In those days anyone who wanted to survive a journey was wise to get himself a packhorse and packsaddle. Then he had better learn at once how to properly throw a “diamond hitch”. Done right, this method of roping on a pack load made horse and two hundred-pound burden practically inseparable. The load couldn’t be bucked off, washed off, snagged off or rolled off. The famous “diamond hitch” undoubtedly saved many lives.
In 1893, when the rails reached Edmonton, the straggling settlers became a small procession heading for the prairie lands beyond Lesser Slave Lake, gradually reaching Grande Prairie, the Pouce Coupe Prairie, Fort St. John and Rose Prairie. Again the road was “improved” and widened. Mirror Landing became a “pleasant village on a delightful site” (J. G. MacGregor). It continued to be a thriving place until the E.D. & B.C. railway was built through and beyond it. All the restaurants, poolrooms, stores, blacksmith shops and rooming houses were than torn down. Nothing remained but the ferry, which became known as the Smith Ferry, because a hamlet of that name grew up across the river on the railway. That ferry was still operating in 1934.
The old Peace River Trail was remembered by persons still living the 1970’s. In the early days, before the Northern Alberta Railway, improvement of roads wasn’t very noticeable, if the experience of a certain Tony (?) is to be believed. Arriving at Grouard from Athabasca Landing, he complained, “Thirty days I thumpa da bull. How much farder to Peace River?” If he reached the west end of Lesser Slave Lake, (now called Grouard), by wagon, he was luckier than most, for the road north or south of the Lake might have killed his animals. Most people arranged to take a scow and be rowed or towed the length of the seventy-five mile lake. Others travelled after Christmas on the ice, but they had to carry plenty of firewood along, for blizzards whipped the open lake. Pressure ridges heaved up to 10 ft. high, and had to be bumped over or chopped through — it could be slow going. In any case Tony would have to “thumpa da bull” over that other ninety miles, known as the Portage Trail, to Peace River.
The Klondikers should have known about Tony!