The Town Site of Snow Lake was organized under the Industrial Town Sites Act of Manitoba.
Alma Mardis, Editor of Snow Lake's Centennial Salute to the Trailblazers writes:
Some of them came from far countries, often to die a lonely death in some northern lake. They came to search for wealth in the rocks; to fish or to trap and trade in fur.
Perhaps, most of all, they came because, as George Bartlett has said....."It's nice to be free."
Pictured above to the right is a monument to commemorate miners lost in accidents which is right beside a time capsule created in 1997 for our Town's 50th anniversary.
Other gold mines also were developed not far from Snow Lake. In 1914, prospectors Mike Hackett, Bob Hasitt, Julius Campbell and Frank Moore staked the property that later became Rex Mine on the east shore of Herb Lake (now Wekusko Lake) where the hamlet of Herb Lake was formed. The gold property was was actually discovered by Percy McDavitt, a chore man for the four prospectors' camp while he was exploring the shore with a canoe, and picked up rock samples. They were panned by Bob Hasitt, who found a tail of gold about four inches long. The next morning the prospectors set off in the canoe. Percy could hear then from the island - skating. That night he sneaked over with a tape and measured some of the claims; found a fraction they'd missed, and eventually put a claim on it. The Rex mine opened in 1917 and produced 7,000 ounces of gold before closing down in 1925. Renamed the Laguna Gold Mines it was put into production again in 1934, and from then until its final closing in 1939 - 48,000 ounces of gold were produced. Two other gold properties in the area were not so profitable. Work began on the Bingo Mine in the early 1920's under the direction of Don Kennedy. The first fifty feet was sunk with hand steel while two men struck it alternately. There was gold in the Bingo; but the quantity was insufficient to make mining it feasible. The Fero, a small mine three miles east of the settlement, opened shortly after the Laguna closed and stayed in production until 1943. Charlie Morgan had a little mil there. He employed six or eight men and produced several hundred tons of ore. Herb Lake is a ghost town now, but at one time eight hundred people lived there.
C.W. (Cliff) Casselman, the Editor of The Saga of Snow Lake, wrote a thoughtful and touching history of Snow Lake for the Manitoba Centennial in 1970. Following are selections from this book.
The Gold Era
The fishing had been particularly good today, and consequently I had tarried longer than I ought to. Nightfall found me entering the place where the waters narrow, and the rush on over the falls. I decided that rather than risk shooting the rapids in the dark, I would seek shelter for the night. My old friend, a fisherman, prospector and trapper, lived in a shack very near here, so I pointed the bow of my canoe in the direction of his island. As I pulled the canoe up onto the bank and secured it to a protruding tangle of jack-pine roots, I saw the light from his window, and felt glad that he was at home and we would have this chance for a visit.
I put my chain full of fish into the water and clipped it to the rope that held the canoe. That would keep them cold and fresh until I could fillet them. I gathered my battered knapsack, containing my tobacco and a few things to eat, and started up the path to the door of the shack. My footsteps made a soft thudding as I trod on the packed earth of the trail.
"Hello!" I called as I neared the door.
"Hello there," said the voice inside, recognizing me by my voice my friend bid me welcome.
He had a fire blazing in the crudely built fireplace, and it gave off a welcome heat and added cheer to the gathering night. We sat around the fire, drinking strong tea he had brewed and munching on some OH HENRY chocolate bars I took from my knapsack. We talked of the fishing this season, the price paid for muskrat pelts last winter and of course, politics.
A comfortable lull in the conversation was ended abruptly by my friend. "You've been at Snow Lake a long time. What have you heard about how Snow Lake was first discovered?"
I certainly wasn't sure. I had remembered speaking to a friend who was interested in the early history and archeology, and he had said that for all we knew, some prehistoric caveman could have washed a piece of brontosaurus meat in the cold waters of Snow Lake; or it may have been the early forefathers of the Cree or Saulteaux Indians who had first speared some walleye or killed a moose on the shores of Snow Lake. My friend had undertaken historical research, and while he was uncertain, he felt it highly possible that such early pioneers as Henry Kelsey who worked for the Hudson Bay Company had wandered very close by on his way to the prairies in the years of about 1690 or 1692. If Henry Kelsey hadn't wandered here, perhaps Handy had, when he had been on his way to the Blackfoot Indians for the Hudson Bay Company. He was quite certain that some of the Hudson Bay Company early explorers had passed by Snow Lake as they journeyed on to some 60 exploration ventures from that northern port. Knowing that the North West Company and Hudson Bay Company were jostling for control of the fur trade and each was trying desperately to establish contacts with Indian traders, he felt it very certain in those early years some of these Canadian pioneers had probably wandered extremely close to the site of present-day Snow Lake. My historian friend told me that explorers on their way to building the first inland post at Cumberland House in 1774 had probably traversed lakes and streams in the general neighbourhood of our little town. Of course, this was all speculation, but written records as early as 1896 had shown that a geological federal survey has been made in the Snow Lake-Wekusko area. Following another survey in 1914, gold was discovered on the east shores of Wekusko Lake. It was common knowledge that several gold discoveries were made in the area in the next few years. The first gold production was in 1917 from the Rex Mine. Rex Mines, which later became known as Laguna Gold Mines, was one of the few productions of any size, and it had produced some 7,000 oz. of gold from 1917-1945. Snow Lake itself was dependent on Chris R. (Lew) Parres, who had located and staked a gold occurrence on the east shore of Snow Lake in 1927. This property was eventually Snow Lake. Nor-Acme Mines was incorporated in 1938 to handle the property and in 1941 Howe Sound Exploration Co. Ltd. optioned the property from them. Apparently, between August 1941 and April 1942, so we were told, a diamond drilling program was conducted. Howe Sound signed a lease with Nor-Acme in October 1943 to develop and mine the property right at Snow Lake. As far as I knew, this was some of the early history of Snow Lake.
My trapper friend sat smoking peacefully, absorbing what I had said. Then he asked me a question that made me think, "What in the world ever brought you to this part of the country?" he asked.
It had been a long time since I had thought a great deal about those early years. I had been so busy with the present happenings. "Oh, I don't know, really. I suppose the hope for a more secure future, financially for me an my family. I think a big part of the decision was also a feeling of wanting to be part of the adventure of opening up this untouched wilderness. In every man's blood runs the love of adventure and that certainly and some influence in my decision."
He nodded in response to my answer, and sat sleepily puffing on an old pipe. The smoke from it made great circles around his weathered face and it was evident that his thoughts were trailing off, perhaps to his own first days in this area.
I thought of the train trip in May of 1949 that had first brought us to this untamed country, north of the 53th parallel. The train rhythmically clicked its way from Winnipeg, on through Dauphin, Swan River, The Pas and finally we arrived at Wekusko.
This was as near to Snow Lake as we could get by train. We stepped off and looked about us to see a settlement of a few little houses, the railway station and platform. The land was flat and covered with pines that looked as though they had been deprived of their vitamins. They were scraggly and a little stunted. Little did we know how we would come to love those trees and the area they represent.
We then began to wonder about more practical things. What, if any, communication existed between Snow Lake and the outside world? What was the road like from here to Snow Lake? What would our work be like? About 75% of the passengers on the train held Wekusko as their destination and now they milled about on the platform, searching for their luggage and getting a look at the land. We began to feel, in a small way, as though we were a part of a much larger brotherhood of men who were simultaneously working in many parts of the North to open up this great land. We boarded an old yellow bus headed for Snow Lake camp. We were on the last leg of our journey to the Howe Sound gold mine, the largest gold mine in the North and we wondered again what would be in store for us at the other end of this road. One thing I DID know about Snow Lake was that it had been named by a man called Lew Parres. He named it Snow Lake because he found the water in the lake was as soft as that you get when you melt snow.
The road from Wekusko to Snow Lake had been built in 1946 through an agreement between Howe Sound Exploration Co. and the Manitoba Government. Previously, men and machinery had been brought in by caterpillars, but now with the road in passable condition, the important business of getting equipment in to get a mine in operation would be made a little easier. In October of 1946, the first truck arrived in the Snow Lake camp.
We watched the bus driver Doug Borton as he negotiated the never-ending curves in the road. We later learned that in the 37 miles of road from Wekusko to Snow Lake, there were 56 curves. We had the feeling the road had been laid out by an old garter snake who had imbibed heavily in someone's cache of whiskey. As we watched out of the window, we frequently saw wild game cross the road or stand near the water-filled ditches. About ten miles out from Wekusko Doug Borton stopped the bus, got out and gave three shrill whistles. In seconds, from out of the thick bush came three foxes. Doug reached in his pocket and pulled out three candy bars and the foxes ate right out of his hand. When his hand had been licked clean, the foxes ambled back into the bush and Doug took his place behind the wheel of the bus. He told us of the road construciton crew finding these foxes when they were building this section of the road and they had tamed them with chocolate bars from their lunches.
After we rounded the 56th curve, we found ourselves looking down at the Snow Lake camp. It was 4:00 P.M. on a Saturday. The entire area was swarming with activity. Construction men were everywhere, hoisting machinery into place and aligning it for operation. I could see as I had seen, in all the mines where I had worked, the frantic rush to get into production. Miners were coming off shift, others were going on. It was a sight to behold - the rush to get things completed and get the mine to the place where it was receiving some income. We, the new arrivals, were assigned to our bunkhouse and got settled in, and promptly joined the working force. Two weeks after we took our place in the mill. The mine went into production at the rate of 2,000 tons daily.
Those of us who had left families behind were interested in the progress being made in providing housing for families. The progress in housing was a daily topic of conversation for many. Many of the early families on their arrival in Snow Lake found a tent on the edge of wilderness as home. The new home often consisted of a 12' x 14' tent with a wooden floor. The walls were often lined with heavy building paper to keep out the cold and the outside walls were banked with snow. A power line ran from Cabin Town on the lakeshore to Tent Town, and each tent had a line running into it. The tent had no windows and usually a single hanging light provided the only illumination, day or night. Usually the tents had a hot-plate that provided that final guard against freezing to death on cold nights. Cook stoves with the usual stove-pipe chimney provided the main heat, but since only wood was burned and the stove might go out in the night if you slept too long, the hot plates were the final insurance. Coal was available for the stoves, but at $35.00 or $40.00 a ton, not too many could afford it and so they burned wood and took their chances with Jack Frost. The tent's furnishings were bare essentials. There was outdoor plumbing, of course, a separate unit for each tent. The women hung their washing on the lines stretched between the trees, but with electricity available, at least there were electric irons for the next step. The water supply was obtained from a pipeline running close to the tent and there was usually a tap at about every third tent. For many, water was available, but no washing machine. However, good graces usually prevailed and the washing machines that there were often found overtime use by catering to several families. The Tent Town on the edge of the bush had its visits by the bears. Many of the residents still recall wondering what animal might be in the tent if noises were heard from within when everyone thought there were no people present. In addition to these small trials, there were the trials presented by mosquitoes and black flies. Many of the women remember the long treks from Cabin Town or Tent Town to the local Hudson Bay Store which was located in the present schoolyard. Since delivery service was limited to none at all, women had to bring home only those groceries that they could carry. Finally the townsite was surveyed and although some of the caterpillars that were digging the foundations for the new homes and duplexes sank right out of sight in the soft ground, the duplexes were finally built. Many of us were fortunate in that we were able to bring our families shortly after our arrival. We were also fortunate that we didn't have to share a home with others as many of the earlier settlers did when they found that there were not enough duplexes to go around. The one feature about the duplex that stands out in my mind is the huge furnace it had. It took up at least a quarter of the floor space in the kitchen. It was monstrous, and had sprawled in big letters across its front "PRAIRIE PRIDE". It took a lot of wood to satisfy a Prairie Pride during our cold winters. Every fall for weeks we'd experience the pleasant odor of freshly cut wood and the plaintive whine of an old gas powered saw as it went from home to home with everybody pitching in to help himself and his neighbours lay in enough wood for the winter.
In our first years, fresh milk was a luxury we rarely had. One Christmas we received a special treat. Bob Ferguson, a pilot for Central Northern Airways(the air service between Flin Flon and Snow Lake) brought us a quart of fresh milk! After the bottle had been emptied of its precious contents, my wife used it for mixing up the powdered milk we drank. It wasn't very palatable but we got accustomed to it.
Steadily the number of families grew and the Snow Lake Camp evolved into a town. The provincial government considered it advisable to incorporate the area as a Local Government District and appointed our first administrator, Mr. Lorne Cochrane. It also appointed a four man advisory committee.
In an agreement with the Provincial government, Howe Sound Exploration Co. agreed to survey and clear the townsite, grade and surface the streets, and install sewer, water and power lines. They also agreed to erect, furnish and equip a 4 room school, a 7 bed hospital and a community centre. They would supply, maintain and operate all the usual town duties and contribute a fixed annual sum to the District in lieu of municipal taxes.
When our population had reached between two and three hundred it was exciting to see the people organize into a community with civic pride and a feeling of responsibility to the community. Since our town was so small and isolated, what one person did affected the others.
School for the children was well taken care of. The first teacher was Miss Shirley Popham. School commenced in September of 1947 with an enrollment of 5 students. By June the number had increased to 15. The first classroom was a small frame building in Cabin Town. It consisted of two very empty small rooms with a tiny closet-like attachment containing a highly resonant chemical carry-it-out yourself toilet. There were no desks, no chairs, no blackboard, not even a wisp of paper or a broken pencil. But the North was never without resources. The students were measured and soon desks and chairs were being manufactured in the mine carpentry shop. With much fanagling and ingenuity, blackboards were manufactured and soon instruction was taking place. Heat, of course, was from a good old pot-bellied burner that either glowed too hot or threatened to die from one day to the next. The lessons of those early school days were apparently formed from the imagination of the teacher. The classroom had its own City Council, miniature -size baseball diamond and boxing instruction. The first teacher still recalls how one of the first pupils decked her in those initial boxing lessons. The 1948 expansion to a 4-room school was a pleasant improvement to the original cabin schoolhouse. However, as the enrollment did not warrant the entire use of the new 4-room school, half of the building was left undivided and used for social functions until the community hall was completed in 1950. During these years, organizations such as the Explorers, Brownies, Girl Guides, Boy Scouts and Cubs were formed. In its wisdom, Howe Sound took an early lead in providing facilities so that the meeting places and the equipment was available for all forms of recreation. In March of 1950, Howe Sound organized the formation of a Community Club and built the Community Hall to serve as a central focus for all the community activities which were springing into existence. Before long, the schedule at the Hall was a hectic one. A recreational director was hired to originate and coordinate activities. Soon the days and evenings found everyone congregating at the Hall. The gymnasium section of the building was a truly multiple purpose room. At various times it would serve as a badminton court, floor hockey arena, volleyball court, Girl Guides meeting centre, theatre, rifle range, dance floor or the site of a bazaar. There were many times we would have to clean up the aftermath of a dance before we went home, in order that the room could be used for church services the next morning!
A Ladies Group which was to have far reaching influence was formed in this period. They adopted the name "THE NORTHERN LIGHTS" after witnessing the brilliant spectacle of the aurora borealis in our crisp winter nights. These women raised large sums of money at their annual bazaar and most of this money was put right back into the community in various forms. They gave financial support to the Girl Guides and Boy Scouts and they formed groups to equip a library for the community hall. They were helpful to the hospital and their money also made possible many of Snow Lake's triumphs at The Pas Music Festival in those years.
From membership of the Northern Lights, other branches of interest groups grew - the drama club, bridge club and a handicraft club, to name a few. They also organized and operated a kindergarten for the pre-school children. The Northern Lights was a well organized, thoughtfully managed club, with the best interests of Snow Lake at its centre.
At this time if we wanted any entertainment we made it ourselves. Everyone who possessed a talent, be it singing, playing a musical instrument, dancing or dramatic ability, used his talent in many variety shows that were put on. We were very fortunate to have Muriel Green among us, for she was a highly skilled dramatist and had boundless energy and enthusiasm. She was the guiding force behind so many great evenings of drama and music. We had no television and radio reception was unreliable, so all our entertainment was locally produced. The Hall was always beautifully decorated for each occasion, be it St. Patrick's Day, Valentine's Day, or the Hallowe'en Masquerade Dance.
Aside from the people and the work and the fun, one thing stands out very vividly in my recollection of the early years in Snow Lake. that one thing is mud. Mud, mud, mud and more mud! It was the very sticky variety, more like a clay, I suppose. It plagued us all. Everyone wore "Gum Boots' and if you went to a party on a rainy evening, you were usually greeted at the door by a huge array of gum boots, some covered very nearly to the top with mud. In a few business places in town, rolls of brown paper stood ready at the door, and when it rained during the spring thaw, the aisles of the stores and the bank were always covered in brown paper. When the store closed, the unlucky guy whose job it was to sweep the floors would roll up the brown paper, sweep up the clumps of mud that had strayed from the paper, then lay down more paper for the next day. Pity the poor soul who had to scrub the floors. I recall the aptness of a poem written by a young man, Charles A. Reed, who worked in the mine office for Howe Sound. Click here to read the poem...
This mud may have inspired poets, but it sure couldn't grow a garden! We had all been accustomed to having gardens, so we set out to grow something in this sticky soil. Our neighbours in southern Manitoba would be hard pressed to imagine what can be done when the beautiful black soil isn't right at your doorstep. We went out on Sundays and on our days off and roamed the ditches along the road. When we dug into these banks, we discovered a black soil akin to what our American neighbours sell as Canadian peat moss. With a mixture of this, the clay and some fine sand, people began to grow lawns and eventually flower and vegetable gardens. In fact, gardens thrived, and in 1952 our first garden show was held in the Community Hall. It was magnificent. Rows and rows of beautiful flowers arranged attractively in handsome vases and many displays of luscious vegetables made the Hall look like a prize winning greenhouse.
Sports played a large part in the lives of the early Snow Lakers. Each year, on the first of July, we had a big celebration where all the sportsmen got a chance to display their skills. The competitions were held on the school grounds and were as important to the townspeople as if they were the Olympic Games. The ground were always decked out in red, white and blue bunting. Flags flew everywhere - it was the Union Jack then. The lane lines for the races were laid out in white chalk and the prizes for the events all displayed on a big table. In the morning, most of the children's races were held. The egg race, where you ran carrying an egg on a spoon, the potato relay race in which you had to move a pile of potatoes, one by one, from one end of the track to the other, and of course, the three legged race, all kept the children bustling. The ladies' competitions included the 50 yard dash, the nail driving contest, orange peeling contest and the like. The men took on the strenuous fare of the mucking contest and the perennial favourite, the "tug-of-war". Boat races were held on the lake and other water events such as the "across the lake swim" race. A softball game was the highlight of the day and the festivities were capped by a gala dance in the evening.
Softball tournaments were always popular with the miners. The club would charter a plane and fly to Cranberry Portage, Flin Flon or The Pas to take on their rivals. The Badminton Club was also very active in this regard and they frequently returned from a trip bearing a silver cup or two.
The curling rink had been completed in January of 1948 and of course this sport quickly became the foremost winter sport in the community. The renowned "World's Smallest Bonspiel" began on February 14, 1953 with sixteen rinks competing.
Volleyball, ping pong, darts, calisthenics, weight lifting, boxing, rifle club and hockey all helped to keep us in shape and speed the long winters.
Snow Lake had evolved into a thriving, smooth functioning community. We had electricity, running water, a Hudson Bay retail store, The Royal Bank of Canada had open a branch here and church services of various denominations were being held regularly. In 1949, a Roman Catholic Priest, Fathe E. Bleau and two Brothers, E. Beaudoin and H. Danscose had arrived in Snow Lake and they took up residence in a shack lent to them by Jim Gowans. Howe Sound loaned them some machinery and soon they were at work digging the basement of the Roman Catholic Church. Work was hampered somewhat when a free running spring was uncovered in the digging, and with the rains and the spring water, the cement basement became a very difficult task. Stan Millan loaned them a pump and on July 14 and 15 a noisy cement mixer ground away all day and the basement was finished. The frame of the building went up on August 8th, the steeple was erected and on August 14th the steeple bell first called the people to services. "Our Lady of the Snow" parish had begun to grow.
In 1951, the Anglican Parish of St. Francis of Assissi built their place of worship next door to "Our Lady of the Snow". The Anglicans had formerly used the school for services. Father John Patrick, gifted with a keen sense of humour, was the first Anglican Priest in Snow Lake. He described the building of the church this way: "Through a fine swindle, we were able to buy the old Hudson Bay Store building. This we moved to the lot and rebuilt. All this was done with the help of Howe Sound Exploration Co., the town administrator, plus all the Anglicans in town (both of them!). As Jim Gowans owned the hardware and lumber business, it became necessary to convert him. Jim was a Presbyterian. However, Jim had one strike against him. Louise, his charming wife, is Anglican. So Jim became an Anglican and the building material problem was solved.
In order to add to the material, five houses from the old tent town were demolished and lumber from these was used. Wiring was salvaged from the firing line at Sherridon when the mine closed there. This, with a lot of finishing material which was removed from the hotel at Sherridon was flown to Snow Lake and assembled with the help of a number of gentlemen from the bunkhouse. The pews and organ and other items were "looted" from a church south of Brandon. This happened while I was on a trip with Bishop Norris (then the Bishop of Brandon). Silver and linens were given by Bishop Norris. Sometimes he didn't know he had given them until he saw them at Snow Lake."
We were, and still are, being policed by the R.C.M.P. In the 1940's, the R.C.M.P. Detachment was located at Herb Lake, then the centre of mining activity in the area. With the opening of Snow Lake, the detachment was moved to our new townsite and the first policeman arrived. He was Constable Wm. McKayseff. Because the town was very isolated and there was little activity outside of the town itself, only one man was stationed here and his transportation was via rented motor-boat and on foot.
Our downtown area consisted of a Hudson Bay Company retail store, the Royal Bank of Canada branch, Jim Gowans' hardware, Dick Jordan's Coffee Shop, Stan Millan's hotel, the Local Government District building which housed the R.C.M.P. as well, and the little Post Office (now the Snow Lake Taxi building).
The Post Office in those memorable days had interesting stories of its own. The quarters were small and cramped, yet the service was usually first class. The mail was the people's only link with the outside world, and it did a brisk business. Mail arrived on the Canadian National Railway's "Muskeg Special" on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and outgoing mail was dispatched on the southbound train on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. This, of course, made each mail arrival a real event. The trains were rarely on time and this often led to unusual circumstances, especially at Christmas time. People were dependent on the mail for almost everything - clothes, books, household furnishings, Christmas decorations and gifts. Everything was mail order!
One Christmas Eve, the bus bearing the mail from the train station at Wekusko didn't arrive until almost midnight even though it was due at 2:00 P.M. in the afternoon. Undaunted, the postmaster moved his family out of his home and commenced piling 110 bags of Christmas mail throughout the post office and home. The postal staff worked throughout the night, and had C.F.A.R. in Flin Flon broadcast to the Snow Lake people that their post office would be open for four hours Christmas afternoon.
The postmaster also took care of shipping the gold bricks after they left the Howe Sound refinery. He recalled the nervous feeling of sleeping in the next room to a flimsy safe jammed full of 50 pound gold bricks valued at around $35 an ounce. "But we never lost a one!"
The downtown area was, of course, home to us, and in those days, Friday was a day to behold. All supplies - meat, groceries and produce arrived on Thursday night. The freight was usually late, so the personnel at the store would be up until the wee hours cutting the meat and putting out the canned goods and produce for Friday morning. Hudson's Bay Co. was the only grocery store, and it opened at 9:00 A.M. By 8:30 A.M. there was usually a long line of housewives at the door, most of them in the glamourous gum boots because of the mud. It paid to get there early, because there was never surplus of meat or vegetables. On September 29, 1950 Charlie Vance opened his "Vance's General Store" (now Mike's Grocery). This provided a little bit of variety in shopping. It was at Charlie's store that we were first able to buy a quart of fresh milk.
Communications with the outside world were limited. Radio reception was not always good. At first we had no telephones and our only means of getting a message to the outside was through a two-way radio set at the Howe Sound administration office, which connected us with The Pas. Any message you wanted to send - even to get an appointment with the dentist in The Pas - had to be relayed through the mine office. During inclement weather, and due to sometimes cantankerous equipment, there were many days that you could not get in touch with The Pas. In 1950, a telephone exchange was set up, and the phones were installed in our homes. These were local lines, but on May 16th, 1951, a radar system was installed, and then we were linked with the Manitoba Telephone System, and we had long distance service.
In 1953, life in Snow Lake was going along very smoothly. The town was active, creative, and very much alive. In 1954, however, a severe case of "ghost town jitters" began to grip the community. Rumours were seeping in and out of conversation on the street and on the job. Was the gold deposit running low? Would the mine close? Would we all be part owners of a beautiful ghost town? Constantly our thoughts were interrrupted by the lingering dread of having to leave this area, find new jobs, and settle our families in a new town. We would make plans for a future event for our community, and each of us would silently be wondering if our town would still exist at that future date.
Then a new strain of rumour cautiously began making regular rounds. Something new was in the air! Drilling and staking in the surrounding area became the topic of conversation. But everything was so vague. I recall, then, taking my boat across Snow Lake, and down the Narrows to a deserted short-lived tungsten mine. I was making one of my regular checks on it for the absentee owner. As my boat sliced its way through the usually quiet waters, I began hearing loud noises. They became louder and louder, and soon I came upon a geological survey party from Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting Co. Ltd. (HBM & S) in Flin Flon. The party was swarming around the Snow Lake area, staking every open claim they could find. I was thrilled to see so much activity, because it indicated a chance for continued life for Snow Lake.
That winter, Midwest Diamond Drilling Ltd., with drills on Ghost Lake, 11½ miles from Snow Lake, and on Chisel Lake, 10½ miles from Snow Lake, kept their crews busy drilling through the ice to the lake bottom below. As spring approached, and the ice began to melt, the heavy drilling equipment was in jeopardy, but the results of their sample drillings were so promising, that HBM & S had planes bring in load after load of wood shavings and chips to spread around the equipment to keep the ice from melting. We heard of all this activity and even the pessimists relaxed enough to let their hopes rise a little. Finally, one Sunday morning, Charlie Vance came by, and he was very excited. We went out to a nearby hill, and stood and watched airplanes circle over the area. Charlie said: "They've found something, or all those planes wouldn't be there." There was no road for us to get to Chisel Lake, so we had to content ourselves with watching from a distance, and speculating on the reason for all the increased activity. Excitement reigned supreme! Soon the story was known. Midwest Diamond Drilling Ltd., using their 2-way radio, had relayed the news of the discovery to the geological department of HBM & S in Flin Flon. The first message had fixed the new ore body width at around 12 feet, but as further exploration took place, they reported a width of 18 feet, then 20 feet. The final message told of a 60 foot width of mostly zinc, but containing copper, lead, silver and gold. This seemed incredible to the geologists in Flin Flon, so three planes had been sent over that Sunday morning to check on the accuracy of the reports. In a matter of days, we learned that the messages had indeed been accurate, and that HBM & S would soon be sinking a shaft just 10½ miles from our townsite. A new mine would open, and there would be jobs available. In 1957, the shaft was sunk, and Snow Lake was to live again.
In 1958, a bulletin was issued announcing the closing of the Howe Sound mining operations at Snow Lake. It was a melancholy day for us, because Howe Sound had been a good employer. Together we had milled five and a half million tons of ore. We bid a sad farewell to the Howe Sound people who left us, and then we pitched into the of getting things underway again under new management. HBM & S purchased most of Howe Sound assets, such as the power line, plant buildings, and equipment, houses, Community Hall, school, curling rink, and hospital. Snow Lake was embarking on a new life - an even larger and busier life than we had known before.
...I was truly amazed at my memories. It had been years since I thought over those early days. I began to think once more of Snow Lake. It was a remarkable story, really. Boom gold, almost a ghost town, and perhaps a part of Copper King. Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting had become the modern-day fairy godmother. From rags to riches, a Cinderella story of modern day. For the Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting had truly rejuvenated the town. Perhaps in my earlier reminiscing I was growing tired, for now it even began to impress me more. If it hadn't have been for the Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting's geophysical explorations in 1956 around Chisel Lake and Ghost Lake, perhaps Snow Lake would not be. They had discovered mostly zinc, some lead, gold and silver at Chisel on that momentous Sunday morning, and had gone to work in sinking their shaft in 1957. This was to be only the beginning of the rejuvenation of Snow Lake. Within a short time the geophysical crews for Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting had uncovered a copper and gold ore body at Stall Lake. This was a mere 4 miles from the townsite of Snow Lake, and added to this injection of a new-found wealth. Shaft-sinking started in 1957 as well, and there was to be more. It was known that the Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting Company had optioned property from a group of prospectors in the Osborne Lake area. As of 1957 things did look very bright indeed. Once the Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting Co. Ltd. were certain of profitable ore discoveries, they quickly put into operation the adminstrative details to make mining functional at Snow Lake. An agreement was finalized in 1958 whereby the Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting Co. Ltd. purchased Howe Sound's asset, including the power line, plant buildings and equipment, houses, Community Hall, School, Curling Rink and Hospital. They in turn sold most of their houses to their employees; the School, Community Hall and Curling Rink were turned over to the Local Government District. The Manitoba government, Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting Co. and the Local Government District finalized an agreement in 1959 with regard to town operations. The town began expanding, and the road connecting with #10 highway was completed in 1960. 1960 was Boom Year all over again. Chisel Lake Mines started producing that year; a branch line of the Canadian National Railway to Chisel Lake was completed, and all the ore from these mines was able to be transported to Flin Flon to be milled for their rich copper, zinc, lead, gold and silver contents. The best way to describe that year of 1960 was bedlam. People were buzzing, and wheeling and running around. Mining was now starting again; schools were being built; and fires were burning - all added to the commotion.
Fires!! What a year for fires. It had been a particularly dry year, and lightning seemed to be striking every other day to add new flames to those already existing. A fire was spotted very close to Chisel Lake one evening in July and soon there were spot fires burning around the ventilation raise across the lake from the mine. Some firefighters were sent out and by morning it seemed as though they had won. Suddenly Mother Nature, in her fury, changed the direction of the wind and increased its velocity to an estimated 25 mph. In no time the fire was upon the fighters. One group of the firefighters used the ventilation raise and made their way to the mine underground. Some of the others trapped on the far side of the lake got down in the muskeg area where there was enough water to cover them, and let the fire pass over. Others, forgetting about fashion or clothing, lay down and rolled across the muskeg to the mine site, escaping the savage flames in that manner. The alarm went out. A few men were asked to come help fight the red demon. Practically the whole town came. Unfortunately, much of the fire fighting equipment had been burned and when the crowd arrived from the town there was little or no equipment for them to use. Besides, in dense smoke it was impossible to keep track of everyone and someone was sure to be overcome by smoke and caught in the fire. However, this did not happen. The flames burned through the bush all around the Chisel Lake Mine buildings, but luckily very little damage occurred, (with the exception of perhaps a few burned out power poles and a pipe box, etc.) Excitement ran high when the powder magazine site was threatened by flames, but quick action from a few men doused this concern. Then the fire seemed to be threatening Snow Lake itself. People started to worry as it crept inch by inch seemingly closer to the townsite. Then, luckily, the wind changed and the threat was blown in another direction. The fires continued. Transmission lines were burned. This caused Snow Lake to suffer the loss of electric power, and so the auxiliary units took over. It seemed as though half the country was ablaze. Fires were in the Varnason Lake, File Lake and the Chisel Lake areas. As one observer said: "It could have been a scene from Dante's Inferno". Pine needles were falling on roofs and yards in town; washing on the lines picked up shards of black cinders; smoke was everywhere. People were packed and ready to leave town on a moment's notice, should the winds change; but they didn't. Fortunately, people were busy; busy with other things as well as the fires, ad perhaps this helped keep them from panicking at the very real dangers they were faced with.
Perhaps it was the threat of destruction or perhaps it was because of the ever-increasing population that new areas of Divine worship were opened. The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada opened a Sunday School in the basement of a home in Snow Lake that year. The Lutheran Congregation under the leadership of Rev. E. Gerry began in 1960 as well. 1960 was the year that everything began again in Snow Lake. The 60's became modern history for Snow Lake. Everything new and exciting began to happen. The citizens of the ever increasing town pooled their resources and their spirits to perpetuate new projects, day-by-day and year-by-year. A veritable fraternity of the people blossomed again as it had in the days of the gold. Fathers and sons worked late into the night Saturdays and Sundays to complete a new hockey arena with artificial ice in these years. They cleared and formed a new sports grounds for the school and community sports. They expanded the curling rink and added three sheets of artificial ice as well as the new clubroom to make the curing rink a true centre of excitement in the winter months. They gave of their time to coach youngsters in hockey and did a job so well that by 1965 the Snow Lake Hockey Bantam B's won a tournament in Dauphin, Manitoba. The following year the Snow Lake team won the provincial championships. They repeated this performance again in 1967. There were other community projects that reflected the spirit of Snow Lakers. Snow Lake Centennial project completed a new stage for the community hall. A new Lutheran Church went up in these years, as did the Elks Hall. More hockey distinction in the latter 60's was Snow Lake's as well. And while the citizens were distinguishing themselves in community projects, the town officials, the Local Government District and the Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting Co. were distinguishing themselves in worthwhile projects as well.
Through the 60's HBM & S was active in expanding their operations base at Stall Lake. They started sinking operations at Osborne Lake during this period, and production of copper, zinc and silver was underway in 1968.
They collared the shaft at Anderson Lake Mine in 1964, and in this memorable period of time, started developing yet another mine. The exploration crews in an airborne survey discovered the Wim Mine just 10 miles north of the town of Snow Lake, and had yet another mine in reserve for development. They exercised an option to develp and mine the property of Dickstone Copper Mines Ltd., and proceeded with development of copper, zinc and silver of this ore body located near Morton Lake. HBM & S moved a long way from the first car of ore that was mined in 1960. By 1964 the thousandth trainload of ore had left Chisel Lake for the smelter at Flin Flon, and by the end of the 60's Snow Lake area was producing some five ore trains a week for Flin Flon, with each train comprising an average of 60 cars and each car holding approximately 60 tons of ore.
And through this hectic time of development and mining and exploration, HBM & S was distinguishing itself as well in the area of safety for their men. On the basis of the combined safety records of all six operating mines under HBM & S's jurisdiction, they were awarded the Award of Honour. This award was won by the Stall Lake Mines in the Snow Lake area in 1967. A Certificate of Commendation was awarded to the Osborne Lake Mine both in 1968 and 1969. Seven awards, including the Award of Honour, the highest obtainable, were given to the Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting Co. Ltd. by the National Safety Council in Chicago. These awards included the Award of Honour, the Award of Merit, Certificates of Commendation, and Presidents' letters from the National Safety Council, Chicago. In addition to the development and new life blood that the Company gave to Snow Lake, they gave the citizens relative peace of mind in regard to the safety of their employees. Through a program of safety courses, basic training in refresher courses, employees attending pre-employment safety lectures, on-the-job lunchroom safety lectures, and job procedure reviews, the Company made the business of mining not only profitable in an economic sense for the miners, but profitable also in a safety sense for all the citizens of Snow Lake.
While all this was going on, so too was the development of the Local Government District (LGD) in these memorable years. Road construction was undertaken to reduce the number of curves, and to improve the communication system between Snow Lake and the outside country. A new area was developed at the townsite of Snow Lake which had the potential for 265 private homes, area for apartment blocks, and designated lots for a school, etc. Through the 60's, 156 houses carried out under the HBM & S program were undertaken; two apartment blocks were started at this time; a new trailer court to originally accommodate 20 trailers was begun and then expanded. Equipment and storage facilities were expanded to accommodate the increasing size and responsibilities for the town. This era was truly one of boom for Snow Lake. Private investors were expanding. Additions to stores and new buildings were springing up. The Friendly Giant, Phil's Car Wash, the modern Ray Barre building on Main Street, a new office complex to accommodate the Royal Bank of Canada, the R.C.M.P., the Local Government District, the new Post Office building, were all part of the new expansion of Snow Lake. Organizations were springing up like mushrooms after a fresh rain. The Royal Canadian Legion Branch obtained their own building, and the Elks, Kinsmen, Kinettes, Chamber of Commerce and Knights of Columbus are but a few of the organizations that became active during this memorable time. The school expanded to accommodate the ever-increasing population. In September of 1961 the Grade 7 and 8's were housed in the HBM & S mine office while the expansion was taking place, then again in 1966 until February of 1967 when the newest section was being built. During these times, classes were often held in the Community Hall Reading Room, or the Legion basement, or the clubroom of the Curling Rink, or other makeshift places, while new facilities were being opened for the school. In February of 1967 the new accommodations for grades 7-12 were occupied. The school now housed grades 1-12, with a new gymnasium, and laboratories as up-to-date as any in Manitoba. In the space of 20 years, Snow Lake School had moved from a single framed dwelling to a modern complex of Physics and Chemistry labs, gymnasium, audio-visual room etc. From one teacher in 1948 it had grown to 27 teachers at the end of the 60's.
The nursing and hospital facilities had grown with the rest of the town. Snow Lake in these years increased its hospital staff to include the resident doctor and four to six nurses. The hospital was a modern one with ten beds dealing with emergency situations and administering to the general health and welfare of the increasing population of Snow Lake. And so, Snow Lake mushroomed into Manitoba's Centennial year, with prospects looming even brighter for the future. 1970 has found Snow Lake growing to beat '70. The year holds prospects of paving for the town streets and even more new housing starts. With renewed exploration in the area and sub-contractors working feverishly to put new mines into production, Snow Lake has come a long way from the mud hole of the '40's.
...Night was awakening into day. I heard another Snow Lake come to life. It was the Snow Lake just beyond the town site - the Snow Lake of animals, of fish, of birds, and of Nature. Just as suddenly as the sun had come up, life was springing up in the forest, just beyond the door of that small cabin. I could hear a moose bellowing out a call to the hundreds of animal spectators in the surroundings. Somewhere a duck was scolding a rodent, and elsewhere fish were beginning to come to the surface to feed on those tiny morsels of breakfast. This, too, was Snow Lake. This beautiful serenity of nature was also Snow Lake.
Trapping and Fishing History of the Snow Lake Area
Trapping and fishing played huge roles in the history of Snow Lake area. The earliest trappers, the Aboriginal peoples inhabiting the area, traded furs for goods with Hudson Bay Company representatives and other traders.
Samuel Hearne and David Thompson, fur traders and explorers, traversed northern Manitoba, including the Grass River corridor. Tramping Lake and Wekusko Lake, previously known as Herb Lake, which are just a few minutes from the Town of Snow Lake, form part of that river system that crosses the whole of northern Manitoba. "Wekusko" means "herb" in the Cree language.
One of the earliest settlers in Snow Lake area was George Bartlett. He arrived in 1912 with a friend, Carl Auley, and trapped in the area of Mitishto Creek near what is now Dyce Lake. He and Henry Morton had an ill-fated venture raising silver foxes, which were very valuable at $800 a pelt. After serving in the war, Bartlett eventually built a trading post on Loonhead Lake at the entrance of the File River. This business collapsed after a few months when the bottom fell out of the market. He used to say: "That's the fur game. The Skin Game we used to call it."
The next venture was fishing and freighting for the Rex and Bingo mines on the east shore at the south end of Herb Lake. But fur was his heartfelt trade, and he decided to build another trading post on Reed Lake. This business was successful until 1929, when the railroad to Flin Flon and later the line to Sherridon cut off most of his trade. He then moved to the town of Herb Lake and purchased a store. Bartlett and his wife Ernestine and their family operated the store for many years. He then moved to Bartlett's Landing on the west shore of Herb Lake to help operate a fish camp with his stepson, Charlie.
Bill English came to Wekusko Lake area in 1920 to try prospecting. He'd had a varied career in the US and Panama, and fought in the First World War. Winters he partnered with Joe Kerr and Wilfred Vickers to raise the capital for prospecting. In summers, they searched out ore-bearing rock with a dip needle, the only instrument available at the time. Chisel Lake property was first staked in 1927 by Bill English, Joe Kerr, Dick Woosey and Johnny Kerr. In 1928 he prospected at Cold Lake, and held property at Stall Lake until a disagreement with the government caused him to release it. Joe Kerr and Walter Johnson then staked it, and sold their claims to Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting Co. English didn't enjoy trapping, so in 1934 he quit and opened a store near the town of Herb Lake. His wife Margaret was an accountant from Seattle, and she is remembered for her many kindnesses to trappers and prospectors whose clothes she mended and washed. The Herb Lake children also benefited from her piano teaching.
The English home was moved across the ice in two pieces from the site on English's old trapline to Snow Creek. He then went into business with Snow Lake's first general store. The old log house remains, but the store is gone.
Another early trapper was Ralph Bryenton, who came west to Wekusko Lake area in 1930. There were no registered traplines them, but trappers respected each other's territory. In 1939 Bryenton built a home on an island in Herb Bay, and his wife and his stepchildren joined him. He freighted on Wekusko Lake, and also operated a theatre in the town of Herb Lake. He created several films, including Fur Trapper of the North. He also had staked the property, then dropped it, which later became the Osborne Lake mine. Bryenton spent three summers in the far north studying and collecting botany samples. They eventually moved to Alberta, and then back to the trapline in 1961. These early residents earned the honour of having their names on street signs, lake landings and town buildings.