In the early 1900s when the mill was a booming industry, Billy Cornell was hired by the lumber company to maintain law and order. His office was located on the corner where the Rex Cafe is today.
During the 1919 fire, Mr. Cornell was in charge of evacuating the town and with the help of Dr. George Fenton, saw that all the women and children boarded the evacuation train. This train was then pulled to Bodmin out of reach of the flames that circled Big River. Mr. Cornell handled this emergency with prompt and excellent organization.
After the lumber company left there was still a need for a policeman and in 1922, Constable Harris Johnston came with his wife Rhoda, and their family. Constable Johnston had previously served with the Royal North West Mounted Police. At the time he came to Big River, he was with the Provincial Police Force.
In 1924, a well remembered riot broke out. The local police had received word to proceed to Debden to attend to an incident there. Constable Johnston arranged with Mr. Peter Figeland to go down by jigger. Unfortunately, the jigger met with an accident and Constable Johnston received some leg injuries and was taken to the hospital in Shellbrook. During this time, back in Big River, a riot broke out. A minstrel show and dance was being held in the community hall and one resident had distributed free beverage tickets to his friends in celebration of his birthday. This caused a disturbance and chairs started to be hurled around the room. Wooden sidewalks were ripped up to strike rivals over the head with. One person went home and got a gun. Shots were fired and the whole situation was out of control for a time.
The police office at that time was situated on the west side of Third Avenue. The quarters were rented for twenty dollars per month. It was here that the first steel cells were installed.
Frequent calls requested that Constable Johnston travel to the surrounding areas. At these times, he often used a dog team or if going south, made use of the jigger.
During the time Constable Johnston was stationed in Big River, the Indians received their Treaty money from Ottawa. The money was placed in a strong box and transported by canoe. On one particular trip, Sinclair Lewis, his brother Dr. Lewis, a policeman, an Indian Agent, and several guards accompanied the Treaty party from Ottawa. The local police and a teamster met the party down at the river and escorted them, along with the strong box to the police office. The box was then placed in the cell and locked up for the night. The custom was that both Police officers, the Indian agent and the Chief would escort the money to where the Treaty would be paid.
RCMP Detachment in 1931.
Visitors from Waskesiu at the detachment in 1934.
The following is submitted by Joe Sixsmith:
"On April 8th, 1931, I (Joe Sixsmith) was transferred from Prince Albert to Big River to open a Detachment. As to the history of the force in Big River, may I say that from 1905 to December 1, 1916, the RNWMP (changed to RCMP in 1920) were responsible for the routine policing of the Province. Late in 1916, the federal and provincial governments of the day decided that the federal force (RNWMP) withdraw this service and the Province of Saskatchewan form its own police force, the Saskatchewan Provincial Police.
On January 1, 1917, the provincial force took over the routine policing of the province and the RNWMP office in Big River was closed. The Saskatchewan Provincial Police had an office in Big River, however, this office was closed when the provincial force was disbanded in 1928, and the RCMP. again took over the policing of the Province. When the provincial force was disbanded in 1928, a Constable Harris Johnston was in charge and after the office was closed, he moved to Prince Albert. The Saskatchewan Provincial Police office and living quarters were located across the street from the pool room and this was later the home of Mr. P. St. Arnaud.
In the reorganization after the takeover from the SPP, the RCMP did not open a Detachment in Big River. A single man Detachment was opened at Shellbrook, Sergeant C.A. Coambes In Charge and Big River was within the Detachment area. From 1928 to 1931, Sergeant Coambes spent a considerable amount of his time assisting the local policeman, when the village had one, attending to complaints and giving as much service as his time schedule would permit in the village and district. In the spring of 1931, the opening of a Detachment was authorized.
Getting back to my own service in the R.C.M.P. In September, 1942, with the rank of Corporal, I was transferred to Rosthern, where I stayed for a couple of years and was then moved to Tisdale where, in 1946, I was promoted to the rank of Sergeant and transferred to Prince Albert to North Battleford as Sub Division N.C.O. for the North Battleford Sub Division and in 1950, was promoted to the rank of Staff Sergeant. In 1957, I retired from the RCMP and joined the North Battleford City Police Department as Deputy Chief and in 1959 was appointed Chief of Police. In 1969, after over forty years in Police service I retired, this time for good.
The new office of the RCMP. was in a medium sized bungalow, across the street and directly in front of the present day Anglican Church.
In addition to policing the village, there was a large rural area to look after, Big River Indian Reserve, Shell River, Village of Debden, Stump Lake, Park Valley, and as far north as Dore Lake. The highway (just graded dirt road) from Prince Albert only came as far as Dumble and for the next fifteen miles, a winding trail into Big River. Highway wasn't extended to Big River until around 1938 or '39. There were many trails in the outlying district, through bush, and across meadows. Getting hung up on a stump or stranded in a mud hole was just one of the many problems of the day driving a car. It was tough getting around by car. A trip from Big River to Debden would take about two hours, when the roads were dry, and when wet, several hours.
Constable Sixsmith on patrol in 1932 with a
Model A Ford Roadster.
From a Police point of view, the work load was heavy. Men under the influence of liquor, barging into dances and social evenings looking for trouble, the occasional fight or brawl and other liquor related offenses were the main problems. During the winter months when trappers, fishermen, freighters, and men from logging and tie camps were in town, there were times when it was difficult to keep control, but we got along.
The majority of minor offenses, such as offenses under the Liquor Act, drunks causing a disturbance, common assault, etc. were disposed of before one of the two local Justices of the Peace, E.C. Baskott and Fred Buckley. For contested cases and offenses under the Criminal Code, Police Magistrate J.E. Lussier of Prince Albert was called in. For his many flights into the north, Ile-A-La-Crosse, Goldfield (now known as Uranium City), Lac La Ronge, Stoney Rapids, he was known as "The Flying Magistrate".
Left to right: Constable Sixsmith, Fred Buckley (in sweater), William Gould, and E.C. Baskett.
In the early thirties, former Prime Minister John G. Diefenbaker, was in private law practise in Prince Albert, and as council for the defense, appeared on many court cases in Big River. Whenever he was on a case it was always a big problem to accommodate spectators.
When I left Big River in 1942, my replacement was Corporal J.E. Williams. He was in Big River for three or four years and then moved to Hudson Bay in June, and Corporal C.E. Wenzel took over."
The following is quoted from a letter received from the RCMP Official Historian, S.W. Horral.
"Big River Detachment was opened April 10, 1931 and Constable J. Sixsmith was the first member of the force to serve in Big River. Quarters were obtained and rented for twenty dollars a month. They were occupied until at least 1943. There is a gap in our records for the years 1944 to 1958.
The following were In Charge of the Big River Detachments: Cst. Joe Sixsmith, Cpl. J. Williams, Cpl. M. Wenzel, Cpl. L.W."Blackie" Paige, Cst. Sef Ginther, Cst. R. McCutcheon, Cpl. W. Wilson, Cpl. C. Holm and Sgt. de Vlaming.
In 1942, the Police Barracks moved down to the corner house on First Avenue (Lot 1 Block 5 blann AA 4863). A building in the back of the lot held the cells. A veranda was built on to the back of the house to serve as an office.
Then in 1960, a new Police Barracks was constructed and it is owned by the force. It accommodates a married couple with two children and it has two office rooms and four cells.
Today the RCMP patrol Big River and district, the Big River Reserve, and Debden. This community is a base used for practical experience when the policemen first finish training. Sgt. de Vlaming is in charge today (1978) and six policemen work with him.
RCMP Barracks - 1978.