Communications - Part One
In 1995, Casey Robb established "Connections", a small business selling coffee and computer services. The business slowly expanded eventually occupying all of the storefront it rented (Al's Jewellery building). A desktop publishing company was encouraged to move in and a small coffee shop/gathering place/communications centre came into being. In 1996 when the Department of Industry, through its Community Access Program, awarded grants to communities to help them establish internet access centres, Big River was among the first group of communities in the country to receive this assistance and set up such a centre.
The "Connections" building, which is centrally located on the town's main street, was the natural choice for the Internet Center. Volunteers completed the necessary renovations to provide space for the four computer access terminals. The Big River Internet Association was formed as a non-profit organization and a board of directors chosen. Casey was contracted as the system operator for the Big River Network. He created and nurtured the website and became the unofficial consultant for computer/internet questions and problems as more and more people in the area got computers and went online.
When Casey passed away in October of 1999, a re-organization of the board and volunteers saw to all the duties-everything from system operations to tech support to web-site maintenance.
Big River Internet Association moved from the Connections building to office space in the Post Office. Big River Internet Association dissolved with the introduction of high-speed service, September 23, 2002.
"Things Computer" operated by Bob Marshall is in this location now, where there are two access terminals. There is also computer and Internet access at the Big River Tel Center (old theatre building).
Excerpts from Timber Trails with additions
Mail has always been an important function in the lives of people. Before the telephone, besides telegrams, it was the only way to communicate with friends or relatives who lived elsewhere. Today, it is still a vital means of communication and people always look forward to receiving a letter or card in the mail.
When mail first came to Big River, it came downriver by canoe. Mr McBeth and Thomas Borthwick were two of these canoe mail carriers and at times they would travel as far north as Green Lake. In those days, mail was dropped off at Erinferry and Bodmin at the General Stores. This was a convenience to the people in that area. When the train began to come through town, it brought the mail. Presently it is delivered by truck. A central Post Office now serves the town and district.
James S. Forbes, Bill McKnight, 1952.
The Big River Lumber Company operated the first Post Office around 1910. This was located in the lumber
firm's sheds where the hotel now stands. Oscar Sharpe was an employee of the Lumber Company and was the first postmaster in Big River. His assistant was James Forbes. In 1914, Mr Forbes was officially appointed head postmaster of the Big Post Office. The building he worked in was destroyed by fire in 1923. It was then located temporarily in several homes until Mr Forbes built a permanent Post Office; fire also destroyed this building. The Legion Hall became the temporary station for the Post Office while a second building was constructed at Mr Forbes place.
River Post Office, September, 1955 (Home of James S. Forbes).
First airmail leaving Big River for Ile-a-la-Crosse. March 1933.
On March 15, 1933, a Buhl five-passenger CF-AZC piloted by Captain Bill Windrum arrived from Prince Albert with five other passengers. A large number of Big River residents welcomed the plane as it landed on the ice at Cowan Lake. The plane, heading for Green Lake, Beauval, and Ile-a-la-Crosse, left with 1200 pounds of mail.
In 1948, Bill McKnight became assistant postmaster and when Mr Forbes retired in 1952, Bill became head postmaster. In 1950, the first Post Office boxes were installed.
In 1965, a larger Post Office was opened on the corner of Main and 5th Avenue. Mrs Kathy Gaudry is presently the postmaster.
There have been many postmasters over the years:
Oscar Sharpe - 1910 - 1914
James S Forbes - 1914 - 1952
William G. McKnight - 1952(acting)
William G. McKnight - 1953 - 1980
Richard B. Polasek - 1980 - 1981
Jean Johnston, Bill McKnight - 1955.
Mary Johnson - 1981 (acting)
Mary Ann Springett - 1980 - 1982
Mary Johnson - 1982 (acting)
Edna Pankratz - 1983 - 1987
Leslie Trach - 1987 - 1988
Mary Johnson - 1988 (acting)
Carol Bazley - 1988 - 1994
Jeannine Gulkewich - 1994 - 1996
Shirley Fleury - 1996 (acting)
Kathy Gaudry - 1996 - present
Jean Johnston, Bill McKnight. 1955.
Excerpts from Timber Trails with additions
Back in the 1920s, Mr MacDonald had a small paper printed for a short time and later Mr Craddock issued some copies of the "The Hornet".
In February of 1992, the first issue of "The Gateway" was published in Big River. Bonnie Porter (publisher/editor) and owner of Porter's Printing began "The Gateway" out of her home, with the help from her sister-in-law Della Thompson and Big River Lumber letting her use their photocopy and supplying the paper for the first six months the first issue was published.
In the first six months, it started as an 81/2 x 14 sheet of paper, copied doubled sided with approximately 600 issues. Within the next year, it had expanded to an eight-page eleven by seventeen-inch folded paper, and Bonnie moved her shop into Big River.
To this day, "The Gateway" is still being published out of Porter's Printing and has expanded to a twelve to sixteen - page paper. Not only doing the local newspaper, Porter's Printing does other printing, such as business cards, letterheads, brochures, calendars, photo reproductions, basically anything that needs printing, can be done at Porter's Printing/The Gateway.
CN Train Station and Telegraph Office.
The telegraph office was located in the CN Station. Telegraph was not extensively used, partly because of the unreliability of the line. It was subject to environmental conditions such as extreme heat or moisture. Telegraph was more frequently used by businesses than for personal use.
Some of the telegraph operators were: H.E. Thompson, Nick Yurach, C.J. (Cliff) Charlton, P.F. (Phil) Uhrich, Darcy Turner, Shanks, Tram, and George Skinner.
The CNR train station closed officially on August 31, 1979. As of the above date, there was no longer an agent in Big River.
Excerpts from Timber Trails with additions.
Marie Sawatzky, June 1968.
When telephones were installed in Big River in 1935, there was a need for a central switchboard.
Mr Thomas Young built a small room onto the front of his home to house the switchboard equipment. The room was complete with a telephone booth in the corner, which was used by anyone who did not have a phone in their home. All calls, local and long-distance, had to be placed with the operator.
In the rural areas, the early telephones were party lines and entire districts were on the same line. All that had to be done to call anyone who was on the line was to ring their number. If a person's number was 12 it meant you had to make one long ring and then two short ones to alert them that someone wished to talk to them. If someone on a different line wished to talk to you, the call had to go through the operator and the operator connected the two lines and did the ringing. The results were the same whoever rang the phone. When one's number rang to alert him that he had a call, it also alerted everyone else on the line. If one had anything of a confidential nature to discuss, you didn't want to do it over the telephone.
The switchboard was manned 24 hours a day by operators and they usually knew everything that was going on in the area.
In 1968, the switchboard was moved from Young's to Ivy Johnson's home. The office was in her home until the conversion to dial service on Wednesday, July 8, 1970.
There were many switchboard operators over the years some of whom were: Sadie Young, Exelda Caissie (Emde), Belroy Newton (Wirtz), Mrs. Glen Anderson, Ann Wopnford, Helen Snell, Rita Blanchette, Myrtle Bale, Rita Bouchard (Olson), Yvette Bouchard, Lorna Bale, Priscilla Pister, Marie Rekve (Sawatzky), Helen Ausland, Lois Kennedy (Cooper), Elsie Vaudreuil, Gladys Forbes, Rosie Skilliter, Doreen Potts, Marg Cookman, Phyllis Gilbert, Martha Gillette (Breker), Ruth Buckingham and Ivy Johnson.
Johnnie at age 5.
In 1999, Sasktel expanded its cellular service to four more communities, one being Big River.
In 2002, Big River analogue cellular service was enhanced by having access to digital cellular service. This improved cell clarity and enhanced privacy.
At one time the telephone was an instrument enclosed in a cabinet of beautifully grained wood that hung on the wall; a system of overcrowded party lines, much different from the instantaneous electronic procedures that are common today.
Big River & District Fire Department
Submitted by Darryl Meyers
Old Fire Hall.
New Fire Hall, 2004.
The Big River Fire Department was founded, as far as I can find, in the 1940s when only a cart with some hoses and a hand pump was used. Over the years there has been a constant evolution of men and equipment in the fire service. As the needs of the community grew, so did the fire department. The first fire hall that housed a 1950's vintage fire truck was at 3rd Avenue and 1st Street, the building is still there being used for storage. At that time many people would remember seeing fire alarm pull stations at various places throughout the town, which activated a very loud siren.
In 1972 a new truck was purchased, it was a 1954 Pierre Thibeault truck. Too big for the old fire hall it was stored in the town maintenance shop and the fire department operated from there. Somewhere during this period, the old pull stations disappeared and a series of interconnected phones were installed in the firefighter's homes, from which they could answer the emergency calls and also ring the siren.
In the late 1980s, the town and R.M. entered into negotiations to have a joint fire department to supply fire protection to the rural community. At this time the RM purchased a 1968 King Seagrave and the town purchased a 1967 Pierre Thibeault Firetruck, and along with fire phones, the fire department now had the advantage of communication via VHF radios. There was no room in the maintenance shop to store both fire trucks so a new fire hall was built on the same lot as the original hall. Over the history of the fire department, there was never an overabundance of budget money, so the firefighters and families held many fundraisers to purchase equipment that was always needed to expand the fire department capabilities, or to help out other clubs that were working to better the community. Fireman's Ball, a circus, canoe races and many raffles were held to accomplish this.
Back in the old days, it was common practice to ride on the tailboard of the truck to the fire, times change and so do the rules, we weren't allowed to do this anymore so we needed to find some way to get firefighters to the fire. The Kinsmen club donated a van to carry men and equipment.
In 1996, we replaced one of our trucks with a 1976 King Seagrave. In 1990 the Highway 55 Mutual aid was formed to help the fire departments of Canwood, Debden and Big River deal with vehicle accidents. A set of rescue tools [Jaws of Life] were purchased and kept at the Debden Fire Hall. After a few years, we purchased our own set of tools and Spiritwood Ambulance Service donated a van to carry the tools. In 2001 we replaced our other truck with a 1978 Superior fire truck. Over the past 50 some years the fire department has evolved to meet the demands of the community and I am sure it will continue to do so in the future.
Fire Chiefs of Big River Fire Department
Apologies for any Omissions
Past and present firefighters
Big River Fire Department
Apologies for any Omissions
Big River Search & Rescue
Submitted by Clint Panter
Search and Rescue group.
In the fall of 1996, a group of approximately twenty volunteers from the community of Big River formed a local Search & Rescue organization. These people realized the need for such a service to be available to the local area. At the time, if a search for a missing person was needed, the nearest trained SAR team was in Prince Albert or La Ronge.
With the assistance of the RCMP, the group received training to RCMP standards. Thus, the Big River chapter of Search and Rescue Saskatchewan Association of Volunteers (SARSAV) was born. The members of Big River SAR come from all aspects of the community, including loggers, hunters, farmers, SERM, RCMP, local business owners and firefighters. This diverse group of people became highly trained volunteers who could assist with finding missing persons all over the province. In 1997, two members received search manager training at RCMP "F" Division in Regina.
To date, the Big River SAR has only had to use their service once or twice within the local area. Thankfully, the result has always been successful.
The group has also offered their assistance with searches across central Saskatchewan.
Big River SAR is currently receiving ongoing training for two members to be trained as instructors in Basic Ground Search and Rescue techniques. With this new tool, we hope to be able to train our members and further increase the quality of service provided. Regular practice and ongoing training provide the organization with the ability to stay current with the ever-changing techniques used to find missing persons. Presently the organization has approximately twenty-five active members and we are always ready to welcome anyone who thinks they may be a benefit to the team.
Big River Victim Services
Submitted by Brenda Thiessen
Victim Services, is a volunteer program that started in Big River in March of 1998. We are part of the Prince Albert Region, along with Shellbrook, Smeaton and Wakaw. There is a board of directors in place to oversee the program and one paid staff member in Prince Albert to co-ordinate the program.
When the program started in Big River, Marnie Pohlmann was on the board of directors and later quit the board to become one of the first support workers here. Joanne McCreedy, Gloria Morin, Janet Jean and Lori Leach joined her. Later three new members joined and they are the ones that are still working on the program today. They are Cathy Easterbrook, Brenda Thiessen and Tracy Lalonde.
We have also had some other local board members in the past and they are Jocelyn Kennedy, Martin Lajeunesse, Louise Banks, Gary MacDonald and Marlene Isabelle.
Our Purpose: Is to ensure victims have access to information about the crime which affected them, and to give them the support and referrals they may need to deal with the impact of victimization.
1. to lessen the immediate and long-term effects of crime experienced by victims.
2. to develop and maintain a directory of referral agencies and to ensure that referral information is readily available to victims.
3. to prevent further victimization of victims and witnesses as a result of their involvement in the criminal justice system.
4. to enhance the communication and flow of information between the Victim, the police and the criminal justice system.
5. to provide an effective and sensitive service to the community.
Services are provided to victims that range from immediate crisis intervention to on-going support. Every effort is made to identify and utilize existing community resources and to provide victims with access to the most appropriate services. All Victim Service programs are located in police buildings and operate with the support, cooperation and direction of local police agencies. We also maintain the same level of confidentiality as the police.
Emergency Measures Organization
In the early seventy's, the Federal Government put in place a portable hospital kit which included such things as cots, blankets and medical supplies to set up a remote station if needed. It also included a light plant and was all contained in a truck - like camper structure that could be easily loaded in the back of a half - ton pick-up truck.
In the mid 1980s, a group was formed from the councils from the Rural Municipality, Town of Big River, Debden, and Canwood called Highway 55 Mutual Aid. Through the TEPP Program, they purchased a set of tools called the Jaws of Life. These tools are stored in the rescue van of the Volunteer Fire Department and are used to extract people that are caught in vehicles. Today this board is still intact.
Big River and District has an up to date Emergency Measures Organization plan and conducts yearly tabletop exercises to train and inform the people in the community in the event of a disaster. This plan was used in 2002 when the forest fires raged west of Big River and threatened the town and surrounding community.
Their present EMO Co - ordinator is Doug Panter, who works closely with, both RM and Town councils, fire department and RCMP.
Excerpts from Timber Trails with additions.
In the early 1900s, when the mill was a booming industry Billy Cornell was hired by the lumber company to maintain law and order. His office was located on the corner where the Rex Cafe is today.
During the 1919 fire, Mr Cornell was in charge of evacuating the town and with the help of Dr George Fenton, saw that all women and children boarded the evacuation train. This train was then pulled to Bodmin out of reach of the flames that circled Big River. Mr Cornell handled this emergency with prompt and excellent organization.
After the lumber company left, there was still a need for a policeman and in 1922, Constable Harris Johnston came with his wife, Rhoda, and their family. Constable Johnston had previously served with the Royal North-West Mounted Police. At the time he came to Big River, he was with the Provincial Police Force.
In 1924, a well - remembered riot broke out. The local police had received word to proceed to Debden to attend to an incident there. Constable Johnston arranged with Mr Peter Figeland to go down by jigger. Unfortunately, the jigger met with an accident and Const. Johnston received some leg injuries and was taken to the hospital in Shellbrook. During this time, back in Big River, a riot broke out. A minstrel show and dance was being held in the community hall and one resident had distributed free beverage tickets to his friends in celebration of his birthday. This caused a disturbance and chairs started to be hurled around the room. Wooden sidewalks were ripped up to strike rivals over the head with. One person went home and got a gun. Shots were fired and the whole situation was out of control for a time.
The police office at that time was situated on the west side of Third Avenue. The quarters were rented for twenty dollars per month. It was here that the first steel cells were installed.
Frequent calls requested that Constable Johnston travel to the surrounding areas. At these times, he often used a dog team or if going south, made use of the jigger.
During the time Constable Johnston was stationed in Big River, the Indians received their Treaty money from Ottawa. The money was placed in a strong box and transported by canoe. On one particular trip, Sinclair Lewis, his brother Dr Lewis, a policeman, an Indian agent, and several guards accompanied the Treaty party from Ottawa. The local police and a teamster met the party down at the river and escorted them, along with the strongbox to the police office. The box was then placed in the cell and locked up for the night. The custom was that both the Police officers, the Indian Agent and the Chief would escort the money to where the Treaty would be paid.
The following was submitted by
"On April 8th, 1931, I (Joe Sixsmith) was transferred from Prince Albert to Big River to open a Detachment. As to the history of the force in Big River, may I say that from 1905 to December 1, 1916, the R.C.N.W.M. Police (changed to R.C.M.P. in 1920) were responsible for the routine policing of the province? Late in 1916, the federal and provincial governments of the day decided that the federal force (R.C.N.W.M.P.) withdraw this service and the Province of Saskatchewan form its own police force, the Saskatchewan Provincial Police.
On January 1, 1917, the provincial force took over the routine policing of the province and the
R.C.N.W.M.P. office in Big River was closed. The Saskatchewan Provincial Police had an office in Big River, however, this office was closed when the provincial force was disbanded in May 1928, and the R.C.M.P. again took over the policing of the province. When the provincial force was disbanded in 1928, a Constable Harris Johnston was in charge and after the office was closed, he moved to Prince Albert. The Saskatchewan Provincial Police office and living quarters were located across the street from the poolroom and this was later the home of Mr R St. Arnaud.
In the reorganization, after the take over from the S.P.P., the R.C.M.P. did not open a Detachment in Big River. A single man detachment was opened at Shellbrook, Sergeant C.A. Combes in charge and Big River was within the detachment area. From 1928 to 1931, Sergeant Combes spent a considerable amount of his time assisting the local policeman, when the village had one; attending to complaints and giving as much service as his schedule would permit in the village and district. In the spring of 1931, the opening of a detachment was authorized.
Getting back to my service in the R.C.M.P. In September 1942, with the rank of Corporal, I was transferred to Rosthern, where I stayed for a couple of years. I then moved to Tisdale where, in 1946, I was promoted to the rank of Sergeant and transferred to Prince Albert then to North Battleford as Sub Division N.C.O. for the North Battleford Sub Division. In 1950, I was promoted to the rank of Staff Sergeant. In 1957 I retired from the R.C.M.P. and joined the North Battleford City Police Department as Deputy Chief and in 1959 was appointed Chief of Police. In 1969, after over forty years in police service, I retired, this time for good.
The new office of the R.C.M.P. was in a medium - sized bungalow, across the street and directly in from of the present-day Anglican Church.
In addition to policing the village, there was a large rural area to look after. Big River Indian Reserve, Shell River, Village of Debden, Stump Lake, Park Valley, and as far north as Dore Lake. The highway (just a graded dirt road) from Prince Albert only came as far as Dumble and for the next fifteen miles, a winding trail into Big River. The highway wasn't extended to Big River until around 1938 or 39. There were many trails in the outlying district, through the bush, and across meadows. Getting hung up on a stump or stranded in a mud hole was just one of the many problems of the day in driving a car. It was tough getting around by car. A trip from Big River to Debden would take about two hours when the roads were dry, and when wet, several hours.
From a police point of view, the workload was heavy. Men under the influence of liquor, barging into dances and social events looking for trouble, the occasional fight or brawl and other liquor-related offences were the main problems. During the winter months when trappers, fishermen, freighters, and men from logging and tie camps were in town, there were times when it was difficult to keep control, but we got along.
The majority of minor offences, such as offences under the Liquor Act, drunks causing a disturbance, common assault, etc., were disposed of before this got to one of the two local Justices of Peace, E.C. Baskott and Fred Buckley. For contested cases and offences under the Criminal Code, Police Magistrate J.E. Lussier of Prince Albert was called in. For his many flights into the north; Isle a la Crosse, Goldfield (now known as Uranium City), Lac La Ronge, Stoney Rapids, he was known as "The Flying Magistrate".
In the early thirties, former Prime Minister John G. Diefenbaker was in private law practice in Prince Albert, and as counsel for the defence, appeared on many court cases in Big River. Whenever he was on a case it was always a big problem to accommodate spectators.
When I left Big River in 1942, my replacement was Corporal J.E. Williams. He was in Big River for three or four years and then moved to Hudson Bay in June, and Corporal C.E. Wenzel took over.
The following is quoted from a letter received from the R.C.M.P. Official Historian, S.W. Horral.
"Big River Detachment was opened April 10, 1931, and Constable J. Sixsmith was the first member of the force to serve in Big River. Quarters were obtained and rented for twenty dollars a month. They were occupied until at least 1943. There is a gap in our records for the years 1944 to 1958".
The following were in charge of the Big River Detachments: Cst. Joe Sixsmith, Cpl. J. Williams, Cpl. M. Wenzel, Cpl. Page, Cst. S. Genther, Cst. R. McCutcheon, Cpl. W. Wilson, Cpl. C. Holm, and Sgt. de Vlaming.
In 1942, the Police Barracks moved down to the corner house on First Avenue (Lot 1 Block 5 Plan AA4863). A building in the back of the lot held the cells. A veranda was built on the back of the house to serve as the office.
Then in 1960, a new Police Barracks was constructed and it is owned by the force. It accommodates a married couple with two children and it has two office rooms and four cells.
Today, the R.C.M.P. patrol Big River and district, the Big River Reserve, and Debden. This community is a base used for practical experience when the policemen first finished training. Sgt. de Vlaming is in charge today (1978) and six policemen work with him.
RCMP leading the parade in 1982.
Sgt. Erik Bergman, Cst. Robert McDermott,
Cst. Rene Giroux, Cst. Al Hearne.
Cpl. Norm Laird, Steno Simone Klassen,
Cst. Gillian Poole, Cst. Stuart Mirasty.
In 1998, construction commenced on a new detachment at the corner of Forbes Street and Road Allowance. Moving day was April 12, 1999, and the official opening ceremony for the new detachment has held on September 29, 1999.
New RCMP detachment.
The Big River Detachment staff consists of eight members including a Sergeant, Corporal and six Constables, a public servant and part-time guards and matrons. Three volunteers work as Victim Services support workers.
The Big River Detachment provides housing for its members and presently owns two double - wide trailers and six houses.
Past members of the R.C.M.P (Big River Detachment) include:
(Apologies for any Omissions).
R. W. Storie
J. E. Williams
C. E. Wenzel
S. H. Ginther
R. A. Tedesenini
W. A. McLennan
W. H. Wilson
E. J. Miller
D. B. Bullock
J. R. H. Benoit
G. L. Goodridges
R. J. Galloway
B. G. Syrnyk
G. D. Rees
C. L. Holm
C. R. Millard
J. F. Evans
D. C. Heins
A. J. Mohle
A. M Gilles
L. M. Edwards
P. R. Brousseau
D. M Reid
R. A. Kreiser
J. J. St. Onge
J. G de Vlaming
M. J. Gaudet
D. B. Roper
T. W. Stirling
G. L. Hastings
A. W. Wiebe
J. J. Underhill
T. M. Vincent
K. L. Watson
K. M. Lowenberger
D. M. LeBlanc
G. D. Canning
A. B. Hearn
J. M. C. Duerke
K. E. E. Bergman
D. K. McGillvray
J. G. Giroux
N. J. Laird
G. K. Poole
K. R. McDermott
G. D. Merasty
G. W. Abbott
M. L. Huebert
P. L. Lomond
C. N. Hunter
C. L. A. Williams
D. R. Sawatsky
Current members include:
C. M. Schneider,
R. J. Sidney,
G. P. Froyland,
S. D. MacFadyen
1954 Pierre Thibeault truck.