by Peggy Johnson.
Verner Johnson was born in a small village near Stockholm, Sweden in 1898. He immigrated to Canada in 1919 and came to Dore Lake in 1922, to fish. He met Margaret Zeigler and they were married in 1923, in Prince Albert. 1901 and worked at Lake of the Woods, Ontario. Then he took a homestead at Strasbourg, Saskatchewan, Margaret's mother, three brothers and sister came to Canada in 1903. Margaret was born in Canada. They came to Dore Lake in 1920 and lived on Michel Point. Margaret tells of the terrible weather that her family encountered on their trip north in March, and how they had to stay at Sled Lake until it improved. At Dore, they lived in tents until the buildings were finished. The barns were built first to protect the horses from the insects. So, the house was not completed until October.
During the eleven years the Zeigler family lived at Michel, they had big gardens every year. They also had cows and chickens. Berries were plentiful and she tells of picking water pails full for canning.
When Verner and Margaret were married, they lived on Joseph's Point for three years and then moved to Michel Point.
In 1934, Margaret was remarried to Kai Hansen, a licensed electrician, who worked for Waite Fisheries in Big River. They lived in Big River until the latter part of the 1950s, when they moved to Saskatoon.
Verner had a dog team that he raced in derbies. In 1924 he won first prize at La Pas, Manitoba and in Prince Albert, in 1925. He won a second prize with his team in Big River, in 1926.
In the first years Verner did a lot of trapping. He trapped long-haired fur-bearing animals and muskrats in the spring.
In December of 1967, Verner was returning from Spruce Point when a blizzard came up. He survived in his car for six days of severely cold weather, until he was found by his sons and Ferdie Edquist, with the D.N.R. bombardier. He escaped with light frostbite and malnutrition. Verner Johnson continued to live on Dore Lake until his death on November 15,
Verner Johnson (center) after winning an
endurance race in Big River.
Verner and son Carl, with a pet deer
Also winter's catch of coyotes and foxes.
Verner Johnson's home at Michel Point.
The orchard at Johnson's home.
Verner Johnson's winning dog team.
As long as my memory remains, Dore Lake will always have a special meaning to me. I spent many of my younger years here. I treasure the fond memories of old friends, who are now long gone, but by no means forgotten.
I recall the winter of 1924-1925. Fishing season opened on December 1 and lasted till February 15th. The quota then was 800,000 pounds. Whenever the limit was caught fishing would be closed down. However, as there were not many fishermen on the Lake during these early years, the fishing would almost always last till February. There were a couple of seasons when fishing went to February 15th, but by the time February rolled around, most fishermen had called it quits. By this time we all had our share of the cold. Furthermore, most of us had to haul the fishing tools and the fish boxes with a hand sleigh. It was a difficult job in the bitter cold. Only the permanent fishermen had sleigh dogs.
It was in Einar Bergthoson's camp, that I put in my first winter on Dore Lake. I was treated very well by Einar and Halli Freeman, a nineteen-year-old youth. The food was the very best, as old Einar (then in his late sixties), was a good cook. His deep-dish raisin pie was the best.
Except for Christmas, we fished every day, Sundays as well. The winter of 24-25 was very cold with lots of snow. Therefore, when the fishing season was over I received my wages and headed back to Big River.
The only transportation at this time, was by horse-drawn freight swings. It was rather slow from Dore Lake to Big River. It took three and a half days. The day I decided to leave camp no swings were operating. So I left early in the morning, still no daylight yet, but the road was good. From Camp Four, it was only a mile and a half to the portage that went to Sled Lake. When I got to the bush I turned around to give Dore Lake a dirty look, for which I thought was surely the last time. Under my breath saying to myself, "You so and so, you'll never get a chance to freeze me again". That day I made it to the north end of DeLaronde Lake; a distance of about forty miles. The next day I did not get such an early start and it was hard walking on DeLaronde Lake. The road had drifted in, so going was hard. I made Big River that night; late in the evening and very tired.
The next day I took the train from Big River to Prince Albert, where! stayed two or three days. Then I took a train from Prince Albert to Winnipeg, where I worked at odd jobs until the summer fishing season opened on Lake Winnipeg. I fished there all summer. When that job was over, I headed west to harvest at Dafoe, Saskatchewan. There I met up with my former employer, Halli Freeman, where he was also harvesting. He asked me if I would come and fish for him and "old" Einar again. I had by then forgotten about the tough, cold winter the year before, and was only too glad to get the job. Fishing had gotten into my system and so had Dore Lake. It is no myth, that if one has put a full year in the northern wilderness, that he or she will experience the unexplainable urge to return.
The Depression was on and times in the south were bad. There was little work and no one had money. By this time, I had a small log hut, that! used to winter fish with. In 1931, I made up my mind to stay on Dore Lake the year-round. Living on the Lake were several young men, like me, with a few nets and also some traps. It wasn't much, but it was better than riding the freight trains in the south, looking for work in different places, which turned out to be the same story; no work, no money.
One day I met up with Frank Clinton and Joe Schmidt, who was staying at Frank Schloegel's (Sr.) fish camp, on Joseph's Point. We all had a long talk over many cups of coffee. It was decided that I was to move in with them for the summer. In early fall, Frank Clinton and Joe would move to Emmeline Lake, for they had heard that the trapping was good around this lake. I would stay on at Dore and feed their dogs, as well as mine, and trap. Whatever fur was caught would be split three ways. All went well, but Joe did not fit into that kind of life and pulled out for good. Frank Clinton fished Dore Lake for many winters, but as fish prices were so poor, he gave that up. Frank built himself a very fine trapping cabin, on a lovely point, on Emmeline Lake. He made trapping his sole occupation. He trapped for many years and his big catches of fur told his story. However, Frank was hit with a tragedy. Without any notice, his whole trap line was put into a game reserve. It must have been a tough break at first, but it turned out well, as Frank was given a field officers job on his trap line. He used his cabin as a headquarters and stayed with the department until his retirement.
I married Grace Blanchette and we made our permanent home in Dore Lake, on Joseph's Point for several years. Soon my wife and I decided, that since our oldest son, Fred, was five years old, that we had better move to Big River, where there was a school.
I still trapped in the fall and fished in the winter for several more years. When Waite Fisheries built their filleting plant on Dore Lake. I fished for two summer seasons after that. I then sold my fishing outfit and camp to Waite Fisheries. I still have many fond memories of those many years on Dore Lake. We had very little in the line of luxuries, but there was no limit to the game, fish and berries. With a garden, we did not feel the Depression very much. There were plenty of foxes and coyotes. The prices were not high, but a dollar went a long way in those days.
John Thompson with two timber wolves.
John Thompson's dog team, 1936.
John Thompson's fishing camp.
Freighting Fish With Horses.
A Bit of Family History
by Stewart Thompson.
My grandfather was Bjarni Tomasson. He came to Canada from Hunavatn, Iceland. He landed at Brandon, Manitoba in 1894. He met my grandmother, Steinunn Jonson, in Brandon, Manitoba. She had immigrated from Akureyn, Iceland, the year unknown. From what I can gather, they were married in Brandon, likely in 1894.
Grandpa and Grandma Tomasson owned a farm in Brandon, where they soon started a family. They had three daughters; Emma, Anna and Kristine and three sons; Tom, Steve and my father John. Dad was born in Langruth, Manitoba on August 4, 1907. I never found out much about my grandparents as Dad didn't talk much about any of his family. I know he left home for good at the young age of thirteen. He found work on a ship on Lake Superior for a while, worked on farms for several years, before going to Gimli, Manitoba. In Gimli, Dad worked on the fishing boats and learned the fishing industry.
Eventually, Dad would travel to a beautiful place in northern Saskatchewan called Dore Lake. As he only spoke Icelandic, it was only natural that he would work with Icelandic speaking fishermen who at that time (1924-1925), were practically the only people winter fishing. Dad fished for Einar Bergthorson and Halli Freeman. Dad fished winters on Dore Lake and summers on Lake Winnipeg.
In those days, most of the transportation was done by horse teams. It was mainly Scandinavian and Icelanders who moved north to pioneer the commercial fishing industry in northern Saskatchewan. Joe Stefansson was one of the first Icelandic fishermen on the Lake, along with Thorstein Sigurdson. Helgi Johnson, J.K. Johnson, Ari Arison and of course my father, John Thompson. I don't know to this day, why Dad changed his name from Tomasson to 'Thompson'.
Later on my father owned a homestead south of Dore Lake called "Stoney Lake"; on the map, it is called "Delaronde Lake". By now Dad was married and had started raising foxes and mink, besides owning cattle, horses and pigs, and growing grain.
I first started fishing on Delaronde Lake with my father at about age ten. I recall sitting in the bow of the boat with a paddle forcing the boat ahead, while my dad set the nets from the back end. When he said, "Point the boat's nose towards that big spruce tree across the lake, by the Indian Village", I made sure I did my best! Even though he was my father and loved me, we obeyed, because I learned at a very young age that "Hell hath no fury, like an Icelander not listened to!"
My parents raised five boys; Fred, Stewart, Jackie, Ron and Howard in that order. We raised mink and fished until 1956, at which time Dad moved everything north to a place called Ile-a-la-Crosse.
We all worked hard, hand cleared everything and built it into one of the most beautiful mink ranches in northern Saskatchewan. I would usually fish and as we raised over 2000 mink, it was a full-time job supplying them with fish. Fred, Jack and Howard usually worked in the mink yard with Dad. Fred and Jack went mink ranching on their own and were very successful.
Fred retired from mink ranching in the early sixties and served three years on the first municipal council in the north. He was a former Saskatchewan boxing champion and has been hockey, baseball and boxing coach in his community of Buffalo Narrows.
Fred Thompson was first elected MLA for the Athabasca Constituency in 1975. He was re-elected in 1978, 1982, 1986 and 1990, and is the longest sitting member of the Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly (consecutively). He is a Caucus Critic for the Department of Parks, Saskatchewan Forest Products and Northern Affairs Issues. He and his wife, Theresa, have three sons.
When Dad retired to his home in Big River, Saskatchewan, his son, Jackie Thompson, wife Margaret and their three sons, took over the mink ranch. Jackie pelted out later on and turned the place into a tourist resort called "Silver Pine Resort". He is still there now. In winter, he and his three sons still fish commercially.
Ron Thompson joined the Army and became Canadian Amateur Boxing Champion. He took the welterweight and middleweight championship of the Canadian Army. After a successful amateur career, he turned professional and went to the United States where he became Oregon State Champion. He went on to fight three world champions. He is now retired and last year was inducted into the Canadian Boxing hall of fame.
Howard Thompson and his wife Marlene, have owned their own plumbing company "Top Rank Inc." for over 30 years and are about to retire.
I (Stewart Thompson) still commercial fish and live in New Westminster, British Columbia, with my wife Alice. I'm presently taking Icelandic lessons. I have not worked for over a year, due to a car accident.
My Dad always said he wanted to die in his own home and not in a nursing home, and he wanted his five sons to carry him. On Monday, January 24, 1983, Dad passed away in his kitchen of a massive heart attack. He was 75 years old. He was carried by his five sons and a grandson. Mother is 80 years old and lives in Saskatchewan.
A few brief passages above were taken from the book "A look at the Past",
History of Dore Lake, written by Anne-Maria Dilella.
Stewart informs us that since this writing his brother, Fred Thompson, has been appointed the Honourable Associate Minister of Economic Development in the Saskatchewan Government.
Stewart Thompson enjoys writing and has had a poem published in "American book of Anthology". He travels often to Saskatchewan and is interested in contacting other Saskatchewan Icelanders.
Stewart Thompson outside brother Jack's Camp
with a Walleye Pike - Pickerel.
Stewart and Jackie Thompson at Dore Lake, Saskatchewan.
Left to Right: Stewart, Jackie and Fred Thompson