The Gull was not a bird, but for many years she soared just as easily over the waves of the water of northern Saskatchewan. The boat played an important part in the development of northern Saskatchewan and in the construction of the Island Falls Power Station.
SaskPower's purchase of the Island Falls Power Station from the Churchill River Power Company in 1981 cleared the way for Armand Aden, a former safety officer with the corporation, to salvage The Gull from the northern Saskatchewan brush. When SaskPower physically took over operations of the station in 1985, Armand started to restore The Gull, an important historical artifact.
Armand told Hi-Lines he took on the restoration project because he believes The Gull should be preserved and her story known to the people of Saskatchewan.
"I've spent a few thousand dollars on it," Armand said, "sandblasting, repairing and rebuilding her."
Hudson's Bay Mining and Smelting (HBM&S) of Flin Flon purchased The Gull in 1935. The six-ton, twenty-eight foot steel passenger and supply launch was manufactured by Russell Brothers Limited of Fort Francis. HBM&S paid $2,965 for her.
The company was at that time constructing the Island Falls Station. The station called for seven units, and for the construction of the last four1, The Gull delivered supplies and materials. She transported workers to and from the settlement of Sandy Bay to work sites along the Churchill River. She tugged sand and gravel barges, and generally served as the marine workhorse of the project from 1935 to 1961.
Slim Woods operated The Gull from 1942 until 1953. He also operated her sister ship, The Jubilee, purchased in 1937. HBM&S used The Jubilee to transport supplies and passengers from Flin Flon to Island Falls on Mari Lake during the summer months2.
The operators had to be proficient in every aspect of the running of the boats. "If anything went wrong, you could be stranded for days," Slim said.
Over the years, The Gull became very much a part of the Sandy Bay community. Cyril Daniels, a senior member of the maintenance crew at Island Falls, recalls an event of 1955.
"That year, Magloire Nataweyes, the operator at that time, received permission to take the school kids on a year-end picnic up the lake. There must have been about forty or maybe fifty kids on that boat," Cyril said. "They were inside the cabin, outside the cabin, on the roof and hanging out the windows. They were singing and yelling and just having a heck of a good time. And, would you believe it, they all came back safe and sound."
Magloire Nataweyes was the last full-time operator of The Gull. He retired in 1961, the same year HBM&S pulled the boat out of the water for the last time and put it into dry dock in the northern Saskatchewan bush.
Dry dock was not kind to The Gull. Her steel hull — the famous "Steelcraft" hull so highly touted by her manufacturers — rusted. All the wooden components, exposed to the elements, rotted. Her windows cracked and broke.
However, not all was lost. Fortunately, the interior of her cabin remained in relatively good condition, thanks in part to the protection of her steel roof and in part to the thoughtfulness of a worker who had taken the time to punch a small hole in her hull to let the water from rains and from melting snow to drain away.
And, during the 24 years she lay abandoned in the bush, the Island Falls staff, in particular, Gordon Dash, kept the engine lubricated by rotating the flywheel a few turns every now and then. Thanks to this special care, The Gull's engine remained in running order.
The salvaging and restoration of The Gull could not have taken place without the help and co-operation of a great many people. The Nipawin construction site, about 600 km from Island Falls,3 provided an ideal location for the refurbishing project. Nipawin Hydroelectric project major civil contractor, Kiewit, Atkinson, Commonwealth and Ramsay (KACR), agreed to lend their equipment, and helped with the sandblasting, painting, loading and unloading of the boat. They also provided a heated facility in which the restoration work could take place. Work started on The Gull in 1985 May.
|The Gull before restoration. Inset: Gordon Dash, then plant superintendent, Island Falls, kept The Gull's engine in good shape during the years it was in dry dock.[click to enlarge]|
|A new boat emerges.|
SaskPower staff at Island Falls, Squaw Rapids and Nipawin made some of the brass parts that had gone missing, and later provided the artistry for the name decals. The search for missing parts took weeks to research and many miles of travel.
The rear canopy of The Gull was discovered in the bush about eight miles from Sandy Bay, where it had been used as a cache for dynamite. The steering gear was found near Flin Flon, and the magneto/spark boxes were in a storage shed about 56 km up river from Island Falls.4
By 1986 March, just one year after work began. The Gull had been restored almost to its original condition. The 12 000 pound artifact was ready to be transported to a permanent display site.
In 1986 May, Armand Aden moved from Nipawin to Regina, and he brought with him a unique piece of northern history: The Gull. Armand had considered various display sites for the boat, searching for a place where The Gull would be properly displayed and preserved in an appropriate environment. He found such an environment at the Western Development Museum in Moose Jaw. In this way, Armand hopes the story of The Gull and the important part it played in the development of northern Saskatchewan will become a well-known part of the history of this province.