From Brochet, we flew south across the Churchill River to Pelican Narrows. First established to combat the Montreal traders in 1793, it was abandoned in 1799 and then briefly re-opened in 1818-19. The post was permanently established in 1874 at its present site on the north shore of Pelican Lake where the Narrows connected it to Mirond Lake. It was on the old fur trade route running from Cumberland House through Beaver Lake to the old Frog Portage from Wood Lake to the Churchill River. The manager, Pete Pederson, was batching it and was assisted in the store by a local Indian, Andrew Cusator. Pete's wife was ill in the Prince Albert Sanatorium. Because he was unable to get out to visit her very often I had great sympathy for him when he said he was looking for another job closer to Prince Albert. He left us the following autumn and went to work as sub-Indian agent at La Ronge. When his wife recovered and was able to leave the sanatorium some years later, Pete quit his job with the Indian Department and bought out a small free trader in the village of La Ronge.
In the fall of 1949, Andy McKinley arrived with his wife Myra and young daughter Pearl from Hay Lakes--one of our western posts--to take charge of Pelican Narrows. Yet another Scot, Andy was a good solid native trader and thoroughly conversant in Cree. In fact, he talked the language better than any other man I ever met.
At Pelican Narrows, there was the usual Roman Catholic Mission and an Anglican Church which was only used on occasion by visiting ministers, there being no resident Anglican priest. Shorty Russick, well known as a dogsled racer in the The Pas Derby, ran the opposition store. Shorty's younger brother, Steve, ran the opposition store at Southend. A field officer with the Department of Natural Resources was also stationed here. Later on, the Saskatchewan Government established both a school and a nursing station. I didn't stay long but headed west to Stanley on the Churchill River. Situated on the eastern shore of Mountain Lake, one of the many extensions of the Churchill River, Stanley was easy to pick out from the air from a long way off. It was dominated by the shining spire of its white Anglican Church--one of the oldest churches in western Canada.
Stanley Mission Church built in 1856.
Photograph: Roy Simpson, June 1953.
There was no resident minister but regular Sunday services were conducted by the Band Chief, Nehemiah Charles. He was the grand old man who took his twin duties of lay preacher and Band Chief very seriously. The Stanley Mission Church was erected in 1856 under the direction of the Reverend Robert Hunt and his wife, with the assistance of a Scottish carpenter who taught the Indians how to square logs properly. It is said that the Mission was named for Mrs Hunt's home in England--Stanley Park. In 1878, the Reverend Samuel Trivett, newly ordained and just married, arrived with his wife, Annie Maria, to take charge of the Mission. The following year in September 1879, Mrs. Trivett died in childbirth at the age of 27. Trivett himself conducted the service for his wife and baby daughter. They were buried below the floor of the church at the chancel steps.
The federal and provincial governments jointly took over the Stanley Mission Church a few years ago and declared it an historic site. It is considered the best example of historic architecture west of Winnipeg, but is still available for continued use by the Indians of Stanley Mission with a Cree priest in residence.
The Company post, originally established in 1831, is located across the lake from the church, around which the Indian settlement is built. We were welcomed by R.H. 'Bob' Middleton from Fraserburgh, Scotland and his charming wife Nancy, a daughter of Captain Smellie, a former master of the Company's arctic supply ship Nascopie. Bob, another old-time fur trader, could be relied upon to do his job properly. Stanley was, in my opinion, one of the most picturesque of the Hudson's Bay Company's posts. The local natives, all Cree, were great trappers and always paid their debts promptly.
From Stanley, we flew south to our post situated in the settlement of La Ronge. A large lake, La Ronge was noted for its lake trout fishing. As it was connected by road to Prince Albert, approximately 135 miles south, it was a newly discovered mecca for American fishermen. The road was blacktopped as far as the summer resort area of Waskesiu in Prince Albert National Park with the balance of the road north still gravel. There have been fur trading posts on La Ronge since the late 1700s. A French-Canadian, Jean Etienne Waden, was there in 1776. Peter Pond wintered there in 1880-82, and Simon Fraser in 1795-96. The Hudson's Bay Company entered the scene in 1797 when George Charles established a post. It was abandoned in 1831 because 'the surrounding country had been much impoverished, but was re-opened in the summer of 1894.
As settlements go, this one was quite large, having besides ourselves, a free trader, fishing tackle shop, two restaurants, a garage, a school and a nursing station, and several camps and outfitters catering to tourists. It was the main base for Saskatchewan Government Airways whose float planes took off in all directions from here. A landing field for wheeled planes was being built a mile or so south at the mouth of the Montreal River.
La Ronge also had a training school for smoke jumpers--a bunch of young daredevils who were employed each year by the Provincial Department of Natural Resources and taught to fight forest fires. Whenever a fire was pinpointed, they parachute at low altitude from an aircraft, equipped with a jumping chute to enable them to clear the pontoons. With the equipment they carried, they were able to control small outbreaks before they reached major proportions.
A local post office, Department of Natural Resources office and a Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment completed the settlement which was strung out for almost a mile along the western shoreline.
W.A. 'Bill' McKinnie was the manager. Stocky, sandy-haired and, of course, Scottish, he was a first-class trader with a keen sense of humour. His command of the Cree language was second only to that of Andy McKinley at Pelican Narrows. Bill was in the middle of preparing for the summer tourist onslaught, so after examining the buildings and doing the routine checks, I didn't take up too much of his time. With the exception of the warehouse, the other buildings were of recent construction. The warehouse was very large--too large for the present needs of the store now that they were serviced by a highway from Prince Albert on an almost daily basis. But it had been built before the road was constructed and was intended to hold a year's supply of trade goods.
Customers examine the merchandise in the
Hudson's Bay Company store at La Ronge. Autumn 1946.
I finished my charter flight at La Ronge and Bill and his wife, Irene, drove me south the fifty-odd miles to Montreal Lake Post which was built just off the highway at the south end of Montreal Lake. Historical records are scant but it appears that the post was originally established around 1885 at a point on the lakeshore about one mile east of the Revillon Freres post. When the Company took over Revillon Freres in 1936, they closed their own post and moved over into the Revillon buildings. At one period, freight for northern posts was delivered here by horse-wagons from Prince Albert, then taken by canoe up the lake and down the Montreal River to La Ronge.
With the building of the highway from Prince Albert to La Ronge, following the east side of the lake, many families moved away to the middle and north end of the lake to concentrate on commercial fishing so the store was rebuilt on the highway in the early 1960s. Unfortunately the government decided to re-align the highway, taking the new route much farther east which left our post high and dry. It was closed down on 31 July 1973.
The store, warehouse and apprentice clerk's house were built of logs, now old and in dilapidated condition. The dwelling house--a cottage-type construction--was one of the most awkward houses I have ever seen. It was tiny and there was no place in the living room where a chesterfield could be fitted, as the room had five doors leading from it. One led to the front veranda, another back to the kitchen, and the other three doors led to small bedrooms. The grounds were low-lying and marshy and the mosquitoes were a holy terror.
The local Indians lived in poverty, for there was little fur in the area for them to trap. They did some commercial fishing on Montreal Lake but it was confined to the north end where a small settlement called Malanosa had sprung up. The Indian agent from Prince Albert tried to get them jobs during the summer and fall, mainly working in the wheat or sugar-beet harvest fields in Alberta. Later on, we arranged for them to have a pulpwood cutting contract with a Prince Albert wood contractor, 'Spike' Dawley. After the natives had cut a certain amount of wood, manager W.A. 'Wally' Buhr and later on Jim Boatman went out each Sunday, scaled the wood and stamped each log with the contractors brand. Wally paid the natives for each cord and billed Mr Dawley who hauled the cordwood south to the sawmill at Prince Albert.
There had been a succession of managers since 1944--mostly young men back from the war who were doing their repatriation before going on to take charge of larger posts. The present manager was a young married man named Jim Trafford. In 1944, post manager Jack Denton retired and opened up a small store on the highway about two miles away from our post. He sold groceries to the locals and served coffee and sandwiches to passing motorists but, in his heart, he was still a Hudson's Bay man. Whenever he came over to the post to get his mail, he would virtually inspect the place and made no bones about what he thought were the present manager's shortcomings. He drove Jim Trafford crazy and although he tried to take all Jack's criticisms in good spirit, he and his wife were glad to be transferred west the following year. I travelled by regular bus service from Montreal Lake back to Prince Albert and then went home, having completed my first inspection of the eastern side of my district.