Mr. Ray sold the store to W.S. Bullen. Mr. Bullen sold to a homesteader, George Hart, who later started the Hart Hotel in Pouce Coupe. According to Mrs. Marjorie Coutts’ history, Mr. Hart sold the store to a group of farmers in 1921 who started the Dawson Co-op union, with $875.00 capital. A Mr. W. Cusack was the first manager, and later Mr. E.L. Hauger for many years. This has grown into the thriving three-store complex, of which the members are justly proud.
About 1923 Bill Reasbeck came into the picture, when he bought Bullen’s Hotel. He butchered to supply meat for his Hotel. His son Jim remembers riding with him as a boy when he established a meat route to dispose of his surplus meat.
In the meantime Howard Atkinson of Rolla opened a branch store in 1922, with another young homesteader, Wesley Harper, to manage it. In 1927 Mr. Harper bought the store and added fur buying, a business he still carries on.
In 1925 Frank DeWetter, still another young homesteader, opened the first meat market. Mrs. Margaret Bullen recalls going into his very clean store, when she first came from Scotland in 1928. She named the cut she wanted, as she would have done in Scotland. Mr. DeWetter took her out to his ice house refrigerator and when she pointed out the “joint” on the carcass he said, “Thank God, at last I have a customer who doesn’t want steak!” Mrs. Bullen also remembers that when Mr. DeWetter was out butchering, the blacksmith next door kindly obliged. “No matter what you wanted”, says Mrs. Bullen, “you got steak and that was that.”
The Northern Alberta Railway extended its line from Hythe to Dawson Creek January 15, 1931. It was a great occasion, as many of the younger people had never seen a train.
Before this the N.A.R. had bought the townsite from Duncan McKellar (Empey’s homestead). We have many times mentally thanked the surveyor who laid it out for our wide streets. The trek of buildings from the old town began about 1-1/2 miles across the fields. The Co-op landed on the site of its present No.1 store with Wes Harper’s directly east on 10th Street. After the explosion  he built a new store on the southeast corner of 10th Street and 103rd Ave. In May 8, 1952 he sold to the “Bay”.
Mr. DeWetter’s store was moved over and sold to Mr. Garneau who occupied the northwest corner of 10th Street and 103rd Ave. Later he sold to Frank McDonald and then the property was sold as a site for a new Post Office, complete with white pillars. However war intervened and the old Post Office on 10th Street burned down, so the Post Office was carried on for a while in a Nissan Hut, with no Post Office boxes, on its present site.
Some of the merchants of Rolla began to realize now that the railway would never be extended from Spirit River to Rolla and moved to the railhead. Early among these in 1932 was F.E. “Butch” Webb who had been running a hotel in Rolla. Butch built at 1033 – 102nd Ave and Mrs. Webb sold home cooking. In 1936, Mr. Webb sold to W. S. Bullen, who had Mr. Wilson run the business.
Art Caldwell of Pouce Coupe moved a building in beside Wong’s laundry at 1017 – 102nd Ave, and his son Paddy opened a meat market. Late in 1937 Jack Webb opened another.
In 1938 Glover Lawrence, who had been running a shop in Rolla since 1931, decided he’d better join the trend to Dawson Creek. He bought from Art Caldwell, and rented to Mr. Wilson, from Bullen’s, until he moved into town on February 23, 1940. In June of that year he bought the first electric refrigerator showcase in Dawson Creek. He opened about March 3rd. “Co-op” annual meeting day, the biggest Saturday of the year, total receipts $25.00.
In the early thirties and into the forties, Glover, and most of the butchers, knew where to buy their beef from the local farmers at about 1-1/2 cents a pound on the hoof.
He could shoot the animal in the field, set up a tri-pod, raise the animal with block and tackle and get to work. When the beef had been skinned, washed out, split with a hand saw, and later lowered into the back of the old Ford, he drove to town and lifted the quarters (100 to 150 lbs.) of soft fresh meat into his cooler. Meat was about 3 cents a pound dressed. A steak sold at 2 lbs. for 25 cents, hamburger 10 cents a pound and he remembers selling a whole front quarter for $3.00.
For refrigeration, ice cut from a “scoop cut” in 100-pound blocks was kept in sawdust. It had to be hauled from an icehouse, carried with ice tongs, and stacked up in the cooler. Meat was cut as the customer came in for it. Half a beef was often sold to another butcher. Harvest time was the big deal when threshing crews of 20 men had to be fed. Usually a beef had to be slaughtered every evening, and darkness came early.
That old Model T Ford deserves a paragraph on its own. It was bought in Vancouver for $100.00 and shipped north with the carload of household effects. Georgene [Jean Lawrence’s daughter] learned to drive when she was about 5 years old, sitting between her Dad’s knees while he rolled a cigarette or when he got out to open a gate. She still has pleasant memories, she says, of being served tea by busy housewives while her dad and the farmer were dickering.
The rubber gas line had a habit of jolting loose, and Jean (Mrs. Lawrence) learned to fix it with a piece of string or a bent hairpin. If we had a flat tire or were stuck, there always seemed to be a rock and a loose fence post handy to act as a jack, with guess who sitting on the post! We always took a blanket, food, and tea in a jar wrapped in paper.
Of course the old Ford had to be laid up in the winter, as there were no heaters or winter tires. About May 24, Jean usually got cabin fever, and Glover would say, “Let’s go to Smith’s at Gundy!” We always got stuck and Bill Smith had to haul us out. Once we even rode the railway track.
Our chief form of entertainment was to butcher a veal, deliver it to Miles Peterson at Bullen’s and go to a show on the profits. Glover always put the car out of gear and turned off the gas at the top of Kris Aiker’s Hill. One night when we got to the bottom of the hill, the car would not start again. Father McGilligot came along and gave us a tow into town. When we got to a garage we found that the battery, which was attached to the bottom of the car by a wooden bracket, had jolted loose. We watched all the way home and finally found it beside the road near Norman Little’s farm just outside Rolla. The old Ford lived up to the slogan that a Ford ran on its reputation. After it finally gave up the ghost, we sold the running gear for a “Bennett Buggy” and the engine for cutting wood for total sum of $60.00.
Some time after the move to Dawson Creek, Glover got a slaughterhouse on the north side of the creek, on the Pouce road. That was out of town in those days as the golf course was between there and town, where the little camping circle is now. Miles Peterson came to us in 1941, Mr. Hellerude in 1942, Manson Hannah in 1943, our daughter Georgene came after school and on Saturdays — this completed the staff.
The American army arrived in very cold weather in March 1942. Almost over night our little village of 600 grew to 6000 with army and civilian personnel in camps, entirely surrounding the village. Of course they shipped in most of the food for the camps, but still a lot had to be found in town.
Giles Dudley remembers that in 1942 W.S. Bullen sold out to George Dudley, Bert Nock, and Gus Linquist and the business became the Reliable Meat Market. All the butchers in the two shops worked an 18-hour day. Jean did our books, stood in the endless lines at the bank, Post Office and grocery store, and then wondered where the time went. The merchants grew their hair long, not because it was the style but because they didn’t have time to stand in line for a haircut.
Then came rationing — what a headache that was! The butchers were told that they could sell only 75% of the meat they sold in 1939 and now we had a population at least 10 times as great. We certainly could not have supplied the restaurants, where people stood in line to get a meal. The restaurants had to cook up, open up, shut up, wash up, and start all over again. There was no shortage of meat or butter in Canada and certainly not in the Peace River. The ration district extended to Fort Nelson, B.C. We made a number of applications to the ration board for a larger quota, needed because of the tremendous increase in population, before it was granted to us. We were then allowed to supply all the requirements of those who had coupons. Our son Bill Lawrence and his young friends gathered around the kitchen table and stuck stamps as required on gummed sheets at a penny a sheet of 100 stamps. The restaurants gave us little round discs as change for meat. A Ration Board Officer came in at a time when Mrs. Calverley was in charge in Dawson Creek Ration Office. A group of women from the United Church had the job of giving out the books for $50.00
He left at noon for lunch and returned at 2:30 having stood in line at three restaurants, only to have the door closed as his turn almost came up. Not one of the hard-hearted women even offered him a cup of tea. [Note: they didn’t have any for themselves either, as tea was rationed, like meat and not enough to go around … D.H.C.]
In February 13, 1943 came the explosion! What a wreck that made of even the part of 102nd Avenue that was not burned. Everyone in town suffered from shock. People were lost, injured and transported to hospitals in Edmonton, without the knowledge of their relatives. The American Army took over the control of the town and tried to prevent looting.
The town recovered quickly and building materials were made available by the Government and stores were built. George Dudley sold to Alf Clark, after the death of Bert Nock in 1944. Dudley replaced his old grocery store after the fire with a fine new
brick building, to which he later added a meat market, where Walter Hellerude went into business in 1944. He added a locker plant to the rear of his store. As this was before the era of home freezers, it proved a popular addition.
In 1949, shortly after Mr. Hellerude passed away, Harry Foster who had been on the staff bought the business and ran it with his son Bill.
Mr. Foster sold to Frank Thibadeau, who operated the business in town until October 1967. He then moved to new premises on the Rolla road where he, his wife Edna and staff, carry on a wholesale business, selling sides of beef and pork, processing wild meat, and retaining some of his locker plant.
When Peterson and Hellerude left us, we hired Joe Lafond of the Queen City market in Edmonton. He came to us on July 1, 1943. Wong moved his laundry and a new building was started on that part of the property. When that was finished the old meat market was demolished, and the building was extended east. Much to Jean’s relief, Joe’s wife Irene became secretary.
In 1946 Alf. Clark retired to operate a feed lot on his farm and sold the Reliable Meat Market to David Spittal of Peace River. Dave with his wife Cecile and son Ron, still run the business. They have built a new store and added groceries to their meat business.
In 1944 Joe and Irene Lafond bought a half interest in the business, including 80 acres on the North side of the creek, beyond the Refinery for pasture and slaughterhouse.
Joe had the opportunity to study law under the wing of his lawyer uncle in Quebec and I always thought he would have been a good lawyer. However as the oldest of a large family, he was cutting meat in his fathers’ meat market in Morinville at the age of 12 years. His second ambition was to build a meat packing plant. To this end Joe and Irene spent their holidays with Irene reading a book in the car, while Joe looked through meat packing plants. Civilization was creeping up on us and sooner or later we would have to have a proper abatoir.
In June 1945 Glover and Joe went out on their 80 acres of land, to pick the location where they would build their first real abattoir. Joe Lafond took on the planning through the winter and construction started in the early spring of 1946.
It was completed and operating in October of 1946. This abattoir reached a capacity to slaughter either forty cattle or eighty hogs per day. For this large volume plans were started in late 1947 for the concrete block addition of a chill room, holding cooler, freezer, sausage kitchen and smokehouse. Construction started in early 1948 and was completed in 1950. It was then named Lawrence Meat Packing Co. Ltd. This later expansion proved to be very satisfactory for the next 10 years.
In 1952 Dawson Creek formed a Canadian club. Grant McEwan, columnist, author and later lieutenant Governor of Alberta was the first guest speaker. Flying in from Edmonton, he was amazed to see our feed lot with around a 100 head of cattle so far north. He inquired of Jim McPhail of Winspear Hamilton accounting firm, whose guest he was, and later wrote an article for the Western Producer, headed “Most Northerly Feed lot in Canada.”
When Bill Lawrence finished school in 1951, he took a course in Electricity and Refrigeration at Calgary Technical School. This course proved invaluable to the firm for along with Joe they have been able to make on-the-spot repairs to the more than 30 refrigeration units throughout the plant and retail store. The north always called to Bill, so after Calgary he literally wore out a pair of hobnailed boots as a surveyor’s helper to a party who extended their operations north of old Crow beyond the Arctic Circle, filling in and correcting the map of Canada. He finished that year managing the meat department of a customer in Fort Nelson, then settled down in the home market and became a partner, when the business was incorporated January 7, 1956.
Joe had continued planning further expansion and the plans for the next addition were completed in 1960 and approved by the Federal Government and granted Federal Inspection on June 6, 1966. It became the fourth Meat Packing Plant in B.C. and the most northerly in Canada. We also receive an annual inspection from the U.S. Federal Government. The first Federal Inspector was Dr. John Pleskarski of Vancouver and the assistant inspector and Federal grader has always been Gordon Malkinson.
In 1968 Jerry Lafond, after completing a four-year course in business administration at the University of North Dakota on a hockey scholarship joined the company permanently to become plant superintendent. At this time he and his brother Maurice became active in construction and helped their father plan and complete the last large phase of construction. It should be mentioned at this time, that over the years of expansion key personnel were selected to handle each department as it was built. Glover Lawrence released shares to these people in order to develop and keep a sincere desire for good workmanship. Our products today, which are second to no other, justify the arrangement that fifteen employees are shareholders. The shareholders to this date are Joe Lafond, President; Bill Lawrence, vice President; Irene Lafond, Secretary; Glover Lawrence, Treasurer; Jerry Lafond, Plant Superintendent; John Jacobs, retail store manager; Edmund Steinke, retail store cutting-room foreman; Alex Steinke, plant sausage-room foreman; Frank Hodak, plant-cutting room foreman; Jim Van Tassel, abattoir foreman; Maurice Lafond, construction department; Paula Dowd, accounting; Lois Christie, accounting; David Christie, sales supervisor. Georgene Slight, is also a shareholder in recognition of past service.
The next expansion plans began in 1968 and are completed and approved by the Provincial and Federal Government in 1970. Construction of a further new addition began in May 1971 and was completed in July 1973. The Lawrence Meat Packing Co. Ltd. plant can now boast over 90% tiled wall finish and is considered one of the finest in Canada. It can be seen now that Lawrence Meat Packing Co. expanded as raising livestock became an important industry to the Peace River area. They now have coolers capable of holding over 500 beef carcasses or over 1000 hogs. This is in anticipation of carload shipments to any point in Canada and the United States, particularly Alaska. Freezer space as well has been expanded in order to store carloads of poultry and fish, besides surplus meat products and meat by-products. Over the years problems developed in obtaining livestock for slaughter. Due to extremely cold weather, spring seeding and fall harvesting, deliveries declined considerably.
In 1947 the company started a feedlot holding pen for about 30 cattle and seventy hogs to supply the abattoir during periods of short supply. Now we have three feed lots and a hog barn holding upwards of 400 cattle and 500 hogs to assure adequate cattle and hogs for a continuous supply for plant slaughter. The price of steers and hogs first paid by Mr. Lawrence in 1938 were $15.00 for a one thousand-pound steer and $3.00 for a two hundred-pound hog. In August of 1973 the company paid $540.00 per thousand pound for steers and $125.00 per two hundred-pound hog.
Quality has always been the key word at Lawrence’s. To do this, expensive automatic machines have been purchased to eliminate human error and thus a fine reputation has built up over the years, particularly for their hams and bacon.
This accomplishment to date has not been easy. There have been many setbacks and heartbreaks most of which were shared with the farmers of this area due to market fluctuations caused mainly by weather conditions. The company now has seventy employees on the payroll, which injects over half a million dollars into the Dawson Creek area.
Little did Glover and Joe know in 1945 that their efforts would find Peace River meat and meat by-products in so many places. On a trip back to Langley near Vancouver, his hometown, Glover dropped onto the meat market where we used to deal. He was greeted with “Glover come and look at this!” In their cooler were several sides of pork bearing our abattoir stamp. Still interested in the far north, Bill had the opportunity of joining a group of our city businessmen on a charter flight to Inuvik, NWT. There he called on a customer who reported one parcel missing on his order. Bill immediately checked with the transport company and recovered the missing parcel. Returning it to the customer, he warned him that he could not expect this personal service often. Bill was most interested in their refrigeration, which consisted of tunneling down some 20 feet into the permafrost. Could you believe that we have shipped to such places as Japan and London, England?