Hector Tremblay was an adventurer, heading to the Klondike when winter overtook the party. They were in the South-Peace area after they had come down the Parsnip and the Pine from Kamloops. Here Tremblay showed his combined qualities of persistence and flexibility. Stories were being told of Klondikers straggling back empty-handed from the goldfields. Tremblay was impressed by this country’s possibilities for ranching as a sideline to trapping and recognized that here was the source of another kind of gold. When the rest of the party gave up and went back, Tremblay stayed. Surveyors were coming in to lay out the “Peace River Block”. A member of a survey expedition has an unequalled opportunity to examine the country. He joined a survey party.
It needs a special kind of ability for a man to truly assess the potential of an undeveloped area. It needs a more special ability to go out alone to develop it. It is still a rarer ability to change one’s mind when it is set on a course with as much lure as the gold of the Klondike. He proceeded with caution, however, taking time to study the land before committing his family to pioneering in an isolated place. There was no Grande Prairie then and no Spirit River Village. The nearest outlet was Grouard, far to the east on Lesser Slave Lake. There was no Pouce Coupe. There was only the Peace River and no pack trail to connect with the old fur brigade route.
Tremblay was not a specialist in any sense of the word. What he needed that he hadn’t, he improvised. Where he wanted to go, he cut a trail. If Tremblay were ever given a title, it should be “Trailmaker”. When he came to the area in 1899, there were only Indian paths and game trails from place to place. Indians at that time were not using pack trains. Women and dogs carried the loads, which did not protrude as widely on each side as did those in panniers on packsaddles. To bring his packtrain from Little Prairie (now Chetwynd) Tremblay hired Indians to go ahead and clear out brush and cut overhanging branches as far as present-day Pouce Coupe. He did the same with the Indian trail to Fort St. John in 1905, and again in 1908 between Spirit River and Pouce Coupe. He cut the trail from Pouce Coupe to the Peace River to connect with the streamers at Rolla Landing. As time went on and wagon roads were needed, the old trails were widened but settlers tell of the tree branches click-clicking on the wagon box.
He cut many more trails for the survey parties he guided and packed for. Think of the vast amount of energy that was required in this wooded area but what a boon to settlers.
He obtained seeds of grains and vegetables from the Dominion Experimental farms, grew them, kept records, and supplied the seed to homesteaders – along with good advice! More than once he gave essential supplies to poorly equipped and desperate new arrivals.
Tremblay left no great personal estate, but nobody could evaluate the spin-off from his work which prepared the South Peace to move into the vastly enlarged wartime and post-war economy.
G.E. Bowes, Peace River Chronicles, various headings
Agriculture, Book 8 of History Is Where You Stand
The S. P. River District and Dawson Creek B.C. by M. Coutts