It was in 1922 that William Gundy, a brokerage firm in Toronto, first purchased this block of land which consisted of thirty-six sections — one township — and during the next few years an additional ten sections were added, making forty-six sections all together. [Note: 46 sections = 46 square miles] The center of this property is approximately where the community of Tomslake is at present. In fact, the present Tomslake Store was the home that I first brought my bride Florence, to after we were married in Edmonton in 1934, and where we were living when out oldest son, Chris was born. I am glad to say that she is still with me and can rightly qualify as a pioneer herself. This home was built originally for a Mr. Hedgeworth who was the manager of the Gundy Ranch when it was first organized.
Before this home was made into a store, it was moved some 200 feet north of its original location. The ranch bunkhouse and a cookhouse were constructed of logs and were where the present Tomslake School is today. Some 200 feet to the west, there were several big log barns and many corrals, all built of log rails.
In the fall of 1922, William Gundy formed the Tate Creek Ranch and Cattle Company. But it was always known as the Gundy Ranch. They brought in a thousand head of cows that fall, but being brokers and not cattlemen they were poorly prepared for the hard winter they got. When the spring of 1923 finally arrived there were a hundred head of cattle left. Nine hundred head had starved or frozen to death. That was the finish of the Tate Creek Cattle Company as far as any further ideas for ranching went. They sold everything but the land and buildings. They had, in that summer and fall of 1922, cleared and broke close to 1800 acres and had prepared it for a crop the following year. I don’t believe any crop was put in until Fred Coons of Rolla planted part of it in the years of 1925 and ‘26.
My home was in Calgary where my Father was a rancher. I spent the most of my winters for a few years in the ‘Bay’ area of California. I had fifty head of broncos about half broke at Gleichen, a small town about fifty miles east of Calgary. My intentions were to settle in around that country when I returned from California in that spring of 1928. However, William Gundy had been in touch with my Father and had asked him to try and find someone to come up to the Peace River Country and summer-fallow the land they had broken, as it was fast returning to bush. So, when I got back to Calgary my Father suggested that I take my fifty head of broncos and go do my job, and while doing that I would finish breaking the horses, sell them there and go back to Calgary and have my pocket full of money.
That is how I first landed in this country and I did get about a thousand acres of land summer-fallowed. I had seeded about forty acres to oats to have some feed that fall. As my job wasn’t finished I decided to winter the horses there, finish the job in the spring and then sell the horses and what equipment I had. The horses were well broke by the time and prices would be much better in the spring. It took a real good horse to bring a hundred dollars if prices were good in them days. One big problem came up, and changed all my plans. The big stock market crashed in early 1929 and William Gundy went broke and couldn’t pay me for my work but they did offer me the use of the entire ranch indefinitely, or until I was satisfied I had been well paid.
Ten percent of all grain crops I marketed were to be paid to them to be applied on taxes. This arrangement was fine with me, but I didn’t have enough equipment — no horses to farm and ranch on that big a scale. Horses were our only source of power then. I made a fast trip to Calgary — if you can call going by N.A.R. a fast trip — but it was the only way. I wanted to tell my Father the problem and he shipped me up five carloads of necessary equipment. This included two carloads of big gentle workhorses and several brood mares. Many of theses horses had been in the famous thirty-six-horse team that had been in the Calgary Stampede parade in 1925. I bought thirty head of cows and a bull from Mike Crozell at Pouce Coupe. So, I was set up farming and ranching. This trip from Calgary to Wembley, which was still the end of steel, took us one week by N.A.R. The first trip had taken ten days. We met the Lafferson family in Wembley. They had trailed about seventy-five head of horses from Southern Alberta and were moving into the Fish Creek Ranch about fourteen miles east of the Gundy Ranch. So, we threw all or horses together and Hal Lefferson and I trailed back out to the Gundy Ranch. Harold still owns the old Fish Creek Ranch and I believe still operates the Ranch.
I was back in early enough that spring of 1929 to put into crop the thousand acres that I had summer-fallowed [the previous year]. We took off a good crop that fall and stocked a lot of things for winter. What we threshed there was a hundred and forty bushels per acre. I understand that forty bushels per acre is a fair crop now off the same land. Many of the young men or I guess I should say boys — sixteen and eighteen years old — lived within a few miles; all newcomers to the country at that time. They helped us take off that crop. Many of those boys are still in the country. To name some there were Miller Wiebe, Lyle Kellar, several of the Taylor boys — Herb, Joe, Charlie and Archie — Carl and Eric Erickson who many of you know, were there quite often, but I believe they were too young to be doing much work. George Brookbanks was there with us for several years.
My Father back in Calgary also had some pretty severe financial losses in that year of 1929. He had sold most everything there and had decided to move north with my Mother and make his permanent home here. He had made a partnership on the farm with the Bulger brothers, Clarence and Jack. They shipped all their farm equipment, plus horses as well as equipment and horses my father had left. There were at least thirty more big brood mares and another registered Percheron stallion. All together we had about two hundred head of horses and by that time our cattle herd had increased to about a hundred head. The summer and fall of 1925 saw a big influx of people into this country and the road that went close to our buildings was literally lined with settlers with outfits of all kinds and from all parts. No slow horse outfits would have been trekked in, then. We never officially operated a stopping house and very few had any money anyway but, they all had all they needed. There were very few nights that we didn’t have someone — one or two outfits at least — stay overnight. Many old-timers today spent a night or two there. Many have been good friends since that first meeting. Many I guess I never did get acquainted with but it would be interesting to know just what became of many of them.
Hythe was the end of steel at that time. There were quite a few trucks on the road from Fort St. John, Rolla, Pouce Coupe and Dawson Creek. Some hauled settlers effects while some were hauling grain out and supplies in. Most of the supplies were coming from Grande Prairie.
There was a lot of hard work on the ranch, but there was a lot of fun to be had as well. And, we generally had our share. It wasn’t long before our cattle herd was around five hundred head and three hundred horses. This meant lots of men around putting up wild hay, plus many other jobs. We had many parties and ball games on Sundays and in the long summer evenings. The schoolhouses had many dances and different sorts of affairs. There was usually fun around to be had. The summer days seemed long and pleasant and went fast. I guess it was because I was young. The winters were different though. I wasn’t a qualified judge in those first years, as I was generally away in the winter months coming home to the springs and summers.
To me it is still a wild and beautiful country. The air is so fresh and crisp you can almost cut it with a knife. Progress has pushed the wilderness back from our doorstep but it is still to be had if you are interested enough to go looking for it. When you find it, think of the life we enjoyed here not too many years ago.