Joseph Octave Nolin, an extraordinary pioneer, entrepreneur and politician


At the outset of writing this essay, I must give credit to Bernie Nolin, a direct descendent of Joseph Nolin, for providing the information, and for writing a first draft. Bernie's quest to document his family's legacy, and his appreciation of our city's colourful and fascinating history, is commendable.


Joseph Octave Nolin was born on May 16, 1868 to Joseph Nolin Sr. and Maryann Gaundry at Bottineau, North Dakota. Joseph's ancestry drew from the French, Scottish, Irish, Cree and Saulteaux. He was educated at St. Anne des Chenes, Man. His father was a university graduate. He served as an Indian agent at Touchwoods Hills in the early 1880s. He was also a clerk in the Manitoba Legislature. Joseph's uncle, Charles Nolin, was a minister of Public Works and Agriculture in the Norquay administration. His paternal grandfather, an old country Frenchman, was a Hudson's Bay Company chief factor.

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Joseph came to Saskatchewan as a youth with his parents. He applied for a homestead - S32 - 47 -17 - W3 - close to Jackfish Lake. He was an ambitious and successful entrepreneur who wore many hats. Joseph farmed and ranched for many years. A farmer first, he broke 10 acres and cropped ten in 1892 and in 1893, another 15. In 1893 he cropped 20 acres. One hundred acres of land were fenced with rails. The dimensions of the Nolin's log house were 17 by 30 feet. It was valued at $150. Joseph farmed and ranched for many years. Later he filed for another homestead - SW6 - 45 - 16 -W3- which was located north of North Battleford. In addition, he contracted work on Highway 4 when horses and fresno were used to accomplish the heavy work. In addition, Joseph ran a butcher shop and livery barn where the old Empress Theatre was located. He and a son had an interest in a farm implement business in Meota. He sat on Nolin School Board No. 903 when it was established. He was a justice of the peace. Finally, and most importantly, he was heavily involved in provincial politics.


Joseph operated a wood burning steam powered ferry that crossed the North Saskatchewan River between Battleford and the present site of North Battleford. The actual landing locations on both sides of the river varied as the sand bars changed from week to week. It was also necessary to trek up the North Saskatchewan and down the Battle River to avoid moving supplies up the steep banks of the Saskatchewan River. One landing was near where the pump house is now located. A surveyed road, the Battleford-Onion Lake Road, runs straight north from this point.


Interestingly, Nolin School was named after the Nolin family. The first meeting to form a rural school district was held Sept. 25, 1903. The first board meeting was held Nov. 6. And, as a point of interest, the hamlet of Hamlin was named after the Hamilton and Nolin families


Despite his many business ventures and successes, he was a man with strong family values. He married Marie Villeneuve on Feb. 6, 1891. They were blessed with a large family of 15 children, of whom two died in infancy.


Joseph Octave Nolin was a giant of a man. In his prime, at a height of 6'3," he tipped the scales at over 300 pounds, and he was immensely strong. The story is told that, after docking the ferry on the Battleford side, he would swim across the river to North Battleford. His home was located south of King Hill by the old water plant number one. He was an avid outdoorsman. He travelled extensively in the north by canoe, dog sled, horse, and later, by automobile. He was well educated and read widely. And he was also an accomplished linguist, fluent in English, French, German, Cree and Saulteaux. When animosities between the federal government and the French Métis and the Plains Cree came to boiling point in 1885, he was 17 years old. He knew who Louis Riel and the major players were. It was an exciting and dangerous time. Clearly, Joseph lived life to the full - applying his talent and energy to everything he did.


In the 1908 provincial election, Joseph was elected as the member for the Athabasca Constituency that covered a huge area - 15 miles north of North Battleford to the North West Territories. He garnered 252 votes; his opponent received nine votes. Later, the southern boundary of the constituency was established just south of Meadow Lake while the eastern boundary ran halfway across northern Saskatchewan. Joseph was re-elected in the Athabasca Constituency 1n 1912 by a margin of 163 to 40. He was also elected in the Ile a La Crosse Constituency in the 1917, 1921 and 1925 elections. Joseph was one of the first Métis members to serve in the Saskatchewan Provincial Legislative Assembly. He served his constituents well and proved to be a capable and strong advocate. He did his utmost to help the settlers in the Meadow Lake and Beaver River areas. When northern residents indicated they needed a better road to the south, he focused his energies on getting government monies to see that this was accomplished. During the winter of 1908-09, Joseph was successful in getting a trail laid down from 100 miles north to south of the Battlefords.


Joseph's work on behalf of his constituents was not confined to road building. In 1911, the Dominion Government built a telegraph line from Battleford to Ile a La Crosse. Offices were located at Cochin, three miles north of Glaslyn, Meadow Lake, Green Lake, Beauval and Ile a La Crosse. Telegraph service was provided to a large part of Joseph's constituency.


It was not uncommon for Joseph to travel 300 to 400 miles to meet with his constituents. In 1923, it was extremely unfortunate that he sustained a serious accident on a canoe trip, after which he never regained his strength and rugged physicality. His health worsened in the spring of 1924 when he was diagnosed with heart disease. As a result, his physician, Dr. Savole, would not permit him to attend the opening session of the legislature in December of 1925. This was a devastating blow for an MLA who passionately desired to maintain his excellent record and work for his constituents, particularly those in the north.


Jospeph was a warm-hearted and optimistic man. He was equally at home in the woods and on the trail travelling by dog team or canoe, and in the provincial legislature. His personal library was replete with the works of great writers and contemporary authors. He was in touch with provincial, national and international issues and problems. And, the fact that he was farmer, rancher and contractor simply underscores that he was a man of extraordinary talent, energy and ability.


After living a life of remarkable success in business and public life, Joseph Octave Nolin died on the morning of Dec. 7, 1925 at the Grey Nuns Hospital in Regina. Reverend Father Healy of the Holy Rosary Cathedral conducted the service at the Speers funeral home. His body was taken by train to his gravesite at Meota where he was buried on the morning of Dec. 10. On the occasion of North Battleford's centennial, we stand in admiration of this extraordinary and selfless man who gave of himself so generously to help his constituents and fellow man. He helped lay the foundations for our great city. Joseph Octave Nolin was truly a great citizen.

© Copyright Battlefords News Optimist

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