MR. HENDRICKS: Mr. Barringham is going to tell us something about how he first came to this part of the country.
MR. BARRINGHAM: I came in 1919, right after the First War. There were about twenty of us came in from Calgary under the Soldier Settlement Board. The railroad into Grande Prairie was in pretty tough shape at that time. From Grande Prairie there were no roads. About twenty of us filed on our homesteads. We filed around Arras, Progress and Sunset Prairie.
The summer we came in was pretty wet. It rained most of the time. The Cutbank River was in flood. We didn’t know the river very well. There were four of us travelling together, Elliott Lloyd, Timmy Riddle and myself and a fellow by the name of Dalke.
We had a flood up, and were crossing the river, and the horses got washed downstream and we lost three of them. Elliott Lloyd and I were on the wagon. We had a clevis on the end of the tongue. If we had of got that clevis out we could have pulled the kingpin out, and we could have got loose. As I was trying to get this thing unscrewed, the stud horse reared up and caught me in the stomach and I lost my wind. I managed to get to shore. One horse was still alive and Lloyd was still on top of the wagon so we went upstream, tied a couple of logs together to make a raft and floated down to get a rope onto the wagon. We managed to do that and pull it to shore. It was quite a loss but could have been worse I guess.
Then I went on construction on the Grande Trunk Pacific Railway. At that time the end of steel was at Tete-Jaune Cache at the headwaters of the Fraser River. From there the railroad followed the river valley to Fort George, and supplies for the construction were unloaded off the cars, and then onto scows to be floated down the river to their destination. There were no roads — the river was the highway. Sometimes I worked on the scows and sometimes as camp cook.
I was with the crewmen who built the bridge across the Fraser River in the summer of 1940 and then the name of the town was changed from Fort George to Prince George. After that I cooked for the P.G.E. (Pacific Great Eastern) surveyors who were completing the railway from Quesnel to Prince George. When that job was finished we were to undertake a continuation of the P.G.E. from Prince George to the Alberta border at Hines Creek to connect with the E.D. & B.C. Railway (Edmonton, Dunvegan & British Columbia). That was the first time I heard about the great Peace River Country. They expected the job to last for about three years. As a bonus if we stayed the three years we were to be allowed to file on a quarter homestead in the Peace River Block.
The three years we had put in on the survey would count as three years of residence duties on the homestead. All we had to do was the necessary improvements and then we could apply for the homestead. That sounded like a good deal but before we could get started the war broke out and all government surveys were cancelled.
The chief engineer was an army reservist and he was called. Immediately I offered my services but was not recruited so I went back to Lethbridge where I had worked before in the coalmines and went into the 31st Battalion.
When the war was over, I was waiting in Calgary and I got in with a group of ex-servicemen who were intending to take up land west of the Kiskatinaw River, with the help of a loan from the Soldier Settlement Board. At that time it was expected that the railway from Prince George would be built in the very near future, but when the war ended the great depression started and there was no railway construction during the hungry thirties. It was 1958 before the P.G.E. finally arrived in Dawson Creek.
There were about thirty of us Great War Veterans in Calgary making preparations to set out for the Peace River Country in 1919. Horses, wagons and implements had to be bought and loaded on railway cars to be shipped to Grande Prairie which was the end of steel at that time. The Kiskatenaw River was about a hundred miles northwest of Grande Prairie on a rough trail. There was a delay in Grande Prairie after getting our settlers’ effects off the cars and assembled. Most of the men got together in groups of four. Each had a team and wagon, another a disc and harrow, another a mower and rake and so on. The group I was with was Elliott Lloyd, Fred Dalke, Jimmy Riddle and myself, and a man by the name of Matheson, a friend to Fred Dalke, also came with us to see the country.
There was quite a lot of confusion in Grande Prairie getting ready to go to our homesteads. Some of the men had bought horses that were only partially broken to the harness. Our group of four was fortunate in getting horses that were well broken. We also had a stud that had been bought by a group of ten settlers, and Dalke and Lloyd were caretakers of the stallion. It was also broken to harness and was also hitched to the wagon alongside one of Lloyd’s mares. We made pretty good time on the trail and arrived at the Cutbank River between two and three weeks ahead of the rest of the fellows.
There had been considerable rain in the hills. When we arrived the river was in flood. We camped by the river for a couple of days in hope that the river would get lower, but there were heavy clouds and it looked like more rain. We decided to put four horses on one wagon and make an effort to get across the river. We hitched the stallion and one of Lloyd’s mares to the wagon, and my team in the lead.
He drove the wheel team and my team was in the lead. We got a little better than halfway across. At this point the ford turned upstream, and the water was deeper and swifter, and the horses were swept off their feet. We washed over the ford, and downstream. The lead team had been hitched to a clevis in the end of the wagon tongue, that would allow the neck-yoke to slip over the wagon tongue, and by pulling out the kingpin it would free the horses so they could swim to shore. The rig was all under water of course but I managed to slip off the horse and get hold of the clevis. I was unscrewing it when the stallion reared up and caught me in the stomach and knocked the wind out of me. I came to under the water, and realized I was drowning. I managed to get to the surface and get some air and get my bearings, and saw a sandbar. I was too exhausted and full of water to stay afloat and when my feet touched bottom again I walked underwater, bobbing up from time to time to get a breath, towards the sandbar and finally got my head and shoulders above water. The men on the bank saw me and came running down and pulled me out onto higher ground, but instead of lying me on my stomach to get rid of some of the water I had swallowed, they laid me on my back and poured brandy down my throat. I thought, “They are going to finish drowning me in brandy!” I finally managed to roll over and throw out a lot of water.
By this time three of the horses were drowned. One of my mares was still alive with just her head out of water. I tried throwing a rope to Lloyd who was still in the wagon, but some distance away. It was just too far. So we went upstream quite a ways and fastened two dry logs together and made a raft. I floated downstream to where the outfit was. I kept hold of one end of the rope, and after I got the harness off the mare and held onto the rope, she swam to shore. We were able to pull the outfit over to the shore where we built a fire and camped for the night. Fortunately the wagon was loaded with nothing but machinery. There was no loss there. Losing the horsepower was quite a set back but luckily there were no human lives lost.
It took all the next day to get straightened out and to get the load of machinery out of the river and back on the trail. In the meantime the river had gone down quite a bit so two of us rode a team across the river. When the next load started across, one of us would wade out to where they had to turn upstream and we would hook the rope onto the end of the wagon tongue. The team on the bank would easily help them the rest of the way. We got the four wagons across without any more trouble. On account of the loss of horsepower we had to leave one wagon behind to be picked up later. We got to our homesteads in time to build a log cabin and put up hay for the winter.