Mr. Joe Henderson, venerable old-timer of the Dawson Creek district, was reminiscing during an interview with this writer and explaining why he and his brother had come to this area immediately after World War I. These Manitoba boys had served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in France along with a certain Sergeant Rochford who talked constantly and exuberantly about the Peace River Country of Northern Canada. He had wandered all over it, he said.
Sgt. Rochford commanded attention in other ways. He was outstanding in stature, usually dressed in an officer’s uniform — and getting away with it! — and an amusing raconteur. This Irishman made a lasting impression on the Hendersons. So much so that when Joe Henderson, out of the front lines on leave in a French city, saw a notice that a movie on the Peace River Country was being shown that evening he decided that was the most alluring prospect of entertainment, and satisfaction of curiosity about Rochford’s “heaven.”
What he saw that evening stayed in his memory so vividly that, after returning to his Manitoba home, he came north to see for himself. He and his brother, “Gus” known later Canada wide as Member of Parliament for Peace River, decided to settle in this area.
Such glowing enthusiasm for “The Peace” tickled our curiosity so much that we asked whether Rochford by any chance could have known Pat Burns. Indeed he did! In fact, Rochford used to have a tent on the grounds of the Burns place in Calgary, which he used as a pied-á-terre whenever he came into that city.
“Was Rochford an eccentric, then?”
“Indeed he was!”
“What about the officer’s uniform he wore when out of camp? How come they didn’t run him in for impersonating an officer?”
“Because nearly every officer owed him money. He used to lend to all of them, including the colonel.”
“He was wealthy then?”
“Oh yes. He never seemed to lack money. He could always get more from home — as much as he wanted.”
“Where was “home?” —
“Somewhere in Ireland. He went to Ireland on leave one time, but came back declaring that he could never live there, because those Irishmen were crazy – all crazy.”
Rochford married an English woman, an artist, who had had exhibitions of her work. When they went out to Victoria to live, she had exhibitions of her paintings in (Mr. Henderson thought) the Empress Hotel.
Then a little prickle of memory sent us back to an interview with Mr. Phil Tompkins, venerable old-timer of the Peace River at Halfway where he is the “father” of the extensive “Tompkins spread” and many, many other enterprises. Hadn’t he mentioned a man, Rochford? Sure enough, it was Rochford who had sold the late Lord Rhondda’s Hudson’s Hope coal interests to Pat Burns. As yet it is not clear how Rochford had got into the position to swing such a big deal as the transfer of the vast Rhondda interests to the Calgary millionaire. In any case, “Sgt.” Rochford seems to have a finger in several Peace River affairs in the 1920’s.
In fact, Mr. Henderson’s brother ‘Gus” had met him in Dawson Creek not too many years ago, looking for dynamite. We wonder what project he was then promoting.
While continuing our pursuit of the elusive Mr. Rochford, we got replies to several letters of inquiry to persons named as possible sources of information. One letter was quite emphatic — and perhaps gives a clue to Mr. Burn’s silence on the subject of his venture into the Pine Valley. Formerly an associate of Mr. Burns, the writer — a retired lawyer — spoke so disparagingly of Mr. Rochford that we had better not quote him! But we can surmise that the genial Mr. Burns had “staked” some of his fellow Irishman’s more ambitious ventures, and, as at Fable Creek, been left holding the bag.
It is all conjecture — but the coincidence is suggestive. Sgt. Rochford was a colourful character!