Miles Isbister first came to the Big River area in 1907 when he was twelve years old. He came with a family by the name of William Chaffee from Mont Nebo, and he made several trips back and forth over the old Hudson Bay Trail.
In 1908, he settled at Erinferry where his parents, Mr. and Mrs. James Isbister, ran a Soup Kitchen, or stopping place, for the freighters who were hauling in the early mill supplies prior to the arrival of the railroad.
During these years, Miles can remember hauling hay from the big meadows around Bittern lake to many of the private mill camps around Big River and up Crooked Lake. He can well recall the noise made by the riveters who were busy erecting the burner and how he had to watch his horses so they would not run away from all the noise. He remembers rows of company houses being built at this time and of seeing Mr. Ernie Brownfield hauling rocks from Stoney Lake for use in the foundation of the mill.
Miles Isbister at his home in Bodmin.
Miles lost his first wife, Francis Robertson, and a young son, during the 1918 'flu epidemic. An infant baby girl survived and was raised by Miles and his second wife, Eva Ahenakew. Six boys and six girls were born of this marriage, and another son was born of a third marriage to Edna McAdam.
In 1929, the Isbisters filed on a homestead in the Winter Lake district and farmed there until 1954, when they moved to Bodmin. They still reside in the area.
Working as a lumberjack during the Otter lake lumber day, Miles remembers the "mud-hen", a boat used to float the logs down to Cowan. This was around 1913, when Camp Fifteen was the main stopping place for the men.
Like many of the true pioneers of our district, Miles is a man of many talents, turning his hand to various jobs during his colourful past, doing each with the vim and vigour demanded. Sometimes a freighter or fisherman, sometimes a trapper or lumberjack, sometimes a farmer, but always the hearty good natured type of pioneer that moulded Big River and district and opened up the country to new settlers.
Anton and Georgina Johnson.
Anton Johnson came to Big River in March, 1916 from Minneapolis, Wisconsin. He was hired by the Big River Lumber Company to work in the mill as an edgerman. His family, wife Georgina, sons Charlie band Clarence, daughters, Hazel, Eva, and Madeline arrived in May of 1916.
Mr. Johnson worked in the mill until the big fire in 1919 and when the lumber company talked of closing down and moving or finding new employment. Being a man of vision, he felt there was a still a future for Big River and he was determined to remain here with his family. Rallying four other interested men they joined in a group to form the Big River Development Company and bought the entire town, buildings and property from the lumber company. Administration was divided up among the members of the Settlement Committee and at one time Mr. Johnson owned one quarter of the town including the theatre. It was his pleasure to donate the use of this building to the Anglican congregation each Sunday until such time as they obtained their own building. He also donated some land next to a public reserve and this became Big River's first sports ground.
Mr. Johnson served as overseer of the village for two terms. The family lived in town (near where the Legion Hall is now) until 1930, when their home was destroyed by fire. They then moved to the farm on the north edge of town. Mr. Johnson died in 1956. Georgina lived to her ninety-fourth year.
Jalmer and Rhoda Johnson.
The growing promise of homesteads in our districts attracted many prairie farmers. In 1928, Jalmer Johnson moved from Kinistino to the Lake Four district and farmed there until 1947. He also set up a small sawmill there.
Jalmer sawed at Hall's Bay in 1948 for Art Milligan and also worked for Mr. Sundby cutting ties. Mr. Johnson helped build Mike Skopyk's red garage. He built a portable mill for Mr. Sundby which was moved to the Forks, then to Sundby's backyard, and then to Stoney lake. It was operating at all these locations.
Jalmer Johnson married Dorothy Campbell in 1932 and they raised three children: Doris, Bill and Allan.
Mrs. Johnson's parents, Elgin and Fanny Campbell, moved to Park Valley in 1938 from Shellbrook and later moved into town.
Her brother, George Campbell, came to the Neslin Lake district around 1925 and established a mink farm. He moved to Hall's Bay where he ranched and then to the Black Duck area. He retired in Big River and passed away in 1976. Mr. and Mrs. Johnson are still residing in our community.
Harris and Rhoda Johnston.
Harris Johnston was born in Notre Dame, New Brunswick in 1877. Rhoda was born in England in 1889.
Constable Johnston was a member of the Royal North West Mounted Police Force, but when Saskatchewan changed to Provincial Police, Constable Johnston was transferred to this force.
The Johnstons came from Cutknife, Saskatchewan to Big River in 1922, where Harris was in charge of the Detachment Office. He was responsible for a large area which included Big River, Bodmin, Debden and the Reserve. He also patrolled into far northern regions whenever necessary. Sometimes on trips to the south, a jigger was used on the railway tracks as this method of transportation was much faster than automobile in those days.
Three of their five children were born in Cut Knife, Ernest, Ella Mae and Rhoda Alice, while Gordon and Elenor were born in Big River. Rhoda Alice is buried in the Big River Cemetery having died in her fourth year.
Rhoda worked tirelessly for the Anglican Church and was instrumental in raiding funds to help build the first church here and to obtain the organ which was used in St. Mary's for many years. Memories of the numerous bush fires and the time the boarding house burnt are still clear to Rhoda as is the loss of the hospital and several other buildings, all destroyed by fire. She also recalls the night of the big riot, when she was alone with her children and the police were away in Shellbrook. Her memories include the colourful Treaty Party that came from Ottawa to distribute the money among the Indian Reserves.
In spite of the many trials and experiences connected with police work in the early days, the Johnstons loved their life in Big River. It was rough and tough, but exciting with never a dull moment. They made many lasting and dear friends here. One in particular was Mrs. John Waite, who came to Canada on the same ship as Rhoda did (The Tunisian) in 1913.
Constable Harris Johnston died in 1947 and is buried in Prince Albert. Ernest and Ella (Mrs. Coker) live in Alberta. Rhoda remarried in 1959 to William Crook.
The Harris Johnston family.
Daniel Kazmiruk Family.
Submitted by Mrs. Helen Olson,
information given to her by her mother,
Mrs. Barbara Pecharsky (Kazmiruk)
The Kazmiruk family, of Ukrainian origin, arrived in Canada from the Republic of Byelorussia in the Soviet Union on August 8, 1925. At the time of arrival in Canada, the family consisted of Daniel, his wife Barbara, and three children, Annie age six, Alex age three, and Mary two months old.
Upon arrival in Saskatoon they were warned to go no further north, as the Indians in the area would kill them or the mosquitoes would eat them. In spite of this, they moved to Ladder Valley in January of 1926 and took up a homestead on the NW Quarter of Section 34, Township 55, Range 7, W3rd Meridian. The family moved onto the homestead in April of 1926, and completed building their first log cabin on October 26, 1926 on the homestead. They had two horses and in May obtained two cows and some chickens.
There were no roads in the area as we know them now, but only "Indian Trails". The quarter section on which they homesteaded was heavily treed, very near Ladder Lake, which was full of fish at the time, and the soil was very rich. They cleared a garden area immediately, but had to hire someone to break the ground as they did not have a plow.
Daniel proceeded to earn a living for the family by cutting cordwood valued from one dollar and fifty cents to three dollars per cord which he exchanged for groceries and supplies at the O.P. Godin Store at Big River, six and a half miles away. They could not get cash in exchange for the cordwood at first. At the time, one hundred pounds of flour was worth three dollars. As soon as they acquired the cows and chickens, Barbara began to sell butter and eggs at O.P. Godins Store. She received ten cents a pound for butter and ten cents a dozen for eggs. In 1929, Daniel purchased a breaking plow for twenty-five dollars and paid for it with eggs and butter. He was then able to begin breaking up the land he had cleared.
During the first years, game was very plentiful and Daniel hunted partridges, rabbits, deer and moose for food. In 1929, he and his brother-in-law, who arrived that year to take up a homestead on the next quarter section, shot four moose. They grew vegetables, and there were plenty of raspberries, saskatoons, blueberries, and cranberries, as well as mushrooms, to supplement their diet.
Naturally they were afraid of Indians at first, but soon found out that they were actually friendly. One day, when Daniel was away cutting hay, an Indian arrived on horseback while Barbara was working in the garden. She could not understand what he was saying and of course she was quite frightened, but he finally spoke the German word for "bread" and she could understand the language so she understood he wanted food. She had just baked some bread and gave the Indian a loaf of bread and water to drink and he went away.
There were a lot of bears in the area at one time and one night, when Daniel was away, a bear tried to break into the chicken house. He broke the glass window but there were boards nailed across it, "just in case a bear would try to get in". He could not get at the chickens. Barbara got the shotgun and was going to fire at him through the window of the house but could not fire the gun. The dog and bear chased each other around the yard for an hour or so and the bear finally left and did not come back. This was the only serious incident with bears.
There were no other Ukrainians living in Ladder Valley until the thirties and in the first years their nearest neighbours were the Batanoffs, a Russian doctor and his wife, also a doctor, who were homesteading until they could obtain licenses to practise medicine in Canada. The Kazmiruks spoke Russian and the Batanoffs were very friendly and most of the Kazmiruk children born in Canada were delivered at home by the Batanoffs.
A school was built for Ladder Valley in approximately 1930 and the elder children started school. Until this time the family spoke very little English, but after the children started school, they quickly learned English and in turn taught their parents the language.
In 1935, Daniel completed a larger two-story log house on the homestead for the family, which by that time had grown to nine members with the addition of Andrew, George, Helen and Sophie. The new house had two large rooms on the first floor and three on the second floor with a large attic and also a large cellar for storing vegetables, This house is still standing.
In March 1937, two months after the birth of his youngest daughter, Katrina, Daniel Kazmiruk died in Prince Albert hospital after undergoing an operation for kidney stones. Barbara Kazmiruk continued to live on the homestead until 1946, when she rented out the farm and bought a small house in the village of Big River so that the three youngest children could attend high school.
Barbara Kazmiruk (Pecharsky), who is now eighty-two years old, is still in good health and lives alone at Wakaw, Saskatchewan. Her daughter Annie (Kuryk) lives in Burnaby, B.C. Her eldest son Alex lives in Big River, Saskatchewan. Her son Andrew lives in New Westminster, B.C. Her son George lives in Victoria, B.C. Her daughter Helen (Olson) lives in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Daughter Sophie (Zehner) lives on Cardinal Road, Mission, B.C. Daughter Katrina (Goett) lives in Edmonton, Alberta. August 31, 1978.
Phillip and Matilda Kelly.
Henrietta Matilda Kelly was born in Jamaica and trained as a nurse in England. She came to Canada in 1911 as a volunteer under the Christian Missionary Society, to nurse patients at Green lake who were suffering from typhus. In 1918, she met and married Phillip who was a caretaker of the dam and some years later they settled in Bodmin.
Mrs. Kelly was often called on to assist the doctor and was always ready and willing to help. She had a wonderful memory and could relate events that happened during the Boer War as well as the time she saw Queen Victoria. Mrs. Kelly nursed for some time in the City Hospital in Saskatoon and also in a private clinic.
The Kellys grew lovely gardens each year at their home in Bodmin and had many visitors at Kelly's Grove. They both lived long lives reaching close to one hundred years and are buried in the Big river Cemetery.
Matilda and Phillip Kelly.
Issac and Katherina Klassen.
Issac and Katherina Klassen left the government area named Mullingar to move to Timberlost in 1938. They had been told that Timberlost was a place with plenty of rich land. The government gave them a cow, a wagon and a team of horses when they moved.
When they arrived at Timberlost, they had to start all over just as they had at Mullingar. First the land had to be cleared with what tools were available and then a house had to be built. Long hours and many days were put into this slow process.
The family had to live in the house before it was completed, even sharing one corner with their one remaining horse. Having lost one horse, they could take no chance that harm would come to the other one, so willingly shared what shelter they had and kept it indoors during the night until a suitable barn could be built.
After all this, the Klassens still encountered more misfortunes. They discovered that there wasn't a water supply on their land. They had to go to the neighbours for their drinking water. A small reservoir in the backyard served their washing needs. They also caught rain during the summer and melted snow in the winter.
The Klassens were self sufficient farmers. They had cows for milk and some chickens for eggs. Sometimes the neighbours would trade among themselves for what they needed, or they would sell their produce in order to buy groceries.
Issac and his sons would work for two days cutting and loading wood and then travel for one day bringing the wood to town. Lack of sale would make it necessary for them to sell the wood at reduced rate - one dollar for a load.
Eva (Mrs. Sam Miller) remembers when her sister was getting married in Birch Hills. Issac and Katherine could not attend because they had no money and no way to travel. Even the trip into Big River was a treat to the family.
After ten years of hard work, Issac decided to leave the Big River district and move to B.C.
Issac and Katherina had seven children: Peter, Henry, Helen, Mary, Eva, George, and Suzanna. Suzanna died at a very young age and was buried in the small graveyard on the Klassen land.
Mrs. Klara Klyne.
Mrs. Clara Klyne was born in Lebret, Saskatchewan in 1888, and moved to Big River in 1916. She was a second cook at the mill boarding house, moving out to a homestead in the Bodmin district in later years where Mrs. Klyne served as mid wife in that community. She had three children, Lawrence, who was killed in World War Two, Robert who still lives on the home place and Mary Jane (Mrs. Bill Potts). Mrs. Klyne is a member of the C.W.L. Legion Auxiliary and the Senior Citizens Group. At present she is in Prince Albert in Mont St, Joseph Nursing Home. She was ninety years of age last March.
Steve and Mary Kowalyk.
Steve and his wife Mary came to Big River from the Meecham district in the late twenties. Steve began his career as a section foreman for the C.N. Railway at a little stopping off place called Dumble, which is approximately ten miles south of town. He lived there for a couple of years before moving into Big River to make his permanent residence here.
Steve was a quiet, soft spoken man who devoted his time to his work, his family and the church. He often gave student ministers a much appreciated ride to Eldred on the "Jigger" whenever services were to be held.
Steve and Mary had one son (Keith) who now lives in Rocky Mountain House in Alberta.
Steve passed away in 1975. His wife Mary continues to live in Big River.
Mr. and Mrs. Lamberton.
In 1932, Mr. and Mrs. Lamberton came to Big River from Davidson. They homesteaded west of town until Mr. Lamberton died in 1938. Seeing that a homestead was too much to manage alone, Mrs. Lamberton moved to town to live with her mother, Mrs. Alma Dunn.