My father, a veteran of World War I, came up from Vancouver in 1919 with some army friends, amongst them being “Mac” Wha, Tommy Harrison, Bob Haddon, and “Jimmy” Mathews. To my knowledge, “Jimmy ” is the only one still alive [ca 1972] having recently passed 90 years of age.
Dad filed on a half-section of land, which is now crossed by the Alaska Highway at approximately Mile 6. The “James Paul” rural school located there was named in his memory. If at that time anyone had said “right here will be a highway going 1500 miles to Alaska, and 6 miles south of here will be a city of 13,000 everyone would have thought them crazy. That year Dad got some land broken and put up some temporary buildings of “waney-edge” lumber and tarpaper. Waney-edge lumber was unplaned — with not even the edges trimmed — purchased from a small local sawmill.
In April of 1920, Mother and I came via CN Railway to Edmonton, thence to Spirit River over the E.D. & B.C. Railway — locally interpreted to mean “Exceedingly Dangerous and Badly Constructed”. There Dad met us with a team and sleigh. Except for a few scattered bare patches, we drove that 65 miles on snow. That summer I filed on a quarter section just south of our home quarter. While all work was important, probably the MOST important was to get more land into production. With a son raised in the city till he was over 20, Dad’s patience was really tried, especially trying to teach me, amongst many other things, that there was a difference in horse collars, just as in men’s shirts. To start with, all of our implements were horse drawn. To seed 20 to 25 acres was a big day’s work. Crops were harvested with horse drawn binders, stooked till dry, then hauled to the home site, to be stacked for feed or threshing.
Our first threshing was done by the Yaegers from Doe River, with their horse-powered outfit. A large gear, with wooded arms protruding, to which our horses were attached, passed its power through a series of tumbling rods to the grain separator. Bundles were pitched from the stacks up to men who cut the bands, then slid them over to the “feeder” man. Threshing was always a community chore — everyone helped everyone when your turn came to have the outfit, and did so cheerfully. One will always remember that spirit. Moreover, even if it was hard work, it also meant visiting and exchanging news.
Here is another humorous incident from threshing days. One year we were threshed by an outfit using a steam-powered tractor. I remember two things — first, how much wood they used, and secondly, the “Engineer” pulling out the coals in the firebox when we stopped. Then after all the minor repairs were done, and the firebox was just comfortable — that was where he slept.
Winter’s snows meant getting out the year’s wood supply, filling the icehouse with ice and sawdust. Ice was nice for cool drinks, keeping the milk cool, and not the least used to make ice cream.
Winter’s snows also sometimes meant poor roads, and everyone had some hauling to do of hay or straw. But most trails acquired turn out spots during the winter for meeting other loads.
The years passed by and everyone got more land broken, better buildings put up, and of course there was a constant stream of new settlers.
So I think the last of my ramblings will be just a few comments on the lack of business facilities in those first years.
There was no Dawson Creek village, town or city. Bill Bullen had a combined store and fur trading post. It was approximately near the end of pavement at the west end of 108th Avenue which now heads to South Dawson.
Haskins ran the only large general store. This, along with the Post Office, a one room bank–the Commerce — and the Red Cross outpost Hospital, were in Pouce Coupe–approximately 15 road miles. Grande Prairie was approximately 90 miles and Spirit River approximately 65, so grain and hogs were hauled to the nearer of the two. The Pouce Coupe River was crossed at Riley’s Crossing–there a tow team helped you get to the top of the riverbank, and then you were on your own. Everyone carried their own grub box and oats for the horses as well as a bedroll. Here was another time when everyone helped others in case of mishap. Stopping places were barns or shelters with straw roofs. The one for the travelers always had a large stove for heating as well as cooking.