R.N. — Right! You were asking me about the creamery. As I remember, the first creamery was down on the Pouce Coupe River from Jack Riley’s stopping place on the Spirit River Trail. There was another man named Riley who worked there. He used to play for the dances — played the fiddle, I remember. If my memory is correct Louis Cadona was the first manager.
Int. — Had he had business training in the Old Country or was he just elected?
R.N. — He’d had business training and had been working in the store at Rolla. I don’t remember whether it was for Atkinson or not, but he must have been a pretty fair businessman before he got the job as manager of the creamery.
Int. — That needed specialized training because they made butter there. Did they make cheese?
R.N. — They made butter, so they must have had a butter maker. But Cadona handled the business end of it.
Int. — How big a place was it?
R.N. — It seemed to me at that time to be a large building. I was at the opening dance. Of course there was no machinery in there at that time. I was with Max Dudley at the time. I was working for John A. Dudley. We rode down and spent the whole night at the dance, we used to do that then.
Int. — Did you take your cow down to milk right at the creamery? I’ve heard of taking the family cow to other dances! (Both laughed at the memory)
R.N. — No! They also had a gathering corral at the creamery. That was before the creamery was moved to the flat below Pouce Coupe. Before all that, Billie Burrows used to haul the cream to Grande Prairie, two trips a week with horse and wagon.
Int. — That cream should have been butter before it got to Grande Prairie.
R.N. — Yes it was! He had two teams. One he kept at Horse Lake at Brainard’s and changed there. Mud, rain or shine, it didn’t make any difference, he made two trips a week. They didn’t haul cream in the wintertime, but all summertime he made two trips.
Int. — That must have been sour cream butter.
R.N. — It must have been, because the only way they could keep it out of the heat in the wagon would be to keep it on the shaded side of the wagon, with maybe a canvas over it.
Int. — There couldn’t have been many herds of milking cows. It must have come from one or two family cows over a large area.
R.N. — That’s right. We milked four or five. My mother was running the stopping place on the old Hart place — later the Miller place at South Dawson on the way to Sunset Prairie and Progress.
Int. — Didn’t a lot of cream come from Sunset Prairie? They got into cattle pretty early, didn’t they?
R.N. — Some, but not very much. When we were first out of Progress, my Uncle Ted Jones, and Jack Hannam were partners. They had a Holstein herd. We milked sixteen cows and made cheese. We made all the butter we wanted but there was no place to sell any. But we could haul cheese to Hudson’s Hope and Fort St. John. We made and pressed the cheese and sold it.
Int. — That’s remarkable — this is the first time I’ve heard of this earliest industry.
R.N. — Yes, we made a lot of it. I can remember the big vats of milk. Separating, stirring the curds, cutting the curd and then pressing the cheese in syrup pails — ten pound, twenty pound, up to fifty pound syrup pails. Just with a cloth on the top, then a board on the cloth and a rock on the top of that. It was drained before it was put in, then packed in by hand, good and tight with your fist and kept pressed to drain the whey through the bottom of the pail. Then it was wrapped in “cheese cloth” and waxed.
If we were fortunate enough to have a pig or two, we’d feed them the whey, and turkeys or chickens would also consume the whey. As I said, the creamery was moved to Pouce Coupe, but there it fell into disuse and finally went down the river.
Int. — That was in the spring of 1936. When we drove in after that heavy rain, we could see the old building tilted over the river. Those cream checks were probably the greatest source of money for clothes and things.
R.N. — For quite a while it was the ONLY thing, especially at Sunset Prairie, Progress and out that way. They were just starting up, and had maybe three or four acres broke. To winter all our cows we cut wild hay — a hundred and fifty to a hundred and sixty loads of wild hay. We spent all summer clearing land; picking up burnt wood, dead wood, clearing off little patches here and there. In the spring we’d burn the brush piles, then we’d cut the wild hay. The first crop we grew was about three acres of turnips. We dug a big root cellar, right on the knoll on the Jones place, and logged it up. We dug the hole with a team, a scraper and a plough. Then we put log walls inside the dirt, laid logs on top, and put the dirt back on top, shoveling by hand until we could cross it with a team. We built it up with a vent, there were two doors (one outside of the other) to get in, so that there was a dead air space of about three feet between the outside wall and the inside wall. We used them turnips all winter.
Int. — Did you cook them before feeding? My grandfather thought his cows produced more milk if he fed the vegetables warm. He had a big barrel outside over a fire and fed them warm.
R.N. — We fed them raw. We fed them AFTER we milked the cows. The milk had very little or any turnip taste. If you fed your cows before milking you’d get quite a bit of turnip taste in the milk and this would come through into the cheese.
Int. — Did you have green oat bundles to get the cows to stand still during the milking?
R.N. — We just fed hay in wintertime. In summer they were happy enough to come in out of the flies. They were very quiet in summer, once you opened the gate and let them in. We kept smudges going all the time for both horses and cattle. We had a little square fence where we kept a smoky fire going. In the winter the cattle were inside the barn where they sure enjoyed the turnips. We never shipped cream except from the Hart place. It was picked up and taken to Old Dawson, where Billie Burrows again picked it up and took it to Pouce after the creamery moved there.
Then they built the gathering corral there alongside the creamery, where Frost’s place is now. There was a good crossing there, Hanna’s flour mill used to be there. It eventually fell into the river too. When I was working for Dudley, he used to haul wheat down there and my Uncle Ted bought flour there. He would get all but a certain amount of the bran and shorts. The rest went to the miller, or some paid cash. We didn’t have any cash but we traded cheese. The cheese was the medium of exchange for a great deal. More than money was. You could exchange cheese for groceries at some stores. George Hart had such a store.
When he left Pouce Coupe, Rigden got that store and then Brose got it. First of all I guess Austin had it. He used to have a store on the top of the hill where you went down to Riley’s Crossing, right across from where George Phillips’ farm is. It was quite a store and a trading post. Then he moved from there down to Swan Lake. Jack Fynn owned it for a while, and ran a stopping place there.
Int. — There are some interesting details here that I have not heard before. It has taken three years to put this story together.