A History of Buffalo Narrows

Business Establishments

Buffalo. Buffalo.

Since the 1940's, Buffalo Narrows has usually had some sort of sawmill, store, hotel, cafe and theatre in operation. These businesses have two other things in common. They were usually privately owned by local people (except for the H.B.C. store) and they usually employed local people.


The story of the sawmills associated with Buffalo Narrows is not entirely clear. It appears as though the first sawmill located in the immediate vicinity of Buffalo Narrows was opened in 1944. It was a private mill operated by Tony Ericson for three years under contract with the Saskatchewan Timber Board. The timber was cut at the north end of Niska Lake and brought to the mill by means of log booms towed by boats. The annual cut in 1946-47 was six hundred and eighty thousand f.b.m. (foot board measure) while in 1947-48 the cut was one half million f.b.m. and in 1948-49 the cut was three hundred and eighty thousand f.b.m. The lumber was used primarily for local needs with some of the cut being stockpiled for future years.

Tony Ericson's Sawmill.
Tony Ericson's sawmill in 1951. (Photo courtesy of the Sask. Archives Board).

Estimates as to the number of employees working in this mill vary from twelve to thirty people. Peter and Jergan Madsen were employed as sawyers in this, and several other local mills. The mill was located near the side of Pat's Bay (called Sawmill Bay on topographic maps). This mill is significant, in that it was the only non-mission mill in the region at that time. In 1947, the provincial government took control of the mill. Production ceased in 1949. Ericson later operated a mill on Allan Island (Tony's Island) from 1953 to 1957. Skipper Pedersen managed the mill for his father, Tom, and Tony Ericson.

Halvor Ausland's Sawmill.
Halvor Ausland's sawmill in 1954, Jack Rae from Big River was the sawyer. (Photo courtesy of Selmer Ausland).

Halvor Ausland, at one time operated a small sawmill for his own use at his mink ranch on Deep River. This sawmill can be seen (right), partially hidden by saw logs. Mr Ausland operated this mill for several years, beginning in 1954. While he operated it primarily for his own use, he did sell lumber to a number of people in the Buffalo Narrows, Ile-a-la-Crosse area. Mr Ausland employed Jack Rae, from Big River, as the sawyer.

There was also a sawmill about eighteen miles north of town on the left hand side of the road (as you travel north) opposite Taylor Lake. A man by the name of "Redhead" ran this mill in the mid to late 1960's. In 1961-62 a co-operative mill was started near the site of the present day sawmill just north of town. The co-op consisted of thirteen men (Jergen and Pete Madsen, Siegferd Reigert, Ross MacLeod, Bill Hyshka, Gerry Parsons, Oscar Petit, Kelly Shatilla, Erick Krieck and two others), who put up one-hundred dollars apiece. The equipment was brought in from the south. The mill ran for about three years before the Department of Natural Resources (D.N.R.) hired most of their cutters away as part of a winter works program. As a result, the co-op had no logs to cut that year, so D.N.R. then brought in new equipment and ran the mill off and on for a few years.

The department of Natural Resources operated several mills in the Buffalo Narrows area. The department cut timber north of town along the road in 1959. In 1962, D.N.R. operated a sawmill across from Jack Thompson's on Deep River. In 1963, the Department ran a sawmill in the Clearwater Valley.

In the late 1960's or early 1970's, John Midgett and Mr. Anderson (from Meadow Lake) operated a sawmill about twelve miles north of town on the right hand side, as you travel north. This mill had previously been operated by the Department of Natural Resources.

The present sawmill was taken over by the Department of Northern Saskatchewan in 1974-75. It was operated until the Saskatchewan Government Employees Association (S.G.E.A.) strike in the fall of 1979. The mill employed about twenty men at that time.

The sawmills located in Buffalo Narrows have been of relatively minor importance to the town of Buffalo Narrows until recent times. The mills provided some of the local lumber needs from time to time, but not all. Even today, much of the lumber used in Buffalo Narrows must be imported from the south. In addition, the erratic "stop and start" nature of these mills has not provided a permanent source of employment for local residents.


Hudson Bay Store.
The Hudson's Bay Company Store (1951). (Photo courtesy of Sask. Archives Board:
Star Phoenix Collection).

Opened in 1942, Buffalo Narrows has had a long history of being served by small local stores. In the 1930's, Bill Ashbury and Harry Veil had a small store located on Veil's Bay (just north of Pat's Bay).

Tom Pedersen also ran a small store from the late 1930's until 1942 when the H.B.C. store was built, as did Louis Morin (for Clarke Fisheries and later the H.B.C.), and Eugene Chartier. Chartier's Store also had a pool table. These small stores had few luxuries. Prices were high (as compared with the south) due to high freight costs. Many of the owners of these small stores bought fur for one of the large fur trading companies, as well as selling food and dry goods.

This building was used until 1957 when it was sold to Waite Fisheries who turned it into a hotel and cafe run by Tom Der. This building is now in use as the home and laundromat of John Hanson. Clear Lake and Buffalo River had been served by Hudson's Bay Company Stores for many years prior to the construction of the store in Buffalo Narrows.

Hudson Bay Store.
Hudson Bay Store in Buffalo Narrows, early 1940's. The store appears to have just been recently built or moved to this location, people on the front steps are unidentified. (Photo courtesy of Adele Grieve).

Maglaire Morin ran the H.B.C. store at Clear Lake in the 1950's. In 1956, he took a barge loaded with food and dry goods out to Frobisher Lake to act as a floating store to the fishermen supplying Waite Fisheries. In 1945, two new stores were opened in the community. One of these was operated by Dave LeChasseur and an ex-policeman by the name of McLeod. This was the Northern Traders store.

Dave LaCheseur's Store.
Store owned by Dave LeChasseur and Mr. McLeod (c.1943). The person on the left waving his arm appears to be Kelly Shatilla, person on the right is Jergen Madsen. (Photo courtesy of John and Mary Hansen).

In the early 1950's, Kelly Shatilla built his red and white store between what is now Athabasca Airways and the present hotel. Kelly's son, Alec, ran the store from 1964 to 1966 after the death of his father. Alec finally had to close the store down, due to the large amount of credit on the books. The other store was operated by a Mr. Nelson and was located were the Sask-Tel trailer is now.

In 1967, Alec Shatilla built a new store which he ran for a short while. This building is now being used for the Liquor Board Store which opened in 1961 with Vern Laube as manager.

In the 1950's Ray Beaulac had a store for awhile. The Co-op store began operation in 1956 and operated until the early 1970's. This was a locally owned Co-op. The Co-op was later moved to Ray Beaulac's building (his former store), which is now being used as a warehouse by D.N.S.

The Co-op store had several local managers during the time that it operated in Buffalo Narrows. Among these were Harold Roberts (1956), John Montgrand and Alec Shatilla, Ken Petit and Alfred Petit.

Co-op Store.
Co-op Store (1958). (Photo courtesy of Leonard Montgrand).

At present, Buffalo Narrows is served by the Bay, Dorothy's Grocery Store (I.G.A.) which opened in 1976 and Charlie Seright's Store which opened in 1978-79.

The number and variety of stores located in Buffalo Narrows has varied over time, but, it would appear as though the one continuously operated chain store (The Bay) has faced competition from locally controlled stores for much of its thirty-eight year history.

Hotels and Cafes

Empire Hotel.
Dave LeChasseur's Empire Hotel. (Photo courtesy of John and Mary Hansen).

Buffalo Narrows has had a long history of being well served by hotels and cafes. Hotels and cafes are dealt with together because hotels usually housed cafes to feed their guests.

In the early years (1927-40), Tom Pedersen ran a "stopping place" for the freighters going north. Tom provided barns for the horses (prior to the advent of "cat" trains) and rooms and meals for the men.

In 1943, Waites Fisheries built a hotel and cafe to house and feed their fish plant employees. It was built on the site now occupied by the liquor Board Store. At first (1942-44), this cafe was run by the Forrests (Charlotte and Arcade) and Nick Labossier. Cal Finlayson took over from them, but, he soon gave way to Tom Der (Chinese) who ran it for a long period of time. This hotel burned in 1957 when LeChasseur's hotel (next door) caught fire as a result of cleaning the chimney. Waite then bought and moved the former Hudson's Bay Company Store (John Hanson's house) to its present location. Later this building was sold to John Hanson, who has a laundromat in the basement and lives upstairs. Vic Piersal also ran a cafe in the 1940's for awhile.

Pierre McCallum built a cafe in Buffalo Narrows in 1948 on the site where the "Highways Garage" stands today. He later added rooms to his cafe making it a hotel. In 1949, Pierre moved to the lot where Wood's Lumber is presently located. This cafe burned in 1949. Some estimates have Pierre opening his cafe in 1938 while others place it in the early 1940's.

In 1949, Dave LeChasseur built his Empire Hotel. He opened a beer parlour in 1955. This hotel burned along with Tom Der's place in 1957 during the chimney cleaning accident. LeChasseur then ran a cafe and rented cabins on the site of Pierre McCallum's old cafe until he was able to rebuild with material obtained from the Fort Black Radar Base. Sometime later (1971) Gertie McLeod bought out LeChasseur and ran the hotel until it burned once again in 1972.

Empire Hotel.
Charles Woodman (left), presents a commemorative plaque to Dave LeChasseur (1957).(Photo courtesy of Sask. Archives Board: Star-Phoenix Collection).

The Buffalo Narrows Hotel was constructed in 1971. The hotel has a cafe and bar as well as rooms for rent. Helen's Cafe and Pool Room owned by Norman and Helen Tinker opened its doors in 1975. Jessie Laprise ran a cafe at the north end of town for a short period of time in the late 1970's. In 1980, Vickie opened a cafe beside her motel. (Opened in 1974.)


The first movies shown in Buffalo Narrows were shown by Father Bourbonais and Father LeMay in the Parish Hall which had been the old church. This building was located behind the spot where Dorothy's store is located today. Some time later the theatre burned.

A new hall was built at the location of the Highways Garage. Father LeMay sold this hall to Charlotte Forrest in 1954. After this time the hall was called Forrest Theatre. Erick Krieck and Charlotte Forrest then operated this theatre. The next theatre was the duplex built by Waite Fisheries to house its employees in 1943. This building was near the present post office. It burned sometime after they stopped using it as a theatre.

1971, Erick Krieck built the present post office and Hudson Bay warehouse building as a theatre. Krieck operated this theatre until 1978. There has been no theatre since 1978, although various groups have shown movies on an irregular basis from time to time.


Author: Webmaster - jkcc.com
"Date Modified: July 20, 2024."

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