[On this tape two old friends and oldtimers of the Peace River country have a kind of “reminiscence party”. The occasion is Mr. Matthew’s ninety-third birthday. His friend, Joe Barringham is eighty-seven. The time, late September, 1977.]
E.H.-First, Mr. Matthews is going to talk .
I was discharged from the army in Vancouver. Then I came to Spirit River. I looked around Spirit River for a couple of days and then walked all the way to Pouce Coupe. I think there was only one stopping place on the way at that time. I met Ted Haskins who had the store there in Pouce Coupe. I asked him about the land, and he told me about Coal Creek up here — Sweetwater it used to be in those days. We had no plots, so we had to go back to Grande Prairie to get a plot [a map supplied by the land office showing quarter sections open for homesteading]. Then I came back to Coal Creek and found a homestead and started working.
How did you go back to Pouce Coupe?
By car. We made it in two days. Of course whenever we wanted grub from where I was we had to walk down to Pouce Coupe, thirty miles at that time — no road you know. We used to go once a week. There was another guy who left that winter. He’d go one week and I the other and that’s the way we lived the first summer there. We built two cabins one on each place.
In the fall we started trapping. That’s the only way one could make a living at that time.
What did you trap?
Well — everything. All the game — every animal in the country we trapped at that time. That fall of 1919, just before we started trapping I went down Coal Creek and found some coal. So I took two packhorses down there and took two bags of coal up to the wagon. I sent it out to get it checked. It wasn’t very good coal — good steam coal. I went back and got out twenty ton that fall by myself. I’d haul it to Pouce Coupe and Dawson Creek and sell it to anybody that wanted it.
How did you haul it?
With two wagons with a four up. In the winter I hauled it with a sleigh. I’d haul about three ton. I’d sell it to old John Garrett in Pouce Coupe. He was in the liquor store then. Sold it to old Garrell, sold it to Wes Harper, Atkinson in Rolla — anybody wanted any coal we’d haul it down. We made out good that fall. Then I went trapping. There wasn’t much fur in the country that year. That was in ‘19. I made enough to keep us going. Then in the spring I started farming. Cutting brush all summer. At first I done it barehanded and then I got four horses.
[Joe and Jimmy are now going to discuss some of the things they experienced, first Mr. Barringham.]
You remember, Jimmy, when the second war broke out, we joined up in the Veterans’ Guard to guard prisoners, that were sent out from England and we had fifteen thousand under canvas at Kananaskis. You remember that? We built barracks in Lethbridge and then we had to move down from Kananaskis. It was pretty cold because at that time we had no stoves in the tents.
Oh, those tents!
Yeah, and we had to move them down by train from Kananaskis — a train load every day for a week, and then while we were guarding we built another camp at Lethbridge to hold another fifteen thousand. We used to be in these camps about three months and then we’d transfer to some other camp. Yea.
We’d be in every camp in the country for three months.
Then we were sent to Trail. We was there for a month. And then when Japan started a war, we was in – what’s the name of that place? – Oh, Nanaimo – they got scared. Though they were going to bomb Nanaimo so they put us out in trenches in water. We stood there all night to get away from camp in case they bombed it. We stood in trenches all night. They wouldn’t let us go into the bunks at all because they thought we’d get blowed up, see. Then they moved us to Trail, because they expected they’d try to bomb that place.
Then from Trail they sent us to – what’s the name of that place on Vancouver Island – oh yes, Ucluelet.
You was there?
I was at Trail.
Then after that we went to Medicine Hat and had another fifteen thousand prisoners.
What’s the name of that big camp out of Edmonton?
Elks Island Park?
That’s not the name – but they had a big camp there.
You was in a different company. There were three companies, but we used to get together from time to time.
We wasn’t together that three months.
I wasn’t at Wainright. You was.
Then we transferred them from down east and split them up a little. That was an officers’ camp. Big officers’ camp.
Then they chased us back to Vancouver Island away up North there. And when that was over we went back homesteading again.
In those early homesteading days nobody had any money and there was no such thing as welfare and very few jobs, so everyone had to get along as best they could. In the fall of 1924 I met Jimmy and talked him into doing some more coal mining. Jimmy was all set in the Coal Creek in what is now known as the Farmington area, a few miles northwest of Dawson Creek. There was a twelve-inch seam of coal in the creek bank about two miles downstream from Matthew’s homestead. We decided to try mining a few tons of it to sell locally. Digging was too slow to mine in the ordinary way so we had to strip mine. That meant that instead of digging out soil underneath the coal and then prying it our with a crowbar, we had to strip and that meant moving a lot of dirt. Then it all had to be loaded on a stoneboat and pulled across the creek and up the opposite bank and load it on the wagon. It took several trips with a stoneboat to get a wagon load. There were no graded roads in the country at that time just trails through the brush. By the time it was frozen up it was all rutted up and very rough. Consequently we had to get shoes on the horses. There was a blacksmith at South Dawson but he had no coal so the first load went to the blacksmith.
How good was the coal?
He said it was as good as any he had ever used for blacksmith work. Now that the horses were shod we were in business. The next load was traded to Wes Harper’s store in Old Dawson for groceries. You can’t dig coal on an empty stomach. After we got organized, Jimmy did the hauling and I did the digging. The only cash sales we made was to the Government agent in Pouce Coupe and to the liquor vendor’s store. They needed to keep a slow fire burning all winter in the vendor’s building to keep the stock from freezing. At that time the end of the railway was at Grande Prairie. Outside coal cost ten dollars a ton and the freight on top of that. We delivered for fifteen dollars a ton so everyone benefited.
After we had delivered to the government agent, he said I believe I am supposed to charge you fellows twenty-five to fifty cents a ton royalty. He was only joking, but Jimmy said, “O.K., we’ll just add that much on to the price that we’re charging you.” He says “Oh, that would just involve a lot of bookkeeping so let’s just forget about the royalty” which we did. Considering the vast amount of coal we have in our province, let’s hope the government don’t forget about the royalty and all they sell to other countries.
Jimmy’s homestead was situated a few miles north of Dawson Creek on Coal Creek in what is now known as Farmington district. There were no roads, only trails through the bush. The trail from Dawson Creek to Fort St. John ran through Jimmy’s homestead. We often had travelers dropping in and they were always welcome to his hospitality. He had a one-roomed log shack just big enough for a double bunk, stove, table, etc.
One day in November along came a Mountie. He was on his way to Hudson’s Hope on a routine patrol. One of his duties was to naturalize persons who had applied to become Canadian citizens. He was travelling by horseback and there was no way of getting his horse across the Peace River at that time of year. He arranged to leave his horse with us and Jimmy would take him to the Peace River with a horse and jumper. A jumper was a kind of box arranged on the front bobs of a sleigh. There wasn’t much snow on the ground and with the ruts rough and frozen, it was a pretty rough drive. Anyway, one wanting to cross the river would light a fire to attract attention, and someone would come across in a canoe. The Mountie would be able to get other transportation on the other side, after arranging with Jimmy to be at the same spot in ten days on his retrun journey. Mr. & Mrs. Clark had purchased land a few miles up the river from Fort St. John. Mrs. Clark was expecting her first baby around Christmas time. It would be a good time for Mrs. Clark to come out with the Mountie to the Red Cross Outpost hospital in Pouce Coupe. That’s what they did
On the day he was to make the rendezvous on the Peace he left early in the morning. Meantime it had turned colder and some snow had fallen. There was quite a bit of shore ice along the riverbank that would have to be broken for the canoe to pass. They made it after being splashed a bit and they got started on their way back. That evening I got the chores done up and had a big pot of mulligan stew on the stove ready for the return. It was dark when I heard them coming down the trail. Jimmy’s cabin was on the south side of the creek. They were crossing when the sleigh tipped over. Imagine my surprise to hear a woman’s voice cry out. They all got to the cabin all right and all seemed none the worse for the experience.
After supper we hung a blanket around the bunks so the lady could change into some dry clothes while we were at the barn doing the chores. We were all a bit anxious about Mrs. Clark after such a strenuous day, but she was in good spirits and seemed to be enjoying the experience.
It was several miles to the nearest neighbor’s, Mr. and Mrs. Jim Paul, and the O’Hara’s who live beside the creek where the Jim Paul School is now at Mile Six on the Alaska Highway. The night passed quickly and after breakfast the party set out to the Jim Paul’s place. They were happy to take charge of the expectant mother. After a rest she completed the journey to the hospital in Pouce Coupe.
By this time our orders for coal had been pretty well filled. It was time for me to be getting home to Sunset Prairie as my wife was expecting me before Christmas. We were delivering coal to Dr. Watson towards payment for services to come. Another load went to Harper’s for groceries to put us through the winter. And that brought to a close our coal operations for 1924.
When did you come to this country (Canada) Mr. Matthews?
It was the summer of ‘98 and then I started travelling down through the States. I went down to Texas, and when I got to ‘Frisco, I sailed for about three years. China, Phillipines and all ‘round that country. Then when I come back, I shipped again around Cape Horn to New York from Seattle and I sailed along the coast there for two years on schooners. I could tell you a story about one I missed. There was a big seven-masted schooner on the coast at that time. There was only one, the Thomas W. Lawlor, only one on the Atlantic coast. They’d had a little trouble with the Union – the sailor’s union. They had trouble getting a crew. They asked us in Union Hall if we’d make a trip with them, I was willing to go and my partner was willing but the Union fellows wouldn’t let us go. She got over to England but she turned over and was lost – the only seven-master ever built. If I’d been on her, I’da been all right [?]! That’s a true story. I’ve been on six-masters and five-masters, four-masters, three, two. They were all called by the number of masts in them days. It was a good life on ships.