(2) Why we came into the Peace River Country
(1) After threshing was completed in the fall of 1927 my brother A.R. Hadland and I decided to visit this Peace River Country that we had been reading so much about. Which we did, taking a train to Wembley, which was then the end of steel.
Our purpose was two-fold, to see the country and talk to the farmers, and secondly to buy a carload of seed oats to take back to Woodnorth, Manitoba where the crops had been badly damaged by rust. We hired a car in Wembley and drove as far as Rolla, visiting several farms on our way. Unfortunately, it snowed quite heavily the second day we were in Rolla, so we came back to Wembley, picked up a car of good seed oats and had no difficulty, on reaching home, in selling all the oats we did not need ourselves.
(2) There were two reasons why we finally decided to leave Manitoba for the Peace River. In the first place our interest had been aroused by an article in the “Country Guide” written by Mr. W.D. Albright about a trip he had made from Beaverlodge to attend a Field Day on the farm of J.W. Abbott at Fort St. John.
In this article he mentioned what was to us the fantastic yields of wheat that had been harvested at Wembley that fall. If I remember correctly, the yield was over 70 bushels per acre. Secondly, rust in our area had made farming far from profitable and rust resistant varieties had not been developed yet.
So, in the spring of 1928 we loaded two cars of settlers effects — one boxcar in which we loaded 4 horses, 2 cows and feed and also household effects for two families. Then we loaded our threshing outfit on a flat car and some other machinery that we had not sold at the sale, and pulled out of Woodnorth Station on the evening of the 25th of March, for Grande Prairie. I remember the date well, as our youngest son was born on that day and the news of his birth at the Verdun Hospital did not reach me until we were just leaving Woodnorth. So I did not see this latest increase of the family until some months later, when Mrs. Hadland and our four children joined me on our homestead.
I do not remember the date of our arrival at Grande Prairie but it took several days. We unloaded everything at Grande Prairie. We put the furniture in storage, got someone to keep an eye on the machinery and to look after the two cows. Then we loaded a tent and a few necessities including hay and oats for the horses into one of the two wagons we had brought with us. We hitched one team to the wagon and hitched the other team to a buggy which we had also brought with us, and started out for Fort St. John, some 150 miles away. We did not know just where we were going to locate but during our stay in Grande Prairie we had become acquainted with a fire-ranger who knew the Peace River Country well. He told us that before we finally decided where to locate, to be sure to look over the Fort St. John area, north of the Peace River. Needless to say, that was quite a trip, especially after leaving Rolla. The road, if you could call it a road, had only been put through the fall before. There were no culverts yet and the approach to the bridge over the Cut Bank River (the Kiskatinaw River today) was not filled in so the river had to be forded. The Kiskatinaw and Peace River hills at that time were something we had never seen before, so steep in many places we were obliged to lock a wagon wheel with logging chains. Drivers of heavily loaded wagons would be obliged to lock two wheels.
However, eventually the Peace River was reached and our vehicles and horses were ferried across. A map showing the land that had already been settled and land that was still vacant was secured from the land office in Fort St. John, and our hunt for homesteads began. Mostly on horseback but we did a lot of walking too.
The first thing a homesteader has to do is to get a roof over his head. Fortunately in those early days there was lots of timber so all the homesteader had to do was cut logs with an axe, haul them, and build a shack. The roofs of these shacks were usually made of sods laid on poles. If well constructed it made a warm little home but subject to leaks during heavy rains.
The second thing to do was to clear and break a few acres of land to grow some feed the following year. Clearing was done with an axe and a team of horses. Trees were cut off three of four feet from the ground; the balance of the tree and branches piled ready for burning. Small trees and willows were grubbed out either with an axe or grub-hoe and also thrown on the pile. When this was completed the tree stumps that had been left had to be pulled out by a team of horses. This required two men, one to drive the team, and the other to cut the roots. As the team pulled, the roots were exposed. The man with the axe cut the exposed root until all the big roots were cut and the stump pulled out. Then it too was pulled to the pile. It was slow, hard work. If the homesteader could clear, break and put 10 acres of land ready for seeding during one summer he did very well indeed. Now, of course, this is all done with a caterpillar tractor, and a considerable acreage can be cleared in one season.
One of the highlights of these early days was the Annual Field Day held on the farm of J.W. Abbott. Farmers, their wives and children too, for miles around would come to these Field Days to see and hear about the latest farm methods, about new varieties of wheat oats and barley, how they compared in earliness and yield with older varieties. They could see these varieties themselves growing in well cared for plots. They were shown how growing legumes, such as alfalfa, clover, or sweet clover would improve the fertility of the soil and give them higher grain yields.
Not only were these Field Days important to the farmer to obtain the latest information re farming but it was also a place to meet friends and neighbours to discuss the crops and weather, so they were always well attended.
And now a word about Illustration Stations and Baldonnel Illustration Station in particular. Illustration Stations were located on privately owned farms under a co-operative agreement between the owner and the Dominion Experimental Farm Service. These Illustration Stations under the supervision of an Experimental Station enabled the Experimental Station to extend its work to different types of soil within its allotted area.
In 1939, Mr. J.W. Abbott who had been operating the Baldonnel Illustration Station since 1924 (I believe Baldonnel was the first Illustration Station established under Beaverlodge supervision) sold his farm and was appointed Officer-in-charge of the new Dominion Experimental Substation at Whitehorse, YT.
For two years we were without an Illustration Station. Then in the fall of 1941 I had a visit from Mr. W.D. Albright, accompanied by Mr. Leon Fraser. I was told they wished to look over my farm to decide if it was suitable for the establishment of an Illustration Station, and on March 12, 1942 I was advised my farm had been selected.
Perhaps this is where I should say a word about Mr. W.D. Albright. I believe that since 1913 when he first came to the Peace River, William Donald Albright did more to put the Peace Country on the map than any other man did. He firmly believed in the future of the country himself, and he tried continually through the press and at meetings whenever and wherever he was invited to speak to get others to believe in the future too. How right he was. He wanted the early settlers to have better homes and he encouraged them to beautify their homes with flowers and plantings. On his farm he showed what could be done and also how to do it. As a man I liked him and admired him. It was always a red-letter day when Mr. Albright was able to attend one of our Field Days. His talks were always so interesting and informative. I have already touched on the work of the Illustration Stations during the settlement of the Peace River Country north of the Peace River. When the Baldonnel Illustration Station was established on my farm in the spring of 1942, the importance of rotating crops was being emphasized on both the Experimental Farms and Illustration Stations. Accordingly the land allotted for experimental work was divided into six plots on which a six-year rotation was started.
First year summer fallow followed by wheat seeded to Brome and alfalfa, followed two years of hay. Then the sod was broken up and summer fallow. Followed by wheat, oats or barley. This rotation proved quite satisfactory and definite recommendations were made. Also at that time we began experimenting in the use of commercial fertilizers to increase yields. Of course, since that time a lot of the recommendations have been outdated but it was a start. A lot of work was done too regarding weed control as many weeds were being brought into this new country by the settlers themselves in or attached to machinery.
Work too was being done at Illustration Stations to improve the quality of livestock. Here at Baldonnel it took the form of upgrading our swine herd and supplying breeding stock to the farmers of the area. In fact, a steady demand developed for pure bred breeding stock — both sows and boars — which we endeavored to supply whenever possible. In those early years Beaverlodge Station supplied her Illustrations Stations with ornamental trees and shrubs with instructions regarding planting and care. This information we passed on to neighbouring farmers. Also we experimented with different varieties of small fruits — crabapples, hardy cherries and apples — with limited success as we had a west exposure. Also mice and rabbits were liable to damage fruit trees. During the period of years the Illustration Station was operated on the Hadland farm much was done for Agriculture in the Peace.
The small heavily laden domestic bee, rising from collecting nectar on an alfalfa bloom is spanked by the “tripping” or expulsion of the pollen, often upsetting him, and he falls to the ground, if he land on his back he is unable to regain flight and is lost.
Domestic bees will not work in an alfalfa seed, if there is any other source of nectar. The leaf cutters being longer of body and wing have no trouble, and are essential to the pollination of and alfalfa field and to seed crop. The clearing of so much of our land had destroyed the natural habitat of these bees and in turn spelled the doom of seed production for a period of years. A certain strain of these bees are being cultivated by the Dept. of Agriculture and Branch of Apiarists in the Okanagan and the small grubs may be purchased and installed on farm fields of alfalfa. This promises to reinstate the seed crops for those who wish to try after a lapse of some years.
However, pelleting of an Alfalfa crop for feed for our own animals and for the export marked may offer sufficient remuneration for alfalfa in the Peace.
Clovers were more easily cultivated, Red clover, Alsike yellows and white clovers. Red Clover and Alsike for seed crops and side benefit soil improvement. The sweet clovers white and yellow almost exclusively for soil improvement on the gray wooded soils.
These early settlers tell many amusing stories. Mrs. Hadland tells of her arrival in the Peace. She and her four small children arrived on the stern-wheeler D.A. Thomas in late May 1928. Her husband having preceded her with their farming machinery and household goods decided that he had better leave work on the homestead and go fetch his threshing machine left behind in Grande Prairie. He did not want to leave her alone in this strange place with an infant and three small ones for a number of days later on in the summer.
That spring Lord and Lady Willingdon were touring the Peace. To Mrs. Hadland’s annoyance the D.A. Thomas had been held for three days to permit the Royal party to inspect her and see if they wanted to go up river by boat or proceed by car. They chose to go by car, arriving in a cavalcade just behind Mr. Hadland at the ferry at Taylor Flats. He had attempted to drive his big steel-wheeled tractor off the ferry and up the steep narrow incline of the road where it had promptly disappeared to its hubs in the gravel.
A mounted Policeman crossed on the ferry, and issued orders to get that machine out of their way — the Willingdon party were waiting to cross.
Mr. Hadland said, “My dear fellow you are just the man we’ve been waiting for. You show us how to get it out and we’ll be most happy to comply”.
The cars were pushed laboriously by the offending machine manpower, and proceeded on their way. Horses and shovels moved the tractor and separator on their way, and the D.A. Thomas — waiting impatiently in midstream for several hours — was able to discharge freight and passengers. At long last Mrs. Hadland joined her husband and the family continued the few miles home.
Mr. Henry Bentley was the Operator of the Progress Illustration Station and under the supervision of Beaverlodge built up a fine herd of registered Hereford cattle. Here at Baldonnel, we concentrated on up-grading our swine herd and supplying the farmers with registered boars and sows.
“Garnet” is one of the earliest hard spring wheats and because of its earliness and high yield, was grown extensively in the Peace River during its settlement, but its quality is so inferior to Marquis that a better quality, early variety had to be found.
“Reward” found a place in the variety plots for awhile, released for a trial by farmers in 1928. It became famous as a show wheat, winning first prize at the Winter Fair in Toronto in 1928 and the World Wheat Championship at Chicago in 1929, but a tendency for rust and loose smut led to its discontinuance in the plots.
The variety “Thatcher” has almost entirely replaced Marquis as the leading variety grown in Western Canada. It is a high-yielding rust resistant variety and has excellent milling and baking qualities.
The search for a still earlier variety for Northern Alberta and the Peace River caused the variety “Saunders” to find its way into our plots. It is two days earlier than “Thatcher” and about the same as “Garnet” in maturity. It soon became widely grown in Northern Alberta and the Peace River but was not recommended for the Plains Area.
The variety “Park” was one of the latest varieties to be tested, during the years I was Operator of the Baldonnel Illustration Station. From 1956 to 1962 it was widely tested in Western Canada, particularly in northern locations. It is as early as Saunders and has consistently out-produced it. It was licensed for sale in Canada in 1963.
As to Oat Varieties For many years Victory was the leading variety grown in Western Canada. It yielded well, but had no resistance to rust and smut. Here again an earlier variety was needed in the Peace River Area. Some of the varieties tested at the Baldonnel Station included Legacy, Alegweit, Rodney, Glen and Garry. Rodney is in the same maturity class as Victory but is superior to it in strength of straw, kernel size, bushel weight and disease resistance.
Barley Varieties are divided into two strains — the malting varieties and feed varieties. Some of the malting varieties tested included OAC 21, Montcalm, Parkland, Conquest, Olli, Gateway, Gateway 63 and Galt. The variety OAC 21 is the standard of quality for all malting varieties and at one time was grown almost to the exclusion of all other varieties. Olli is a very early maturing variety and a popular variety with the malting trade. Gateway 63 was licensed in 1963. It is equal in malting quality to OAC 21. It has out yielded the earlier Gateway and Olli, but matures about 4 days later than Olli.
Galt is a high yielding, drought tolerant, six-row feed variety. It has consistently out yielded Husky and has yielded more than Conquest over most of Alberta and the Peace River.