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Comet Tale

by Bill Poole

I first met Lefty McLeod when I opened up an RCMP detachment at Goldfields in June 1951. Given the activity in the area at that time, with numerous uranium mines, prospectors and service personnel, Goldfields—established in the 1930's but abandoned in later years—was given new life as the distribution centre of supplies for the area.

Hence, the province, the federal government and Eldorado Mining and Refining opted for a police presence. The occasional visit by the RCMP officer based at Stony Rapids was no longer adequate. The future Uranium City—located some 20 kms northwest of Goldfields was, in 1951, but a few surveyor blaze marks on trees.

Lefty was employed by Saskatchewan Government Airways and flew their Beaver aircraft based at Goldfields. He serviced the many uranium mining camps, prospectors, government personnel and RCMP of the region. Among the very few bush pilots working out of Goldfields, Lefty was considered to be top drawer.

Once, when in the Stony Rapids area, Lefty came across the beautiful waterfalls on the Grease River. He reported his finding. Subsequently, it was named Lefty's Falls, but much later this was changed to Hunt Falls.

- Douglas Walker photo courtesy Tourism Saskatchewan
Hunt Falls, in northwest Saskatchewan.

On July 15, 1952, a radio message was received from Eldorado—the federal and largest uranium mine in the area—that an employee had been found dead in his bunk. The circumstances were suspicious and the RCMP was asked to attend.

Subsequent investigation suggested that a crime might have been committed. RCMP headquarters at Prince Albert was advised that an autopsy was needed. Arrangements were made to have an RCMP aircraft land on the dirt airstrip at Eldorado to pick up the body and take it to Regina. Unfortunately, a suitable aircraft from Edmonton would not be available for three days.

The weather was hot. What to do with the deceased? The use of the Eldorado's meat locker was quickly ruled out: It was thought that the 700 employees would be upset. Further inquiries revealed the presence of a mine tunnel on an island on Beaverlodge Lake. It would be quite cool inside, a good place to keep the deceased for three days.

A pine box was assembled and the dead miner placed inside. The box and its contents were taken in a freighter canoe to the island. My fellow constable and I struggled up the hill to the tunnel, opened the old wooden doors and deposited the box in the cool, dark interior.

Three days later, at my request, Lefty taxied his Beaver aircraft to the rocky island shoreline. But there was a problem. The pine box would not fit lengthwise into the cargo area. What to do? Lefty had the answer. Off came the cargo doors on both sides of the Beaver and the box was shoved in sideways. True, it extended beyond the aircraft's fuselage by a good twelve inches on both sides, but Lefty was not concerned.

He asked the junior constable to straddle the pine box—after all, he was wearing breeches, riding boots and spurs. From the comparative safety of the front passenger seat I began to explain that I, as the constable in charge, should occupy the more dangerous position. My protestations were drowned out in the roar of the Beaver's engine as we took off.

We were airborne but heading south. To reach the Eldorado dock on the lake, we had to go north.

At 900 feet above Beaverlodge Lake, Lefty banked the Beaver in a very tight turn. The junior constable dug in his spurs. I began writing my report to HQ in my head. How to explain the loss of the corpus delicti? How to explain the loss of government property, to wit: one barely used junior constable with spurs?

But, eventually, a very cool Lefty put the Beaver down and taxied to the dock. The pine box was quickly taken to the RCMP aircraft for the long ride to Regina.

For bush pilot Lefty McLeod, it was just another business day.

Bill Poole is retired and living amid modern amenities in southern Saskatchewan.

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