September 18, 1945
Box 5, Rolla, B.C.
I am not in a position to give you an actual history as I have no data on this subject. The only thing I can do is to quote from memory a few things. I cannot be sure they will all be correct because [my] memory quite often fails, especially as to dates and years.
My first experience in this Peace River Block took place in Sept. 1913 when I filed on my brother’s and my land where I am now living. The nearest Land Office was at Grande Prairie [90 miles away, in Alberta] where the filing was done.
Mr. Haskins had just started a store in a tent located near the place where the Government Building is now located in Pouce Coupe. A Mounted Police office was there also. [Note: it would have been the Provincial Police at that time rather than the RCMP] The main stopping place and trading post was at Mr. Tremblay’s ranch on the Pouce Coupe River. He had been there for some years doing trading with Indians and trappers.
After stopping at the Tremblay Ranch for a short time we crossed the Dawson Creek and went north. We first met Mr. Chris Aker, John Normark, and Bill Peden on the north side of Normark’s Lake. Around Rolla we spoke with the Miller Family, Ole Grotheim, and farther north we saw Mrs. J.B. Pierce. These people had houses built and had come into the country in 1912 or early in 1913.
After looking over land open for filing for about three days, we went back to Grande Prairie and filed. From there we went to Athabasca Landing and later to Edmonton for the winter.
In February 1914, my brother and I started for the homestead. My partner on the first trip to the district left us – he said he had had enough hardship already in the Peace River country. We went by railway to Athabasca, loaded our belongings on sleighs and drove up the river on the ice by way of Mirror Lading and Lesser Slave Lake. [Then it was] over land via Sturgeon Lake and Grande Prairie, and arrived on the homestead on March 19th, after 20 days on the road from Athabasca. We had to camp outside most of the time as there were very few road-ranches at that time. Most of the other settlers came in by way of Edson, Alberta — which took about the same length of time and hardship.
At this time quite a few new settlers arrived. Among them were – Howard Atkinson, who started a store in his homestead and later moved to Rolla, and George Hart, who located on South Dawson Creek, kept a store on his place and later had a store and the Hart Hotel in Pouce Coupe.
Transportation into this country was very difficult at this time, there being no graded roads nor bridges or culverts over rivers and creeks on this side of Beaverlodge, and very few on the Edson Trail, a distance of about 250 miles from Edson to Grande Prairie.
The cost of hauling goods was 5¢ per lb. to Grande Prairie and 7¢ to Pouce Coupe. This made prices high. Flour cost about $15.00 per 98 lb. bag; sugar and salt were 15¢ per lb. and other goods in proportion. The mail service was limited to once a month. It may be mentioned here that when World War I broke out in 1914 we got the news from a party who had walked all the way from Edson, Alta. The newspapers came in over a week later. After some time the mail came in once a week.
The Edmonton, Dunvegan & British Columbia Railway was under construction from Edmonton in 1914 and in 1915 it was continued to Grande Prairie. In 1916 grading was done from Spirit River to the BC Boundary, but no track was laid because there were no rails available on account of the war. This railroad was never completed and [the roadbed] was used only for winter road between Pouce Coupe and Spirit River until the railway was built to Hythe and later completed to Dawson Creek in January 1931. Thousands of bushels of wheat were hauled to Spirit River during these years. Prices for wheat were about 50¢ to 60¢ per bushel delivered at Spirit River and the charges for hauling from here were 30¢ per bushel, leaving only 20¢ or 30¢ per bushel for the producer. This made it very difficult to exist and many people left after having spent several years, and some of them considerable sums of money in the district.
In 1919 the Bank of Commerce established a branch in Pouce Coupe and one in Rolla. The Peace River Block newspaper was started at Rolla about the same time. [Note: the newspaper dates only to 1930]. Dawson Creek [the old town] had only a small trading post but Mr. Bullen built a hotel across the road from the trading post about this time. After a while he purchased the store but later sold it to Mr. Hart, who at that time was operating a store in Pouce Coupe. He wanted to move the goods to Pouce Coupe, leaving no store at Dawson Creek. People in the vicinity did not like this idea.
The United Farmers of Alberta had organized a local here a short time before and the idea of starting a co-operative store was brought up at the meeting. A committee was appointed to look into the matter, which resulted in the organization of the present Dawson Cooperative Union Store, with an initial capital of about $900.00 and Mrs. W. Cusack as manager. The store was opened for business in June 1921.
Howard Atkinson of Rolla also started a store in Dawson Creek at about the same time. A Post Office was obtained and Mrs. Reasbeck was the Postmistress, James Blackstock started a blacksmith shop and J.P. Dalscheid became the harness and shoe repairer. Mr. W. Cusack had a butcher shop which, in addition to the Co-op Store, was managed by Mrs. Cusack.
A flour mill was moved from Grande Prairie to Pouce Coupe in 1920 and operated for some years by Mr. Hanna of Pouce Coupe. Some years later another flour mill was installed at Dawson Creek. Neither of these mills had much success.
A Co-operative Creamery was organized and located at the Riley Crossing on Pouce Coupe River. Later it was moved to Pouce Coupe town. It was finally closed down, presumably because there was not enough patronage.
The first sawmill was brought in in 1914 by Mr. Trelle of Wembly, Alta. He operated the mill at Tremblay’s ranch on the Pouce Coupe River for a short time and later moved it to his timber limit northwest of Rolla.
In 1930, when the railroad from Hythe to Dawson Creek was constructed, the businesses of the old town had to move to the new townsite. Among those were Reasbeck’s Hotel, Harper’s Store, Co-op Store, Northern Drug Store, J.C. Hall’s Pool Hall and the Branch of the Bank of Commerce.
These are the most important developments that took place up to the time of the Alaska Highway, of which I suppose you already have good information.
Trusting this will aid you in your studies.
Editor’s note: The author of this letter may have been E.L. Hauger