Herb Lake was once a prosperous mining town. In the 1930s and 1940s it hummed with activity and even though it couldn't be accessed by anything other than boat, plane, and a winter road, it was home to between 600 and 700 people. Its tree lined streets boasted three or four stores, a dairy, a butcher shop, a restaurant, a barber shop, post office, hotel and beer parlour, a blacksmith shop, a school, and churches.
However, with the end of the Second World War and the prosperity and technological change that it fostered, the town's mines wavered and waned before crashing completely. The town came to its own demise in the late 1950s. Her streets are mostly rabbit runs now and her carefully tended gardens are a tangle of caragana and poplar trees. This once proud and resourceful community is all but a memory, laid out in the dog-eared photographs owned by the few left who are a part of her legacy.
Getting to Herb Lake required a two-day ride by horse and wagon over a 20 kilometre stretch of rough road between the railway station at Wekusko, to the tiny village of Herb Lake Landing on the south end of Wekusko Lake. From the Landing, travel up the eastern shore of Wekusko Lake to Herb Lake was by water in the summer and ice in the winter.
The community had a Main Street and its other streets were also laid out in a proper plan. However, many of Herb Lake's homes were spread out, skirting the scenic eastern expanse of Wekusko Lake. There were even a few that were hidden away on nearby islands. Its cemetery was also situated quite some distance from the town proper.
Like any community, it had its characters, but it was also a community full of pioneers. After all, Herb Lake ushered in the Manitoba gold rush. That doesn't happen without at least a few people making a name for themselves. When they passed they were laid to rest in that tiny, all but forgotten cemetery.
Some 60 years after its downfall, another group of pioneers gathered at the South End of Wekusko to bestow honour on those left behind the deceased who are buried in the grown over cemetery of their beloved home, Herb Lake.
Ted Stabback acted as emcee for the afternoon ceremony and welcomed the close to 100 people to the dedication of a plaque commemorating all those who were buried in the Herb Lake Cemetery and surrounding community.
"Herb Lake was a bustling mining community from the early to mid-1900s," he began. "In those days there was a lot of action in the bush, on the lake, as well as underground; and like any other community Herb Lake had its share of misfortunes. Being a small, remote community, without a full-time doctor, many people passed on, and the community graveyard south of town was the final resting place for all those people listed on this plaque.
"Over the years getting to and from the graveyard, for some of the older loved ones, was getting increasingly difficult. As well, when you get there, Mother Nature has pretty well taken over. At the graveyard there are many wooden crosses in disrepair, as well as some stones and they are becoming harder and harder to find, as the caraganas have really taken over. So to make it easier for people to come to a quiet place to remember their family and friends, the residents of Herb Lake Landing have decided to make a plaque inscribed with all the names of the people who have been buried in the cemetery and surrounding area. This plaque and the information on it represents a lot of work, by many of the permanent, as well as seasonal residents here at the landing. They had to search for the information, check it with various sources as well as (on) the physical plaque, the cement work the perfect stone, all took a lot of effort and I would like to thank everyone involved for doing that."
Stabback then called upon Pastor Murray Fenwick from Snow Lake Baptist Church to recite opening prayer. Following Fenwick, Snow Lake Coun. Rupert Klyne brought a message from Flin Flon NDP MLA Clarence Pettersen, who was recovering from kidney surgery and sent his regrets. Klyne imparted how Pettersen recalled visiting Herb Town in the late 1960s with his father and how they traveled around checking the old gold mines of the area. "He was intrigued and began to study the history of Herb Lake and the pioneers who built it," said Klyne. "He noted how it was only fitting that a plaque be dedicated to the pioneers buried there." Pettersen also conveyed that he planned to travel to Snow Lake and Herb Lake Landing during the coming summer to see the plaque first hand. Klyne further spoke of his own personal remembrances of the area and pleasure at seeing the plaque dedicated.
Next Stabback asked Niki Ashton, the NDP MP for Churchill riding to say a few words. Ashton thanked the community leaders and organizers of the event for making such an important recognition come to fruition. She noted how she has the pleasure of representing Herb Lake Landing, and former residents of Herb Lake who live all across the north. "I know your roots run deep and are very much tied to a story that is so common in communities that helped build the north," the MP said. "Mining communities in communities made up of trappers and fishers, who raised families that went on to build other communities. I know the Herb Lake spirit still continues, and so many of you continue to be so active here at Herb Lake Landing." Ashton recalled a vivid recent memory of the community's spirit during the campaign to save CBC North Country. They received one envelope of petitions that was signed in its entirety by folks from Herb Lake Landing. "The message on the top said, 'As you can see, all of us have signed this, so when you present it in the House of Commons, we expect Herb Lake Landing to be heard,'" explained Ashton. "I knew that there was no other way but to do that, and rest assured Herb Lake Landing was heard and continues to be in the records of the House of Commons on that very important issue." In closing she thanked the community for coming together, acknowledged the participation of the Province of Manitoba in making the recognition a reality, and noted how the collective memories of residents would live on as a result of what was done this day.
After Ashton finished, Snow Lake Legion Branch #241 members, Dawn Roberts, Iona Johnston, and Cathy Stabback honoured Harry Roberts and Charles Stabback and other members of the Herb Lake Legion Branch #125 who were buried in Herb Lake, with the Veteran's Prayer and the Ode of Remembrance.
The emcee then noted that the artistry of the plaque was the creation of the Hemauer Funeral Home in The Pas. "Not only did Mr. Hemauer spend considerable time and effort creating this work. But he is also one of the major donors who made this possible today," said Stabback. "I know that he neither wants or expects accolades, but it is no exaggeration to state that if it were not for him and our next guest, Mr. Wayne Huculak we would not be here today so our most sincere thanks to the Hemauer Funeral Home in The Pas."
With that, Huculak, who is a regional consultant for recreation and regional services in The Pas for the Manitoba Department of Culture, Heritage and Tourism approached the podium. "On behalf of recreation and regional services branch, I'd like to welcome you all here to this very important ceremony," he said. "When you look at this plaque, take in the memories and never forget. To the youth, remember that the past is also our future." He ended by congratulating all the volunteers from Herb Lake Landing and noting that the money that went into the project was nothing compared to the volunteer time. Huculak and Jim Corman then unveiled the plaque to thunderous applause. Stabback then acknowledged those whose hard work and research went into the project.
Stewart Bridgeman and Buddy Bartlett - both former residents of Herb Lake - then came forward and laid a wreath at the foot of the plaque. With these two gents side by side, Ashton and Snow Lake RCMP detachment Cpl. Jason Schalla, decked out in dress red serge, a number of commemoratory photos were taken.
There was a book on the cemetery titled The Herb Lake Graveyard, authored by Linda Butler, Hazel Corman, Ruth Swardfager and edited by Beverly Shlachetka, that was available for sale. They were snapped up quickly, and people also signed the event guestbook while they had the opportunity. A luncheon put on by the Legion Ladies Auxiliary was then enjoyed as was much discussion and laughter.