Joe Mearon was born eighty years ago in Grouard. He enjoys good health, but lives in High Prairie with his daughter since his wife passed away. His wife was Eliza John, and they raised fifteen children. Eight are still living — five boys and three girls. One boy was killed in Sicily while serving with the army overseas.
Joe’s mind is keen and he makes every story interesting to the last detail. He has a dialect of French, Cree and English and an enthusiasm for recalling events and people of by gone days that’s hard to believe in a person of his age.
Joe tells of his father, also Joe Mearon, who came from Quebec to Alberta in 1885. He was born in Quebec in 1866 of French parents. After spending four years near Edmonton he came to Lesser Slave Lake in 1889. He trapped at (Atigemeg) Whitefish Lake for awhile and did carpenter work, building the Anglican Mission there. He also went to Fort St. John and with his own Indian crew rebuilt the Hudson Bay Post after it had been destroyed by fire. He carried a Beaver Indian girl from Fort St. John.
In 1897 he returned to Grouard and built and operated the only Blacksmith Shop in the north at this time. He could also repair watches, be a freighter or fur-trader or dance the Red River Jig. About 1905 he again returned to Edmonton to run a livery barn in partnership with his brother Sid. In 1898 another, and older, brother Frank came to Grouard and he and Joe freighted for a time over the Klondike Trail. Frank decided to settle and squatted on land one-half mile from what is now the High Prairie town-site to await the land survey. He squared timbers and marked his name on them, and again made a trip to Edmonton for supplies.
However when he came back again he was accompanied by four families who came to stay. Jake Ersson and his parents, Mr. & Mrs. Fevang and their children, John Lefsrud and O.D. Hill, and also by his nephew Sid Brown.
A Mr. & Mrs. McCue arrived at High Prairie about the same time and operated the first store and Post Office there. Mr. McCue and Frank Mearon were the first school trustees, but had to resign in order to carry on their businesses. Mr. McCue sold nails, etc., and Frank, land and lumber for the school. This school was built in 1908.
The afore mentioned people settled, raised their families and their grandchildren are all well known and represented in the vicinity of High Prairie today.
In later years Frank Mearon lived with the Sid Brown family at Valleyview and died there in 1947 at the age of eighty-seven.
Joe Mearon Sr. ran his blacksmith shop in Grouard till 1926 and then moved his business to High Prairie and carried on till he retired in 1941. He had married twice and had two sons and two daughters. He died in High Prairie in 1963 at the age of ninety-three and was laid to rest in St Marks Anglican Cemetery beside his brother Frank.
Another True Pioneer
Joe Mearon told me of helping his father in his blacksmith shop. In the wintertime all horses had to be sharp shod for trips across the lake and to Athabasca Landing. Joe’s father had room for ten teams, and had three men helping him. He made all the shoes himself with the ‘never slips’ from iron — no screw in corks. He also put shoes on oxen. The animals were not hard to shoe. They used a crate and canvas and the oxen were taken off their feet by a windlass. The feet were trimmed and levelled and the shoes put on.
A team of horses was shod for about eight dollars. Apparently the price is much more today and there are few who can do the job properly. He says if a horse had a split hoof, he’d make a cut above the split so it would bleed and it would grow together like a graft.
He often bought horses cheap, and could tell their age by the width of the short ribs on the flanks. After six years the ribs on the flank are open enough and you can put your fingers between them, and then the next two ribs make three years and so on. This had to take experience, but my own dad could tell their age by the bones in the end of their tail.
He recalls when as a small boy he caught and tamed a small moose which he called in Cree ‘Mooso.’ He says it was a wonderful pet and when he got a little bigger, Joe broke him to pull a toboggan. He would lead him across the Buffalo Bay and when turned and let loose would go home at a real fast pace, providing a good deal of companionship for a small boy. However when Joe went to the mission no one on the farm could handle him, so it was a sad day when he had to be killed.
Mr. Mearon went to the Catholic Mission at Grouard and learned to speak French, English and Cree languages. He remembers Bishop Clut had a big white beard. The area surrounding the Catholic Church and Mission was covered by a heavy stand of spruce trees, and in the early years the “Old” Bishop would take a mattock axe and shovel and dig these trees out. Joe Mearon liked to help him after school. One of the sisters at the mission he remembers was Sister Vachon.
Years ago the west end of the Lesser Slave Lake was called Slave Lake and the east end was called Sawridge, and then the west end started to grow. Frenchmen, Englishmen, Fur buyers and Native people moved in. They held meetings and circulated petitions to have the town renamed. Dr. Boulanger asked Joe Mearon Sr. to canvass to have the name changed to “Grouard”. The other names were “Nuo-show” (Good Grass), “Nuonck” (Good Place), and “Tim-oucho” (Long Hay). “Grouard” was the most popular and remains as such till this day. Apparently some one from Grande Prairie paper has mentioned only three choices were given, Mr. Mearon insists he is correct and most likely is.
The Catholic Mission at Grouard owned farm land south of Grouard and also hay land in the swamps around Buffalo Bay, and raised cattle for beef and for milk. Bishop Guy bought this land. This land has now all been sold with the livestock after the Mission School was closed and the necessity of producing large amounts of food for needy people and travelers had become part of past history.
The Anglican Mission was built on the shore of Buffalo Bay at Kawpawn. These early people helped any and all who were in need in any way they could. Mr. Mearon tells me Rev. Holmes and Rev. George White started the mission at White Fish Lake with Rev. George White in charge. A second Rev. White and brother of George’s came to Kawpawn and was in charge there.
W.W. Andrews was an early farmer and businessman in Grouard. He eventually had three stores. He operated one in High Prairie and one in Enilda, managed by Bert Orrison, and another at Kawpawn, managed by John Hansen.
His farm was adjacent to the Anglican mission and after his death in 1955 the property was sold and eventually came under the same ownership, and is a very nice ranch now. At present time this property belongs to Joe Mearon’s daughter. The farm buildings and mission buildings are all gone with the exception of one old log barn which they moved and used when they lived on what is known as the “Kawpawn Ranch”.
This is rented today, but a new home has been built overlooking Buffalo Bay on the north side, a delightful place to live with a background of history for one hundred years.
Kawpawn (Cree word for landing) was where the boats landed to unload freight for distribution to the missions on the Bay and also missions at White Fish Lake, Shaftesbury and Fort Vermilion. Mr. Mearon has seen many boats on Buffalo Bay and today you can hardly cross in the old channel of the Hart River, as it is full of silt.
When the railroad came to High Prairie there were many people camping in tents, even one large tent had a store in it. These people were waiting for homesteads to open up. The Government Land Agent was in Grouard, so people would unroll their bedrolls and sleep in front of the Land Office to be sure to get first chance at their selection of land. Pete Tompkins Sr. was land agent. People would file on a homestead in the swamp south of Buffalo Bay in dry weather and come back after a wet spell and find two feet of water on their land.
When Joe Mearon was young, Mooneese Gladue (who was very old then) told him of hunting muskrats around what is now High Prairie townsite in a canoe. He started out in the morning and in the afternoon he had to go about six miles from present High Prairie to find high enough ground to make tea and a campsite. So it is believed that at one time the flat land around High Prairie was a lakebed.
Joe Mearon hauled freight to White Fish Lake north of Grouard and tells of one trip he made. A fellow by the name of Moose Hoag had a Trading Post at White Fish but he also bought home made wine from a Mr. Hillard at Grouard. When Joe was ready to go north Willard brought him a ten-gallon keg to take along with other freight. He had a fast team and didn’t take long for the trip. He unloaded the wine fast and started unhooking his team when he heard the R.C.M.P behind him. They asked to search and he said they could and went on to put his team in the barn. When he returned his dog had refused to let them near the sleigh. He called his dog and the search was made and nothing was found amongst the groceries for Moose Hoag. He chuckles about this, and how he outsmarted the policeman.
A fellow by the name of L’hirondelle had a trading-post north west of White Fish Lake, and was there for many years. Joe would go every year and help him with the sports days. They held races of all kinds, even had a little rodeo followed by a ‘moochigan’ at night.
Years ago “Treaty” was paid at Grouard and Indians gathered from all over the area and held their “Pow Wow days”. The Indian Agent was a Mr. Liard and Joe Mearon knew him well. George Harvey and a man by the name of Bellrose took Mr. Liard to other points to pay Treaty. The outfit went with packhorses.
Louis Jobin was Joe Mearon’s father-in-law, and was born in Winnipeg in 1860. No one seems to know when he arrived in Grouard, but know he married Miss Olive Dumont in 1895 at Grouard. She had been born in Fort St. John in 1875, but her parents died leaving several orphaned children who were sent to St. Albert Convent. However an older sister, Mrs. Bellrose living at Grouard gave her a home.
Mr. Jobin was in charge of a Trading Post in the north for awhile before moving to his farm in Big Prairie (north of Grouard) where he farmed and lived till his death in 1936 at seventy-six. They raised four boys and seven girls.
Mrs. Jobin was still doing fine sewing in High Prairie when death claimed her in 1961 at eighty-six. There are sixty-one grand children, one-hundred and seven great grand children and goodness only knows how many great-great grand children living in areas surrounding High Prairie.
When we toured the area surrounding High Prairie, compliments of the town of High Prairie in July 1967 to commemorate “Centennial Year” and “Home Coming”, Louis Jobin’s farmstead was pointed out to us as a highlight on our tour.
Mr. Jobin, like every other early settler had freighted from Edmonton to Grouard in the early years. He had contracted flu during 1918, his entire family escaped and it is said it was due to the wonderful care they got and his recovery was considered miraculous.
Mr. Jobin brought in the first threshing machine and threshed as far away as Falher. This machine was powered by six horses walking around and around and fed by hand, no blower, but a straw carrier, and all grain was bagged as it came from the machine. The only other machinery was a walking plow with a long handle and disc harrows. They also milked a number of cows. Mr. & Mrs. Jobin spoke only French; the older children spoke English and Cree.
Joe Mearon remembers when Adolph Rose and Ace Elkins first came to Grouard with a large herd of cattle. Mr. Elkins was from the southern states and was a good roper.
Joe Mearon laughs about his own neighbours calling him “cow-thief” because he always carried a lariat rope when he rode round the country.
Joe Mearon was asked to assist in singing of the “Mass” when the cathedral opened in McLennan. He also recalls being at a funeral in Dawson Creek and hearing Mrs. Caroline Beaudry singing in Cree and wished he were sitting a little closer and would have sang with her. Whenever he goes places he hasn’t been for years, older people still know him. He was in Falher the other day and some Old Timers knew him, and spoke to him in French.
He was wearing the last pair of moccasins his wife had made for him before she died two and a half years ago and he told me he gets very lonely now.