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The Maxwell Family

By Linda Butler
(as told by Dulcie Taylor)

My parents, Ben and Ruth Maxwell, traveled from England to Birch Hill, Saskatchewan, before moving to the South End of Wekusko Lake in the 1920s where they bought a three-story frame building (two stories with an attic) and opened a stopping place for freighters and travelers who were going to the town of Herb Lake.  At that time George Winterton had twenty teams of horses at the South End, a total of forty horses, which he kept in a large log barn. Wilfred and Telford Cote lived nearby.  There was another large log building, and an area that was fenced where my mother raised chickens to feed the travelers.

Jack Reiley had a blacksmith shop, and although I was only five, I remember watching him “cook” the horseshoes.  He put the steel in the forge and sparks flew as he pounded the red hot steel to shape the horseshoes.  One time when Jack put the horseshoes onto a steel rack he told me he was going to shoe the horses.  I started to cry and said:  “It will burn the horses’ feet.” 

Jack reassured me that the horses would be fine and he pulled out a skeleton puppet made of tiny pieces of wood joined with bits of string.  Several long strings were fastened to crossed sticks which he manipulated.  The skeleton bent over, touched its toes, clapped its hands and tap danced.  Jack hummed a tune as it danced and I was very happy.

One day in 1929, our family was about a mile away from home in the horse and buggy when we saw black smoke from the vicinity of the house. Dad rushed home, but by the time we arrived, flames were shooting high into the air.  The house burned to the ground and we lost everything in the fire, including the treasures so lovingly brought from England.

We then moved to Herb Lake where we lived in the back of a small restaurant where my parents served meals.  Later, Dad acquired a building for a hotel and another building was added for a store.  I was usually around the store and I listened to the stories that the old timers told.

Dad later decided that there was more credit going out than money coming in.  People would say:  “I’ll pay you when I get some fur.” or “I’ll pay you when I sell the fish.” But when people had money they never paid their bill.  So Dad closed the store and opened a beer parlor, which was cash business. During the time of the Laguna mine, my folks also owned an ice cream parlor and pool hall.

Excerpts from letter from Dulcie Taylor to Linda Butler

(edited by Linda Butler)
Sorrento BC Jan 12, 1998

A story about Judge (Hugh) Vickers - He and my dad, Ben Maxwell, were prospecting together to find their fortune, past where Hugh lived down the Grassy River.  When it was lunchtime they decided to rest and have lunch at a nice sunny open spot.  Judge Vickers removed his upper dentures to eat as they were ill-fitting and he ate better without them.  He set his teeth on a nearby tree stump, but while the men were eating, a whiskey jack swooped down and picked up the teeth.  All of a sudden my dad caught a glimpse of the bird, jumped up, waved his jacket and yelled.  Both men ran as fast as it was possible in the bush to follow the whiskey jack flying away with the teeth. My dad saw the bird drop the teeth, but in the bright sunshine he couldn’t see where they landed. The men spent the afternoon searching for the teeth but never found them. Time passed and it was a fruitless day as they never found the teeth or the gold.  Judge Vickers would not hold court without his teeth and it was about ten days before he obtained a replacement set and resumed court.

Col. Bill Bissett lived in a cozy little cabin close to Hugh Vickers and he walked the three miles to Herb town a couple of times a week.  At that time my dad had a store and there was a sitting area around a big six foot cordwood heater where all the war veterans of the First World War spent their leisure time gabbing.  Col Bissett used to sell Irish Hospital Sweepstake tickets and was as honest as the day is long, but certain people accused him of pocketing the money because nobody from his sales ever won, however, they always got receipts from Ireland as proof their tickets had been entered in the draw.  Our Canadian Government started confiscating tickets and money going to Ireland, but they didn’t get all of them and as long as Bill sold them we all got our receipts.

When the Laguna mine started, they needed a resident doctor.  The doctor (Dr. Shier) filled in as dentist and did whatever he could to help, but to my knowledge anyone needing serious attention or an operation was flown to The Pas or Flin Flon.

Herb Lake was quite the place and attracted a variety of people who came to seek their fortunes and just stayed. Many of the people were well educated. There were little hamlets of people living in many areas around the lake.  A group of French people from Eastern Canada settled across the lake at Sandy Beach.
Once, one fellow led a horse into the beer parlor and was about to sit down and drink beer when my dad threatened him with a baseball bat.  Needless to say, both the man and the horse did a disappearing act.  That was the laugh of the week around town.

There was plenty of activity in the mining sector all around Wekusko Lake.  From my recollection, the following mine sites were located around the lake: Manitoba Basin, Puella Bay, Kisky Mine, Ferro, Rex (later re-opened as Laguna) Bingo and Apex.

At the village end where the government dock was built, there was a lot of activity with daily plane service from The Pas. This part of town housed a post office, billiard hall, tea room, rooming and boarding house, hotel which served meals, dance hall, three general stores, a hair dressing salon, two barber shops, butcher shop, Chinese laundry shop and even a blacksmith shop.

At the mine end of town there was another little settlement that was comprised of a boarding house, a general store, barber shop and community hall where frequent dances were held.  There were many musically talented people and we were never short of good live music.  Herb Lake even had two houses of ill repute that did a great business. When the Laguna mine was operating, the village of Herb Lake boomed.  Miners worked hard and played hard.
When rumors circulated that the mine was closing, slowly but surely people moved on.  The mine finally closed down operations in 1939 to early 1940.



By Linda Butler
(as told by Dulcie Taylor)

In 1974 I returned to Herb Lake with Bill, my husband, to show him the town where I had grown up.  At that time it was a ghost town and in many areas high trees and bush obliterated any sign of habitation.  Milty Roberts was still living in the town and we paid him a visit.  We went into his house, and were only there a few minutes when he picked up a .22 rifle.  I had not seen Milty for years and now with the gun in his hands he “scared the daisies out of me.”  I was in the only inhabited house in a ghost town and I was alarmed, as I had no idea what Milty was going to do.  He pointed the gun to the floor and fired. Bang!

I said:  “What happened?”

Milty replied:  “Oh, I just shot another mouse.”  He explained that he waited for the mice to come out of hiding and then shot them.  The house was overrun with mice, so he did not have to wait long for one to appear.

Bill said to Milty:  “You need some company.  Why do you live here alone?”

Milty told us that when his mother was on her death bed, she said to him. “Milty, whatever you do, look after the house.”  Milty promised his mother that he would stay, and now years later, even though everyone from the town had left, Milty still tended the house and yard.

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c/o Linda C Butler
PO Box 92, Chilliwack BC Canada V2P 6H7

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