When Jim Beattie brought his young wife Elizabeth to Hudson’s Hope in 1914 the Indians had not yet signed Treaty. Hudson’s Hope was outside the “reserved” Peace River Block for which only the boundary and a few townships had been surveyed. There was much expectation of the TransCanada railway making Hudson’s Hope a divisional point – and consequently a city. There were a surprising number of squatters all along the river below Hudson’s Hope and even above the Portage. The beginnings of several later larger ranches, still in operation today, were already laid. Most of the applicants for land, with the exception of Tom Jamieson, were only speculating on appreciation when the railroad came. Distances from market and the small patches of arable land on the “river-flats” made agriculture an impossibility in the minds of most. Trapping and freighting over the portage were the only local industries. There was much talk of vast mining developments to tap the coal seams exposed in the canyon, but little had been done about it.
Jim Beattie came to the area in 1914 to mine but after sizing up the situation, decided to join the trapping – packing – and freighting fraternity. He and Elizabeth had bigger ambitions, however. There was a large and very fertile “flat” twenty miles up river known as Brenham’s Flat, on the eastern end of which was a creek-mouth, appropriately called Twenty-Mile (later Gold Bar). In 1919 they moved up there to begin what was later a famous establishment. Without disparaging the other numerous and varied enterprises carried on by Jim, one could say that Elizabeth was the agriculturist, and the Beattie children the staff.
While the Beattie’s took advantage of soil and climate to grow grain, the transportation problems made it unprofitable to ship. The nearest railhead was Grande Prairie or Hythe from 1919 until 1931. River transportation required costly transshipment at The Hope below the canyon. The answer was to raise the grain, feed good cattle, and walk the meat to market. Beattie cattle were driven on foot or by truck to Dawson Creek, end of steel after 1931, until 1957 or 1958 when the P.G.E. reached Fort St. John.
Out of Elizabeth’s extreme competence as a home manager she developed an enterprise of her own which she carried on until her move to Hudson’s Hope. This was provisioning the many trappers, ranchers, surveyors and hunting parties up all the tributaries of the Peace, and up the Finlay to Fort Graham. Like the Lawrences at Fort Vermilion the Beatties at first produced poultry and eggs, milk, butter, and cheese and locally grown cultivated fruits for use by the big family and the hired help on the place. They cured meat, produced lard, and so on — in fact they were almost completely self-sustaining. Soon they were selling more and more surplus for cash or barter.
During World War II when hordes of army and civilian workers were looking for rations, the Beattie’s couldn’t produce enough. Riverboats came down the Parsnip from Prince George and down the Finlay from Fort Graham and even from Fort Ware for fresh vegetables. The Beatties did not neglect their old customers, and steadfastly, in an era of black-marketing and profiteering, refused to put their prices up. American purchase agents went away shaking their heads. The Beatties reckoned that the war would be over some day, and the inflated market gone. They valued old and continuing customers.
When Lake Williston rose, a tradition of enterprise, unique in this age, went with it. Not a trace of it remains, of course.
History Is Where You Stand, Indians Book Chapter 31,
Peace Makers of the North Peace, Davies Ventress and
Kyllo. H2D – 21 and H 42 and 43
Tape Recording: Mrs. Elizabeth Beattie, Hudson’s Hope.
Peace River Chronicles, See index.
Article in the Mrs. Ray Fell Scrapbook.