The Cowan Trail - 1943

In July of 1995 I visited with my uncle, Ben Beselt in the Valley. We spent an aftemoon walking the northern end of the Cowan Trail. I remember standing quietly thinking I could almost hear the creaking noise of the Settlers’ heavily loaded wagons as they made their way to this beautiful valley, which was to become home for them and their families for many years.

He told me the following story of a Cowan Trail trip:

“The years have gone by very quickly so I think it is time to get this down on paper.

It was in 1943, December 6th or thereabouts that I crossed the mountain by way of the Cowan Trail. My brother-in—law Roy Henderson, my Dad Josef Beselt Sr., and I were taking out some spruce logs from the Duck Mountains to be cut into lumber at a mill east of Sclater.

We stayed at Mrs. Boychuck’s and went on foot up the mountains and cut some trees. Then we had to have the horses and sleigh to bring them down off the moun- tains down to Mr. Bill Boychuk’s milli

There was no snow on the highway at that time. So what to do? After thinking and talking it over, we de- cided to go the pioneer way. Roy had come over the trail as a young lad when his family came into the Valley in ’98. Forty-five years is a long time so I had some uneasy thoughts. Would we make it? Maybe not!

So on Monday morning at six we hit the trail as we used to say. It was not very cold andjust enough snow for good sleighing. We put everything in the grain box; oats and hay for the horses, logging bunks, chains, axes, cross cut and swede saws, food for a week or more and bedding (feather beds)

We had no trouble finding the way. When we got about four miles into the mountains we found where some hunt- ers had camped a few days before and sleigh tracks going east down the trail to Cowan. There were no trees growing on the trail at that time; most of it was very straight. There were a lot of little streams to cross and all the bridges were rotted out but it was possible to get across: a little bumpy that’s all. When we got to the east side of the mountains there was a very steep hill with the Duck River at the bottom of it. We put brake clamps on the back sleigh runners to help hold it back. Made it safely down the hill and across the river. From there the trail passed through a large stand of j ack pine. But the trail was very straight. We ended up in a farmer‘s field; believe his name was Nash. We stopped and asked di- rections. We headed south on a grid road. Stopping again for directions; we turned in a south easterly direction


coming out on Highway #1 0 just south of Cowan near the large bend in the highway. We soon had the logs delivered to the Boychuck mill which was just west of the highway near the Sclater River.”

Submitted by: G. Henderson as told by my Uncle Ben


When the Swan River Valley opened to settlers in 1898 the only means of transportation was a team of horses or oxen and a wagon or buggy. The closest railway was Dauphin or Yorkton. This would soon change as when the railway arrived at Cowan, settlers had their personal belongings shipped by train, shortening their trip to the Cowan trail. In October, 1899 the railway reached Swan River. It was quickly built on northwest to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. In 1905 the railway went to Benito and beyond.

Local travel was horse and wagon or buggy in the sum- mer and sleigh or cutter in the winter. Large livery barns were in every town - three in Swan River at one time. These offered feed and shelter for horses when rural people came to town. Owners of these barns usually owned a team or two for “livery service”; a term used for driving people around the country who had no other means of transportation. It was common for town peo- ple who needed to travel in the country to own a nice pair of light horses called “drivers”. Many town yards also included a barn.

Travel beyond the valley was by passenger trains or mixed way freights. Swan River was served by a pas- senger train - Winnipeg to Prince Albert. First daily, then tri-weekly, you would board the train at 4:00 AM. to Winnipeg or arrive from Winnipeg at 10:00 PM. Ei- ther way it was a twelve hour trip. A passenger train came from Regina on the same days. Mixed way freightS, i.e freight cars and passenger car. ran on oppositive days. One to Dauphin, one to Hudson Bay, one to Kelvington- These canied freight cars. small freight shipments, and passengers. We depended totally on the railway.

Early roads were mere trails. Some of these followed the old Pelly trails. These would gradually change- Wlth the arrival of automobiles. better roads became a De“ cessity. These gradually changed first fair weather roads with many mud holes in wet weather - 10 gravel roads to paved highways. Cars replaced the horse and buggy, but it was really in the late 1 940’s that W1met automobile travel became common with snow-Plow roads.

Late 1920’s and early 1930’s saw farm trucks. This relieved a lot of winter grain trips for the fanners' A