“I was postmaster out there at Progress. I got twenty dollars a month for being postmaster in 1954. There were guys getting welfare cheques bigger than mine was. There were single fellows getting thirty dollars where I was getting twenty. Of course I got “raised”. In 1971 I was getting just about five dollars a day for being postmaster. This (present welfare situation) I think, has spoiled a lot of people and it applied not only to the Indians because there are a lot of whites in the same boat. They could, if they wanted to, make something for themselves. . .
I could have got welfare on top of the post office (salary) up to (the amount) of welfare. Where you are on welfare you get medical and one thing and another, which you didn’t when you are working for twenty dollars a month . . .
I went in as postmaster in 1954. I got out of the army in 1944 and in 1954 I got this twenty-dollar a month job. I’ve never had a paying job since leaving the army, I’ve got more on Mincome now – more than twice as much as when I was postmaster. So you can figure I lived real good! But I can tell you this much, I didn’t go hungry, like some of them that were making money! And I didn’t owe anybody nothing except when I bought the Volkswagen when I stated hauling [to] Sunset Prairie. Then I got forty dollars a month for hauling the mail to Progress and Sunset Prairie.
I borrowed money for that. This Volkswagen that I had was a real mess. I went into the Volkswagen outfit and told them what I was thinking about. All told, then, I was getting seventy-some dollars a month — that was in 1957. I was hauling the mail and postmaster, including rent for my premises and everything. I got thirty-two something for the post office, and forty-seven dollars for hauling the mail. Five hundred a year for hauling the mail, to be exact.
I had five hundred dollars, one way or the other, with the trade-in and all, so I had to borrow fifteen hundred dollars, on that much income. I went down to the Credit Union and told them what the score was. By the time I got back to the Volkswagen (Magnussen had it then) well shucks! The deal went through and the same when I got the next one — fifteen hundred for the next one.
But you know, when they said fifteen hundred dollars, I thought. I had seventy dollars a month – I had to eat, I had to buy gas, and had to have some insurance. Five hundred dollars a year to pay fifteen hundred dollars! Then I got to doing some janitor work over at the school, at thirty-five dollars a month. Boy! Every nickel I could get, I’d pay on that loan, so sometimes they’d get about a hundred dollars. (I was fixing a few shoes, too.) I made payments of sixty dollars a month out of the seventy. I paid it back. I had it paid before it was due . . .
The thing is, I just about said, “No, I wouldn’t take a chance”. But I did it. I paid around a hundred dollars interest. I believe it was at around 5%. I financed through the Credit Union which was better than the bank because there weren’t all the extras that the bank has. As far as I am concerned the Credit Union was 100% with me. But then I did pay, and then they realized that I could go in now and borrow money without any problem.
Now I get the full allowance for old age pension. That is three times what I was making as a postmaster.
Introduction: Dorthea Calverley
I would like to explain that a group of us are trying to write the history of the Peace River Country for the use of the schools and the children here. It is all right to study the history of Greece and Rome and England and all the rest of them but we feel that we have a valid enough history here that we should be preserving it now before it is all gone. The schools are recognizing this, that children have a right to study their own background. So I am trying to get whatever I can that has been written and also the memories and experiences including the funny ones – for history has a right to be funny and much of it is.
Iver Madsen: I wish Alex Stravitsky was here. We went out one year threshing round Slave Lake. The guys were fishing there. There was a little fellow about four feet tall around there, maybe a little taller but not much. They gave us all a fish and he caught one that he held over his shoulder. The tail was dragging on the ground. Everybody laughed about it. We fried fish all night, almost. Three o’clock in the morning and we were still frying fish, which was kind of comical. Those guys were swell fellows as far as we were concerned. And we remembered that. Oh yeah!
Dorthea Calverley. Can you get any big fish like that in Slave Lake now or are they all fished out?
IVER MADSEN I don’t know. I never seen any bigger than that.
DORTHEA CALVERLEY You know there was a fish hatchery there when we came in 1936. Ivor Johnson tells a story about fish out on the Hart Highway about some man who had been fishing. The crowd around the campfire had been telling tall tales about fishing.
“Oh,” he said, “That’s nothing! I caught a fish in Muskeg Lake. I threw it over my pack saddle, and the head was on the ground on one side and the tail was on the ground on the other side.”
“No!” said Ivor.
“Yes!” said the man.
After the crowd was gone Ivor said he told the man, “Come on now. That’s a tall tale.”
“Well,” said the man, “I didn’t say the pack saddle was on the horse!”
IVER MADSEN I was kinda thinking of something like that.
DORTHEA CALVERLEY But the point is – it establishes the fact that we once had big fish here. It was a resource. Now, what with all the dams, etc., we haven’t. That’s a historical fact – maybe a tiny one, but it enters into the picture.
IVER MADSEN Well, this is true. There is a lot that has gone on that has been forgotten, but it’s not the way it should be.
Now, I get a kick out of Joe Henderson and Alec and how they got together and talk about a little trip.
I had one of those little double frying pans, you know. The kind that fold over. You could fry eggs or bannock or anything you wanted to. The first winter we didn’t have any heater. We just had a piece out of the top of an oil barrel, over some stones, with pipes going through the roof. That’s what our stove was, and our heater.
DORTHEA CALVERLEY Were the stones your hearth? Did you build your fire on the stones?
IVER MADSEN Yeah. On the stones – right on the ground. Nels Falberg and I were staying together that winter. There was very little snow in 1930-31. It never got cold in there at night. We put moss in between the logs and laid the logs on top. It took us a little time, but it was warm.
But there are some stories – things like going to harvest, and that winter in here – a lot of people can’t believe it was that nice that winter. In March we got about two feet of snow. I was in town here living in a tent looking after some lumber that a guy brought up from Beaverlodge or Grande Prairie. Charlie Kezer was looking after it, but I stayed in there, in a tent, and it just didn’t get that cold. It was chilly in the tent in the morning, but it wasn’t really cold.
DORTHEA CALVERLEY W.D. Albright, made a remark in one of his columns in the Grande Prairie Herald that he had been here twenty-eight years and never saw two winters the same.
IVER MADSEN I think I could agree with him. You never know when you are going to have winter.
DORTHEA CALVERLEY I expect you know the old adage around here. If anyone asks you to prophesy the winter, what do you say?
IVER MADSEN Well – they haven’t been here long.
DORTHEA CALVERLEY I heard, the first winter I got here – “Only fools and newcomers predict the weather.” That’s an old Peace River proverb isn’t it?
IVER MADSEN Yeah!
DORTHEA CALVERLEY What year did you come?
IVER MADSEN The fall of 1930.
DORTHEA CALVERLEY You didn’t experience the depression on the prairies then. You came from Shaunavon (Sask.) didn’t you?
IVER MADSEN I lived at Shaunavon years back when I was a kid. I came up here from Idaho. I had been working in Weyerhaeuser’s mill. Things were getting bad. Nordic (the main boss) said they’d give me enough work to just live on. I wasn’t quite satisfied – so I took off. Now I don’t know what I should have done.
DORTHEA CALVERLEY Do you regret coming to the Peace River Country?
IVER MADSEN Not in that sense, because it could have been a lot worse in other places. We had lots of wood here and if we didn’t have meat it was our own fault. I knew nothing about the bush when I came up here. It’s something to run into when you don’t know a thing about it, but we got by when we were together.
DORTHEA CALVERLEY Did you go farming or trapping?
IVER MADSEN I took a homestead, about three and a half miles straight east of Progress. There were quite a few soldiers settlers in there from the First World War. A few others had been coming in, too, before I came in (1930). After that all kinds of people came.
DORTHEA CALVERLEY One of the things I’d like to know is; who brought in the first cattle. Everyone, of course, brought in a cow, or got one as soon as they could. Who brought in the purebreds to build up the herds?
IVER MADSEN Well, (Henry) Bentley had Shorthorns – whiteface-Herefords. He would probably be the first.