The book’s chief charm for most Peace Rive people was the stories he told of his encounters with many of the pioneer characters. Of course, some find fault with details of time or place, but inaccuracies were to be expected when much of its content was memories of events fifty years before. There were others who said that Bezanson always had exaggerated. “He was that kind of guy”, they said.
The fact seems to be that Bezanson had set out to promote the Peace early on. He dreamed of founding a city on the Smoky River, and incidentally of making a fortune out of it. In truth, he might very well have accomplished his dream. He just made the mistake of thinking that the railways, when they were built, would come to the settlements. Instead, as in so many other cases — particularly in the north, it seems — they went where politics or more powerful financial interests took them, and they stopped wherever adverse conditions overtook them.
Bezanson expressed his view of the country in one reported speech. “Here . . . are the basic ingredients of the American dream. The dream that brought millions to America where they could acquire land of their own and be free to cultivate it for their own benefit and their families.”
The book is not only about the possibilities of the land. It is full of anecdote and incident, embroidered with racy comments. It was not his first attempt at writing. In 1907 he published The Peace River Trail — an amateurish pamphlet that nevertheless found its way, via the Federal Government which was soliciting immigration at the time, to the United States, Europe, and even China.
Bezanson was not a “sodbuster” at heart. He was the classic type of American promoter, but he had to live. To do so he became a rancher and a sawmill operator. Still, he spent much of his time roaming the Peace Country and travelling across Canada.
By the time the First World War broke out, Bezanson was convinced that the railway would go through his favorite area. He says, “I rented an office on First Street in Edmonton and inserted a half-page ad in the Edmonton Journal announcing a new townsite. . . I kept constantly publicizing the [Peace River] country and our need for a railway . . . In addition, I kept working on influential members of Parliament in Edmonton and Ottawa . . . and more important … to see Sir Richard McBride, Prime Minister of British Columbia, a constructive minded optimist who recognized the need for a railway to the Peace”. Later, he said that “we planned in detail the development of the sawmill and townsite at Bezanson… In the next sixteen months I made sixteen round trips between Vancouver and Edmonton . . .”
In confidence that Bezanson would become a town, if not a city, its founder and such financial backers as he could enlist put a ferry across the Smoky River on a twelve hundred foot steel cable which he had “purchased and had hauled out at heavy cost.”
Interspersed with accounts of adventures, hairbreadth escapes and personal tragedy, it gives a vivid picture of some aspects of the Peace before the First World War, even though some old timers pooh-pooh the dramatic presentation as “exaggerated” or evidence of foolhardiness. No matter, it makes entertaining reading!
There is no possible way of knowing how many people were influenced to come here by Bezanson’s promotion of the country. Probably a negative value should be mentioned. The railway did not come and today the remains of Bezanson can scarcely be found.
Sodbusters Invade the Peace is not literature! It is a self-portrait of one of the many promoters who induced settlers to come to the Peace. Conditions after World War II had become much more like those of the old settled parts of the prairies, and ending, as it does, before the railways reached the Peace, it gave a widespread impression that the Peace River Country was still without modern facilities or amenities.
Although the book seems to be out of print, its presence on library shelves, often as the only reference book on our country, unfortunately conveys the impression that we are still in the “primitive” stages of development — entertaining but not enlightening.