Ladder Lake and Air Base
As increased expansion created thriving new communities in the dense northern forests, the need for fire protection arose. This massive timber area was in constant threat of a fire outbreak. The settlers were eager to develop a secure means of fire protection as the only equipment available was unsuitable for the enormous hazard involved. When a fire started, the fighters were transported by horse and wagon or crude private planes into the burning area. This was a slow process and it often became dangerous. As the era of mechanization developed, airplanes were improved to meet the special requirements, such as scanning for forest fires and making long journeys northward. These new demands put a strain on the few private pilots as the heavy workload kept them in continuous operation. The need for an air base was obvious. Many northern communities began to search for an area that could easily support an aircraft base.
In 1925, Ladder Lake less than one mile from Big River, was chosen for the location of the new Royal Canadian Air Force Base. The three mile long lake supplied the aircraft with an adequate runway for take off and landing. The base was used to train students to become pilots, to spot forest fires, and to take aerial pictures for map purposes. Everything suitable for scientific fire protection could be obtained close at hand; for within one hour, men, tools and supplies could be boarded on a plane. After the planes were airborne, Cowan and Stoney Lakes were visible and with an increase in altitude, Meadow Lake and Sled Lake could be distinguished.
Some of the planes used at that time were referred to as "flying boats". Most of the planes were the regular type being both equipped to land on water during the summer, or ski equipped to land on ice and snow during the winter. The Base was equipped with twenty-two Vicker Vedettes, a Fairchild, a Vancouver Flying Boat, a DeHavilland and some Varunas, which were a Canadian designed fire fighting aircraft. One design situated the propeller behind the pilot.
Aircraft at Ladder Lake RCAF Air Base
Ladder Lake Air Base - 1926
While the base was in operation, RCAF planes were always available for any emergency in the North. During the early years, flying was often a dangerous operation.In June of 1936, while on a patrol flight from the north end of Delaronde Lake to Big River, a plane became trapped in a violent storm. The aircraft, forced to the ground, crashed in the bush about eight miles north of the Narrows. The pilot, Mr. Upson, managed to jump and landed in the bush by parachute. The lone passenger, Mr. Phillipe Clement, was killed in the wreckage. The crash started a forest fire that destroyed a considerable amount of timber in the area. This tragic event was the only major accident reported at the base.
The Air Base buildings consisted of two bunk houses, a workshop, a tractor and car shed, a radio building, oil sheds, a mess hall, an ice house, a bath house and a pigeon house. The pigeon loft was constructed at the base to accommodate the birds used as emergency message carriers. Many of the original aircraft were not equipped with radio communication. When these planes left on a flight, homing pigeons were taken along to be used if an emergency arose. These birds are believed to have originated from the loft of King George V of England. Mr. Glen Smith was caretaker of the pigeons at the base.
For several years, the Air Base at Ladder Lake was an extremely busy place. However, in 1935, after training numerous students to become qualified pilots, the base closed. Tenders for the sale of equipment were posted in 1936 and one year later the flying supplies were sold to Mason and Campbell Aviation Company and later it was resold to McNeil Airways.
Frozen in the ice - 1927
After the base was abandoned, two flying boats were sold to the Provincial Government for the sum of one dollar each. Some of the actual buildings from the base were used in Big River. The old mess hall became the Red Cross Outpost Hospital and two more buildings were renovated and used as residential homes.
Some of the Air Force officers employed at the base were the following: Mr. Apps, Mr. Carter, Mr. Eddy, Mr. Elliot, Mr. Lane "Wiggie" Grace, Mr. Moore, and Mr. Upton
Officers of the R.C.A.F. Air Base, Ladder Lake
The Base itself became a relief camp. This camp operated in the summer months and Mr. Ernie Over of the D.N.R. was in charge of the property. This unemployment relief camp was used to house single men who were clearing 100 hundred acres of land for an airstrip. All work was done by hand and the men received five dollars a month plus room and board for their labours. The project was never completed. The land they managed to clear is used as the present day golf course. A small canteen was set up for workers at the relief camp which sold basic commodities at cost price to the workers.
Mr. Snell delivering water to the relief camp
In the early thirties, Ladder Lake supported a prominent resort area. The large lake and sandy beaches, became a popular swimming spot which many citizens enjoyed. Cottages were erected on the lake front and Ladder Lake soon became a thriving tourist community. Some of the regular visitors who built cabins and travelled to Big River each year included the owners of radio station C.F.Q.C., Mr, A.A. Murphy and family, (they installed their own tennis court at the cabin), Dr. and Mrs. Murray and family (Dr. Murray was President of the University of Saskatchewan at that time), Mr. and Mrs. Dougherty, Dr. Boyce, Mr. and Mrs. Russell Hartney and family, Mrs. Raymond, Mrs. Stone, Mrs. Cruise, Mrs. Fuller and family, Dr. Bishop, Mrs. Helen Cannon, Mr. McIsaac, Mr. Lucier and family, Mrs. Ernest Linder, Mr. and Mrs. McDonald and Rhoda, Dr. McKay with his two daughters, Jessie and Jean, and Elizabeth Lang. The tourist population created an active summer resort and events like swimming, fishing and boating were enjoyed by all.
Some families established permanent homes on the lake shores as well. Several of these families are listed as follows: Mr. and Mrs. Bruce McTaggart, Mr. and Mrs. Casler, The Garneau family, Mr. and Mrs. Crow, Carl Swanson and family, Mr. and Mrs. Jack Schlitz, Lyman Johnstone, Carl Sprecker, the McInnis family, Ernie and Hazel Over, Mr. Ernest Brownfield, Mr. and Mrs. Wilde, Mr. and Mrs. Les Mcmahon, Mrs Marianna Goliath.
Other families had small cottages and farms across the lake. Some of these included the following: Howard and Bill Martin, Denis Malone, Alonzo Chamberland, Paul Papsdorf, Jed O'Donovan, Mr. and Mrs. Clarkson and daughter Rena, Sam Karloff, Martin Gorril, Wilfred Morin, Harry Pryma, Oliver Stein, the Parks, Fredrickson family, Carl Larson, Mr. and Mrs. Dumaresq and family, Mr. and Mrs. Glendenning and family, Mr. Wall, McKnight family, Sam and Anne Olson and Mr. and Mrs. Knight and family.
For many years an old scow or barge was used for entertainment as a floating dance hall on the lake. Guests would board the scow, along with the band and refreshments, then be floated to the middle of Ladder lake where a dance was held. The scow held approximately fifty people. Dances would commence early in the evenings and continue until late at night. The floating dance hall was built of lumber and had screen windows part way up the walls. This ensured a fresh supply of country air and also provided a means of protection from mosquitoes. Mr. Ernest Gamache and later Pete Bouchard were in charge of the scow while entertainment was supplied by local participants.
At one time Ladder Lake and the lake behind Charlie Scrimshaw's country home was much higher and these two lakes were connected by a fair sized creek. A bridge was built spanning this creek on the Stoney Lake road. It was constructed near to where the 'Duck Pond' is today. Old timers remember it as a fairly large bridge and was much in use. The water level was much higher at this time and Gaudoise Tremblay recalls the time he and his father journeyed by canoe from Harry Gilbert's farm in Ladder Valley, through the Ladder Lakes and from there right up to Ile-a-la-Crosse, a continuous water route.
Ladder Lake flourished as a resort area, enjoying very prosperous seasons with many visitors and campers during the warm summer months. Over the years the water level of the lake has slowly diminished until it has finally lost its appeal as a resort area. The fish in the lake have died from lack of oxygen and the streams that once flowed into the lake keeping it healthy, have now dried up. The result is that today, the Ladder Lake community is considerably smaller in population and size. This is undoubtedly due to the continuous deterioration of the lake.