Looking back...with John Norman

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John Norman was born at Beaver Lake in 1935. At that time there were no roads to Beaver Lake and a person had to go from the mink ranch to Mosher Lake then to Loon Lake, and then pick up a vehicle or horse and drive to town. By the time the person was sent to get the doctor, John had already been delivered by a mid-wife, a Mrs. Whidden. John's parents were Gisli and Lilja Norman. John was the fourth child of six kids in the family. He had an older sister Inga, and brothers Peter and Chris. Later came Carl and Laura. John was raised at Beaver Lake where his dad was a fisherman, but his main income was mink ranching. Gisli had the mink ranch from 1930 till he sold it in the '70s to Eric Cook. During the years he spent raising mink, Gisli lost a couple of fingers in the grinder while grinding up fish for mink food. (Gisli used to tell the kids that came to visit the ranch that the mink had bit his fingers off, but I guess that was so we would keep our fingers out of the cages). Gisli had about 1,500 mink every year and he would sell about 1,000 at $27 a skin. That was good money but you had to be able to budget well because you only got paid once a year. John remembers in the early years there were only a few families who lived at Beaver Lake. There were Angus MacKenzie who was a prospector and his family, Bob Locker who owned the Beaver Lake Hotel, Ralph and Ann Streitle, Ted and Alice Anderson (Ted was a logger), Dubresheres who had the sawmill as well as the two Norman families, Ingi who owned the grocery store (now owned by Kevin Schanowski), and Post Office. Ingi later built another grocery store at the Main Beach which is now owned by the Schweitzer family. When the road came into Beaver Lake in the early 1940s, John's uncle rode a motorcycle out and counted all the curves. The road was 14 miles long and had 250 curves! Commercial fishing was started by Gisli in about 1928 with the fish being sent to Cranberry Portage from Beaver Lake, then McMurdo Lake, then Mirache Lake and then on to Athapap at Cranberry Portage. Then it went by train to The Pas to Booth Fisheries. John started trapping when he was 10 years old and he has kept at it, even now after he has retired. But he says you have to be careful nowadays because there are so many dogs running all over the place. In 1957 John married Eunice Elliott whose mother Emma owned the Dutch Mill, that she had bought from a Mr. Locker. Emma later sold it to Mr. Bloomfield (it is now known as the Canton restaurant). John and Eunice moved into Creighton in December of 1960. "We were so involved in playing baseball (the summers before) almost every night that the gas got too expensive driving back and forth to Beaver Lake," smiles John. In 1967, Canada's Centennial year, John was invited to join a team of paddlers and canoe across Canada. He was reluctant to go because Eunice was pregnant with their third child and he didn't want to leave her that long. However, at Eunice's insistence John finally joined the team of Gib McEachern, Norm Crerar, Roger Carriere, Joe Michel, Dave Wells, Don Starkell, Blair Harvey and Wayne Soltys. The team made trial runs from Fort St. James to Victoria on Vancouver Island, and then they took a truck to Montreal and paddled to New York Harbour where they saw the Statue of Liberty. On their actual trip, they left Rocky Mountain House in Alberta on May 25 and finished the trip in Montreal on September 4, 1967. John said, "On my canoe trips I was always looking for some place better to move too, but I couldn't find anything better than right here!" John received many trophies, etc., and he has donated most to the museum at Beaver Lake. John loves his cabin and gardening and he still likes to trap, even though at the present time he is undergoing cancer treatment. He says there is still a market for furs although it does fluctuate. For example, he was able to sell seven fishers (large mink) for $2,800. John says he uses what is known as the 'Coni Bear' trap which is a 'quick kill trap'. He stated that most trappers are getting away from the leg hold traps. "I check my traps every day," he said, "I hate to see the animals suffer." The only traveling he and Eunice do these days is to Winnipeg for his treatments. Their four daughters and their families live close by: Carla is a figure skating teacher in Creighton, Cathy teachers grade 4 in La Ronge, Lori drives bus for Northern Bus Lines in Flin Flon and Kim works at Willowvale Grocery. John's dad Gisli came to Canada in 1900 at the age of five years. His mother was born in Canada and the couple met in Haliberry just north of Ashern, Manitoba where they were married. They took a 800 mile trapping trip to Indian Lake in 1920 and Gisli wrote a book about it. It is a very interesting read! Thanks so much for sharing your story with us John. We wish you well with your treatments!

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