Most of the recreation and entertainment of the early days was centred around the family and the community. Card parties, house parties and the ever popular dances were occasions where friends and neighbours got together for an evening of enjoyment. Many of the old timers still recall the lively dances held in Anderson's Mill, the school, theatre or Hillcrest Hall, or those held in private homes. Volunteer musicians would play their toe-tapping music of fox trots and polkas far into the night.
Open-air rink on Cowan Lake.
Located in the heart of the Parkland, Big River is an ideal spot for summer sports. The lovely fresh water lakes provide a fisherman's paradise and excellent waterways for boating enthusiasts. Ladder Lake was the scene of a very popular resort area. Located so close to town, it provided a convenient spot for picnics, swimming and boating, while the open air pavilion offered entertainment each Saturday evening.
Boat races, log sawing and other lumberjack contests and skills have all been part of the recreation of this community.
Sports Day, held on July lst, was an annual event which was looked forward to by all. The entertainment generally consisted of local races and ball games. The entire day was spent with friends who shared in the spirit of 'Canada's Birthday'.
Baseball was a very popular sport and the Martin family added a great deal to the game. Actually, there were many good players and the competition was great. Fans were loyal to their districts and cheered loud and long during the games between Bohemia. Ladder Valley, Little Ladder Lake, Stone and Black Duck.
There have been two tennis courts in Big River in the past years. The first one was built in 1928 (where the Shell Oil is presently located). The other court was located across the road from the present Gulf Station and was owned by Mr. Nichols.
Winter brought its own sports which included skating, curling, broom ball and hockey. The first skating rink was on the ice of Cowan Lake. Everyone helped with the chore of keeping the ice free from snow. Many hours of fun were spent on this windy open-air rink. The next rink was built across from the elevator and Mr. Tom Young was the rink-keeper.
Another open-air rink was located where the Gulf Station is at present. Arnold Martin recalls using his team of horses to help prepare the rink surface. Still another rink was located near Cowan Lake. Here, a large sheet of ice was prepared and fenced with lumber. The rink house was a one-roomed shack heated by a barrel heater. Often families contributed to the rink fees by donating wood for the heater. The final outdoor rink was built behind the present the present Elks Hall. This rink was in use until Memorial Rink was built. Jack Skilliter was the caretaker of the last open-air rink and many recall how well he looked after the children by making sure their feet didn't get too cold and by fixing their skates and laces.
Left to right: Emile St. Arnaud, Emery Trann, Phillipe Michel,
Rex Potter, Russel and Blake Mathews.
Left to right: Lorne McCully, Raymond Erickson, Ivan Edson, Wilfred Anderson,
Stanley LaFontaine, Edmond Caissie, Mervin Sundby, Miss McLaron - teacher.
The sliding hill has always been a place of entertainment. Children often used cardboard or pieces of linoleum in place of sleighs and seemed just as happy. From the top of the hill the sliders could manipulate their way down to Cowan Lake.
Big River has had its share of hockey teams, both Senior and Minor League. All have delighted the local fans and have attracted large crowds at their games. Hockey has been played here from 1915 to the present time.
In earlier years, hockey equipment was often scarce. One team is reported to have made their own sweaters by sewing a fish cut from flour sacks onto the sweater backs. The name of this team seems to be forgotten. An incident showing the enthusiasm with which the game was played was the time the goalie, Albert Thibeault, was hit in the face with a puck and even after receiving stitches to the large cut, Albert was right back in the game! Some of the team names for Big River hockey clubs have been: Whitefish, Brusers and Braves.
Off to play hockey, Ed and Russell Wilson, Clayton and Arnold Martin,
Melvin Sweeny, Alma Martin, Lily Dunn and Mrs. Martin.
Jim Neilson, who played for many years with the New York Rangers of the NHL is a Big River boy. His mother, Mrs. Rosie Neilson, still lives in the district.
The first curling rink was built in 1949 on the present day Fire Hall site. In 1960, a curling rink addition was built onto the Memorial Rink.
At the present time, plans for a new Sports Complex are being considered.
In the early 1920s, the winter carnival was the highlight of the year. The main event was the Dog Derby. From Big River north to the Churchill River, dog owners and drivers got their teams in shape for the Annual Race of the Saskatchewan Dog Derby Association. Names associated with this race were Tom Murphy, C.D. Otty, W.J. Mahoney, Vernor Johnson, Frank Schloegel Sr., Ed Ziegler, Nels Edson, Harold Fredrickson, Winonis, The Rabbitskin family, Belanger, Aubichon, Maurice Rafael and John Iron. They came from Big River, Dore Lake, Stoney Lake, Portage La Loche, Ile-a-la-Crosse, Buffalo Narrows, Canoe Lake and Patuanak.
In 1924, Frank Schloegel made the headlines by mushing his team back to the winning post in 17 hours, 34 minutes. The same year, Miss Alice Abbot was crowned Queen of the Carnival. She was crowned by Dr. MacKinnon.
Alice Abbot - first Dog Derby Queen.
In 1925, the Queen contest included candidates from different towns: Miss Emily Thibeault, Big River, Miss Hazel Johnson, Big River, Miss Clara Nordstrom, Canwood, Miss Frannie Aaron, Prince Albert, Miss Irma Campbell, Duck Lake, Miss Annie Ryan, Borden, also a candidate from the Shellbrook Skating Club, the Zelma Sports Club and the Junior Hockey Club of Biggar. The proceeds were to be divided among the clubs nominating the candidates. The Saskatoon Industrial Exhibition Board offered to entertain the queen at the annual fair.
Many of the mushers went on to The Pas, Manitoba to race in the annual 200 mile race, Frank Schloegel came in third in 1924 and in 1925, W.A. Mahoney finished second with a time of 43 hours. That same year, seven dog teams went on an advertising tour for the fourth Annual Dog Derby. They stopped in Rosthern and many points. They created quite a sensation for both young and old as few residents had seen a dog team.
Nels Edson's dog team.
Shorty Russick and his famous dog team.
The Dog Derby wasn't the only event associated with the Winter Carnival. Other events which were enjoyed by young and old were: snowshoe races, a kettle boiling contest, a five mile foot race, barrel stave skiing, pony racing and ski jumping. In the evening a concert program was held. This was under the direction of Miss Gagnon assisted by Mrs. Hawkins and J.A. Fortier.
Rabbitskin dog team showing Anton Johnson home in the background.
Dr. George Fenton visiting a settler.