Building dam was hard work for humans and horses

From our April 2012 issue

By Don Erlandson – Saskatoon, Sask.

I was born on a farm between Cadillac and Val Marie in southwest Saskatchewan.

In 1935, my father Henry and one of my brothers, Ken, decided to build a dam about half-mile from our house. I think they worked all summer with four horses, a walking plow, and fresno (scraper).

They couldn’t drag dirt from the side of the hill on the left side, because it was sandy, so they had to get it at the bottom where the water would eventually be. This was a difficult haul for the horses.

The following year when the ice was thick, my dad made a sort of merry-go-round for the young people to have some fun.

He put an old implement axle vertically in the centre of the ice and shoved it down about four feet so it was solid. Then he put the wheel on the axle, and about three ropes approximately 40-feet long were tied to the wheel about four feet apart. The other ends of the ropes were tied to a toboggan or sleigh.

People got on and another person would walk around turning the wheel, thus giving three people at a time a sleigh ride. The riders of the toboggan would occasionally have to be pushed sideways by someone to keep them going. Then the pushers and riders would exchange places.

As the snow melted in the spring and when it rained, the water ran down three different coulees into the dam.

As a young boy, I often went and stood beside these streams and wondered where the water would end up after leaving this spillway. I was reminded of a poem I learned in school:

Why hurry little river
Why hurry to the sea
There is nothing there to do
But to sink into the blue
And all forgotten be.

At the time, I didn’t know the water from the dam ran southeast toward the Gulf of Mexico and the water two miles north of us ran northeast into Hudson Bay.