The settlement of Township 77, Range 17 began in June of 1928 when Tom Deasley filed on the first quarter in that area. During 1929 about 15 more quarters were filed on and by Christmas 1939 there were 13 of the new homesteaders in residence. They were living in log or lumber shacks thrown up in haste for shelter from the oncoming winter. On January 1, 1930 the thermometer dropped to 55 below zero – on January 3rd it rose to -35 and stormed for 3 days with a snow fall of 14″ and winds up to 25 miles an hour. At the end of the first week the weather turned milder and thereafter the weatherman, having tested the mettle of the new settlers, sponsored a very nice winter. The first few who had filed in the township were family men of Icelandic origin who had come from central Saskatchewan. In 1930 several relatives and friends from the same area moved in and took up land. Their families had been left on the prairies until such time as homes could be built, most of them moving to the new settlement after schools had closed for summer holidays.
By the end of July there were 15 children of school age in the district and the building of a school was foremost in the minds of all interested parents. Bachelors and parents alike were public spirited and cooperative minded — a good mixture of pioneer stock. Meetings were held in homes to discuss ways and means to build a school and correspondence was carried on with the Department of Education. The actual building of the school was a bit unique in that the whole community was its own contractor and that every tax payer was encouraged to work on the building at a nominal rate of 25¢ per hour, none of which was claimed or collected by the individual. The money thus earned was put to good use providing for a good floor, a shingled roof and a sturdy brick chimney.
Logging bees set forth in January 1931 to a timber berth about 6 miles from the proposed school site. Long dormant skills were awakened in the mixture of pioneers. Men who had been ranchers were found to be expert loggers; storekeepers, proficient axe-men and farmers turned into finishing carpenters. Others who had little or no proficiency supplied the bull labor in handling the big logs that went into the building. The logs were hued on the inside and the corners dovetailed and a cement mix was used to chink between the logs. The building, large enough to accommodate all community activities, meetings, dances, church services, drama and, of course, its original planned use, was completed by the middle of March, 1931. Furniture supplied by the Education Department was installed and the school was opened on April 1st with 15 pupils.
The first board of trustees consisted of Mrs. Bergras Palsson, Mr. Al Jerome and Mr. Helgi Eliasson. Frank Palsson had been acting secretary to the board throughout the organization and building of the school.
Miss Kay Burgess was the first teacher, from April 1st to June 30, 1931. Her advent to the country was an experience long to be remembered. She came from the Kootenay region by train, via Edmonton, to Dawson Creek, where she was met by two young men from the Sunnybrook District with team and wagon. Her effects were loaded in the wagon box and they left the village late in the afternoon. The road was in fair shape — for a dirt road — for the first 12 miles. Here it changed into a bush trail, muddy with the spring thaw, bumpy with the odd tree stump that hadn’t been cut out or rotted, a small creek to be forded and a muskeg swamp to be traversed. The ponies had made the 18 mile trip to Dawson Creek in the morning and back to the swamp by about 9 p.m. The wagon mired to the axles in the muskeg and the ponies gave up. They were unhitched from the wagon. Miss Burgess was unceremoniously put on the back of one horse with one of the boys. The other climbed on the back of the second horse with one of the teacher’s suitcases in each hand and in this manner the last 1½ miles of the trip was completed. The wagon was retrieved the next day with the use of two teams.
Mrs. Jean Gething was the next teacher, starting in September 1931 with 21 pupils, and taught to the end of March 1933. She handed in her resignation when one of the young bachelor homesteaders made the statement, at an Institute meeting that she should be dismissed and a young, unmarried teacher should be hired. One who would or could be persuaded to marry and assist in building up the population in the district. Oscar Palsson, a grade 10 correspondence pupil finished up the term to June 30 of that year.
Following is the list of teachers after March 1933 (see above) until the final closing of the school through amalgamation and busing of pupils to the larger centres:
Miss Anetta Weir Sept. 1933 to June 1935
Miss Margaret McFarlane Sept. 1935 to June 1937
John Vogt Sept. 1937 to June 1939
Harvey McCurdy Sept. 1939 to June 1940
Owen Kerley Sept. 1940 to June 1941
Mrs. Mary Magnuson Sept. 1941 to April 1945
Norma Palsson May 1945 to June 1945
School closed from 1945 – 1949 through lack of pupils
Mrs. Fred Thompson Sept. 1949 to June 1951
Mr. Holmes Sept. 1951 to June 1952
Mary Magnuson Sept. 1952 to June 1953
Mrs. M. Bassett Sept. 1953 to June 1954
Miss Bold Sept. 1954 to June 1955
Mrs. M. Bassett Sept. 1955 to June 1957
School closed from 1957 – 1958 through lack of pupils
Mrs. M. Bassett Sept. 1958 to June 1959
Mr. Russall Sept. 1959 to June 1960
Miss Ann Say Sept. 1960 to June 1961
Mr. Kurtz Sept. 1961 to June 1962
Mr. Gergenheimer Sept. 1962 to June 1963
Mrs. Eva Bassett Sept. 1963 to June 1964
School closed, June 1964 — Busing to Devereaux and Dawson Creek began in 1964 It wouldn’t do to end the story here. Many good times were had in and around the school. Several very good plays were staged, directed and prompted by various teachers with the able assistance of Joe Cole and Oli Johannesson who had been active in organizing and directing most of the public functions in the district. Most of the actors were adults and very few had had previous experience. All took kindly to criticism and direction and the many comedies staged were excellently presented, well attended and appreciated by homesteaders from the surrounding districts.
The Palsson piano, which had been shipped from Saskatchewan in 1930, made many trips from the homestead to the school to supply accompaniment for Christmas concerts and dances. One spring the boys in school decided to do a bit of experimenting on their own. The class had been given a lecture on the making of maple syrup. Being enterprising and very secretive about the project, they tapped poplar trees some distance from the school, hung pails to catch the spring flow of sap, rigged up a home made still and proceeded to brew some very powerful but not too tasty spirits. Their secret was well kept for no one in the district knew anything about their activities. But as always, the truth will come out — sometimes in a long round about way as it did in this case. School children had been encouraged to correspond with pen pals in other parts of the province to learn how others made their living. One of the local boys had a pen pal in the Vancouver area to whom he had imparted the secret. The mother of the Vancouver boy had read the letter and reported its contents to the local authorities. They in turn passed it on down the line through the Department of Education and the local inspector. Sunny brook had a surprise visit from this austere gentleman — and our teacher almost lost her teaching certificate. However, after a severe reprimand the boys promised to desist from further manufacture of their potent and pungent liquid. Needless to say the boy who had inadvertently let the cat out of the bag took a lot of abuse from the rest of the gang.
This was new country and there were no real roads as such. Survey cut-lines were widened out to accommodate vehicular travel and old pack trails were our main thoroughfares. Most travel was done by team and wagon and on horseback or on foot. Communications traveled mostly by moccasin telegraph. To illustrate the foregoing, also to present the fortitude of our young homesteaders and the willingness of good neighboring; I want to tell the story of the first birth in the district. Al Jerome’s son and daughter-in-law, Louis and Leta arrived in March 1930. They built their first home one-half mile east of Tom Deasley’s. On July 30, 1930, all was well and under control when Louis left for work on the new grade to the bridge at Arras. Shortly after noon Leta, who was expecting her first baby, felt that the baby was due to arrive, so she calmly set off across a half-mile of sloshing to Old Tom’s and asked him to go to Arras to notify Louis. Leta walked back over the slosh and made what preparations she could. Louis and Tom arrived back and Tom went on to Palsson’s on foot to get Mrs. Palsson and her daughter Pauline, who was a newly graduated nurse. The temperature was in the 80’s. Tom was in his 70’s and very much overweight and when he arrived at Palsson’s he all but passed out before delivering the message. Mrs. Palsson, Pauline, and Oscar on the little saddle mare, hurried down the pack trail to Jeromes. About midway there, they were met by a yearling bear — the mare gave them some trouble. Oscar loudly cussed the bear for holding up the procession and scared him off. The baby was born before they arrived. Mother, Dad and baby were all fine and well cared for but it took a bit of time for poor Old Tom to recuperate. He was certain he had lost a lot more weight than Mrs. Jerome. Doreen, the baby, is now a grandmother and makes her home with her husband Don Carlson within a mile of where she was born.
Time and space do not allow for the many stories that make up the history of the district. There were so many good times, happy times and heartbreaks — and all were shared by good friends and neighbors. There was always a willing hand to help in time of trouble. Community and public spirit abounded.