This episode was a bit short, since White Star is a very small community. There are no small histories though, and I want to make sure every community in Canada gets featured, or at least a lot of them. For this episode though, I expanded out from White Star a bit to hit some other communities in the area including Paddockwood, Redwing and Spruce Home.
The land that the area of White Star sits on now was once the home of the Cree people. The land was right in the middle of their territory that stretched from Hudson Bay all the way into northern Alberta. The area was the upper reaches of where the bison would migrate, giving the Cree many resources in the summer as the bison arrived before beginning their journey to the south. Throughout the area, artifacts have been found that date back at least 11,000 years.
Today, the White Star area sits on Treaty 6 land.
In the early 1900s, Fred Pitt came to Canada looking for good lumber land and that would result in him settling in the area of current Paddockwood. It was there that he built a log cabin for his home and set up a post office. Through the early years of the area, he could be found on horseback, delivering letters and parcels to the residents of the area. He would also give the area the name of Paddockwood, which was the village in England he lived at before coming to Canada. One fascinating aspect of Paddockwood is that it was the location of the first Red Cross hospital in the British Empire, which was set up just after the First World War ended.
In 1920, the Regina Leader Post reported quote:
“It is now only a matter of a few weeks until the Paddockwood Red Cross outpost, the first of its kind, will be a concrete fact. This is a pioneer scheme of great interest in the country. At a recent meeting of the provincial red cross executive it was stated that there would be other outposts started in the new districts but they are waiting to see Paddockwood a success. Judging by enthusiasm, it will be a very short time until the scheme may become general.”
In 1912, Redwing began to come into existence thanks to the formation of the Red Wing School District, which was formed that year. From that, this tiny community began to spring up, which continues to be home to families who have lived in the area for generations. The name itself comes from the name of various chiefs of the local Indigenous who now live at the Wahpeton Dakota Nation reserve. These chiefs, as a sign of their leadership division, wore a swan’s feather dyed in red.
The origin of White Star, to the north of Prince Albert, is thanks to the railroad, as with many places in the northern reaches of the prairie provinces. The White Star post office would open on July 1, 1914 and would remain open for 50 years before it was closed.
In the 1920s, north of White Star at Christopher Lake, the Kinasao Lutheran Bible Camp Log House would be built. No firm date is given for its construction, so its possible it was built in the early 1930s. This building, which is built in the rustic log style, was originally built by the local mink breeder and farmer who owned the property. The building would become a distinctive part of the bible camp when the camp was established in 1940. The building was first the girls’ dormitory, then the administration building, before finally becoming the meeting room and staff lounge. Generations of young people have come to know the building very well. Due to its heritage, it was made a Municipal Heritage Property in 1999.
On March 24, 1927, to the north of White Star, Prince Albert National Park would officially open. Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King would officially open the park himself on Aug. 10, 1928.
King would write about this in his diary that day, stating quote:
“We had lunch under canvas midway, at the entrance to the Park. It was about 2:30 when we reached Waakesiu Lake, a beautiful sheet of water with but one island which has been named King Island.”
The park overs an area of 3,874 square kilometres and it was the only national park in Saskatchewan until the 1980s when Grasslands National Park was established. Upon the creation of the park, the local Indigenous were removed by the RCMP, with many of their cabins and possessions destroyed in the process.
One of the park’s most famous residents was Grey Owl, who was hired as the first naturalist for the park. It was in the park he would live, where he wrote several books on wilderness protection. Grey Owl of course was an Englishman who pretended to be Indigenous, a fact that was not revealed until after his death. Within the park, there is Grey Owl’s cabin and the graves of Grey Owl and his wife.
In 1923, Paddockwood got the short end of the stick when it came to Canadian National Branch lines. A projected line was proposed to the community, and the grade was already laid down for it, but the Canadian Senate blocked the construction of that line and other branch lines. For Paddockwood, this was bad news as several soldiers had settled in the area using help provided by the federal government. Those individuals then stated they would be leaving the district as the railroad did not seem to be coming. At the time, there were between 200 and 300 soldier settlers in the district, who now felt stranded due to the decision by the senate. A lot of land had already been cleared too, resulting in a lot of wasted and time and money for those men.
In 1935, the Paddockwood Community Hall was built. This long, rectangular building would become the social centre of the community. Built through donated community labour, the head carpenters in its construction were Jack White and Axel Goplen. Through the years, the hall held many important events within the community. In the 1950s, a hardwood dance floor and kitchen was added to it, and in 1951 it was connected to electricity allowing for weekly movies. Due to its historic link to the community, the hall was made a municipal heritage resource in 2008.
The same year that the Paddockwood Community Hall was built, the Pine Valley School was also constructed. In 1933, residents began to petition the district for the construction of a school due to the difficulty in getting their children to schools located elsewhere because of the muskeg, thick bush and dangerous wildlife in the area. In 1934, the Pine Valley School Division was formed and construction soon began on the new school. The school would become an important part of the community life of the area, and it would stay open as a school until 1948. The school was then used as a community centre until the mid-1950s where boxing and local theatre was held. In 1986, it was made a municipal heritage property.
Throughout the Second World War, Paddockwood was noted for its support of the war effort. In fact, it had a district quota in November 1945 of $32,000 but it exceeded that by selling $54,100 for the war effort. As a result, it was given three loan pennants that it could fly to show others how supportive the community was for helping. Even though the war was over by that point, there was still the need to raise money and Paddockwood certainly did that.
In 1945, Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King came to the area to campaign in the federal election. He would spend six hours touring throughout the riding, in Paddockwood and other places. At various stops at community halls, schools and farm yards. King, who would become the longest serving prime minister in Canadian history, had represented the riding for some time. Even so, he was not always well received during his tour through the area. One man named Sandy Edmunds, who was 77, was asked by King how he was. Sandy responded “I’m Scotch, what are you?” King responded with “I’m Scotch with every fibre.”
In Paddockwood, 81 schoolchildren were lined up on the road where they could wave to King who stopped by and spoke with the children.
Related to schooling, in 1951, Elder Ens, the local teacher at White Star, disciplined a student for making too many mistakes in spelling by giving him the strap. In response, the boy’s father punched Ens in the face. In response, the boy’s father was charged with assault and had to pay a fine of $10 or spend seven days in the jail. The judge in the case stated there was no justification for the assault. Times certainly have changed.
On July 31, 1958, Spruce Home received a very famous visitor when Princess Margaret herself came to the community and visited the farm of Peder Skotheim. She took part in a tour of the livestock buildings and had tea with the family in their log-and-stucco home where the family were living with seven of their 10 children. She had come to the farm via helicopter for an informal visit. She would ask questions about the grade of wheat, posed for pictures and spoke at length with the family. She wasn’t the only famous person at the farm that day. She was joined by Lt. Governor Frank Bastedo, Saskatchewan Premier L.F. McIntosh and Prime Minister John Diefenbaker and his wife Olive. There was also a press corps of 40 people and several officials, as well as family and friends of the Skotheim family.
Peder Skotheim would say quote:
“She asked quite a few intelligent questions, I thought for a princess, about the animals. She seemed to know quite a bit about what she was talking about.”
His wife would say quote:
“I asked about the Queen’s children and she said Charles is about this big, motioning with her hand. I told her the house was of log construction and she was quite interested in that. She said she would have liked to have seen the rest of the house but by the time she thought of that we were sitting down and tea was being served. There just wasn’t enough time.”
The farm was chosen for the visit because of its background, as well as the fact that it typified a successful and diverse Saskatchewan farm. For Diefenbaker, it was also a special location because at the abandoned wooden hall across the road, he made his first-ever political speech decades previous.
In 1964, Paddockwood was dealing with a rash of robberies at the local credit union. Over the past two years, the bank had been hit three different times. The last robbery, in June 1964, resulted in the loss of $1,300 in cash and cheques. Two years previous, $1,600 was stolen and in another instance, the robbers got away with no money. As a result of the robberies, the credit union decided the time was right to spend $8,000 to get a new vault installed to protect the money of local residents.