by G.R. Clare (1997)
Old-timers may laugh about looking “all the way back” to 1959, but for a lot of people in the area that date nearly qualifies as ancient history. After all, World War II and the construction of the Alaska Highway was only 15 years in the past.
Dawson Creek, in 1959, had been an incorporated city for just one year although it had been there for nearly 30 years. With almost 10,000 people calling Dawson Creek home, the city could confidently call itself the service centre of the north. The Northern Alberta Railway and the newer Pacific Great Eastern from Vancouver were vital commercial links to the “outside” and provided regular passenger service as well. There was an oil refinery in town and a growing number of government agencies. Some twenty-five trucking firms operated out of Dawson Creek on the three major highways converging here and racked up nearly 7,000,000 miles of truck traffic in 1957. The Lakeview Credit Union and three banks — Commerce, Montreal and Toronto Dominion — provided financial services to the community.
Prices were pretty good then, too, with residential electricity costing around 8 cents per kWh and natural gas from Northland Utilities going for $3 for the first 1000 cubic feet used. The city tax rate was set at 38.88 mills in 1957 and hadn’t changed much by 1959. City water, from a 10,000,000 gallon reservoir cost only $6.50 a month for 500 cubic feet of water delivered through the municipal system. A few people still had water delivered to their houses by truck while they waited to be hooked up to the city’s supply and sewer lines.
St. Joseph’s Hospital, located where the Selwyn Apartments are today, was nearing the end of its life — the 29 bed facility which opened in 1932 would be replaced within two years with a new brick structure. Two local newspapers, the Dawson Creek Star and the Peace River Block News, as well as Radio CJDC, brought the news to the town and Northwest Telephone linked it to the world. Fire protection was provided by a volunteer fire department of 15 men led by a full-time Fire Chief.
Four elementary schools, a junior high school and a senior high school served the community’s young people. Only one of these schools remains today – Central – and it is hardly recognizable since its renovation in 1996.
Travellers could choose from six hotels offering 327 rooms with rates ranging from $2 and up or stay in one of the many motels. Golf, tennis, bowling, hunting, skating, fishing and curling provided lots of recreational opportunities for residents and visitors alike.
All in all, Dawson Creek in 1959 was a pleasant and growing little town with the usual ambitions of a northern settlement just past its first difficult years of growth.