Harry Husak and Gier Thorden

Freighting, Later Years
Part Two

Snow Owl. Snow Owl.

With the progress of technology, horse-drawn freight swings were soon phased out. Horses were replaced by tractor cats, to pull the sleighs along the freighting routes. The first cat-drawn sleighs were used in 1939 by Big River Fisheries. Verner Johnson, and Tony and Eric Erickson owned some of the largest cat swings on the road during the 1940s. Sleighs drawn by cats made the journey faster, more efficient and comfortable. Heavier loads and larger sleighs could be pulled. The time-consuming process of ploughing trail with horses was eliminated. Permanent ploughs were attached to the front of a cat and a trail was made as the cat swing moved along. There was a heated caboose on every swing, that sheltered the men when they wished to rest and eat. Sometimes cabooses were used to keep fish from freezing. In the south, many Jewish communities demanded freshly caught pickerel. Since the caboose was heated, the fish were kept in here, to prevent them from freezing.

During the 1940s, planes were introduced as a method of transportation fish and supplies in and out of isolated lakes, such as Dore. Waite Fisheries used plane service, and Leonard Waite piloted the plane. Planes were considered the most efficient way of transporting fish and supplies, however not always the safest. In the fall of 1946, Len Waite and a pilot, Jim Barber, flew up north to Cree Lake to pick up a load of trout. On the way back, the plane crashed between Sled lake and Cowan Lake. Luckily, both men survived. Len Waite received broken ribs and a broken jaw.

During the 1950s, many roads were constructed into communities that had commercial fishing camps, such as Beauval, Dore Lake, and Buffalo Narrows. The cat swings were phased out and replaced by truck transport. Trucks were more efficient and operated all seasons, which allowed for various trips to be made into the communities and fishing camps. furthermore, with the innovation of refrigerated trucks, commercial fishing began to be conducted during the summer season.

Alis and Harry Edquist.
Alis and Harry Edquist.

Bud Wilson.
Bud Wilson.

Ida Johnson on a caboose of a cat swing.
Ida Johnson on a caboose of
a cat swing.

Verner Johnson, ploughing Grassy Point.
Verner Johnson, ploughing
Grassy Point.

A cat breaks through the ice.
A cat breaks through the ice.

Verner Johnson and Les Christianson.
Verner Johnson and Les Christranson loading the hay rake to take to Grassy Point.

Freighting Tales

"Many a story was told whenever we stayed overnight at the bunkhouse."
- Alonzo Gallant.

John Hoehn, a fisherman and freighter during the 1930s and 1940s, describes a dangerous incident that happened to a fellow freighter:

"I remember one year Bill McClung was freighting our fish and had three teams himself. We helped him load up, so he could get back to a stopping place by nightfall. He did not come back in the time we expected. When he did come, he told us this story. His lead team started to run away. He was running down the road behind them hollering, "Whoa!" They ran smack into a tree. Bill stopped and threw his hands up in dismay. His trail team coming behind, at a good clip, ran over him and he ended up under the front roller of the sleigh. He hollered "Whoa!", and the horses stopped. But to get out from under the roller took considerable clawing. Being on muskeg, he was able to scratch out enough snow and moss to extricate himself."

Gaudoise Trembley tells of his first freighting experience into the north.

"My first trip into northern Saskatchewan was in 1918. A man by the name of Bill Moore, from Prince Albert, came to Big River, looking for someone to take him to Dore Lake. He wanted to locate areas of jack pine that were suitable to be used as railway ties. I got the job of taking him to Dore Lake, by sleigh and horse team. There were no snowploughs on these first freight swings, which made the going tough. There was little snow and the ice was still thin on the lakes, therefore we travelled away from the lakes.

The first stopping place we stayed at was Tom Murphy's. The next day we travelled to Rabbit Hill where George Mirasty had a place. From here we moved on to Sled Lake, where an Indian by the name of Baptiste Mirasty lived. He was quite a good man.

That night we had supper at Mirasty's. Mirasty asked us if we wanted some chicken soup for supper. We said okay. Bill Moore and Baptiste made a deal, that Mirasty would guide Moore around the bush for a couple of days, when he came back through Sled again.

On the way to Dore, Bill asked about the chicken soup. "Do those Indians keep chickens?" "I don't know", I say. "You can't keep chickens up here it is awful expensive", Bill said. We stopped talking about chickens, but the problem wasn't solved.

The first stopping place at Dore Lake was run by a man called Boystrum, who lived with his son.

The next morning we pulled out and travelled to Big Island, where Tom Pederson owned a fishing camp. We left Big Island and cut across to the east bay, where an Indian by the name of Michel lived. Michel knew the country very well and guided us around for a couple of days. Bill was looking for possible trees.

We then headed back to Mirasty's place at Sled lake. Bill still had chicken soup on his mind. When we sat down to supper at Mirasty's, Bill finally asked Baptiste if he kept chickens. "Oh no, no", says Baptise. "Can't keep chickens here, dogs will eat all the chickens." "Well we had Chicken soup", says Bill. "Oh!" says Baptiste. "White Owl, White Owl, makes good chicken soup", says Baptiste. That was enough for Bill. He got up right away. "I'm not staying here another minute. Before you know it, he'll be feeding us dog stew." Bill and Baptiste's deal was off. We pulled out that night with the teams.

Seriously, I started freighting in the fall of 1928. I was hired by Albert Fortin, who contracted the Hudson's Bay freight at that time. He had three swings, eight teams to a swing, on the road. I got a job managing a swing north of Beauval.

I broke through the ice twice during my freighting years. I broke through with four loads one time, and another time with two loads. Both times I lost two horses, they both drowned.

I started freighting on my own. I bought a couple of teams. There were quite a few of us together on the road: Alonzo Gallant, Jim Sweeney, George Dunn, Al Olsen, Verner Johnson, and Jim Taplie."

Gaudoise Trembley's Story.

Although the following incident did not occur at Dore Lake, it illustrates how the extremely bitter cold challenged the many freighters and fishermen in the north. In some cases, the bitter cold defeated these men. This is the story of Gaudoise Trembley's fishing expedition at Keeley Lake. Gaudoise Trembley began freighting and fishing at Dore Lake in 1918 and later on freighted and fished throughout northern Saskatchewan.

I was born in beautiful Lac St. John, Quebec on April 22, 1900. My father decided to leave the province of Quebec in April 1912 and moved to Big River, Saskatchewan. He took a homestead at Ladder lake (now called Keeley Lake). We used teams of horses to get there.

We finished fishing by the middle of February. Fishing was quite poor that year. We were only receiving four and a half cents per pound on the ice. Henri Gallant had a camp not too far from ours. Henri and I decided to stay on fishing at my camp for two weeks, while Charles and the others went back to Big River. They were to come back in two weeks to get us.

I was out on the lake fishing and came back about 1:00 P.M. I was always pretty handy with cooking. I went into the shack and thought about starting a meal. There was no dry wood around, besides we always dried our wood in the shack. We usually used coal oil to get the fire going. To this day I still believe it was gas. But, whatever it was, blew up. Both, Gallant and I got severely burned. Our face, hands and head were in bad shape. Gallant was in shock, and all he could say was, "what are we going to do now, what are we going to do now!" I decided to hitch up the horse and go to Gallant's camp, three miles away. Looking back, I think I was out of my mind at the time. I didn't know what I was doing. We weren't dressed at all. Our clothes were all burnt; we had bare hands and bare faces. This was the way we drove for three miles.

When we got to Gallant's camp our burnt hands and face were bloody and frozen. We could not start a fire and it was 30 below. Gallant kept saying, "What are we going to do now". He could not see anymore, because his face was so badly swelled up. I knew an old Indian was coming back from Canoe lake, which was twenty-two miles away. It wasn't long before he did come, but he could only take one man on his toboggan. "Take Gallant", I said, "and send Anton Morris from the Hudson's Bay Post at Canoe Lake, after me".

I didn't have a fire, but I didn't need a fire. I kept walking around a pole beside a table, in the middle of the shack. The pole held up the roof. I walked so much that night, that when I came back next fall to fish you could still see my path worn on the ground floor, around the table.

Anton Morris sent a young French man to get me. He arrived at 5:00 in the morning. He started a fire and made me some tea. When the fire got going I couldn't stay in the shack anymore. I had to get out. I was beginning to feel pain. The young man tied me to the dog drawn toboggan and I started thawing out. You can imagine what it was like when I started thawing out. I was hollering to be let out of the toboggan, but I was all tied up and couldn't get out.

When we got to Canoe Lake, we still had another twenty miles to go to Ile-a-la-Crosse. There, they had a mission and a nurse. Mr Gallant was already there.

I arrived at about 6:00 P.M. Mr Gallant was sitting on the bed and not saying anything. I was walking around like a mad man; walking back and forth. I would lay down and five minutes later would have to get up and move again. Mr Gallant still wouldn't say very much. At about midnight, Mr Gallant asked for some water. The Sister went to get him some water. He took the glass of water in his hands and dropped dead. Now they started worrying about me. But, I came out good. In a couple of months, I was better, I fished until 1926. I quit then. I had enough of fishing. In the fall of 1928, I started freighting.

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"Date Modified: July 9, 2024."

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