The Swimming Hole
Located along the Big River, near the bridge, the swimming hole was a popular spot for both young and old. For many years it was the favourite place to go on a warm summer day. Often picnic lunches were taken along with bathing equipment and the whole day spent in swimming and enjoying the sunshine.
At one time, the Order of the Royal Purple Lodge provided playground equipment and made the area into a very pleasant recreation spot. Considerable energy and money went into this effort and it was too bad that vandals destroyed the equipment and destroyed the grounds.
The swimming hole will long be remembered as a happy place and the scene of many picnics, wiener roasts and the first Red Cross Swimming lessons.
Mr. Jimmy Boyd was employed by the Lumber Company as janitor for the junior school. He had a small house on top of the hill, across from the school. When he arrived in the district, the hill was covered in shrubs and bush. Mr. Boyd spent many hours clearing off the hills to make a sliding area for the children. Many generations of Big River children have enjoyed sliding down those hills suffering a few bumps and bruises but mostly having fun. This (Hospital) hill became known as Boyd Park in honour of Jimmy.
Before the days of sewer and water, every home sported its own outhouse. They came in many shapes and sizes from the common 'one-holer' to the fancy four-holer. Places like the school, hospital, and hotel had large built-in cesspools. The waste was dumped here until it was pumped into the Honey Wagon and hauled away. About once a week this large leaky tank sloshed its way through the heart of town, leaving its foul odour hanging in the air all along the route.
Many of the village residents will remember one young fellow who, during a game, decided to hide on the upper ridge of the hotel cesspool. He slipped into the foul contents below when the trap door shut, leaving him treading furiously until help arrived. Days later he could be seen soaking in the river swimming hole in order to smell like roses again!
Some of the first babies born in Big River were: Oscar Brownfield, Alex Doucette, Veleda Chenard and Martha Swanson.
Wilfred Morrin, at one time advertised oxen to break land for gardens and crops.
In 1930, Alex Stewart owned a registered stallion which was used to improve the breed of horses in this district.
A Chinese gentleman by the name of John, once operated a very lucrative laundry business in town. The Chinese are famous for their resourceful minds, and John was no exception. Finding that it was not uncommon for articles to "disappear" from his clothesline, the wily oriental tied a cowbell to the line, as a make-shift alarm system. He was thereby able to thwart many an ill-clad thief!
Mrs. Rubena Wenzel was the reporter for the Herald and the Saskatoon Star Phoenix for several years, One of the more interesting stories covered was the saga of 'One-and-a-Half Step", a lame wolf that marauded farm yards in the area and eluded all attempts to be caught.
Games of broomball were played on the open rinks and were a very popular sport.
"Spending money" was earned by filling the wood box and carrying in pails of water.
Thursday was referred to as "Travellers' Day". It seemed that day all the commercial travellers came to town.
Housewives saved all their vegetable peelings to help feed the neighbour's cow.
It was an annual event to walk down the railway tracks on Easter Sunday.
Corn and potato roasts were popular and no one had even heard of wieners.
It was important to check the inside of your coat as the material would be turned for a make-over job the next year.
In 1912, there were over three thousand men employed at the mill and in the bush camps in this district.
Mr. Craddock painted all the local signs and posters in town.
Mr. C.E. Craddock and Mr. Vego Neilson with
Mr. Craddock's signs in the background.
Ration coupons got your supply of sugar and coffee.
Honey was used as a substitute for sugar whenever possible.
Dishes were found in boxes of soap and the fun it was to save and swap them with your friends to try and get a complete set.
The Soap Operas on radio and good old Ma Perkins.
Lux Theatre was a must on Monday night radio.
Flour and sugar sacks played an important role in the home. Bleached white with hard work, they were turned into underclothing, blouses, dish towels, tablecovers, runners, or curtains.
The recruiting officer and men for World War One in 1914.
In the early days, Big River was a very dressy community.
Bobsleds were the fashion and you took pride in well matched runners and how
expertly you could navigate the sliding hill.
Laurin's farm at Bodmin won the Model Farm Home award.
Frank Schlitz, and how all the children loved him.
People got relief orders and there was little cash.
Sawdust was shipped out by the carload for grasshopper control in the south.
Everyone packed into trucks and went to see the King and Queen in Saskatoon.
On the road to see King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in Saskatoon.
Mrs. Ellen Lane operated a beauty parlour and a dry cleaning shop.
Marianne Goliath's beautiful gardens.
The sound of the mill whistle.
In the early settlement period there were many small homes built along the river bank, out as far as the old water tower that was used by the C.N.R. From these pictures we can see it was quite a large settlement.
Mr. Jim Boyd, an early resident of the community, made a giant "lumber man" which was mounted on a large spruce post in the Village. This lumber statue stood for many years and no one seems to know just what became of it.
Water tower - 1923
Trapping has been an established business since the early times.
Trappers shacks are scattered throughout the surrounding
country and along the lake shores.
Mr. Clarkson in his trapper's shack.
Mr. Boyd's lumber man.
Roads and The Dam
The first trail into the Big River area other than the water route was one used first by the Indians and then by early traders. It acquired the name of the Hudson's Bay Trail because it was used to haul their freight from Prince Albert to Ile-A-La-Crosse in the late 1800s. A stopping place on the trail was established by Alex Delaronde near the mouth of the Big River.
By 1900, this trail had been pretty well cut out and well travelled as far as Debden but remained more primitive north of there. Early travellers such as E.C. Brownfield, Mr. Knight, and Mr. Overly were forced to cut trees and growth as they came through the Big River area in the early 1900s. The trail broadened as more people arrived and by 1908 even a car or two appeared on it.
The road south was destined to be a dirt road for many years and affected by the weather, therefore most people used the railway after its arrival in 1910. It was not until 1943 that the road from Big River to Prince Albert was finally gravelled.
There were very few roads to the north but gradually they began to push their way into bush camps and fishing areas and slowly the horse drawn freight swings began to disappear as tractors and trucks took up the shuffle between the remote camps and the suppliers.
Small private mills began to appear, making use of the small but excellent stands of timber that the fires had missed. The new roads into these areas made it possible to use trucks.
In 1942, a rough bulldozed road was pushed through from Big River to Green Lake under the direction of the Northern Areas Branch of Municipal Affairs. A few years later, this road was completed making a link through Green Lake to Meadow Lake and also north to the settlements there.
Several years ago Highway crews began improvements on the road south, Highway 55, and this is still under construction (1978).
Roads are gradually being improved but it has taken many years and there is a lot of work yet to do in this area.
A pulpwood gravelled road has been made joining Highway 55 at Bodmin and pushing north on the east side of Delaronde Lake.
Crooked Lake Dam
The first dam on Crooked River was built in 1915. This dam created a lake which was first known as Crooked Lake. Later it was renamed Cowan Lake after William Cowan, one of the first mill operators. The dam was situated approximately thirty-two miles north of Big River. It was built under the direction of the Department of the Interior and was of wooden construction. The purpose of the dam was to raise the water level sufficiently to float logs, from Sharpe Lake, Otter Creek areas, down to the mill at Big River. Many private logging camps, located along the shores of Crooked Lake, made use of this waterway.
Logs were dumped on the ice during the winter then boomed down to the mill in the spring after the lake opened up. The mill also depended on the water control to float booms and store logs.
A good water route meant much to the people living along the lake as well as to the people who transported supplies to the north.
A resident dam keeper was necessary to work the controls for the water level. The first dam keeper was Mr. Phillip Kelly, Bruce McTaggart took over after Mr. Kelly and looked after the dam during the fall of 1921 and the summer of 1922. Mr. Mahoney was the next keeper followed by Mr. Ivory Newton. Mr. Newton continued to look after the dam for many years until 1950, at which time a dam keeper was no longer necessary.
During the twenties and thirties, the man-made lake was used extensively for water travel. Scows were in use as well as many private boats. Big River to Ile-A-La-Crosse was one of the main "runs".
In the drought years, the men operating scows had to give the dam keeper at least two days notice, that they wished to pass through the dam, in order to get enough water to float the scows. As the drought continued and water levels were low, travel was only allowed on certain days, therefore, many scows and private boats making a small "flotilla," passed through the dam at one time.
The dam burned several times, sometimes only slight damage occurred. In 1922, it was completely destroyed by fire and again in 1949 (cause - forest fires).
In 1950, an all concrete dam was constructed under the direction of the Federal Department of Public Works. This dam holds up water sixteen feet in the lake.
The use of the dam has declined through the years and its main purpose today is to maintain the water level of the lake and to allow fish to pass upriver to spawn. In recent years, it has become a popular tourist spot and fishing area.
Boom logs on Cowan Lake ice.
Big River Cemetery
No records of burials were kept in the early days but the cemetery has been in use since 1909 at least. Official Roman Catholic records date from May, 1911 but several burials took place before that date.
The cemetery is located just south of town and at one time the main road ran through the center, dividing it decidedly into two parts. Many of the pioneers of the district are buried here, names that are linked closely with Big River's history from its earliest beginning.
The Big River Cemetery.
The Protestant side of the cemetery was officially dedicated in 1933 in a service conducted by Rev. George J. Minielly.
As there was no caretaker, often the cemetery would become overgrown with grass, making it necessary to have special clean-up days. Many will recall the annual event planned each June when everyone appeared with rakes, hoes, and shovels and all set to work to burn off or rake up the year's growth of grass. A truck carrying soft drinks or coffee would help the workers along, and the end of the afternoon would see tired faces but a neat and orderly cemetery. One year the Legion Auxiliary Ladies planted several rows of trees; maples were planted down the central avenue and various other varieties along the sides. In later years, the town began to budget for a caretaker so the grounds were properly kept all year round. The Senior Citizens of Big River had gates designed and installed at the entrance of the cemetery in 1970.