It worked this way. At one end, you climbed up a tower to which the basket was fastened. The height of the tower depended more or less on the width of the river. When turned loose, the basket went zooming down the cable. As soon as it reached the lowest point, you started to pull like mad on the rope while momentum sustained motion. If you were strong and lucky, you would pull yourself up to the other tower and make all fast. There was always that horrible moment at the end when you were sure you weren’t going to make it. If you didn’t, the box would zoom back down again — and partway up the other side. So you would wigwag back and forth until you came to a stop in the middle. You could either sit down and make the best of it or wait until another traveler came along. If a farmer lived nearby you could yell your head off for him to come with a team, send a rope down to you by a pulley riding the cable, hitch onto your stalled basket, and pull you up –probably to the side you had just left! To take a wagon across, you simply took it all apart, and transferred it piece by piece to assemble on the other side, or you hung it under the “basket”. By such means mail was got across, and sick or injured people requiring help at the nearest outpost hospital. It had the advantage of running in all seasons, but it wasn’t for the weak or the timid.
In winter the “ice bridge” served. A place was selected that was naturally unlikely to be swept out. In some cases tanks of water and snow were added to increase the thickness of the ice. Somebody always took the risk of being the first or the last over safely. The ice bridge at Taylor was the only link to Fort St. John from the south for years. Every spring excitement mounted high as the annual jackpot was won by someone who guessed most accurately the exact hour, minute and second the ice would go out.
In time the province put in ferries. One crossed the Smokey River east of Grande Prairie in 1934. It was simply slung on a cable. Turned at an angle to the current of the river, the force of the stream acted like a jet stream to propel the craft, without an engine.
Later tugs were added to get away from the necessity of the cable, on wide rivers like the Peace at Taylor. The ferryman set the pontoon at an angle that the water would push in the right direction. The tug helped to align it with the ferry slip or approach. A rowboat always bobbed alongside against the exciting possibility of the engine stopping, and the craft getting away as one did at Hudson Hope when a cable snapped carrying several cars downstream to a sandbar. A tug had to be brought from Moberly Lake to tow it back. The Dunvegan ferry was one of the earliest in the western Peace.
Nothing ever had as much significance in our history as the opening of the bridges at Peace River, Taylor, and Dunvegan and Smoky Rivers, other places had access to the “outside” by rail after 1930 but Fort St. John was for the first time given an all-weather route to market.
Then the ones at East Pine, West Pine and the Parsnip gave the whole north an outlet to the Pacific by the John Hart Highway. The day of the trail road was over and that of the Highways had dawned.
The work of Joseph Hunter has finally succeeded. He was a surveyor sent out to find the Pine Pass, known to the Indians since well before 1806. The struggle seemed doomed to failure, when he camped for a last night before turning back because of cold and storms. As he sat in his tent, disappointed, he heard a loon calling, reasoned that there must be a lake and probably a river flowing east. The next day he urged his tired party down Tillicum Creek, now known as the Attunachie, to lovely Lake Azouzetta, which means “squirrel”. He followed the Pine, cutting across from East Pine to the Kiskatinaw, but was forced to turn North to Fort St. John because of impassable muskegs and forest. In 1948 the last of the old main trail became a highway, and the pioneer road period ended in Prince George.