High on the hilly slope above the river which shares her name sits the smiling little village of Pouce Coupe. Grit, endurance and enterprise put her there. At times, in summer the Chinook races madly over the golden heads of wheat and barley in her surrounding fair and fertile fields. Little scallops of wind rustle the delicate lantern-like heads of oats growing in what, prior to 1911, was virgin soil, shoulder high in peavine and wild vetch. Grass meadows dotted with bluffs of willow and small lakes which were the home of Indian tribes who there hunted buffalo, elk, caribou, moose, deer, and bear before the coming of the white man are now grain fields and yield their quota to Canada’s granaries.
The name Pouce Coupe is both musical and intriguing, and various tales are told of its origin. The most authentic is that given in “The Land of Twelve Foot Davis” by J.C. MacGregor. McLeod’s Fort Dunvegan Journal, 1806. “Sunday 17 August, Pouce Coupe with a few others arrived. They have made a poor hunt.” This is the first reference to Pouce Coupe whose name has been commemorated in that of a town and river in the Peace River country. One explanation of the derivation of the name is furnished by a story of a prospector or a half-breed who is alleged to have cut his thumb and thereafter called in French “Pouce Coupe.” The correct explanation is that it came from the name of an Indian called “Pooscapee.” This Beaver Indian name would be near enough phonetically to the French phrase ‘pouce coupe’ meaning “cut thumb” and that is the name by which the French voyageurs called this Indian. In the Beaver language this word “Pooscapee” had quite a long and involved meaning. It meant ‘the place where the beavers had a dam and went away and left it and that is the place where the chief had his lodge.’ An old mound on the river flats below the village is said to be the site of this lodge but this is not authenticated. Beaver and muskrat still build their homes in secluded spots on this beautiful river.
Pouce Coupe is strategically situated, and was until the Hart Highway opened in 1952 the only gateway to the rich Peace River lands. She looks two ways — south across the barrier of poor lands to the rich developments from Grand Prairie to Edmonton while keeping an eye on the immense activities of the north.
Though the lands of the Peace River Valley have been known to the white man for 150 years, the first one to settle on the Pouce Coupe Prairie was Hector Tremblay, a French-Canadian. He and some other men are said to have started out from Kamloops for the Yukon gold diggings in 1898 traveling with horses up the Cariboo Road to Fort George and from there to Fort St. John. Tremblay was well impressed with the Peace River Country and decided that this was as far as he would go and eventually he built himself a log cabin on a flat where Dawson Creek flows into the Pouce Coupe River. There he set up a small trading post where he traded goods to the Indians for furs. Later he went into cattle ranching and in 1908 brought his family there from Kamloops. At the time of his death in 1916 he had a well-established ranch and store on the same site. He was a large-hearted man. When the settlers arrived to file on the lands which had previously been grazing for his cattle, they received a hearty welcome and he was always willing to give a helping hand to any in distress. Here in his fine log house he had built, his two youngest children Lydia and Leila were born, the first white children in this new land. They are now respectively Mrs. Pat Therrien and Mrs. Ted Frost and still live near Pouce Coupe.
Owing to the immense distance from railhead and lack of any wagon road, settlement of the rich lands adjacent to the Peace did not take place until “that woeful road” the Edson Trail was cut in 1911.
The main influx of settlers to the Pouce Coupe Prairie took place in the years 1912 to 1914. Most of these hard, far-sighted men came up from Grande Prairie and struggled up the steep, grassy slope with its bumps and hollows and onto the rim of the plain where Pouce Coupe now is. The Grande Prairie Trail as it was called for many years, was cut by Hector Tremblay. Spencer Tuck who was freighting for him at the time helped with the work and brought in the settlers’ mail on the return trips from Edmonton — a service to the growing community given free by Hector who had the Post Office in his store. The Post Office was later moved to Frank Haskin’s store which had then become the centre for the settlers. Here too, in October 1916, the Bank of Commerce opened for business with Mr. Crookshank as Manager. Six months later he moved into the present building.
In 1917 Constable G.J. Duncan moved from Saskatoon Creek where he had established the first Police Station in 1914 to where Pouce Coupe now stands. Besides the duties of constable he registered all births, deaths and marriages, acted as official Administrator, Mining Recorder and Game Warden. He returned to Pouce Coupe in 1949 as Inspector, remaining two years. Before this the country had been policed by Constable Anderson. The following story is told of him: A murder having been committed, it was his unpleasant and difficult duty to produce the evidence before the nearest B.C. Police doctor who was in Kamloops, hundreds of miles away. This was a real problem when the only means of travel was by water and dog team. He solved the difficulty by cutting off the head where the injury was located. Arriving in the doctor’s office he put the gruesome relic on the table and said, “Doctor, what did this man die of?” The doctor looking up in horror and amazement said, “Why decapitation of course.”
The first Pouce Coupe Post Office, granted by the Dominion Government in 1914 was located at the point where the Rolla road crosses Saskatoon Creek with C.B. Duke as postmaster. Late in 1915 he returned to Edmonton owing to ill health. Frank Haskins then took over as postmaster, incorporating a tiny post office in a corner of his log store. Other buildings soon followed and the village came into being. People came from all around for their mail, usually on horseback and returned home with a gunnysack full for their neighborhood. Mail came in once a month. In 1914 and 1915 there was no stopping place but Mrs. J. LeRoy put up anyone who had to stay overnight. The LeRoys had a large log house with rooms upstairs and were very hospitable.
The building unfortunately burned down some years later. It was located just beside where the present Hart Hotel, which commands a magnificent view across the river flats to the blue Alberta hills, now stands. Mrs. LeRoy left the Peace district after her husband’s death but returned many years later to marry George Hart and together they planned the fine hotel which bears their name.
The first settlers filed on their homesteads at the Dominion Lands office in Grande Prairie. In 1915 George Salway, who had homesteaded in Dawson Creek about a mile north of where Pouce Coupe now stands and where the road now crosses the creek was appointed Land Agent. This was a welcome arrangement to the settlers and saved the long 100-mile trip to Grande Prairie. Later the office was moved to the farm of T. Jamieson who was land agent for many years.
Development was slow during the years of the First World War. Many of the younger men had gone overseas. In 1916 the E.D. & B.C. railway which was building from Edmonton reached Spirit River and Grande Prairie. At the close of hostilities in Europe there was an influx of new settlers, the enlisted men returned and the village began to grow. In 1919 there were two livery barns, operated respectively by Jack White and Bob Baxter, a poolroom operated by G. Goodman and a barbershop. Burke had a restaurant and a hotel was run by the McLean brothers in addition to the buildings mentioned previously.
The first three schools in the Peace River Block were opened in 1915. The one that served the Pouce Coupe district was opened in 1917 or 1918, and was located on Joe DeWetter’s land near where Dawson Creek flows into the Pouce Coupe River. Dennis Clark was the first teacher. Later on, in spite of much opposition, it was moved into the settlement and used for many years before a new and larger building was erected overlooking Bissette Creek and the old Grande Prairie Trail. Part of the original building is used as a slaughterhouse. Some of the original pupils names are still to be seen carved in the woodwork. Before consolidation in the 1940’s [mid-1930’s] the schools were built by the homesteaders with funds raised in the school area. The furniture was supplied by the Department of Education who also paid the teacher. It was necessary to have a minimum of ten children before a school was granted. Great local interest was taken in the schools which were run by an elected Board. Few missed the annual meeting and election of officers — it was too much fun. Opinions were fully aired and at times became vitriolic. There were generally two factions and positions on the board were hotly contested. On one occasion when the school was still on the Creek and things were getting a bit hot for him, the secretary made an attempt at escape through the nearest window. A nimble member of the opposite side was too quick for him, caught him as he landed and marched him back in to face the music. All differences of opinion however, were soon forgotten when lunch, contributed by all, was served and the meeting turned into a picnic. Everyone enjoyed the remainder of the summer evening. Too much cannot be said about the excellent teachers we had in Pouce Coupe over the years. Before consolidation, pupils took up to grade eleven here and many went on to take further education at the coast, becoming teachers, nurses or entering other professions. The teachers were always active in movements like the musical festivals or indeed any activity for the good of the town. Pouce Coupe now has a fine elementary school situated on the main highway. R. Humble was the first Principal and is still in office.
In 1919 a Soldier Settlement Supervisor, John Gordon, came to Pouce Coupe to help the returned men establish themselves on the land. Those who wished to do so could take up a Government long-term loan. Those who preferred to manage on their own got a hand-out of long handled underwear as a parting gift from a grateful country. It came in handy though for that and their army uniforms and great coats helped keep them warm, many a long cold winter. The going was hard and rewards few in those first years. Grain and hogs freighted by sleigh during the winter to Spirit River railhead over the grade that should have been the bed for steel brought small returns but much adventure. The railway should have come to Pouce Coupe [Rolla?] but was diverted to Grande Prairie.
J. Gordon was no stranger to the country as he had been on the railway survey in 1908 which crosses the river below the town when the Grand Trunk made it’s feint of going through the Peace or Pine Pass instead of the Yellowhead and fooled the Canadian Northern. He married Miss Collins, the first matron of the Pouce Coupe Red Cross Hospital and shortly after they left the district. He was succeeded by Norman Dow who when the Board ceased to function in the district, bought the farm on the outskirts of the settlement that had been homesteaded by a man named Van der Hoof. A nurse, Miss Hastie was sent in by the Soldier Settlement Board.
In the early twenties part of Charlie LeRoy’s homestead which he had sold to Cottingham’s was subdivided into a town-site. The highlight of this affair was the surreptitious moving of the Post office from in front of Haskin’s Store at dead of night to form a nucleus in the new townsite. Prior to this the settlement had all been on Frank Haskin’s land, clustered around the store known as “The Pouce Coupe Trading Company.” Fred Hasler was an original partner but later sold out and went into fur trading on his own.
Buildings began to go up on the new townsite. Jimmy Clark moved in with his family from Sunset Prairie where he was one of the Soldier Settlement Group. He built a house and succeeded Cottingham as postmaster. For many years, until a new one was built, he used the front of his home as the Post Office. In the years that he held this office with his daughter Nellie as sub-postmistress he was behind every effort for the good and advancement of Pouce Coupe. His generosity was unsurpassed. After consolidation he was for many years the representative for the district in the School Board of which he was chairman for some time before he retired to make his home at the coast. It was with deep regret that everyone saw him and his equally good and generous wife go.
Before the coming of the railroad in 1931 the mail was brought in by wagon from Grande Prairie in summer and by sleigh in winter. William Fynn was the first official mail carrier. With his wife and family they all made their homes in this north country. He came in over the famous Edson Trail. Hughie Robertson, a batchelor who had homesteaded across the border, followed him and in turn was followed by Mr. and Mrs. Goodwin, gay old timers. At times the roads were almost impassable but the mail got through somehow — often by almost superhuman effort. True, some heavy articles, such as Eaton’s catalogues had to be jettisoned occasionally, but they came in later. These people set themselves a high standard of duty from which they never deviated. When they undertook to deliver mail they did not mean maybe. It was an obligation to be fulfilled, a job to be done. Mrs. Goodwin often drove the 100 miles alone through mile after mile of unsettled country, mudholes and corduroy.
“His Majesty’s mail will leave at 4 p.m. on Friday next. Govern yourselves accordingly,” said the official notice inside the Post Office. At 4 o’clock precisely the carrier clattered out of Pouce Coupe. Gradually the road from Grande Prairie was improved. The mail began to arrive by car, coming from the end of steel at Hythe for some time before the railroad reached Pouce Coupe.
We had no local newspaper, so any information on matters of interest were tacked up on the Post Office. The following notice gives something of the rich flavor of the news: “She was a bull calf and her behind legs was white. She went on it the road down. She has been gone three days already yet. Yesterday, today and tomorrow. Whoever finds me not this calf owes my $5.00” This literary tidbit was signed “Joy.” Joe hailed from Central Europe and had not been long in Canada. It must have taken hours with a dictionary to produce such a gem.
In the winter of 1920-21 a Government Agency was established and a man named Moore was the first Agent. So that the people might be taxed, Lester Harper, another Edson Trailer who had settled in Kilkerran district, was appointed Provincial Assessor and moved into Pouce Coupe with his wife and daughters. A very welcome addition to our numbers. He has held the position ever since. The agency was housed in a small log building just back of Mr. Becker’s present home. The building has long since disppeared.
At this time a lawyer Cottingham appeared in our midst and soon trouble was brewing and a case came into court. The Government Agent and the lawyer had a heated argument over certain evidence. Tempers got overheated. “Come outside,” said the angry agent. “We’ll soon settle it.” The court adjourned and all present made a ring around the contestants and “a good time was had by all”, including the prisoner. No one cared what happened after that, the accused returned home.
At first any cases — and these were few — that were beyond the jurisdiction of the Magistrate were dealt with in Fort George. But later to avoid the expense of taking prisoners and witnesses all the way via Edmonton a judge came in once a year. This was a great event and those of us who had managed to keep out of trouble enjoyed his visit very much — there was much entertaining. Judge Robertson came for many years and took his holiday at the same time. Being fond of sports and not afraid of rough going, he came from Fort George by river most of the way. He brought an outboard motor with him, had a boat built in the Parsnip River and so into the Peace as far as the portage. A democrat met him there and took him to Hudson’s Hope. The Government Agent who had gone up the Peace River — there was no overland route — met him there and when justice had been dispensed, a fishing trip was in order. Later the party came on down by water to Taylor Flats. Here the Judge had no difficulty in disposing of his boat and came on to Pouce by road. Duty done and a bit of fun thrown in for good measure, he and the motor continued on by road and rail to Edmonton and by rail to Fort George. On one occasion prior to his yearly visit bits of cardboard had appeared along the main road bearing the legends: “Haskins is a crook”, “Frazer is a crook”, “Baegham is a crook”, and so on nailed to fence posts. Those thus pilloried objected and “old Charlie”, the perpetrator, was hauled before the Judge on a charge of libel.
Knowing the effects of loneliness and hardship on some of these old fellows who brood on imagined things, His Worship talked to him as man to man and told him to take them down and forget about it. “Old Charlie” did so but no sooner was the judge out of the country than they all reappeared with this addition: “And Judge Robertson is also a crook.”
Mr. Moore did not stay long and was succeeded by Fred Fraser who held the office of Government agent for many years. It was with great regret that we said goodbye to him and Mrs. Fraser. Both did everything in their power to help things along and by their kindly hospitality and goodwill endeared themselves to everyone. But we were fortunate that their places were taken by an equally understanding and hospitable pair, Mr. and Mrs. M.S. Morrell who stayed with us for twenty years. The present Government Agent is Oliver Callahan.
Gradually other departments sent in representatives and a large office was built. This soon proved too small as several deparments — Education and Forestry among them — had overflowed into separate huts. A fine new building was erected which gathered them all under one roof and established Pouce Coupe as the headquarters of the B.C. Government. The Forestry Hut was given to the W.I. and is now lent by them for use as a Public Library.
The first Public Work’s Resident Engineer, Frank Clark, lived at Rolla for some years but later moved to Pouce Coupe when a fine large house was built for him. Tony Menard was the first foreman. As the country developed the Public Works personnel increased to take care of the immense mileage of road. The district is a very large one and now extends from Azouzetta Lake on the Hart Highway to Atlin. A very large and fine garage was built here in 1949 where the equipment for use south of the river is housed. This was a lucky thing for the Village as most of the employees live here.
With the townsite laid out the village began to grow. Bergham opened a drug store, Mrs. Goodman a beauty parlour and Burke took on the agency for Chevrolet cars. Before this there were only three cars — all Model A Fords — in the district, owned by H.G. Atkinson, Frank Haskins and John Taylor of Rolla. A hitching rail stood in front of every building and the livery barns did a good trade. There was much activity as Pouce Coupe was the centre for the settlers. There were always several settings for the midday meal at both Baxter’s and McLean’s hotels. George Hart built a store which he sold to Mears Rigden when he became liquor vendor. This store has been known as Watson’s, Mitchell’s, Hamilton’s and is now owned by G. Borse and is undergoing extensive renovation and face lifting. G. Becker built a store in the 1930’s and was one of our merchants for many years. He sold his business to the Laloge Brothers after the Second World War and is now one of the Village Commissioners and living with his wife in their pleasant home in Pouce Coupe.
In 1925 a petition for a liquor store was circulated round the country. This shook the bootleggers badly who were doing a good trade. A peition was at once put out giving many excellent reasons why the Government should grant the request. This was granted and a building put up by Frank Haskins to house the liquor and the vendor, George Hart an old timer, appointed. The first consignment came in under armed police guard but no untoward incident occurred. In this connection it is amusing to recall that a “load” of notes and currency came in one day also, under guard for the bank. It was after hours so the teamster unhitched and left the wagon sitting unguarded outside the bank all night!! No one interfered with it.
Unofficially quite a bit of whisky found it’s way in. A good story used to be told and is worth recording. A wire came to the Police from their Alberta confederates that a case of whisky was on its way into B.C. naming the driver of the team. The Telegraph operator deeming it too bad that such a rare commodity should fall into the hands of heartless officials and be lost to everyone, called up his lineman and told him to drive down the trail at full speed and give the warning. After a sufficient lapse of time he delivered the telegram. Out rushed the constable, threw the harness on his team, climbed into his democrat and away down the self-same trail. The operator looked on with great enjoyment and helped him get going. Of course he found nothing but a perfectly innocent man with a legitimate load of freight and both came back together. That night when all was quiet the operator got out his own rig and armed with information from the lineman who had helped make the cache and had kept discreetly out of the way set off towards Alberta. Next night the owner of the whisky set out to retrieve it. When he got to Pouce and found everyone celebrating he guessed what had happened and got in on the fun while there was any left. There was always something to laugh at in those happy days. People dared to be themselves and life was bright and interesting.
From time to time Frank Haskins got in a keg of cider which he sold in small glasses. On this occasion he set the keg on the counter as usual and soon had a customer who tossed off his portion with relish put the money on the counter and asked for a second. He went out but returned shortly with friends who all paid for drinks. The store began to fill and everyone became hilarious. Frank got suspicious and took a glass himself. The keg was quickly whisked away. The joke was on him. He had put out a keg of whisky that he had provided for himself and friends instead of cider.
The returned men soon built a find large hall which became the centre of our social activities. A piano was hauled in over the trail. Many a jolly gathering took place with anyone who could twang a string instrument taking their place in the band. The men paid 50c and the ladies provided the “eats.” Good they were and substantial. Homemade bread sandwiches and cold meat and home cured ham. Pie in great variety. This was before the advent of “jello” that prop and stay of modern cooking. We prided ourselves on our good provisions and if anyone left with a corner unfilled it was their own fault. Cups were taken round in a wash tub to the dancers who sat round the hall on benches and filled from steaming jugs of hot coffee. If some of the ladies present bore traces of the words “Royal Household” on their backs it was not that they held high offices, just meant that good use was made of all material that came our way. The fun was fast and furious and at times got out of hand. So a space would be cleared in the middle of the hall and we cheered on the contestants. Later the hall was sold to Murphy a builder and a new and smaller clubhouse put up on the hillside overlooking the river. The clubhouse was moved into the town and is very useful for teas and small parties.
October 17, 1921 was a memorable day in the annals of Pouce Coupe and the whole of the districts including the settlements north of the Peace River. A hospital built and equipped by the Alberta Red Cross opened its doors with Miss Collins as matron and Miss MacDougall as nurse. Cora Wallace, now Mrs. C.E. McWha presided over the kitchen. The building was beautifully situated overlooking Bizette Creek on land belonging to T. Jamieson (McMillan’s origianl homestead).
In 1923 Miss Collins left and was replaced by Miss Ida Crook, an Australian. In the twelve years that she was matron she devoted herself to the welfare of the whole district and gave us untiring and unstinted service and friendship. No one who ever came under her care was ever forgotten and many still treasure the little tokens of her constant thought and affection. A fine lot of girls worked under her during the years she was in charge, to whom we owe a debt of gratitude. Ida Crook made the hospital a real home to those of us who came in from our homesteads. A welcome and the odd cup of tea were assured at all times. We loved to go there and few failed to bring gifts large or small to augment the larder. A chicken, eggs, cream, butter, milk, at times a joint of beef or pork, vegetables and flowers. The small gifts were as graciously received as the large. Our hospital was the centre of most of Pouce Coupe’s activities for raising funds.
A Women’s Auxiliary was soon formed to take care of the linen and baby clothes and provide funds for whatever was needed. Mrs. Fraser was the first president. Mrs. Tom Jamieson the first patient.
The men were in no wit behind us in voluntary work and took over the job of janitor, put in a garden or cared for it so that the patients could enjoy fresh vegetables, and kept up repairs, etc.
In short we were glad of our hospital and showed our gratitude in whatever way we could. Short as everyone was of cash no one thought of monetary recompense.
Dr. Boyd from Peace River Crossing was the first doctor to come into the Peace River of B.C. but did not stay long. Dr. W.A. Watson moved from Grande Prairie where he had settled on his return from overseas, when the hospital was built. Again we were fortunate for no trip was too hard, no trail too bad, no winter’s day too cold and no distance too far for him to answer a call of distress. ‘A trail to break, a life at stake, and another bout with the foe.’ Miss Crook often went with him. He served the country well and cheerfully until his sudden death in 1936. In everything he was helped by his English wife Rosa, who has always put her considerable talents and dynamic energy behind all activities for the country’s advancement and welfare.
The Peace River was fortunate in its early settlers who were hardy, cheerful and far-sighted. The Hospital and those grand women helped to knit us into a group with a united outlook. Pouce Coupe was then the focussing point for the entire district. The hospital staff had a lot to put up with and quite a bit of hardship at times. On one occasion old Mrs. Napoleon had to be kept in bed somehow. A careful eye was kept on her by the nurses, but one cold evening she vanished. Without waiting to put on extra clothing they took off after her and tracked her down the snow covered bank to the creek bed. Here they found the old lady under a spruce gathering twigs for a fire. She had managed to conceal some matches in her clothing and was quite prepared to spend the night there. She took no harm from the adventure but the girls had sore feet from frostbite for awhile.
The following notes supplied by Miss Crook, throw an interesting light on the life of those early days.
Bits and scraps from Pouce Coupe, B.C. from 1923 on to 1935.
May 7, 1947. Received from my sister in Australia a bunch of letters written 24 years ago to her from me. They mentioned the busy time we were having and the odd patient and brought things back to my mind that I had forgotten. Old man Able very ill, could not keep him in bed. Put on a man keeper at night, Able slipped out past him (asleep on the floor). Woke up to find him standing by my bed. “Good land a livin, can’t a man have his trousers? Shall I get into bed till he finds me trousers?” “Yes,” I said, “but not here.” He died a day or two later.
Had mentioned some men suffering from burns. They were the Demeans who lived on the Pine or Halfway, some 90 miles away. Caught by a bush fire trying to save stock one was shockingly burned. Was in hospital over a year. The other recovered in weeks and went home to die of a heart attack at Tupper where they lived later. They were found by Fred Hasler and party, mostly Indians I think, who had to spend nearly a day schooling horses to work, one in front and one behind in a travois they made to get round the trees on the trail. From Rolla they came on by truck. The badly burnt one was murdered many years later by two Germans at Tupper.
November 23, 1924 ¾ Soldier’s whist drive, community singing, games and dancing last night, lots of men had to play as ladies, not enough women to go round.
It takes 17 to 21 days to receive shopping parcels from Eaton’s Winnipeg store.
July 29, 1925 (about) ¾ Beer parlour was opened in Pouce Coupe. Bush fires bad, smoke dense. Mrs. Waagen, head of the Alberta Red Cross and Miss West, a Public Health Nurse paid first official visit to hospital. Weather bound or road bound for a whole week. Finally Norman Dow drove them to Rolla Landing and they went to railhead at Peace River on a pig barge. The pigs penned on one side. Men in boat rigged a tarp shelter and lent blankets for them to sleep in.
1934 ¾ We finished our hospital year with eight hundred dollars in the bank! The only hospital in B.C. to do so. Maybe in Canada.
Winter: Burnt a cord a half of wood a day during cold spell. Twenty below warmest in three weeks. “Old Mark” Devereau in hospital, whenever the babies cried he’s say, “God damn it, the child’s a stranger to me but give it something to eat.”
i have send you five hen all young but to and they are mark. i could of send you a better bunch bit they all wont to set now and they are feverish, hope they are all right also three rool of butter and 60c worth of spring onions. Signed ……………….
February 17, 1924: ¾ Sixty persons all told in village of Pouce Coupe. $63,000 spent in liquor store last year. Suddently dawned on me why duck shooting and hunting so popular here. Customers range from farther north than Hudson’s Hope to half way to Grande Prairie and Spirit River. Store serves a radius of four hundred miles.
March 29, 1924 ¾ Laloge Hall and home burnt today. Much excitement but no water. Five children, baby Marcel (Pouce Coupe’s postmaster today) Mrs. Watson took the whole family in for the night. Furniture saved. A big wind blowing and light snow falling.
July 17, 1925 ¾ Terrific thunderstorm at 3 p.m. In Rolla Mr. Vincent killed by lightning. Son, Neal struck and hurled from loft, chest injury. Another, Bill Grayson struck and burnt. (Later same barn was struck and burned.)
Mr. Fraser and doctor away. A. Fisher hired Nels Nelson and car. Asked me to go and see what could be done. Both injured men brought to hospital and recovered. (The Vincent’s came into the country in covered wagon from U.S. in 1913. Took months.)
A baby died in hospital. Caskets of rough boxes were made at home. The father brought a huge rough box to take the little body home. Had to wrap it in a pair of large blankets to keep it in position and help lift her in. I seemed awkward with the big stretch and the man kept saying, “Put one foot on the box”, I got kind of giggley inside and kept thinking it’s like, “one foot in the grave.” We are such idiots in moments of stress.
Before an old timer, Beckwith, died he told us that when he finally left us old Gelderman would dig his grave and bury him. When the time came we let Gelderman know. “Good for him,” he said, “here it is July and he always threatened to die in winter so as we would have a terrible time digging his grave.”
January 24, 1925 ¾ Man named Treadwell, known as Twidwell came in on Sunday a.m. Cut his foot while trapping on Wednesday and was travelling all the time. First day walked from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. He said, “I was scairt I’d never get to where there was anyone, the bleeding was something fierce.” ‘Came on horseback the rest of the way from Middle Pine 70 miles with a pillow on the horses neck to rest foot and keep it up. Foot saved even though when he got home first thing his squaw put on cow manure poultice.’
January 21, 1932 ¾ Very cold wind 30 to 40 degrees below. Woman drove 80 miles in a sleigh. Still-born baby a few hours later.
May 10, 1932 ¾ First real talkies here. Vet’s had their hall wired and fixed up. Boyd from Peace River Crossing ran it. Electric light costs $40.00 per month. Water $40.00 by tank. New dam put in on the creek.
June, 1932 ¾ Two new wards opened at hospital, 8 extra beds making 18 beds, 2 cots and nine bassinettes.
July 22, 1932 ¾ W.I. Convention at Sunset. Gave a paper on hospital. Members amused at story of “old Mark” not liking pyjamas when he came to hospital said: “I want me overalls. God damn it if there was a fire how would a man get out in these bloomers?” As soon as they were washed we let him sleep in them.
Women’s Auxiliary gave us linoleum for women’s ward at cost of $84. Later they covered men’s floor too.
Somewhere around ‘33 we had a dear little [Indian woman] in from Cutbank. She had two little boys 4 and 5 years and a teen aged daughter who visited her. Madge said to the nurse, “That girl’s father got drunk, lay too near the fire and was burnt to death before she was born. Left me in a bit of a mess as I was going to marry him.” When dying she insisted on the nurse writing a will for her. “To my husband’s mother, the elder boy, the younger to someone else, my beads to go the girl and my white paper carnation to my husband.” This latter was a treasured possession.
March 31, 1934 ¾ Freighter brought in from Fort Nelson with pneumonia. He had dropped three times while harnessing his team so his partners chose the best sleigh, the best team and the best driver, packed the warm blankets, wrapped trace chains heated at the campfire round him and started off. The trip was made in record time of 5 day. Camped out three nights. Slept last night in cabin at Fort St. John where farmer’s wife split up a precious baby shirt of pure flannel to put on his chest, after rubbing with oil. He recovered. (I suppose Fort Nelson, now 300 miles by road is less than 5 hours by plane. No road then only rough trail.)
July 5, 1926 ¾ Raffled enough cucumbers out of hospital hot frame to buy linoleum for case room. Frame made and cared for by R. Moody, teller in Bank of Commerce. This frame gave us a great deal of interest.
During the first year of the hospital, before there was any money for a janitor, and the staff consisted of two nurses and a cook, the telegraph operator, Andy Chalmers, pumped the water daily from cistern in basement filled from tanks.
Aubrey Fisher came regularly daily and I mean regularly, and chopped stove wood and carried in both it and furnace wood. [Many of the sick children] we had loved to see him come, expecially the Indian children. For one little girl it was her whole life to wait and look for him. He would carry her out and set her on a log to watch him which he chopped wood. Then carried her happy, to bed. She died of T.B.
A little boy used to glue his nose to the windowpane and watch for him. When he came he would call excitedly. “Old Fisher, she come.” He also died of T.B. Constable W.A.S. Duncan, C.E. McWha and Norman Dow were great helpers. The nurse Miss Muldoon was the backbone of the hospital while she was there. Signed I.S.C.
The Alberta Red Cross later considered that the district was settled enough to support its own hospital and withdrew its support, so as to open an outpost at Fort St. John north of Peace River. We became a community affair. Everyone who wished to, paid hospital insurance. This plan was successful for many years but gradually expenses increased, the nurses eight hour day installed and the hospital being unable to carry on was closed on orders from Victoria. By this time the Roman Catholic sisters were operating a hospital in Dawson Creek.
For some time previously we had been collecting funds for a new building. It took seven years hard work and generous aid from the Provincial Government before our efforts met with success. On January 30, 1954 the fine new hospital above the river flats on the outskirts of the town was finally opened. 1500 people are said to have atended the ceremoney. Dr. E.G. Hollies who took over Dr. A. Watson’s practice is the resident doctor. He does and always has taken a very great interest in Village affairs as does Mrs. Hollies. Pouce Coupe has been more than fortunate to have two such doctors.
This 25-bed hospital is modern in every way. The interior is beautifully decorated and wonderfully equipped. Mrs. Jermyn as Matron and Reif Fairley as Secretary with the help of a strong board with Allan Clarke as President and the members of the Women’s Auxiliary did a fine job of getting things in shape for opening day.
Worthy of note is the fact that during the 7 year period when there was no hospital the W.A. carried on raising funds and keeping up interest. That it did so was due to the devotion of two ladies Mrs. Lester Harper, president and Mrs. L. Hicks, secretary respectively who remained at their posts and encouraged others to keep on working.
The Hospital Board kept on with the barbeque an annual feature for many years for raising funds for hospital expenses. The steer roasted whole draws a big crowd. It has always been their custom too to put on a dance New Year’s Eve. The Catholic Women raised a large sum of money by an annual chicken supper. The Hospital Association wrote us to the effect that it was unique in their annals for an auxiliary to carry on with no hospital.
On the outbreak of the 1939 war Pouce Coupe was able to form a Red Cross organization at once as we still had the charter granted when the hospital was built. Spencer Tuck, who came over the Edson Trail in 1911 was elected president with Mrs. J. Murray as secretary.
In 1933 a Women’s Institute was formed and has functioned ever since, being hostess to their conventions. The original officers were Mrs. H. Carlin, President and Mrs. A. Watson, Secretary-Treasurer.
Prior to their inception the Riverside W.I. from east of Pouce Coupe was the second to organize in the Block and held its first convention in the Legion Hall. This was the second one to be held and the district and members of eight W.I.’s attended. The highlight of this gathering was a really large and representative display of B.C. Products. Some months before the date agreed on the executive, all unused to anything of the sort and not knowing what to do to make the affair interesting received a request from the Vancouver Board of Trade requesting that we use our influence to publicize B.C. goods. Few came our way as we had no direct communication with our own province. This was ‘Duck Soup’ to us and the Secretary was instructed to write and suggest that the best way to advertise, would be to display at the forthcoming convention. To this they readily agreed. Something quite modest was expected, a few cans of various commodities. What happened made the town gasp. Dozens of cases of different brands of milk, tomatoes, jam, fruit, etc. arrived by train. To top everything off the Fraser Valley Milk Producers sent a huge cheese — really huge. On the day we cut this into eight portions and gave one to each institute. As the goods were a gift we sold them as a very low price to any member who wished to buy. There was no difficulty in disposing of them. This was manna in the wilderness — canned goods were luxuries few homesteaders could afford. The proceeds paid all expenses of the Convention and left a nice sum in the treasury.
The Pouce Coupe W.I has always taken an active part in the village as well as doing much good work for the Red Cross, the Blind and contributing to W.I. Special projects. At present we sponsor the town library. A generous contribution was made to the W.I. Ward in the new hospital.
The library now taken over by the Provincial Library Commission was started by the W.I. in 1951 with a nucleus of contributed books. A charge of $1.00 per head was made to form a fund to buy new volumes. Before that we exchanged books and also sent to the Extension Library in Edmonton or Vancouver. Mrs. J. Keen became the first librarian.
The first settlers managed to get plenty of amusement. A three-day carnival was held each winter for many years and always seemed to rouse the Chinook wind which did its best to remove the snow and spoil the fun.
In July, 1914 the first sports in the country were held at Tremblays and settlers came in wagons from all directions and camped out overnight. A dance was held each night in Hector Tremblay’s unfinished log house. A logrolling contest was one of the chief events.
In later years a Sports Day was again a part of the summer on a corner of Haskin’s homestead and brought large crowds to the village. Indians too, arrived from all points and camped around for a week or so.
In 1925 and 1926 the travelling Chatauqua shows came to the settlement. They set up a big tent in which they produced excellent concerts with varied programs on each of three evenings. The artists were good and this was a real treat for all who were able to attend.
In 1935, the Elks of Rolla started a Musical festival which was held there also in 1936 and 1937.
For many years from 1919 onwards tennis was enjoyed. The courts later fell into disuse. There is a good swimming pool on the river below the village and a small park where the barbecue and picnics take place. Skating and ice hockey are much enjoyed.
A Canadian Club was started in 1930 and proved very successful. A shortage of speakers during the 1939-45 war caused it to close. Bert Roddis was first president. The meetings took the form of a dinner and were most enjoyable. They were held in the fine dining room of the Hart Hotel where under the supervision of Mrs. George Hart excellent meals were always assured. The dining room — always lent to any good cause — was the scene of many a card party and small dance to raise funds.
The well-appointed Hart Hotel threw its doors open to the public when the railway was extended from Hythe. For many years this hotel was the mecca for all who came this far north. Particularly the travellers. They were assured of good accomodation, good eats and good entertainment from their jovial host, George Hart, who possessed a keen sense of humor and being an old timer a fund of good stories. Some magnificent specimens of moose, deer, mountain goat, golden and bald eagle mounted by Mr. Fred Chase hung on the walls.
Until the United Church was built in 1929 and the Anglican in 1932, services were held in the Legion Hall by any visiting clergy. A feature at this time were the Theological students who came in during vacation time each summer.
In the 1920’s Miss Hassel and Miss Sayle came into the country to look into the possibility of establishing an Anglican Sunday school van to tour the district. At that time the road did not go any further north than Sweetwater but these intrepid women walked the rest of the way to the Peace River carrying a small tent and some books and a few provisions on their backs. The first van came in and has served the district south of the river ever since. James Henderson was the first minister in the district, where he had a homestead. He was a good Presbyterian.
Archdeacon Rix of the Diocese of Caledonia came regularly once a year. He was a very welcome visitor and attracted a large congregation. All denominations attended when any minister visited the settlement. The following incident shows that humour somehow got mixed in with all our doings. Judge Robertson always attended service, if any, when he was holding court. Knowing that he was expected on Saturday, the student who was conducting a service next day saw a rather distinguished looking man in a large black and white check mackinaw walk in and sit down in a front seat in the Legion Hall. Naturally he concluded that this was His Worship. Great was his horror and amazement when ‘the Judge’ rose to his feet during a prayer and began to sing “Onward Christian Soldiers.” He was quickly conducted out by Mr. Fraser. When he arrived next day Judge Robertson thoroughly enjoyed the joke.
A Roman Catholic Church was built and a child visiting friends on an outlying homestead was asked if the building was completed. “Oh yes,” she said, “but the Pope isn’t into it yet.”
The bell in the spire of Christ Church Anglican was given by Mr. McArthur. Mr. and Mrs. Roddis gave long and faithful service to the fine Anglican church. Until he left, Bert Roddis did the janitor work which in winter meant lighting the furnace at 6:30 in the morning. When he left, T. Crack and S.H. Tuck took turn month about. A Women’s Auxiliary was in operation long before Christ Church was built. Martin Goodrich built the church.
R. Ross was the first resident minister to the United Church. A Ladies Aid was formed in 1930 with Mrs. Watson as President.
The day the first train, on January 15, 1931, puffed into Pouce Coupe will not soon be forgotten. It did not stay but continued on to Dawson Creek where a townsite was laid out in the middle of grain fields. The liquor store ran short of spirits but there was 10,000 dollars worth of champagne in stock. When this was over the moonshiners who had been preparing for the great day came into their own. The celebration lasted for many days.
Politics entered largely into our lives of course and there was often hard feelings between the opposing parties. Up till 1932 we were part of the riding of Cariboo. Clive Planta was the first Peace River member. Just before election, British Columbia always recalled that we were a part of the Province and were entitled to some recognition. On one of these occasions the bridge across the Pouce Coupe River was put in. Before that there was a basket attached by a long rope to a tall poplar tree on either bank for use at high water, which sometimes lasted for many weeks. This contraption was a tricky affair. One climbed a rough ladder up the tree dragging along whatever goods, dressed chicken, eggs, vegetables etc. one was taking in to trade, as best one could. You then got into the thing, loosened the rope — being careful not to drop it — as by it one pulled it across and zip, the basket shot to the middle where it hovered just above the water. Then began the long pull uphill to the tree on the opposite side, where one clambered down and began the long walk up the hill with what egg,s etc. had survived. Before this elegant piece of Public Works equipment came into use, and we were grateful for it, it was a case of patience until the river went down sufficiently to cross with a team, or swim a horse across and hold onto its tail. A certain enterprising, government surveyor by the name of Banon, by no means young, made the settlers mail into a water tight packet which he put in a wash tub along with his clothes and swam across pulling the tub behind him. Those of us who lived on the other side were more than grateful expecially the men for he remembered that “smokers” might have run short. That his wife stood weeping on the bank troubled him not one whit. Before his wife came and while he was living in a tent, he was principal baby sitter when a dance or party was going on. He was one of the outstanding personalities of early days. His power for getting amusement out of life was prodigious.
At a political meeting when a Premier came in to influence our vote in the course of his speech he said: “You have a wonderful country, great potential wealth, etc, etc. All you need is more settlers and plenty of good water.” “And that’s all Hell needs,” said a voice at the back of the hall.
Once Victoria was not well acquainted with its possessions east of the Rockies. A telegram arrived for the Government Agent from the then Minister of Lands. “Where is Pouce Coupe and how do I get there?”
In 1938 Pouce Coupe took over the musical festival which was growing by leaps and bounds. Learning by the trial and error method rules were changed each year and improvements made. The performances of ‘39 and ‘40 were excellent. Adjudicators came in from Edmonton and contestants from all neighboring points as well as from the village itself. One year a group of 16 persons, children and adults, came from North Pine across the Peace. They camped in the Legion clubroom for the three days of the festival. They were successful in taking home some medals, a reward for their fine singing. War interfered with this fine cultural effort which afterwards moved to Dawson Creek, by then the largest centre.
The following epic tale shows what emergency we might at any moment be called on to deal with — often in our own original way. One morning at 6:30 in 1943 in early spring, soon after we had moved in from our homestead, my husband who always rose early sang out, “School ice house on fire. Get Tom Crack. I’ll call John Murrell.” Neighbors leaped out of bed into some clothes and I did as I was bid and we tackled the fire, the men with shovels. Joan Murrel and I each took out a washtub which we filled with all the water we had. At first it looked as tho’ our homes were in danger. The fire from the blazing icehouse (which was empty of ice) had spread to the long dry grass. This was successfully dealt with. The danger point then was a huge woodpile, stacked directly between the icehouse and the school. If that caught there was little hope of saving the building. So we kept throwing water on it while we scattered the wood. We didn’t feel very hopeful but it was all we could do. There doesn’t seem much in a cord of wood when paying for some, but with a fire at one’s heels there’s an awful lot. No one was about at that early hour but suddenly we heard galloping and a rattle of harness and down the hill came a team, the teamster astride one of the horses. We looked hopefully up as he drew level but to our astonishment he swept past. “Stinker,” said someone and we all threw him a sour look as he disappeared round the corner. By this time our water was exhausted and so were we. The heat from the glowing sawdust was intense and the pile itself was now alight. It looked like a loosing fight but we kept on throwing though the stack didn’t appear to be decreasing materially in size. In an incredibly short time the team reappeared still going all out, encouraged to greater effort by the yells and shouts of the driver now perched precariously aloft on the hotel swill tank. He swung in alongside the burning pile and turned on the hose. There was a shocking stench. The cheer died on our lips as we grabbed our noses and ran. The fire gave a loud despairing hiss and went out. The school was saved.
There has been a curling rink in the town for many years. The original rink was down beside Bizette Creek. For some years Pouce Coupe and Dawson Creek held a joint bonspiel, using both curling rinks. This was discontinued as the towns grew. Pouce Coupe has a new rink and building which is expected to be in operation by the winter of ‘54.
The village now numbers some 400 families and there are many attractive homes and gardens. Water and sewage mains were put in in 1950. This year  natural gas will be laid on and complete the trio of essential services. It is confidently expected that the village which is so ideally situated for a residential centre will rapidly increase its population. The climate is good. Summer time is extremely pleasant, though the days may at times be hot the air from the Rocky Mountains is refreshing and the nights are cool. The winters are apt to be a little long but are not too severe. During a cold spell and it can be cold and bitter, a curved band of dark grey cloud will oftimes slowly rise on the western horizon. “Chinook Arch” we gleefully exclaim, as we watch the thermometer rapidly rise, sometimes as much as 20 degrees in an hour. Soon the whip of the Chinook wind clears away the snow, never very deep.
Pouce Coupe, once so far removed from anywhere — so difficult of access that it could hardly be said to belong to the contemporary world at all — now resounds to the whine and noise of modern trucks, tractors and luxury trailers as they push on to Alaska and fortune. The immense peace that filled her skies has vanished. Giant airplanes streak noisily across the wide spaces, once the private flyways of migrating birds, ranging in size from geese, cranes and the majestic swan to the tiny wren.
One wonders what those hardy men and women who pushed on in, in spite of mudhole and muskeg, over “that woeful road” the Edson Trail or said goodbye to civilization at Athabasca Landing visualized for her. A salute to them. They heard and followed what Service calls “The lure of little voices, the Mandate of the wild,” and by pushing a spearhead into the north showed Canada what agricultural and mineral wealth it holds for her citizens.
I am indebted to Inspector G.J. Duncan, Mr. and Mrs. Lester Harper and Miss Ida Crook who supplied information, dates, and stories. EsmeTuck
Mrs. Hector Tremblay drove the “Golden Spike” when the railway came to the Peace River of B.C. Water for drinking or washing was taken round in a water tank and sold at first 25c then later at $1.00 a barrel. It was kept from freezing by a heater inside the tank and icicles hung from any place where they could get a toe hold. A water and drainage system was put in in 1950. An electric light plant belonging to Ted Searcy was put in operation in 1930. He later sold out to Northern Utilities.
Everyone grew a garden and much home preserving of vegetables and wild fruits, saskatoons, raspberries, wild strawberries was carried on.
Wood was the universal fuel till the use of coal oil was introduced. Although a certain amount of coal was brought in from Coal Creek and later Hudson’s Hope.
No one travelled without an axe and shovel and in early days, a blanket roll and grub box. It took all day in the early twenties to go from Pouce Coupe to Grande Prairie by car and sometimes one did not arrive that soon.
Pouce Coupe had the first Chamber of Commerce in the Peace River.
It took six weeks to come from Edmonton over the Edson Trail in 1911.
The Montreal Star or Family Herald and the Winnipeg Free Press were the most widely read newspapers in early days.
Teachers salaries were $150 per month, somewhat higher than outside. $30 a month was the usual sum for board. Mr. Gower, father of the owner of Gower Drug Store in Dawson Creek was the first visiting Inspector. W.R. McLeod the first resident one.
George Spangler who has been Public Works Foreman since 1922 travelled the Edson Trail to Pouce Coupe in 1914 and worked first on the telegraph lines, finished in the fall of ‘15. The telephone came a few years later. The school janitorial work before consolidation was done by one or more of the older pupils for $5.00 per month.
Money for School Christmas Trees, which always ended in a dance was raised by means of box socials mostly.
The Anglican Sunday School Van garage was first situated on Bizette Creek. When this stream inundated the adjoining fields, the garage, then awash was hastily moved into the settlement.
The Chivaree was common at first and there was rather rough play at times. When Esther Moe was married to Bun Doke she was wheeled round the village in a wheel barrow.
Hanna ran a flour mill on the river bank. Campbell had a dentist office and for many years was the only one in the district. A creamery was at one time in operation on the flat where the Bizette flows into the Pouce Coupe. The venture was a failure.
J.D. McEachern ran a taxi to and from Grande Prairie in the early 20’s.
Until the arrival of the railway the Governor General and his wife on their tour stayed in Pouce Coupe. The roads he was to travel got an extra dose of “maintenance.” We polished up our cars and met him and his party at the B.C.-Alberta border, and all trailed back behind him. The dust was fearful in dry weather.
An interesting personality was R. Geake, an ex-Royal Navy officer who had bought Mears Rigden’s homestead 7 miles east. His dogs and himself created great interest. He never wore a hat even in the coldest weather. Shorts, short sleeved vest and a black bandage round his forehead was his accustomed dress in the depths of winter. The bandage was to keep the perspiration out of his eyes when running. He spent the coldest winter night without a window in his bedroom — a piece of mosquito wire filled the aperture. It was always thought that he was in the Service of British Secret Service. He was killed by bandits in Chile while ostensibly searching for a golden madonna said to be hidden in the mountains.
Haskins log store in use for many years was burnt along with the newer building in 1949. It was then owned by E. Hunter.
A fine new bridge has been thrown across the Pouce Coupe river in 1954, under the direction of O.W.H. Robers, Divisonal Engineer.
T.S. Crack who was District Agriculturist for nearly twenty years lived in Pouce Coupe.
The Ford Agency was in early 30’s held in Pouce Coupe by Muggins Johnson. When he died it passed into the hands of K.O. Aspol at that time operating a blacksmith shop, who soon after moved to Dawson Creek. There is a very fine garage and business known as Capital Motors which has the agency for Mercury and Lincoln cars and farm machinery, it was built by Alf Aspol. He later sold to J. Keen and Allan Clarke. J. Keen has recently withdrawn from the partnership. There are two other garages the proprietors being L. Hicks and Pratt.
The Bi-Rite, a self service store, the first of its kind in the village is owned by Mrs. S. Welch. S. Welch was for many years manager of the Frontier Lumber Company Store. His family were among the first settlers in Spirit River.
Since very early times there has been and still is a restaurant run by Wing, of Chinese nationality. Scotty, from the same country had and still has the first dry cleaning business in the Peace River Block. Mrs. Gertie Brown who has many years residence here has opened a tea shop.
The latest business enterprise of the J. Beaulne family, who also own and operate the Pouce Coupe Agency, a bottling outfit, and a large apartment house is a very fine up to date and well appointed Motel, called Hill Crest. These cabins built with fine large picture windows, are a credit to the town.
A service has been conducted by the Pouce Coupe Branch of the Legion every Armistice Day since 1919. Beside the flag outside their clubhouse, open house is held for all members and their families after the Last Post has been sounded. Andy Chalmers was for many years the bugler. After the 1939-45 war a Woman’s branch was formed and is very active.
An excellent Meat Market serves the village as well. It is owned and operated by Roy St. Denis who is also the present representative on the School Board.
Music for dances in the early days was supplied by Mr. and Mrs. Lester Harper and Miss Crook.
Bert Newcombe who first settled in Rolla has for many years done good work with his brush and paint pot around the village.
Joe deWetter who came over the Edson Trail with his two sisters still lives with his family on his original homestead on the banks of the Pouce Coupe River.
LATE NOTE On the eve of November 11, 1954 Pouce Coupe became the third village in British Columbia to add natural gas to its other utilities. After a fine well attended banquet in the School Recreation Room sponsored by the Hospital W.A. and to whom the Northern Utilities Company gave a generous donation, Mr. T. Jamieson turned on the tap and Mr. Parker, M.L.A. for the riding lit the flare.
And so good bye and thank you to the cheery crackle and sweet scent of poplar and spruce which warmed our chilled limbs and cheered our spirits through many a cold long winter.