from 1910 to 1946.
The writer, Edwin Dahlby age 83, has used data from the book “Timber Trails” and other stories. This history is from memory, beginning in 1928 when Ed, at age ten, arrived to live in Bodmin, until 1946.
Bodmin is named for a town in Cornwall, England, named by a railroad construction engineer whose home town was Bodmin, England.
Before the railway was built from Shellbrook to Big River, freighters transported the first sawmill equipment to the Big River townsite by horse and wagon. Robert Isbester (Miles Isbesters’ father), supplied the hay for the horses from Keg Lake Meadows. Groceries and other supplies, were brought in by oxen in summer and by sleigh dogs in winter.
Henry Corbeil and Fidelle Doucette were two of the districts first settlers. They set up their houses on opposite sides of the Hudson Bay Trail, reasoning that the surveyors would use the road to divide the sections. However, the surveyors discovered that both residences were on the same quarter section.To avoid any conflict, it was agreed that both men would move.
With the railway completed to Big River, the Bodmin community expanded as many families and single men moved to the district to establish a home and work for the lumber company.
Fidelle Doucette, known to his neighbors and helpers as 'Phil' Doucette. A winter road passed through his yard and any one using it would be invited in for a hot cup of tea or coffee. Theirs was a large family, eighteen in all I believe, not including one or two in-laws, and a hired helper. They had a dining table about twelve feet in length with benches on both sides. There would be extra settings at the table in case people would drop in at mealtime. Phil Doucette and his sons were woodsmen. They shipped many boxcar loads of firewood to Prince Albert and Saskatoon. Phil had one of the few sawing outfits in the area and was always in demand to help others ship their wood. They also farmed to grow feed for their livestock.
Fidelle Doucette’s wife was the former Annette Legouffe. Her father, John Legouffe and son Paul, arrived in the early 1900’s to freight supplies to Ile a la Crosse. Paul married Tesa Swanson and they settled on a homestead at Bodmin. Paul did little farming. His work was freighting and as a woods boss. Many stories have been told about how he would settle an argument, always to the sorrow of his opponent. He earned the title of, 'Bull of the Woods'.
At the end of the first world war, a number of veterans settled in the area under the soldiers settlement plan.
There was Tommy Brown. Tom worked for the lumber company and later on, the railroad. He also had a homestead. He is remembered by this writer for his rich tenor voice when he would sing at dance parties.
Joe Lamothe was another war veteran and Big River Legion member. He was married to Philomen Legouffe. Joe was a good farmer and stockman. He was also a carpenter, He built the first Bodmin store for Ted Harvey and also the Bodmin schoolhouse. Joe Lamothe met a tragic end when the car in which he was a passenger broke through the ice on Cowan Lake in 1931. Possibly, because of his war injury, he was unable to free himself and drowned.
Morris Petersen settled on the shore of Winter Lake. His specialty was dairy cattle and poultry.
Ned Caissy married Bela Corbeil. He was a wood cutter and farmer.
Charlie Smith lived alone in a small house (shack) by the Bodmin River. He had been a trapper, but seemed content to live on his war pension.
Philip Kelly was another pioneer who settled in the Bodmin district. His wife Matilda was a missionary nurse from Jamaica. There is a portrait of her in the Big River museum. Mr. Kelly had been the dam-keeper at the north end of Cowan Lake. The dam had been built by the sawmill owners to control the level of the lake water required by the mill operators. However, there were barges going through transporting supplies to northern communities, so, the dam had to be lowered to allow the barge through and enough water released to carry the barge through the Cowan River and into the Beaver River. The story goes that Kelly would have bad words with a scow, or barge man and he would cut the flow of water down before the barge reached the Beaver River causing the barge to settle on the river bottom. The man would have to walk miles back to the dam and ask for more damn, dam water. Knowing Kelly and his ability to disrupt school and other community meetings, this story is believable.
The Bodmin school opened in 1922. The first trustees were Harry South, Henry Corbiel and Joe Lamothe. The first teacher was Mrs. Harvey, wife of the first Bodmin storekeeper, Ted Harvey. The school teachers were Bluebell Stuart, Mr. Gordon Walker, (Gordon Walker also farmed at Bodmin). Joan Pidwyrbecki, (Joan married Philippe Lauren and became a resident), Helen Fivie, Walda Brownfield, Ms. Leask, Mr. Leverton, Marge Combres.
The Bodmin Schoolhouse, as well as being a place of learning, became the community hall and was used for dances, card parties and box socials. It would be ‘full house’ when Mrs. Godin and band would be engaged for special events and a good turnout when local musicians were playing. To name few, Ash Archibald, Hans Jorgensen, Alex South, Harold Dahlby Martha Egeland, John Bock and the Isbesters.
The schoolhouse was also a church on Sundays with the parson travelling from Big River. It became a movie theatre where a travelling projectionist would show old black and white silent movies. Of course it was used for Credit Union and political meetings and the polling place on election day.
The dance parties were usually held on Friday nights. They would last until three o'clock in the morning. A Saturday affair would have to end at midnight, in keeping with the Lords Day Act. Any violation of this, as well as the occasional dust-up, or drinking of liquor, would cause some upright citizen to go to the one telephone at Bodmin, located in Poriers’ store, to call the lone police constable whose jurisdiction had a radius of at least fifty miles from Big River. The police constable would often arrive after everyone had gone home, or else to find them all sober and happy. There were no known arrests at the Bodmin Schoolhouse.
Harry South and family arrived about 1910. Harry worked at the Big River sawmill and also served overseas during the First World War. They settled at Bodmin and with their son, Alex. They farmed near the hamlet of Bodmin. They had the first threshing outfit in the district. Alex later set up a blacksmith shop on their home place. In the mid-thirties, Mr. South bought Pete Godin's Bodmin store, which was managed by a niece Nancy South.
The Lavoie family were early settlers. Mr. Lavoie was a chef. He cooked for the workers in lumber camps and later became a Bodmin farmer. There were seven siblings in the family. His specialty was rabbit stew and it was very good, as the crew on a wood-sawing outfit would remark, when he served them their noonday meal.
Fred Percenko, (certainly not the right spelling, but he accepted it as he said his name was too long; 3 more sylables). He was an early immigrant from Romania. Fred lived alone and was a hard worker. Like many others in the district, his farm would only produce enough to feed the animals through a long winter. Survival depended on the sale of forest products, mainly firewood. Fred met an untimely and tragic end during the winter of 1937-38. His well had gone dry earlier in the summer and he dug another well near the river. It was quite shallow and froze over. One day Fred went down to cut a hole in the ice with an axe, he broke through and drowned. He was found by Constable Sixsmith of the RCMP, after a two day search. No one knew about the new well.
Hans Hansen, from Denmark was a successful mixed farmer. Dairy cattle and poultry were his main livestock. He had the first land clearing machinery in the district and did custom work in that line. He also built a shingle mill and sold jackpine shingles to home builders. Later, he expanded to a small lumber mill. He brought the first harvesting combine into the district. Hans was the only Bodmin farmer who took a trip back to his homeland, (Denmark). That is why he is rated as ‘successful’.
After the second world war began, many of the young people in the Bodmin area joined the armed services. In alphabetical order, they are as follows:
The Navy: Ed Dahlby, Paul Doucette, Henry Egeland, Hans Jorgensen, Robert White.
The Air Force: Melvin Egeland, Rudolph Lamothe, Marcel Lamothe, Steve Riome, Evelyn Walker.
The Army: Jake Banneman, Bud Barrone, Muriel Barrone, Alex Doucette, Julian Doucette, Mary and Joyce Egeland, Arthur Hunt, Ernie Kerr, Jack Lattenville, Cecil Magrath, Harold Magrath, Pete Schuler, Tom South, Glen Tilsely, Alex Walker.
A very commendable showing for such a small community.
Ernie Kerr was killed in action in Italy. Pete Schuler was awarded the Military medal. Julian Doucette was a paratrooper. Julian arrived home in good health, but died in a tragic accident in the year following his discharge from the army. With a partner on a hunting trip in B.C., his rifle fired accidently as they were crossing through a fence killing him instantly.
Paul Doucette survived the sinking of the Canadian naval destroyer HMCS Skeena, off Reykjavic, Iceland. Ed Dahlby attained the noble rank of Stoker Petty Officer, which, in the other branches of the service, would be the equivalent of Sergeant. When discharged from the navy, Ed married his home-town girl, Audrey Egeland. They are now making plans for their 60th wedding anniverary celebration, only four years away.
Andrew Egeland and family of nine brothers and sisters, arrived from the Swift Current area in 1936. Mr. Egeland was a widower, his wife passed away nine years earlier. He left Norway, (the Vats area), about 1909 to come to Canada. His wife and two young daughters came to Canada in 1912, when he had established a farm home. The drought on the prairie caused them and many other families to move north. He bought a farm and moved the livestock and farm machinery to Bodmin. The Egeland family kept the farm until the youngest daughter married and moved away. Mr. Egeland then sold the farm and retired in Victoria.
The Kerr family moved from Speers, Saskatchewan, following much the same pattern, arriving at Bodmin in 1936 and Mr. and Mrs. Kerr retiring to B.C. in 1947.
Sarah Dahlby, a widow with two sons, Harold, age 12 and Edwin 10, arrived at Bodmin in 1928 to work on Allanson's farm. In 1931, she filed on a homestead three miles south of Bodmin and began the clearing process which precedes breaking of the soil.
A following chapter, written as an autobiography by Ed Dahlby and entitled” A Brief History of the Dahlby Homestead” follows.
We lived at Kenaston, Saskatchewan, until the summer of 1928. Beth had finished school and was married to James Hewitt. They settled in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan where Jim was employed. Harold stayed for a year with Uncle and Aunt, Andrew and Nettie Dahlby at Elbow, Saskatchewan, and later he lived with Jim and Beth at Prince Albert where he completed high school.
Mother had been corresponding with friends who had moved north from Bounty, Saskatchewan. They invited us to come for a visit and check an offer of a job on a mixed farm. She accepted and we traveled about 250 miles to a hamlet called Bodmin, 90 miles northwest of Prince Albert in the bush area. Mother took on the job and I was instructed to help with the chores, such as feeding and tending the farm animals, bringing in firewood and water and gardening. I also attended school which was within walking distance.
I was amazed at the change of environment from the prairie. There were many types of trees such as poplar, spruce, pine, birch and tamarack. There was a river with fish and lakes for boating and swimming. There were many wild animals and birds. I ended my schooling at Bodmin and began adult jobs at the age of fourteen.
After working as a housekeeper for two years, Mother decided to take on a homestead and develop a home of her own. This was done by choosing a 160 acre (quarter section) of raw bush land, paying a ten dollar fee and going to work on it. When a specified amount of improvements was made on the homestead such as acreage cleared and land prepared for cultivation, buildings, fences, livestock etc. an inspector would visit and approve it, then the homesteader would be given clear title to the land. Of course, one could live on the land from the time of application as we did. We put a shack on it, built a log barn and started with two horses, a cow and a walking plough.
By Edwin B. Dahlby.
It was in the fall of 1928 when Mother and I; I, at age 10, traveled by train to Bodmin, Saskatchewan, Mother to work as housekeeper for a middle-aged couple named, Allansons, and I, to do chores, garden and field work to earn my keep and to attend public school.
At Bodmin, we joined other pioneers to the region. In 1931, mother filed a claim to 160 acres of raw bush land, to be known as ‘The Homestead’. This was six years before many farm families from the so-called 'dust bowl' of Southern Saskatchewan began the ‘Trek North’ to settle on more fertile and less arid land and to escape the drought and famine on the prairie.
Mother bought a temporary dwelling and had it moved to the home-site. Harold joined us in 1932 and by working locally, acquired a cow and some basic farm equipment. Breaking the ground for grain seeding required heavy power machinery. This was done by a local contractor.
We moved onto the homestead in 1932, Mother and two boys, ages 16 and 14. We had a neighbourhood ‘bee’ to put up the log walls for a barn which Harold and I finished later. We also broke a two acre plot for a garden with a team of horses and a walking plough. We now had two horses, two cows, a variety of fowl and other farmyard animals, including a dog and two cats. We also had a wagon and some basic farm machinery.
During the winter of 1933-34, Harold and I cut the logs to build the permanent residence. We built the house in 1935. For help with the basic structure, we had an older and experienced log builder, Frank Weber. In the spring of that year, Harold went to Alberta and worked for a farmer. Frank and I excavated the basement and then we put up the log walls, floor and ceiling joists and roof rafters. Harold came home in early August and took over the construction, while I went out harvesting grain in Manitoba. From our earnings we were able to buy the finishing lumber, roof shingles, doors and windows etc. We moved in just before the winter of 1935-36.
In 1939, we refinished the interior. This included two extra windows, dry walling and hardwood flooring. Also a masonry chimney and central heating furnace in the basement.
The farm provided a fair standard of living which we supplemented by the sale of fire wood, working out part-time and with Harold’s expertise as a hunter.
Mother passed away in the fall of 1940, and I left for war service in 1941. In 1944 Harold rented out the farm and moved to the coast. The renters quit the farm in 1947 and it was abandoned along with about 90% of the other farms in the area.
In the early 1970’s, a farming company bought up our farm along with the neighbouring farms at a tax auction. The farmers who had moved to this region in the 1930’s moved away between 1945 and 1950. Most of the returning servicemen did likewise.
The post-war prosperity boom applied generally to the greater populated areas; cities and industrial sites where, in contrast to the pre-war era, the jobs were looking for people. The drought on the prairie had ended. New farming methods aimed at preserving the soil had been developed and much land was being adapted for irrigation.
Photograph was taken in 1985.
Photograph was taken in 1940.
This lake, located 250 miles north of Big River, is 20 miles wide and 45 miles long.
Photograph taken in 1937.
53 boxes of fish on each load.
Photograph Taken in 1940.
Melvin Egeland driving his father's horses
Photograph taken in 1940.
Swing boss unknown, possibly Coffield's.
Photograph taken in 1939.
(right) Ed Dahlby at sea - 1943.