Angus Bear: Something to boast about
By Shannon Avison, Freelance writer
with permission from
~ no photo available ~
The people of northern Saskatchewan can boast of many things. The first farm in the province was set up at Cumberland House, the oldest church is at Stanley Mission, and the first hydro-electric power station in the province was built at Island Falls.
This year, northern Saskatchewan people have something new to boast about.
Angus Bear, a long-time resident of the northern community of Sandy Bay, received the Saskatchewan Award of Merit in recognition of his contributions to the growth and development of the hydro-electric power industry in the province.
Angus Bear might well be considered one of the fathers of hydro-electric power in northeast Saskatchewan.
In 1927, Bear led the first team of engineers from the Churchill River Power Company into the Island Falls power dam site, and for the next 38 years he worked in the mining and hydro-electricity industries in the Island Falls area.
In many ways, Bear represents all the pioneers of northern Saskatchewan who responded to the challenges of development and technology.
He was born in 1907 on a trapline at Mari Lake; halfway between Sandy Bay, Saskatchewan and Flin Flon, Manitoba. As a young man he learned the ways of his Cree people, including love and respect for the land.
In 1927 he arrived in Flin Flon, speaking only French and Cree, and was hired by the Churchill River Power Company to lead a team of engineers to what would be the site of the Island Falls power dam.
Travelling on foot and by canoe, Bear found the most economical routes for supplies, machinery and power lines, and in September 1928, the Hudson's Bay Mining and Smelting Company started construction on the road from Flin Flon to Island Falls.
In the following summers more than 200 men were hired to work at the Island Falls site. According to Bear, about 50 of the men were Indian people from Pelican Narrows and other nearby villages. They worked 12-hour shifts for 40 cents an hour and, says Bear, "We didn't stop until freeze-up in the fall".
In order to get the road finished as quickly as possible, the labour crews worked on all stages of construction at the same time. Bear recalls that while workers were using teams of horses to clear the first portage to make way for the new road, "People were already on the other side building a barge to bring the horses and equipment to the next portage".
In 1930 construction on the dam was completed, and the dam began providing electricity to the Hudson's Bay Mining and Smelting Company site at Flin Flon and to a number of smaller mines in northern Manitoba.
Angus Bear now lives at Sandy Bay, within earshot of the Island Falls dam. He is a highly respected elder in his community, and has proved himself to be a valuable source of the oral history and traditions of the Cree people.
At the ceremony in Regina in which he was presented with the Saskatchewan Award of Merit, Bear was called "a true explorer and pioneer of northern Saskatchewan, a living symbol of the resilience and tenacity of our native people."