Resort Village of

Big Shell

by Art Shepherd - Fall 2012

The Resort Village of Big Shell is located on three quarters of land that was originally part of the Haroldson family farm.  It was used as a grazing pasture for their cattle operation.  Visitors to the lake prior to 1970 had to share the area that is now the beach and boat launch with grazing cattle.

In the early 1970’s, Axel Haroldson and Frank Zwada began to develop lake front properties into cabin sites.  Yearly leases were granted for $60.00 per year.  In addition an annual entrance fee was charged in the spring of each year.  The development was rather informal.  No surveyor plan was commissioned and roads were simply bulldozed following the path of least resistance and lots paced out.  Most lots were quickly taken and many of the lease holders began construction of their cottage.

By 1975 resort development in the province began to expand.  Developers were looking for sites to purchase and develop.  A good example was Echo Bay, our neighbor to the north.  In 1976 Haroldson and Zwada indicated their intent to sell the three quarters of land and that they had several interested buyers.  The news was somewhat unsettling to the lease holders, especially those, that had already invested significantly in their leased lot.

A group of cottage owners and lease holders met informally to explore options for retaining their properties.  A sum of $250,000.00 had to be raised to purchase the property and tens of thousands more would be required to create a surveyed development.  No one individual could raise that amount and no corporate body existed to represent the lease holders.

A committee of lease holders was formed to explore the options.  The formation of a Co-Operative was suggested and at the time seemed the best course to follow.  Application was made to the department of Co-Operative Affairs for a charter.  There was no precedent for a Co-Operative to own and oversee a resort development.  After several months of negotiating, a charter was granted and a Co-Operative body established to proceed with the purchase and development.  During this time the trust and determination of the community showed itself in the countless hours of volunteer work and the commitment of funds to oversee the cost of acquiring the charter.  Sub committees were established to oversee the purchase of the property, the survey required for development and deal with the various agencies necessary for approval; health, environment, Spiritwood Municipality, Municipal Affairs, SARM, SUMA and others.  We were different and did not fit the mould which made some of our dealings difficult.

With the charter in hand, funds for the purchase had to be raised.  It worked out that each lot had to raise between $2,500.00 and $3,000.00 in order to have the necessary funding for the purchase and development of the property.  A meeting of lease holders was held in Saskatoon in the spring of 1977 to raise the money and sell open lots.  By the end of the day $280,000.00 had been invested into the Co-Operative body.  Tri-City Surveyors, out of North Battleford was hired to do the survey and develop a plan for the Co-Operative.  The final plan was approved by all agencies in 1979.

The Co-Operative continued as the governing body until the early 1980’s.  Application was made for village status and granted.  The Co-Operative was dissolved and the caveat on all properties requiring Co-Operative membership was lifted.

The roots of our village are born by the vision, trust and determination of the original lease holders.  It was the mentality of co-operation and volunteerism that made this village, a spirit that is still a part of who we are today.

If you have recollections you would like to share, please email them rvbigshell@gmail.com and we'll post them here.​