Lakes and Portages Route between Flin Flon and Island Falls

Scale: The grid lines you see on the map are 10 km (about 6 miles) apart.

A number of different routes over various lakes and portages were tried in the early years, but this page describes the transportation system as it existed in the 1940’s.

Starting from the Island Falls end, the first leg of the trip, taking just under an hour, was on a scow pushed by a rear-mounted Ford V-8 engine turning an airplane propellor. Because it was flat-bottomed, it was able to go close to shore at the shallow, south end of Sandy Bay.

The first portage was made on a wagon pulled by a Fordson tractor eastward to the shores of Muddy Lake. Muddy was crossed in 20 minutes by canoes which took you to the east end of this shallow lake where there was a small gasoline powered railway system commonly called a “Dinky.” It was a slightly uphill run of about 45 minutes from there to Barrier Lake.

This Dinky had notoriously poor brakes. The story is told that one time, when heading from Barrier to Muddy, with Bill Grayson driving, the dinky actually skidded down into the lake, shedding passengers along the way.

Camp 6, at the east end of the Dinky line, was at the north end of Barrier Lake. Named Kipahigan Lake by the Crees, Barrier is twenty-nine miles across. The lake takes its name from a low shelf of rock, perhaps 20 yards wide, at its north end over which the water flows as it leaves the lake.

After two and a half hours of travel in a large, steel launch powered by a Russell four-cylinder inboard engine, you came to Camp 5. From there you took a short portage via tractor-pulled cart over to Lake 2, now known as Jones Lake.

A peninsula divides Golden Lake into two parts: Lake 2 is the east part and Lake 3 is the west portion. On this peninsula now is a tourist camp built by Doug Russell and operated by his son, Jim.

A stop on the winter route, Mile 38 was the location of a cabin on Lake 3, on the west side of Golden Lake. At the north end of Lake 3, at tower 96, was a phone the linemen used for calling Island Falls. You could also phone in from the Narrows on Mari Lake, where the transmission line crossed the lake.

After the 90-minute crossing of Lake 2 by canoe, you were at the southern end of Golden Lake. From there you rode a Model A Ford truck, then another canoe across a small, skinny lake called Lake 1. Another short ride on another Model A took you down to Camp 4 at the north end of Mari Lake.

As the map shows, Mari Lake is a long, narrow lake, rarely more than three miles wide, and sometimes narrowing to as little as a few hundred yards. Phil King describes it as a beautiful lake, with crystal clear waters bounded by a rocky shore line and a low lying land mass of fir, spruce and lodge pine. After a 19½ mile, three hour trip in a power boat you landed at the south end of Mari, the location of Camp 3. This was the starting point for the last and longest portage.

Angus Bear Sr. was born at a camp beside Mari Lake. Roy Kennedy was based at Mile 38. Bill and Phyllis Jonasson lived first at Mile 13, then moved to Mile 38 on Golden Lake, then to The Falls when daughter Joan was of school age.

About three miles north of Camp 3 was Mile 13, the northern terminus of the Dinky line into Flin Flon. This was the location of the marshalling yards for the Linn tractors in winter. It also marks the point where the secondary transmission line takes off to the mining operation at Lynn Lake.

In the early days, the last phase of the trip was over a fourteen mile portage from Mari Lake to Flin Flon on a wagon pulled by a team of horses. As described by Marvin Huffaker, it was over a rocky road so rough that people often preferred to walk much of the way. Later, there was a "Dinky" train, pulled by a little steam engine on a narrow gauge track, and later yet an electric unit which was also used to bring sand to the smelter in Flin Flon.

Each time travelers crossed a lake and came to a portage, all the freight had to be removed from the boat or canoe and taken across the portage either by wagon and tractor, model A Ford, dinky train on rails, or sometimes carried by the Cree guides on their shoulders using a tumpline. As there were six portages in all, it was remarkable that the trip was often made in one long day.

The maps above are taken from Topographic maps 63M, 63N, 63L and 63K, printed 1964.

This shallow-draft boat, built by master mechanic Bill Grayson, was able to travel to the shallow end of Sandy Bay. It was pushed by a Ford flathead V-8 engine turning a wood airplane propeller. Very noisy!
Magloire Noteweyes tends the "Dinky Train." At one time, there were two narrow gauge rail lines, one between Mari and Golden Lake, and the other between Barrier and Muddy Lake.
R.W. Davis, daughter-in-law Gloria, and daughter Helen on the tail gate, with Johnny Wachowich and fellow passenger riding a Ford Model A "truck" driven by Stu Russell. This one was probably on one of the portages between Mari and Golden Lake.
In the summer of 1941, the boats moved approximately 38,000 pounds of goods and 230 passengers, using 100 gallons of gasoline per round trip.

The 14 units used in making the trip were: 5 boats, 3 canoes, 4 outboard motors, 2 trucks, 2 Fordson tractors and wagons, and 1 dinky engine and flatcar.

The costs of running:
Labor $2,812.13
Operating Material $1,423.43
Maintenance etc. $749.12
Total $4,984.68

On the right, Helen and Chlo Davis.
Charlie VerWilghen and friends on a portage.
The crane at Camp 6 at the north end of Barrier Lake.
The crew stops for lunch on one of the portages.
Identified people from L. to R. Otto Christensen, Viv Christensen (glasses), Ada VerWilghen (v-neck sweater), Irene Olson (centre, blurred), Vera Hagberg (dark glasses), Janice Huffaker (white hat, looking down), Chlo Davis (glasses, leather jacket), Pelle Hagberg.
This classic old wooden boat, one of two boats with the name Gull, is being hauled out for major repairs.
In 1930, the first leg between Flin Flon and Mari Lake was a fourteen mile portage on a wagon pulled by a team of horses.

Complete Map of the Winter and Summer Routes