In 1925 we had discussed moving to the Peace River county, which was then called the Peace River Block. We decided to move from Vancouver in 1925. We then changed our minds and decided to move in 1926, this we figured would be better for us. We were young at that time and Dad was working in Vancouver. So when 1926 came we decided to depart from Vancouver to the Peace River country. That was January 4, 1926. We departed from Vancouver by C.N.R. train about 5:30 in the evening, traveled all night and all day, and the following night and part of the day to 4:20 p.m. We arrived at Grande Prairie which at that time was called the end of steel. The town was not very big at the time. We did get a room at the hotel, what there was of it, and it was very cold. It was 45 degrees below zero!
We had a very good night’s rest, and had breakfast in the morning. We were wondering how to get to the place they called Wembley. We ran across a person by the name of Archie Livingston, who had a team of horses and a sleigh. There was lots of snow and it was very cold, and he was going our way. So we started with a packed lunch. There was lots of snow and a very bad north wind blowing with the snow. We finally made it to Wembley at night real late.
We found a place to stay, as there was no hotel there at the time. We stayed at a place called Johnson’s Stopping Place, which was a rooming house. There we had a place for the night and our meals. We also found a place for the horses. The first thing to do was to get the horses in the barn and our supper and then to have a good strong cup of coffee after our long cold trip. We sat and talked with Mr. Johnson about the Peace River country. He said that we still had to go through Hythe, which was a long trip and very cold with lots of snow. The next day we continued on with our journey.
From Hythe we had to go to Pouce coupe which was still a long day and a night away from Hythe. Pouce Coupe at that time was a very small village. There were very few houses in Pouce Coupe and it was very hard to get a place to stay. However we did find a place to stay and a place to put the horses up for the night. We talked with the fellow there and asked him how far Dawson Creek was from Pouce Coupe. He told us that we had only seven miles to go. And I thought, “Thank goodness that will be the end”.
However as we started to head towards Dawson Creek the weather had turned warmer and the thermometer had gone up to 350 above, which was a great deal warmer than it was when we had started out from Grande Prairie. We had breakfast that morning in Dawson Creek as well as dinner and got our room at the Bill Reasbeck Hotel.
We found Dawson Creek a very small place with only six houses, a butcher shop, a blacksmith’s shop, a harness shop, the Reasbeck Hotel and the Co-op Store. And of course there was the Queens Hotel, which was then not open, but was ready to rent or buy. We stayed two days at Bill Reasbeck’s Hotel and had a very nice time talking to the people there.
Finally my dad said why not start a business. Well, I said it is up to you, whatever you want to do. So we took the Queen’s hotel over and started into business. The hotel wasn’t very large, only fourteen rooms in it, but a large dinning room and a large kitchen. We did a booming business as there were people coming into the country all the time. We stayed there two years, before we sold out.
Then we went to the country west of Dawson Creek, which was then called South Dawson. We rented a place there while we got our cabin built on our own homestead. We had to go back to Pouce Coupe to file for the land. The land cost us ten dollars, which we figured was real good. On coming back from Pouce we thought it over and realized what a lot of hard work that would be for us. However we started taking out logs for the log house and started building. This took time as the logs had to be felled and then peeled, and then we had to get the lumber to put the roof on and the flooring as well as put in the partitions and the windows. At that time we couldn’t get doors so we had to make our own door which was very heavy. It was a good thing that we had to make our own door which was heavy, as the weather in this part of the country was very cold in the winter at that time. It was nothing to see the temperature get down to 600 or 650 below in the winter for weeks on end.
In the wintertime we cleared land so that it was ready to break in the spring. The first winter we broke enough so that we could grow feed so that we could have a cow. We bought the cow from a farm in Progress; the man’s name was Mr. Smith. We took the cow home and put it in our small barn, which was nice and warm at that time. We had a very, very bitter cold winter that year and a very late spring. We got rain and snow and more snow and rain and I thought, ” My goodness, when will summer ever come?” However, it finally came and it got so that one hated to get out into the field to do any work because it got up to 700 and 800 above, which was quite a change from our cold winter.
However, we proceeded with our work. In the meantime I figured I should start on my own quarter of land as time was running out fast and I wanted to get it up before winter started in. So we cut and got the logs out, got them scored, and two fellows, Swedes, to go ahead and put the house up. It was a two-storey house, 30 x 24, full cellar, full basement with a furnace to burn wood and roots, which we had a lot of at that time. We found out later as we roamed around the land that we wouldn’t run out of wood for some time. So, during that winter I moved into my place from the old log house that my dad had built, which was a little bit better than the one we had first put up on my dad’s place.
Then we eventually finished off his place, and moved back there. This could sound something like the Indians do during the summer — from one place to the next. However, we finally got everything settled.
Well, there were very, very few people in the country at that time. Mr. Fred Chase was one of our close neighbours. Mr. Denton and Ray Newby was way over from us in the next valley, where he had taken up a homestead at that time and wasn’t too good. He had a few acres broken up, but that was about all. He did have a little shack about the size of a granary to live in. Well, Ray finally decided to get married, which he did. And they settled there on that place which Ray Newby had taken up. I think it was back in 1929. Finally he left his place and moved into Old Dawson itself, as I guess he found it was too far to travel back and fourth from the homestead into town.
Then, in 1930, things began to move. They got to looking at the new townsite, which is now called the place of Dawson Creek, over. It was all bush at that time, no land was cleared, only a few bare spots here and there. However, Mr. McQueen was the man who moved the Co-op store, which was a very slow process. So, anyhow, we laid down planks and raised the Co-op Store, got rollers under it, and then they had what they called a screwjack with a team of horses and a cable which moved it a few feet each time, on planks. And we had to run ahead with the planks so that the rollers would roll on the planks – to keep it as level as possible. It was quite a job! This process took us more than a week — just to get the Co-op moved. Finally we got it into the new townsite of Dawson Creek, as it is called today. Then the next thing was to get it set down, which we did. Then we went back to the old town and started on Bill Reasbeck’s Hotel.
Bill said, ” I don’t know whether we can make any progress by moving this large building. However we’re going to try and do the best we can.” So we got it up on the timbers, got it lowered down on what we call hardwood rollers and planks, and started off with it. We moved it a few feet at a time ‘till we got it straightened out, and then we progressed across the old creek where we had to make the crossing at that time. It took us almost a week to get that moved.
We finally made it and Bill Reasbeck says, “Well, I guess we’re in the new townsite.” Mr. McQueen says, ” I think so; at least I hope so, at any rate.”
It was a lot of hard work and his boys helped him, as well as myself. My second brother did quite a lot of work as well. Finally we arrived in the new site and placed the hotel almost where it is still sitting today. This was about all there was in Dawson Creek for some time, then people started coming in and a few houses and buildings were moving in.
Art Webb had set a small store. And… the other gentleman who had the clothing store… he’s since passed away… that was Mr. Patterson. So you see, things have changed quite a bit in those years that have gone by. Paul Dalchied… we had to move his shop. That was called the Harness and Shoe Shop at that time. It sat across from Art Webb’s store. Then other buildings started coming in and gradually the town built up. Well, it had begun to look like a little town but not a city. Approximately three to four hundred people were there at that time, building and travelling back and forth. And a lot were coming in and taking up land and building as well.
Well, in the meantime we hauled wood from our own place to Dawson Creek. It was two and a half dollars a cord at that time, which wasn’t very much of a price for wood, but it kept the wolf away from the door. We could afford the odd bag of flour and a pail of lard and a few thing, essential things, we needed for ourselves. As time went on, things began to pick up a little and we got work here and there and eventually carried on with the homestead.
Now, the town of Dawson Creek started to move in 1929 or `30, I believe, as time has gone by so fast one forgets the exact date, but I think it was in the spring of the year however, when we started to move the buildings. We had quite a session once the railroad had arrived in Dawson Creek, as Ma Murray and all the rest that were in Dawson Creek made quite a speech about the railroad coming in. “Course, I guess a lot of them knew Ma Murray was, as she was the editor of the paper at that time. And of course, George Murray the MP for this part of the country at that time. The Murrays eventually moved to Fort St. John. Well Fort St. John at that time was only a drop in the bucket, same as old Dawson itself, not much. There were only a few houses, the Co-op Store, and the old Fort Hotel, which was built out of logs. Then a few settlers started coming in and taking up homesteads here and there. We ran into a fellow by the name of Art McKellar, he and his wife had walked all the way from Edmonton, where they were married. Apparently he had been a great singer and had left that profession and preferred to take up a homestead here in the Peace River country. That was to the west and north of us which meant that we had another neighbour. Neighbours were few and far between.
There was lots of game in the country. That was one thing — we were never without meat. We had lots of meat — deer, moose, as well as rabbits. Rabbits were thick that year, real bad! In order to try and protect our feed we had to build a fence to try and keep the rabbits out. Then they would dig down into the ground and under the fence and get at the grain and stuff which you had stacked. Hay as well. However, they destroyed quite a bit of our crop, as well as the crop of others.
Well, that next year, after we had settled, people by the name of Denton came in and settled to the South of us in the next valley, where they had taken up two quarters of land. Well, they were up in the years, the old people themselves, but the boy was about my age and he thought the Peace River country was very good looking so they started in, took logs out and built their house. We helped to finish that for them and got the old folks moved in there. Jim figured he would take out wood and keep things going and keep the wolf from the door, which he did by hauling the wood into Dawson Creek at the same price that we got. He had a harder time as he didn’t have a very good sleighs — only homemade ones, and his horses weren’t too good, they were rather on the wild side and he had trouble lots of times. We had our share of troubles too. Many a day we made trips through snow banks, dumped our wood over and had to reload and start again. We probably dumped over two or three times before reaching Dawson Creek. We would unload our wood and take off for home that night with maybe a bag of flour or a pail of lard or sugar, or whatever we needed.
So one time we needed a bag of flour and I told Ed Hauger [Co-op Manager] I’d come and pick it up before leaving town for home. It was rather late in the afternoon, around five, and there was quite a storm that had got up, but that didn’t stop me from taking off. When I got home I thought I had a bag of flour instead I had a bag of bran, which wasn’t very good for making bread. So I went back the next day and said, “We’ve made an awful mistake.” Hauger says, “We must have got things mixed up ` cause the bag of flour is still sitting here in the store.” So we had quite a laugh over it and that was that.
Well, now to talk about hunting moose and bear, which were plentiful on our place. We had a salt lick to the south of us and the bear and moose used to come in there. So one night, during the fall of the year, I figured I’d set a trap to catch a bear. Well, I built a pen, got everything set with bait and everything. And I said to myself, “Well, Mr. Bear, if you come along it’ll be too bad for you.’
“Cause I figured he’d walk right in there. However, I put a moose up into a tree, and if anything touched it, it would take a halt, throw him up in the air and hang him there. So I went up in the morning, and I figured I had Mr. Bear, but instead of that it was a bear with a pair of horns on, a moose. He’d got into the noose, around his neck, and there he was, stone dead.
We got our neighbours to go and cut the moose up, hang it up to air for a day, and then to haul it home. We had to pack it quite a distance through deep snow. In those days we had no fridge to put the meat in, so we had a place in the side of the mountain with lots of ice and running water too. So we hung Mr. Moose up in it, which kept it quite cold and it froze in there. That made a very good icebox — better than the ones we have today, as it didn’t take any electricity. You only needed to shut the door to keep it cold and keep the flies out. It was a wonderful thing to look at that freezer we had on my place. We were proud of it and thought it was quite the thing.
However in closing, I would like to mention that the Co-op store kept doing business while we were moving it. For the whole week business never stooped right up `till we set the store up in the new townsite itself.