Gust Braaten, Uncha Valley pioneer, in front of cabin with gun, snowshoes, wolf skins. Settler pioneer Southside Uncha Lake hunt trap fur. (Lakes District Museum photo/Lakes District News)

One of the Uncha Valley’s most respected pioneers

Gustav (Gust) Braaten was one of the Uncha Valley’s most respected pioneers. Born in 1886, he and his family moved from North Dakota to Saskatchewan in 1910, and after homesteading there for a time, decided to try their luck in British Columbia. The family heard there was good farmland in the Lakes District, and in 1923, loaded their belongings aboard a Canadian National Railways train bound for Burns Lake.

According to Gust’s daughter Myrtle, the family arrived in the sleepy village at about 5 a.m., and stayed in their hotel room until local businessman Andy Anderson drove them to Uncha Lake in his Model T later that morning.

The Braatens settled in the Uncha Valley south of Francois Lake, where Gust went into partnership with fellow pioneer Charles D. (Shorty) Haven. The two men worked well together, and it wasn’t long before the Haven/Braaten farm was one of the finest in the region. Timothy seed produced by Braaten and Haven won first place at the Chicago International Exhibition in the early part of the 20th Century.

The two men also shared a love of story telling, and frequently entertained their neighbours with tales of adventure. Gust could spin a good yarn, but according his neighbours, Haven was even better at it.

Gust’s work ethic and generosity earned him the admiration of residents throughout the region. According to The Review newspaper in Burns Lake, he was “highly respected and known as one of the best farmers in the district. Although he lost a forearm in a hunting accident … he was first to have his crops in in the spring, and his crops safely harvested in the fall, while those of most of his neighbours were still out in the fields.”

Perhaps the finest tribute to Gust and his family came from Earl Hanke, one of his neighbours and another former resident of North Dakota. “The Braatens made life good for us,” Hanke said in an interview in 1994. “We were lucky to run into people like that.”

Haven died in 1948, but Gust continued to work their farm in the Uncha Valley until being admitted to the Burns Lake Hospital in 1951.

The former homesteader from North Dakota never saw his beloved farm again. Gust died in hospital on Feb. 22, 1951 after a short illness. His funeral, held a week later at the United Church in Burns Lake, was attended by residents from across the Lakes District, including (according to The Review) “every homesteader in the prolific Uncha Valley.”

© 2021 Michael Riis-Christianson and the Lakes District Museum Society