Island Falls was a community built by the Churchill River Power Company about 60 miles N.W. of Flin Flon. The hydro plant at Island Falls supplied electricity to the mine and town of Flin Flon.
Today, the hydro plant and little else remains of what was once the most modern community in Saskatchewan. It was here that I grew up and lived for the first 15 years of my life. To tell the whole story of this community would require that I write a book. Instead, I have chosen to focus on a story of two boys; Keith Olson and myself and how we earned our First Class Scouts status, in the dead of winter on February 1 and 2 in 1952, with temperatures in the 25 to 30 below range.
We were Lone Scouts because there were too few of us to form a troop. Our advisor was John Hattie, who was also the leader of the cub pack. Keith and I wanted to become First Class Scouts. An overnight hike of 14 miles was one of the requirements. It was winter, and unless we did it that year Keith would be gone to high school in Southern Saskatchewan in the fall. Keith was taking grade nine by correspondence under the supervision of the local teacher and I was in the grade eight class.
After much discussion we decided to do it in the dead of winter because the opportunity was there. A small number of men, who worked for the company and belonged to the Rod & Gun Club, had decided to go to Flanagan Lake by Bombardier snowmobile to cut ice for the ice house which would be used by the members in the summer. Here they could store perishables and fish they caught before travelling back to Island Falls by boat.
On this trip, the men would stay in a new cottage which had been built for the superintendent of the hydro plant. Keith and I would stay in the lodge, constructed of logs, so we could be independent. We would travel to Flanagan Lake in the bombardier; stay overnight in the lodge and walk back the 15 miles to Island Falls ahead of the bombardier. We would have ample time to cover the 15 miles before the bombardier reached Island Falls.
Planning took a short time because we needed only a bag lunch for the trip there, and food for supper and breakfast. We would eat breakfast and walk back over the trail which had been made by the bombardier. Our clothing consisted of ski pants, parka with hood, warm wool mitts inside leather mitts and warm footwear. We would sleep in “3-star” arctic eiderdown sleeping bags.
On Saturday morning we loaded our supplies into the bombardier which pulled a sleigh holding most of the equipment. Soon we were on our way. It was a bright sunny day, clear and cold with a forecast of the same for our walk the next day.
My memory of the trip by bombardier is rather vague but the events which followed our arrival at Flanagan Lake are quite clear. After unloading our gear from the bombardier, we man handled our sleeping bags, naphtha gas cooking stove, and packsack of food and utensils up a slope to the lodge.
The lodge consisted of a large room with cots along the walls and a 45-gallon drum barrel stove, manufactured in company machine shop, in the middle. The back of the lodge contained a kitchen with cupboards, shelf and a table. We decided not to light the big stove because it would have taken a long time to heat up such a large area. After spreading out our sleeping bags on two of the cots, we proceeded with supper preparation. I can’t remember what we ate but it was probably pork and beans with a steak fried in a cast iron pan. No bar-b-cue in those days.
Our bathroom was an outhouse of the traditional variety where, in winter temperatures not much time was spent sitting down. After supper was finished we decided to have a look at the night sky. It was dead silent with clear skies and a view of the stars few people ever get to see because urban lights obscure a clear view of the night sky. The constellations were clearly identifiable and we knew them from our school and scouting studies.
Back in the lodge we covered up in the eiderdowns in our long johns with socks on our feet and toques on our heads. We were up at first light and cooked a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs on the gas stove. Overnight, our eggs had frozen in the shell but we overcame that challenge by cracking off the shell. After cleaning up we carried our gear down to the Bombardier sleigh. According to Keith’s notes of the day we left at 12:30 in the early afternoon so the men at the Davis cabin across the bay from us must have fed us an early lunch. It would have been warm in the cabin as they had a big wood stove on the go. After lunch we started on our way back home.
As I remember we each had a canteen of water strapped to a belt under our winter parkas. Water was essential as we were walking 15 miles without a lunch break. Walking 15 miles in the summer on a good trail would take about 3 ½ hours. On a snowy Bombardier track we thought it might take longer. On my feet I wore flight boots, a bad choice for walking, but a good choice for warmth. Remember it was cold outside.
We soon learned to walk on the tracks made by the treads of the bombardier. Imagine how difficult walking in soft snow on an unbroken trail would have been.
To traverse the distance between Flanagan Lake and Island Falls, according to Keith’s notes took us just 3½ hours. The sight of the Power Plant was a welcome one. We arrived at 4:00 p.m. ; a trip of 3½ hours. We had made good time.
After hiking back to Island Falls I was tired to say the
least. At home, in our electrically heated house, it did not take me
long to doff my sweaty clothing and slip into a hot bath. Following a
hearty meal prepared by my mother, I climbed into bed a very tired but
happy boy who had completed the last but most formidable requirement
to become a first class scout. I am sure that Keith had feelings similar
Photos courtesy of Keith Olson.