Fawcett Lake from settlement to campground and back

Pearl Lorentzen
Lakeside Leader

Fawcett Lake north of Smith is now home to two campgrounds and a housing development. The area was homesteaded in the 1930s. In World War II, the logging industry was so short of manpower, that German POWs were given the option of working there for 50 cents a day.

Echoes Along the Athabasca River includes some history about Fawcett Lake.

This section has stories about Frank and Eleanor Brown, Jim Drinkwater, William Freeman, William Hemphill Harrison, and Horst Seifert.

In World War II, Seifert was one of the German prisoners of war who worked at Fawcett Lake during the war.

“For two and a half years, Fawcett Lake became our world,” he wrote. “We became involved in all phases of the lumberjack trade. The rules were simple: ten hours of work per day, six days a week, 50 cents credit in the store for each day worked, and, of course, room, board and clothing.”

Seifert returned to Germany after the war, but immigrated to Edmonton in 1953. Another Fawcett Lake POW Frank Schroedl also returned to Alberta and had a farm by South Cooking Lake.

(A longer article on this period of history called ‘When the U-boat crews came to Fawcett Lake’ was in the March 25, 2022 Lakeside Leader).

The other people in the book are homesteaders or people connected with Fawcett Lake Resort, which is still open today.

Mills were also important at Fawcett Lake during the 20th Century.

Jim Drinkwater was born in 1913 in Manitoba, he wrote in Echoes. In the 1930s, he was riding freight trains. In 1937, he started working at a logging camp east of Chisholm. After a bit of work on steamboats and a salt plant, he returned to Chisholm. In 1942, he moved to Fawcett Lake as an engineer at a new mill. This is where he met his wife Ruth Helmer, who was a night cook at the mill. The next few years he worked at a coal mine and for the railway. In 1945, the Drinkwater family returned to Fawcett Lake.

In 1980, Alberta Stake and Lath mill was started by Frank and Butch Graling on the old Stelter Co-op Ziedler site, says Echoes. As of 1984, when the book was first published it was still open.

Echoes mentions a store at Fawcett Lake from 1926 or earlier to at least 1973.

There is still a store on Fawcett Lake Resort.

William Freeman who came to Canada from England in 1918 bought the store in 1926, says Echoes. This was on government land, so he homesteaded a quarter section on the lake in the 1940s and built a new store. He was a commercial fisherman and trapper. He sold the store to Bill Harrison in 1954.

Bill’s is the next story in the book. It was written by his wife Mabel (Malone) Harrison.

Bill met Mabel on her trap line in 1933 near her father’s homestead in Alberta. The couple were married in 1934. In November 1935, they arrived at Fawcett Lake for the first time.

“When we came over the last hill and had a good view of Fawcett Lake, Bill promptly lost his heart for the second time in his life,” wrote Mabel.

They rented a dilapidated house, says Echoes. After looking around for three days, they walked the 20 miles back to Smith. Mabel took out a homestead claim, as Bill already had one elsewhere. They built a log cabin. They used moss to ‘chink’ (fill in) the cracks between the logs.

At that time, Mabel and Mrs. Alice Freeman, who ran a small store, were the only white women in the area, wrote Mabel.

Many of the people in the area were Métis, says Echoes. They all had dog teams and toboggans. There were lots of moose, deer, fish, rabbits, and other animals.

The rabbits were so plentiful the Harrisons made their first garden on an island, to escape them.
One of their sources of income was trapping.

“If we could manage to get ten dollars worth of fur a month, we could live pretty well and buy our tobacco as we both smoked,” wrote Mabel.

In the 1930s, there were enough people living around Fawcett Lake to form a settlement.

“There were dances about twice a week in summer in different houses in the settlement,” wrote Mabel. “Everyone was too short of money to give lunch, so everyone danced until they got hungry, then went home for lunch and came back.”

Baseball was another popular pastime.

During World War II, Bill served in the military. Mabel bought a farm 10 miles from Fawcett Lake, and let the homestead go. After the war, Bill farmed, trapped, and did two seasons of commercial fishing on Fawcett Lake.

In 1953, Bill and Mabel bought Mrs. Freeman’s land on Fawcett Lake, as it was the only deeded land on the lake. Bill bought a bulldozer, which Bernie O’Neil used to build a road the last five miles to Fawcett Lake. Bill lived in a trapping cabin near the narrows. The next year, Mabel joined him, but their son boarded with another family closer to Smith for school.

“We continued to run the store and buy fur from trappers north and east of the lake,” wrote Mabel. At that time, anglers started to come to the area for sports fishing.

“The angling was good, but if it rained the road was bad for cars,” wrote Mabel.

In the mid-1960s, a lot of anglers started visiting the area, but the Harrisons didn’t have cabins or boats. In 1966, they got some money from the Veteran’s Land Act which was used for boats, life jackets, outboard motors, and paddles.

“We had so many broken paddles that Bill named the place Broken Paddle Camp,” wrote Mabel.

Bill died in a ‘power toboggan’ accident crossing the ice on Fawcett Lake on April 30, 1971. The RCMP found his body on May 4.

Currently, Fawcett Lake Resort and Broken Paddle are on the narrows which divide the west and east basin of Fawcett Lake. This is accessed by the Fawcett Lake East Road, which follows various range and township roads through the M.D. of Lesser Slave River north of Smith.

In 1974, Frank and Eleanor Brown bought Fawcett Lake Resort, says Echoes. They lived there for five years, with Eleanor subbing at Smith School.

At that time, a fish derby was started which was run by the Junior Forest Wardens (likely out of Smith). There was also a winter carnival.

The March 17, 1977 Leader has information about the third year of these events. Over 200 people attended, says the article. Events included snowmobile races, snowshoe baseball, rifle shooting, tea boiling, and a fishing derby.

Jim Albach bought the resort in 1979, says his son Curtis. The campground has been in the family since then.

Jim was looking for “a place to take his family to the lake,” says Curtis, who was around 10 at the time. Jim was an accountant out of Lacombe who was successful in the 1970s oil boom. He was looking for another investment, adds Curtis.

In 1979, the campground had around 50 or 60 spots, but people would also park in the bush, says Curtis. Before it was officially subdivided to its current layout with over 200 lots in 2006, at times, people would be staying in around 400 campsites.

After three years of construction, the resort reopened, and people were offered the option of year-long leases, says Curtis. Many liked this idea. Now, that is the only type of camping at the resort.

Present day
Fawcett Lake has two road accesses. One on the west and one on the narrows, called the east.

The west side of Fawcett Lake has the Fawcett Lake Provincial Recreation Area, with 28 campsites. These don’t have services.

The park’s website says, “Sites are nicely treed and located close to the lake shore. A hand launch provides access for fishing and canoeing.”

The east side has Fawcett Lake Resort and Broken Paddle.

The resort has been a favourite camping site for 75 years, says www.facettlakeresort.com.

“The people up here have to be rustic campers,” says Curtis. The campground has electricity, but everyone has to haul water from Smith.

Another highlight for Curtis is “a very nice swimming beach.”

According to Curtis, the camp manager remains on site year round, but the rest of the campers only come up for the summer. A few come up once in a while in the winter.

As some of the lots are leased by extended families, some days in summer around 1,000 people could be at the campground, says Curtis.

“Fawcett Lake is best known for Walleye fishing,” says www.facettlakeresort.com. “It is also known for its northern pike and yellow perch. The lake is about 10 miles long and two miles wide. It has four islands and is connected to three rivers and several streams. Motorboats are allowed on the lake at all times. Summer fishing is closed in the eastern half of the lake until July 1 each year to protect the spawning season. The entire lake is then open to fishing for the rest of the year.”

Broken Paddle is a housing development next to Fawcett Lake Resort. Some people live there year round and other houses are summer cottages.

An aerial view of the east Fawcett Lake with Fawcett Lake Resort and the northern edge of Broken Paddle housing development visible. Aerial photos taken on a helicopter ride with Slave Lake Helicopters.

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