Over the years tourism has come and gone in Big River. At one time it played a very large part in this community. Many of the merchants purchased items with the Big River logo on them and depended on the influx of the tourist in the summer to help their small business.
Big River is one of the few places that can boast about a lake being right off the end of Main Street. Many people come from miles around to fish on Cowan Lake or to check out the beauty that surrounds it. Harry Phillips rented a lot of boats over the years when he had his business at the dock. Cowan Lake was the centre of attraction for many boaters over the years. The dead heads proved to be a problem for the new corners, but a prop or shear pin later usually fixed that. The deadheads are still visible today. Many have been removed from the lake but they seem to keep rising.
Cowan Lake was not only a great fishing spot but swimming as well. The old swimming hole was a great place to go for a swim on a warm sunny day or just to socialize. The dock was often used for the more experienced swimmer or for the ones who didn't get caught by their parents! The old bridge was a favourite fishing spot and still is. There are many fishhooks and a lot of line hanging over the power line to prove the years of use. The old bridge is slowly falling but each generation is still trying to capture the serenity that this little place seems to offer. It has an attraction for the young and old.
The campground at the end of Main Street off Cowan Lake.
There is now a campground down by the dock that is very beautiful and well used.
Poplar Point was later developed and offers boat rentals, cabins and camping. This resort is also an outfitting camp and is where Joe Malinoski had his mink ranch at one time, at this location.
Classic View Resort, on the west side of Cowan Lake, offers camping and cabins and a fantastic view of the lake and townsite of Big River.
Delaronde has been another very active lake over the years with fishing and campgrounds. South Stoney was a very popular swimming area with some camping and a lot of picnics. Michel's Beach and Resort was a large attraction to locals and tourists. In fact, some of those tourists are now permanent residents of Michel's beach (now Delaronde resort). Delaronde Resort has a small confectionery, gas pumps as well as cabins and camping areas, boat rentals and a large marina.
Pickerel Point has a boat marina and confectionery, along with privately own cabins, as well as some year-round residents. Zig Zag campground was developed and was a big hit for fishing, swimming, camping, and boating and water sports for many years. Unfortunately, the water levels on the lakes surrounding Big River and area have been dropping to the point where some of these spots are no longer used.
Nesslin Lake (Little Mariah), seems to be the hot spot right now as the lake is excellent for swimming as well as fishing, boating, tubing, skiing, sailing, diving and any other water sport you may enjoy. Nesslin has camping areas with a small confectionary and some privately owned cabins. This lake also borders the Prince Albert National Park which homes abundant wildlife.
Ness Lake has camping areas as well as a good fishing and a quietness that seems to draw many people from near and far.
Hackett Lake (Big Mariah) is a favourite spot for the serious fisherman. This spot not only offers great fishing but also a growing campground that is secluded from the hustle and bustle of our fast-moving lives.
Clarke Lake Lodge offers cabins and camping and they also have an outfitting business.
These are but a few of the lakes that offer camping and fishing in the Big River area. There have also been campgrounds that have now been closed such as the three-mile campground.
The Regional Park Campground, across from the golf course and in the proximity of the ball diamonds and Recreation Centre has several serviced sites and shower facilities.
Big River and the area also offers the " Ness Creek Festival" that is known far and wide. People from all walks of life come out to enjoy the wonderful entertainment as well as the beauty of nature that surrounds this little spot.
Mill Ridge Golf Course has nine-hole grass greens. The course is surrounded by trees and beauty with a little hint of nature added for your enjoyment.
Ski Timber Ridge, our very own ski hill, has six runs in all. The hill boasts three hundred vertical feet allowing a breathtaking view of the surrounding area. They have a rental shop with a cosy chalet and concession.
The first trail into the Big River area other than the water route was one used first by the Indians and then by early traders. It acquired the name of the Hudson's Bay Trail because it was used to haul their freight from Prince Albert to Ile-a-la-Crosse in the late 1800s. A stopping place on this trail was established by Alex Delaronde, near the mouth of the Big River.
By 1900, this trail had been pretty well cut out and well - travelled as far as Debden but remained more primitive north of there. Early travellers such as E.C. Brownfield, Mr Knight, and Mr Overly were forced to cut trees and growth as they came through the Big River area in the early 1900s. The trail broadened as more people arrived and by 1908 even a car or two appeared on it.
The road south was destined to be a dirt road for many years and affected by the weather; therefore most people used the railway after its arrival in 1910. It was not until 1943 that the road from Big River to Prince Albert was finally gravelled.
There were very few roads to the north but gradually they began to push their way into bush camps and fishing areas and slowly the horse-drawn freight swings began to disappear as tractors and trucks took up the shuffle between the remote camps and the suppliers.
Small private mills began to appear, making use of the small but excellent stands of timber that the fires had missed. The new roads into these areas made it possible to use trucks.
In 1942, a rough bulldozed road was pushed through from Big River to Green Lake under the direction of the Northern Areas Branch of Municipal Affairs. A few years later, this road was completed linking Green Lake to Meadow Lake and also north to the settlements there. Roads were gradually being improved and in the late '90s after many years this road was finally paved.
Several years ago highway crews began improvements on the road south, Highway 55, and this was still under construction in 1978.
A pulpwood gravelled road has been made joining Highway 55 at Bodmin and pushing north on the east side of Delaronde Lake. As well a road has gone north just passing the Weyerhaeuser mill site on the west side of Cowan Lake. After many years of gravel and mud Highway 55 has been paved north and south. It was a long time coming and is much needed for this community.
The first dam on Crooked River was built in 1915. This dam created a lake, which was first known as Crooked Lake. Later it was renamed Cowan Lake after William Cowan, one of the first mill operators. The dam was situated approximately thirty-two miles north of Big River. It was built under the direction of the Department of the Interior and was of wooden construction. The purpose of the dam was to raise the water level sufficiently to float logs from Sharpe Lake and Otter Creek areas, down to the mill at Big River. Many of the private logging camps located along the shores of Crooked Lake, made use of this waterway.
Logs were dumped on the ice during the winter then boomed down to the mill in the spring after the lake opened up. The mill also depended on the water control to float booms and store logs.
A good water route meant much to the people living along the lake as well as to the people who transported supplies to the north.
A resident dam keeper was necessary to work the controls for the water level. The first dam keeper was Mr Phillip Kelly, Bruce McTaggart took over after Mr Kelly and looked after the dam during the fall of 1921 and the summer of 1922. Mr Mahoney was the next dam keeper from 1923 to 1938, followed by Mr Ivery Newton. Mr Newton continued to look after the dam for many years until 1953. William Millikin was the dam keeper from 1953 to 1957 at which time a dam keeper was no longer necessary.
Ivery Newton Has Lonely Life Guarding North Dam
By special correspondent, October 22, 1947,
submitted by Arnie Fonos
An unusual profession is that of Ivery Newton, who lives a hermit-like existence as keeper of the government Dam at the northwest end of Cowan Lake.
Neighbours are non-existent. The dam is 35 miles from Big River and 20 miles from Green Lake, the two nearest points. At Poplar Point, 15 miles down the lake from the dam lives a mink rancher, his nearest neighbour.
The dam was first built in the old mill days when the level of Cowan Lake had to be kept up for floating the endless log booms into the mill at Big River. When the Ladder Lake Milling Company left the country in 1921, the department of public works took over the dam, which was entirely rebuilt in 1936 and 37.
Until the Green Lake highway was put through two years ago, all the summer freighting into the north was done by scows and freight boats and the dam keeper was kept very busy with arranging that several go through the locks at the same time to take advantage of the flooding below the dam. A 24-hour flood, says Mr Newton, will raise the level of the Cowan River up which the boats travel to reach the Beaver River, 40 miles, a distance sufficient to float a loaded scow the entire distance without grounding.
Now with the truck freighting, not so many scows go through and the problem of maintaining a water head is not so difficult. The boats are put through gate one, one of the four gates in the dam, giving a total clearance of 16 feet wide and 11 feet in height.
The largest boat ever to go through was the freezer barge built in Big River by Waite Fisheries two years ago and taken north that autumn. Mr Newton said it had not more than a 1/2 inch clearance, and in fact, scraped in spots. The dam is approximately 120 feet in length, with four 16-foot gates, and is constructed of timbers and heavy lumber. The main gate is lifted by a worm screw, while the others can be raised by a winch.
Mr Newton's home is a little log shanty on the edge of the water, in a small clearing cut out of the dense wood. He is on the job from early April until November, keeping the dam in repair, watching the water level, and operating the gates when necessary. His life is very lonely, with sometimes little to do from dawn until dusk but cook his meals and wash dishes. Once an enthusiastic reader, he has had to forego this pleasure due to faulty eyesight and has become an ardent radio fan.
He comes down to Big River for his supplies in his 16-foot canoe with a small outboard motor, but has no car to take advantage of the new road. Passing truckers drop in for a chat occasionally which helps break the monotony. Were it not for the dam, said Mr Newton, Cowan Lake would have been dry by now. As it is the dam holds up a sixteen-foot water-head making the lake fit for airbase as well as freight boats. A new house was built at the Cowan Dam in the late fifties and it was believed that Jerry Ives lived in it for some time. The house was then moved just past the junction on the Dore Lake road and was used as a checking station for the big game hunting. Stan Brettle, Bruce McTaggart, and Henry Fabish were a few of the people who worked at the checking station.
Dam keepers cabin that burnt in the early 1980s.
Laura Wilson in front of the cabin.
During the twenties and thirties, the man-made lake was used extensively for water travel. Scows were in use as well as many private boats. Big River to Ile-a-la-Crosse was one of the main "runs".
In the drought years, the men operating scows had to give the dam keeper at least two days notice, that they wished to pass through the dam, to get enough water to float the scows. As the drought continued and water levels were low, travel was only allowed on certain days, therefore, many scows and private boats making a small "flotilla," passed through the dam at one time.
Scows leaving for the North.
Scow going through the gate at the Cowan Dam.
Cowan Dam burned by forest fire.
Concrete Cowan Dam 1958.
Sid Cookman and daughter Sharon
in the foreground.
The dam burned several times, sometimes only slight damage occurred. In 1922, it was destroyed by fire and again in 1949 (caused by forest fires).
In 1950, an all-concrete dam was constructed under the direction of the Federal Department of Public Works. This dam holds up water sixteen feet in the lake.
The use of the dam had declined through the years and its main purpose is to maintain the water level of the lake and to allow fish to pass upriver to spawn. In recent years, it has become a popular tourist spot for camping and fishing.
Ski Timber Ridge.
Ski Timber Ridge.