The earliest means of transportation was by water route when natives and early explorers travelled the Big River. The use of old bush trails with wagons pulled by oxen or horses came next. The earliest settlers slowly made their way into this district by ox cart in the early 1900s.
The first car in the district was said to be that of William Cowan, who made his way over the Hudson's Bay Trail from Prince Albert to his mill at Crooked Lake. Among the first cars owned by citizens of the community were those owned by Fred Buckley, Joe LaMothe and Joe Sixsmith. By the end of the 1930s, many of the local citizens owned their own car and the blacksmith shops gradually changed over to become garages as the demand for car parts and repairs increased.
The railway arrived in Big River in 1910. A spur from Shellbrook to Debden and then to Big River was first known as the Crooked Lake Branch but was officially named the Canadian Northern Railroad. The building of this spur was under the direction of McKenzie and Mann, a Winnipeg Company. The coming of the railway brought an influx of workers, many of whom stayed to work in the lumber mill or camps after the railway was completed.
In 1913, the Lumber Company requested that a station and permanent Agent be located at Big River. This request was granted by the Railway and the first Agent, Mr. H. E. Thompson arrived in 1914.
Canadian Northern Railway engine - 1910.
Big River station - 1914.
Dr. Fenton making use of railway car
The 'railway car' was another means of transportation in the early days, a jigger type car that travelled on the railway tracks.
Citizens relied on private bus lines for a time. The first regular service was supplied by Jim Dawson who had a Big River - Prince Albert run. Ted Otte was the next bus driver, beginning the service in 1941 and continuing until the government took over all the bus routes in the province in 1946. Since this time the Saskatchewan Transportation Company has supplied this community with bus service. The first driver for S.T.C. was F. Terry and the bus depot was located in the cafe at the theatre. 'Chuck' Tuck was the next driver followed by S. Gibson. In 1955, Sydney and Marg Cookman and family moved to Big River and Sid began driving the bus route. We are most fortunate that he is still our bus operator and it is with appreciation we note that Sid has driven well over one million accident free miles.
Team hauling M and C plane to Cowan Lake.
Airline service was supplied for a number of years by M and C Aviation (McNeil and Campbell), who purchased some of the planes and equipment from the Air Base at Ladder Lake. Northern Airlines was established by Waite Fisheries Limited. Airplanes flew daily, taking mail and supplies into northern points and bringing back fish for the southern market. Fish caught as far north as Cree Lake could be on the United States market within three or four days.
George Greening, Jim Barber and Tommy McCloy were pilots during the time of Northern Airlines shuttle between the outlying districts of the North and Big River, the home base. Tom McCloy is at present a Captain and senior member of C.P.A., flying out of Vancouver. George Greening lives in Prince Albert and works at the Airport there. Jim Barber died last year. He held R.C.A.F. awards for his courage and ability during the last World War.
All planes docked at Cowan Lake, pontoons were used in the summer and planes were ski equipped for the winter months.
As roads improved, transport trucks became a popular means of transport, replacing the horse and caterpillar freight swings. A large fleet of trucks serves the northern community to the present day.
George Greening and one of Northern Airlines planes 1946.
The now world famous BBQ.