By Alvin Bebault – Calgary, Alta.
I grew up in Kelvington, Sask., and in 1954 when I was 13 years old, I was offered a very different and interesting job for my summer holidays. I went to work for my great uncle Oscar Webb and his partner, Ralph Carlson at Ushta, in the beautiful Etomami valley just north of Usherville.
A mainline CNR railway still runs up the valley today from Sturgis to Flin Flon. This was the site of the Western Construction Co. in earlier days. I remember the old boiler was still there that had supplied the steam for the engine that powered the sawmill and planer.
I was hired at $35 a month. My main job was to keep 80 head of cattle off the railway tracks.
Carlson also raised mink, which I had to water and feed. One night a black bear came through the yard and upset a mink pen. Each pen held 10 mink. Ralph had a little cocker spaniel named Goldie who helped direct nine of the mink into live traps. The only one to get away was a male sapphire-blue special kept for breeding.
Back in Kelvington 4-1⁄2 years later, I worked at Grondal Motors on Saturdays and after school. One Saturday in early winter, Bernhard Wong, a local farmer, came into the garage to show us the mink he had recently trapped. It was a gorgeous sapphire-blue colour and definitely not a natural wild mink.
In those four years this mink had travelled across 40 miles of forest reserve, wherein the Assiniboia River begins, with many small lakes and connecting streams finally arriving in the area of Round Lake on the edge of farming country, where it was trapped.
We also caught other tame mink in live traps that someone further up the Etomami River had set free when fur prices where poor. Ralph Carlson also had some fisher he bought from the Hudson Bay Co. He later found out they would not breed in captivity, but he wouldn’t set them free.
Bernhard Wong, who trapped the sapphire-blue mink, became my father-in-law in 1963.
The Etomami valley is a beautiful place in the summer. It’s very serene and isolated with lots of wildlife. Working there was great fun.
Uncle Oscar gave me a $10 bonus and $40 a month was big money. I remember I bought a good winter coat called a ‘convoy coat.’ It cost $35.