hymns is included in the new hymnal.
Rev. Harold Snell came in 1928 and rode many miles on "Tom", the bronco that was borrowed from the Craddocks for the summer. Starting early in the morning he would ride to Eldred, have dinner with Sam Reed, the storekeeper, and then after service ride back to Big River in time for evening worship.
Rev. James Terry came in 1929 and it is also noted that a Canadian Girls In Training (CGIT) group was formed this same year.
Back Row: Mary McGinnis, Nioma McNabb, Laura Gould, Jean Belfry. Second Row: unknown, unknown, Erica Griefenberger, Lorna Wopenford, Fay McCully. Front Row: Violet Huxted, Ruth Johnson, unknown, unknown.
In 1930, Rev. Donald J. Scoates was the first lucky (?) student to have the use of a car. It was part Ford, part Gray and the rest was homemade!
Rev. H.E. Parsons came in 1931. The custom of supplying one meal ticket per day applied, however, it appears Mr Parson misunderstood this arrangement and with the healthy appetite of any young chap, ate two meals a day and used up his meal tickets in short order. A special meeting was called to debate what action should be taken. This situation has a bit of humour today, but it makes one think of how serious business eating was in 1931.
Rev. George Struthers recalls serving Eldred and Dumble. The schoolhouse was the location of all gatherings in both places and there the faithful gathered on Sunday whenever the trails were at all passable.
In 1933, Rev. George J. Minielly conducted the dedication ceremony of the Big River Cemetery.
Rev. Dr John B. Corston was here the summer of 1934 and established contact with Black Duck Lake District as well as Delaronde areas. A routine was set up where Mr Corston would walk to Stoney on Friday, hold services at the homes of Milligans or the Dunbars, and then walk back to town. The following week, he would walk north and visit families along the way. Grimmer's, Eisman's, and Ranges were some of these families. An interesting note in the minute book that year states: "All collections large or small to be handed to the student, this to cover all expenses including washing." It is also noted; the total collection for the summer was under eighty dollars.
The following year, Rev. Herbert Blezard walked the many miles in service in the Field.
Rev. Einar Egillson came in 1936 and tells of the Young People's Group he formed with the help of John Hackett. His autograph book includes the names of John Hackett, James Forbes, Fred Buckley, Joe Oldham, Dorothy MacAskill and Jean Hackett.
In 1937, Rev. R.H.N. Davidson consecrated a knoll on Halls Bay, Delaronde Lake as a cemetery, which overlooks the lake. Doris Beeds, Grace Beeds and Smokey Joe are buried at this location.
Rev. S. Hiltz came in 1938 when times were so hard and the people had to struggle for their existence. He remembers the kindness of one lady who shared her meal of cheese, bread and tea with him and of how good it tasted. Reverend Morgan E. Rowland arrived in 1939 and tells of the clay roads over which he rode his bicycle, rain or shine. Homesteaders were coming into the district to try to escape the drought of the south. Most were lonely, hard-pressed, but sincere, hard-working folks. Huge gardens were grown to help feed the families. He remembers the beautiful garden Mrs John Milligan grew that year. Reverend R.J. Williams and his wife spent the summer of 1940 in Big River, the first married couple to share the work of the Charge. They write that names are difficult to remember, but there is no trouble in remembering the warmth and kindness of the faithful group of wonderful people they spent the summer with. These brief excerpts are from letters received from the student ministers serving the church here in the early days. All are now ordained ministers in churches across Canada.
From this same period, one of the student ministers, George Minielly, tells the story of his arrival in Big River. "Upon my arrival, I was given the room at the back of the church for my living quarters. It was furnished with a cot, a wood stove, a table and a cupboard. A cattle pony was purchased for my transportation. I was informed that $10.00 would be given to me each month to pay for my board. Six dollars of that money would purchase a twenty-one meal ticket at the Hotel and the other four dollars should take care of the rest of my meals, as I would be visiting, and they thought I would be having meals with the families."
He likely needed to eat away much of the time because he goes on to tell about his inexperienced cooking. "I bought some little white beans and had a good fire to prepare my lunch. I put some beans in a saucepan with hot water and salt and thought that when I got home that afternoon I would have a nice dish of beans for my supper. To my dismay, I found the little white beans in the bottom of the pan and the water all boiled away. I hadn't realized that I should have soaked them first. That night I had some radishes and lettuce from my garden for supper."
With student ministers only available through the summers, a visiting minister from Shellbrook or some other more distant town would arrange to offer very infrequent communion services and Bible Studies, along with an annual service for baptisms. In 1947, for example, 21 baptisms were done in a single service that year at which an ordained minister would attend for that purpose. Some of the clergy to serve during the winter months after the students were gone were Rev. Macdonell, Rev. Cornell and Mr Potter. This arrangement continued until 1953, when Ray Heffelfinger, the first fulltime ordained minister arrived. Full-time ministers have been in place ever since.
Others who served First United Church in ministry since 1941 are: Rev. Keith Wollard, Rev. R.H. Dobson, Rev. W. Pethwick, Miss Agnus Oliver, Miss Anna Cline, W.A. Lawrence, Rev. T. Earle Millson, Rev. A. Avery, Rev. C.E. McCara, Rev. Donald Thierry, Rev. Ernest Breen, Rev. R.B. Hefflefinger, Dave Bould (1956-1964), Les McSpadden (1964-1967), Fraser Williams (1967 - 1970), Gary Clark (1970-1973), Ron Clark (1973 - 1976), Jamie Scott (1976-1980), Leslie Smith (1980), Dave Bould briefly again in 1981, Susan Sorenson (1981-1983), John van Omme (1983 - 1988), Wilfred Dieter (1988-1990), Janske Battjes (1990-1993), Valerie Connell (1993-1996), Debbie Cherniwchan (1996-2000), and Brian Maitland (2000-present).
From the 1930s and 1940s with their student ministers, right through to the present day, ministers who have lived and served in Big River have also offered services and ministry in other communities. In addition to the local rural communities of the district already mentioned, Big River ministers have at times been connected with Shell Lake, Debden, and even LaRonge!
From the early 1970s until the present, Big River and Canwood United Churches have shared the services of one full-time minister as the Big River-Canwood Pastoral Charge.
First United Church has enjoyed the dedication and efforts of many wonderful board and committee members over its near-century existence. Certainly, they cannot all be named here. A representative board from the mid-1970s included Paul Chalifour, Jean Becker, Rosella Teer, Mary Michel, Loretta Osinchuk, Sid Cookman, Charlie Scrimshaw, Bit Gerow, Betty Braidek, and Grace Colby.
Over the next couple of decades, others serving on the Board or committees include, but are not limited to, Arlene and Ron Gilbert, Grace Cromartie, Lois Cooper, Sue Amundrud, Dorothy McTaggart, Janice and Grant Wood, Lorraine Selkirk, Barb Bradley, Pat and Lloyd Ormiston, Wanda Hartnett, Wendy and Ron Hartnett, Audrey Donald, Susan Minovitch, Colleen and Glenn Honig, Ken Forbes, Laura Wilson, Mary and Bill Potts, Faye Becker, Lionel Brideson, Tanya Bradley, Cathy Wood, Dorothy and John Kuxhaus, Julie Price, Michelle Bechtel, Carolyn Moule, Gail Froyland, Brian Smith, and Linda and Steve Raymond.
Over the years the Church has focused on worship and pastoral care. Sunday School and Choir have been a part of services. A typical Sunday service in the 1970s or 1980s would have an enthusiastic choir led by Laura Wilson at the organ. The sanctuary became much quieter after the Sunday school group went downstairs! After the service, everyone joined in conversation and fellowship over a cup of coffee or tea.
Many other activities have enhanced this focus. CGIT (Canadian Girls in Training) was an active group in the 1940s and '50s. In the 1960s and 70's the church was the host of Teen Club, a youth outreach activity group.
The Ladies Aid dates its beginning back to the early days of the Union Church. The colourful and varied activities of this energetic group of women can be followed through the years of church life. Each set of minute's records a special vote of thanks to being given to the ladies for their faithful service and support. Always willing to help, they taught Sunday school, visited, cleaned, put on concerts and festivals, which added to the fellowship of all. Often small in number, their invincible spirit shines through from year to year.
Some of the names listed on the Ladies Aid Roll Call include: Mrs. Oliver, Mrs. MacAskill, Mrs. Kowalyk, Mrs. Brownfield, Mrs. Gould, Mrs. J.K. Johnson, Fanny Johnson, Mrs. Thomas Maxwell, Mrs. Pearl McNabb (who will be remembered by her help at suppers and bake sales, just no one else had the special knack of making things taste so good), Mrs. Jane McInnis, who was handy with needlecrafts and often supplied most of the bazaar items herself, Mrs. Margaret Crashley, Mrs. Allan Martin and Eileen Dunn and Mrs. Carrie Milligan. Of course, there were others but these are a few who helped to keep things going with their willing hands.
In later years, the Ladies Aid became known as the UCW (United Church Women).
The UCW has served the church in many capacities. This group has run a thrift shop program. It began in the basement of the manse in the 1960s and is still running in the church today. Over the years the UCW has sponsored many events that have raised much of the church's budgets. Many remember and look forward to the annual fall supper, church auctions, bake sales and bazaars.
Mary Michel, Rosella Teer, Grace Colby, Barb Bradley.
These ladies were recognized for over 60 years of service.
The United Church has been open for worship from the earliest days of Big River to the present. It has offered spiritual services presiding at funerals, baptisms and weddings of many area residents. The building itself has functioned as a hall and has been utilized by many different groups reaching out to the community. Daycare, piano lessons, GED preparations, concerts, dance classes, drama community meetings and congregational suppers have all filled the building with life. The church building has also been shared with inter-denominational groups. At present, the Abundant Life Congregation shares the building for their ministry and worship.
The benediction "When you walk from here, walk with justice, walk with mercy, and with God's tender care," embodies the Church's mandate to the community over the decades.
As taken from Timber Trails 1979.
The first services of the Church of Christ held in Big River in 1947 were conducted by Mr Ed. Benoit at the home of Mr and Mrs Roland Burt. Over the next two years, enough interest was shown to warrant hiring a full-time minister to lead the congregation. Mr Ralph Whitrow and his wife, Leeta, came in 1949 and shortly after their arrival the old Legion Hall was purchased and renovated into a church with the upstairs serving as living quarters for the Whitrows.
Any youngster growing up in Big River in these years will remember the Young People's Group led by Mrs Olive Burt and Leeta Whitrow. Meetings were held every Tuesday after school and they were the most popular event on the calendar for the children. Few missed attending and all gained something worthwhile from the patient and kindly guidance of the leaders.
After the Whitrows moved from this district in 1960, Mrs Burt carried on this programme for many years and gained the love and respect of all who knew her for her Christian devotion and service to others. She was a friend to everyone.
The Church of Christ closed several years ago. The old building needed too much repair to keep it going.
As taken from Timber Trails 1979.
A Shantyman is a travelling minister, from a particular religious sect, who lives a life of self-denial as he goes about the country sharing his beliefs with his fellow man.
One exceptional man who lived this type of life was Mr Hubert Smith (now deceased). He and his wife came to the Big River district in the mid-twenties and made their home at Stoney Lake. He spent little time at home, however, as his mission was to minister to people in out-of-the-way places, such as logging camps and fishing camps. He made many visits to northern settlements throughout the years, particularly the Green Lake, Dore Lake and Smoothstone areas. His only means of travel was on foot. He would start out confidently on an eighty-five-mile trip carrying the necessary items he would need for the journey. As he often had to spend the night outdoors; his bedroll was his main requirement together with some food, his bible and a slide projector. In the winter he used a small hand sleigh to transport his belongings.
After he arrived at his destination, he would persuade several people to join him in an informal discussion of the Bible. He would show slides to emphasize a particular message he wanted to convey.
He was a welcome visitor to many people regardless of their religious affiliations. He was admired for his devotion to a cause he believed in.
After his death, his wife moved away but always came back to spend part of the summer at the lake. The home and grounds were converted into a memorial Bible Camp in memory of Mr Smith.
It remained as such until recently when the property changed hands. It is now called Big River Bible Camp. Nevertheless, this has not altered the fact that Mr Smith lives on in the memory of those who knew him.
Big River Anglican Church
(Formerly - Church of England).
The first Protestant church in Big River was a multi-denominational one built in 1910 by the Big River Lumber Company. It was called appropriately The Union Church. It was a church in which Rev. Macklin, an Anglican minister, served from 1917 to 1919. In the 1920s, Rev. J.C. Cornell held services but also farmed in the Eldred district.
In 1922, when the Big River Lumber Company moved out of Big River, it gave the church building to the congregation, but the land was sold to the Big River Development Company, which was comprised of Peter Figeland, Anton Johnson, Ernest Brownfield, W.W. Turple and John Waite.
In 1925, the Development Company decided to donate the land to the Union Church. However, the United and Anglican Churches decided to go their separate ways, so in 1926 the Anglican Church received $100 as their share. Under the leadership of John Waite, Martin B. Olson and Harry Gilbert, Lot 6, Block 3 along with an existing building was purchased and St. Mary's, Big River's first Anglican Church, was started.
The building provided a church in the front and living quarters for the clergy in the back.
The first minister was Rev. Gordon Philips. He was later married to Bluebell Stewart, a teacher at Bodmin. Horse and buggy or horse and toboggan made many of Rev. Philip's visits to homesteads and bush camps.
Rev. Palmer took over in 1928 and Rev. R.E. Smith and his wife from 1929 to 1932. Mrs Smith was active with the Youth groups and Girl Guides for many years. Rev. Smith started the ministry in Ladder Valley and served as a minister there as well as in Big River. As there was yet no church there the first Anglican services in Ladder Valley were held in the home of Harry Gilbert. Archdeacon Payton also did the service anytime he was up to Big River for communion. The Sunday School by Post van often camped in the Gilbert's backyard as well, while the occupants went out on foot to visit the other farms.
Rev. Harold Parrott came in 1932. His ministry was expanded to also include Sleepy Hollow and Rapid Bend. Travel at that time was mainly by horse and buggy or in the winter by horse and sleigh so getting to each of the centres was quite a feat.
Rev. Robert Jones also spent some time ministering here before returning to his home in England.
Rev. Norman Calland was a minister in Big River from 1934 to 1936. It was during his ministry that the plans for a new church came to be.
Mrs Mary Covert of England had donated money to the Anglican Diocese to build some churches in rural Saskatchewan. Both Big River and Ladder Valley were chosen to receive the new churches. St. Martins was built in Big River on Lot 5, Block 4 in 1937 and St. Leonard's was built on Ladder Valley at the same time. The names chosen were in honour of the good ladies two sons, Martin and Leonard, who had been killed in World War I.
When St. Martins was ready, St. Mary's was made into a Mission Hall. It was a very busy place as something was going on there most evenings such as prayer meetings, study groups, and many social events. The Van ladies made their home there every summer and if they were not out doing the work in the Mission field you were quite welcome to stay and have tea and a chat. These ladies travelled many weary miles to take the Gospel message to the out of the way homesteaders of the district. The Van Ladies were Sunday School by Post van Ladies. They held classes in the summer and the rest of the year the children would receive their lessons by mail. The Vanners signed on for 18 months, two summers and a winter. In the summer they spent much time in their van but in the winter they were sent to places that had living quarters available. Big River had Vanners for many winters. They would do the services in the winter and most of them ran the church very well. Sometimes we would have banners in the summer and student ministers in the winter.
Len Waite bought the Mission House in the fall of 1958 with the understanding the church could use it until the new house was ready.
The church rectory was built in 1959 with volunteer labour. Bill McKnight drew up the plans. They were approved by the Synod and the building started in June of that year. Bill also took four weeks holidays to supervise and help build. Art Anderson, Art Hodgson, Andy Neufeld and Bill were the main crew who worked the whole time. Other volunteers helped out Saturdays and evenings whenever they could. The wiring and heating were paid for and an oil furnace was installed.
The rectory was started in June and by November vanners were moved in. Miss Jean Nicholson and Miss Garrick were here for a few winters. Miss McKinnon and Miss Yeoman were here a few times. Other vanners were: Miss E. Burton, Miss Greenfield, Joan Heaver, Miss Davies, Miss Cambridge and Gillian Knight. The basement was finished the next year and was used for Sunday school and meetings.
During the Second World War and after, when it was hard to get clergy, several Deaconesses served in Big River. Some of them were: Miss Ethel McIntyre, Ruth Yeoman, Miss Craft, Miss Budd, Miss Newton, Miss Paris, Joan Yates, Miss Neile, Doris McKnight and Constance Colpus.
Over the years clergy came and went, some resided in the rectory in Big River, others travelled from Prince Albert. Some of them were: Rev. Horace Ashmore, Capt. Hague, Rev. WR Craven, Archdeacon WF Payton, Capt. Bartrum, Canon Parker, Fr. Toon, Archdeacon Rowe, Rev. Matthews, Rev. and Mrs Wilker, Rev. George Honor, Padre Geoff Hopper and Canon Andrew Hallidie-Smith. At times no clergy was available. At those times we either did our own services or lay readers from Prince Albert would come out.
Anglican Church, 2004.
Excerpts from Timber Trails with additions.
Once the mill was in operation and offering steady employment, the need for a school became apparent. The request was presented to the Big River Lumber Company and the manager, Mr Oscar Sharpe, who wrote Hon. J.A. Calder, Minister of Education, asking that he consider building a school here, which would serve at least sixty to seventy-five families.
Funds were not available at that time, but the suggestion was made that a Public School District is formed, and Thomas Maxwell filed a formal petition to this effect on February 14, 1911.
The Big River School District No. 32 was erected on May 23, 1911. The district has such a low number as a result of the formation of two provinces, Alberta and Saskatchewan. Before the provinces were formed, northern Alberta and Saskatchewan were called the Northwest Territories. Alberta was formed first; therefore it received all the lower numbers for its school districts. However, No. 32 was not used, and when the province of Saskatchewan was formed, it was assigned to the Big River District.
The Big River Lumber Company built and operated the first school. (This was on the same land that the old Junior High School stood.) It was the lumber company that called for the first election of school trustees - thus forming the first School Board in Big River.
When the new school building was ready for use in the fall of 1911, the Board hired Miss Katherine Mathews to teach the forty-student enrollment. There was very little equipment at this time, no books, few seats, and the teacher was required to act as a janitor as well.
The question of teachers salary, as well as the upkeep of the school, became the lumber mill's responsibility, therefore, a fixed charge of forty-five cents per month was levied on every household to help pay expenses.
Around this time the Catholic families began requesting a separate school for their children. Father Gagne contacted the Dept. of Education in this regard and although the request was denied, he succeeded in adding Mr Joseph V. Morneau to the teaching staff for the year 1914. Mr Morneau was a teacher from Quebec and was able to give some special instruction to the Catholic students. The other two teachers on staff at that time were Mr Garry and Mr Elizor Planke. The same year another trustee election took place. Those taking offices were H.E. Thompson, Thomas Thibeault and Doctor George Fenton.
Father Mollier again requested that the Department of Education build a Catholic School, pointing out the number of French families living in the district. The request was again denied as the mill refused to support two schools. The Department of Education also pointed out that the Lumber Company owned all surveyed land and a district of seven hundred and fifty acres could not support two schools.
The three-room public school continued in much the same manner for several years.
The school continued to operate under the financial assistance of the lumber company until after the big fire when the company began to talk of closing down and moving out.
In 1921, the company agreed to sell all their land and buildings to the Big River Development Company. This group was to take over in January 1922. However, as the company was leaving during the summer of 1921, this left the school completely on its own without funds for salaries or maintenance expenses. The School Board was at a loss to know what action to take. One of the group from the Development Company, Mr W.W. Turple, wrote to the Minister of Education explaining that school support from the Company had been withdrawn and asked for financial help so that the school might continue to function. The Government was unwilling and unable to give aid at this time because there was not sufficient assessment or surveyed land to warrant this expense.
Several months of great stress followed the lumber company departure. Teachers were not paid for months nor were the janitor; costs had to be kept to a bare minimum. Local storekeepers became concerned over the rising bills for the school accumulating on their credit lists. They sent a letter to the Department of Education - "We, who are interested in the school, have extended all the credit that we possibly can. Unless we get immediate relief, we will have to turn the children out on the street and close the school doors."
The Board called special meetings to try to avert such actions and all agreed that the solution was to extend the boundaries of the school district to become large enough to be able to make a loan. This was done and the district included seventeen sections. However, with expenses of back wages and fuel bills to be met, along with current expenses, it was plain to see that this arrangement was only temporary and more assessment had to be the answer. It was necessary to incorporate as a village to establish more assessment and steps were immediately taken to begin this move. Time after time, the board was reminded that there was no way of financing the school except by funds obtained locally and the regular Government grants. Under the circumstances, the teaching staff was reduced to a minimum and every effort was made to operate the school with the utmost economy. The school was kept open during this time only because of the belief that with the village incorporated and the assessment and taxation placed on a better basis, the school could be financed with less difficulty. On August 22, 1923, the school was officially declared to be in the village of Big River School District No. 32.
In 1924, Mr Fred Henwood established a night school and held classes for the rate of one dollar per session. With more borrowing power and a strict budget, the school managed to survive but was destroyed by fire in 1928. All records, registers, etc., were lost in the fire and it was necessary to find temporary room facilities until a new school building could be provided. Construction was begun immediately and completed by the following year.
By 1931, there were four teachers in what was a two-roomed school. The third classroom was a basement room usually presided over by the Principal, Mr W.R. Gould. This room housed the senior grades. Mrs Margaret Bouchard was the teacher in the primary room. Eventually, her room became so crowded that the playroom in the basement was converted into a classroom, where Miss Meta Brownfield taught the beginners. Frank Michie had the other upstairs room. All were large rooms but usually overcrowded. Mrs Bouchard had approximately seventy students at some times. Mr Michie recalls one inspector walking into his room of sixty-five smiling faces and inquiring if it was a school or a theatre. Besides the arduous task of preparing and presenting lessons, marking and grading, the teachers carried on many other activities. Track and Field were held each year and in the winter, they built and maintained a school skating rink, flooded with the water pumped from the school well with the help of a balky gas engine. At recess time, every student would be out on the rink playing hockey with whatever he or she had in the way of a hockey stick. At Christmas time, the teachers would put on a concert. Mrs Ivery Newton was a great help with the music and dances. The stage was built in Mr Michie's room out of trestles, beams and platforms lugged out of the basement. After the concert, a public dance was held in Mrs Bouchard's room.
School equipment and supplies were difficult to obtain. Most of the books, sports equipment, etc. was provided from money raised by the teachers and students. Mr Michie tells of squatting in front of the old log burning furnace in the basement, melting down old radio batteries into weights to teach the laws of the lever to grade eight.
During the "Dirty Thirties" there was often no money with which to pay taxes; consequently, the School Board had nothing with which to pay the teachers. Many settlers paid their tax by bringing in cordwood at one dollar and seventy-five cents a cord for use at the school. Sometimes, in the spring, the schoolyard was half full of cordwood brought in to pay taxes.
Frank Michie recalls that when his board bill of twenty-six dollars per month (twenty- five for board and room and one dollar for electricity) would get too far behind, he would ask the school secretary for a paycheque - which would be duly issued. It was worthless of course because the school board had no money. However, the cheque was given to the landlady instead of board; she would take it to the grocer, who would accept it on her grocery bill and in turn give it to the Village for taxes. They, in turn, would turn it over to the School Board as part of their allotment toward school taxes. So each cheque would go the rounds paying bills as it went but never really worth anything. It was a highly irregular scheme, but quite successful in overcoming a shortage of cash.
During this time, both the school and the church supplied a social need for the people, young and old alike. Entertainment had to be original, as there were no funds to warrant anything costly. These were the years when children delighted in playing such games as "Run Sheep Run", "Red Light", "Tin Can", and "Pie". Skipping, jacks and softball were other sources of recreation. In the evening, the adults enjoyed the social events of hard time dances, festivals, or concerts - all prepared and held at the school. The school was a focal point for the whole community and affected each person in an individual way.
Much credit must go to the three teachers who were here during these years and who put so much of themselves into the task of providing both education and family recreation. Their performance stands out clearly as a beacon during those troubled years. Mr William Gould gave devoted service both to the school and the community, as did Mrs Margaret Bouchard and Frank Michie.
Elementary School 1952.
Temporary schoolrooms were located in the United Church, Legion Hall, and the Post Office, as well as several other locations, to accommodate the sudden rise in school population due to centralization. Rural schools in all of the surrounding districts were being phased out and school buses were appearing. Bus routes were established and the country students began a new era. With the sudden increase of students in the town school, more space became a concern and plans were made to build more classrooms. In 1955, the first four-room school was built on Public Reserve land west of the present R.C.M.P. barracks. This building provided four rooms on the upper level and two basement rooms intended for a play area, but these rooms were used for classrooms as well, for the next few years. The second school was built in 1956 and was the new High School at that time. Emil Zinovich was the contractor for this building. Later, both these schools were used for Intermediate grades.
Intermediate School 1970.
A new elementary school with a gym needed in Big River. Tommy Michel worked hard to make this possible. Construction began in the spring of 1980. The architectural designers were Douglas/Pichler Consulting Corporation. The contractors were, Graham Construction Limited. The new school was added onto the Senior Intermediate School with the existing school receiving numerous renovations.
The Junior Intermediate School closed on June 1980. The students were divided between the Senior Intermediate School and the Primary School. The Junior Intermediate School was demolished to make room for the large addition. The Senior Intermediate School, the base from which the new school was built, learned a lot about construction and carpentry that year. The Primary School on the hill was closed on June 30, 1981. At this time there were approximately 125 students and six teachers on staff.
T.D. Michel School was opened on August 30, 1981. It was named in honour of Thomas Dollard Michel who was Unit Board Trustee at the time. The new school had eleven classrooms, one special education classroom, a library gym, and a large staffroom. There were 13 teachers and 2 educational assistants. There were 227 students enrolled. With a large staff, more projects were undertaken. These included Fun Fair, Christmas Concerts, Spirit days, Art Contests, Literary Contests, Hot Dog Sales, Rodeo floats and class trips. As well there are Track and Field Days and fun planned for those special days of Valentine's Halloween, Easter and end of the year activities. Over the years some of these activities are continuing. The enrollment for T.D. Michel School in 2004 is 161 students with 12 teachers, 12 support staff and three custodians.
T.D. Michel School.
The Big River High School, where it now stands in the community, was started under construction in August of 1965 with completion in May of 1966. This brought a total of four schools in Big River-Primary School (Grades 1-4), Junior and Senior Intermediate (Grades 4-8), and the High School (Grades 9-12).
The first day of classes at the new high school was May 2nd, 1966. It had six classrooms, a chemistry laboratory, a commercial room, a library room, a staff room, and a principal's office. The new school would make going to school in Big River more interesting, comfortable and efficient.
A growing population in and around the community of Big River lead to the need for expansion and re-organisation once again of the school buildings. June 9, 1972, marked the official opening of a new addition to the Big River High School. The addition, completed in December of 1971, included a gymnasium, two large open area classrooms, an industrial arts room, and a home economics room. Classrooms were reorganised and grades 8-12 were at the high school.
The need for a new elementary school with a gymnasium was evident in Big River. The Jr. Intermediate School was closed and demolished in 1980. Classrooms were divided amongst the Sr. Intermediate School and the Primary School. Renovations and an addition were under construction at the Sr. Intermediate to make way for the new T.D. Michel Elementary School, which officially opened on August 30, 1981. This new school housed grades K- 6 and the High School housed Grades 712. The Primary School was closed and demolished in 1981.
These buildings proved sufficient except for partitioning off the open area classrooms in the High School, until a tragic fire on March 8, 1988, destroyed much of the High School.
Big River High School.
Discussions were quickly held as to what to do with the remaining school term. It was decided to share the T.D. Michel School with the elementary students attending school in the morning and the high school students attending school in the afternoon. This carried on for March, April and part of May until portable classrooms were built to accommodate the students for the rest of the school term, while a new school was being built. The official opening of the new Big River High School was March 19, 1990.
All seemed well, then in the 1995-1996 school term, it was once again deemed necessary to share facilities, this time because of the air quality problems at the T.D Michel School. Once again, students of the elementary school and the high school shared the High School until it was once again safe to open the Elementary School.
Our "Maroon and Gold Trojans" have prevailed through the trials of the school years to become the "Rebels" of the Big River Community High School.
Activities at the high school were very much prevalent. The Student Representative Council (SRC) was and still is a strong voice for the students of the Big River High School.
As well, each year, a committee of students and teacher advisors puts together " The Torch", a commemorative yearbook depicting the accomplishments and activities of students and staff for the year.
On several occasions, students of the High School have put together newspapers-the "Gleaner" and more recently the "Rebel Rave" which is much like a small-town newspaper but centres on the activities of the Big River High School.
Over the years, the students of the Big River High School participated in magazine drives, chocolate bar drives, ticket raffles, toy bingos and other fundraisers to raise funds for extracurricular activities and purchasing materials to make Big River Community High School a proud place to be.
There have been many clubs throughout the years of the Big River High School, such as music clubs, art clubs, library clubs, TNT (teens needing teens), homework clubs and community involvement programs like the Legion Remembrance Day Contest that has brought recognition to students at the zone, district, and provincial levels. Rebecca McLean received an honourable mention at the dominion (national) level for her black and white poster.
Sports have always been an important part of the high school curriculum. As one looks throughout the yearbooks of the past, one can see the accomplishments of our high school teams and individuals winning unit pennants and advancing at provincial levels in football, soccer, softball, volleyball, basketball, badminton, table tennis, curling, and track and field. In 1978-1979 the Big River High School boys volleyball represented Saskatchewan at the Can America Juvenile Championships in Portland, Oregon. The team, coached by Ritch Braun, Ron Johnson, and Paula Chenard (statistician), consisted of Lynn Scrimshaw, Cameron Lueken, Ken Lueken, Norman Chenard, Gary Emde, Terry Chalifour, David Jezowski, and Del Lomsnes. Although some sports have fallen by the wayside or "changed hats", the Big River High School has introduced new challenges to be met by the students. House League competitions sparked enthusiasm and participation among the students as they competed for the house league awards. Outdoor Education presented many challenges of living outdoors with only the necessities to which the students capably responded to and overcame all obstacles (Including being lost overnight all alone).
Drama was another important part of the Big River High School. It was amazing to watch the students become someone else as they perfected their parts in plays to the delight of the audience. Many "Best Actor," Best Actress," and "Best Play" awards came back to hang proudly on the walls of Big River High School. In 1999 the Big River High School presented "20th Century in Revue" with much participation by the students, staff, and community members.
Frosh is an annual event that initiates the Grade 9 class into the high school under the watchful eyes of their seniors, the Grade 12's. There seems to be much controversy over this event as in many people's minds it is a form of "hazing", a ritual frowned upon by many. Frosh may soon be one of the activities of the past only to be remembered by those who were part of the annual Freshie Day experience.
Another annual event at the High School is the Graduation. Many students have completed their education at Big River and have walked through the high school doors out into the "unknown" to fulfil their hopes and dreams. Glen Scrimshaw, the world-renowned artist, graduated from the Big River High School in 1977.
Awards Night has become the finale of the school term. Here the best students are recognised in sports, academic, and participation but all extracurricular and community involvement. Jason Panter and Ryan Wood excelled in the math Contest placing in the top 25% at the national level. Many scholarships are awarded to deserving students. Crystal Maitland received the Chancellor Scholarship to U of S and the Chernoff Scholarship to Queens in Ontario. Tawn Marshall received a scholarship to McGill University.
The doors of the Big River Community High School are kept busy swinging in and out, accepting students as they enter and bidding farewell as they leave. One thing remains constant, that which each closing term another one is set to open in the fall.
Teachers in our schools over the years:
Brown, . . . . .?
De Vlaming, Arlene
Garry, ?. . . .
Gaudet, P A
Mahoney, ?. .
Mercier, J H
Moberg, M J
Mohoney, W M
Plozinsky, ?. .
Shewchuk, ?. .
Early Trustees during the 1911-1955 years were:
Cornell, Rev J
Freeland, J K
Ganton, G S
Godin, O P
Halpin, H W
Hein, W F
St. Arnaud, Paul
Swanson, Gus and Viola
Central School Boards were formed when students were transported to the central school. Each district then appointed a representative and the town appointed three representatives. A sub-unit trustee was then elected from the district.
Big River Trustees during the years 1956, 2004 were as follows:
Gaudet, Fr L
Shukla, Dr K
Early memories of student school transportation were a cattle truck with a canvas top
and a crowded green van until early buses were finally used.
Bus Drivers over the years were as follows:
Vandal, Mrs E
Teaching memories - 1957
by Leona Smith.
After attending Saskatoon Normal School and graduating in 1951, I began teaching at Lake Four School for one year. The following five years I taught at Rabbit Bluff, a one-room rural school with grades one to ten.
My move to Big River came as a result of encouragement from the Superintendent of Schools, Mr Hensbee. The enrolment at Rabbit Bluff school had declined to the point they were considering closing the school.
So it was I who came to Big River in September of 1957 and began teaching grade one at the Big River Junior School.
There were thirty-three students enrolled in my class. What a change from dealing with only seven students.
This was quite a challenge!!! There were few teaching aids. I recall using the hectograph pads as a means of reproducing copies of assignments. First, you made a copy with the use of a hectograph pencil. Then you would soak the jelly-like hectograph pad until it was sticky. Next, you placed your stencil on the pad and when it was ready you began placing sheets of paper on this pad one by one and hope to get a clear copy to use for your assignments. This was a time-consuming process. Usually, you would try to get sufficient copy for the other grade one class.
Library books were few in numbers. We shared a radio with several rooms so we could listen to the school broadcast. We also shared a gramophone with the other classes.
Some of you may recall the days of Dick, Jane and Sally: This was the reading series we used.
Since there weren't any kindergarten classes you spent the first while acclimatizing the youngsters to school life.
During this time I took correspondence class from the U of S as well as spending summer holidays there to upgrade my teaching certificate.
I taught school in Big River from 1957 - 1960 then took a break and returned in 1964 - 1968.
I quit teaching after the birth of our daughter Monica. I did complete the year before I made a permanent move to our farm at Stump Lake.
I still have many fond memories of my time in Big River and always enjoy meeting those students who were in my class at that time. See further history under Ernie and Leona Smith.
Teaching memories by Elaine Gatzke
(nee - Jewitt).
Elaine Gatzke (nee - Jewitt).
It was in 1959-1960 that I spent a year teaching grade six in the Big River Elementary School.
The previous year I had taught at Barnes Lake, a rural school near Spiritwood.
My parents, Howard and Lefa Jewitt resided on a farm near Shellbrook.
It was in Shellbrook that I received my education from grades one to twelve.
I then attended Saskatoon Teachers College and received my interim teaching certificate.
Most of my weekends while in Big River were spent at my home in Shellbrook.
While in Big River I stayed in one of the suites in the Waite Fisheries building. I shared my accommodations with Diane Johnson who also taught in Big River.
This suite was located right next to the ice-making machine, which at times operated day and night. I'm not sure whether this sound lulled us to sleep or kept us awake.
The year after I left Big River I married Vade Gatzke from Belbutte. We spent seven years in Alberta at Swan Hills where Vade worked as a heavy equipment operator. While there our son Jeff was born as well as our daughter Lana.
By choice, I became a "stay at home mom". We returned to Shellbrook to farm. Vade also became an entrepreneur operating his own trenching business.
Here our youngest son Steven was born. Vade enjoys hunting and fishing while I enjoy puttering around home and doing some crafts.
Teaching memories of Diane (Johnson) Mueller,
1959 - 1961.
I arrived in the world on November 11, 1940 in the town of Wynyard. All my schooling was taken in Wynyard. After graduation, I attended Teachers College in Saskatoon. Upon completion of College, I was now eager to join the work force, change the world and make my millions!
I poured through the papers and mailed applications to the various school districts seeking teachers for the fall term. The first reply came from Big River and I accepted immediately. The annual salary was $2,600.00 and I would be teaching a grade two class. Then it sunk in.... I had a job...yes, but I had no idea where Big River was. Out came the map and much to my dismay, I discovered it was in northern Saskatchewan. I felt I was headed for the North Pole.
What a surprise I felt when I arrived in Big River. It was a picture perfect place. I knew I was going to enjoy living there. I moved into a suite above Waite Fisheries, which I shared with another teacher, Elaine Jewitt. The next day, I found the school and lugged my many books and teaching materials to the room, which would house "my Class'. It was a basement room, rather musty smelling and dingy looking, and not the bright shinny room I had envisioned. I vowed to make it the best I could.
Two days later I met 26 little people with whom I would spend the next ten months of my time to advance them on their journey of knowledge.
We had many enjoyable times in that (down under) room. In those days we had no gym for activities, so in fall and summer, people donated old mattresses so we could do tumbling and head and hand stands outside. Winter months we played Fox and Goose and Kick Ball in the snow or trekked over to the outdoor rink for some skating fun. Also in the cold of winter, we sometimes had to wear our mitts and jackets to keep warm in our classroom.
One activity I enjoyed was curling. Cold as it was in the rink, I enjoyed the friendship and sport. I have a trophy from the 0.P Godin Event to always remember the good times.
The year of 1959-60 seemed to fly by and too soon my class was ready for summer holidays and the advancement to grade three.
I left for the summer to return in the fall to new living conditions and a new class of eager grade two's. I roomed and boarded at the home of Mike and Aileen Daley for a year.
When June came around, it was sad to say goodbye to all the pupils I had taught and all the friends I had made. I wouldn't be coming back to teach in the fall.
On July 22, 1961, I married Joe Mueller in Wynyard. He worked at the bakery there. We moved to Kinistino and set up a bakery in partnership. In 1963 we started a bakery on our own in Spiritwood.
We had three children. Debra Elaine was born on February 6, 1963, and is married to Allain Brunea in 1980. They have four children. Darren Paul was born on April 12, 1965, and is married to Kathleen McGratten in 1987. They have three children, and Dean Peter was born on April 16, 1974, and is married to Trecia Sedgewick in 2001 and they have two children.
In 1993, Joe had open-heart surgery and could no longer run the bakery, so we sold and moved back to Wynyard. He passed away in June of 1996.
In May of 2002, I was diagnosed with tongue cancer. I underwent surgery in June, then had six weeks of radiation treatment at the Saskatoon Cancer Clinic. It has been a long hard journey but hopefully, all will be well.
Forty-four years have gone by since I had my first glimpse of Big River and I must say I have many good warm thoughts as I stroll down memory lane through my picture album.
Teaching memories of Phil Devonshire,
1971 - 2000.
I began my teaching career in Big River in the fall of 1971. I planned on teaching in Big River for a year or two and then move back to the city. I soon realized that small towns extend warm hospitality and possess a unique character and personality. We decided to stay and raise our family in Big River. I spent my entire thirty years teaching career at Big River High School.
Throughout my teaching experience, I have seen many changes. When I began teaching, Big River High School had no gym. Physical Education classes were held outside or in the hallway. Over the years, there have been many and varied changes. Technology brought forth computers, science labs, industrial arts and home economics. Big River High School has survived staff and administration changes as well as open areas, fire and sharing space with T.D. Michel. I have nothing but fond memories and praise for the past and present students of Big River High School. They are the best there is...the best there was... the best there will ever be.
Teaching Highlights of Roxanne Smith
1985 - 2004.
I began an exciting teaching career in Big River during the fall of 1985. At this time, I primarily taught grades 7,8 and 9 the subjects of Math, Science, and Phys. Ed. I quickly learned what tough love meant but was thrilled with the enthusiasm of middle year's students. I felt privileged to help channel the enthusiasm in a positive direction. The memories of my first students are very precious! During these "beginning teacher" years my highlights include the multitude of pets in my classroom, coaching, leadership training camps for students, SPIRIT DAYS, and the high school being burned down. At the time the high school burned, I was pregnant and quite ill so the staff decided it would not be a good idea to call me in the middle of the night. Get real, guys! I was teaching grade nines at the time and received several calls in the wee hours to keep me informed.
In the fall of 1991, I was transferred to T.D. Michel School where I quickly adapted to students wanting to hold my hand while on supervision. Administration wisely had me teaching grade 5 and 6 students that did not care to hold hands with me. While teaching in elementary school, I thoroughly enjoyed being able to teach all the different subjects and putting my creative talents into new uses. The students responded with excitement to almost every suggestion. What a treat. My highlights while teaching at TDM included starting a leadership group, implementing a play day, intramural, piloting a new Math program and leading workshops for Saskatchewan Education, SPIRIT DAYS, and the dreaded air quality issue.
In 2003 I was transferred back to the high school to begin a new journey. I still teach one of my favourite subjects, math. In addition to this, I decided to tackle the new Practical Applied Arts course, formerly known as Home Economics. I love every minute of the new course and enjoy many of the same students that I once taught at TDM, as well as some new faces. I am currently focussing my extracurricular efforts in the areas of Student Representative Council, coaching, and Outdoor Environmental Education.
Teaching is a blessing! I love being with "my kids" and helping them to grow to be the best they can be! I truly consider each student a part of my "extended family".
Edmond Cassie, Camelle Chenard, Jack Bechtel, Esteen Berg,
Pat O'Connor, Lenard Lueken.
Eddy Hawk, unknown, George Ziegler, Lional Rainville, Gordon Bechtel.
Annie Mitchell, Sadie Wilson, Alice Dolmage, Elsie Swanson,
May Herdman, Louise Herdman.
Laverne McNabb, Meada Cowie, Jean Sundby, Muriel Longmere,
Peppy Dalmage, ? Rainville, Muriel McTaggart.
Donald Johnson, Helen Snell, ? Rainville, Donna Olson, Lenora Waite,
Joyce Johnson, Katie Pruden, Clara Smith, Collin Glendenis.
unknown, Jules St. Arnaud, John Haley, Murry Wilson,
Ivan Edson, Ivan Smith.
Rita Holmer, Oma Holmer, June Ziegler, Aileen Herdman, Rita Bouchard,
Bubble Casler, Cecil Neilson, Morie Cassie.
Mrs. Dion, Garry Hegland, Jimmy Cowie, George Johnson, Peter Edson, David Kemp,
Francis Tremblay, George Hiebert, George Yurach, Arvid Christiansen,
Bobby McKenzie, Stanley Pister.
Wesley Milligan, Mark Hoehn, Leslie Potts, Maynard Anderson, Bobby Morrison,
David Brownfield, George Keinz, Billy Sweet.
Roberta McIntosh, Ruth Wychodzew, Loretta Eismann, Eva Miller, Nancy Leach,
Helen Zinovich, Darlene Cowan, Florence Milligan.
Grade 10, 11 and 12
in front of the Big River School on Third Avenue N.
before it was added onto.
Muriel McTaggart, George Kazmiruk, Russell Wood,
John Choinicki, Nioma McNabb.
Laura Gould, Olga Glowaski, Donna Burt,
Yvette Bouchard, Irene Ausland.
Jean Belfry, Erica Greefenberger, Helen Kazmiruk,
Fay McCully, Lorna Wopnford, Rita Holmer.
Betty Moffat, Elsie Bradley, Betty Shanks, Joyce Johnson,
Oma Holmer, Shiela Moore, Joy Muir, 1946.
Grade 8 - 1943 - 1944.
Godfred Vold, Lorne McCully, Mervin Sundby,
Lloyd Snell, Raymond Erickson.
Bernice Belfry, Joyce Johnson, May Vold, LaDonna Olson,
Oma Holmer, Roselle Bittman.
Marie Caisie, Aileen Herdman, Rita Holmer,
Miss McLean, Miss McKay, Miss Bouchard, Mrs. Bowers. 1943-1944.
Ted Kaese, Floyd Skilliter, David Brownfield, Helen Zinovich,
David Burt, Pat Harty.
Linda Olsen, Bernice Reed, Angeline Karaloff, Meada Morin,
Allen Pankoski, Mr. Gould.
Ruth Wychodzew, Paulette Otte, Pauline Otte, Pat Smith,
Loretta Eisman, Germaine Carter, Nora Klyne.
George Yurach, Jim Lanigan. 1958-1959.
Ambulance service, the provision of pre-hospital emergency care, is an important asset to any community. Before an actual ambulance coming to Big River, people requiring emergency care were transported to hospitals in Jake Wilson or Mike Daley's station wagons.
In the early 1970s, Spiritwood Ambulance provided ambulance services to the Spiritwood and Big River areas. This required approximately a one hour waiting time for the ambulance to arrive from the base in Spiritwood.
In September of 1995, an ambulance satellite base was erected in Big River on Highway 55 (in the vicinity of the old Primary School and Rink locations). Currently, there are nine full-time paramedics and EMT's providing service to the area.
Big River Hospital
Submitted by Jennifer Proulx
The Health Care System in our area, now known as "Big River" has undergone a great metamorphosis.
In the year 1911, the first hospital was constructed. The "Milltown" had begun to grow and the Big River Lumber Company had decided that a hospital was badly needed. The building that was constructed had a two - fold purpose - the greater part was used as a hospital and the lesser part was the town's Post Office.
The first doctor that was hired by the Big River Lumber Company was Dr Fenton, from Ottawa. A true pioneer, Dr Fenton and his wife Mary settled in "Milltown" and worked with Nurse Dewar, who also arrived in 1911. The doctor and nurse worked together at the hospital and also travelled for miles with dog teams to the camps and homesteads, taking care of the medical needs of the people. Dr Fenton worked with the lumber company from 1911 to 1923, when the lumber company left and the town was sold.
This beautiful first hospital was destroyed by fire in 1923 and for many years the town was without a hospital.
A Jamaican born English trained nurse arrived in Green Lake in 1911, with the Church Missionary Society. She came to nurse and care for the people who were suffering from Typhoid Fever. During her stay at Green Lake, she met and married the Cowan Lake Dam keeper. The couple later moved to Big River-Bodmin (1918). This special lady, Mrs Matilda Kelly, opened her home and cared for the local people who were recuperating from illnesses and who needed further care. She also delivered babies in her home and cared for the mother and infant until they were well enough to go home.
For a short time, when there was no doctor in the Village of Big River, Dr Cyr travelled by jigger on the railway track from Bodmin to Big River to visit and treat the sick. Since a village or town is always in need of caregivers, there was always someone who rose to the occasion to give care.
Another very generous lady, an excellent midwife, Mrs Pierre Belisle, opened her home to nurse convalescent patients and those who had to stay in Big River for medical treatment.
The area around Big River developed in 1920. The Royal Canadian Air Force set up a base in the Ladder Lake area (about one mile east of Big River). It was there until 1935 when most of the buildings were sold and removed. During the 1930"s Ladder Lake developed a fashionable resort around its sandy beaches and many Saskatoon residents had cabins there. The elite included a Dr Murray, (President of the University of Saskatchewan) and a Dr Boyce, who received guests and named his property "Eden Health Resort". On weekends, when the doctor was available, people went and visited and received medical attention.
In 1947, after the war, there was again a great need for a hospital. A board was formed, consisting of committee members of Leo Lloyd of Erinferry, Henry Pederson of Lake Four, Phillippe Laurin of Bodmin, and Jack Phillips and Jack Dolmage of Big River. This committee made plans with the Red Cross to utilize the Ladder Lake Air Base Mess Hall. This large lumber building was moved to Big River and was situated at the top of "Tobogganing Hill", overlooking the village - having two public wards, an operating room, a nursery, an office, and two large, bright, sunny verandas. It was called the "Red Cross Outpost Hospital". This was the 23rd Red Cross Hospital in Saskatchewan. The grand opening of this prestigious hospital was on Armistice Day, November 11, 1948.
Big River Red Cross Hospital. 1952.
Dr Afanasieff was the first doctor for this new hospital and the matron was Miss North. After a few years, Dr Afanasieff retired and Dr Norman Crux, from Elrose, took over the practice and Mrs Midgett was the matron.
As the population of Big River grew, there was another need to expand the hospital. In 1950, the hospital was enlarged and became a Union Hospital. In 1951, the hospital was turned over to the community and renamed the "Big River Union Hospital".
A west wing was built in 1959. The beds were moved into the new section and in 1964-1965 the older part of the hospital was demolished and a new east wing was built, making the hospital into a 25-bed facility. In that same year, a nurse's residence was also built.
The development of the hospital from an 8-bed Red Cross Outpost Hospital to the 25-bed Big River Union Hospital culminated in $164,000 worth of construction.
Outpatients room in Big River Union Hospital.
The office in Big River Union Hospital.
Resident doctors serving the hospital and community have been Dr. Kiltz, Dr. Oldroyd, Dr. Klass, Dr. Eaton and his wife Dr. Young, Dr. Wezelman, Dr. Sanderson, Dr. Shukla and his wife Dr. Shusma, Dr. Glennie (Van Hoogstraten), Dr. Shibley, Dr. Goso, Dr. J. Knight, and Dr. Miakhil. The Matrons were Mrs Ev Charlton, Mrs Lil Randal, Ms Penny Edwards, Mrs Lorraine Johnson, Ms Inez Macdonald and Mrs Helen Donald. The hospital's Administrators were Mr Jim Hartnett, Mr Jack DeVlaming and Edmond St. Arnaud.
In 1993, health districts were formed and the Big River Union Hospital became part of the Parkland Health District. In 2003, the health districts were restructured and now the Big River Hospital is operating under the Prince Albert Parkland Health Region.
The picturesque town of Big River developed and grew and so did the people. There was a great need for elderly care. So another committee was formed and plans for a nursing home developed. Money was raised and a modern long-term care facility was constructed overlooking Cowan Lake. The Lakewood Lodge was opened in 1986. This home for the elderly was built to care for 30 residents. The town was very proud of its accomplishments.
As the years passed, the Big River Union Hospital aged and there was another need for a new hospital. In the late part of the 1990s, this 3 million-dollar project was again accomplished by the great generosity of the people of Big River and surrounding area. The new hospital was built onto the Lakewood Lodge facility, making it an integrated facility and a new name was formed, "Big River Health Centre".
The big move into the new facility, which now housed long term, acute, emergency, community services, and medical clinic, was in April of 2000; (just a half-day shut down for the move). The official opening ceremonies were in August of 2000.
This new facility contains 29 long term beds, 9 acute beds, emergency department, lab and x-ray department, doctor's offices, public health office, home care office, visiting professional office, multipurpose room, and administration offices. In 2003, a pharmacy was opened temporarily in the multi-purpose room.
The big 93-year metamorphosis of the hospital - health centre is now accomplished. The town of Big River now has a very grand modern health care facility - a place where all health care needs are met. When the need for advanced care arises, we have the Big River based Ambulance Service to take us to the bigger centres.
The health care needs of our community are now being met by Dr's. A. and M. Mahomed, Director of Care - Helen Donald, RN's, PHN's, SCA's, CLXT's, housekeeping aides, laundry aides, activity workers, dietary staff, office staff, maintenance, pharmacist, and volunteers. Together, all of the staff works as a team to give the best care to the community of Big River and the surrounding area.
Submitted by Nova Warriner
When it was decided to build a new hospital in Big River, of which 35% of the monies needed, had to come from the community, it was apparent that major fundraising and campaigning had to be done.
To start the hospital fundraising a new fun idea came out of the minds of the fundraising committee. The Annual Invitational Bed Pan Relay. The first Bed Pan Relay Race was held on May 1, 1999 (the kick-off to the new hospital fundraising) and held each year with the last one being held on June 21, 2003 (completion of the new hospital fundraising).
Teams of ten participants, after collecting pledges, competed in various events to hopefully place first and get their names on the Bed Pan Relay plaque. Events consisted of the use of hospital equipment and a bedpan that was used as a baton. Participants walked on crutches, were wheeled in wheelchairs, or were pushed on stretchers all the while carrying their bedpan baton and its contents. The team that crossed the finish line the fastest (with or without penalties) were declared the Bed Pan Relay winners and proudly had their names displayed on the Bed Pan Relay plaque, which hangs at the hospital today.
Another successful hospital fundraiser was the Night Golf Tournament and Steak Bar-B-Que. Teams of four competed for honours, not in the daylight, but in the darkness with the use of glow-in-the-dark golf balls. It was quite a sight to watch these little balls flying all over the night sky - some in the right direction - others not!
The evening started with a barbque of delicious steaks and side dishes, which was followed by a night of entertainment and activity with the winners being decided by the lowest score (or the biggest liars).
Big River Public Health
Public Health provides public health nursing services to communities and surrounding areas. Immunization is provided through baby clinics, schools, and influenza programs. Other services include prenatal classes, postnatal visiting, parenting classes and other education classes as needed.
Originally, Big River received Public Health Nurses services out of the Shellbrook office seeing children and parents in the Elks Hall. Eventually, an office was opened in the Big River Union Hospital. The first nurse stationed in Big River was Kay Becker in 1976. The office moved to its current location in the Big River Health Centre in April 2000. The following is a list of the past/present Public Health Nurses:
1951 - CY
1962 - V.Bannister
1963 - Joyce Goliath
1968 - 69 - Carmen Kowalczyk
1968 - 1974 - Opal Stieb
1975 - 1976 - Helen Irwin
1976 - 1979 - Kay Becker
1979 - 1988 - Cas Moyer
1989 - present - Colleen Honig
1991 - present - Jelaine Kennedy
Brenda Hanson's Healing Touch
Brenda Hanson's Healing Touch Business started in April 2003 after taking classes in Healing Touch and Jin Shin Jyutsu. I was always a person who wanted to help people with their health problems and with the excess electricity that I had, I thought this was a great solution.
When I was a young girl, I would hold my brothers' feet or hands if they hurt themselves and it would stop the hurting. When my grandmother would get a migraine, I would hold her head and it would go away. I would help the kids in the neighbourhood if they hurt themselves. The farm animals would often stand in front of me until I put my hands on whatever was hurting them, which I could find by feeling hot or cold spots. They would stand completely still and then move away once they felt better. As I was expected to get a "real" job after I graduated from school, I became a teacher. I neglected this natural inclination to help others and did not use it until I had small children.
It wasn't until I was diagnosed with melanoma, that I promised God that I would do His work, whatever He asked me to do if He would help me. After several days of intense prayer, I had a serious burning sensation in the area of the melanoma and I just knew that I was okay. The next morning after surgery the surgeon told me that I was cancer-free. The first thing I had to do was to try to fix the air problem at the T.D. Michel School and then I was to start to use my healing hands. When I saw a demonstration of Healing Touch, which is a hands-on energy healing, put together by nurses, I signed up for the courses. I also study an ancient method of energy healing, called Jin Shin Jyutsu, which uses the natural energy flow of the human body and the placement of hands to heal specific areas of the body.
Between the 2 methods, I have had many clients with improved health and a better quality of life. I also suggest vitamin therapy where necessary and help those with sick building syndrome. I use a healing stick as well. There is a story behind the healing stick.
My son played hockey with the son of an artist from Sandy Lake Reserve, Tim Peekeekoot. He had carved a beautiful sculpture that the team raffled. We made enough money to pay for most of our tournaments. As an artist, I planned to help him show his work if I ever had the chance as a way of returning the favour. I had an art show in Waskesiu in June of 2003. At this time, I was still just starting my healing practice and was not well known out of town. When I had arranged for him to take his artwork to the show, he handed me a tall, carved, diamond willow low stick and told me that the medicine man had told him to make me this healing stick. He said the medicine man identified me by name and said that I would need the stick to do the healing. This medicine man, Red Elk, was from the United States. When I use the stick to spread the energy all over the body of a person who has a systemic health problem, it is held about 16 inches above the body and it heats up and becomes quite heavy as if there is a pull of energy. Clients say they can feel the heat of the electricity from the stick and my hands when I work.
When I first started my training, some of the effects seemed quite incredible and unbelievable. Just like we can start our television and car by pointing a remote at them, human hands can send energy into another to realign energy fields. Once the energy fields of the human body have been reorganized into their proper channels, then the body will work to heal itself. The sciences of quantum physics and quantum mechanics, which explore the workings of the atoms, explain the results achieved, with all methods of energy healing. I have been working in Big River, Debden and Saskatoon, doing this work and I love it.
In 1979/1980 a government-sponsored dental program was offered through the school system. It ran until the mid-'80s. This allowed children, who might not otherwise have had the opportunity, to visit the dentist.
Over the years there have been independent dentists who have opened offices in town on a part-time basis. Two of these were Dr McDonald and Dr Gozzi.
Periodically we have had access to an optometrist in Big River. Dr Laycock was one such optometrist and could be visited at the doctor's office.
It was in 1994 when some of the local Fire Department members decided to take a higher level of first aid training. The idea was to better assist ambulance personnel at accidents or to offer some sort of medical assistance if the ambulance was away on a call somewhere else.
Mike Epp, a Fire Department member took the training to become an Advanced Level 2 First Aid Instructor. He trained eight Fire Department members along with a few local people. In the spring of 1995, nine people (Chad Dunn, Darryl Meyers, Paul Watier, Les Pack, Norman Gunderson, Russell McLean, Howard Forbes, Vic Kappel, and Lynda Zagiel) became First responders. The group was very happy to receive donations from the Legion Auxiliary and J&R Contracting to purchase first aids kits and equipment. The group also received funding from the Parkland Health Region for any calls attended to when needed.
Spiritwood/Big River Ambulance continues education training with monthly "in-services" either in Spiritwood or Big River. Paul Watier, Les Pack and Chad Dunn joined the ambulance staff, as EMR's to provide relief when regular staff took holidays or needed a day or two off here and there.
Over the years, the group lost five members. In 2002, four new people (Jayson Watier, Becky Panter, Chris Warren and Terry Craig) received training and joined the group. Becky and Chris soon attended SIAST to pursue careers as EMT's. Terry moved away in the summer of 2004 leaving five active First responders (Chad Dunn, Darryl Meyers, Paul Watier, Les Pack and Jayson Watier).
Home Care evolved in Big River and area, with the formation of Lakeland Home Care Services in 1979. In January 1980, the founding Board of Directors was established, consisting of the following:
Chairman: Jack Payne (Canwood)
Vice-Chairman: Paul Olson (Leask)
Treasurer: Albert Blais (Debden)
Jean Seggie (Shellbrook), Andy Boechler (Spiritwood), Phyllis Atkinson (Spiritwood), Vivian Martin (Leask), John Gaumond (Leoville), Garnet Strate (Shell Lake), Lee Henry (Chitek Lake), Ann Forbes (Big River), and Evelyn Mortenson (Shellbrook).
In June of 1980, Woodland District #27 Home Care Services Incorporated became legally incorporated with Lester Wyatt of Canwood hired as District Manager and Colleen Zubkow as Nursing Co-ordinator. Homemakers were trained through Kelsey Institute of Applied Arts and Sciences.
In March of 1981, Woodland Home Care commenced, providing Home Care Services throughout the district. Home Care provided the necessary assistance and teaching to clients, so that they may live independently at home. Home Care promoted the continuity of care between hospitals, special care homes and client homes. It also assisted with clients recovering from illness, terminally ill clients and those clients awaiting placement in long term care facilities. Home Care also provided assistance to those who were caring for someone in their homes. Home Care continues to do this today.
In February of 1987, Woodland Home Care moved into its new office building located in Canwood. In March of 1994, the Parkland Health District, which was formed as a result of provincial health reform, took over the Woodland Home Care. In 2002, again because of provincial health reform, the Prince Albert Parkland Health Region took over Home Care.
The following is a list of people from the Big River area who were associated with the Woodland Homecare and later the Home Care department of the Prince Albert Parkland Health region:
Homemakers or Home Health Aides:
Betty Ann Demers
Albert Carter, Sylvester Homeniuk, Jack Millikin,
and Michael O'Neil.
Wendy Wilson, Eloise Kazmiruk, Shirley Payne, Shaye Shakotko,
and Linda Van Omme.
Danita Aarrestad, Lucille Amundson, Carol Blair-Clayton, Devon Bueckert,
Laurie Christiansen, Katherine Herringer, Debbie Jackow, Jelaine Kennedy,
Marilyn Lamothe, Diane Lehmann, Karen Moar, Michelle Morley, and Diane Zerr.
District Manager: Lester Wyatt
Director of Services: Opal Stieb and Colleen Zubkow
Secretary/Receptionist/Bookkeeper: Eileen Olson
Directors (Big River): 1980-1981 Ann Forbes
1981-1985 Jack deVlaming
1986-1988 Pat Michel
1989-1993 Darlene Bradley
"Each change begins with an ending... for something new to begin, something old must end. Between the old and the new, we have to pause and change gears, as we gather perspective, say good-bye to what was, and gather strength to handle the new."
Lakewood Lodge Nursing Home
In January 1983 at a joint meeting of the Big River Elks and Royal Purple, Jack deVlaming put forth the need for a nursing home in Big River and area. The Chamber of Commerce had done some groundwork.
A committee was appointed to do some research into the feasibility of a nursing home in Big River.
This committee was Joe Gilbert, Jack deVlaming, Ron Johnson, Ivy Johnson, Barbara Phillips and Laura Wilson. They sent out questionnaires regarding need and support, receiving mostly positive feedback.
Local organizations and area municipalities were invited to join the committee. They were:
Town of Big River - Carmen Weir and Grace Cromartie
R.M. of Big River - Norah Anderson
R.M. of Canwood - Bernard Lukan and Dave Rusk
Village of Debden - Albert Blais and Shirley Marchuk
Hamlet of Dore Lake - Opal Swedberg
Big River Legion - Jack Hartnett
Big River Legion Auxiliary - Stella Hartnett
Kinsmen and Kinettes - Frank and Bertha Smith and Tony Cooper
Back Row: Joe, Frank, Jack. Middle Row: Norah, Laura, Grace, Barbara. Front Row: Bertha, Ivy.
From this group officers were elected with Jack deVlaming as Chairperson, Laura Wilson as Vice Chairperson, Barbara Phillips was Secretary and Grace Cromartie was treasurer.
Some members of the community toured nursing homes in the area to see what they liked and didn't like and met with government officials in Regina to set up the financing and also toured nursing homes that the two shortlisted architects had designed. The members made these trips, paying from their pockets, not one cent was charged to the project.
Tanwir Nawag was the architect for the project. Humboldt lumber mart was chosen as our main contractor. Tony Cooper was our project supervisor. He spent many volunteer hours on site.
Fundraising was conducted by pledges, suppers, bake sales, auctions, raffles and walk a thons. Big River and area came through donating generously. We raised over $4,250,000 for building and furniture.
Walk-a-thon participants received plaques for most money raised.
Back Row: Joe Gilbert, Exelda Emde.
Front Row: Dallas Beebe, Erin Martel.
Sod turning took place on August 2, 1985, with many dignitaries on hand. Colin Maxwell MLA, John Gormley M.P. and Graham Taylor Minister of Health, as well as committee members, members of the participating communities, Sask Housing and CMHC representatives, were present for the ceremony.
The official opening took place February 27, 1987, with many of those same representatives present.
The first administrator was Laurette Bloomquist followed by Brian Hannigan and Jack deVlaming.
The first director of care was Doris Wreford. Since Doris only had one other R.N Barb Dunn, that was part-time, she spent many extra hours at work, sometimes sleeping in her office. Trish Stefanyk followed Doris who was followed by our present D.O.C. Helen Donald in 1990.
First Residents: Standing: Arthur Tremblay. Sitting: George Boudreault, Olive Warriner, Margaret Crashley, Elsie Vaudriel, Mrs Caissie.
The first residents welcomed into the Lakewood Lodge were Mrs Caissie, Mrs M Crashley, Elsie Vaudruil, Olive Warriner, Art Tremblay and George Beaudeault. This was in August 1986.
When Lakewood Lodge opened most of the residents were classed as level three. That policy has now changed; most residents are level four.
Area clergy or church groups allowing residents to worship or see their minister on a regular basis conduct weekly church services.
Family members and visitors are welcome to join residents for coffee, a meal or visit at any time.
An active auxiliary helps to bring warmth, comfort and homey surroundings to the residents. The auxiliary host monthly birthday parties and assists on special occasions, all for the benefit of those residing there.
Some of the first people to work in the lodge were Doris Wreford, Barbara Dunn, Nova Warriner, Lois Cooper, Fern Wall, Patsy Moyer, Helen Lajeunesse, Joanne Swanson, Betty Dunn, Barry Moule, John Johnson, Gladys Snell, Ellen Fonos, Ellen Martel, Paulette Arcand, Debbie Gunderson, Barb Kazmiruk, Nancy Nelson, Violet Langford, Helen Isbister, Karla Kazmiruk, Angeline Jean, Cindy Crumley, Irene Harty, Cecile Beaulac and Linda Van Omme.
The view of Cowan Lake which is provided from Lakewood Lodge on 1st Ave N is quite spectacular.
The staff at Lakewood Lodge are to be commended for their caring, loving ways. It's a home to be proud of.
Mind, Body and Spirit Salon/Spa
New to the Big River area, but keeping up with the trends of the time, are spas. Jeanette Wicinski-Dunn owns and operates Mind, Body and Spirit Salon/Spa where she provides a full service of tanning, body wraps, nails, facials, waxing, pedicures, scalp treatments, haircuts and colours.
Misty Olson - Registered Massage Therapist
In July of 2003, Misty Olson, a Registered Massage Therapist (RMT) set up a clinic in her home. Before this, Misty had successfully finished the 2200-hour program at the Provincial Institute of Massage Therapy. Misty is a member of Massage Therapists and Wholistic Practitioners (AMTWP). She has also completed other courses in myofascial release, introductory sports massage, sports first aid and taping, CPR and first aid, and reflexology.
Other people who have businesses in the Big River area related to massage are Shelley Trudel and Noreen Emde who are currently taking classes and doing practical experience to become Healing Touch Practitioners.
Pat Lobe, Globe Wholistic Therapy Clinic
In today's world of strenuous employment and activities, it became clear that massage therapy was an alternative to medication or living in pain as a result of injury, strenuous workloads, etc. In the past, clients were referred out to other health facilities or awaited the arrival of a therapist to come to Big River on a regular basis.
In the last few years, Big River has been fortunate to welcome much-needed therapists who have set up their businesses in Big River and surrounding area.
In the winter of 1997, Pat Lobe was travelling through Big River when her car broke down. While it was being repaired at Midtown Service, she struck up a conversation with Sharon Bradley and Faye Becker who pronounced that Big River really needed a massage therapist. Pat made arrangements to rent space at the old hospital and then the following year moved to Big River and set up a clinic, Globe Wholistic Therapy Clinic, in her home at 326 1st Avenue North. She provides massage and complimentary therapies (reflexology, craniosacral therapy, and aromatherapy) to residents of Big River and area. Rechelle McLean was employed in her clinic from July 2002 to August 2003.
Sally Nixon, Grace Colby, Mrs. Lamberton, Mrs. Belfrey, Jean Apps, Louise Hardy, Marg Watier.
Mrs. Fortier, Annie D, Simone Tardif, Sally Nixon, Mrs. Lamberton,
Mrs. Belfrey, Jean Belfrey, Janitor.
Max Begger, Jack Dempsey, Ingvar Johnson, Karl Varls.
Albert, Wilfred, Dennis Anderson and Alan Sklapsky.
Frank Schitz - 1956.
George and Ruth Gibson - Off to town.
The "Marina" of Crooked River by CN water Tower.
Army Volunteers, 1914.