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Department of Natural Resources

Big River, Saskatchewan

Trees. Trees.

The Big River district is surrounded by an abundant supply of timber; therefore, the urgent need for fire protection became apparent in the early years. In 1914, Mr. Robb, of the Federal Forestry Department, approached Mr. Moare and offered him a position as Forestry Supervisor for Northern Saskatchewan. Mr. Moare had been living in the Big River area since 1909. His love for nature made him accept the job.

The new location for the Forestry Preserve was to be in Big River so Mr. Moare and his family were stationed at Otter Creek, about twelve miles from town. Mr. Moare was Forestry Supervisor and Game Warden of this reserve. The Field Officer's house often became a stopping place for any travelers who ventured into the community.

In 1915, Mr. Moare moved his family closer to Big River. They established headquarters about three miles from the town site. The early fires and vast territories of wilderness kept the ranger occupied and absorbed with his work. Mr. Moare was also encouraged to attend conventions held for the conservation officers. Transportation was difficult so Mr. Moare would often be away from his family patrolling the area or in the city at a business meeting.

After the drastic 1919 fire and the closing of the mill, the Moare family left for B.C. to seek employment in the sawmill.

Later Joe Nicholson and Ernie Over became supervisors. The early division had three main branches: Forestry (managed by Mr. C. Potter), Game (operated by Mr. Newton), and Fisheries (run by Mr. Maxwell). Mr. Ernie Over was the supervisor in charge of all three sections. The duty of each Field Officer varied with his particular area. The forestry branch specialized in fire protection and scanning the districts for potential fire breaks. The fisheries department focused on the correct fishing seasons and patrolled the various lakes testing for the availability of fish in that particular area. The Game Division served as a lookout for poachers and worked to preserve the natural supply of fur bearing animals in the district.

Forest Reserve.
Forest Reserve (I.C. Fish Company across the river).

The headquarters moved to the old air base and in 1930 the three separate branches joined to form the Department of Natural Resources. The provincial government took over the management of the three Federal Forestry Divisions.

During this time Mr. Over used a motor toboggan to patrol the many remote lakes in the area. This early skidoo provided transportation to the various locations that the D.N.R. was responsible for supervising. Later the division moved across the tracks on the north corner lot of Mill Avenue.

In 1955, Mr. Hank Randall became the conservation officer after Mr. Over's death. Hank was transferred from Island Falls and was stationed here for eighteen years.

The D.N.R. representative is responsible for submitting a yearly budget, all money or dues collected, and office administration, the Dept. of Tourism and Renewable Resources work, and co-operating with the Park. There is an aircraft base at Prince Albert that covers the northern 'fringe' area searching for fire outbreaks. In 1963, the D.N.R. headquarters moved to their present location across from the High School.

The D.N.R. is now responsible for the enforcement of: Migratory Bird Convention Act; Tourism and Renewable Resources Act; Fisheries (Federal and Saskatchewan) Acts; Game Act; Fur Act; Provincial Park Protection Act; Prairie and Forest Fire Act; Campsites (recreation); Cowan Lake Dam; and also regulation under each Act; Training new crews; General Maintenance; Co-operating over the desk with the public.

The district size is about forty-five miles long and twenty-five miles wide (this includes the top half of township Fifty-two to Sixty and ranges six to nine). Today the Conservation Officer is Mr. T. Arsenault.

Some of the men with the D.N.R. have been the following: Applebee, Arsenault, Brooks, Horace Chenard, R. Chrisle, Clarkson, C. Colby, J. Hackett, Horncassel, I. Stubington, D. Pitts, C. Potter. Cooks were Tom Arsenault and Eva Ethier.


The devastating fires which swept the country in the early 1900s were a prelude of what was to come, unless some kind of control could be maintained. The Department of Natural Resources soon began constructing fire control towers at approximately fifty mile intervals across northern Saskatchewan. This distance between towers was chosen to assure that radio contact could be made between towermen.

The height of the towers varied from between thirty-five and one hundred feet. They were constructed of either wood or steel.

The first fire lookout station in the Big River District was a temporary structure situated on the hill overlooking the town, it was soon abandoned when a more adequate tower was built on Bodmin Hill; six miles east of Big River in 1926.

The Bodmin Tower in 1926.
The Bodmin Tower in 1926.

This tower was of wooden construction and although it was only thirty-five feet high it was built on the highest land in the district, about three hundred feet above the surrounding countryside.

The little room on top of the tower was glassed in on all sides offering an uninhibited view in all directions of many miles of forest and lakes.

The equipment in the tower, as in all other towers, consisted of a fire finder, two-way radio, and a pair of field glasses.

With his powerful field glasses the towerman is constantly scanning the terrain. When smoke is sighted, he turns to his fire finder and takes a bearing on the fire. The fire finder is a disc-shaped apparatus mounted on a turn-table. It is very simple, but adequately constructed, with a peep-sight and a hair-site. With a finder centered on a fire, the exact azimuth can be determined. The towerman next contacts the nearest tower by two-way radio and asks the towerman to take a cross shot on the fire. The intersecting point of the two finders determines the location of the fire after it has been plotted on a map.

A report is sent immediately to headquarters and men and equipment are sent to the area as soon as possible.

This means of prevention has greatly reduced the number and severity of forest fires in northern Saskatchewan.

The first towerman in the Big River district was reported to be Joe Nicholson and later Robert (Scotty) Purcell worked for several years. Bruce McTaggart started working as towerman in 1941; for the first three years he was at Otter Hill Tower located about ten miles northwest of Big River. In 1945, he took over duties at Bodmin Tower and remained there until he retired in 1962. During his years as towerman he sent daily weather reports to Prince Albert by two-way radio. For a couple of years he taught weather forecasting to other towermen.

Arnold Fonos was towerman from 1963 to 1965, at which time the old tower was torn down and a new sixty foot steel tower was built. Stan Brettle began his duties as towerman in 1965 and holds the same position today (1978).


Reforestation soon became necessary because of the logging industries and the drastic 1919 fire. The fire destroyed everything except the muskeg, which consisted of thirty-nine percent of the land.

During the 1920s "Forestry" was responsibility of the Dominion Government. This was handed over to the provinces in 1930 and those working for the Department became Provincial rather than Federal employees.

In 1924, a small tree nursery was established southwest of the town.

Mr. Cristy was in charge of the forestry at that time. When Mr. Cristy moved away, Mr. Potter became the manager. Mr. Potter began reforestation when he planted three seed beds for spruce and jackpine. Mr. Reome and Mr. L. Smith began work at the site during this time.

Cecil Potter is credited for starting one of the first Tree Nurseries in the province. Pine cones were collected from the existing trees in the area and spread to dry in the hayloft of the Forestry barn. After being extracted from the cones, the seeds were collected, planted, and allowed to grow to the seedling stage. At this time, they would be sent all over the province.

In the seedbeds, white spruce, jackpine, Scotch pine, lodge-pole pine, Siberian larch, and Manchurian elm were grown.

In 1947, Jim Cowie became the manager and in 1952, Mr. Bengston became foreman of the nursery. He took over the management when Jim Cowie died in 1956.

There were approximately four hundred thousand seedlings at that time. The trees were transplanted and kept until they became four years old before they were shipped out.

Art Anderson was appointed foreman in 1956. At this time the amount of trees being shipped out annually was seven hundred thousand. Thirty-two acres were under cultivation, eight acres in seedlings and twenty-four acres in transplanted trees.

When the Forestry first started, planting boards were used. In 1957, a two-seater transplanting machine was brought in. Later another two-seater machine was bought as a result of the expansion of the forestry.

Mr. Bengston retired in 1973, at which time fifty acres of land were still in use. John McCutchin took over and still works there today having Art Anderson doing the supervising. Tony Lueken is the main operator and he looks after the fertilization of the fields and is tractor operator number one.

In 1975, they purchased a twelve-seater transplanting machine that hitches to the back of a tractor. Thirty-eight men and women are employed at the Nursery. Their work includes planting seeds and later transplanting the seedlings. They also do the task of weeding all the land where trees are planted. Each year stock is taken, which means counting every tree. This job takes time and patience on the part of the workers.

The Big River Forest Nursery currently owns approximately one hundred and eighty acres of land. Thirty-five acres in tree production and another forty-five are in summerfallow or green crops. An additional forty acres has been cleared for future expansion. The remaining land is unsuitable for tree production and remains in its natural state.

Production at the Nursery consists exclusively of coniferous species, namely white spruce and jackpine, with limited amounts of blue spruce, Scotch pine and lodge-pole pine.

The Big River Nursery, in conjunction with the Prince Albert Nursery, provides reforestation stock to replenish cut-over and burned-over forest lands and understocked areas where natural regeneration is inadequate for potential timber production throughout Saskatchewan.


The cordwood cutting industry came as a natural result of the homesteaders clearing land. Almost everyone used wood burning stoves in those days, consequently there was a substantial demand for firewood.

Felling trees with a swede saw and limbing them with an axe wasn't an easy job. Often the women would be out working along with the men helping in any way they could. Every cord meant a little money for badly needed essentials.

The wood was cut in four foot lengths and split. It was put in piles until it was hauled to town with horses or oxen and sold.

Most of the business places bought cordwood as they used wood-burning furnaces. They paid from seventy-five cents to one dollar a cord. Some people bought the wood in pole lengths and cut it up themselves.

Some settlers had a buzz saw which was a circular saw mounted on a wooden frame. The saw was run by a gasoline engine. With this saw, wood could be cut in any desired length. It was a great improvement over the tedious hand cutting procedure.

Some of the buyers who bought cordwood for re-sale were the Kelgore Brothers, Andy Sundby, Fred Doucette, Peter Figeland. Gus Tremblay, Russel Vermette and Mr. Poirier. Corwood was shipped to outlying prairie towns and to Saskatoon and other cities.

Fred Coates and Mr. Dolly were agents for cordwood and pulpwood. It was quite a profitable business as hundreds of cords were shipped annually.

Part of getting ready for winter every home was planning the wood supply to ensure there was plenty to keep the fires burning during the cold weather. Every back yard had long rows of split and piled wood. Some families used the mound method to pile. Often a portable buzz saw would make the rounds in town doing custom sawing from the stock piles of cordwood that the families had hauled out of the bush. One of the most appreciated gifts for a widow or handicapped person to receive, was a load of wood as it was quite a worry to be caught short of fuel. There was a sort of pride and good feeling in the fall to see your yard neatly stocked with plenty of firewood to see you through the winter months.

Most of the children had chores to do and number one on the list was the kitchen woodbox, which each day had the habit of being empty, and waiting for them after school.


As the demand for pulpwood became apparent in the 1930s, numerous pulpwood camps sprang up in the unsettled regions surrounding Big River.

Crosscut saws and axes were used to cut the pulpwood. It then had to be peeled and spring was the best time of the year to do this as the bark could be stripped off easily. Horses were used to haul the pulpwood to town. It was then dumped in large piles near the railroad tracks ready to be shipped to pulp mills in the east.

Some of the pulpwood cutters included: Ivor Fonos, Walter Hegland and Hercule LaPlante.

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Author: Webmaster - jkcc.com
"Date Modified: Juky 2, 2024."

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