Thirty years ago he came to Winnipeg, which he didn’t think much of as it then was. The train stopped on Main Street, up and down which ran a one-horse streetcar that stopped when the train came along.
“The engine of our train,” says Mr. Cushway, “was a wood burner and at times we could walk almost as fast as the train was running. Our coaches were colonist but we were a happy crowd.”
“Landing in Winnipeg with 25 cents, I got a meal for 20, met up with a farmer and went out to St. Norberts to work. It was then summer. I received $5.00 a month at first, then $10.00 and when finally raised to $15.00 I felt I was making money fast. All the time I was learning.”
“Some thirty years ago I started farming for myself at Niverville, Manitoba, 23 miles out on the Emerson branch of the C.P.R. Farmed there for a number of years, sold out and went to Rapid City, sold again and went to Newdale. Left Newdale in 1918 and came to the Peace River country to give the boys a chance. We had four boys and four girls and were farming three quarter sections.”
“If the boys bought land on the Prairie they had a life time of debt ahead of them. Only about ten per cent of the men who buy high-priced land and go in debt for it make good. Interest and crop failures kill.
“We sent to Ottawa, got a pile of immigration literature, studied it all winter and made up our minds the Pouce Coupe district looked good.”
“Selling our surplus stuff we billed two carloads of settlers’ effects to Spirit River. Had a rough trip from Edmonton north and lost some stock from the train bumping it around. The cows started to calve but I was so tired I slept one night through it all.”
” At Spirit River we rented a farm house and pasture while the oldest boy and I went hunting land. We went first to Pouce Coupe but didn’t like what was left as the open prairie was even then all taken up.”
“We’ve come this far and will keep on a-going,” I said to the boy.
“So we went to the Fort St. John district and found what we thought we wanted on the NW quarter of 19-83-17 West of 6th. The land is five miles north of Taylor Flats and right on the main route of travel through the district. I now have a second homestead on SE 30-83-17, while two sons and two sons-in-law are located near by.”
“I filed in May, 1919 and that summer put up buildings, broke a garden and went back for the stock and family. We started the boys off ahead with the stock. Ferrying the Peace at Dunvegan, they went up the north side with some thirty head of cattle. They had a camp outfit packed up on a cart. They had not much of a trail to follow but carried axes and chopped out their way where necessary. That was the winter of the deep, early snow and at ‘Wild Bill’s’ place, (Bill Graham’s forty miles from Fort St. John), they woke up to find a heavy snow fall in which two little calves perished. From there on they traveled without feed, pushing the cattle through the slush ice on the North Pine River.”
“The family and goods I took down to Dunvegan expecting to catch the last trip of the “Pine Pass” up river, but the ‘last trip’ was not made and we stayed on at Dunvegan in the old buildings of the Roman Catholic Mission until early January, 1920.”
“We then returned to Spirit River and started over the old graded railway right of way to Rolla with a four-up of horses, a load of grub and a team behind pulling the caboose, made by covering a grain tank. There was a stove and the family was comfortable. But the snow was deep and there was no track.
“On the Pouce Coupe River we left our grub with Johnny Peebles and used one team to break trail. Outside of the Rolla settlement I rigged up a stone boat for the trailbreaker. My son Ed drove this team and the other children would at times ride with him, having great fun. Behind this team was the four-up on the caboose dragging through three or four feet of snow.
“At Rolla it was 60 below and they told us it was too cold to travel. But we had to travel. Feed and stabling for a team cost two dollars a night. We took the trail north down the Cutbank Hill to what is now called Rolla Landing. I’ll never forget that descent. The total drop from Rolla must be around a thousand feet, and in places the pitch was awful. In later times I’ve gone down that hill with two rough locks on a sleigh and the load still crowding the teams so hard that they fell on their sides and slid a considerable distance before regaining their feet. The horses would shiver when they looked at it.
“This time there was no track visible. Looking ahead I would see the horses plunging breast-deep through snow on a narrow shelf of the trail with a sheer drop of a hundred feet or more in places. One could look down on the treetops beneath him. If the sleigh ever went over the edge – – – !”
That same winter the Clarke boys lost a four-horse load of oats on that hill, though saving their team and sleigh. The sleigh slewed around and dumped the oats, and they never were able to get them back.
“The river was a wasteland of snow, without even the trail of a fur-bearer. After returning to Rolla for a stone boat load of oat sheaves, for which I think we paid 25 cents apiece, we headed upstream, making our own trail on a river where, as we have since learned, loss of life is almost an annual occurrence.”
“We mooched along, camping two nights on the river. To make a camp for the horses we would shovel a hole out of the snow for them to stand in. Fortunately at that time there was no wind.”
“Rounding the main bend in the river, we were met by a Chinook wind. This softened the snow, causing it to ball up under the caboose, which now rocked from side to side.”
“At Taylor Flats I recognized the cottonwoods where the boat tied up. The Chinook had started water pouring down the gully up which the trail used to lead. This gully trail, by the way, collapsed in the spring of 1921 after being undercut by a current of water from the spring at the top of the hill.”
“Throwing the horses a bundle apiece we went up to Herbert Taylor’s for a while then went back and pulled up the big hill to our homestead cabin up on the plateau. It was just a month from the time we left Dunvegan–coming a distance of 135 to 140 miles by our route, moving every day except two or three.”
“How did you like the trip”, he was asked. “The children stood it fine and for myself I had my eye on the goal. This trip was but an incident in getting there.”
“Following our own trail back for more of the stuff I came suddenly upon an air hole right between our sleigh tracks extending almost from one to the other. It was at the head of an island and I was afterwards told there was usually an air hole there. We had straddled it complacently in our ignorance of the river!”
“I paid our $300.00 that winter in stopping-house money and getting our stuff in from Spirit River furnishing our own grub besides.”
“After our arrival we lived off the farm and did some freighting at times. We had taken in nine horses, the cattle and some chickens. I bought pigs in Rolla. We had plenty of hay ready for us when we arrived. Two of the horses I have still with us, though every year since then we have killed one or more horses on the trail from exposure and strain. In the intense weather they would bleed at the nostrils. When camping at night I have shoveled out the snow and cut spruce boughs for them to lie on but usually they would not lie down. The consequence was their legs would get cold and they would stand and shiver. They might finish the trip but probably the next spring or summer one would suddenly fall, the result of exposure on the winter trail.”
“From time to time we would sell a few cattle, a few pigs, a bit of butter and some eggs. I’ve held my own financially, have had three meals a day and am not in debt. When things start to move I am ready to move with them. The family are settled around me.”
“I’ve been pretty cold sometimes but have never been sorry. What do I want to go back to Manitoba for — to fight weeds, debt and high taxes?”