By Nona Stauffer, 1973
Palmer Leland moved into the Clayhurst district in 1938 and made his home there for many years. The following story is as it was told to me and pretty much in his own words …..
“The settlement of the area now known as the Clayhurst district, which lies forty odd miles north of Dawson Creek, the end of steel, via Rolla, Doe River and Clayhurst ferry crossing, began in 1930. John Ewoniak and family with their household effects, livestock, Wallace tractor, and implements moved north of the Peace River. This district has three geographical boundaries. On the west there’s the Alces River, commonly called Moose Creek; on the south the Peace River and on the east the Alberta – BC boundary. The district extends north approximately twenty miles.
The early settlers in crossing the Peace River did so by constructing a raft, if the journey to that point had been on foot, or by the privately owned Streeper scow which operated at a point a few miles down river in Alberta.
For about twenty years the settlers were isolated during the freeze-up and break-up of the river as there was no other way out. Eventually a highway was constructed to Fort St. John and Doug Todd with a partner set up a plane service from Dawson Creek. This was a great help in time of sickness.
Mr. John Ewoniak was followed by other Ukrainian settlers in 1931 along with an English speaking settler, Mr. Wm. Clay. Mr. Carl Clay and his bride followed shortly after as did Walter Campbell, whose home sat astride the Alberta-B.C. boundary. H.E. Craig and family and bachelors Al Oderkirk, Mark Powers, and Vic Keziere came around then, too.
In 1938 Jack Murray of Pouce Coupe moved in and opened the first store and also became the first postmaster. The telephone line felt its way from Shearerdale spanned the Peace, and there on the wall of Jack Murray’s store was the first telephone. Also, in 1938, the Whatleys, Walpers, Leslies, Al Sawdy and his wife Margaret moved in. Al Sawdy having pre-empted in the Peace earlier, returned from California to again bring new land under cultivation. A few bachelors were among the lot — Lorne Evans, Abe Kroeger, the Brekkas brothers, Kaare and Benny. Kaare nabbed Kay Walper to bring about what may have been the first wedding of a local couple. Elmer and Doug Clay, Harry Charlewood and Ed Figley were also among the bachelors.
The settlers were indeed fortunate for only a few miles to the north there was an abundance of green timber from which, through “free use Permits”, logs for building and sawing were cut. A sawmill naturally wasn’t long being set up.
Threshing had to be down by flail, until William Mollard with his Stanley-Jones came along. Threshing was usually done in January and February. Into this thresher powered by a stationary engine were hand-fed the sheaves from which the bands had been hand-cut. The straw at the rear grew into piles only through the efforts of men with forks. Woods Streeper made the rounds with his thresher and finally William Clay brought his machine from Rolla to be kept permanently in the district.
The first school was a log structure and opened at Easter, 1932. Miss Harriet Stone of Skagway was the first teacher. During that summer she met an untimely death while swimming in the Peace River. A new school was opened in September.
The church work for the district centred in Cherry Point. All Saints Anglican Church was built. Clayhurst benefited indirectly as the church workers, some of whom were nurses, came to give their valued and much-needed services to man and beast.
The first nurse to come was Mrs. Dorie Kenny then Mrs. Bertil Jonason (nee Geraldine Burke), Mrs. (Polly) Jack Mathews and Miss Mantle with numerous others. Students of Divinity of Eastern Canada came to serve the area during the summer holidays. George Colburn led the way. Others were Patterson, Pateson, Rueben Salmon and others whose services were greatly appreciated.”
Mr. Palmer Leland and wife have made their home in Dawson Creek since leaving the homestead in Clayhurst. Palmer has stayed active in the “Northern Talent Club” and enjoys telling the history of the Peace River Country.