by Mary Lundquist
Preface: This is a straight forward account of conditions in the Arras District from 1930. It establishes the names of early settlers.
The Murphy referred to in this story had a large house and barn where the Old Hart Highway joins the new one west of Dawson Creek. The place was known locally as Murphy’s Corner.
The log house was probably the first A-frame in the area, being built with just enough wall to admit low windows, the rest of the two-storey structure being a high gable roof. The house always looked as if it were partly obscured by a low hill — an example of the originality with which the settlers designed their own architecture. In this as in many ways, they demonstrated that anyone who came and stayed was an individualist — many were characters – a fact which may still colour the local group psychology.
D. H. Calverley
Pioneering In the Arras District: The Price of Land
My husband was asked to write a short article about our decision to come to the Peace River country and our experiences as pioneer homesteaders. He doesn’t like writing and asked me to do it, so here I am.
We both liked Saskatchewan and were happy there, but were just renting our land. So when a friend, Victor Strandberg, started bringing every article he could find telling about what a wonderful place the Peace River Country was, Eric [Lundquist], his dad, Mr. Strandberg and another fellow decided to come up and look it over in October of 1929. They talked Sandy Summerville, another neighbor, into taking them in his car.
They were gone about a week. Eric and his father decided they liked it up here, so his father stayed while Eric went back down to Kelliher, Saskatchewan, where we were living at the time, to arrange to sell all but the necessary things, which they planned to ship together in one box car.
The trip up here, when they came to look at the land had a dramatic and rather funny incident happen. They hit a culvert that hadn’t been filled in and Eric’s dad flew up, hit his nose and skinned it, and Mr. Strandberg knocked out two of his gold capped teeth. Shortly after, they went into a cafe for lunch. Strandberg (as everyone called him) didn’t eat much, probably because his mouth hurt, so he soon went out again. As soon as Eric finished, he went out to see what he was doing. There he was, digging around on the floor in front of the back seat. He looked at Eric and said, “I show you, Eric. I show you”, and stuck out his hand with his two gold teeth lying on his palm.
After Eric got back home, we spent the winter in town. Toward the end of March, they put on an auction sale and sold everything except the most necessary items.
For our share, we bought a team of horses and harness, two cows, a sleigh, a wagon, an 8 ft. disc, his tools and our household goods, except my organ, as we didn’t have room for it. Dad brought a similar amount.
Eric got a train pass, but his two young brothers and my youngest brother wanted to go, too. So they came out as stowaways in the back of the boxcar. I think the conductor sort of knew about them, as when he walked past Eric he spoke low from the corner of his mouth and said “If you’ve got anyone in your car, tell them to keep out of sight, when we get into the stations.” We thought it was really kind of him.
I remember so well when we left Kelliher. They only had a certain time to load their car, or they had to pay extra rental time, so they had to work all night because this train was due to leave about 4:00 a.m. They worked by lantern-light and it was a wild, stormy night with the snow swirling and drifting around. It made me feel more sad and depressed than I already was, at thoughts of leaving our hometown and all our friends.
Shirley, our fifteen-month old daughter, and I were going down to Moose Jaw, to stay with my folks until Eric got land and a place fixed up for us. We were there until August 19th, when we left to come up here. I didn’t go back for 26 years and Eric, not until 35 years later.
Before they left Kelliher, I had packed what food I could into the cupboard, for the boys to eat on the way. When they got to Edmonton, Eric bought a cake and a few other things and sneaked it back to them.
As soon as he got inside they all asked at once, if he’d brought them any food. He asked if they had eaten all the food I’d put in the cupboard for them. They all looked at each other and felt silly, as they had forgotten about it and just had milk to drink, that they had milked from the cows for the two days they had been on the train. And you know how teenage boys can eat!
At that time, the train only came as far as Hythe, Alberta. They had to unload there and haul their stuff the rest of the way on wagons, leaving part at Hythe.
There were several others along in the caravan, or whatever you want to call it. They were at Canyon Creek on Easter Sunday and Eric thought it quite funny because one of the Bacon boys boiled 52 of his mother’s setting eggs, in a big pail, for the gang for breakfast.
They crossed the Peace River, on the ice, April 7, 1930 and were lucky to get across, as the ice started to go out that night.
They were camped on the north bank and a freighter phoned across to see if they could rescue his freight sleigh that he had left setting on the ice. All the boys roped themselves together and waded out into the ice water. Eric went ahead to tie the rope onto the sleigh and had to jump from one ice block to another. But they managed to get it out safely. He and the other boys went on up to Rose Prairie where his dad was.
At that time, the land hadn’t been surveyed yet, so each one had to “squat” on the land they desired.
His eldest brother, his wife and two little ones were also up there. They all wanted Eric to stay, too. He said he couldn’t, as he had to try to get some work. His little niece piped up and said, “You take me along Uncle Eric, and I’ll “squat” for you!”
When he got back down to Taylor Flats the river was still too high to cross. The ferry wasn’t running, so he had to leave his team with an old fellow named Charlie Kraft — a really nice old fellow. He took a liking to Eric and wanted to sell him a quarter of land there, near where Taylor now stands, for $1,600 on any terms. When he got that paid for, he had lots more land he’d sell him as he was too old to handle it any more. Eric didn’t like the thought of going into debt and also had a dream of getting a ranch and raising cattle, so didn’t take it.
Then he met up with Eric McNabb and Harold Thompson. They had land down in the foothills, straight south of Arras, B.C., and wanted Eric to go and look around there.
As soon as Eric saw it, he thought it was just what he wanted. He went out and filed on a quarter section, just across the big Sunset Creek from them. It is now known as the Brassy Creek, and there is a sign on the bridge confirming it, but I feel like committing an act of vandalism when I see it, as all the old-timers knew it as the Sunset Creek and I always thought it was such a pretty name. Anyway, my brother, Clarence McKibben, filed on the quarter just west of ours. He later moved out south of Arras school. They both got jobs working on the road, on Old Baldy. Eric made enough to send me some to come out here with.
After I wrote to tell him what day I’d arrive in Hythe, I waited 3 weeks so the letter would be sure to reach him. When I got to Hythe, there was no one there to meet me. I waited over until Saturday, in case he’d meet the next train, but he still didn’t come. Jack Fynn was running a taxi to Dawson Creek and I came as far as Pouce Coupe with him.
He said they were going out to Arras to go swimming the following day and would take me along that far. The next day he said he couldn’t take me as there was no place for me to stay. I said surely there was some place. Then he admitted that there were too many along and he didn’t have room for me. He did know of a lady there in Pouce Coupe though, that sometimes took in girls and he would take me there. He left me at her gate and I knocked on the door and explained that Jack Fynn said she might let me stay there. She burst out laughing and said, “Jack Fynn must think I’m running a home for stray girls, but come on in dearie!” Her name was Mrs. Armstrong and she came from Moose Jaw. When she found I’d just come up from there, well, she really took me under her wing and we had a wonderful visit. She thought Shirley was such a cute little girl and that warms any mother’s heart.
In the meantime, Eric had come out to Arras, got my letter and went to Hythe looking for me. When I wasn’t there, he came back to Dawson Creek, still couldn’t find me and started back to Hythe. When he got to Pouce, he happened to ask it there was any mail for him there and the girl said, “Yes, I believe there is,” and dug out the note I’d written him, saying I was going to Mrs. Armstrong’s. But, I forgot to tell him where she lived, so he was no wiser.
He was with Henry Murphy (from Murphy’s Corner) and when he got back outside he asked Henry if he knew where she lived. Fortunately, she was renting one of his houses, so he took Eric over there. The lost was finally found. We went to Dawson Creek with Mr. Murphy and rode from there to Arras with George Lattimer, who owned a mill out west of there.
Eric had left his team at Arras and had a load of lumber on the wagon for one of our neighbors-to-be, Nils Hildrum. Eric put a wooden box on the load, with a blanket over it, so Shirley and I could ride like queens. I guess he’s never tried it himself. The road was so rough that the box bounced around like a rubber ball. It wasn’t long before we put the blanket down on the lumber and sat on it.
We went as far as Mr. Joe Cole’s, where we stopped to eat our lunch, and then went on to Bill Ferris’. The shack was locked, as he was away, so we camped overnight in his barn. In the morning Eric built a campfire and I was getting breakfast while he went to round up the horses. Shirley had been sleeping when I left her but by her screams I knew she must be very much awake and ran to get her. She can still remember how scared she was.
We went on to Nils Hildrum’s, had lunch with him, unloaded the lumber and went on to our home. When we got to the hill on the north side of the creek, I thought Eric had brought me to the jumping-off place for sure. We couldn’t see any road until we broke over the top of the hill. He always had to rough block the wagon or sleigh when he had a load on. There was an Indian trail down through there but Eric and my brother were the first ones to take a wagon down.
One time they were crossing the creek with just the running gear of the wagon and it tipped over. Somehow, Clarence was standing on the bottom of the reach as they came out of the water. Another time, they were crossing and the water was high, so Clarence was sitting on the bolster at the back, with his bedroll across his knees to keep it dry. Eric heard something and looked around and Clarence had fallen off, hanging across the bedroll, with just the seat of his pants sticking out of the water. He couldn’t swim, but the bedroll kept him floating long enough to manage to get out safely.
There was a clinic held at the school one year when our kids were small, so we really wanted to take them. Eric knew the creek was high and was careful to chain the box on safely, but the water poured over the top, just like a waterfall. The kids thought it quite thrilling.
That creek was really something. It was our water supply and main source of excitement. We always went down to watch people cross, especially if the water was high, and a lot of funny things happened. The kids fished in it; it was their swimming hole in summer and skating rink in winter, and the hills were for sleigh riding.
When Shirley and I first arrived out at our homestead our house, or shack as everyone called the small log houses, wasn’t finished enough to live in, so we had to live in the tent for a while. I’d always thought that would be so romantic, until I tried it. I still think it might have been a lot of fun if we hadn’t had so much rain.
Nils Hildrum helped build our cabin. It was quite special, with dovetailed corners and a good floor of fir flooring that Eric brought from Saskatchewan. Not long after we moved into it, Eric and Nils decided to go down to stay overnight at a moose-lick. This was illegal, but everyone really needed meat for food and they hadn’t yet learned the tricks of hunting. There was just a blanket at the door, and I was so scared, in fear a bear might happen to come prowling in, so I piled our trunk in front of the door, with Clarence’s on top of it. I intended to remove them before the boys got home, but first thing I heard in the morning was a howl from Eric, asking what he’d crashed into.
That winter we managed to clear 5½ acres of land and the next summer we pulled the stumps and broke the land. From then on, we were always busy trying to get land under cultivation, fencing, building a barn and hen house, etc.
One of our cows got shipping fever, so Eric had to sell her in Hythe. We left the other cow with Eric’s dad until the next spring. Then Eric was able to bring her home and had also got us a dozen hens and a rooster by that time, so it really helped our living standard. My Auntie also sent us enough garden seeds for a lovely big garden and a package of rhubarb seeds. From then on we always had lots of rhubarb for ourselves and others.
We gave Eric’s dad the first calf from our cow for keeping her the first winter. After that, we were lucky enough to get three lovely heifers in that many years, and managed to keep them, to start our basic herd. The government supplied bulls [in a program to improve the quality of the cattle in the region].
We finally traded her to Mr. Frank Bassett for hay, and he was able to get basic stock from her also. She certainly was one of our blessings.
The first winter we were in, we really had a wonderful time. We all had clothes from outside and everyone just took what they could to the parties and dances. Everything was free and no keeping up with the Jones’s, as there were no Jones’s.
From then on the years seemed to roll by. The children came along until we finally had three girls, a boy and then another girl. They were good children and willing to help with the many things that had to be done when you had cattle and other stock.
Shirley broke a bone in her arm and dislocated her elbow, Sharon broke her leg and Boyd broke his elbow. I had to take him to a bone specialist in Edmonton to get it fixed. Otherwise, they caused us very little worry. I feel we were lucky to have raised our children where and at the time we did. It must be much harder now.
Times were very hard, but the Lord seemed to always be with us — just when things seemed to look particularly hopeless something always seemed to break and everything turned out all right.
This was to be Eric’s story, and I must say that he had a very hard time. We could never get land cleared fast enough to raise feed for our stock and he has hauled feed with the horses, all the way from up around Rolla out to our ranch. And he has walked from home to Pouce Coupe and back, many times, unless he was lucky enough to pick up a ride with someone. He never took the team to town if he could help it. He just couldn’t afford to keep them in the livery stable overnight, and he wouldn’t leave them outside, at least in the wintertime. Sometimes he and other neighbours took turns taking their teams to town.
During the early thirties, the government gave the homesteaders what they called “Relief Cheques”, which was a good thing because there just wasn’t any money in the country. No one could go out and make a few dollars, so we couldn’t have lived without them. Eric worked out every cent he ever got building roads, cutting out right-of-ways, cutting corduroy for roads, helping put in bridges, etc.
When I was mentioning the dances and parties, I should have mentioned that Frank and Adolph Fellers and Eric were the musicians in the early years and Oliver Wertz, George Fellers and Eric played for them later on. He also played on all the ball teams.
All our children are grown up and married, and have children of their own. We even have two great grandchildren – a girl and a boy.
After the children were grown-up and gone, it was just too much work for the two of us. So, in 1964, we finally sold out and moved out here, cornering the Devereaux School. It seems we have landed in the lap of luxury with telephone, hydro, plumbing and everything else we need, including a few horses to keep us busy and the most wonderful neighbours that anyone could ever desire, on all sides of us, to look after us. So, that seems to be a good place to close this.