O.P.Godin's Store

Big River Districts - Part Five

Log Hauling

Trees. Trees.
Ladder Valley

The derivation of the name "Ladder Valley" was said to have happened many years ago, before serious white settlement began. The Winter Lake tribe and the local Cree Indians used Bodmin Hill for a lookout point since it made much of the surrounding district visible to the eye. The Crees also held religious ceremonies on the hill during time of spiritual meditations. The Indians referred to the hill as "Okee-se-won" which translated, means "to climb hill". The lake at the base of the large hill, acquired the same Indian name. Subsequently, when the white man entered the area, "Ladder" was substituted for "Okee-se-won", thus Ladder Hill, Ladder Lake, and Ladder Valley were named. The community was officially designated as Ladder Valley when the school district was formed. The school was named Ladder Valley and the district adopted the same title.

Settlement of the Ladder Valley area began in the early 1920s. The pioneers who came in were homesteaders who thought that a living could be gleaned from the northern bushland.

Many of the first settlers were of Ukrainian descent. To list all the names would be impossible as many of the people stayed for only a couple of years or even as short a period as several months, learning within that short duration, that they were unable to cope with a life that rarely offered tangible rewards. For those persevering families and individuals who stayed, it took years of hard physical labour before their efforts could be displayed in material worth.

Settlers would purchase a homestead one hundred and sixty acres, for the sum of ten dollars. They would make the journey north, many by train, and arrive in Big River, destitute and bewildered. Some families did not take the train, but rather travelled on foot. Herding their livestock and suffering from the external elements.

From Big River, the settlers would travel out to their homesteads - many times, not sure of their direction. Eventually they would arrive at their destination, many faced with one hundred and sixty acres of bush, no home, and a feeling of hopelessness and insecurity.

With determination and a will to succeed, homesteaders survived. Gradually more and more settlers moved in, replacing those who had left, or were farming new homesteads.

The need for a new school became apparent as the number of children of school age increased in the district. As of yet, there was not a permanent facility for educational purposes.

Mr. Ferris, Superintendent of Schools, was notified about the need for a school and he complied with a positive attitude.

The Ladder Valley School District was erected early in the year 1930, and a school was opened in temporary quarters in a log house near the Gilbert home. The teacher then was Mrs. P. Lamothe. After the school was built in 1931, students attended the small one-room country school house. It was at this time that the district was given the name "Ladder Valley". Other proposed names included: Albion, Hill View, Tower Valley, Poplar Grove, Meadow Creek, and Grand Valley.

Even after a school was built, educational problems did not subside. The people of the district still had to contend with securing staff, maintaining the school grounds, and the students had to deal with going to school even when weather conditions refused to co-operate. Eventually, because of the water, roads and trails became impassable. It was inevitable that the school could not continue under present conditions.

When the Inspector of Schools visited Ladder Valley in 1932, he stated in his report that, "Road conditions render it impossible for children to attend the school. I may say that I was dumbfounded by the floods which I observed there. I traversed a good portion of the district on foot, and it is well within the boundries of truth to say that a child could not approach the school from any direction without positive danger to life and limb. Parents could not help but feel the utmost anxiety for their children, especially the smaller ones, from the time they left home until they arrived back safely, if they ever did...there is a possibility that the waters may subside by the early part of September, but until this happens, it is not reasonable to request that school be opened. Neither teacher nor pupils could reach it under present conditions."

The school did open again in 1934 and continued to provide for the educational needs of the children within the district. The names of the teachers who have taught in the Ladder Valley School include Mrs. P. Lamotte, A.E. Bird, Miss M. Brownfield, Miss J. Henderson, Miss E. Horton, Mr. L. Grymaloski, Mr. E. Zapf, Mrs. M. Holmlund, Mr. Jemesukoff, Miss M. Egglestone (Mrs. Wood) Mr. Habach, Mrs. Chalifour, Mr. McIntyre, Miss Tomporowski, Mrs. Johnson and Mrs. Rusk. These teachers were responsible for teaching grades one to eight.

The Ladder Valley School was closed down permanently in 1967; the children were then bused into the Big River schools.

The school, no longer an educational facility, still serves the district as a community centre and stands as a symbol of the origin of the district.

The Ladder Valley School.
The Ladder Valley School.

As with a school, the people felt the need for a church and requested that one be built at Ladder Valley. Before a church could be built, the people of the district met at the school to hold their services.

With continued faith and determination, the request was eventually approved. The authorization was met with determination. "This opportunity can be seized only by faith and hard work. Nothing less will do. There are no shortcuts. We have come closer together and we must work! The only way to build a church is the way you build a home. One must put one's whole strength into it - and so do you build a church." (This is a quote from the Church News Bulletin, 1935.)

St. Leonard's Church was built in 1935. A financial gift from Mrs. Mary Covert, a lady in England in Northern Saskatchewan, made it possible to construct the building so quickly. A Church committee wrote to Mr. MacKenzie King, Prime Minister of Canada, to try to secure a bell for the new church. The bell they received was originally a railroad bell, but it served an even greater purpose when it was used within a church.

The first minister in this district was affectionately called "Preacher" Smith. His duty also involved the distribution of the relief money in Ladder Valley. The other ministers who succeeded Preacher Smith were as follows: Rev. Parrot, Rev. Craven and Miss Colpus.

Services are no longer held in the small log church. The church, like the school, still stands as a representative of the past and the faith that was displayed by the early settlers in Ladder Valley.

The Ladder Valley Church (St. Leonard's Church).
The Ladder Valley Church (St. Leonard's Church).

As the population increased within Ladder Valley, a small general store and Post Office was opened to save the numerous trips to Big River for supplies and mail. The first store and Post Office was opened in 1935 and was managed by Arthur Moore. Arthur's son was responsible for carrying the mail from Big River to Ladder Lake by horseback.

In May, 1939, Mr. and Mrs. Wilfred Young took over the store while Baskotts took over the mail service. The store during this time, could really be classified as a confectionary. Just a few items were sold, no hardware or bulk staple foods.

Mr. Young, as well as being store proprietor, also hauled the farmers milk to the cheese factory in Big River.

Mr. Hyatt, and then later, Mr. Archibald, were the mail carriers. When Youngs moved out of the district for a time, Frasers opened the store; and when their business was discontinued, Parents began operating the store. During these years, the Post Office was under the responsibility of Mr. Robert Wood. In 1947, Mr. Wood took over the store, as well as retaining the postal service. These two businesses were operated within his private home.

These small general stores, in addition to offering a valid service to the people, also provided a central meeting ground where members of the community could meet with their neighbours and discuss current issues.

The Ladder Valley Store and Post Office.
The Ladder Valley Store and Post Office.

Although farms were widespread, people still managed to visit or get together socially for an evening of entertainment. Card parties, house parties, dances in the home or at the school, and picnics, provided the entertainment that was necessary to dispel the monotony and lift the spirits.

Dances were not just restricted to the adult members of the family; all ages attended and all ages enjoyed the fun. Entertainment would consist of anyone who was musically inclined or willing to exhibit their talent. Dances lasted until the early hours of the morning and then families would make their way home, weary yet content.

Other special occasions that brought people together to enjoy the company of their neighbours were Sundays, when they would meet for church, also at Christmas time, concerts were put on by the students and many people would gather at the school to be entertained by the antics of the school age children. Presents and candy would be handed out, along with a word to the neighbour.

In 1965, a grant from the government provided the necessary funds to build a curling rink and skating rink by the men of the Ladder Valley community. For two years, while the school was still open, the students would go skating during the noon hour and in the evening. Curling bonspiels are still held at the curling rink for local people and those who come from Big River.

Ladder Valley is still a farming community. Some of the original settlers still live in this area, while others have moved into Big River. Ladder Valley still retains some of the traditions that were prevalent in its earlier years. Annual family picnics, occasional dances and card parties and ball games are still the basic for many social gatherings. Also the attitude of the people still remains the same: they are proud and eager to work together within their rural district to make it a community.

The following are some of the family names of residents of the Ladder Valley district: Archibald, Aston, Balfour, Bogner, Bond, Bock, Burnell, Brown, Boville, Butterfield, Borreson, Batanoff, Baskott, Crombie, Clark, Crashley, Choinski, Dundas, Dowbysh, Diakow, Eddy, Fraser, Friedli, Gilbert, Gallagher, Gibson, Gamage, Hashlabauer, Hendrickson, Huxted, Homenuik, Hill, Holt, Hughes, Hiltz, Isaacson, Kazmiruk, Kennedy, Lindsay, Lane, Landry, Lamotte, Marks, Moore, Marton, Mueller, Parker, Straub, Sweet, Staple, Radchenko, Wright, Wicinski, Woroby, Wood, Young, and Yur.


During the depression years of drought and hard times, many of the families in the south became desperate and were forced to ask for government assistance. In an attempt to help these people, a plan was put into effect to open virgin land in the north so that new communities could develop which would support the oppressed families. One of the areas opened up in 1937 for this purpose was Timberlost. Situated about fifteen to twenty miles west of Big River, it consisted of heavy timber land waiting to be cleared and broken into farm land. There were no roads and no facilities, just bush country for miles and miles and it was to this the early settlers came.

In the early thirties, it was a daily event to see families moving. A great percentage of these pioneers were depression afflicted, or the drought in the south had forced them to leave homes. A team of horses pulled the wagon with the family belongings, and what livestock there was, followed behind.

Upon reaching their new quarter of land, the newcomers knew long hours of back straining work was ahead of them. First, the land had to be cleared and logs cut to make their new home. Log cabins and barns were constructed and the remains of many of these buildings are still standing at Timberlost.

While the cabin was in the process of being built, the families usually lived in tents until the home was completely assembled. Sometimes though, the men would have gone ahead of the family and would have a home ready when the women and children arrived.

It usually took all of the first summer to build a home and clear enough land so that a crop could be planted the next season. Often the families were sceptical of their future. Then the soil was found to contain too much sand to produce crops. With little or no visible means of income, the situation became gloomy.

Clark's log house.
Clark's log house.

The homesteaders had to live off the land. Gardens and crops were planted for food that they would need to see them through the winter months. Some of the more fortunate farmers were able to bring livestock and chickens with them. Included in the initial purchase of the homestead, one cow was supplied to each family which provided them with milk, cream and butter. Many of the homesteaders would barter with their neighbours for the things they needed. Eggs were often exchanged for flour or groceries in town.

Barn scene on Dave Piche's farm.
Barn scene on Dave Piche's farm.

The school was opened in 1940, with sixty-six students in attendance. Mary Hutzel was the first teacher in the Big Ravine School and she taught grades one to nine. Often five or six pupils would have to squeeze into the desks built to accommodate only four. Each day water was hauled one half mile in a cream can for use at the school. This daily chore was done by the students on their way to school. Two schools were situated in Timberlost, one at the south end and the other at the north end.

During the summer months, the students of these schools held frequent ball games. Another time they all got together was for the Christmas concert. The teacher at the time would arrange a program and the parents would attend. The two schools would hold a competition for the best Christmas concert.

At times, the Big Ravine School and the Otter Lake School, would not be open because of the lack of teachers. Often they did not want to live out in the bush. Consequently, schools was held during the summer months when the teacher was willing to come to Timberlost to teach.

Teacher Kirt Newman and student Dennis Anderson.
Teacher Kurt Newman and student Dennis Anderson in front of Louis Pelchat's store.

A teacherage was built beside Napoleon Paul's store in 1944. The teachers no longer had to board with the homesteaders. The schools eventually closed when the people began leaving Timberlost and the school population dwindled.

Teachers at the Big Ravine and Otter Lake school were: Mary Hutzel; Mrs, Gladys Anderson, 1942; Kurt Newman and Serge Kejawa, 1943; Shiela Kernagan, 1945; Doris Sprecker and Helen (Patterson) Douquette, 1948; Ann Yur, 1955; Sherley Edeen, 1956; Mrs Russnel; Victor Loewen; Allen Wager; Paul Weiss; Irene Rude; Ivan Anderson; Ann Bitz; Albert McKenzie; Ernest Unrah; Louie Matt; Mike Kugich; Victor Clung; and Frank Berg.

Though life was rough, often times were good. The Timberlost community met once a year for the annual Sports Day. This was held at the end of June. The students of both schools would compete in ball games, high jump, pole vault, etc. Each school took its turn at winning the yearly event.

Ice cream was made by the Cleaver family and there was free ice cream for all. The children always looked forward to the Sports Day. Picnics were popular and usually one was held every Sunday and the men would play ball.

Dances provided popular entertainment. Each family took turns hosting these. Mrs. Rene Douquette, Mr. Leo Harty, and Nellie Douquette often played the accordian, while the Miller Brothers, Sam, George, Tom and Martin, along with Mr. Cleaver, played violins and all enjoyed their lively music.

Dancing, singing, and laughter would often carry on until the early hours of the morning. This often made the settlers forget their troubled times in the happiness they were sharing.

Often church services were held at the homes of settlers in the early years. Later, church services were held in the school where the minister from Big River would arrive to give faith and hope to the people.

In front of Sklapsky's house, Harry Pelchat with Albert and Mr. Thibeault.
In front of Sklapsky's house, Harry Pelchat with Albert and Mr. Thibeault
who were the first store and Post Office owners.

Mr. Anthony Thibeault built and operated the first store and Post Office in Timberlost in 1938. The store stocked only groceries. Any hardware, if needed, had to be picked up in Big River.

Mr. Louis Peltier also had a store. he later bought Mr. Thibeault's business and then sold to Johnny Beebe. Johnny ran this business until he moved from Timberlost.

Some men in the community later began to run private mills. This provided the extra income needed for the family. The mills would cut lumber and ties or pulpwood. This would be hauled into Big River and sold. This process of cutting, piling, and the trip to and from Big River would take two days. At times a load of pulpwood would be sold for one dollar, just so it wouldn't have to be hauled back home.

Some private mill owners were: Mr. Rene Douquette and Mr. Kilbreath; Stub Anderson and Millers; and Mr. Peters.

The land was extremely dry at that time and provided an excellent start for two forest fires that began to devour the surrounding forest near Timberlost. The fires swept towards unprotected homesteaders. The only thing the men could do to protect their farm homes was to fire guard. They worked frantically as the fire grew and began to surround the homesteads. The homes on the outskirts were endangered first. Women and children were moved to the centre of Timberlost, at the crossroads. Fortunately, the fires burnt out after a couple of days and the people could move back to their homes. The only damage noticeable was the charred black walls on the outside of the buildings. The private mill owners were not so fortunate as the fire would prevent them from producing the quantity they wished. They were forced to share the timber left untouched, or to move their mills.

In 1939, with the upheaval of the war, young, willing men set forth on an undeterminable journey. Harry Anderson, Roy Gunderson, Phillip Harty and Ken Michel from Timberlost, joined the army. With a minimal of training, they were sent overseas. Harry and Ken were killed in Europe fighting with the Canadian forces. Later, Wilfred Anderson and Ernie Cleaver joined the infantry and were posted overseas for defence work after the war. The people of Timberlost remember with joy, the return of the soldiers and the mourning for those who were lost.

Because of the lack of roads and facilities, farming became increasingly hard and the settlers became discouraged and began to move away from Timberlost. Many families left to find jobs or better farm land. Timberlost gradually became sparsely populated.

Many of the sons and daughters of the homesteaders married and remained in the district, moving on to land vacated by the first settlers. A new era began for those who remained.

The venture of farming the Timberlost area was abandoned by the government in 1959. The few remaining families were paid five hundred dollars to move out. The government intended at that time to make a bombing range out of the area; although, this was never actually done. The Rene Douquette. Mr. Pelletier, Peter Olenchuk, Roy Gundserson, and Dave Piche families were the last to move. Peter olinchuk remained the longest.

Much of Timberlost is still uninhabited; however, some of the farm land has now been opened up and roads make the farms accessible.

Today, many people return to Timberlost or the Block, as it is generally known, to look for the few remaining shanties and log buildings that were once their homes. Here they rekindle a spark of happiness, or sadness and remember the hard times and laughter shared by all who gave part of their lives to Timberlost. Through their determination and hard work, they created a new district.

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

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