by Dorthea Calverley (1983)
Stories differ about the bypassing of the already existing village of Pouce Coupe by the Northern Alberta Railway in favour of the present site of Dawson Creek. But nearly all the stories attribute the final choice to the Pouce Coupe pioneer Tom Jamieson’s dispute with the railroad’s purchasing agents.
In 1916 when the railroad had reached Grande Prairie, the right-of-way for the expected western extension through the Pine Pass was locally — and reasonably — assumed to be through the busy little centre of Rolla. The few residents of much smaller Pouce Coupe had hopes, of course. The choice of temporary terminus fell on the smaller centre, probably due to expense problems caused by the crossings of the deep valleys of the Pouce Coupe River, Dawson Creek and ultimately the Kiskatinaw River.
For a time, the end-of-steel rested at Hythe, until the inevitable return of the Peace River Block from Dominion to Provincial ownership was finalized. Purchasing agents of the railway began negotiating for the locations of townsites, one of which occurred every seven or eight miles for the convenience of track maintenance and of the shippers of freight. Pouce Coupe was the choice. Since homesteaders had taken up the suitable level areas, compensation had to be agreed upon.
Some of Tom Jamieson’s land, and that of some others, was agreed upon and a price, said to be thirty dollars an acre, was negotiated. Jamieson accepted it for the portion that was included in the townsite itself. [Note: the above is what TJ told this researcher, thus denying the often repeated story that he tried to get more remuneration than his neighbours, and incidentally “hold up” the railway at this point]
Further research modifies the popular version of the price dispute. Wherever the end-of-steel rests for a time, a construction known as a “wye” or “y” is necessary to turn the locomotive and cars around. A turntable, “round house” and marshaling yard are usual only at a major divisional point. Evidently a further extension of the right-of-way was contemplated in 1929 or 1930. A considerable area of flat ground is necessary for a passenger train. Tom Jamieson owned such a piece, but selling would seriously curtail his agricultural acreage. He wanted more than the agreed town-site price. The officials disputed. Jamieson is reported to have challenged, “You have to use my land because of the deep valley of the Dawson Creek which you would have to cross [if you didn’t]. It would cost much more to build a bridge than to meet my price!” The purchasing agents began to look around and engaged a Dawson Creek man, Duncan McKellar, to drive them.
Now it happened that in 1924 ‘Dunc’ had bought a quarter [section] from a homesteader named John Peebles. It lay west of the section line later known as 8th Street. In 1927 McKellar bought another quarter section north of the home place. It was not a “speculation”, because it was then assumed that Pouce Coupe would be the temporary end of line. [Dawson Creek was located at the “old village” site 2 miles west].
One day in early 1930 a railway employee sought out McKellar to drive him over the area. At the end of their tour of inspection he told Dunc, “You are looking at the future site of the town of Dawson Creek”. Dunc’s land was flat, and large enough for the railway’s purpose. They agreed on a reasonable price.
Construction began at once on the high wooden trestle across the creek [Dawson Creek], the subdivision of town lots, the location of a huge water reservoir on the west side of town, the railway station [now a museum], freight sheds, shops and the ‘wye’. Five [grain] elevators were rushed to completion.
The subdivision of lots was aligned with the right-of-way [streets parallel to or at right angles to the tracks, a common practice all across the prairies]. This gave Dawson Creek a peculiar dogleg [mismatch] in the main and other streets [particularly along 13th Street south of 102nd Avenue] since the Wertenbaker subdivision outside the western boundary was surveyed “on the square”.
Pouce Coupe and Rolla made strong bids to carry on their former business connection by having a second high trestle built to carry the connecting road across the Dawson Creek north of Pouce Coupe, but it began to collapse and within ten years was torn down.
Not only did Rolla and Pouce Coupe see their commercial dreams collapse, but so did the bustling little centre known as Bullenville, a short distance southwest of Dawson Creek. The village was locally known as “Donation Creek” or “Moonshine Centre”. The good citizens of that informal village [Bullenville] accepted their lot philosophically, and moved lock, stock and barrel to the new Dawson Creek. Thereafter, the deserted location became known as “Old Dawson”. It is now a suburb of the ambitious city.
Fifty years after the event, the scars of the old Pouce Coupe-Rolla-Dawson Creek battle still survive in latent bitterness over the politicking wins and losses of a half-century ago.