Excerpts from Timber Trails, 1949
Mr Jimmy Boyd was employed by the Lumber Company as a janitor for the Junior School. He had a small house on top of the hill, across from the school. When he arrived in the district, the hill was covered in shrubs and bush. Mr Boyd spent many hours clearing off the hills to make a sliding area for the children. Many generations of Big River children have enjoyed sliding down those hills suffering a few bumps and bruises but mostly having fun. This (Hospital) hill became known as Boyd Park in honour of Jimmy.
Excerpts from Timber Trails, 1949
Before the days of sewer and water, every home sported its outhouse. They came in many shapes and sizes from the common 'one-holer' to the fancy four-holer. Places like the school, hospital, and hotel had large built-in cesspools. The waste was dumped here until it was pumped into the Honey Wagon and hauled away. About once a week this large leaky tank sloshed its way through the heart of town, leaving its foul odour hanging in the air all along the route.
Many of the village residents will remember one young fellow who, during a game, decided to hide on the upper ridge of the hotel cesspool. He slipped into the foul contents below when the trap door shut; leaving him treading furiously until help arrived. Days later he could be seen soaking in the river swimming hole to smell like roses again!
Life in Big River in the '50s and '60s
Submitted by Linda Anderson
Since we had no computers or video games (some of us didn't even have a TV) in the '50s and 60's we had to make our entertainment. In the summer we spent our days at the old swimming hole, one mile west of town. Most of us got our swimming lessons there. In the winter we spent our time at the outdoor skating rink located behind the Elks hall or sliding down the hospital hill on our toboggans (if you could afford one) or homemade bobsleds.
On Friday and Saturday, you could go to the Movie Theatre owned by "Pop" Skilliter. The movie cost 20 cents.
We went to record hops and if you were chosen you could go to Prince Albert and dance at "The Hop" on CKBI television. There was also an amateur hour show on CKBI radio that was held at the Elks hall.
There were other activities to get involved in such as Brownies or Girl Guides for the girls and Cubs, Scouts, and Cadets for the boys.
All in all, it was great growing up in Big River in the '50s and '60s.
One that stands out in my mind was the wonderful Christmas concerts the school put on. "The Old Women that lived in a Shoe" was one. I played the part of a fairy along with Therese Bouchard, Anne Wopnford and Therese St. Arnaud. My sister Blanche was the fairy godmother and we had to kneel in front of her. I started to giggle as I thought how foolish it was kneeling in front of my sister.
I remember swimming at Ladder Lake. I would have drowned had it not been for Leon Dube. She grabbed me as I was going under for the last time. When Ladder dried up we went to the river. We had to wade through the swamp to get there but we managed.
In the summer all the kids in town would gather in front of OP Godin's (where Third and Main is now). We would play all kinds of games, such as hide and seek, red light, tag and many more, what a good time we had.
In the winter everybody skated. I loved to skate, started when I was five. I would skate so hard (with ankles touching the ice) and be so tired when I was finished, my dad would have to carry me home. The rink was on the town side of the tracks, near where Zinovich's house was. The train would flood the ice for the town.
I was a Girl Guide for a short time. Mrs Craven who was the Anglican Church Minister's wife was the leader. When she left the club folded.
I liked to do acrobatics and also tap dance. A girlfriend Irene Poulin, taught me. Then we would dance together, as my mother played the piano for us. Irene's parents had a hotel and cafe where the Rex Cafe is now.
In 1946 I became a charter member of the O.O.R.P.
In 1957, I went to a "fashion show". For entertainment, they brought in tap dancers from another town. I was very annoyed at this, so I decided then and there that I would take dancing lessons so I could teach the children in Big River. I was 29 years old and everyone said I was crazy. I was determined and didn't listen to them. I figured they should have the opportunity to learn to dance and would be as good as any other children. I took lessons in Prince Albert and after a few months I started "Belroy's School of Dance". I don't remember how many there were but they ranged in age from four to twenty-six. Laura Wilson made some recordings for us. Having music to dance to we were on our way. I only had one dance recital and it turned out to be so wonderful. The children were so good and I was so proud of them. Laura played the piano, which was so much better than dancing to records. I wished I could have continued but we moved shortly afterwards.
I taught "Club Swinging" for the same reason, instead of bringing in outsiders to perform, Big River's children could do it. I taught Ruth Colby, Audrey Wopnford and Eleanor Nesbit. They performed at several functions.
As submitted by Therese Kazmiruk
with Excerpts from Timber Trails
My recollections of the thirties are many happy ones. As a very young child, I remember my father's blacksmith shop and being very frightened when he was shoeing horses. I enjoyed watching him shape the red hot iron into a horseshoe and can still hear the water sizzle when he struck the shoe in a tub of water to cool it. The greatest thrill for us was when he let us turn the handle on the blower for the forge. We would stand and watch the coals turn a bright red as we turned the handle.
My sisters and I spent as much time as we could in the shop until dad would become tired of having us in his way and chase us out. We were always black and kept our poor mother busy keeping us clean.
One person who I remember stopping at the gas pumps outside the shop, to talk to us children was Dr Murray from Saskatoon. They came up to Big River every summer to spend some time at their cottage on Ladder Lake. Other people who came were A.A. Murphy, Mills, and Hartneys from Saskatoon.
The card parties and fowl suppers in the church basement were important occasions for all members of the family. Corn suppers were held at Gallant's farm and everyone would attend. All the proceeds went to the upkeep of the church.
At Christmas time there would be a concert at the school with everyone taking part. At the end of the plays everyone would join in, singing Christmas Carols and then bags of goodies were handed out for every child in each family.
O.P. Godin's store opened for business after Mass on Sunday to serve the farmers and to provide for a meeting place for friendly visits and discussions. O.P. Godin's also had an ice cream parlour which opened evenings and on Sunday afternoons. A person would be served on round marble tables while sitting on black wooden chairs.
Our family would make regular trips to our grandparent's home in Shell River. The journey seemed to take hours and hours and as a result, we had to stay overnight.
I also remember walking out to Ladder Lake with mom and Mrs Michel. On hot summer afternoons, it seemed like the whole town would be out at the lake. Also, during the summer I remember admiring Dr Afanasieff's beautiful flower garden.
Sliding in the wintertime was a means of entertainment. We would pile on the bobsleighs, and starting on the hospital hill we would end up at the train station. It was a long haul back up the hill, but the sound of the sleighs lingered until late at night. The long swings of freight sleighs going out of town and returning with their loads of fish is another winter memory.
In summer, Mrs Snell's geese would make their daily trip through the town to the lake; no one bothered them, the old gander made sure of that.
Outside Godin's store were iron hitching rails where the farmers tied their teams while they were in the store doing their week's shopping. Some people came in only once a month as the distance from town varied greatly between the homesteads.
I also remember waiting for the train to come in and people going to meet it. Also, people would stand in the post office waiting for the mail to be sorted. The lineup was long both summer and winter, as it was never too cold to wait for the mail.
The annual field days, held regularly on May 24th, always brought out some strong competition at school. The old open-air rink near the lake was the site of many thrilling hockey games! Hockey equipment wasn't plentiful, but the game was still fast and exciting. There were no dressing rooms for the hockey players and therefore, players and fans crowded into the small rink house for warmth. Within this building, the smell of burning mitts was always in the air.
As children, we didn't realize how hard the times were in the thirties. Since our father had the blacksmith shop and garage, he was paid in cash, or by credit at Godin's store. Sometimes he would be paid with products such as fish, meat, and potatoes, while some of the customers paid their bills with cordwood.
The thirties as I remember were a good time in our lives. The forties were the hardest after our father took sick and had to give up his business. However, our family managed to live through it all and it remains a cherished memory.
I remember learning to skate on the old outdoor rink down by the dock. Large cracks in the ice, broken boards and frozen feet. What a difference from the new arena we have now.
Remember the old swimming hole and running on the railroad ties to get to it. A big fire to warm up by, and every kid's dream "to be able to swim across the river." Now there isn't a river there any more.
The sliding hill, we would start at the top of the tower hill, which is were Ron and Wendy Hartnett now live, down past the school, down Main Street and make a curve at the station and end up by Rizer's fish plant. Bouchard's always had the best bobsled on the hill.
The Chinamen's Cafe, I remember the words" I'll meet you at the chinamen's. Today that isn't politically correct but it didn't matter if it was Der Tom, Jimmy or Lloyd, the owners. I think a float cost fifteen cents at the time.
Mrs Bouchard, the theatre. Who could forget Mrs Bouchard and the theatre? The building seemed so large back then. We would stand at the door looking sad and broke and eventually she would say, "Okay go in but be quiet." The price was eighteen cents on Friday nights and ten cents if you went again on Saturday. Pete would walk around telling us not to smoke while he was doing just that.
Young's Garage, of course, no history of Big River would be complete without a few words about them. I wonder if any other business had as many wacky and hilarious things going on. Old Tom and the boys were known far and wide for their wit and goings-on. Of course, characters like" Wabee", "Old Fred", "YaYa" and others made the scout camp a famous place to be. Tourists would stop just to hear "Old Tom" rant and rave about something.
The Ladder Lake Pavilion, and of course our most famous place of all, the Ladder Lake dance hall. Saturday Night Live, it certainly was. Drinking, loving, fighting and even a little dancing. Who could forget Ma Godin pounding out the music on the piano while Wilfred cooked and sold hamburgers? Then Jack and Doris and Amedie playing their music. What a great time it was if you could get through the mud holes to get there.
Track and Field days, what an exciting event they were! First, the local meet where we would pick our four teams with captains and co-captains. Then the all-star team would compete against the area schools, Lake Four, Bodmin, Green Mantle, Rapid Bend, Ladder Valley, South Stoney and Deloronde Lake. We would have a parade and that day we were all at the Olympics.
The Train, the train used to come in about seven pm. And many town people would gather at the station to socialize and to see who came in on the train. About an hour after the train arrived, you could go to Forbes Post Office and get your mail.
July 1st Sport's Days, ballgames, horseshoes, races for everyone and of course ice cream and watermelon at the food booth. There was Rodeo events, a parade and lots of excitement for everyone.
Big River, like many small towns, had its share of folks that I would just call "characters". Bill McClooney, Frank Schlitz, Jim Clay, Scotty, Demsey, Paddy Hines and Tom Young are just a few that I remember. I know that there were others but these stand out in my mind.
Last, but most fondly remembered, are the Big River, senior hockey teams. From the Bruisers to the Legions to the Braves, no other organization has brought more excitement or entertainment to our town. We didn't always win, but even in defeat, our fans were always with us. No one can forget the Big River Arena on a Saturday night with hundreds of screaming fans cheering wildly for our team.
Submitted by the Meiklejohns
Peggy fishing off the dock, cleaning and refrigerating her catch and sometimes supplying Mr. Grahn with his supper as well.
In May, (ice still on the lake) and the first member of the Kinsmen Club from Big River or Shellbrook to jump in would collect the cash for their club. Ernie was first one in! The year 1974, a great amount of snow, using Ernie as a lifeline, (a rope tied to him) and Moe Gagne shovelling the snow off the roof of the hotel. Everyone was asked to move their vehicles, but Jack Hartnett didn't, as a result, he had a truck full of snow. Scott coming home from Santa Claus Day and informing his mother that Santa has the same kind of ring as Dad wears.
The fund-raiser with a dunk tank on the ice surface of the arena and Bob buying all the balls to try and dunk his favourite Mountie.
The "grunt fuddicuss" competition at Nesslin Lake and someone from the Big River Club faking a heart attack so the team could push the tractor tube across the line to victory!
Submitted by Doreen Stuesser
with Excerpts from Timber Trails.
I lived in Big River for thirty years, moving there with my parents on April 29, 1927, by train from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. I was four years old at the time.
We stayed at Grannie McKnight's rooming house, situated two doors from the first Anglican Church. I remember my dad pick-a backing me down the track, as it was just too far for me to walk to the CNR water tower. In those days the trains came three times a week and stayed over Saturday evening till Monday morning. My dad was the engine watchman.
In September 1929, I started school with Martha Myers as my teacher. I was only in school for two months when in the middle of the night, the school burned down. After the confusion cleared we were relocated in the United Church and Hillcrest Hall. Also, the first Anglican Church was used for classes.
When the school opened the next fall we had a new teacher, Mrs Margaret Bouchard.
The first years of school I was privileged to have my dinners with the Yurach family, as it was a real hike for me to walk home for lunch, especially in the winter months. Granny Yurach was my barber, as well as a great cook. She even cut our daughter Arleen's hair in the early 1950s.
In those days Bill Yurach used to have cows and geese and ducks in a barn below the CNR Station. We used to get our milk from Yurachs too. On the weekends, Emery Trann and Nick Yurach would deliver milk with Shetland ponies that the Tranns owned.
There were very few cars in Big River in those days, would you believe two of them had an accident on the graveyard hill? One car belonged to Rev. R.E. Smith, the Anglican Church minister and the other belonged to Ernie Brownfield.
The Tranns had moved to Big River the same year we had, with Dorothy and Emery, Ross and Olive. For many years on Good Friday, whether Easter was early or late, we girls used to go on a hike down the track, for walking was a great pastime. Usually, it would be Dorothy Trann, Eva Yurach, Irene Bouchard, Eleanora Anderson, and myself, with Ann Yurach as our guide. We enjoyed nature at that time, and have such pleasant memories of our younger years.
The Forestry was a busy place too, with the Potters and their boys Rex and Fred. The Christies with Rachel and Hilda plus the O'Conners with Kathleen, Marion, Pat, and Harold, they all lived over the river at the Forestry Reserve. The Forestry had horses and a canoe to get to the out-of-the-way places; roads were only trails.
Jack Hackett and his wife Raty and daughter Jean came to Big River from Emma Lake, Saskatchewan, to take care of the Forestry Fire Tower at Bodmin.
During the years 1932 to 1937, my dad, Dick Bell, was Scout Leader. They used to have their meetings in Miss Brownfield's room in the basement of the school. Boys like Bill and Jack Maxwell, Nick and Bill Yurach, John Brownfield, the Otte boys, Jim Olsen, and Rex Potter would attend. They would camp out or go duck hunting, as this was another great get together with the boys for we had a boat on the river.
Other people who were part of my younger years were the CNR Section men who took care of the Railway Track. To name some, they were Rex Mathews, Fred Yurach, Ernie Millward, and Steve Kowalyk.
In the summer months of 1938 to 1939, I was a telephone operator, which relieved Jim Young of his tedious duties. I also helped in Young's house plus taking care of the switchboard from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. plus four hours on Sundays.
In 1940, I worked for Mr Forbes, who was postmaster and had been for many years. The trains brought mail twice a week at this time. The mail was sorted at night and the people came and picked their mail up that same night. Believe me, at Christmas time, it could easily mean working until the wee hours of the morning, as the 'mail must go' was the rule in those days.
It was during this Post Office job that I met my husband Arnold; we were married in St. Martin's Anglican Church in October 1944. Arnold was in the army. The following March he went overseas to Holland, returning to Saskatoon in February 1946. In March that same year, we returned to Big River and went to his home on the farm nine miles north of Black Duck Road.
The winter of 1941 to 1942, I worked for Big River Fisheries owned by G. Rizer. They hauled the fish with caterpillar trains from Buffalo Narrows and other point's north. At that time Rupert Holmer, Bill Kaese and Ted Wychodzew were some of the people who worked there.
We did not have a hospital during those times. We had a Russian doctor who had immigrated to Big River. He had experiences and adventures going by horse and cutter, or horse and wagon, to see his patients, working under very adverse conditions.
I had many happy times in Big River, also sad times too, but that was life no matter where one lives.
Excerpts from Timber Trails, 1949
Some of the first babies born in Big River were: Oscar Brownfield, Alex Doucette, Veleda Chenard and Martha Swanson.
Wilfred Morrin, at one time, advertised oxen to break land for gardens and crops.
In 1930, Alex Stewart owned a registered stallion, which was used to improve the breed of horses in this district.
A Chinese gentleman by the name of John once operated a very lucrative laundry business in town. The Chinese are famous for their resourceful minds, and John was no exception. Finding that it was not uncommon for articles to "disappear" from his clothesline, the wily oriental tied a cowbell to the line, as a makeshift alarm system. He was thereby able to thwart many an ill-clad thief!
Mrs Rubena Wenzel was the reporter for the Herald and the Saskatoon Star Phoenix for several years, One of the more interesting stories covered was the saga of "One-and-a-Half Step", a lame wolf that marauded farmyards in the area and eluded all attempts to be caught.
Games of broomball were played on the open rinks and were a very popular sport.
- "Spending money" was earned by filling the wood box and carrying in pails of water.
- Thursday was referred to as "Travelers' Day". It seemed that day all the commercial travellers came to town.
- Housewives saved all their vegetable peelings to help feed the neighbour's cow.
- It was an annual event to walk down the railway tracks on Easter Sunday.
- Corn and potato roasts were popular and no one had even heard of wieners.
- It was important to check the inside of your coat, as the material would be turned for a makeover job the next year.
- In 1912, there were over three thousand men employed at the mill and in the bush camps in this district.
- Mr Craddock painted the entire local signs and posters in town.
- Ration coupons got your supply of sugar and coffee.
- Honey was used as a substitute for sugar whenever possible.
- Dishes were found in boxes of soap and the fun it was to save and swap them with your friends to try and get a complete set.
- The Soap Operas on radio and good old Ma Perkins.
- Lux Theatre was a must on Monday night radio.
- Flour and sugar sacks played an important role in the home. Bleached white with hard work, they were turned into underclothing, blouses, dish towels, table covers, runners, or curtains.
- In the early days, Big River was a very dressy community.
- Bobsleds were the fashion and you took pride in well-matched runners and how expertly you could navigate the sliding hill.
- Laurin's farm at Bodmin won the Model Farm Home award.
- Frank Schlitz, and how all the children loved him.
- People got relief orders and there was little cash.
- Sawdust was shipped out by the carload for grasshopper control in the south.
- Everyone packed into trucks and went to see the King and Queen in Saskatoon.
- Mrs Ellen Lane operated a beauty parlour and a dry cleaning shop.
- Marianne Goliath's beautiful gardens.
- The sound of the mill whistle.
In the early settlement period, there were many small homes built along the riverbank, out as far as the old water tower that was used by the C.N.R. From these pictures we can see it was quite a large settlement.
Mr Jim Boyd, an early resident of the community, made a giant "lumberman" which was mounted on a large spruce post in the Village. This lumber statue stood for many years and no one seems to know just what became of it.
Trapping has been an established business since the early times. Trapper's shacks are scattered throughout the surrounding countryside and along the lakeshores.
Submitted by Bill McKnight
When I heard of a new Big River History Book was in the making, I wondered if it would include any of the single men that were part of the early years of Big River, most had no family here to pass on the information.
John Gunville lived in a small shack in the field below the old garbage dump just south of the bridge. His main income was from picking Seneca root, which he sold, to Hallis Store.
Many of the younger boys, twelve to fifteen years of age used to visit John. He showed us how he could call a muskrat right up to his hand. He also showed us how to dig up Seneca roots on the many walks by the river. His dwelling was always so clean and tidy even though the inside was just finished with boards. I do not think any of the boys will ever forget the bannock cooked on the top of his stove, served with butter and Lily White corn syrup.
Paddy Hines - (Frank Fowler) who lived at the bottom of the sliding hill that runs down from the Catholic Church. Paddy as everyone called him, had a team of light horses which he used to haul the mail etc. from the station and also use with a light cutter to drive the police or doctor outside of town. The horses were his life and so well-groomed and looked after.
Jack the Ripper - (never did know his real name) was a small man, slightly hunched over and went around town with a swede saw and axe cutting up firewood for different people.
Old Mac - (another bachelor we never knew his real name). I believe he was crippled in a fall from some construction and was pretty well bedridden. He spent his final days at Mrs Belisle.
Jack Dempsey - (Fred Vieno) worked mainly in the bush or lumber mills. Jack must have come from a religious family as at church he knew the prayer book, etc. by heart.
Scotty - (Robert Purcell) worked mainly in the bush until later years when he worked for Natural Resources as a fire tower operator.
We shouldn't forget some of the well-known natives, most of who lived at the Indian Village on the East Side of Delaronde Lake. They brought their furs and moccasins into the local stores to sell. There was the old Peter McAdam, Frank Rabbit skin, and Joe Smallboy. Then there was Harry Dreaver who lived in town. He was a First World War Veteran and well known in town. In the spring and summer, you could always see Mrs Dreaver down at the river by the bridge fishing. She always used a long pole which was cut from the bush, whether it was natural or caused by some health conditions the pole was always shaking, but I think she always caught more fish than anyone else.
We have had many people in Big River that may not have taken part in any sport but were very strong advocates of the various sports which brings to mind an event from (I believe 1940). The Elks who looked after the outdoor rink just north of the dock at the lake had decided they would not be able to operate that winter. Max Wopnford, Bill Anderson, Bill McKnight and Godfrey Vold got together and asked Max to approach his dad (Chris Wopnford) with a proposal to take to the Elks meeting. We proposed that the four of us would flood the rink in exchange for our skating tickets for the winter. Chris was able to convince the Elks membership to go along with the idea. We begged and borrowed gas water pump and canvas hoses from the D.N.R. with strict orders to prevent cracking the canvas hoses when they froze. The pump leaked and spurted water all over the motor and we got many electric shocks when working with it. We had to take all the hoses into the rink shack after each flooding to thaw it out. A few of the kids from around town got upset with us because we wouldn't let them in the shack, with the hoses, and retaliated by throwing frozen road apples on the freshly flooded ice.
Many guys had joined up from Big River so the main hockey team was lost. We still managed to have girls, boys and old-timers hockey teams. These teams played each other as well as basically a school team, which was in the "Big V" hockey league.
The following story appeared in the fiction - fact magazine for men called ARGOSY, dated May 1959. On reading this and discussing this article with some of the old-timers in the area, parts of this story are true, some have artistic additions. There was a wolf that caused a major amount of problems in the farming community on the west side of Cowan River, ranging through the districts from south of Bodmin to Greenmantle and West Cowan. This wolf did kill animals and the story gives a specific number, but it seems that the local stories tell of more. Did the wolf kill these animals or was he just a good excuse. Only old step and a half know for sure.
"Old One-and-a-Half Step's reign of terror has ended. The giant wolf, savage killer of farm animals, cunning eluder of hunter's wiles in the Big River district sixty-five miles northwest of Prince Albert was found shot dead yesterday... The final chapter in the life of the gaunt, grey timber wolf was as bloody as the ravages that put fear into the hearts of all who saw the three-paw marks of his giveaway limp in the snow."
It goes on like that, and it made strange reading up here. When you consider that, on this northern fringe of settlement in Saskatchewan, most of us are born with a gun within reach and that a lot of us have spent years on the trap lines further north, it's absurd to think of us standing over a wolf track and trembling with fear. But it's right this far that Old Three-Leg was quite a wolf and we learned to respect him.
The story, however, is not quite accurate. In the first place, he was never called One-and-a-half Step. The papers said he had only one good leg, and some reporter named him that. He had three good legs. His right front leg was smashed by a slug from George Bodmin's Winchester 30-30, the first day Old Three-Leg, that was what we called him - was seen.
The Big River country is marked with bush and lakes and stone outcrop. Deep gullies slash through the open land. The Big River, itself, rises to the south at Winter Lake and Keg Lake and dumps into Cowan Lake to the north of us, not far from the big Delaronde and Ladder Lakes. There are other lakes, but these five more or less circle our country. North of Delaronde and Cowan are a thousand miles of bush and tundra.
From the time this country was settled, thirty or forty years ago. The farmers have had to get along with wolves. But if one got a taste for livestock, we'd trap or shoot it without too much trouble.
It happened I was at Bodmin's the first time Old Three-Leg was seen. I'd been to the town of Big River and, in the late evening, was driving back to the farm where I worked, fifteen miles south. The wind was moaning through the trees and hard flakes of snow were cutting down. I was cold and pulled off the main road and went across the little bridge over the Big River up the slope to Bodmin's yard to visit for a while.
George insisted I put the team in the barn and stop for the night. I did, and I'd just got dressed the next morning when the house reverberated to the sharp crack of a high-powered rifle, shot from the next room. Bodmin had fired through the front door. I yanked on boots and parka and followed him toward the barnyard, picking my rifle out of the sleigh as I went by. George climbed the fence into the pig yard. In the snow were the pad marks of a wolf.
"No. He jumped the fence, and when I shot he rolled over."
We could see where he had crashed into the soft snow. He had bounded up again and his trail, blood-specked, and led toward the woods.
"You took his leg," I said.
"He's dragging the right front," said George. "We might as well have breakfast and then go up along the trail after him."
The trail crossed the far bank of the river and turned toward a bend a mile and a half further north. I went back and phoned Jean La France. There was a heavily used wolf trail along the bottom edge of the bank near his farm, and it was an even bet that the wounded wolf would go up it on the way to the heavier tamarack swamps to the north. Jean agreed to post in a spot above the trail.
The wolf had bedded in a bay of willows and we put him up without getting a shot. He headed for the swamps and limped his way up the trail Jean was posting.
The echo of Jean's shot came rolling down the valley. I remembered the time Jean and I had put up a pair of coyotes, Jean had jumped from the sleigh and killed both before they could reach the scrub, scarcely a hundred yards away. So it was reasonable to expect that the wounded wolf was dead.
But Jean had missed. The wolf had gone past, hobbling awkwardly, and Jean had held right on him at point-blank range. "I couldn' miss dat ol' t'ree-leg like dat," said Jean. He threw up his gun and fired at a finger of rock sticking above the snow. The bullet ricocheted and screamed through the still morning air. "See. She shoots good."
The wolf became, as Jean would have it, 0l' T'ree-Leg. And the later belief that he was a wolf that couldn't be hit, a loup-garou, had its beginnings that first day. We knew that Jean couldn't miss a walking wolf at seventy-five yards.
Before the day was out, George and I both recognized we were dealing with a clever wolf. Old Three-Leg moved into the thick-growing willows on the edge of the swamp. There he had no real trouble keeping out of sight. Once or twice we glimpsed him, and we heard him several times, but we never got a shot. We played hide-and-seek until it was dark and then gave up.
It was one morning the next spring that George Bodmin came out to look over his cattle and found a yearling heifer was missing. He found her half-eaten carcass in the deep bush. On the muddy edge of a nearby creek, he identified the hop and skip of the giant pads of Old Three-Leg.
That was the wolf's first kill, but not his last.
The box score for Old Three-Leg that year was seventeen sheep, six head of young cattle, four farm dogs, and two wolfhounds. The sheep and cattle he killed to eat, and the farm dogs he took because they were paying court to Bodmin's dog; Old Three-Leg had taken up with George Bodmin's big black and white bitch.
The giant grey wolf hung around the bend in the Big River below Bodmin's barn. Often, when the men were working, they would see him within easy range. He wouldn't bother to run. If you went for a gun, he'd fade out of sight, but we soon came to know that he'd not go far. He would lie down so he couldn't be seen, and if you pushed him, he'd skulk off or hide. Old Three-Leg had decided there was no percentage in the unintelligent running.
He wouldn't run from dogs, either. A man who worked on the railway had three wolfhounds and he'd asked us to let him know when next we saw the wolf. We phoned him one day I was now hired man at Bodmin's place and he came out with the dogs.
Old Three-Leg was in a corner of scrub, and four of us, with the three dogs, went in after him. The dogs went sliding through the scrub. Old Three-Leg ambushed two and in a few rips tore them to pieces. Bill called the other dog off.
But if dogs were no good, they were at least as effective as men were. There's a piece of light bush between two fields, the shape of a slice of pie. We saw Old Three-Leg go in, so we started, so we started eight men at the wide end, it wouldn't be more than two hundred yards across and posted two men at the tip where it opened into clear fields. Before we'd gone halfway, we heard Mrs Bodmin calling from the yard, a few hundred yards away. Old Three-Leg had passed between the house and the barn, walking slowly, and had disappeared into the woods on the other side. He'd doubled back between two of us.
Often, after the Bodmin went to bed, they'd hear him cleaning out the dog pan by the doorstep, where some bread or bones had been left. When he finished feeding, he would lie down against the front doorstep of the house and lick his paws and sleep.
I set up a couch in the garage and on moonlight nights I'd watch. But if we were posted, he'd either not come or he'd grab a bone and be gone before we had a chance to shoot.
Bodmin's bitch seemed to be warning him. Often she'd run with him along the river, and, when he was cleaning out the dog pans, she'd lie and watch him without making a sound.
That summer, Old Three-Leg was in complete control. Occasionally we got shots at him, but apparently, he couldn't be hit. He wouldn't run from men and he had no fear of farmyards. He had everything figured. Take the time in August when he killed a calf right in Bodmin's barnyard and fed on it during the night. Everyone expected he'd be back the next night, so we rigged up blinds in haystacks on either side, but while we were having supper, Old three-leg sneaked back and hauled the calf away and we never did find it.
When the papers say the country was in terror, they were exaggerating. When they say we took the children to school, they are quite right. But that was only common prudence: with Old Three-leg hanging around it wouldn't have been sensible to let the kids walk.
And there's no doubt he put fear into the people of a nearby town. Old Three-Leg would limp down the main (and only) street looking from side to side, for the entire world like a tiger in an Indian village. Everyone would scuttle inside. On the edge of town, where they could shoot, they'd find he had faded away.
Anyway, time and time again, good shots had fired at him at point-blank range only to see Old Three-Leg lope off, entirely unconcerned. There wasn't any record of the wolf's being knocked down with a rifle. We all figured he couldn't be hit. You may say we were superstitious, but it doesn't make sense when good shots can't hit a mark they've always been able to hit in the past.
Bodmin didn't have work for me that fall, so I worked in the bush for the winter. In late February, loggers were being laid off and I went back to Bodmin's.
Old Three-Leg was still firmly in control. While I was away, he had even thumbed his nose at the government of Saskatchewan. A couple of government hunters for orders from Prince Albert to take a snowmobile and go up and see about this wolf. They came with poison baits and guns and traps.
The men were good professional hunters, but Old Three-Leg was pretty professional, too. He tossed some of their traps over and urinated on others. He didn't touch the poisoned baits. He knew the snowmobile was helpless in the bush and they never got him in the open, where they could have easily run him down. And the day they left Old Three-Leg pulled down one of Martin's calves right near the feedlot and skid it away over the snow.
That was the situation in early March of 1950. You couldn't trap Old Three-Leg, or shoot him, or run him down, and he wouldn't take poison. In a district where every man was a hunter and a trapper and everyone carried a gun, it seemed we would never get this wolf.
The news story that tells about his being killed is dated march twenty-fourth, and if that is right then it would be March twenty-third that George Bodmin and I finally got him. But when they say he was shot after dark near someone's chicken house they're wrong, so maybe the date is wrong, too.
Whatever the date, it snowed heavily one night and in the morning I went to town. Coming home at noon, I saw where Old Three-Leg had crossed the road. The tracks led a quarter of a mile across a field and appeared to stop at a straw stack. I figured Old Three-Leg had worked himself a bed on the south side and was soaking in the strengthening March sun.
I tied the team by the barn and saddled up a couple of horses. Bodmin went to the house for the 3030's. Mrs Bodmin drove the team back the way I'd come and I led my horse behind. George led his horse under the lee of the bank of the Big River, going the opposite way.
When we were as close to the stack as we dared take the team for fear of spooking the wolf, I jumped onto my horse and galloped toward the straw pile. George came galloping in on the other side. Old Three-Leg was out of the stack and bounding for the trees, three hundred yards away.
It was never in the cards that he would make it. The horse could move flat out, while the wolf was belly deep in the soft snow. Bodmin headed him easily, and the wolf cut back past the stack. By the time I came up, Old Three-Leg was blowing hard.
We started the routine with which we've killed a lot of wolves and coyotes. Both of us galloped in until we were almost on top of the wolf. Then I swung my horse wide and George jumped down and began shooting. He took two shots, and while he reloaded and mounted, I herded the wolf until George caught up. Then I jumped down and took my two shots.
We herded the wolf all over the field. We switched six times, a total of twelve shots. We didn't figure we could be missing.
It could end only one way: one of Bodmin's shots took Old Three-Leg through the neck and blew the whole front of his head.
Bodmin picked him up and tossed him over the front of his saddle. The wolf was that thin, he couldn't have weighed over seventy pounds. We led our horses and walked toward the farmyard.
"Never saw a wolf-like him in all my years," said George. "Makes you almost sorry to see him lose."
"They mostly lose in the end."
"I guess he got too cocky, going to that stack." Maybe he was cocky; maybe he was just a very sick wolf. One thing became sure when we skinned him out: he wasn't and never had been a "loup-garou." No magic hand had deflected our bullets; the inside of his hide was a solid mass of scar tissue where the bullets thrown at him over the years had ploughed through. We dug a dozen spent slugs out of his hide and his flesh.
Up in the Big River country now, they talk about crops and cattle and sheep and hogs. But for two long years, a giant dark-grey wolf was the chief topic of conversation.
I want to say that the city papers aren't right when they say we were terrified. As any hunter knows, that just wouldn't be the case. They'd have been closer if they'd said that, though it cost us something in lost livestock, we had a lot of respect for Old Three-Leg, the bold and crafty, shock-proof wolf of the Big River Country.
Tom Halsall suffered a severe accident in the bush while cutting logs. The tree that Tom was falling snagged another and the bottom of the tree shot out, hitting Tom and knocking him down, then continued rolling over his body. His son Earl was in the bush with him and seeing what had happened rode his horse to the nearest neighbour, Jesse and Julie Leverton's to get some help. Jesse went immediately to town to get Dr Crux. By the time they had returned to the Halsall farm, Mrs Halsall had already brought her husband in from the bush on a stone boat.
After the doctor's diagnosis, it was impossible to move Tom because of severe spinal injuries, so therefore the stoneboat which Tom was lying on at the time had to be all loaded in the back of Jesse's truck to transport Tom to the hospital. After assessment at the Big River Hospital Tom had to be sent on to Prince Albert for further treatment. Tom had to be put on a stryker frame, which was brought in from Winnipeg, to help with the healing of his bones and spine.
Olive Burt had left home early one morning to go and pick berries. At dusk, when Olive had not returned home yet, her family got concerned, and the people in the community frantically set out on a search for her. Huge bonfires were built and the search continued through the night. Olive returned home the next morning. She had taken a wrong path that leads her away from the town and after retracing her steps the next morning found her way back home.
Irene Collins, Cali's daughter was lost while staying with Jesse and Julie Leverton's place. The child had strayed from their yard during the after noon and was not found until the next morning, only several yards away from the buildings, hidden in a crop.
Trappers face a weird mystery. There is a time in the life of even a good watch when it will stop, but when two watches stop and start simultaneously, without any human agency having a hand in it there is something wrong somewhere.
Charles Van Dyke, Swan River, well-known northern trapper, tells this story to add to the list of queer happenings up north. He was in Prince Albert yesterday.
Ivan Newton, one-time game guardian in the Big River district and Al Jordon, a veteran of ten years fishing in the waters of Dore Lake, went out on a trapping expedition north of this lake.
Newton feeling the pangs of hunger, lugged out his trusty timepiece, "Stopped, by jingo:' he says. "What time have you got, Al?"
Al produces his ticker with a flourish, looked at it, shook it, listened. "Well, blamed if mine hasn't stopped, too. S' funny! What do you make of it"?
They stood and pondered this phenomenon but their inner man warned them it was time to eat and they made camp for the night. Despite shaking and winding the timepieces remained obdurate and the pair resigned themselves to being timeless.
Then came the big surprise. They resumed their tramp the next morning and after covering some half a mile the two watches commenced to tick merrily away. The pair scratched their heads in perplexity, then retraced their steps, and lo, the watches again quite cold. Further roaming around revealed the fact that within a small area the watches refused to function but on stepping out of this zone they magically resumed operation.
So intrigued were these hardy north men that they have written to Regina seeking an explanation of this strange happening. Meanwhile, they're wondering if they haven't discovered an iron lode or some other metal, probably more valued.
Submitted by Yvonne Swanston Burgess,
with Excerpts from Timber Trails, 1949
"He that hath a bountiful eye shall be blessed: for he giveth of his bread to the poor".
It was the hungry thirties; I remember our mother crying; there was no food in the house. She had been out to collect a debt to our father, a fruitless task at that time, as no one had any money.
A kindly neighbour, Mrs King, came over to see mother, bringing with her part of a loaf of bread, milk, a jar of pickled beets and the remains of the Sunday roast.
Our father returned from the harvest excursion with tales of food that made my mouth water. The men ate well where they worked but were not paid until the harvest was over.
Things did not improve as time went on, what little money the father earned harvesting was soon gone to feed his family. Troubled times, looking everywhere for work, door to door, searching for employment. Father was tired, discouraged, with worn-out boot soles, lined with cardboard, wrapped in waxed bread wrappers to keep his feet dry. Finally came to the soul-searing shame of applying for RELIEF.
Relief meant that a box of groceries would be delivered weekly from a central depot. A box filled with beans, rice, macaroni, tinned tomatoes, milk tokens and bread tickets, along with a small roast for Sunday. From time to time a tin of plum jam, apple jam or syrup would be added. Our father worked for the city of Regina in payment for these boxes of food, digging ditches, street cleaning or wherever he was needed. Our father worked hard, it helped drown the memories of his children coming home from school with tales of taunts of "reliefers....reliefers" from their schoolmates. Fighting their battles the only way they knew, kicking, small fists flying, then being sent to the principal's office for fighting. He would tell us to sit down, then after we had been sitting and trembling for five minutes, the principal would smile and gently say, "You may go now."
There was no way of hiding the fact you were on relief. All the school children of relief recipients were given a half-pint of milk daily. Delicious cold milk sucked through a straw, the only milk some of us had, but oh the sorrow and heartbreak it caused!
Then the government-sponsored a "back to the land" scheme for the urban unemployed with a farm background.
After a great deal of discussion on the advantages of country life, our father made the journey to Big River to look at the McMillan family, old friends from father's early years. On his return, he surprised us children with a box that Mrs McMillan had made up for us. A box carefully lined with moss and filled with wildflowers. I can still remember the scent of them today.
We were moving; it was time to pack; then suddenly the day to leave came; there was excitement and tears that May day in 1932. Soon we began the long train journey north. Victor Swanston, his wife Florence, and their children, Betty, Yvonne, Elaine and Peter with all their hopes and fears for the future, mixed with the joy of a new beginning, were on their way to Big River.
We spent the first night in town, leaving the next morning in a borrowed wagon, all our belongings and enough lumber for a floor, slabs for a roof, nails, tar paper and four dollars that was left in father's pocket. Our homestead was S.E. quarter 35-55 Rg. 8. By evening father had built a rough shelter to house his family, the kitchen stove at the opening and the mattresses on the ground for our beds. In the meantime mother had dug a small hole using an old butcher knife and her hands; this supplied enough drinking water for our needs for the night. In less that one month's time father had a proper well dug and with the help of his family built a small four-roomed log house. A group of neighbours came to help with the house and were surprised to see it almost completed. Their help in finishing the building was much appreciated. Later a barn was built of logs, the floor laid with poles, using an adze, father shaped it almost smooth, much like a floor of planed lumber. A lean-to was then added for the cow and chickens.
That first winter the heater, made from an old oil drum, wasn't enough to keep us warm during the extreme cold, so in time our father built a mud and stone fireplace. We children assisted in the mixing of the clay, it was delightfully squishy stuff that oozed out between toes. In the spring, a garden was dug and the precious seeds that had been brought from Regina were planted. Our meat supply consisted of rabbits and bush partridge. We were allowed to use father's gun, a .22 rifle, but it was a rule, one shell, one partridge. It was as simple as that. The occasional deer or a quarter of moose from a neighbour plus the government supplement of eight dollars and twenty-five cents a month kept the family going. Later, this was increased to eleven dollars with the change in government. Sometimes these cheques did not arrive in time. One man walked thirty miles to pick up his cheque and was told to come back the next day. That was the time they were going to hang the relief officer. Luckily cooler heads prevailed.
Big River was the end of the steel. All the excitement of the twice-weekly arrival of the train was felt as we heard the long lonely whistle announcing its arrival. Sometimes we would walk the four miles to town for the mail, especially if the mother was expecting a letter from home, home being Manchester, England.
The relief trains brought crisp red apples, and salt dried fish, a treat for us in spite of the fact it was said you could shingle a roof with the fish, no matter how long you soaked them.
I remember driving to Big River one time when father hitched up the 'current' cow to the cart, harness and all.
Mother flatly refused to go and remained at home. The cow trotted a little faster than our elderly horse but we managed, and it was fun to see the people stare.
Father cut hay with a scythe. We children gathered the hay with rakes made of willow pegs and tamarack handles. We hauled the hay in slings made from sacking.
The government purchased a cow for each settler, generally, the animal gave the milk, perhaps because of poor feed. Sometimes in the late fall, an accident would befall the cow and father would dress out the meat. Everything on the animal was used, even the scraps of fat, for making soap and candles. I remember dipping the strings of wicks in the tallow until they were the desired thickness. With the dugout cellar full of vegetables, fish speared at the river and put down in sealers or salted and smoked, the family made it through the winter.
Often we would pick cranberries or blueberries and take them to the store in Big River. They brought five cents a pound. The Pruden family took us picking blueberries one time, telling us we could always pick in that patch. Mother filled all the sealers with the berries, and we kept them under the bed to prevent freezing in the winter months. Once in awhile a jar would explode and all the white scrubbed floorboards would be stained purple.
Everything was either 'hand me down' or made over. Sometimes a length of dress goods would be the payment for working out. Mother could sew and she made many pretty dresses without a pattern. Father made himself a parka one time of canvas. He sewed it on the old treadle machine. Another time he resoled his boots, not with the leather but hand-carved wooden soles.
The whole family would help in clearing bush and hauling cordwood home by hand. Father did some carpenter work, being paid ten cents an hour, working ten hours a day. Fighting fire gave the settlers a little extra money as well.
I remember one forest fire, it was so bad we were up on the house and barn roof with tubs of water and sacks to beat out the sparks. By the time we moved all the furniture out to the clearing one could see the flames rolling down the muskeg near the big bush. The flames would die down in the evening with the dampness and flare up again in the morning. It was so frightening to watch.
Sometimes father and I would hurry and catch up with the chores so we could take the day off. With a quart sealer of tea, wrapped in newspaper and a few sandwiches we would set off to explore the country. The stillness of the big bush sort of bothered a person. You would find yourself looking over your shoulder after a while. Once in a while we would get lost and have to climb a big tree to look for father's lob sticks. These were tall spruce with the tops lobbed off. They were our directional markers. We would walk for miles, coming home in the dark carrying a spruce hen and rabbits over our shoulders.
Once father and I visited the relief camp. This was for the single unemployed men. They were building an airstrip at that time. We had dinner with them, great kettles of food cooking on the stove and plenty for everyone.
Life wasn't all work however, we had good neighbours and everyone would get together and take turns having a dance in their homes. The hostess supplies the coffee and the others would bring sandwiches or cake. There was always some sort of music. Father played the violin and there was always a guitar and the song "The Little Shirt My Mother Made for Me". There were Christmas concerts and the excitement of the dance afterwards. The girls would carefully curl their hair with the curling tongs heated over the coal oil lamp. The old lantern had a potato on the filler opening and one time the potato fell off spilling coal oil down a certain young man's dress suit. There were horse-drawn cutters and rides over the snow. Rockers were heated to help keep your feet warm under the bits of old blankets.
Church services were held in our home in the summer months. Student ministers, shy young men were much embarrassed by the constant giggling of the girls.
We took our schooling by mail in those days, studying a certain number of hours each day. It was so hard to remain indoors on a beautiful summer day.
There were no libraries in those northern towns. Anyone with books or magazines shared them with their neighbours. We would sit in the livery man's shack while father talked and read magazines called "Weird Tales". "Wide World" magazine was my favourite, with tales of pearl divers, gold panning and the Foreign Legion. I travelled across the world while sitting in a hand made tamarack chair.
Our mother became very ill. The nearest hospital was in Prince Albert and she was away for a month for the first time. The neighbours were kind and helped us cope with things. At this time medical bills were charged against the land, a crushing amount of debt in those days. Then too, there was the cost of breaking the twelve acres of land.
The time came when there was the talk of General Motors opening up again and father left for Regina to see if he could get work there. The rest of us remained on the homestead until the following spring when we too left for Regina. When we shut the door of that log house, we never thought we would see it again except in our dreams. The love laughter, the joy and sorrow, five years of hope and dreams, all over in the quiet closing of a door.
Mother and father passed away within a few months of each other in 1974. One can reach members of the Swanston family by writing Yvonne Swanston Burgess, R.R. #1, Bulyea, Saskatchewan, SOG OLO.
Excerpts from Timber Trails, 1989
Located along the Big River, near the bridge, the swimming hole was a popular spot for both young and old. For many years it was the favourite place to go on a warm summer day. Often picnic lunches were taken along with bathing equipment and the whole day spent swimming and enjoying the sunshine.
At one time, the Order of the Royal Purple Lodge provided playground equipment and made the area into a very pleasant recreation spot. Considerable energy and money went into this effort and it was too bad that vandals destroyed the equipment and destroyed the grounds.
The swimming hole will long be remembered as a happy place and the scene of many picnics, wiener roasts and the first Red Cross Swimming lessons.
The Big River Moars 1909-1923
Submitted by Myrtle Moar Telford,
with Excerpts from Timber Trails
"Go west, young man." What an influence those few words had on the lives of so many. George Norman Moar was one for whom the words brought a challenge, and an opportunity to live his life according to the desires of his heart. It had been his mother's wish that he be a minister, and so he was sent to college in Montreal.
However, his sights were on other fields, the woods. The trees, lakes, and rivers and animals were all calling to him; his dream was to make their destiny his. So it was in the fall of 1909, he bid his family adieu and left Maniwaki, Quebec, for Big River, Saskatchewan, where he had been offered a job as camp foreman. The salary of one hundred dollars a month was a real bonanza compared to the thirty dollars he was receiving. With dad went his brother Percy and Odie Heaffey.
In March 1910, mother Mary Louise Nault Moar, with children Roland, four years old, Ella (Kelly) two years old, and Dorothy, one and a half years, followed the trail west. With them went Mrs Odie Heaffey and her family, and Mrs Sweeney, who was to start a boarding house in Big River.
Travel was by C.P.R. tourist accommodation, with the travellers providing their bedding for the wooden bunks and their food and cooking utensils for cooking. They travelled as far as Elgin, Saskatchewan (about four miles from the present-day site of Sutherland); the journey took ten days. They crossed the South Saskatchewan River by ferry and boarded a C.N.R. freight train for Prince Albert, Shellbrook, and eventually Big River. Service to Big River was once a week, and wouldn't you know, they missed connections by one day and had to wait a week in Shellbrook.
Dad met his family with a team of horses and sleigh and they left for camp number five, situated on Otter Creek, on Old Sharpe Lake. The family was quartered in a log building dad used as an office. They enjoyed all the luxuries of camp life, eating meals at the cookhouse before the men ate. All this was new to mother a quiet, shy lady. The children quickly made friends with the men and so a new life of living in the bush began, close to nature and God. We were a family that prayed together; mother would get the prayer book and gather us all around her knee. Dad had a lovely voice and sang to us, mostly hymns; he would sing or play the mouth organ.
May, generally a beautiful month can also be very hazardous as a result of forest fires. May 1910 was no exception. The camp was surrounded by fire; the men knew they couldn't save it. One day, just at suppertime, dad gave the order to evacuate. Following the motto "women and children first", mom and the family were put in a boat, a Dumas, and rowed to an island in the lake. They were left there alone as the men left camp, no one had thought of eating, nor had mother taken any food. On top of being hungry, mom remembered that she was afraid of bears. Her fears subsided somewhat when she realized that one of her brood had saved an alarm clock, while another had found an old tin pan on the island. The constant din of the alarm clock in the pan was enough to scare off both man and beast.
About four a.m. the island caught fire. A terrific wind had risen and the waves on the lake were tremendous. Mr Heaffey, manning the Dumas (the only boat the camp had), rescued a very hungry, frightened, and after the trip on the lake, very seasick group. The family was taken to camp four, where they were met by the camp superintendent and Dr Fenton and were taken to Big River. They were given a company house, which added to mom's fears, as it was next to "Bootlegger" Street.
All night long business boomed. The continual sound of approaching footsteps kept mother in a state of fear, hoping the steps would not stop at her door.
The next move was to camp number four, where the family remained for one and a half years. This camp was about ten miles from Big River on the West Side of Cowan Lake, better known to the local people as Crooked Lake. Here dad was logging superintendent. Before this, he had cruised the timber, laid out roads, and supervised the building of two or three dams towards Green Lake.
February 1912, Myrtle was born at camp number four, dad making the delivery as the doctor was delayed by stormy weather.
After spring breakup, the family moved back to Big River. Dad's health suffered throughout the summer, and in November the family left for Globe, Arizona. There, dad recuperated from TB during the winter months, returning home in time for Fern to make her debut at Uncle Jack's farm at Semans, on July 9, 1913.
The family returned to Big River. This time they were given a house fully occupied with bedbugs. One night was enough in this house and the next day they got a place down by the mill on Cowan Lake.
About this time dad was approached by Mr Robb, of the Federal Forestry Department, and offered a position as Forestry Supervisor for Northern Saskatchewan. Forestry was in his blood; he was shaping the destiny he had envisioned years before. He accepted the offer, and so our life on the "reserve" as we all affectionately called it, began.
Otter Cabin was built on Otter Creek, twelve miles out of Big River, on the forest reserve, in a beautiful spot. Wild animals were plentiful, bears, lynx, coyotes, rabbits, etc. Camp number one, with about a hundred men, was a mile away; otherwise, we were alone with nature, the wild animals and the occasional traveller who passed that way.
As well as being a forestry supervisor, dad was also game guardian, and he had to maintain the law of "No Hunting or Trapping" on the reserve. Our house became the halfway stop for anyone going into remote areas like Green Lake. Often dad would be accompanied on his many trips, by the R.C. priest, the Salvation Army Captain and his wife, and the Protestant minister, all travelling together, to visit their parishioners.
Shopping for groceries was done every month. We acquired a cow, "Rosie", who became a family pet, and was the cause of many hilarious happenings, about, which the family still laughs. Soon horses were added. We children had our own; Buck, a mild big horse, and Mouse, an Indian pony, which was Roland's. We had dogs, cats, chickens and later when we moved back to Big River, we had more cows, and each of us had our milk customer in town. We always had our vegetable garden, and wild fruit was available for the picking, strawberries, raspberries, cherries, blueberries, and gooseberries. You name it, they were there.
In August 1914, war broke out. Roland recalls being with dad and Herman Walpert, foreman at Sharpe Lake Camp when the news came. I vaguely recall Armistice and the burning of an effigy of Kaiser Bill on the Big River Hill.
Roland was a tremendous shot, and although quite young, entered the contest for the Dominion Shield, held at Prince Albert, taking the top medals.
On June 22, 1915, Rea was born at Otter Cabin. About this time dad decided it was time to move closer to town so the children could attend school. He chose a site about three miles from town and built a log house for the family, to which we moved in the late fall of 1915. Once again dad suffered from a respiratory infection and rheumatic fever and spent the winter months in bed.
We had a three-mile walk to school, down the road, over the bridge, up the tracks as far as the section foreman's house, then up the trail to the school. A shortcut could be taken by going over Big River Hill through the cemetery, down the other side of the hill, past Maxwell's and Brownfields and the Catholic Church to the school.
Like many other families, ours was a "do-it-yourself" family. Each one of us had our work to do. Occasionally, we were allowed to play with the "uptown" children but mostly they came to our place and enjoyed the outdoor sports, riding horseback, skating on Moar's pond, and sleighing, to mention a few.
Flour sacks, once the flour was used, served many purposes, for dishtowels, embroidered pillowslips, table clothes, curtains, but in our family, many were used to make bloomers and waists. Even the black dye mother used did not erase the indelible imprint of such famous brands as "Robin Hood, Quaker Oats, Five Roses", etc. each with their distinct monogram. These were advertised across the seat of many youngsters, not only our family.
1918 was a good year, but also a bad one. The armistice was signed November 11th, ending the hostilities on the battlefield, but the nations were hit by a worse enemy, the flu. People were dying by the score, and Big River had its toll. Our nearest neighbours lived across the river, all of which lost their lives to the flu (Mrs. Munns, Mrs Olson, Mrs Erickson, Gunna Goodman's sister). Dad, while helping the neighbours, caught the flu. I was the only one who escaped it. God was watching our family, and no one died. Mom was very sick, not only with the flu but also on November ninth, 1918, Kenneth Thomas was born.
Times were getting better, the Department of Forestry had offered to buy our house. Dad felt the time had come for the Moars to have a car. But May 1919 was a repeat of May 1910. The forest fires were very bad, and on May 22nd, while dad was in Prince Albert, our home was destroyed by fire. For a while, it looked as though the whole town would be destroyed. A special train was brought in to evacuate the town. People panicked rushing to get on the train, some even leaving their babies behind.
As the fire approached our house mom sent Dorothy, with valuable papers tied around her neck in a canvas bag, along with Fern, Rea and I, to the policeman's house. Mr Cornell, mom and Roland buried some possessions in the garden, and they were forced to leave. Roland remembered the animals and returned to let them loose. Jack Rae, of I.C. Fish Company, was with him. Smoke prevented them from finding the bridge, and Roland couldn't swim. Jack told him to take off his shoes and throw them across the river. One landed on the other side, and one landed in the middle of the river. Jack started across the river with Roland on his back. The current was so treacherous that Jack could not manage and it became a matter of sink or swim for Roland. He swam and later became a very good swimmer, saving two lives.
Having lost everything, there was no need for us to be evacuated, so mom took us back to the forestry office where we bedded down, after a fashion. When the people left on the train we moved back to the reserve. The forest rangers had returned from their fieldwork and were surprised to learn that our home had been destroyed. Dad also returned from Prince Albert. He had heard that a home had been burned but didn't know it was his own until he got off the train. He checked the family, then went to the store to purchase work clothes, he too, having only the clothes on his back. Once more mother was left to fend for the family as dad went to supervise the fire.
We lived in tents from May until November. The cooking was done in the boathouse. Every time there was a strong wind the water would rush in over the floor, washing everything away that was not nailed down.
In the spring of 1920, there was a cyclone. One could hear the noise as the wind approached. Trees (those left from the fire) were uprooted and carried some distance. Roland was returning from rounding up the cows when the cyclone struck. Ken, about eighteen months old, had been in the barn with one of the hired men who had become petrified and ran for shelter, leaving Ken all alone. Ken, unaware of the danger, walked out of the barn into the path of the cyclone. Roland saw him, ran and threw himself over Ken saving him from being carried away by the wind. The cyclone whipped across our yard, tearing off one of the I.C. Fish Company's buildings in its wake, roared up the Big River Hill, skirted the town, and wore itself out.
That spring the river flooded and the water coming practically level with the bridge. We were isolated and had to use canoes to get across to town and school. There were several men connected with the Forestry; Jack Phillips, Miles Isbister, Count Botzow, Frank Regan, Howard Currie, Howard Dexter, Jim Miller, to mention a few. Ivery Newton and Jim Fairburn were also game guardians. These people may not be readily recalled by most Big River folk, as some of them relocated at the camps.
July 1st, was always Big River's sports day as well as Dominion Day. It was a real picnic day. Every family came, bringing their goodies, and sharing with others. Kids had a marvellous time. Their elders did too, gossiping and catching up on the doings of each other, and admiring the latest babies since the last sports day. Roland remembers entering a shoe race where the contestant's shoes were thrown in a pile. He quickly retrieved his shoes, he being the only youngster in the race and having the smallest shoes, ran the required distance and won the race, first prize, a pair of ladies high button boots! Another time he won a ninety-eight-pound sack of flour. One year "Rosie", our cow, followed us to the event. That must have been the year we got the prize for the largest family (numerically).
One first of July, about 1922, there was to be an added attraction, a horse race. Bert Riel had come to town with a racer. He persuaded Roland to ride his horse in the race, which he did and in turn let Leland Abbot ride his horse "Mouse". Came the big day, the race was to be run on government road, which ran north and south. The horse was "barned" in a stable to the north. The race was to be in a southerly direction. The gun blasted, the horses took off, Roland and his racer going lickety-split in a northerly direction, while Mouse ran in the right direction and won the race.
I would be remiss not to mention the school. After all, that was why we left the cabin, so we could be educated, formal-like. As long as the Ladder Lake Lumber Company was active in Big River, the selection of schoolteachers was good. We had some excellent teachers; a few I remember are Miss Foley, Miss Freeman, Luella and Bernice Shaw, Christine, Lucy and Jean Murray, Mr Mahon, Mr Mahoney, Mr Paton and Freda McKnight. When the company personnel left in 1922, those wanting education beyond the eighth grade had to go elsewhere. So it was that Roland, Kelly and Dorothy went to Prince Albert.
The school concerts were always an event of the year. I remember one concert when Dorothy was swinging in a large wooden moon, all dressed like a fairy, while we sang "Oh mother, how pretty the moon is tonight, it was never so pretty before. Its two little horns are so sharp and bright."
One year, a day or so before the concert, the school was closed due to some epidemic. It was customary for every child in town to receive a gift at the concert. Dad was asked to be Santa Claus, and deliver the presents, which meant going to practically every house in town. It was a clear, cold starlit night. Reuben and Roy (our driving team purchased instead of a car) were hitched to the sleigh; the sleigh bells were jingling. The Santa Claus suit was too small for dad over his winter clothes, so Roland was Santa. I appeared on the scene as they were exchanging the suit. That was when I found out about the real Santa.
The church too was dear to our hearts. Dad had helped to build the Presbyterian Church. We attended Sunday School and by doing so earned our Bibles; by first saving small testament cards, then exchanging so many small ones for a large one. A certain number of large ones qualified for a Bible. I remember Mrs Crim played the organ and Mrs Murphy was my Sunday School teacher.
Was the first Dog Derby in 1921? Shorty Gamache won the race. I have pictures of some of our family watching the event.
We have pictures too, of Bluebird Camp, held at Ladder Lake. Kelly and Dorothy attended the camp. Names that come to mind are Bunty and Ina and Eva Shields, Dorothy McLeod, Alberta Marsh, the Shearn Girls, Lucille Heinz, Margalee and Barbara Nichols.
Our years in Big River rate amongst the happiest of our lives. There were so many happy happenings that we still recall. The family was separated during the two years we were in Giscome. In 1925, we were all together in Saskatoon. Dad's health became worse in British Columbia He developed asthma, and was an invalid the last years of his life. He died in February 1943.
Mother was determined that the family would get a good education. To attain this, she took in boarders and so was able to keep the family together.
1968, saw the Moars gather at Michel's camp site, at Delaronde Lake. It was forty years since the family had been together. It took a while for us to get reacquainted. Big River had not changed much. We saw some folk we formerly knew, but our time was too short.
What a beautiful memorial there is to dad, the row of evergreens he had planted on the reserve. The houses are gone, being replaced by a lovely park. We picnicked there and we also went out to where Otter Cabin had been.
My husband dug up three spruce trees for me, and today I have three beautiful trees in my yard.
Roland lives in Edmonton. Kelly lives in Florida (Mrs., Pflug), Dorothy lives in Saskatoon (Mrs. Thompson). Myrtle resides in Richmond, British Columbia (Mrs. Telford), Fern lives in Atlanta, Georgia. Rea lives in Brome, Quebec. Ken lives in Florida.