(0)throughout the text signifies an
item of interest with corresponding author’s notes.
My name is Marvin and my wife, Deloris and I own and operate
River Trail Country Vacations 15 miles north-north-west of Love, Saskatchewan.
The 1400 square foot cabin was built in 1999 and it was designed to accommodate
groups of up to 11 people inmodern comfort. All the modern conveniences are supplied
including a complete kitchen, three large bedrooms, two full baths, one with a
washer and dryer, and all towels and bedding. A complete description of our
facility can be found at Our Homepage.
At River Trail Country Vacations we try to provide a variety of interesting
pastimes and activities for our guests and one of the more popular of our
activities is what we call The Narrow Hills Adventure Tour. This tour starts at
River Trail and usually takes 6 to 8 hours to complete, depending on the group
and what they would like to see. The northern half of
Saskatchewan holds the vast majority of the province’s (estimated) 100,000
lakes and on this tour we will see quite a few of them.
It Came To Be
In the late 1920's and early 1930's a trail was developed north of where the
village of Love is now located.(1) After
crossing the Torch River, (2) the trail
followed the river for a few miles before continuing north into the bush,
eventually reaching the Fishing Lakes country. The trail was used mostly by
trappers, hunters and fishermen until 1937 when it was used by fire fighters
trying to control a forest fire that threatened the area.
In 1938 a fire
tower, the Narrow Hills Tower, was built at the northern end of this trail and
for a while it was provisioned by a Torch River resident, Zac (Jackpine)
Anderson, using the trail.
The trail wound its way through virgin forest and generally up hill as it made
its way to the top of the glacier produced esker that the natives called Elk
Mountain (3) and later came to be called the
Narrow Hills. The trail was hilly, crooked, sandy and hard to negotiate by the
vehicles that were available in those days. Tractors were often a popular
choice of people who traveled the trail and horses were very common on the
trail. The trail was so poor that it often took up to three or four days to
travel from Love to Lower Fishing Lake and back again, a distance of
approximately 60 miles one way. There were some changes made in the trail over
the years. Some of the worst hills were bypassed and low (wet) spots in the
trail were corduroyed which involved laying logs crossways in the wet spot and
covering them with a thin layer of sand.
The trail also had many features that were given graphic and descriptive names
by the early travelers. The trail up Stovepipe Hill was crooked and comprised
mainly of soft sand. Every vehicle had to be pushed up the hill manually.
Shortly after a moderate rain the sand would firm up and travel up the hill
would improve greatly. Stovepipe Hill was bypassed many years ago and that
section of trail is no longer used.
Potato Hill (so
named because garden variety potato plants were seen growing on the hillside)
was another bad one but in later years the trail was clay capped and covered
with gravel and it is now quite passable.
A small lake near
the trail was called Dead Man Lake for a trapper who drowned in it and whose
body wasn't found until the following spring. All these and more made the trail
a very exciting and demanding route to follow.
In the 1950's when I was growing up we made a family trip every year up that
trail to get our years supply of fish in a series of three small lakes that
were, and still are, called The Grace Lakes(4) .
We always took three or four 1/2 ton trucks because there was safety in numbers
and it took all the manpower (and kidpower) we could muster to push the
vehicles up some of the hills. We would leave home about 8:00AM, right after
morning chores, and get to the Grace Lakes around sundown, about 12 hours
I recall that on
one such trip the whole caravan was stopped by a tree. This tree had fallen
across the road and there wasn’t a saw or an axe in the whole group. My father
was a part-time carpenter and it just so happened that he had a handsaw behind
the seat of his truck. It wasn’t a big tree, only six or seven inches in
diameter but carpenter’s hand saws were not designed to cut green wood. The
problem of drag on the saw blade was partially alleviated by placing a jack
near the saw cut and jacking the tree up a few inches. The farther that the saw
cut into the tree the more the cut would spread leaving plenty of room for the
blade to pass through the cut. In due course the journey wascontinued.
One of my uncles had a gill net and
even though it was illegal for us to use it in the lake it was used anyway, the
rationale being that we only did it once a year and none of the Northern Pike
that we caught were wasted. Even if we arrived early the net was always set at
sundown in the narrows between the middle and third lakes. The reason for
setting the net at sundown was simple. In the dark the net could not be seen
from the top of the high hill that borders the lakes to the east and, since it
was illegal to use a gill net, it was a safety measure. Early the next morning
the men went to pull the net and since I was the ripe old age of about seven or
so I was often allowed to go. It was usually full of fish and they were taken
out and carried up the hill to be processed for transportation home.
I remember one
time a beaver swam right through the middle of the net so our haul that time
was pretty small.
We had to get home as soon as possible because the cows hadn't been milked the
night before or that morning either, for that matter. The return trip was a
good deal easier and faster since it is almost all downhill and it only took
three or four hours.
By the late 1950's the road had been improved to the point to where it could be
traveled in the cars of the day, and even though it was still a little tricky
in some places you could make pretty good time.
Nowadays the trip is quite a bit easier and I have made the 40 or so miles from
River Trail to Lower Fishing Lake in less than three hours but I must admit
that I was in a bit of a hurry.
The tour we will take today is a little more leisurely.
The Narrow Hills Adventure Tour
We leave River Trail Country Vacations at about 9:00AM, traveling in a
North-westerly direction along a relatively new road, The Harding Road, which
was built as a pulpwood haul road in the late 1970's. It is no longer used for
that but it suits our purposes very well. As we travel along this road we can
still see signs of that long ago fire that played a big part in the expansion
of the original trail which, for the most part, we follow. After about a half
hour we turn off of The Harding Road and drive down a side road which was also
built as a haul road but at a later date. About 15 minutes later we again turn
off, down another side road which takes us to a washed out creek crossing.
Sometimes we have to add a little fill so we can drive across it and sometimes
it is passable, maintained by a trapper who works in that area. Another short
drive and we turn onto a bush trail just barely wide enough for the 8 passenger
van we are in. Almost immediately we reach the end of the trail. We leave the
van and walk down an ATV trail which takes us to a trapper’s cabin on a small
lake which is called Beaver House Lake by the locals.
Actually, there are
two cabins in the yard. The oldest, built in the late 1930's, is still in
pretty good condition though the log walls are starting to show their age. It
is about 8 feet by 14 feet by less than 6 feet high with a dirt floor and a sod
roof. We can still see the two bunks with the table between that was built by
the original trapper many years ago.
My cousin (who traps
that area) and I started fishing that lake on a regular basis in the mid 1970s
after dragging a rowboat into the lake with a snowmobile the previous winter.
The first couple of years that we fished the lake we found many diseased fish
and also quite a few with parasites attached to their scales. We soon rectified
that by seriously overfishing the lake for a time. After a few years of this we
quit finding unusable fish and consequently scaled back our catch to a more
legal limit. We used to scale our catch in those days and the ones with the
parasites we had to fillet since the scales would not come off. The diseased
fish had large yellowish/brown sores on their sides and these we fed to the
bears that we occasionally saw on the shore.
About 1964, while on
a fishing trip with an uncle, I slept in that previously mentioned old cabin
for a night and it was reasonably comfortable. At that time it was still being
used by an old trapper named Walter Kraatz (5)
who has long since gone to that great trap line in the sky. He probably was the
builder of the old cabin since he started trapping in the area in the late 1930's.
The second cabin is a different story.
It was built in the late 1980's and is about 16 X 20 feet X 6 ½ feet high with
a wood floor and walls made of large logs. It has two big double beds, cook
stove and lights both operated by propane and a large, wood burning tin heater
in the corner, commonly called an air-tight heater. Though I have never spent
much time there, I would imagine it would be quite comfortable.
After we inspect the cabins we take a short walk down a scenic bush trail for a
look at Beaver House Lake. It is a relatively small lake, about 1/4 mile wide
by 3/4 mile long, that got its name by virtue of the 4 or 5 large beaver houses
which are located in the lake. The lake was formed by a long, high dam built by
the beaver for their safety and also to reach their food supply. I suspect that
this lake has been here for hundreds of years as it is easy to see that the dam
has been repaired many times.
It is time to continue on our journey so we head back to the van and set off.
After reaching the Harding Road again, we continue down it for another mile or
so, finally reaching the Esker Trail, originally called the Fishing Lake Trail
by the local people. The true Fishing Lake Trail was located farther west and
joined the Esker Trail at its northernmost end. The trail is still, as it has
always been, nothing more than two well worn wheel tracks through the forest.
In many places it is so narrow that the bushes along the sides of the trail
brush both sides of the van as we pass.
It is now after lunch so we are proceeding to a picnic area at a small isolated
lake called Falling Horse (now renamed O’Dell) Lake. I have never heard the
story of how it got its original name but considering that a quite few of the
travelers on the trail used horses, the name was likely suggested by an
incident involving one of them.
After reaching the picnic area, we walk down to the lake, a distance of about a
quarter mile. The lake, though small as far as lakes go, is a fairly extensive
oval with a dent in one side. It is about 1 mile across at its widest point and
maybe 2 miles long. The fishing is usually very good because of its isolation
and maybe on another day we will try our luck catching a large Pike.
Many years ago,
when I was quite a bit younger, I had stopped at this lake to show it to a
cousin of mine. We had been fishing at the Grace Lakes and were on our way home
with our catch of the day. We had left the fish on stringers in the back of my
pick-up while we walked down to the lake. When we got back to the truck we
noticed right away that something was amiss. One stringer was hanging over the
side of the truck box and the other was missing entirely. A bear had been in
the back of the truck, grabbed my stringer with about 8 or 10 Pike on it and went
off into the bush. I guess everyone likes a free meal now and again.
Well, now we are hungry so we head back to the van for lunch.
If Deloris is with us we will likely
find everything in readiness, the fire going and the hot dogs, potato salad and
watermelon all laid out. If I am the chief cook, we all pitch in and very soon
the lunch is laid out and ready.
We have to be careful because there are sometimes uninvited guests around. A
fellow on one of our tours was sitting at the table and suddenly a Whiskey Jack
(Canada Jay) landed on his knee and tried to take his hot dog out of his hand.
Failing that, he calmly sat there and proceeded to help himself. The fellow was
from Austria and to have a wild animal (or, in this case, a bird) sitting on
his knee was one of the most amazing things he had ever experienced. It was the
highlight of our lunch break.
Incidentally, the fellow fed his whole hotdog, and more, to the 3 or 4
freeloading birds that showed up for lunch.
It is now approaching 2:00PM and we still have a long way to go.
We load the van and continue on our way.
Except for forest fires the trees have never been disturbed. The northern end
of the Esker Trail is in the Narrow Hills Provincial Park (6) and any unauthorized tree cutting is illegal here
as it is in all parks.We are traveling through virgin stands of
Spruce and Pine, climbing ever higher onto the esker. As we travel we may see
moose or deer, and if we're lucky, maybe even a bear on the trail. Some of the
hills we climb are steep, with maybe a small washout or two in them but even so
we are steadily getting closer to the most spectacular scene in the area.
Suddenly we reach a well used parking / picnic area. We have reached the lower
end of the Grace Lakes. We all disembark from the van and wander around taking
in the sights. Not much can be seen of the lakesfrom our present location due to the huge old
spruce trees standing on the hillside so the decision is made to walk down the
If you have a problem climbing steep, high hills it might be best if you wait
for our next stop to get a view of the Grace Lakes since the trail down to the
lake has a wicked slope. The distance from the parking area to the water is
about 200 yards and when I was about 7 or 8 years old I ran all the way up the
hill for a nickel, now I couldn't run a quarter of the way up for $500.00. As we carefully make our way down the
hill we start to see more and more of the lake or actually lakes since, as you
may recall, there are 3 of them. When we reach the halfway point we can see a
good portion of the 2 larger lakes spreading out to our right. When we reach
the bottom we are standing on a small sand beach right on the South-east edge
of the middle lake.
I recall that in the mid 1950's I had seen a set of old tire
tracks, actually ruts, right down by the lake. One of my uncles told me that a
couple of fellows he knew had driven their 4 wheel drive army surplus Jeep down
to the lake and had to winch their way back up the hill again due to its
The same cousin who
was involved in the bear episode at Falling Horse Lake had driven his Jeep
style ‘79 Suzuki 4X4 down to the lake in 1980.He just barely made it back up
again in low range, 1st gear because of the slope.
In the early 1970's, a small group of friends and I caught
over 50 Pike in this series of lakesin
a 3 hour period which ended just after sundown. To drag a boat down and then up
this very difficult hill, even for such excellent fishing, shows dedication to
the sport (and maybe a bit of fanaticism).
Unless you are an excellent swimmer I wouldn't be too tempted to go for a swim.
The lake bottom continues on down at the same angle as the hill above us until
it reaches a depth of about 50 feet. The small, shallow lake to the left of us
is little more than a beaver pond since it, like most of the lakes in the area,
has a large beaver dam at its outlet. The lake we are at is the middle lake and
it is a good deal larger and very deep. The last lake in the chain is to our
right and is quite shallow,6 to 8 feet deep with some deeper spots but it is by
far the largest of the three in surface area.
It is now time to make our way back up the hill. As we stand there looking up
the hill it seems a little daunting but the only way to get it done is do it so
we march on. About half way up we stop for a breather even though none of us
will admit we need it. We're doing it for the other guy.
Upon reaching the top we all gather around for a couple of group photos, drag
ourselves into the van and continue onward.
The trail, though much improved, still angles steeply upwards for about 1/2
mile and then levels off. We are at the top of the Narrow Hills Esker. (7)
To the west of our
vantage point lies a large valley over 10 miles wide covered, for the most
part, by virgin pine and spruce. Barely visible in the distance to our left
lies Falling Horse (O’Dell) Lake where we had stopped to have our lunch. To our
right lies more untouched forest. At our feet lie the sparkling waters of the
Grace Lakes. The slope down to the lakes is so steep and high at this point
that anyone making their way down to the lakes would have their work cut out
for them to make it back up again.
We had one fellow from Germany stand on this hilltop totally enthralled. After
about 5 minutes he turned to me and said "I have never seen so much water
and no people" (It was fortunate that though I am not fluent in German I
speak it well enough to communicate well in that language.)
He was right. In the 5 or so hours that we were on the trail we hadn't seen one
person other than our own group.
The view from where we are now standing has been seen in many photos in a large
number of magazines and articles about Saskatchewan scenery and it is truly
unique. Our above mentioned web site has some video footage and photos
featuring this tour and this scene.
But now it is getting late and we must journey on.
The trail, which continues on north, was built along the very top of the esker
until it drops down about 3 miles beyond the Grace Lakes. It is well maintained
as the Grace Lakes are a very popular spot for people to come and have a picnic
and to take photos of some truly beautiful scenery though overnight camping is
not allowed. Along most of these miles we get a good view of the valley to the
west. To the east is an even wider valley full of small lakes or kettle holes (8) but it can only be seen at a few points off of a
hiking trail built for that purpose.
This is the only trail I know of that divides for traffic heading in opposite
directions. At one spot near the north end of the esker, anyone heading north
must keep to the right around the bottom of a fairly high knoll while a person
traveling south goes directly over the knoll. Both of these trails were the
main route at one time. The trail over the knoll was first and the trail around
was cut into the hillside in the late ‘50's.
We soon reach the main road that leads from Lower Fishing Lake to the Narrow
Hills Fire Tower. This road is actually the northern end of the original
Fishing Lakes Trail. Turning to the right, we are soon at the tower. The trail
that we have just traveled was at one time used to provision this tower. The
original wooden tower was built in 1938 and manned every summer until about
1950 when a new 90 foot steel structure was erected and some years later a new
ranger’s cabin was built.
We stop for pictures and a quick look at the small museum set up in the
original ranger's log cabin and then head back the way we came, passing the
Esker Trail on our way to Lower Fishing Lake.
We are soon at Lower Fishing Lake which is a popular summer recreation area
with quite a few permanent residents. Some of the year ‘round people are
employed there and the rest have retired there. They are a very community
minded group who are involved in organizations like the Saskatchewan Wildlife
Federation, dedicated to improving the lot all living things, both animal and
We have one more stop to make about 3 miles down the road.
We must stop at Caribou Creek Lodge on Upper Fishing Lake.
The reason we are
stopping there is for the Ice Cream. I capitalized those two words because the
Ice Cream cones they provide at Caribou Creek deserve recognition. I have never
seen ice cream piled so high on a cone in my life and I've seen a lot of ice
cream cones. Caribou Creek Lodge also has an all season convenience store where
they sell gas, groceries, souvenirs and many other items more reminiscent of a
general store. There is also a restaurant where the food and coffee are very
good,. After purchasing a few souvenirs we are ready to head for home.
The trip back to
River Trail will probably take about an hour or a little more by the roads we
will be traveling. We will be on a paved highway, #106,The Hanson Lake Road(9),
for the first 15 or so minutes before turning east on the Harding Road which
will take us the rest of the way home.
When we reach River Trail Country Vacations it is time for supper, shower and
It's Been A Good Day!!!
- Author's notes- (1) The village (or more correctly, hamlet) was originally
called Love Siding because it was a railroad siding where posts, lumber and
other forest products were loaded onto rail cars. There were 2 stories told
about how the village got its romantic name.
During Love’s early
days it was a mill town having quite a few sawmills within it’s boundaries
including a Saskatchewan Timber Board mill and the Johnson Brothers sawmill.
The first story goes that a mill worker fell in love with a cook that worked in
one of the camp kitchens. Due to this sometimes stormy romance the settlement
came to be known as the Siding of Love or Love Siding.
The other story has
it that the settlement was named after the conductor on the first train to stop
in the town. His last name was Love.
version you like best but bear in mind that the second one is the true story of
how the village got its name.
(2)The area that the trail passed through north of the Torch
Riverwas surveyed in 1916 but not named
until 1932 when the first school district in the region was formed. The school
district became known as Torch River SD #4840.The area we live in, the Moose Run district, SD#5121, is located north
and west of the Torch River district and was surveyed in 1931. The trail
followed the Torch River which cuts through both districts.
The first settlers
to arrive north of the Torch were Mr. and Mrs. Charlie Otterbein and Charlie
Johnson who came to the as yet unnamed Torch River district in 1921.Charlie Johnson stayed in the area all his
life but the Otterbeins left soon after. In 1924 Jack and
Sarah Jardine moved to the former Otterbein property and became the first
family with children to settle in that district.
My mother's family
were the first to arrive in our district, the Moose Run district, and they
settled 1/2 mile north of our present location after their arrival from Germany
by way of Steinbach, Manitoba and Esk, Saskatchewan.(The town of Esk, which was
located near Lanigan, Sk, no longer exists) My grandfather, Johann Sager and
his step-son, Joseph Kiehn, staked out their homesteads in 1929 and Mr. Sager
brought his young and growing family north in 1930, one year before the survey.
Mr. Kiehn brought his wife and infant son north in 1936,
after proving up on his homestead. Up until that time he had been commuting
between Esk and hisMoose Run homestead
every spring and fall on his bicycle.
A reasonably complete history of the
Torch River/Moose Run districts can be found on the “Editorials” page.
(3)Elk Mountain was the name given to the
Narrow Hills Esker by native hunters many years ago. Hunting parties from many
areas of the land that came to be called Saskatchewan gathered there to hunt
the numerous Elk (Wapiti) that congregated in the valleys alongside the esker.
The story is told that during the course of one winter more than 135 Elk were
taken in the vicinity of Elk Mountain, hence, its name.
(4)The Grace Lakes were named after a lady named Grace
O’Drowski who, with her husband and 2 young daughters, lived 1 mile south of us
until the mid 1950's. She was the first white woman known to have swum in one
of the lakes. The family moved to Prince George, British Columbia in 1955 after
Mr. O’Drowski was seriously injured in a logging accident there.
(5) Walter Kraatz, who I knew well, was tower
man for the Saskatchewan Department Of Natural Resources (now called
Saskatchewan Environment and Resource Management or SERM) at the third Grassy
Lake Fire Tower which, at that time, was located just three miles east of the
present site of River Trail Country Vacations. He arrived in our area in the
late 1930's and took up trapping in the northern forest. He became tower man at
Grassy Lake Tower in the early 1940's and retained that position along with
trapping in the winter until his retirement in 1965 at the age of 67.He sold
his trapline in 1966 and spent his remaining years in Creston, British
Columbia, getting married for the first time in his 70's.
About 1971 a new fire tower, also called Grassy Lake Tower, was erected about 5
miles north of that site and the old tower was decommissioned and eventually
(6) The moving force behind the creation of The Nipawin
Provincial Park, now renamed the Narrow Hills Provincial Park was American born
Garry Parker. He had been a Forest Ranger for the federal Department Of The
Interior and he became the first Field Officer for the new Grassy Lake District
of the brand new Saskatchewan Department of Natural Resources. He was based at
the Grassy Lake Tower site. (Up until December 1st, 1930 the
Saskatchewan forest area was administered by the Dominion Forest Service, part
of the federal Department Of The Interior) He held that position from 1931 to
1941. His responsibilities were many and included the enforcement of the
provincial game laws, providing hunting, fishing and trapping licenses and
sending out patrolmen to watch for fires and hand out burning permitsto farmers in times of low fire hazard.
Shortly after his
appointment as Field Officer, Parker gave his senior patrolman, Burns Matheson,
the task of surveying the area surrounding the Narrow Hills to explore the
possibility of creating a provincial park. Using the results of this 2 month survey,
Parker pushed for, and achieved, the creation of the 252 squaremile Nipawin Provincial Park which wasofficially established in January, 1934.A more
complete history on Garry Parker can be found in the “Torch River/Moose Run
article elsewhere on this site. (7)What is
commonly called the Narrow Hills Esker is in fact a “push moraine” which is formed
differently than a true esker. An esker is formed when a glacier melts and
material that was trapped inside and on the glacier is dropped and washed into
a fan shaped series of ridges.
A push moraine is
formed by the ploughing effect of an advancing glacier. When the glacier
retreats the pushed up material at its leading edge remains, forming a single,
long, sometimes curved ridge.
(8)Kettle holes are small, generally round lakes or ponds and
it is probable that the ones along the trail were formed by the same glacier
that produced the Narrow Hills esker. Kettle holes are formed when ice blocks
of various sizes break free from a glacier and are buried in earth and rock
debris from the retreating glacier. When the ice blocks melt a corresponding depression
is left in the ground. Kettle holes often have no inlet and no real outlet and
are filled by seepage, snow melt and summer rain. That may be part of the
reason that the beaver dams in these small lakes hold up so well since the only
time there is much outflow of water is in the springtime. You will notice that
Falling Horse (O’Dell) Lake, the Grace Lakes, the 2 Fishing Lakes and the
numerous other lakes and ponds along and near the Narrow Hills trail are of a
more or less rounded shape and most are probably kettle holes.
(9) The Hanson Lake Road was named after a
Norwegian immigrant named Olaf Hanson. During the 1920's and ‘30's he was a
trapper and commercial fisherman at Little Bear and Deschambault Lakes. In 1958
he mapped a large portion of the original route of this very popular, paved
highway into the Saskatchewan North-East. Road construction was started in 1959
and was completed to Creighton, Saskatchewan in 1962. The road was officially
opened in 1964.
went to work as a diamond driller in the mines at Flin Flon, Manitoba until his
retirement to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.