Growing up, we lived a short half mile from water, which was down hill from where we lived. You could see the South Saskatchewan river from our yard, but not from the house. It would have been a beautiful view from the house but it was set back in the yard, facing the wrong way. We had no river view.
We had to haul water from the river for bathing and other uses, and we hauled drinking water from my Uncle Paul’s well. A small creek beside the yard was where my Mother got water for her garden. We used the South Saskatchewan river for supplying our ice house with ice, and we had a rain barrel next to the house that we used to wash and rinse our hair.
My Uncle and Aunt (who lived 1/2 mile away) had beautiful trees in their yard as they were able to get seedlings to plant from the Government of Canada’s PFRA Shelterbelt Tree Farm in Indian Head, SK. And they had a well to supply water for the trees as they grew.
This tree farm provided shelterbelt trees to farmers for more than a century but for some reason we never got any seedlings — or if we did, they didn’t grow. All we had were some straggling caraganas in one short row beside our house.
In the early years of homesteading, I’d say from 1907, there was a lot of action at the river. It was a place to gather, swim and party. My mother’s Uncle, Gustav Holmlund, homesteaded across the river, same with her cousins, the Forsbergs. Neighbours who were Finlanders also had relatives across the river.
In the winter, sleighs were used to go on visits back and forth across the river. And, of course, in the summer, there were boats. The boats were kept up from the shoreline and you could find them on both sides of the river. To make sure that no one stole your boat, the oars were hidden in what trees and bushes that could be found nearby.
The story goes that after a trip across the river, Tony Holmlund hid the oars. If the truth be told, he’d probably consumed a few drinks before hiding those oars and the next day he wanted to go back across the river. But look as he did, he couldn’t remember for the life of him where he put the oars!
In our family if you had lost something, it was said that you would most likely find it “where Tony put the oars!”
Perhaps you’ve heard of Tom Sukanen? Tom was a homesick Finlander bachelor who built a boat to sail back to Finland but that never happened. He was just across the river from us, and I remember seeing the boat in its early stages. Whenever his project was mentioned, it always brought a smile. We sort of thought it was a bit crazy, and none of us could imagine how he would be able to sail it down the South Saskatchewan River to Finland, but that’s exactly what he dreamed of doing. The boat is now a museum piece outside of Moose Jaw, SK.
We had a lot of respect for the river. It was a wide river, maybe 1/2 mile wide with a narrow, fast current. In summer, when the river was low, there were usually sand bars between the current and the shore where warm water would pool. This was the only place we were allowed to go in the water. I never did learn to swim properly although I joined the YWCA when I moved to Regina and took lessons.