Hugh Neave was born Aug. 24, 1922 in Macklin, Saskatchewan. His parents homesteaded in nearby Evesham, but after being beat up by the Great Depression and suffering through a typhoid epidemic, they decided it was time to try their luck elsewhere.
“We’d been depressioned out, dried out, and grasshoppered out,” Hugh explained in a 1985 interview.
About this time, Hugh’s mother read that the Henson family was selling land at Ootsa Lake. She came here to check it out, and on her recommendation, the Neaves decided to relocate. After holding an auction to dispose of their surplus possessions, they loaded what remained (which included five horses, a cow and calf, and some chickens) into a boxcar bound for Burns Lake.
The Neaves arrived in September 1941. The trip to Ootsa Lake by wagon took three days, and after staying with the Bennetts, they made the final journey to their new home.
The family loved the Ootsa Lake country, but found it extremely lonely. Eventually, the isolation proved too much for them, and they decided to return to Saskatchewan.
On the way out to Burns Lake, they met Bill Cooper, a cowboy originally from the US. Cooper told the family that the store at Francois Lake was experiencing financial difficulties. Because members of the farmer’s institute depended greatly on the establishment and its post office, he added, they had temporarily assumed control of it.
Cooper asked Hugh’s father – who’d apprenticed with a hardware merchant in England – if he’d be interested in taking over the store. After meeting with members of the farmer’s institute and giving the matter some thought, the family agreed, and Hugh started working in the store.
The Neaves prospered. In 1949, Hugh married Josephine (Josie) Keefe, the daughter of one of the area’s first settlers. The couple had four children, and eventually took over the family business.
Hugh supplemented their income with the proceeds from a taxi service he’d started in the mid-1940s. His first taxi was a 1941 two-door Chevrolet. It wasn’t equipped with a trip meter, so passengers paid a flat rate. A ride to Ootsa Lake and back – at the time a 45-kilometer odyssey over bad roads – cost $8.
“I charged $3 for a trip to Burns Lake,” Hugh reminisced years after. “Later on, the fare went up to $5.”
Neave’s Taxi Service operated for nearly two decades, and over the years, Hugh carried some unorthodox cargoes. He once took a load of Indigenous trappers (and their entire winter’s catch) to Fraser Lake and Fort Fraser. During construction of the Skins Lake Dam, he hauled a couple taxi loads of dynamite to the Aluminum Company of Canada’s contractors there. “I got a little extra for that,” he said.
Hugh had a keen interest in history, and was passionate about the community in which he lived. He enjoyed writing, and had a current events column in the Lakes District News for decades. It was consistently one of the paper’s most popular features.
When Hugh died on Oct. 8, 2016, his loss was mourned by a community he had helped build.
© 2018 Michael Riis-Christianson and the Lakes District Museum Society