Finding The Needle In A Haystack
Buffalo Narrows, in Northern Saskatchewan, would be considered a remote and challenging duty station for any conservation officer, but even more so in 1959 before the advent of GPS, satellite phones, and modern radios. Poaching cases required CO’s to travel by any means possible to get to the most remote portions of their patrol areas, making an already dangerous job even more so. In 1959, the conservation officer stationed in Buffalo Narrows was a 27-year old by the name of Harold Thompson.
In 1885, Thompson’s family had emigrated from Norway. Like many, this journey took them to Ellis Island. Born in Saskatchewan on a family farm, Harold was one of thirteen children (six boys and seven girls). In high school, Thompson excelled as a local track star, shattering several records. Harold joined the Saskatchewan Department of Natural Resources in 1955 as a trainee and, in 1957, graduated as a conservation officer. While stationed in Saskatchewan’s Uranium City, Harold’s life as a conservation officer became a bit too exciting one day when, as a passenger, the plane he was in flipped over and crashed into the trees. Uninjured and undeterred by the accident, Thompson continued his game warden career by moving his wife Charlotte and their son Perry to Buffalo Narrows.
On August 20th of 1959, Thompson had a poaching file to investigate in the area of La Loche, Saskatchewan. He enlisted the aid of pilot Ray Gran to fly him the 91 km (57 miles) from Buffalo Narrows to La Loche. At 36-years of age, Gran was already an experienced pilot, and had previously earned the Distinguished Flying Cross in WWII. After the war, Gran had flown a variety of aircraft in different applications from mail transport to assisting conservation officers, but for this particular trip Gran was flying a Government of Saskatchewan Cessna 180 on floats. The Cessna 180 (tail registration CFJDO) has a reputation for a solid, dependable, and versatile bush plane capable of carrying men and equipment deep into the bush, on tundra tires, skis, or floats.