Stan’s Campout

My parents built Vance’s Store in Snow Lake in 1950 with lumber supplied by Major’s sawmill. This story took place circa 1949 after the road was built between Snow Lake and Wekusko, the train station.

By Linda C Butler
Told by Georgette Major

My husband Stan worked in the bush in the winter cutting trees for our sawmill near Wekusko Falls, which we operated in the summer months.  He was accompanied by Old Blue, our horse who hauled the logs to the shoreline, and by Bruce, our dog. The work was labour-intensive as Stan cut the trees with an axe.

Stan was an excellent bushman, but one afternoon he became disoriented, and rather than risk walking home when he was unsure of his directions, he decided to camp out and come home in the morning.  There are few hours of daylight in the north in the winter months and in the remaining twilight he built a shelter, gathered firewood, and fetched water.  Bruce, the dog, wandered off, leaving Old Blue and Stan.

In the meantime I was at the house, wondering when Stan would come in.  I saw Bruce go to his food bowl and eat his supper. I went outside to speak to Stan, but Stan was not there and Bruce had disappeared.

Bruce returned to Stan, who spent the night huddled by the fire in his makeshift camp.  The temperature dipped to minus forty that night, and although Stan had a warm parka, he was chilled.  It was a difficult night as he continually awoke to add wood to the fire.

Stan couldn’t get warm enough, and at one point he rolled too close to the fire. A spark landed on his parka and smoldered in the quilted fabric and then burst into flame, burning a hole through the back of the parka.  Stan jumped up when he felt the flame on his back and realized that his clothing was on fire.  He had been asleep, but he had enough sense to roll in the snow to extinguish the flame.  After the fire in his clothing was out, Stan couldn’t go back to sleep and he huddled by the fire for the rest of the night.

I had been worried about Stan, and with the first light of dawn, I dressed in heavy clothes and walked to the Snow Lake road to wait for a passing vehicle to summon help, as we had no telephone.  There was little traffic on the road, but I expected that a vehicle would pass during the day.

I was standing on the highway when I saw Stan in the distance walking toward me with the horse and the dog.  With daylight, he knew how to reach the highway and he was on his way home.

Stan did not know until I told him, that his faithful dog had come home the night before for his supper while he huddled by the fire with nothing to eat.

This story is published simultaneously on the  VanceTurnerConnect blog, a blog about our family and pioneer life on the Prairies.

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Ethel Corman

Ethel Corman
by Hazel Corman 1993

Ethel Corman was born in London England in 1896.  She came to Canada as a young woman and never went back to England.  Her cousins were actresses in the theatre.  Ethel must have been lonesome for her family and relatives, but she never showed it.

In the early years of her marriage, she joined her husband Albert in the thriving gold mining town of Herb Lake.  Albert built a small home for her and it was in that home that she gave birth to four children: Gilbert, Freda, Jim and Ernie.  A daughter, Betty, from her first marriage, made the family complete.

Ethel was small with blue eyes and a lovely rosy English complexion; a hard working, resourceful, loving person. Jim, my husband, describes her as four-foot nothing.  She welcomed people to her home, and those who met her, never forgot her.  I often wondered how she coped through our cold winters as she had never seen snow until she came to Canada.

Ethel was a good cook and was famous for her jelly rolls, pastry and bread.  She told this story about Herb Lake pies:

A bachelor lived at Herb Lake who grew the best rhubarb in town, and anytime the ladies would go by, he’d give them enough rhubarb for a pie.  The ladies were always happy to take his rhubarb until someone found out that the reason his rhubarb was so good was because he fertilized it from his outdoor toilet.  That revelation ended the pie making.

When the mine closed at Herb Lake, and the children were grown and gone, Ethel and Albert continued to live there, with Albert commercial fishing and trapping.  Eventually, in 1961, with hardly anyone left, they moved to the South End of Wekusko Lake, now known as Herb Lake Landing.  Ethel’s nearest neighbors were Bertha and Wilfred Cote, but they lived a mile away, so they didn’t see each other very often.

Ethel was alone a lot while Albert was on the trapline and she passed the time crocheting, knitting, quilt making and sewing.  Even though she had lived in the bush for many years, she never got over her fear of bears and never ventured far from home.

Ethel never smoked or drank alcohol, but always enjoyed parties with her family. Sometimes she would bring out her violin or her small accordion and sing Danny Boy, her favorite and Galway Bay for Albert.

In 1984 Albert passed away and Ethel then made her home with her daughter Freda and son-in-law Don in The Pas.  A few years later, Don retired and built a home at Herb Lake Landing and Ethel moved back to her beloved lakeshore.

Ethel had never been in a hospital in her entire life, but one morning, she fell and broke her hip at the age of 95.  Soon she was getting around again with a walker, and then finally, with just her cane.  Then something else happened – she had gall stone attacks and needed another operation, so it was back to the hospital again.  The family wasn’t sure if she would make it but she surprised us and recovered.

Ethel celebrated her 96th birthday last November.  I can’t believe I’m that old. she said.  She moved to St Paul’s Nursing Home in The Pas and still crocheted doilies.  She would ask the nurses:  “Do you have one of my doilies?” and if they said “No”, she would say: “Here, this one’s for you.”

What I have learned from her is in these two lines of a song that she used to sing:
Be happy when you are alive
You’re a long time dead I fear.

Ethel passed away March 1993.

Comment from Hazel March 2014:  We recently saw a well dressed man on TV wearing a suit and multi-colored socks like Nana used to make. She used colored bits of leftover yarn and she would measure what she needed for each color then roll the strands of yarn into little balls to make socks for all of us. Shannon used to play with those little balls of yarn.  It takes a long time to knit a pair of socks and multi-colored socks took so much longer because of changing colors and weaving in the yarn ends.

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Slim Roach

Slim Roach
By Linda C Butler

Slim Roach lived on an island in front of the town of Herb Lake in an earthen dugout.  It was said that he was as dirty when he came out of his hole as when he went in, as he never bathed, and his skin was cracked and rough.

Slim never wore socks, but instead, he stuffed his rubber boots or moccasins with straw.  In the winter he never wore mitts, but his hands never froze.  In the summer he tended a large garden and stored his produce for the winter in his dugout.

In the afternoon, for entertainment, he crossed by canoe from his island to the mainland, and sat on the bench in front of the general store with the other men and talked.

The above information was mainly from Dulcie Taylor a number of years ago, but I spoke to Gus Olson  March 2014 and he provided this information:

Slim’s actual name was Alfred Rowat. This surprised me because I’d also come across references to his brother, Micky Roach. Gus said that he’d met Mickey and their legal name was “Rowat”.

The island in front of the town where Slim lived was known as “Town Island”, although it was later changed to “Lucky Island”,  after Mike Lucky.

Gus remembers Slim Roach’s strength.  He was a powerful man. Slim used to haul firewood with his team of horses and he supplied wood to many of the residents of Herb Lake.  Gus said that one time Slim was sitting on the sleigh with the horses with a heavy load and the horses were having trouble getting up a hill.  Slim got off and walked, expecting that the horses would be able to move without his weight, but they still could not budge.  At that point Slim, who was like a horse himself, grabbed the reins and started pulling to help the horses.

Slim had a good garden on the island where he lived and grew mainly potatoes. (Gus thought that George Bartlett later took over that garden.) Slim had a tame fox that he fed. Gus said that he was never in the dugout where Slim lived but it was like an underground cellar and was deep enough that it was below the frost line. It was large enough that Slim could stand up and there was a stove with a pipe going outside. In the summer, Slim travelled in his canoe.

Gus also said that Texas Joe was another man who worked for himself hauling firewood to the Herb Lake residents.

Jim Corman commented that he heard stories of Slim sleeping on his bags of potatoes.  I assume that in the fall Slim filled his dugout with potatoes from his garden, and if there was no room for him, he slept on top of the bags of potatoes until he either ate or sold enough potatoes to create some space.

The Snow Lake Centennial booklet, written by Mrs Mardis says this:  “Slim Roach was one Herb Lake old-timer who grew a good garden.  He had a root cellar to keep his potatoes in, but couldn’t see the necessity for a house, so, he just spread his bedroll on top of the potatoes and there he slept.”

Walter Johnson, the well-known prospector, was also reported to have stuffed his moccasins with straw when he was first at Herb Lake, because he could not afford to buy socks.

I know from my dad’s stories (Charlie Vance) that it was not unusual for men to sleep outside, even in the winter months.  When Dad was young and driving horses, he had a down-filled sleeping bag and even in minus temperatures he slept outside on top of bales of hay, which insulated him from the cold ground.  I assume that Slim was used to cold and in good weather likely slept outdoors.  Gus said that there was a stove pipe from the dugout but any heat in the dugout would have been minimal, and probably only enough to keep the potatoes from freezing.

I mention that Slim kept his potatoes in bags, rather than loose in the dugout.  I assume this because gunny sacks held oats for the horses and were reused for storing vegetables.

Note:  In the early days of the Prairies, it was not unusual for people to live in earthen dugouts, however, it was unusual at Herb Lake, where there were trees that could be cut for a log cabin.

If you have any information on Slim Roach (Rowat) please comment.

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Storytelling with Maurice

Storytelling with Maurice
by Linda C Butler
Told by the late Norman Leslie

Herb Lake had many odd characters.  One of them was Maurice Gustafson who had a little cabin on the island where we lived.  He told me stories of traveling the coast of Africa in a windjammer, with a pet monkey and trading along the way.

Maurice would pause in his storytelling to give me a glass of a sweet lemon lime drink which he kept cold in a dugout under the floor of his cabin.  On a hot day, the drink was very good and I enjoyed listening to his yarns and sipping the cold beverage.

Note: Mr & Mrs Roy Leslie shared an island with Pete and Julia Durant.  For many years after Leslies had moved to Winnipeg, Roy came back every summer to plant his garden.

I spoke to Gus Olson March 14 and he said that he knew Maurice Gustafson well and that he had a trapline further north.  He had a brother Gus and a sister Ann in The Pas.  He said that Maurice died in 1941.  He became ill while getting supplies at Bartlett’s Store and went out to the hospital at The Pas, then later died of cancer.

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Mutual Respect

By Linda C Butler
Told by the late Jim Barton

I was picking blueberries on a ridge one time when I noticed a bear on the other side of the patch.  The bear had also seen me, and we both stopped picking to watch each other.  Neither of us was willing to back off, so we stared at each other.  Finally the bear decided I was no threat, and it went backing to stripping the blueberries off the bushes with its paws and stuffing the fruit into its mouth.

Since the bear was now ignoring me, there was no cause for me to be concerned, and I continued picking berries on my side of the patch.  The ridge of blueberries was big enough for both of us.

Note:  Jim Barton lived alone in the wilderness and had a unique ability to attract animals.

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Fred Smith’s Boarding House – Herb Lake

Fred Smith’s Boarding House – Herb Lake

Sheila Kennedy contacted me and said that her father’s uncle was Fred Smith, who had a boarding house in Herb Lake near the town dock in the 1930s. Joseph Smith either owned it or worked in it as well.

She was told that her great grandparents Joseph and Virginie Smith raised her father, Doris Joseph Smith, and his brother Rosaire Louis Smith in Herb Lake from 1929-1939. They were born in 1917 and 1918, so they would have been 11 and 12 at the time.

Sheila is looking for any information you might have.  Please comment on this posting if you are able to assist her.

3 March 14 – I spoke to Gus Olson about Fred Smith.  He said that Fred was the first post master at Herb Lake.  He had the post office and a hall near the waterfront.  Later Don McLean, who had worked at the Laguna Mine, became postmaster for 4 or 5 years until about 1941.

Gus said that the boarding house was owned by Mrs. Ducharme who had been married to Isadore Ducharme, and had son Elmo Ducharme.  He said that at Ducharme’s Boarding House you could buy a meal for fifty cents.

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Berry Picking at the Ferro Mine

By Linda C Butler
Told by David Fergus in a letter 1949

The caretaker of the Ferro Mine called here this morning to ask me to go with a group to pick blueberries at the Ferro Mine.  I joined them, and away we went, bumping along the rough road at about four miles per hour.  I did not think that the Ferro was a good place for berry picking but I did not say so.  We arrived.  And of course one of the fellows had brought his tonic (home brew), but it was warm, so he and a friend took the crock to the icehouse and set it amongst the ice.

We started to look for berries but the fellow soon disappeared.  When he came back he told us that he was just checking to see if the tonic was cool enough.  In a little while I missed both him and the mine caretaker.  They had gone again to see to the cooling process, and took a long time to come back.  Needless to say, there were few berries picked that day.

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