INTERVIEWER: Today I’m interviewing Mr. Henry Bentley of Progress, B.C. Mr. Bentley has been recommended to me as the most outstanding cattleman in the country. I know that he recently received a significant award for his work. First of all I would like to know, Mr. Bentley, what was the occasion and circumstances of your receiving the honour?
MR. BENTLEY: Well it was at the annual meeting of the Federation of Agriculture last November. The Federation had written me and asked me to come to Prince George, but as the Postal Employees were on strike they also phoned me. All I got from it was that they wanted me to come over to the meeting and bring the Mrs. with me. So I went over, unknown to me what it was about until the morning of the meeting. I went over to the hotel to see what was going on and met Mr. Starkson and he told me. He was surprised that I hadn’t got the word.
INTERVIEWER: You had been waiting around Prince George for a day or so to find out what was going on.
MR. BENTLEY: I went over on Sunday and the meeting wasn’t until Tuesday, but anyway he told me what was on. After the banquet that night they presented me a membership in The Senate Club, in the Department of Agriculture, through the Federation of Agriculture. I thought that it was something that perhaps someone else should have got because I really hadn’t expected anything.
INTERVIEWER: This award was also won by professors.
MR. BENTLEY: Some of the professors from the University belong to it, anybody that I know that has got the award has done a wonderful job for the Department of Agriculture — promoting better seed and one thing and another. I think perhaps that was one of the reasons that I got it as I was interested in agriculture from the start — The Farmers’ Institute, The Co-op Shipping Association, The Livestock Association, the Seed Plant and all these things.
INTERVIEWER: Do you know who nominated you?
MR. BENTLEY: I have no idea who nominated me or how it happened.
INTERVIEWER: Well, you don’t earn those things without a reason. There must be a long story of success behind that. When did you come to this country?
MR. BENTLEY: I came in the spring of ‘28. That was before the railroad. That was still in the time of the old town of Dawson. They didn’t have a bank. I remember when the bank opened – Commerce – opened their bank in the old town the year before it moved.
INTERVIEWER: They tell me that the back half of this house [the Calverley home] was the Bank of Commerce in the old town. I understand that it had been moved over, we got it after it had been moved to town.
MR. BENTLEY: It could be — it wasn’t very big. It was very small as I remember.
INTERVIEWER: You came in ‘28, and homesteaded. Were you a soldier settler?
MR. BENTLEY: Yes. I started homesteading in June of ‘28, and I was a soldier settler.
INTERVIEWER: Did you get much help from the VLA (Veterans Land Act) or were you more or less thrown on your own resources?
MR. BENTLEY: I got nothing from them other than the chance to have a homestead. On the soldier grant I got a half section. A homestead was usually a quarter section, and the soldier grant was a quarter section – so that I got a half section, double the amount of a regular homestead. That’s all that I ever got from them.
INTERVIEWER: I understand that they made fairly regular visits trying to collect from you.
MR. BENTLEY: They still come out once in awhile. In fact I had a VLA man out to see me the other day to get acquainted and to see if I knew some other man who had passed away and still had some connection with them, but they didn’t know where he was.
INTERVIEWER: Is there no statute of limitations regarding VLA? Is that right?
MR. BENTLEY: None that I know of. They can pursue you forever. Sometimes it doesn’t pay to be around too long.
INTERVIEWER: You told me that the creamery had started before 1928.
MR. BENTLEY: Yes, because they were hauling cream to the creamery. They had a car – a pick-up that they were hauling cream with around the settlement here. McEachern had it for awhile and then I tried to get hold it, I bought it from him in ‘31.
INTERVIEWER: Did you drive in with horses?
MR. BENTLEY: No. I came in barehanded — just with a packsack.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ship cream?
MR. BENTLEY: No, I never did.
INTERVIEWER: That I understand could be a very adventurous trip — when you came into town either to ship cream or to sell your stock.
MR. BENTLEY: I often wondered how the cream could stand the trip from Sunset Prairie to the East Pouce Coupe River, in the heat of June, in the wagon.
INTERVIEWER: Well, they made sour cream butter in those days. I know in Saskatchewan that our cream stood until we had a batch for churning, and by that time it was somewhat sour. You told me earlier about an episode in which the driver and you had a little encounter with a bear.
MR. BENTLEY: That was when we were moving from back out there. We had camped out at Sunset Prairie for a week or ten days. On the way back we had three cream cans in the wagon with us, another two lads with me and their bedrolls. We also had a tent.
INTERVIEWER: Was it a two-day trip from Sunset Prairie?
MR. BENTLEY: No. One day from Sunset to Dawson. We used to stop at old man Chase’s down there at the foot of the hill. We would come in there and put up our tent and stay overnight. Then went on to Grande Prairie the next day. We were coming along the road and a bear crossed the road a little ways ahead of us. I wanted to take the lid off one of these cream cans to get the bear in the truck so that he could smell the cream and maybe get into the wagon.
INTERVIEWER: Just what had you intended to do with him then?
MR. BENTLEY: I was quite sure that he wouldn’t get into the wagon. It was more of a joke trying to scare old man Walsh.
INTERVIEWER: Did it?
MR. BENTLEY: Oh, yes. He started to bawl me out for trying to do something like that.
INTERVIEWER: Oh you had to do something. I think that people who didn’t have a sense of humor didn’t stay long in the country. There was so much hardship that if they dwelt on that they would get pretty downhearted.
MR. BENTLEY: I think that the sun was shining that day, too, which made it a lot better. The ten days that we spent down there it rained every day.
INTERVIEWER: That can be pretty soggy, as the road wasn’t very good, it wouldn’t be graded in ‘28.
MR. BENTLEY: No. It was just a trail. It hit the cut-line [survey line] in places but most of the time just wandered around through the woods.
INTERVIEWER: Over that part of the trail, for marketing your cattle, you drove for the first few years. I would imagine. Drove the cattle into market along the trail.
MR. BENTLEY: Most of the fellows north there that raised cattle around there had a truck come in and shipped the cattle that way. It had to be done when the road was dry and fit. I didn’t ship any cattle until the railroad came into Dawson.
INTERVIEWER: The cattle that you had — what kind did you raise?
MR. BENTLEY: We started in the early days with the government bull clubs where they changed them around every three years. They had three clubs that they changed for three years. The government insisted on sending in dual-purpose cattle. We wanted beef cattle. So that was when I got the chance to get started with Herefords. I quit the other and went on my own and bought some Herefords off a Mr. Kennedy over at Fairview. Mr. Kennedy used to be the member at Ottawa from Peace River. I think that he brought the first purebred cattle into the Fairview district.
INTERVIEWER: You have stayed with Herefords ever since?
MR. BENTLEY: Yes, I’ve stayed with Herefords ever since. I registered my first calves in ‘45.
INTERVIEWER: What do you like about Herefords? So many people here seemed to have favored the Black Angus.
MR. BENTLEY: They are all good cattle. I think that it is just a matter of preference. I always liked the looks of the Herefords. I worked with them down in Southern Alberta. I liked them, they are hardy cattle, good ranch cattle, and they do well out in the mountains. I don’t know of anyone that started with them and stayed with them that didn’t make a success with them. They put on weight well, they are nice to handle and are good to look at.
INTERVIEWER: The man with the same name as you, not related I understand, Mr. Bentley, out at Bear Flats, he likes the Black Angus. He says that they are better mothers, and will raise more calves than the Shorthorns and the Herefords — on his land, anyway.
MR. BENTLEY: He has handled a lot of them so maybe …. but I think a lot of that is just fancy; we had no trouble raising them at all.
INTERVIEWER: You didn’t always have good luck with the herd sires that the government sent in, I understand. They got in about six. Mr. Shearer, I know, got one and they were infected with brucellosis and for a couple of years there were no calves. Did you have your own sire?
MR. BENTLEY: I think that it was before we started. I heard about it, but don’t know too much about it. In the early days I didn’t have my own sire.
INTERVIEWER: I heard one story that for two years there were no calves. And even the farmers were having to buy canned milk because there was no milk.
MR. BENTLEY: I think that happened before we moved into the country.
INTERVIEWER: Did you have any trouble with contagious abortion [brucellosis]?
MR. BENTLEY: As far as I was concerned I didn’t have any trouble. They had trouble with one animal that was brought in, but I think that it was more the caretakers’ fault than with the animal. The animal was taken from here and was taken to Alberta and he did well.
INTERVIEWER: Than the inference that it was a diseased animal isn’t necessarily so?
MR. BENTLEY: As far as I know we didn’t get any diseased animals.
INTERVIEWER: Was there brucellosis or contagious abortion in the country that you know of?
MR. BENTLEY: We had some of that a few years back.
INTERVIEWER: Are the herds all tested now?
MR. BENTLEY: Yes, they are all tested — they are also tested for TB now too.
INTERVIEWER: I understand that they had some trouble with the animals that they went in as herd sires. The government animals.
MR. BENTLEY: I think that there was one club north of us that had a little trouble and they sent out to have Murdock come in. Jim Murdock, the government official. We always called him the “Bull Man”. He belonged to one of these bull clubs. He came out to me and wanted me to go with him, but I couldn’t get away to go so he went on up and had a look at the animal. When he came back he stopped in to have a cup of tea and I said, “Well did you see the bull? Jim”. He said, “Yea, I saw him.” I asked what was wrong with the bull. He said, “There is nothing wrong with the bull. He is just dying of disappointment of the stomach.”
INTERVIEWER: These days you hear a lot of talk about the bad prices for the beef. Was livestock raising a profitable business or was it just a sideline in this country? MR. BENTLEY: I think that in some districts it is a livelihood. It is a profitable business here I think. We have cheap feed. I often wonder how some of these fellows can buy calves here and then take them out and then have to buy the feed to feed them.
INTERVIEWER: Shouldn’t be necessary here I would think.
MR. BENTLEY: Here, it isn’t necessary. That is why there should be more of them fed here. I’ve always said that. I’ve always maintained that in this country where we can raise the feed — hay and grain — that there shouldn’t be anything shipped out of the country until it is ready to butcher. I think that maybe that is why I received that award. I have always talked that way to the government officials — I have been contrary with them that way. And some of them have begun to realize now that I was right. Even when the railroad came in, Elgin Wilson was manager of the Shipping Association then. Elgin and I talked about it a lot. We finally had the manager of the P.G.E. and about six of his staff come in and had a conference with Elgin and I down in the old office. I told him that I thought that we should have it decided here, that we should feed our cattle right here then auction them off, right here in the Co-op. The manager from [??] himself told me that if we could get something like that started that he would bring the calves in from Quesnel and Williams Lake and out in that country. He said that if we could arrange something like that, to feed that grain up here instead of hauling it out, that he would bring them in and take them back to Vancouver at half rate. He could see where it would be a pretty good business.
INTERVIEWER: But it didn’t happen that way.
MR. BENTLEY: It didn’t happen because there was nobody that wanted to feed them. They tried to tell me that it couldn’t be done.
INTERVIEWER: What was it? Laziness, or lack of foresight?
MR. BENTLEY: I think that it was pure ignorance. To tell you the truth, I’ve told this to different ones. The thing is — there are people that come in here and buy the calves, naturally they get them for less than they should. We — if this thing was run here — then when the price was down they could put them in the feedlot, feed them their own grain and hay and then put them on the market. There is always a market for finished beef — at least a reasonably good market. I’ve always said that the calves should never go out of the country. All the more so now that we have a packing plant here now with government inspection. It would be better for the country, better for the town, more employment, and good meat right here.
INTERVIEWER: Well, then why didn’t the pit silo-feeding take on better here? Goodness knows we do have enough poor grain that would fill pit silos and make excellent fodder.
MR. BENTLEY: Well, we did. We didn’t this year because just as the rain came we didn’t have our pits cleaned out. But I have half a dozen trench silos out there.
INTERVIEWER: And you find that it pays?
MR. BENTLEY: Oh, certainly it pays. We just got on the spot last year. I just couldn’t get the pits cleaned up. Then the rain came and we just couldn’t do a thing about it. We lost at least 200 acres of hay that should have been in silage. If we had that in silage I don’t care whether I saw any young cattle this fall or not.
INTERVIEWER: Torio was doing that wasn’t he? You wouldn’t have to worry whether you got your combining done in the fall or not. I’ve wondered why there weren’t more doing it. Torio is still pit feeding isn’t he?
MR. BENTLEY: Yes. And young Breault, there are quite a few of them around now. I brought in the first silage machine that came into this country. I also bought the first manure spreader that came into the country. That way I could put that stuff all back out on the land. When I started putting up silage I lost a crop of hay – a couple of thousand bales of hay – around in 1948 or ‘49 and I said never again. I had a Cat there of my own so I built a couple of trenches and Jorgensen and I each ordered a silage machine. Mine came first but I didn’t need it for a couple of days. Jorgensen was ready so I let him have mine. Then when mine was ready I had to go to Peace River to get it. That was a long way from home. Actually it is the only thing to feed cattle, either beef or dairy cattle.
You are pretty sure to get your hay up, and I have always thought that the government was too fast in supporting other things that help the farmers all right, I don’t call them farmers, because they are not — outside of some districts. We have some districts here that are straight grain growing country. But the majority of the country, I would say 65% of it, is a mixed farming country.
INTERVIEWER: Mixed farming is a sort of hedge against losing out one way or the other. You can’t lose out entirely.
MR. BENTLEY: Especially once you get out west of here, particularly northwest of here it’s mixed farming country.
INTERVIEWER: You never did have the great big ranches here?
MR. BENTLEY: No.
INTERVIEWER: What would be about the limit that a man could handle? About 200 cattle? Up on the benches of the Peace they are handling many more of course.
MR. BENTLEY: Yes, the fellows have many more than 200 now. Up in the community pastures, north, some of the fellows are starting to get more. But the fact is that they sell all their calves out of the country, and the grain farmers sell all their feed out, hay too. Well, the fellows that are buying that are making a living, they might not be making much but they are making a living. They have to be making a living or they wouldn’t be carrying on. If they can afford to do that and haul it, why couldn’t a fellow here do that and make a dollar out of it.
INTERVIEWER: That’s a very good question. So you aren’t really moaning about going broke raising cattle right now because of the price of feed.
MR. BENTLEY: The only thing that I am not satisfied with is the fact that we have to work too many hours in a day to keep this thing up.
INTERVIEWER: With pit feeding as well? I thought that it was a one-man operation.
MR. BENTLEY: Oh, no, you have a lot of work attached to it. If you have livestock you have a big job. I won’t say that you are tied down like every day of the year, because you’re not if you are handling the thing right. But if you are in a mixed farming deal you’ve got to work too many hours to make that living. I think that there is too big a spread between the product that we put on the market and what you pay at the counter. It cost a lot more to put that on the counter than what we get to raise it.
INTERVIEWER: Even taking into account that a good beef dresses out from 50-60% salable meat, so in effect whatever you get, the butcher has to charge twice the price that he gives you, before he makes any profit. But even taking that into consideration you still feel that there is too much spread between what you get and what is charged?
MR. BENTLEY: I feel that there is something wrong some place. I don’t know what it is.
INTERVIEWER: What are you getting for your beef now? What are you getting per hundred now?
MR. BENTLEY: I’m not too sure. I should have found out today, because we have a bunch that has to be sold. There is another bunch that have to come in so we have to get rid of these so that we have room for them. I think that steers are running around $38-$39 per hundred weight.
INTERVIEWER: What were you getting in the old days when you were shipping to Grande Prairie?
MR. BENTLEY: I could show you a bill. I was into some old papers here a couple of days ago. I shipped a steer with Jack Fynn — weighed a little over a thousand pounds. I forget exactly how much he weighed, but when I got the returns for him after the freight was paid, I got about 48 bucks.
INTERVIEWER: I’d heard that some of the people got a bill for the freight, and didn’t make a thing.
MR. BENTLEY: I guess that could have happened. But that wouldn’t have been a good finished animal.
INTERVIEWER: I think awhile ago that you said that it cost 85¢ a hundred for shipping charges plus the trucking from your farm to the railroad.
MR. BENTLEY: They used to charge about twenty cents from out there to in here, about a dollar a hundred altogether.
INTERVIEWER: Then a man always had to go with the stock?
MR. BENTLEY: Yes. I don’t remember exactly what they paid per pound, but I know that I got about $48.00 clear after everything was paid. That was for a thousand pound steer. Now for a thousand pound steer you would get about three hundred and ninety bucks.
INTERVIEWER: What is your freight now?
MR. BENTLEY: I don’t think that the freight now would be more than a dollar or a dollar and ten cents per hundred weight.
INTERVIEWER: So freight rates, in actual cash haven’t gone up that much? But the price of beef has gone up.
MR. BENTLEY: Freight is one thing that I think we don’t have too much to squawk about. But we have to pay so much for help and machinery that we have to work long hours to make ends meet.
INTERVIEWER: The help now-a-days insists to working to hours, and to rules, that we don’t get the work from a man when you do hire him that you used to get.
MR. BENTLEY: No. When they cut their hours down to 38 per week he’s just a nuisance around the farm – he’s either coming or going to work. Or drinking coffee.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, the coffee break s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-s out, I guess.
MR. BENTLEY: They want that just the same and they haven’t done enough to earn it.
INTERVIEWER: That is why I don’t have household help. I’d have to stand around making tea for them.
MR. BENTLEY: I can’t see these fellows striking for more wages when they are working such short hours. Of course working by the hour their wages don’t add up too high either, but they seem to all afford two or three snowmobiles and a couple of power wagons or motorcycles. It’s all right. I don’t blame anybody for wanting to have their pleasure and recreation and all that. But I think that they have gone beyond what is reasonable. The manufacturers push that stuff.
INTERVIEWER: Are you getting that across in you 4H Clubs? I know that you have been a 4H Club worker. Are you getting across to the young people? Are they going to demand more and more price for their product for less and less work?
MR. BENTLEY: Well, as far as the 4H is concerned, if they have the right leader, it’s a good place to show them where it is wrong. That was one thing that I really liked about Pat Patrick. Pat was a leader here in the club with me when we had the Purebred Heifer Club and I was assistant leader with him. I did a lot of work with Pat, but he was good. He was good to point out the good and bad points. Whether it fell in his idea or not — he could point out the good ones as well as the bad ones, to the kids.
INTERVIEWER: When did you start 4H work here?
MR. BENTLEY: Oh, way back in the 1940’s.
INTERVIEWER: Were you associated with McQueen?
MR. BENTLEY: Yes.
INTERVIEWER: I haven’t been able to get his story yet.
MR. BENTLEY: Yes. I was in the shipping association at that time. I think that Henry was too.
INTERVIEWER: When I said McQueen, were you thinking of the older man?
MR. BENTLEY: No. Henry’s two boys.
INTERVIEWER: Then Henry was a great 4H enthusiast, too.
MR. BENTLEY: Yes. And I think that we did a lot of good there, too, with Henry’s boy. I think that it did him a lot of good. He went out and did well.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, he’s way up in his work at the present time.
MR. BENTLEY: Dr. Kidd told me that he’s one of the best Vets that he ever had.
INTERVIEWER: And he’s teaching — a pity — at an Eastern University. We don’t keep our good people here at home.
MR. BENTLEY: Well — that is the reason — our government never seemed willing to come along and do things to help them, I felt.
INTERVIEWER: What more could they do for them?
MR. BENTLEY: Although when the deal came up with the Dominion Government with that Vocational School down here — you’d be surprised the few that were interested in it. They wrote me from Victoria, and I think that they wrote to Walter Collins. They wanted two agriculturists from the South Peace, and one was to be a grain farmer, and one a livestock man. There were also two came down from Fort St. John, and of course I knew that it wasn’t going to Fort St. John. I knew that because I got that in the shipping association. So they haggled away down there and an old gentleman came — the old gentleman that came in here. I can’t remember his name, but he was an awfully nice man. But he got fed up that day because there were just a few of us there and he finally said something to the effect, “Was it going to be worthwhile.” I said, “Yes. I’d be glad — quite happy to put a motion on the books to try to persuade the government — no to demand it — that they buy the layout and start a Vocational School.” Well, he boiled right now. Why not? That layout was there — why let it go to waste. Just because they had a school at Fairview, a lot of kids couldn’t go to Fairview. A lot of the kids that came here weren’t going to go to Fairview or Lacombe or Olds or any of those places.
INTERVIEWER: Well, hasn’t a lot of the agricultural work from this Vocational School been transferred to Fairview now? Or is it the other way around?
MR. BENTLEY: I think that a lot of it goes to Fairview.
INTERVIEWER: But why? Why does a lot of it go to Fairview? I know that at one time we used to have a farrier’s course there. Young Cooper taught it and I know that it isn’t here now.
MR. BENTLEY: Because they didn’t support it I suppose. God knows there are enough horses around. But they didn’t support it.
INTERVIEWER: What is the matter with this country? We came up here from Saskatchewan to the Alberta section, around Sexsmith, and it was our impression in that part of the country, that the farmers worked together very well. They supported things and they got things. But when we got up here, whether we were prejudiced, or strangers, or what, but we’ve always had the feeling that there was less co-operation up here — less get-up and go. Now what is it? What is the basis for that?
MR. BENTLEY: I have no idea. Maybe because — maybe I shouldn’t say it — but I feel that it was the class of people that came into the country. I can’t see anything else for it. They were disgusted with where they came from or they wouldn’t have come here. And they are disgusted now that they are here.
INTERVIEWER: Well, they shouldn’t have been disgusted when they got here if our case was anything to go by. We were on the prairies in the beginning of the dirty thirties, up to thirty-four, and when we got here we thought that we had got to paradise. We could support ourselves, we could build a log house, we could shoot moose if we had to, I could grow a garden, we could pick berries, and there was work to do. Well, we thought that we were much better off.
MR. BENTLEY: Well, actually I was the same. I came in ‘28; I was down on the prairies, down south of Calgary, and then back out to Saskatchewan. I was on a farm out there for three years. It was in 1925, ‘26, and ‘27. We put in 2000 acres of crop.
INTERVIEWER: Where was that?
MR. BENTLEY: Lusland. I got a bonus every fall. Well I thought that things were starting to get a little tough. I went back out in ‘28 and ran the threshing outfit for them. When I filed on my homestead out here, I had no intention of staying when I came here. We came out here on a trip just to see the country. But I got to thinking things over, and looking things over, things were starting to get a little tough. I went back out in 1929 and they were getting worse. So I came back here in ‘29 with my mind made up to stay. If I could work for them fellows out there [in Saskatchewan] and get a bonus every fall, then I could do it for myself. The only thing was that I had to tackle the bush. But I could see a future here, couldn’t help but be one. It was a good country, and was bound to open up.
My brother-in-law lived in Edmonton — he was out with Murdock and that bunch. He worked in the city department, the water department in Edmonton, I could go down to Edmonton and get into an argument just like that. They thought that I was crazy to be up here and all that stuff. I said, “The day will come when we will be better off than anyone else. We are closer to the market, we are closer to the water.”
And it has come and it is going to come more. Now they are talking about this grain going to Prince Rupert instead of going to Edmonton. Its going to — it has got to because of cheaper freight. So I could see all those things right from the start and I thought that it was a good place for me to make a home. And the cattle helped do it. I always was interested in cattle. And when I was in 4H I was the same way with Pat Patrick. If the kids were interested we would help them, if they weren’t interested it wasn’t worth the while. There are boys out west there that listened to me years ago and have done awfully good. They have good herds of cattle — the Parr boys, Ollie Odden, the Wetherill [?] boys — they have all got good cattle. I don’t suppose that they are making a fortune, but they are making a good living, and building up something worthwhile.
INTERVIEWER: I interviewed Mr. Odden and also the elder Mr. Parr last fall. We hadn’t been out in that district very much. I don’t know why we hadn’t driven out there, but I was amazed, absolutely amazed at the grazing out in that valley. Was it always like that? Or is it built up grazing?
MR. BENTLEY: No, it was always good.
INTERVIEWER: You see there is a story that this valley was once the range got buffalo grazing, the place where the buffalo used to winter. The wood bison used to come in here because there wasn’t too much snow and they could plow through.
MR. BENTLEY: They used the channels through the mountains.
INTERVIEWER: Of course the wood buffalo from up here didn’t migrate south, they didn’t have to.
MR. BENTLEY: No. Of course it was a little milder.
INTERVIEWER: And this valley right here, the Dawson Creek Valley was supposed to be extremely rich. I always took the attitude that if the buffalo could graze here than it was an indication that people could raise and graze livestock here. Would you rate this country as a livestock country, or as a grain country? Or do you think it should be a mixed farming country?
MR. BENTLEY: I think that it is a mixed farming country, and a good mixed farming country. The first few years that I was here I always did keep a few pigs, along with the cattle. And there were some years that it would freeze — the grain would freeze — then it wasn’t too good for hog feed, but it was always good cattle feed.
INTERVIEWER: Will cattle thrive on frozen feed?
MR. BENTLEY: Oh, yes, cattle will do well on frozen feed. Unless that it is frozen too awfully badly then it wasn’t any good, but you never get that. We always seemed to be able to feel that we could grow a good crop. I saw that the first time that I came into the country. We came into the country the first of June. And right down here coming up the hill at Pouce Coupe. Old man Hanna had a field of oats on the bank of the hill there and I would say that the oats was maybe up about eight inches high. Well, we were out around Sunset Prairie about ten days or two weeks, and when we came back that same field of oats was up about three feet high, and heading out. And I said that if stuff like this will grow in this country like that, then it’s a damn good place for cattle.
INTERVIEWER: Somebody talked Pat Burns into the idea that this was a sort of tropical valley. That he didn’t have to put up feed and that the cattle could graze all winter out in the Pine Valley. Did you ever hear of the Burn’s Block out there? I didn’t hear about it until a year ago last fall. He was supposed to have bought a strip of land twenty miles long, both sides of the Pine River. It was two miles wide but the blocks that he took up weren’t surveyed. It was not a township block. The river ran somewhere between the two-mile limit, and of course it turned out that whoever told him that either exaggerated a little or was here in one of our very warm winters. Because he never really did develop it, but Johnson out here, Ivor’s father and his whole family know Pat Burns. They took up some of that land. Burns already had it surveyed, so they moved in there and they prospered.
MR. BENTLEY: No, I would have been surprised if Burns had of stayed with it because he had too much good land down where he was – right at the market.
INTERVIEWER: I think that what he was counting on was that the railway would go on out, which was projected, and of course he was making his money providing meat for the C.P. R. And he was getting ready to do the same up here. But at any rate he dropped it. But there is a Burns’ Block out there which very few people have heard about. But Ivor Johnson told us about it. How long have they had District Agriculturists in this area?
MR. BENTLEY: I don’t know what year. Delilse [?] was the first District Agriculturist. I think that he came in here in 1930. He wasn’t here too long, and then Jim Travis took over. And then Tom Crack — I don’t know just exactly when he took over.
INTERVIEWER: He was here when we came in ‘36. What did these men particularly do for you? Were they active? Or was it just a job?
MR. BENTLEY: Yes, they were active. They were here to look after homesteaders as well as they could. To persuade them in what they should do that would be best for them. About the same as they are doing now, as far as that goes, only it wasn’t as large a job. Some of them were pretty good. I always felt that it was a good source of information, if you wanted it and would use it.
INTERVIEWER: Now, after Crack, who came?
MR. BENTLEY: I think that the next fellow that came after Crack was Al Johnson. And then Arnold Allan, with John Mills, who was the information specialist.
INTERVIEWER: Now Mills had a lot to do with — now am I correct? — he had a lot to do with organizing and promoting 4H. Do you remember?
MR. BENTLEY: Yes, he did.
INTERVIEWER: I think that Russ Brown was the real promoter of 4H work.
MR. BENTLEY: Russ was at Fort St. John.
INTERVIEWER: That’s right. Now who was down here that was very active in the 4H? He worked very hard with you and Pat Patrick.
MR. BENTLEY: Johnson, he worked with us quite a bit, but I don’t remember any working too hard. He was here maybe three years.
INTERVIEWER: What is your assessment of the success of the B.C. Government in helping farmers in this area which is so different from the rest of the province? Should we be working through Alberta, or are we doing all right with B.C.?
MR. BENTLEY: I’ve often said that every move, like when we built the Seed Plant. The minister said to me one day, “Do you thing that it is worthwhile?” I said, “My god man! If it wasn’t then I wouldn’t be asking for it.” It should have been done years ago. It was one of the best things that they could do for the farmers. And some of these other things. Same as when the railroad came in and we had to move our stockyards. We went to the minister for help and we got it. They started coming to the Block and I think that it will start getting better all the time. And I think that now that we have local members here, local [cabinet] ministers here in the Block, that it will help too. At least to make the province more aware of this area.
INTERVIEWER: Did you get more help from the Beaverlodge Station down there, or from our own province?
MR. BENTLEY: We got more help from Beaverlodge, up until lately, but I think that we are getting as much from the province, now, as we do from Beaverlodge or any place else.
INTERVIEWER: They are a research station now. And there is a different atmosphere about the place. They are trying to do a different job. From what I can make out, Mr. Albright really did a marvelous job in keeping things together, and I believe Mr. Stacey, too.
MR. BENTLEY: When he — Mr. Albright — came to me and wanted me to start that station (Illustration Station) at that time, I liked those terms and he was reasonable. We sat on the woodpile, no plush cushions or anything like that — we sat on two blocks of wood. We talked the thing over, and I told him I’d take him out to the field and show what I was thinking of doing. He was happy to put a station there for a while and show the neighbors what we could do.
INTERVIEWER: That was what Hadland had for awhile. What did you call those stations?
MR. BENTLEY: Illustration Stations.
INTERVIEWER: Then you were on the south side of the river, and Hadland was on the other.
MR. BENTLEY: I was out at Progress, and Hadland was at Baldonnel. It was a lot of help and he went right along when I showed him what I thought the mixed farmer here in the country should do. I thought that I was right in line — the right line of farming. There was nothing to stop us from making a success of it.
INTERVIEWER: And you proved your point.
MR. BENTLEY: Yes. He felt that way about it. He thought that was what the country was — a good mixed farming country. And I still say that it is.
INTERVIEWER: A lot of Americans seem to be feeling about it that way, now. I understand that they are really coming up here now. And seeing this is a land of opportunity.
MR. BENTLEY: Some of them that are up here also feel that way. I had a fellow come up to me the other day – – he has quite a layout up north of here. I didn’t know him. Somebody must have told him about me. And he came up to me and wanted to know some things about crops and things. I told him what I would do. What I thought was best, but I’m no kind of authority or professor. I said, “You’d better go down to the District Agriculturist Office.”
INTERVIEWER: I imagine that you could tell him more that the District Agriculturist. In many cases, really practical things that he could do.
MR. BENTLEY: That is why I like the idea of starting the Vocational School. When the idea came along — would they like the idea of Government establishing a farm — I said, “Yes, but all means”. You take maybe my boys or some others close here, and they could go home Saturday or Friday night and then could help out at home. But the fellows that come down from the interior couldn’t do that. The boys around here could go to school throughout week then help out at home on the weekends and see how things are done, if they didn’t live too far out of town they could also help out evenings. That is the kind of thing that it needs.
INTERVIEWER: Is that common here in B.C.? Or is that a local idea here pretty much?
MR. BENTLEY: Well, we got a lot of opposition here when we started this one. Kamloops wanted to start one right now. They finally got it. But I don’t know whether they got a farm along with it or not.
INTERVIEWER: Do you think that ours was the first one then?
MR. BENTLEY: It was the first. And it was I that made the motion to have it. That is on the books. Sid Petersen was Deputy Minister. He was the first to come to me last fall with both hands, to tell me how happy he was that I got the award. Of course I’ve known Sid ever since he started to work for the government. Must be twenty-five years ago. He’s awfully good — doing a good job where he is.
INTERVIEWER: I think when we get officials that look at the country, not through the eyes of a coast man, but realistically and objectively, I think that they are great assets to this area.
MR. BENTLEY: The first few years that I went down to the coast, that was when the old highway opened, I started going down with the beef growers, and the people down there had no idea at all what was this side of the mountains. I quit calling them mountains. I called it “the ridge”. I used to say we are east of “the ridge”.
INTERVIEWER: That was good psychology.
MR. BENTLEY: When they put the railroad through, the pipeline through, and the highway through, I claimed then that we were getting closer to the province of B.C. One old fellow at a meeting one time asked me if we had any notion of joining Alberta. I told him, “It is either one or another. You fellows either play the game with us or we will go to Alberta.”
INTERVIEWER: I’m beginning to think it is time to talk about it again. Were you in on it the time — there were 26 of them — my husband was one of them. Someone passed the remark that they were discontented with something, and someone else picked up on it and said, “Let’s start a Join Alberta Association”. So twenty-six of them each chipped in a dollar and elected a President, my husband then was made Treasurer, and someone else was Secretary. They spent four dollars for postage — that is all they ever spent. Twenty-two dollars was left in the kitty, years later. And it got into the paper here, then it went from Edmonton, and then from Edmonton the coast papers picked it up. Braden [the MLA] was in the legislature. The Page came into the house and delivered the paper to his desk and he opened it up and here was the headline “Peace River Seceding”. He was speaking at the time and said, “Look here gentlemen – here it is”. So then it got back here, and I understand that in the house in Alberta, that they took it so seriously, that they actually inquired from the Secretary of State what the status was. There was nothing like this ever before in Canada. “What was their position if the Peace River Area wanted to join Alberta?” It really created quite a stir. And as I recall within a year we had six cabinet ministers visit us, and we had never seen any before. So I am inclined to think that we should start talking about it again — it just might stir them up down there.
MR. BENTLEY: I think that we should work on these two members that we have in the house.
INTERVIEWER: Now — what did one go and be speaker for? When he’s speaker he can’t say anything. I am so disappointed about that.
MR. BENTLEY: But still the name is there. Even if he isn’t up to what he should be, he al least belongs to the Peace River Block. I’ve said that all the time and they have criticized about some of the fellows that we have sent down to represent us in the Institute, and the Farmers’ Union. I’ve always said, “What the hell do you expect. With the way we have to work for a living — the good men are busy. We send anybody down there that is free and can shoot his face off at the time.” And I always refer to the Peace River Block as the “Best half of B.C. only on the other side of the ridge”. I have also had the gall to tell some of them that the day will come – maybe I won’t live to see it – that the day will come when this north country will be the best cattle country in British Columbia.
INTERVIEWER: What are you going to do about it if they are going to flood our Peace River Valley some more?
MR. BENTLEY: How much real country are they planning to flood?
INTERVIEWER: I heard a story the other night. I went to a lecture here with some people that are really interested. Some of the people around Fort St. John have estimated it and it is a vast acreage that is going to be flooded. And this is going to have to be evacuated because of the erosion of the soil here. If this soil gets waterlogged it is going to slip. Some of the ranchers around Fort St. John are making a real study of it.
MR. BENTLEY: That is something that I don’t know too much about. But what will the value of the dam be after it is built? You know that we must have power and we can’t have industry without power. Add it up. If we get more industry – we will have more markets.
INTERVIEWER: We have the power there now but it isn’t powering any industries here. What is the matter? Are we too slow?
MR. BENTLEY: But they haven’t got enough if we don’t build more dams. God, when they started that some of our leading men in B.C. criticized Bennett. They said that he was going to destroy the country. They didn’t understand. They said that he couldn’t ship that power to Vancouver — it was supposed to be too far. I came home from a meeting- – Davie Fulton was speaker — I was so mad that if I had a rotten egg he would have got it. I listened to him for an hour and a half and he was talking about something that he didn’t know a damn thing about. I listened to it — and a fellow that was a local member asked me if I had ever met Davie Fulton. He had overheard some of us talking about this. He asked me how close I lived to his project, and had I ever met Davie Fulton. I said, “No, not personally.” I’ve sat across from him at two or three different banquets now, even had a drink there with him, I knew who he was but was never introduced to him “Well,” he said, “You’re going to meet him.” “We are going to get to the bottom of this thing.” This was after Davie had made his speech. So we go to his big suite upstairs. We got up there – he had about twenty-five fellows with him, he was right in the middle of the bunch laying this no-good-so-and-so of a Bennett dam for flooding all that country and what was he going to do with the power? So we got in there – and this lad had me by the arm – and he kept pushing my in. He said, “Davie cut the can for a moment, I’ve got a friend of ours from the Peace River Country right here”. Well, Davie turned around and grabbed me with both hands. I thought that he was going to love me to death. Put on a really good show. I had heard what he had been saying when we had come in, too, you see. Well this passed all right and we had a little chat about the country. I told him what I had been doing up here, and a lot of this baloney. Then a couple of other fellows that were standing close heard that I was from this country and wanted to know if I was living right close to this project, and what were my thoughts about it. So I bellowed right out so Davie could hear, “That’s the best thing that ever happened to the Peace River Country.” Davie edged off against the wall and didn’t say anything. Sure they flooded some land, but the only things that they destroyed were a few moose, ground hogs, and porcupine, and things like that. Yes, they did flood some plots that some of them had alongside the river. I really don’t know maybe they didn’t treat them people just as well as they should have.
INTERVIEWER: Some of them haven’t got paid yet, they say.
MR. BENTLEY: I really don’t know. But I have heard a lot of stuff about that. I don’t think that is a good reason to criticize the development; it’s the management that is at fault.
INTERVIEWER: I can’t see that there is anything wrong, outside of sentiment. I like the valley the way that it was, but I don’t see that there was anything wrong in building the dam. Not the dam up there [above Hudson Hope]. But I think when they talk about putting places like Tompkins under sixty feet of water, and damming right on down to Clayhurst. This is when I am beginning to have questions about it that I think should be raised, because the land is going to be gobbled up. You’d be surprised how much of the arable land of British Columbia is right in that valley, and how much of the truck farming, and the vegetable growing and that sort of thing is done there.
MR. BENTLEY: I heard something else, about the area in Alberta here. Maybe I shouldn’t tell it, as maybe it shouldn’t be out.
INTERVIEWER: You mean about he dam at Dunvegan?
MR. BENTLEY: Alberta now. There is an awful stink about the Bennett Dam. Well, that is all washed up now, they are happier than hell because they built the dam. Now, Alberta wants to build one at Dunvegan. Well if they build one there they are going to flood a lot of land in B.C. They are trying to make a deal with B.C. Hydro – “You fellows build one in B.C. and we can put one in Alberta”. They want the power and regardless of the amount of land that they are going to flood, I think that a certain amount of water is worth more to us, than all the land that they are going to flood.
INTERVIEWER: Of course there is a viewpoint there that the lakes which they are going to make downstream from the present dam will have a limited life. The land will silt in and it will be like in other places in the world where you destroy something, something which has a proven value. Its usefulness is gone and then you have nothing left. It takes thousands of years to build that soil up again.
MR. BENTLEY: Well, yes, but if they need the power, and can use the power right now, and can conserve the water, because we all know that the ice flows are withering down, withering down pretty fast. I think that they should be damming more rivers. If not for any other reason than to conserve the water. I think that Alberta sees that now. I really don’t know — it is a thing beyond; in the future for me. I like to look ahead but it is a question whether we should destroy that now, or do without the power and without the water. You have to dam these big rivers if you are going to conserve the water.
INTERVIEWER: Yes and no. There are two sides to the question.
MR. BENTLEY: Most of the places are doing the same thing if they cannot destroy too much for the time being. And Alberta is thinking of doing it along the foothills.
INTERVIEWER: Yes. They are thinking of turning the McGregor River into the Peace. That seems to have potential.
MR. BENTLEY: That should be up to some of our wise engineers and promoters. I don’t know which is the best. What do we need the most? The water and power or the land.