Thursday, June 16, 2011

HEROES OF THE NORTHLAND; part 1 of 4; by Carroll P. Streeter; 1929

A blizzard was on the way in northern Saskatchewan.

And because he felt that it would be no mere flurry, Verner Johnson drove his dog team up to the cabin of John Littlewood near Foam Lake, 120 miles from civilization with the intent of putting up there until the storm was over.

But just as Johnson arrived, Littlewood hurried out to meet him with disturbing news.

His daughter, Rose, had acute appendicitis, it seemed certain, and must be rushed to a hospital at once.

Hospital? There wasn't even a doctor for two hundred miles, not until you reached Prince Albert. And besides, the only way you could get over the first hundred and twenty of those miles was with dogs. Racing that far against time was a man-sized job at any time, and with a storm rising it seemed impossible, even though the driver was an experienced frontiersman and though his leader, Prince, was known as one of the best dogs in north Saskatchewan.

Nevertheless, a few minutes later Johnson was on his way with a heavily-bundled, frightened girl on his sled, praying that Providence would grant her time enough to reach that distant hospital.

They were bound for Big River, a little settlement at the end of steel on the most northerly branch of the Canadian National Railways. Half way there the storm caught up with them. A heavy fall of fine snow, driven by a gale which seemed suddenly to come out of nowhere,hid the few landmarks there were. Soon Johnson could scarcely see beyond his team, then the stinging flakes made it impossible for him even to keep his eyes open. He was lost, yet he must keep on going somewhere. Fortunately, Big River was home for the driver and his dogs, and maybe Prince could find it. In that hope Johnson, depending on the trail sense of his dogs, stumbled along, head down, as best he could.

Many hours later a weary team and driver plodded up the main street of the little village to the depot.

A spare engine was hooked to a caboose and the little "special train" rushed the girl to the Prince Albert hospital in time for an operation that saved her life. The heroic incident was officially recognized when the Right Honorable W. L. Mackenzie King, Premier of Canada, publicly awarded Johnson a certificate of the Royal Humane Society of Canada, and put a silver collar around Prince's neck.