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In the 1930s, Axel Olson operated a warehouse for staging freight going from Prince Albert northwards. “Freight was shipped by Axel from the Waskesiu site by horse and sleds northwards through what was called the Chipewyan Trail that ran past Kingsmere Lake north.” (Manley McLachlan in 90 years of business in Waskesiu 1928-2019)
For decades starting in 1947, Eldon and Fern McLachlan and family operated the Waskesiu Livery Service, also known as Waskesiu Park Services, which catered to the needs of seasonal vacationers. They purchased the business from Alex Olson and continued offering services from their leased property on Montreal Drive in the area where the Fire Hall now stands. This industrious family, Eldon and Fern, their children, Marion, Marilyn, Marvin, Melvin, Manley, Morris, Marlene, and Michael, extended family members and valued employees worked tirelessly to fill visitors’ needs at Waskesiu.
McLachlan’s history is inextricably linked with shack tenting. Because the shack tents had to be taken down every fall, the livery stored the shack tents and furnishings during the off season. Eldon created a system to organize and store more than 400 shack tents. The challenge came in the spring when everyone wanted their shack tent delivered to their lot at the same time – for the May long weekend.
The contents were similarly numbered and stored in warehouses. People also wanted their contents picked up on the same day - Labour Day, so they could dismantle their shack tent.
Fern wrote in Waskesiu Memories, Volume II that sometimes customers could be demanding and hard to please, although many were appreciative.
“We received one letter advising us to erect the shack tent, but hold the contents until they arrived the first nice weekend! They arrived about ten on a Friday evening and wanted their furniture. The fellows got out of bed, took lanterns and hauled out their contents. No unions in those days!”
McLachlans also built and repaired shack tents and would custom pack and set up or dismantle shack tents if customers wanted that service. They made the tarp roofs out of canvas on an old Singer sewing machine and hammered metal grommets on for the rope laces. They water-proofed the tarps with a mixture of kerosene, and paraffin wax heated in five gallon pails, hauled to the cabin, and applied by long handled brushes.
Before electrical service to the cabins, they also supplied the vacationers with ice for their iceboxes in the summer. In order to do this, during the winter, a crew cut, harvested, and stored ice blocks from Waskesiu Lake in sawdust to deliver and sell in the summer.
Once electricity was available, McLachlans made and provided ice cubes and blocks from machines that required 24 hour attention. They also supplied ice cubes to businesses and had to purchase and repackage those from Prince Albert in order to meet the demand.
Shack tenters and cottage owners had wood burning stoves. McLachlans brought wood into the Park, sawed, split, and bundled it for sale. When electric stoves became available, they still sold wood for fireplaces. They also delivered 100 pound propane cylinders for stoves, often urgently if the tank run out at mealtime or when there was a cake in the oven!
Various other services were offered over the years. Customers could place orders for baking like bread, cakes, pies, and tarts. Laundry was custom done with a wringer washer and clotheslines. Pies and tarts were supplied to the golf clubhouse and tenth hole concession. Meals were contracted for crews working in the Park. One winter, they contracted logging 500 cords of wood.
Horses could be boarded in their barn. McLachlans bought beer bottles for a penny a bottle, collected them for the season, and hauled them into Prince Albert in the fall. If accommodation was full in the townsite, the overflow often ended up sleeping over in McLachlan’s warehouse. One year they operated the Saratoga Grill, a Waskesiu restaurant that operated 24 hours a day.
Ironically, Eldon worked with the government to change the rules so that shack tents could have permanent roofs and thereby eliminate the major part of his business. Once the rules were changed to allow the shack tents to stay on the property year round, McLachlan’s services were no longer needed. When they were asked to relocate from their leased property, McLachlans decided instead to set up outside the Park at McPhee Lake. They moved the rental cabins from the Narrows to there, added a store, and expanded their general contracting to include trenching, sand, and gravel services.
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