For some years Dawson Creek Red Cross members operated under the Pouce Coupe Charter. Mrs. Clare Shaver and Mrs. E.E. Shields of Bessborough were the President and Secretary of a club that had many members especially, after World War II started in 1939. As the war progressed and gas rationing became tighter and tighter, it was difficult to attend meetings. Suddenly Dawson Creek was much larger than Pouce Coupe was and a movement began to ask for a charter for that community.
The old, old problem of parentage of the little Peace River Block orphan appeared again. One ex-Edmontonian, Mr. J.J. Hodgkinson was adamant that we owed allegiance to Edmonton, through which funds raised in the Dawson Creek region would be credited. This was probably the last occasion on which Dawson Creek was seriously divided in its loyalty. A British Columbia Charter was granted. Mrs. Shaver and Mrs. Shields remained in their positions. Long-time resident Mrs. Marjorie Giles added the position of Treasurer of the Red Cross branch to that of Postmistress until that job became too heavy with the start of the Alaska Highway.
As soon as the bales of supplies came in, Mrs. Elizabeth Shields organized the workers. Mrs. M. Dorey, Mrs. Giles’ Mother and Mrs. Birgit (Grandma) Palsson and others produced a phenomenal number of knitted articles as well as bales of sewing. When Mrs. Gordon Wilson became a resident, the Red Cross acquired a member whose zeal has never waned. Thirty years later she is still active in the Red Cross Blood Donor Clinic and fund raising campaigns.
The first two blood donor clinics were held in Fort St. John early in the war. Mrs. Giles (Daw) remembers driving to Fort St. John with Mr. Efner Johnson to donate. Old- timer F.E. (Butch) Webb and his wife Nan drove over the unspeakable roads of the time for the same purpose. By the third occasion Mrs. Maude Wilson enlisted the help of her husband to supply beds from his camps.
In a camp town where hundreds of service men and construction families were hungry for some spot of beauty, Mrs. Calverley found time from her duties as Ration Officer to keep her garden bright with flowers. The homesick men who leaned over the picket fence to gaze in the long twilight evenings pushed it down three times– unintentionally, of course. Many could not believe that such flowers could grow so far north. Some were influenced to come back to live here. There being no florist in town, generous donations for flowers for weddings, funerals and parties went to swell the Red Cross funds.
As the Red Cross at the time was not geared to local disaster relief, the same people organized a sort of informal auxiliary. The disaster of February 1943 showed the need.
A large number of people lost everything they owned. Somehow the townspeople, with the help of the new Radio Station CJDC, provided the barest necessities. Shortly afterwards an “Emergency Aid Committee” was formed. Men helped by donations of cash — no canvassing was needed. Money just flowed in.
It was not only the destruction of the whole business section that caused the shortage of clothing or utensils. It was the fact that underwear, men’s and children’s clothing and all sorts of other things were in short supply. Items ordered from mail order houses might be weeks in coming. Therefore the Committee set up a clothes depot. A parcel containing a change of underwear, a dress or two, stockings that were almost precious or personal toilet articles were securely wrapped. They were stored in a room provided by the Salvation Army, ready to outfit anyone of any size from a newborn to “out-size” at a moments’ notice. It was used clothing, but in those years of many fires, it filled an immediate need until new clothes could be obtained. The donations of cash provided for a pair of shoes, the basic utensils for housekeeping and bedding for as many beds as the family required. Many organizations made quilts from leftover or even used pieces of fabric. This was a completely local effort, shared by every Woman’s Institute, Club, and nearly all church groups. As soon as a parcel for any size was used, an appeal would replenish it immediately.
Some quite well off people were happy to have the “emergency parcel”, and then replace the goods as soon as they could do so.
The greatest test of the organization came one day of extremely high wind when a forest fire swept an enormous area, leaving thirteen families destitute. Before evening of the next day trucks had been dispatched to all the affected families with beds, stoves, groceries, clothing and utensils. In some families there were numerous children all sizes and sexes that had separate appropriate parcels. Again Radio Station CJDC sent out the appeal. St. Mark’s Church Hall was offered to assemble the parcels. Even offers of makeshift houses were relayed to those far out in the country.
When the war was over and clothing could be had again in the stores, the “bundles” were discontinued and the Red Cross took over the emergency needs.
During the early part of the war classes in First Aid and volunteer nursing were held under Red Cross auspices. The original log Old Timers’ Cabin (now incorporated into the Radio Station) was the centre for nearly all Red Cross activities, including weekly sewing sessions under the eagle eye of Mrs. Shields who tolerated no shoddy garments.
Another venture, not heard of now although “re-cycling” is in favour, was the collection and preparation of woolen rags to be sent away for reweaving into blankets. Many hundreds of pounds were transformed into much-needed bedding.
The Charter for the Dawson Creek and District Branch of the Canadian Red Cross Society was given to us on March 24, 1942. The records show that a meeting was held in the Old Timers’ Log Cabin on April 20, 1942 with Mrs. Claire Shaver in the Chair convening the meeting. Two Honorary members — Mr. G. Braden and Mr. W. Reasbeck — were given the honour of being Hon. President and Hon. Vice-President respectively. The elected executive was Mrs. C. Shaver, President; Mrs. Jack Paul, Vice-President; Mrs. W.M. Harper; 2nd Vice President and Mrs. H. Giles, Secretary-Treasurer. In all there were some 28 members putting their shoulders to the wheel and making a success of the district Branch of the Red Cross in the trying and tiring War Years.
What was interesting to note is that these ladies and gentlemen met weekly usually on Mondays. While diligently working at knitting or sewing or packing the overseas boxes they discussed various ways to raise money in order to provide the much-needed items for the ones fighting overseas. Teas, bridge games, catering to the Co-op at their Annual meetings getting donations such as wheat, coal, garden produce and flowers — all these were converted into dollars and, in turn, used to purchase needs for the boxes to be sent away. The Packing Committee in that year, 1942, consisted of Mrs. E.E. Shields Sr., Mrs. H. McQueen, Mrs. Reasbeck and Mrs. G. Lawrence.
A Red Cross Canteen was set up and operated on Wednesday evenings and Sunday afternoon and evening of each week. A Home Nursing class was started in 1943 and at the Annual Meeting night on January 10, 1944 the successful members were presented with certificates. Also at this meeting election of officers for the coming year nominated the following:
President – Mrs. C. Shaver Vice-President – Mrs. K.O. Aspol
2nd Vice-President – Mrs. W.M. Harper Treasurer – Mr. J.H. Johnston
Secretary – Mrs. O. Hamilton
Other Executive members – E.B. Hamilton, H. Giles, Mrs. Hadwin, W. Haddow (Sunrise Valley) and Mr. A. Webb.
Ways & Means Committee: Mrs. F. Wilson, Mrs. E.B. Hamilton, Mrs. Art Webb, and Mrs. Calverley.
Sewing Committee: Mrs. Shields, Mrs. Hinchcliffe, Mrs. Wilson, and Mrs. Levens.
In April 1944 the Dawson Creek and District Branch of the Canadian Red Cross Society deemed it necessary to set up a committee to look after emergencies. This committee was called the Disaster and Welfare Committee, headed or chaired by Mrs. K. Aspol with Mrs. Calverley and Canon Hinchcliffe assisting.
March 1945 showed an interesting item in the records which was that a Blood Donor Clinic had passed through Dawson Creek on its way to Fort St. John to hold a Clinic there. At this time there were 4000 people in Dawson Creek and 1000 in Fort St. John so evidently something had to be done to orient Edmonton Red Cross so that Dawson Creek could participate in this worthwhile way of giving blood in order to save a life.
1946 showed the Dawson Creek branch still working for the good of humanity on peacetime work, particularly the civilian Blood Transfusion service, the largest and most ambitious project undertaken by any voluntary organization. At the Annual meeting held on January 29, 1946 Mrs. C. Shaver was again elected unanimously for the Presidency. At a special meeting held in August of that year Mrs. Shaver was presented with a Badge of Service by Mr. Clark (the Mayor) on behalf of the National Red Cross for seven years of continued devotion and service to the Organization. Other badges were given to various members of the branch for their war work with the branch.
In September an Inhalator was purchased by funds of the Dawson Creek branch on hand to be presented to the town for use of any public service. This Inhalator to be kept in a working condition in a central available place and a supply of oxygen ready at all times.
At this time the executive members were busy organizing a reception for the overseas brides of the town and district. This event took place successfully on November 27 at the Legion Hall with Mrs. Gordon Wilson in charge of the program.
In 1948 a Junior Red Cross was formed. Their objective was not to make money but to teach kindness and help to others.
Special praise was given to Mrs. R. Wilson (Sr.) who entirely on her own made 96 garments that were sent to Headquarters. Emergency Aid Committee was busy looking after burnt out families when the Co-op Store here was burned to the ground.
The Blood Donor Committee was chaired by Mrs. H. Giles; Swimming and Water Safety by Mrs. F. Williams.
A marker for Dawson Creek was the coming of the first Donor Clinic to the Village to accommodate those wishing to give blood from here and the surrounding area for one day only June 16, 1948. The records show this Clinic as being most successful.
1949 showed Mrs. C. Shaver as the retiring president and subsequently being made Honorary President and Mrs. Gordon Wilson as President. It is interesting to note that this same Mrs. Gordon Wilson some thirty years later being a diligently hard worker for the Red Cross Branch here.
The Dawson Creek Branch continued on with its worthwhile work having the Blood Donor Clinic arrive annually and then as time went on, twice a year.
The Work Committee continue to sew garments and make up dressings as well as some knitting though certainly not as much as during the War years. The Junior Red Cross was active for quite some time.
The Campaign Drive for funds is an Annual affair and is always a problem as the town gets bigger to have enough canvassers and captains of designated zones in the area to work. A Missing Persons Bureau was formed and did some very unbelievable work in joining families with their loved ones. The Red Cross Water Safety Committee under the capable hands of Mrs. F. Williams for many did excellent work here. The Disaster Committee also kept up with peoples’ troubles caused by fire. Home Nursing also was a worthwhile project.
The next ten years or so were simply a repetition of what has already been said so, it must be admitted that the membership seemed to dwindle with sometimes only five members present to keep the branch alive here. Then in the 1960 to present date period things seemed to pick up and more interest was taken in the various activities. The renewed interest was possibly due to the wonderful medical work being carried out in the hospitals and the breakthrough on heart transplants and other organs which make it necessary to have blood banks available at all times and in all areas where these hospitals operate.
Frida Dorin, August 27, 1973.