A History of Buffalo Narrows


Buffalo. Buffalo.

At the present time there are a large number of institutional services provided in Buffalo Narrows, but this was not always so. Before 1930, there were virtually no institutional services in the town. Many of the institutions that exist at the present time have grown and expanded with the community, thus, the story of institutional growth in Buffalo Narrows is a large part of the story of Buffalo Narrows.


For many years there was no real local government in Buffalo Narrows. The priest, the Bay Manager and the Department of Natural Resources (D.N.R.) conservation officer more or less controlled things. The priest, as the well-educated and trusted spiritual leader of the people, was in a position to act as advisor or consultant on important local matters. The D.N.R. officer as the only government official in residence in the community, carried a certain amount of "legal" authority. The Bay Manager's "power" was economic.

In 1948, the Northern Administration Act was passed by the provincial government. This Act created the position of Northern Administrator. The D.N.R. official "was responsible for organizing and administering provincial programs in the north to ensure that the residents would receive benefits similar to those available in the south". This led to the posting of a permanent D.N.R. official in Buffalo Narrows.

The first permanent D.N.R. officer to be posted to Buffalo Narrows was R.E. Booker, who moved into the newly completed D.N.R. staff house in 1948, although Shorty Raymond of the department is known to have resided on the far side of Keizie Channel (and later the near side) as early as 1928.

At some point in the 1940's, a Rate payers Association was started in Buffalo Narrows. This association was comprised of between five and seven members of the community who paid taxes or leased land. It was in operation by 1946 and acted as an advisory body to D.N.R.. Kelly Shatilla and Eric Krieck were two of the early members. When the new subdivision was opened in Buffalo Narrows in 1948, Kelly Shatilla "chaired" the proceedings. In later years, the D.N.R. had a similar type of working relationship with the Local Advisory Council

The power balance started to shift toward local control in 1965 when Buffalo Narrows got a Local Community Authority, (L.C.A.). The L.C.A. is comprised of seven elected members with staggered three year terms. The members of the L.C.A. choose one of their number to act as Overseer. At the present time, the L.C.A.has the power to collect local taxes and make by-laws. Prior to 1974, the L.C.A. relied more on D.N.R. grants for most of their revenue, with some more or less voluntary tax contributions. After 1974 the L.C.A. received it's grants from the Northern Municipal Council (N.M.C). Since 1978, grants have come directly from the Municipal Services Branch of D.N.S., as Buffalo Narrows chose to opt out of the N.M.C. at that time. The N.M.C. was started in 1973 as a first step in attempting to make the local governments of the north more autonomous. Fred Thompson, of Buffalo Narrows, was elected to the N.M.C. in 1973, to represent Area two which included the town of Buffalo Narrows. At first, this council had five elected members and two appointed members (one each from the Metis Society and the Saskatchewan Indian Federation). Later the two appointed positions were eliminated.

In 1975, the position of town manager was created to look after the day-to-day operations of the town. Mike Blackman of Chitik Lake held this position for a short time. Ross MacLeod replaced Blackman and has held the position ever since.

On May 1, 1972 a major change occurred in the governmental structure of Northern Saskatchewan as the Department of Northern Saskatchewan Act was passed by the provincial government. The purpose of the department was to accelerate "political, economic and social development in order to bring services and opportunities to a level comparable to those in the south."

At first the department was administered by Ted Bowerman with the following branches: Policy and Planning, Personnel and Training, and Administration. Later that year (1972), the Social Services, Resources, Northern News Services, Education, and Construction branches were brought into being. By December of 1972, D.N.S. had moved its headquarters to La Ronge.

Buffalo Narrows, like all northern communities, was greatly affected by this change in the governmental power structure. Fishermen were affected by price support payments after 1975-76, the local sawmill was acquired and operated by D.N.S., a day care centre was started, a total of forty-three houses were built in Buffalo Narrows by the department between 1974 and 1977, primarily with local labour, a sewer and water system was installed, the Outpost Hospital was renovated and had its status changed to clinic with more nurses, a dental clinic was started up, a new gymnasium was built, the elected Northern School Board took control of education, N.O.R.T.E.P. students were being trained in the school, the highway channel is under construction, a new airport was completed, a new firehall was constructed and a new municipal building was opened.

There has been some criticism of the Department of Northern Saskatchewan in Buffalo Narrows, as there has been in other places in the north. Charges of waste, corruption, patronage and discrimination have been bandied about, but, this impressive list of accomplishments clearly shows the magnitude of the impact that D.N.S. has had on the community of Buffalo Narrows, since its inception in 1972.

Provincial Government.

In 1975, Fred Thompson of Buffalo Narrows was elected by the residents of the Athabasca Constituency to represent them in the Provincial Legislature. Fred was elected as a member of the governing New Democratic Party. This marked the first time that a Buffalo Narrows resident was elected to the Provincial Legislature.


Education has played a significant role in the development of the community of Buffalo Narrows. It was the school which first brought many of the early settlers such as Blanche and Kenneth MacDonald, Eugene Chartier and Sam Seright to Buffalo Narrows after it was opened in 1934. These people wanted their children to have an education, so they moved to where the school was.

The Buffalo Narrows School has been a school of note, in that it was one of the few non-sectarian schools in Northern Saskatchewan and one of the few schools on the west side of the province to have a male school teacher in the 1930's. The Roman Catholic Schools were usually run by the Grey Nuns.

The first school in Buffalo Narrows was constructed in 1931. It was a log structure located across the road from where Dorothy's I.G.A. is today. The school had been built with a five hundred dollar grant. The first school board was instrumental in getting a school for the town. The board was comprised of Louis Morin (Chairman), Tom Pedersen (Secretary-Treasurer) and Ambrose Morin. When the school opened in 1934 there were twenty-three children enrolled, but an average of twelve attended on a day to day basis. the first teacher was Eva Sereda. Her wages were one dollar per day. In 1936, John Goertzen became the teacher. His salary was six hundred dollars per year, but he kept his own vegetable garden and was given fish by some of the parents to supplement his salary.

Eva (Sereda) Pedersen. John Goertzen and Louis Morin.
First teacher Eva (Sereda) Pedersen (right). (Photo courtesy of John and Mary Hansen)
Teacher John Goertzen (right) and Louis Morin with dog-team. (Photo courtesy of Elsie Pedersen).

In 1938, a teacherage was constructed with lumber provided through the mission and salaries paid by relief. The original log school-house was in use from 1934 to 1946 when a new school was built (the present "little school"). In 1945, the little log school had become too small, so an additional teacher, Miss Forrest, was hired to teach in the log building, while the principle, John Goertzen, taught in the old church. In 1949, a third teacher and classroom were added to the school. In 1950, two additional classrooms were added. The next addition took place in 1955-56. In 1959-60, the school was forced to make use of the basement classroom due to the increased enrollments. In 1961-62, the first four classrooms of the present "large school" were built . In 1965-66, two additional classrooms were added. Since that time, a gymnasium, a home economics room, an industrial arts room and several classrooms have been added. During the summer of 1980, construction was begun on the older portion of the large school at the same time.

Buffalo Narrows School.
The Buffalo Narrows school. (Photo courtesy of Adele Grieve).

It is interesting to note that for many years the community responsible for paying for the fuel and the salary of the janitor for the school. In 1937, Blanche MacDonald received two dollars a day for being the janitor. This situation was still in evidence as late as 1948. Money was raised to pay these expenses by having box socials and dances.

Several of the early teachers who came to Buffalo Narrows married local people. The first teacher (Eve) married Pete Pedersen. John Goertzen married Mabel MacDonald and in 1949, Miss Forrest married Kelly Shatilla.

The major problem facing the school in the 1930's and 1940's was poor attendance. This was attributed to some of the students taking extended fishing trips with their parents. In 1934 the problem became so acute that the teacher closed the school down for the month of March and went fishing himself.

In 1951-52 only fifty-seven percent of the eligible children, age six to fifteen, were enrolled in school. It would seem as though the day to day struggle of making a living, took precedence over education at this point in time for some families. A problem faced by the early school boards of Buffalo Narrows was that of finding teachers. Some years (1944 for example) school started late as a result of not being able to find a teacher. In other years, (like 1945) teachers came to Buffalo Narrows only to leave after a short period of time.

School enrollment increased gradually from twenty-three students in 1934 to thirty-five students in 1942. By 1950 there were seventy-three students. This number has increased to one hundred and eighteen by 1960. By the late 1970's enrollment had levelled off at about three hundred students.

Other educational highlights in Buffalo Narrows included the first school concert in December of 1943, the first school sports day in 1949, a school newspaper published by the students, adult night courses in the late 1940's and a joint track and field meet with Ile-a-la-Crosse in 1950.

Prior to 1964-65, the department of Education administered the educational system in Buffalo Narrows. In 1964-65, the Northern School Board with three public servants, three Metis residents of the north, one observer from the Indian Affairs Branch were appointed by the Minister of Education to administer education in Northern Saskatchewan. This board later became an elected board in 1975. Bruce Clarke has served as the member for the Buffalo Narrows region since that time. In 1978-79, the Northern School Board changed its name to the Northern Lights School Division No. 113. Buffalo Narrows has had a local School Board since 1931.

Education in Buffalo Narrows continues to be a matter of prime concern to many people. The quality of teaching and the availability of facilities has improved markedly since the early days. This is significant, in that the future of Buffalo Narrows is in the hands of the young minds being educated in our school today.

The Hospital and Ladies' Aid

In 1946, the Red Cross started construction of the dispensary in Buffalo Narrows. The hospital opened in 1947 with Miss Mary Lyons as the first nurse. She served the community for a three-year term ending in 1950. There was only one nurse stationed in Buffalo Narrows until 1975-76 when the Department of Northern Saskatchewan (D.N.S.) began to administer the hospital. In 1947, the nurse and the housekeeper were quartered in the hospital building where the offices are located today. The first housekeeper was Betty Dearing. She stayed until 1948. In 1950, Rose Desrosiers was brought in as the housekeeper. Her job was to keep house, prepare meals (for herself, the nurse and the patients) and generally to help out. Rose served in Buffalo Narrows until 1976.

The Outpost Hospital. (Photo courtesy of the Sask. Archives Board: Star-Phoenix Collection).

The first janitor was Carl Sernes, Gordon Taylor became the janitor in 1950 and is still serving in that capacity. The hospital was regularly visited by doctors from Ile-a-la-Crosse. In 1948-49, Dr. Lavoie performed this duty. Prior to the advent of medical insurance in 1962, patients were required to pay for their hospital care. This does not seem to have generated much income for the hospital.

On December 21, 1947, Mrs. Tarry had the honor of giving birth to the first baby born in the local hospital. In January of 1948, The provincial government assumed control of the hospital. In 1975-76, D.N.S. took control of the Outpost Hospital and designated it a Health Clinic. Doctors from the hospital at Ile-a-la-Crosse visit the clinic three times a week.

The Ladies Hospital Aid.

The Ladies Hospital Aid of Buffalo Narrows was started in 1947. The first executive consisted of Mrs. F. Nordstrom (president), Mrs. F. Runge (vice-president) and Mrs. E. Anderson (secretary). Some of the early members were Mrs. A Tarry, Mrs. G Taylor, Mrs. J. Madsen, Mrs. T. Swenson, Mrs.T. Pedersen, Betty Dearing, Margaret Forrest, Doris Elliot and Miss Lyons.

The purpose of the organization was to help the nurse and hospital in whatever way possible. For example, the Ladies Aid had a tea in 1947 to raise money to buy furniture for the hospital. The ladies helped with the immunization of the school and pre-school children that year as well. The immunization was for diphtheria, whooping cough, scarlet fever and smallpox. They also helped out with a dental and a tonsil clinic.

The Ladies' Aid continued to be a force in the community until the early 1970's when the interest waned.

The Churches.

The Roman Catholic Mission (St Leon Le Grand).

The First church in Buffalo Narrows was built by the Roman Catholic Father Moraud in 1932. He built a small living area into one side of the church. Father Moraud had been visiting Buffalo Narrows from his post at Ile-a-la-Crosse for a period prior to this event.

The Roman Catholic Church and Rectory (1951). (Photo courtesy of the Sask. Archives Board: Star-Phoenix Collection).

In 1938, a new Roman Catholic church was built with salaries paid by relief. Bishop Charlebois purchased land that the mission is located on now, from Charlotte Kiezie in 1942. The present Roman Catholic Church was built by a Mr. Chouinard and Louis Brule in 1945. The bell was purchased with donations made by local people. At the present time, a new church is being constructed. The first parish hall was the old church which had been replaced in 1945. This hall was used as a movie theatre for a time. In 1954, Father Lemay sold the hall to Charlotte Forrest as a theatre. The present Parish Hall was brought to Buffalo Narrows from Clear Lake in 1967. It had been the school building in Clear Lake. The Catholic Women's League was responsible for bringing the hall to Buffalo Narrows. There have been many priests who have served in Buffalo Narrows over the years. The first priest, Father Moraud served from 1930 to 1942. He was replaced by Father Bourbonnais who served until 1950. Father Fleury then served in Buffalo Narrows for eighteen months. Father LeMay replaced Father Fleury in 1952. He stayed until 1955, when Father Landry replaced him. At this point Father LeMay came back for another year. In 1957, Father Levasseur came to Buffalo Narrows. He stayed until 1959 when he was replaced by Father Darsche who stayed until 1959. Father Rho then came in for a short time, before being replaced by Father Lemay in 1970. Father Lemay has served in Buffalo Narrows ever since.

Father Moraud
Father Moraud. (Photo courtesy Sask. Archives Board: Star-Phoenix Collection).

The Rectory, which was located beside the church burned in 1964. It was replaced by a more modern building a short time later. In the past, the priest played a very important role in the community. He was not only the personal and spiritual advisor of the people, but he was also involved in the social activities. This situation changed in about 1970 when Father Darsche left and the people of the community began to take over some of these functions for themselves. In recent years, D.N.S. has taken over much of the social welfare work.

The Catholic Women's League has been active in Buffalo Narrows for many years. In recent years the organization has become known as the Parish Ladies.

At the present, Father LeMay divides his time between Buffalo Narrows and Dillon. He alternates evening and morning services on Sunday between the two communities. About seventy-five percent of the people in Buffalo Narrows are of the Roman Catholic faith. The parish is funded equally by the Roman Catholic Church and the community.

Father Bourbonnais
Father Bourbonnais and friends. (Photo courtesy of Rose Ericson).

The Grey Nuns.

The Grey Nuns first arrived in Buffalo Narrows in 1968 at the request of some of the parishioners. Sister Alice Houle and Sister Blandine Roussel-Galle came at the same time. Sister Houle taught religion in the school while Sister Roussel-Galle was involved in social welfare work.

In February of 1969, Sister Catherine Frohlich replaced Sister Houle who had become ill. Sister Catherine taught for three years.

In September, 1969, Sister Therese Chartier came to Buffalo Narrows to teach Kindergarten which she is still doing at the present time. Sister Roussel-Galle left for Beauval in January of 1970.

The Grey Nuns are based in Montreal, although they have a regional base in Edmonton. Their involvement in the community is primarily concerned with teaching religion to the children, visiting elderly people and various other kinds of parish work.

The Northern Canada Evangelical Mission.

The Northern Canada Evangelical Mission (N.C.E.M.) has been active in Buffalo Narrows since 1939. The first N.C.E.M. church was built by Stan Collie and Isaac Reini near Pedersen Bay, then moved to its present site. Mr. Collie stayed in Buffalo Narrows for ten years after he came in 1939. Art Tarry moved to Buffalo Narrows in 1940 to work with the N.C.E.M., Mr. Tarry stayed nine years. The Elfords stayed in Buffalo Narrows for one and a half years, while the Hickeys resided in Buffalo Narrows from 1954 to 1964. Harold Roberts first came to Buffalo Narrows in 1954 and left in 1958, but returned in 1979. The present minister is Edwin Heal. He has served in this post since 1949. The Mission is primarily concerned with the provision of Sunday Services, Sunday School and home visitations.

The Collie Family Mrs. Anne Heal
The Collie Family (1947). (Photo courtesy of Edwin and Anne Heal).
Mrs. Anne Heal in front of Collies log house, (1946). (Photo courtesy of Edwin and Anne Heal).

The Presbyterian Church.

In 1956, George and Etta Clark requested that the Presbyterian Church supply a minister for Buffalo Narrows. The Reverend Mr. Malcolm Muth based in North Battleford started serving the community in that year. Services were held in the showhall, the "small" school or at Clarke's house every second week.

In 1958, St Marks Church was built by John Pederson, Gerry Parsons built and donated the communion table, Bible stand and baptismal fount. The bell is an old C.N.R. locomotive bell from Port Drover, Ontario. The Clarke family donated the communion plate and cup.

Some of the early members who were instrumental in sustaining the Presbyterian Church were the Clarke Family, Gerry Parsons, the Cusators, the Shannons, the Taylors, the Roy Allen family (Bay Manager) the Ray Evans family (Bay Manager), Lil and Vern Laube (ran the Liquor Board Store) and Dorothy Dubois.

In September of 1978, Dr Delwin Evans, the Superintendent of the Missions for Saskatchewan and former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Canada (1970), and the Reverend Mr. Harry Riechelt of St. Andrews Church in North Battleford, Saskatchewan took turns coming to Buffalo Narrows for Sunday Services.

Mr Evans was instrumental in obtaining a full-time minister for Buffalo Narrows in 1978. John Stephanson is based in Buffalo Narrows, but serves a large part of North-western Saskatchewan.

For a few years in the 1970's the Lady members of the church were active in St. Marks Guild. The purpose of the guild was to raise money for the church and provide a social outlet for the members.

Law and Order.

In 1947, Father Bourbonnais wrote to the R.C.M.P. asking for better police protection for Buffalo Narrows. The first permanent police officer was finally posted to Buffalo Narrows in 1958. His name was Neil Pederson. Jack Fraser followed shortly after. Prior to this date, Buffalo Narrows was served by an officer stationed in Ile-a-la-Crosse. In 1947 Pete Nightingale, the officer stationed in Ile-a-la-Crosse, was responsible for serving the area from Beauval to La Loche.

Pete Nightingale
RCMP Officer Pete Nightingale (right in photograph) and RCMP Officer Doug Roberts. This photograph was taken at Deep River Mink Ranch in 1948. Note the early snowmobiles used for transportation and Halvor Ausland's Model A Ford at left.

In the absence of a permanent judge, Buffalo Narrows was served by local people who served in the position of Justice of the Peace. Some of the men who served as J.P.'s in the early years were Oscar Petit, Cubby Taylor (after whom Taylor Lake was named), Celestine McKay (twelve years), and Erik Krieke. The Justice of the peace had the authority to sign legal documents and hear minor cases of law breaking.

In the late 1950's, the town established a nine p.m. curfew for children. The town hired Martin Chartier to enforce the curfew. If he caught a child on the streets after curfew time he would take the child home and issue a warning. The system failed when the judge who came in once a month for court failed to support the town bylaw.

Some elderly local residents tend to feel that the community of Buffalo Narrows has become more lawless as time has gone on. In the 1930's and 1940's, people could leave their homes unlocked for an extended period of time with no fear of theft. Today, everyone has locks on their doors, businesses have wire screens over their windows and many people fear to leave their homes unoccupied for even short periods of time. Much of this lawlessness appears to be related to juvenile delinquency, although more serious crimes have occurred in recent years.

Credit Union.

Buffalo Narrows has never had a bank, but a Credit Union was established in Buffalo Narrows in 1959. At first it was managed by Gerry Parsons from his Department of Co-operation office. Parsons took money for deposit and made small loans for a couple of years. Eventually the Department of Cooperation decided to make the operation into a full fledged credit union so Kent Halvorsen was trained as manager. The Credit Union was dissolved on September 26,1969 (although it had not been active in its last years) due to serious financial difficulties arising from loans that were not repaid and a lack of support from the provincial Credit Union office.

The Buffalo Narrows Advancement Club.

The Buffalo Narrows Advancement Club (B.N.A.C.) was organized in the winter of 1957 under the direction of Father Levasseur for the purpose of providing recreational facilities for the children. The leaders of the club were Erik Kriek (fish plant manager), Steve Preweda (H.B.C.manager). Lloyd Reznechenko (D.N.R.) and Father Levasseur. There were thirty-five members at this time.

The B.N.A.C. organized a winter carnival on March 2, 1957 complete with snowmobile races, ice-cutting contests, hockey, log-cutting contests, snowshoe races, games of chance at the Klondike Kasino, curling, bingo, a pancake breakfast, a balloon drop from an airplane for the children, a carnival queen contest and a lot of dog-team races. This carnival followed the completion of a new outdoor curling rink with warming building. The new ice hockey rink had been completed in January of 1957.

In 1958, some of the B.N.A.C. members traveled to the deserted radar base at Fort Black (opposite Ile-a-la-Crosse) to dismantle two of the buildings. These buildings were brought back to Buffalo Narrows where they were reconstructed into an indoor curling and skating rink. The B.N.A.C. Hall was officially opened December 14, 1958.

The B.N.A.C. continued to provide social and recreational services to the people of Buffalo Narrows until the early 1970's. In recent years, the Buffalo Narrows Recreation Board has taken over the provision of many of these services.


B.N.A.C. Charter. (Photo courtesy of Kenneth Petit).

Geordi McKay, winning dog team at 1950 Winter Carnival

Geordi McKay, winning dog team at 1950 Winter Carnival. (Photo courtesy of John and Mary Hansen).

Local Newspapers.

From time to time various groups in the community have taken it upon themselves to prepare local newspapers. The earliest identifiable newspaper is "The Visitor" published by the Gospel Lighthouse (Northern Canada Evangelical Mission). This small four-page paper carried local news and religious messages.

By 1947, the Buffalo Narrows School was publishing a local newspaper called the "Narrows Narrator". The paper carried local news, advertisements and jokes. The paper was still being printed in 1950, but under a different format. Skipper Pedersen was the editor of this for a time. In 1959, the Boy Scouts published a local newspaper under such names as "Spark", Moccasin Telegram" and "The Boy Scout Newspaper"

In 1964, the Unity Training Centre was opened in Buffalo Narrows. This group printed a newspaper called the "Snowshoe Telegraph" twice a month for July and Ausust of 1965. The Unity Training Centre was run by volunteers associated with the Christian Youth Caravans. Their goal was to get young people to become involved in worthwhile activities in Buffalo Narrows. The paper was produced by Gene Leo Paul (editor), Freddy Desjarlais (artist), Alex McCallum (typist), Johnny Tinker (treasurer) and Father Darsche as Director. The paper included local news, advertisements, comics, recipes, essays, poetry, book reviews, letters to the editor and movie schedules.

In the summer of 1980, a local newspaper called the "Buffalo Narrows Newsletter" was printed by three students with money from a government grant. Cindy Reigert and Doreen Daignault worked with the editor, Wendy Ericson, on this project.

Boy Scouts.

In 1947, a Boy Scouts program was initiated in Buffalo Narrows with Scoutmasters Roy Sernes and Tom Pedersen, Secretary Kelly Shatilla, Cub-master R.Clarke, and assistants Vern Rose and Miss Forrest. In 1959, the Scouts published a newspaper called "Spark" which later became the "Moccasin Telegram" and eventually was called the "Boy Scout Newspaper".

The Scouts have been active in Buffalo Narrows on an intermittent basis since 1947 with interest seeming to wane in recent years.

The Metis Society.

Buffalo Narrows has had a Metis Society since 1970. Lawrence Kiezie was the first president. In 1977, the Metis Society was incorporated as a non-profit organization to organize native people, make native people politically aware, create employment, and most important, to work towards obtaining aboriginal rights. The local Metis Society is actually Local Sixty-Two of the Association of Metis and Non-Status Indians of Saskatchewan (A.M.N.S.I.S.). The local executive consists of a president, vice-president, secretary-treasurer and four directors with staggered terms of three years., two years and one year. The society has about three hundred members and is currently constructing an office building. A drop-in centre for young people is also in the works.


Author: Webmaster - jkcc.com
"Date Modified: July 12, 2024."

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