We still have the Edmonton Highway with us together with a nightmare of a road between the Alberta boundary and Pouce Coupe. Much work has been done on the highway in Alberta but there are still sections no one could designate a highway. The B.C. Government has, after years of pressure, started clearing a right of way for a new road to connect it with Pouce Coupe where a gravel road will link it with the Alberta Highway at Dawson Creek.
To digress for a moment. How about a service club or some other organization arranging a sweepstake on the time the first car from Vancouver will arrive at Dawson Creek over the Hart Highway? The Minister of Public Works has sent word that “barring unforeseen circumstances” the highway will be completed in the fall of 1951. It would be well to check with the Attorney General before going ahead as those two words may make it gambling.
The residents of the Peace River District did not sit down and wait until the approaches were in good shape. Dawson Creek took over the American Army water system from the Kiskatinaw River to the village limits — about 14 miles — and extended it to almost every section of the village. Hand in hand with this work a modern sewer system was installed costing over $100,000. A junior-senior high school costing nearly $600,000 was opened last year and the contractors have commenced work on a nearly half million dollar elementary school. These schools were not built during a spending spree but were absolutely necessary.
All streets in the village have been graveled and there are hopes that next year a program of paving will commence.
These improvements show a faith of the residents in the future of the Peace River Block. While it is true that the building of the Alaska Highway boomed the town and district, there was only a slight recession when many of the builders scattered to all parts of the continent at the completion of the job. A large number stayed in the district either finding employment, taking up land or continuing in the business of trucking supplies from rail head to points as far as Alaska.
Primarily the basis of prosperity is agriculture. During the 1949-50 shipping season Dawson Creek was the largest initial grain-shipping centre in the British Commonwealth. Over 3,500,000 bushels of grain left the local elevators.
But the residents of the Peace River Block have other hopes besides agriculture. Oil has been found in large quantities to the east of us in the Peace River District of Alberta and tremendous natural gas wells have been discovered only a mile or so east of the B.C. – Alberta border. One well half a mile over the border has shut off a flow of 500,000 Cu. Ft. of gas to go on down for oil with very favorable prospects at a little over 4,000 feet. It is hoped that the pool will be tapped before this appears in print. Mr. Richardson of the Wilrich Oil Company, stated that if the results are as good as anticipated it means a refinery will be built to at least take care of the needs of the Peace River District. A natural gas pipeline has already been started and it is hoped to have it completed by the end of September. This line is being built by the Standard Gravel and Surfacing Company of Calgary for West Coast Transmission Company. At the village limits the gas will be sold to the Northland Utilities Ltd. who will distribute it to the users. There are three wells available, two of which will be used at the start with the third held in reserve. The three wells have a daily output of 59,600,000 cubic feet and there is a known reserve sufficient to supply Dawson Creek and District for one hundred years if no more wells are drilled. The average pressure at the well is 600 lbs., which will be reduced to 250 in the main line and again reduced to 15 in the distribution system. Pressure inside the buildings will be only a few ounces. The distributing system will be, as far as practical, through the lanes. Tenders have been called for 450 connections this year but how many will be made depends on the weather. It is estimated that eventually there will be at least 1,000 users. The first to be served will be the public buildings and the B.C. Power Commission electrical plant. It is expected that the switch from oil to gas will reduce electrical power and light costs as at the present time oil has to be shipped 500 miles from Edmonton.
The pipe being used is from the Canol project and is brought by barge from Norman Wells to Hay River and then trucked 520 miles. Joe Kozak of the Northwest Cartage Company, Dawson Creek, has handled this trucking job. Eighteen miles of pipe will be laid from the wells to the village limits and Ted Searcy of Northland Utilities says that right of way had been arranged. Farmers on the right of way will be supplied with gas should they desire it. The main line will be 4 feet deep, village distribution 3 ft. and to the house 18″. The cost to householders will be a minimum of $3.00 per month which permits the use of 4,000 cu. Ft. and 45 cents per thousand cubic feet afterwards. There are special rates for commercial users. The Company agrees to supply the meter and connect from the main to meter without charge. The heat content of the gas is not to be less than 950 BTU. The wells are on sections 22, 24 and 16 of Township 80, Range 13 west of the Sixth Meridian and as previously stated about 18 miles from Dawson Creek.
The progress — and these improvements are progress — made during the past five years would be wonderful in any section of the country. The Peace River Block, previously ignored by politicians and businessmen in the southern section of the province, might turn out to be the prince instead of Cinderella. Dawson Creek will be the first community in British Columbia to be served with natural gas. That is a local affair but of which we naturally feel proud. Those who have lived here many years have grown old dreaming of all the natural resources with which nature had blessed us but owing to restrictions and reservations we were unable to use. A younger generation is now seeing visions of what these resources could mean to the province if handled intelligently by the government. Gas and oil know no provincial boundaries and according to geologists we are sitting on one of the largest oil pools on the continent. Alberta has reaped a wonderful financial harvest by allowing judicious use of her oil resources. The development of gas and oil resources here could be of tremendous value to the province. A pipe line through one of the passes in the Rockies to Prince George and thence down the Cariboo could make a startling change in the economy of the whole interior. If consumption warranted the expense, another line to Prince Rupert could be built. This might easily result in many light industries leaving the expensive crowed centres and scattering a payroll through sections at present strictly agricultural or lumbering. What has happened to Dawson Creek could happen to scores of towns and villages in the interior if the apathy of Victoria and Vancouver could be stirred. The extension of the P.G.E. to the Block and the completion of the Hart Highway will have a beneficial effect on the economy of B.C. How much of the cash from the 3 1/2 million bushels of grain found its way to Vancouver? Compared with what went to Edmonton and east it must have been infinitesimal. Prosperity for the Peace River District means more prosperity for the whole province.
There is however a possibility that B.C. could lose this potential source of wealth. In a straw vote taken here this summer to probe the feelings of the residents regarding seceding from B.C. and joining Alberta, there were only four votes for B.C.!