Whitelock’s ‘lake’ was really just a slough

From our January 2014 issue

By Frank Vick – Prince Albert, Sask.

I enjoy reading The Senior Paper and I look back with a great deal of nostalgia at many of the similarities that appear in our childhood life experiences, especially in reference to poverty, lifestyles, and the little country schools.

A few miles northwest of our homestead in Section 5 stood a body of water, called Whitelocks Lake. However, as I grew older I viewed its true perspective for what it was — a large slough with shallow muddy shores, tall reeds and spiky grasses protruding above the waters for some distance from shore.

From this drainage basin, tending west- northwest, cutting through the genteel sloping terrain, was a small valley. Where it entered the northwest quarter of section four the valley floor was perhaps 25-feet below the average terrain.

During the 1920s, the land immediately west and south contained small areas of cultivated land while to the north and east stood, the forest of trembling aspen and a few scattered balsam poplars and spruce trees.

Prior to the intrusion of the settlers, the entire area was covered by aspen groves and willow bush interspersed with grassy open areas. This was the favoured territory of the ‘apsimooses’ or deer in Cree.

As the country became settled, the deer were less visible, but occasionally en route to school, one would catch a glimpse of a mule deer or few as they bounded over the open ground before disappearing into the valley which was their route to the water supply of Whitelocks Lake.

Furnace ‘belched heat’

A few hundred yards north of this little valley, located in the NW1/4, Sec 4, TP/54, RG/21, West of the Third Meridian, the country schoolhouse was constructed in 1922, being School District No. 3918. It was appropriately named Deer Valley in recognition of the little geographical feature a few hundred feet away.

It was a typical one-room country school with horse barn, outside toilets, a woodpile, and a smoking furnace that belched heat on cold winter days through its central metal register laid flush with the floor.

Inside the room, students took their places in single or double wooden desks set in rows facing a large slate blackboard, above which was located a map cabinet. Up front, dead centre, sat the teacher – the ruler of the roost.

Each hardwood desk was equipped with an inkwell. Students’ sole possessions were generally pencil boxes and a few ruled workbooks. Every student introduced to Grade 1 was issued a primary reader. Who will ever forget Jerry, Jane, Laddie and Snow? Not much of a challenge for a six-year-old child today.

I was told the school wasn’t located in the centre of the school district, as was usual, because of the quirk of nature placing Whitelocks Lake in that position.

The result being that our family had 5 miles via road allowance to travel to reach the school. This was indeed a very long and often painful trip in winter for small children. It was an equally arduous task in spring and fall when the trip was made on foot because the horses were needed to labour in the fields.

As soon as the ground warmed to the spring sun, the footwear was cast aside and we became the barefoot children of the aspen forest and fields. The soles of our feet became calloused and hard to the point that only rusty nails and sharpest thorns could penetrate, but the speed at which we could run and jump, and the feel of soft wet mud oozing between our toes, made nature’s footwear a pleasure and not a hardship. Anyway, who could afford shoes?

Vivid imagery remains

Even now in my aging years, I can close my eyes in reminiscence of those yesteryears and can imagine hearing those distant voices of country school children at play.

Unfortunately, through the absence of forethought and lack of finances, the building was dismantled like many of their counterparts and with it a monument to our history has gone.

Now, when the shadows of a summer evening are cast in bronze upon this faceless abandoned patch of ground, only the memories remain of this once vital spot in the aspen groves, just north of the Valley of the Deer.