O.P.Godin's Store

Fishing/Freight Swing Era/Transportation



The Fishing Industry
Excerpts from Timber Trails with additions

The business of commercial fishing goes back to the very early history of this area and has played an important role throughout the years.

Just after the turn of the century, Mr E.C. Brownfield made a trip from Prince Albert to Stoney Lake and began trading with the natives. He would bring in supplies and take out fur and fish. He soon realized the excellent possibilities of commercial fishing in the northern lakes.

In 1909, Dave Overly came up from Indiana to go hunting in the Prince Albert country. While there, he met Mr Brownfield and listened with keen interest as he told of the many lakes and of his feeling that commercial fishing would be a good investment. Mr Overly decided to give it a try. However, he was not the only one who had a fish buying company in mind. Mr Martin Olsen, a representative of Booth Fisheries of Winnipeg arrived in Big River ready to establish a business. A small company was formed and became known as the Ile-a-la-Crosse Fish Company. Later this was shortened to the IC Fish Company. A warehouse was built at Big River and a fish warehouse and fur farm established at Ile-a-la-Crosse. The company flourished for a short while but wasn't too successful and soon ceased to operate. Mr Olsen continued in the fish business on his own for many years after this.

Mr Overly returned to Indiana where he succeeded in persuading his nephew, George Rizer, to join him in another fishing venture. In 1911, after purchasing some nets in Chicago, they journeyed north and set up their first fish camp at Dog Lake (Smoothstone). Once again the business proved unsuccessful and again they returned to the States. However, in 1913, they decided to see some fish dealers in Chicago and inquire if they would be interested in fish from Northern Saskatchewan. Mr Rizer talked to the Sales Manager of Booth Fisheries who simply told him to let him know if they caught anything and then he would send shipping instructions.

In due time, the two men would be back in Big River to try their luck again. This time they went to Dore Lake where they set their nets and found they were filled with fish the first time they raised them. The fishing was so good they didn't have time to set all their nets.

Mr Rizer walked back to Big River to get some freighters to take in fish boxes and to haul the fish out to the railway. He hired Alex Delaronde, who got eight teams of freighters and they went after the fish. They no sooner arrived back in Big River than word came from Mr Overly to send the teams right back as he had plenty more fish for another load. Mr Rizer stayed in town to load the fish on the train and ship it to Chicago. He wondered what he would do if Booth's inspector rejected the shipment. He need not have worried; for word came back they would take all the fish they could supply. That winter they shipped three carloads of fish and this was the beginning of Big River Consolidated Fisheries. An office building and warehouse were constructed down by the lake near the railway tracks in the southwest end of town.


IC Fisheries building, 1928.

IC Fisheries building, 1928.

The fisheries continued until 1933 when the price of fish dropped so low that they weren't worth the cost of freight and boxes. When prices recovered somewhat the Rizer family started a new fish compally; The Big River Fisheries Limited. This business operated until 1945 when the name and the business were sold to Waite Fisheries Limited.

Other fish buyers at that time were: Olafson's Fish Company, Skivek's, Verner Johnson, Brownfield's, O.P.Godin, Martin Olsen, and Nels Edson.

During the years when employment was hard to find, men often resorted to fishing to try to make a little money. Most buyers would 'stake' a fisherman for the winter, providing him with the necessary clothing, food and equipment. Generally, the fishermen would be away on the lakes from late November to early February. They would live in either a large fish camp operated by a buyer or set up a small camp of their own. To do this it was necessary to haul a caboose in along with the supplies or to arrange to have the use of a trapper's shack during his stay on the lake.

The gear consisted of a small pony and sleigh, hay for the pony, nets and floats, packed in boxes ready to use, ice chisel, needle bar, axes and shovels. Personal equipment included warm clothing, lots of fishermen mitts and socks as well as moccasins, along with camp utensils and the food supply. Everyone recalls that a lot of beans and fish were on the menu.

In some cases, those planning to fish would build a scow during the summer and take their supplies in by water route. Once at their destination, the scow would be taken apart and the lumber used to construct a shelter for the winter camp.

Fishermen usually worked in pairs. Those running their own outfits would locate their caboose in a likely spot and bank it with snow at the first opportunity. This provided insulation against the wind and cold. A supply of firewood had to be seen to and a shelter provided for the pony that would be used to work on the ice once fishing commenced. Hay was stacked by the pony's shelter. Once the camp was made ready, fishing began as soon as the season was open, usually the first of December. Should fishing prove to be poor in the area chosen, the first freighter through would be asked to move the caboose and a similar camp would be established in another part of the lake.

The routine of a fisherman's day was to be up before daylight, feed the pony and get his breakfast, then away to the fishing area at dawn, leaving themselves some daylight as it was very easy to get lost on the frozen lakes. Arriving at the fishing spot they dug a hole about two feet square through the ice. With the help of a 'jigger', a one hundred-yard line was run under the ice and another hole was cut directly behind the jigger. The line was then pulled through using a wooden hook. The net was tied to the first net and was again pulled into place under the ice. A post was frozen into each hole and weighted down. Any number of nets can be set in a string but usually no more than twenty. Often test nets are set to find where the fishing is good.

Nets are lifted at the basin hole, which is every second hole. Two nets are lifted onto the ice, first one and then the other. A line is always tied to the end of the net so if the catch is good it can be reset in the same place. As the net is lifted out of the water, the fishermen take the fish out and throw them in a pile on the lake. Care is taken to undo all tangles and knots in the net as well. The fish are then dressed and arranged so that they will freeze flat. If it is very cold they freeze quickly and must be packed while still limber enough to handle. Fish are packed in four layers in boxes holding about one hundred and fifty pounds each. Expert handling and packing ensure better quality and good appearance. All dead fish, suckers and ling (cod) are thrown in a scrap pile, which grows larger as the winter catch increases. These scrap piles had to be cleared off the ice before the spring thaw. A clean-up day was arranged and the scrap heap hauled to shore. In later years, mink ranchers made use of this waste and bought it from fishermen on the ice.


Net fishing on Winter Lake.

Net fishing on Winter Lake.
Alphonse Laurin, Maurice Petersen,
Beatrice Poirer, Philomene Laurin, Roger Laurin, 1943.

After all, the nets were lifted and the catch attended to, the boxes were loaded on the sleigh and taken back to camp where they were stacked waiting for the next freighter to come and pick them up. Some of the larger fish camps in later years employed their own cook. The men were often transported out to the lakes by Model A trucks or Bombardiers. Three or four fishermen would be dropped off to attend to the day's catch. They would be picked up at the end of the day and brought back to camp. The noon meal was hauled out by pony and a stoneboat from the camp kitchen. Potatoes and beans seemed to be the main portion of the menu. The pay in the larger camps was often twenty dollars a month with board.


Cliff Felt with boxes of fish going south from Dore Lake.

Cliff Felt with boxes of fish going south from Dore Lake.

Keeping mitts and socks in good condition was absolutely necessary. Mending was attended to as well as the chore of washing the mitts each night and hanging them over the wood heater to dry. Some of the fishermen recall having to battle with lice and a general bath day was often for the comfort of all.

Waite Fisheries Ltd. built a filleting plant on Dore in 1945 and commercial fresh fishing began. Gear Thordan, Tom Scrimshaw and Raymond Servatius were the first to put their nets down. Kurt Bengston, Horace Chenard and Tom Scrimshaw built boats in Waite's basement in town and then the boats were hauled to Dore. Ice had to be put up at Dore and Cree Lakes for use in the fresh fishing business. Fuel for summer was hauled in during the winter months so that the frozen lakes could be used for roads. Verle McIntosh had an outfit employed in this work. To keep the fish from freezing during winter, fresh fishing cabooses were equipped with wood stoves which had to be kept going during the haul south. The men cut firewood along the trail.

Alonzo Gallant spent many years fishing and recalls fish camps at Gallant's Point, Dog Lake, Stoney, Burnt Lake, Elaine Lake, Fish Point, Ladder Lake and Dore to name a few.


Alonzo Gallant and Gus Tremblay going fall fishing.

Alonzo Gallant and Gus Tremblay going fall fishing.

Gaudoise Tremblay, who fished and freighted for many years in the north, talked of some of his experiences in the early days. Perhaps the most memorable was the time he and Mr Gallant Sr. went fishing at Keeley Lake. They had eight to ten nets between them. One cold night, Mr Gallant was washing up the mitts in the far end of the shack and Gaudoise built up a good fire in the heater. Somehow the fuel can exploded and the whole shack was on fire in seconds. Both men were badly burned. After much pain and hardship, they managed to get to the hospital in Ile-a-la-Crosse. Unfortunately, Mr Gallant died a few days later from the burns. Gaudoise was in the hospital a long time but a few years later, he was back on the ice and fishing once more.

Most fishermen agree it was a hard, cold job with very small pay, but somehow it had its rewards for they seem to remember those days with a certain pleasure.


Commercial fishing - Big River area

Over the years commercial fishing has played an important role in the economy of the Community of Big River. With low water levels, lower prices and the impact of tourism, commercial fishing is no longer as large as it was, however, several lakes are still being fished. Some of these are Delaronde Lake, Hackett Lake, Dore Lake, Clarke Lakes, Smoothstone Lake as well as several smaller lakes. For many years, Waite Fisheries packed the fish in Big River, however, their Big River packing plant was shut down in the 1980s. Since that time Hunter Fish Agencies of Big River has been packing the fish.

Most all the current fishing is done in the winter. The fish is packed fresh on the lakes by the fishermen, then repacked by Hunter Fish Agencies and trucked by Beebe Trucking to Winnipeg to the Freshwater Fish Marketing Agency for processing and national and international distribution. Over the years some fishermen have peddled their fish to neighbouring communities. Perhaps one of the most well know fish peddlers of the area was Halvor Ausland who travelled extensively throughout the Province to bring his customers a feed of fresh fish.

Modern technology has greatly improved the fisherman's life. Use of power augers, depth sounders, snowmobiles and power net pullers have been welcomed additions to their way of life. Keeping fish frozen (ie. not frozen) is still a real challenge to those fishing.

Commercial fishing is a way of life that is still enjoying by those in the industry and despite the cold weather and other hardships, there are many rewarding times and stories.


The Freight Swing Era
Excerpts from Timber Trails with additions

Freighting and fishing have gone quite naturally together over the years, as each needs the other for survival. It was the good fishing prospects of the vast northland that brought the first fishermen to this area back when most folks had their eye on the timber stands. Some commercial fishing was done in the very early years of Big River, however, to deliver the catch to the market, it was essential to have freighters. A few fishermen did their own fishing and freighting, but as the business became more popular, fisheries were established in the centres and freighting came into its own adding a colourful and historic era to the history of the district. One of the men that organized and established this was Martin Olsen (Priscilla Pister's grandfather). Martin worked for the Dominion Fisheries in Winnipeg for seven years. The company saw the ability in this young man and the manager lent him $10,000.00 to set up a fish marketing business in Saskatchewan. In the autumn of 1910, he arrived in Big River and set up the Ile-a-la Crosse Fish Company and built up an export trade into the United States. In 1914 he sold out to A.A. Macdonald. Mr Olsen then formed the Big River Consolidated Fisheries. In a matter of months, the firm grew to the largest frozen, freshwater fish exporting company in the world. The company shipped 4.5 million pounds of frozen whitefish per year to all parts of Europe and the United States. To supply the export demand, they hired up to 316 sleigh teams to haul fish to Big River. In Saskatchewan alone, the company sold up to 26 railway carloads of fish annually. In 1928 the company went broke and Mr Olsen began farming and selling cord firewood in the Big River area. Later Mr Olsen had a mink farm west of La Ronge, Saskatchewan.

There was a study done on Delaronde Lake in 1943 by the Government. The results are as follows: Eight Large Species: Whitefish, Cisco Tullibee, Pike, Pickerel, Common Sucker, Northern Sucker, Perch and Ling. Nine Smaller Species: Blacknose Minnow, Lake Shinner, Flat head Minnow, Nine-Spined Stickleback, Iowa Darter, Long Nose Dace, Log Perch, Lake Chub, and Spottail Minnow.


These are the records of the pounds of fish that were caught from 1921 to 1942:
Commercial         Domestic

1921 - 120,500        1,800
1922 - 150,200        2,000
1923 - 135,200        2,900
1924 - 71,500          3,400
1925 - 59,300          3,500
1926 - 50,400          3,850
1927 - 12,924          4,400
1928 - 43,500          6,350
1929 - 24,000          4,050
1930 - 55,400          5,275
1931 - 44,700          600

1932 - 20,200          7,100
1933 - 60,200          7,300
1934 - 51,888          6,700
1935 - 78,946          1,075
1936 - 32,703          1,320
1937 - 30,017          760
1938 - 45,592          945
1939 - 76,245          21,215
1940 - 76,451          20,700
1941 - 100,029        21,800
1942 - 103,620        0

There are no longer domestic licenses available. The people who would net fish for their own consumption used these licenses. The Conservation Department now breakdown the species as well as the pounds. In 2004 the commercial fishing on Delaronde Lake is as follows: White fish- 60,000 Pike- 1,700 and Pickerel 440. This is the most that can be taken from this lake in a year, not what is actually taken.

There was never a fortune to be made in freighting with horses, but it did add a few dollars to the winter income, which helped tide the families over during the hard times of the 1920 - 1930 slump. Men and teams came up from the prairies each year to join the local homesteaders for the winter's haul.

To collect full value for each trip, it was necessary to have sleighs loaded both going north and coming back down again. Depending on the destination, a round trip usually lasted two to three weeks. Sleighs carried about seventy fish boxes, each weighing one hundred and fifty pounds. Sometimes the fish were very large and were put on the sleighs like cordwood, putting them head to tail making two rows and running water down the middle to freeze them so they wouldn't fall off. Freighters were paid for the pounds delivered and at one time were only collecting one or two cents a pound. The whole trip might bring them three or four hundred dollars. Most freighters made about three trips during the winter.

Fifteen to twenty outfits generally loaded and set out at one time. Harness, horseshoes and sleighs were checked and rechecked to ensure as smooth and trouble-free a trip as possible. A well-matched team of horses was the pride of the swing and the envy of every freighter.


Freighting fish.

Freighting fish.

As long as the freight swings were on the move the small but important business of stopping places was most necessary. Their job was to provide food and lodging for the men and horses of the trail at various points during the long haul. They proved a welcome sight following a long cold day of travel. The warmth of a wood fire to thaw out weary bones and the prospect of heaping plates of hot food, plus time for friendly chatter, making it a time to look forward to. Some of the stopping places provided bunks on which a bedroll could be tossed. Others merely offered a friendly door. The freighters would make known the movements of other swings so that hot meals would be ready on their arrival. Often a fisherman would leave word at the stopping place advising that he had a load of fish ready to be hauled. It was word of mouth or moccasin telegraph kind of communication, but it seemed to work. The freighters depended on the hospitality of these remote lodges and they remained an important part of each swing that travelled the long cold road.


Hauling fish on La Plonge Lake, 1940.

Hauling fish on La Plonge Lake, 1940.

Mary Fonos, La Plonge Lake.

Mary Fonos, at her cabin on Lac La Plonge, 1933.

The stopping places gradually faded out when the caterpillar took over from the horse-drawn sleighs. The freight haul from Big River to the north was practically all over the frozen lakes with a few portages over the muskeg or bush. Ice conditions had to be safe before the freighting began and snow had to be continually cleared from the trail, especially on the lakes where the wind had a clear sweep and drifting was severe.

To accomplish this, about eight horses were used to push the snowplough. The owners of the horses chosen to plough would have to look after a double load for a while but all would lend a helping hand and a watchful eye. When not in use, the snowplough was usually trailed in a small sleigh of its own; ready to be put to use whenever snow blocked the way. Once the trail was cleared each team and sleigh followed in single file and made as good a time as was possible toward their destination while the road was passable. This was one of the reasons for travelling in large groups. The one ploughing served them all but the road could drift in again in a short while leaving the lone traveller or the next swing with a ploughing job to be done once again.

Two freighters that were in business for many, many years were Alonzo Gallant and Gaudoise Tremblay. Alonzo spent twenty-two winters freighting and in all that time he only lost one horse on the job. It was a winter when dangerous spots of thin ice showed up on the lakes and the horse fell through into thirty feet of water. The animal's head appeared at the water hole and an attempt was made to get a rope around his body, but the hole was not large enough for this to be accomplished. So a rope was put around the head of the horse, and a team was hitched on to try to bring the unfortunate horse up on solid ice. The pressure proved too much, and the poor animal's neck was broken.


Cat swing in front of Waite's office.

Cat swing in front of Waite's office.

Scow taking freight to Snake Lake.

Scow taking freight to Snake Lake.

Mr Gallant made two trips as far as Lac La Ronge and many others to the lakes between. The the last trip he made was in 1945 when he went to Smoothstone Lake to pick up fish for George Clarke. (Clarke Lake was later named in honour of George).

There weren't many tricks to the trade that Alonzo didn't know about freighting. He said it was a hard rugged life, but also a satisfying one, where you were pretty well your own boss. Some of the freighters he recalls travelling with and remembers well as being good freighters working out of Big River were: Chester Cofield, Charles Michel, Ted Senum, Melvin Meyers, Vernor Johnson, Albert Fortin, Clyde Allan, Eric Quinlog, Harry McRae, Axel Olson, Ivan Leach, Nap Chenard, George Dunn, Jim Sweeney, Frank Can, Harold Headman, Gus Tremblay, Gaudoise Tremblay, Robert Klyne, Chris Cruso, Moses Martin and Alf Roberts. These are but a few as there were many more making up the freight swing crews in the shuttle between north and south.

The men of the swing would gather on a prearranged date in town and load up their freight and head for the first stopping place on Delaronde Lake. Jack and Alma Rae ran this; their place was around where Trish and Ian Doucette are now living. The next place was Joe Sheppard's; about ten miles up the lake, then on to the narrows where Johnny Olson kept a stopping place. The north end of Delaronde had several different operators, but Jim Pace operated it for some time. There was also Frank Schloegel, Willy Tonge, and in later years, Mrs Redhead. The freight swing would head on over the portage to Sled Lake and the stopping place there was that of Baptiste Mirasty. Later, his son, Narcise Mirasty operated it. The next stop was at Mrs Skivek's place at the south end of Dore Lake. Everyone mentions the excellent cooking of Mrs Skivek. The Edison's ran a place farther up Dore Lake and at the north end of Dore were Verner Johnson and Ronald Anderson. Further along the trail at Beauval was shelter at Chris Ericksons, and then Dick Kirby's at the mouth of the Beaver River where it empties into Ile-a-la-Crosse Lake. This is where Fred Buckley often worked. The Auslands ran a stopping place at Deep River, where Ile-a-la-Crosse runs out to Clear Lake. Reider Pederson was there to welcome those who reached Buffalo Narrows. Other camps that the swings would haul from were Dillon Lake, Snake Lake, Patuanak, Buffalo River and Island Lake. Indeed anywhere that a load was ready to haul would see the freighters make their way to pick it up.

A good many a mile have been walked by man and horse to transport the vital supplies to the northern settlements and to bring out the fish for sale in the south.

While much can be written about the freighters and their colourful lifestyle, very little is ever mentioned about the wives and mothers who stayed at home managing the homesteads during the time the men were away freighting and fishing. Raising a family with all its everyday trials is no small job and to these women should go the honour due to them. The fact that men could up and leave knowing the family was left in good and caring hands was indeed important. One would imagine the hardships and experiences encountered "back home" was often, as daring and harrowing as the freighters themselves had to deal with.

Often the freighters had to cut roads in the portages. They tramped muskegs so they would freeze enough for them to cross safely.

As the years went by, more mechanized equipment gradually replaced the horse-drawn swings. "Cat swings" began snaking their way across the frozen lakes. Each caterpillar had a crew of two or three and was able to travel day and night, thus reducing the time for each trip. A caboose was built on every "cat" which provided some form of comfort in heat and protection along the way.

Soon the stopping places were no longer needed and one by one they were abandoned, leaving only the empty shacks and the reminder of a different era and the important part they once played in the history of the north. The dinkey was used to cut ruts down the centre of the road for the horse and sleigh to follow. The dinkeys would plough the snow away to break trail. These machines burned coal and were steam-powered.

As better roads pushed farther and farther into the bush, trucks took over the hauling and the cat swings became outdated. Finally, aeroplanes began the shuttle and fresh fish could be delivered to all parts of North America regularly.

Transport trucks still play an important role in the haul of freight. Dawson's Transport, Max Wilson, and Earl Beebe Trucking have covered the north, freighting for many miles and years. Earl Beebe Trucking is still hauling the freight to all the northern communities as well as hauling the fresh fish off to Winnipeg. Many of the horse freighters were young enough to have freighted with horses as well as with truck. What a change to see! Freighting by truck was also dangerous in its way. There was not only the extra weight of the equipment but the speed at which they travelled was sometimes a problem. If you travel too fast on the ice it causes the water underneath to move and could cause an ice heave. There have been many trucks fall through the ice, either the front end or the rear wheels and it would take many hours or days to get them out, depending on what part was stuck and how much help you had.


Between Beauval and Fort Black, 1947.

Between Beauval and Fort Black, Mervin Sundby,
Ed Bradley, Armand Godin, 1947.

Pulling a truck out of the Beaver River, 1953.

Pulling a truck out of the Beaver River, 1953.

Ivan Edson truck in Creek, 1947.

Ivan Edson dropped back end of truck in
a large Creek, 1947.

The days of the horse-drawn freight swings are gone but in the minds of the hardy freighters who travelled the snowbound trails, they will never be forgotten and no history of Big River would have been complete without their story.


Transportation
Excerpts from Timber Trails with additions

The earliest means of transportation was by water route when natives and early explorers travelled the Big River. The use of old bush trails with wagons pulled by oxen or horses came next. The earliest settlers slowly made their way into this district by ox cart in the early 1900s. The first car in the district was said to be that of William Cowan, who made his way over the Hudson's Bay Trail from Prince Albert to his mill at Crooked Lake. The Hudson Bay Trail comes from Prince Albert through Winter Lake area and behind Bodmin. Evidence of this trail is still noticeable if you are in the right area. The trail was used mostly for freighting.

Among the first cars owned by citizens of the community were Fred Buckley, Joe Lamothe and Joe Sixsmith. By the end of the 1930s, many of the local citizens owned their own car and the blacksmith shops soon changed over to become garages as the demand for car parts and repairs increased.


Early Transportation.

Early Transportation.

The Holmer's  -  Charlie, Rita, Ursula, Oma, Ruth and Pony Pal.

The Holmer's - Charlie, Rita, Ursula, Oma,
Ruth and Pony Pal.

1929 Chevy Coupe.

1929 Chevy Coupe.

The railway arrived in Big River in 1910. A spur from Shellbrook to Debden and then to Big River was first known as the Crooked Lake Branch but was officially named the Canadian Northern Railroad. The building of this spur was under the direction of McKenzie and Mann, a Winnipeg Company. The coming of the railway brought an influx of workers, many of whom stayed to work in the lumber mill or camps after the railway was completed. In 1913, the Lumber Company requested that a station and permanent agent be located at Big River. This request was granted by the Railway and the first Agent, Mr H. E. Thompson arrived in 1914. Contractors who worked for the Canadian Northern Railroad Company built the Big River station. In the middle '40s, a partial concrete basement was constructed which allowed a coal-burning furnace to be installed. In 1949 permission was granted to the agent to install an oil furnace, provided the agent paid for the oil. In 1915 when the Canadian Government took over they became the Canadian National Railways. The Big River station, like the majority built, was known as a third-class station. The Big River Station has an addition on the waiting room end that altered its appearance. The third class depot, no matter what changes occurred in the original plan, always kept its symmetrical and functional good looks. The station agent in Big River in 1917 was paid $94.00 a month. That was for working 10 hours a day 6 days a week. Cliff Charleton, P.E Urich (1948 to 1954), Darcy Turner, Shanks, Trann, and George Skinner were some of the agents. Al Osinchuck was a relief agent. The railway employed several families in Big River: Jack Millikin, Robert and Dan Normandeau, Robert Klyne, Emmit Cooper, Alex Mamchur and Steve Kowalyk to name a few. In the early sixties, they changed the locomotives from coal to oil, and later to diesel. Jack Millikin recalls helping to shovel coal in the winter. The coal was frozen in large lumps and was shoveled into wheelbarrows and pushed across planks on to the coal deck. Jack recalls a time or two when they would shovel until 7:00 am, go home, wash the coal dust off and be back to work by 8:00 am to shovel snow. The fare from Big River to Dumble in the late fifties was $.50. You could board the train at Bodmin and Wrixon. The cream and other freight were also picked up there. The coach or passenger car was the first to be discontinued. As the roads improved and the bus service became more reliable, the need for the passenger car was gone. The baggage car was the next to go. The mail and other freight were then sent by bus or transport. The railway station closed and left only lumber and some fish going out. The reefer cars sat behind Waite's store waiting to be filled and sent on to all parts of the country. In the spring of 1979, a spur was run off the main track into the Big River sawmill (Weyerhaeuser) located at Bodmin. On August 31, 1979, the railway closed their rails and later pulled its ties ending a memorable era. Now all that is left of the railway is a dirt trail through the bush. Although the rail is gone it has left us with a beautiful walking path. The rail may be gone but the memories can still be found as you walk down the path. The railway car was another means of transportation in the early days. A jigger type car travelled on the tracks.


Steve Kowalyk with Jigger at Dumble, 1927.

Steve Kowalyk with Jigger
at Dumble, 1927.

Alex Mamchur and Jack Millikin building the Y in Big River, 1945.

Alex Mamchur and Jack Millikin building
the Y in Big River, 1945.

Doris Millikin with baby Stan at Dumble, 1953.

Doris Millikin with baby Stan
at Dumble, 1953.

The Water Tower.

The Water Tower.

The Station House has been used for numerous projects and is now used by the seniors as their meeting place. The seniors have taken great pride in trying to keep the station restored.

Citizens relied on private bus lines for a time. The first regular bus service was supplied by Jim Dawson. He had the Big River to Prince Albert run. Ted Otte was the next bus driver, beginning the service in 1941 and continuing until the government took over all the bus routes in the province in 1946. The Saskatchewan Transportation Company had supplied this community with bus service for many years. The first driver for S.T.C. was F. Terry and the bus depot was located in the cafe at the theatre. `Chuck' Tuck was the next driver followed by S. Gibson. In 1956, Sidney and Margaret Cookman and family moved to Big River and Sid began driving the bus route. Sid drove the Big River to Prince Albert route from 1956 until his retirement in 1984. Sid seemed to personalize the bus service, always a joke or two. I'm sure we all remember Sid's ticket punch! It was often threatened to be used for ear piercing as well as paper punching. There was a door to the door service when needed. Sid was also known to pick up dry-cleaning, shoe repairs, glasses and even dentures. Sid provided Big River and area and S.T.0 with excellent service over the years and on July 27, 1972, Sid had a million accident-free miles. The bus depot has been at a few locations over the years. The last location for the S.T.0 was at Emilia Jezowski's home. After Sid's retirement, there was never a permanent driver. There were a few drivers and in the early '90s, Saskatchewan Transportation Company discontinued the run, leaving Big River with no transportation service. Dennis Bouchard, the owner of Crossland Bus Lines, came to Big River after the S.T.C. discontinued this run. Dennis came to Big River from his Meadow Lake to Leoville run a couple of times a week. Dennis ran his business out of Emilia's for a short time and is now located at Midtown Service. Over the years Big River and area have been fortunate to have these services. A round trip from Big River to Prince Albert in the early sixties was around $3.23 and now the same trip is around $30.00.


Oma, Rupert, Rita Holmer, 1953.

Oma, Rupert, Rita Holmer, 1953.

Airline service was supplied for several years by M & C Aviation (McNeil and Campbell), who purchased some of the planes and equipment from the Air Base at Ladder Lake. Northern Airlines was established by Waite Fisheries Limited. Aeroplanes flew daily, taking mail and supplies into northern points and bringing back fish for the southern market. Fish caught as far north as Cree Lake could be on the United States market within three or four days.


Snowplane, a snowmobile owned and used by J.K. Johnson in the early 1940s.

Snowplane, a snowmobile owned and used by
J.K. Johnson in the early 1940s.

Waite's plane - March 12. 1947.

Waite's plane - March 12. 1947.

George Greening, Pilot.

George Greening, Pilot.

Remains of plane flown by Jim Barber.

Remains of airplane carrying Huldah Johnson and pilot Jim Barber.
Plane caught fire as they were landing, 1950.

George Greening, Jim Barber and Tommy McCloy were pilots during the time of Northern Airlines shuttle between the outlying districts of the North and Big River, the home base. Tom McCloy was a Captain and senior member of C.P.A., flying out of Vancouver. George Greening was living in Prince Albert and working at the Airport there. Jim Barber died around 1978. He held R.C.A.F. awards for his courage and ability during the last World War. All planes docked on Cowan Lake at the dock. Pontoons were used in the summer and planes were equipped with skis for the winter months. As roads improved, transport trucks became a popular means of transport, replacing the horse and caterpillar freight swings. A large fleet of trucks serves the northern community to the present day.




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"Date Modified: 2019, January 24."


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