At Saskatchewan Landing, 25 miles north of the city of Swift Current, Highway No. 4, one of the main arteries of Saskatchewan’s road network, dives into the South Saskatchewan River to emerge on the farther shore. For a quarter of a century, press and public of southwest Saskatchewan have pleaded with every government for a bridge to replace the ferry.
How long this particular spot has been used for negotiating the South Saskatchewan is a matter of conjecture and research. The Indians had some sort of crossing device here before palefaces came nosing about.
In the late ’80s and early ’90s, local ranchers operated a ferry. Carts, wagons, oxen, cowboys, Indian bands and métis used it. Tractor, truck, car and ultra-modern, Saskatchewan-owned bus are obliged to use the ferry service of 1946.
“Jim” Smart operated the ferry in 1891, and he still dwells three miles from the Landing. Ninety-four years old, he is still a fine figure of a man in a strong and lusty late winter of life.
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James Laurie Smart hit these regions when they were very much territory, in 1888. He had conveyed 175 green Britons to work on farms of the Canadian Agricultural Coal and Colonization Company; in other words the “76.” The name was adopted from the brand on the first mob of cattle brought from over the international boundary for the company.
For two years after riding herd on the immigrants Jim Smart was stock foreman on the “76,” then went into partnership with one of the most indomitable characters of all the genus homo in these parts, Harry Y. Young.
Young made an epic bid for fortune when he undertook to drive a herd of beef steers from the Saskatchewan River to the Yukon to feed the meat-eating argonauts of the ’98 gold rush. He got well on his way, too. That, however, is a story that demands a separate place.
R.H. Hamilton ran the ferry from 1921 to 1927.
“Dick” bestrode a cavalry horse in the early and closing days of the First World War. He forked a cow horse in southwest Saskatchewan, riding for the locally famous Bill Shaw Outfit. Bill Shaw had bought out his erstwhile partner, Harry White, who hated the relentless advance of the homesteader. So much so, he bought himself an island off the coast of Queensland.
Dick Hamilton once took over an 85-horsepower steam engine, hefting about 30 tons. Bidding everybody get off the scow so that the last ounce of extra weight be eliminated, Hamilton accepted the challenge to tote this juggernaut across the river. The overhead cable bent like an overwrought bowstring; the ferry took water just below deck level, but slowly, every pulley creaking, cable strumming with tension, the old river gurgling in unholy anticipation, the old scow responded heroically.
A feat of which ex-trooper Dick and his ferry mate like to boast was that of the transportation of 375 head of cattle in 45 minutes. The air was filled with rolling dust clouds; clashing horns; dry running of hides on hides; the unnerving rustle of myriad hoofs on trek, potentially dangerous if stampeded.
Those days fitted in with a ferry at the Landing; fitted in with ranch and rope and spur; cow horse and ranging herd; the hipless cowboy, spare cavalier of the unraped plains.
And before the ferry gives place to a commodious bridge, worthy of Highway No. 4, and the mounting commerce of today, its history and life must be recorded in the archives of this province.
For more of the past from the pages of our magazine see the History section on the Canadian Cattlemen website.