The District of Bessborough is situated approximately fourteen miles north and west of Dawson Creek. It is bounded on the north by Sunrise Valley, on the south by Devereaux and on the west by the Kiskatinaw River. The original name of our district was Willowbrook.
The first settler in the district was Joe Frederickson, who took up a homestead in 1928. About the same time John Napoleon moved in and in 1929 Mr. and Mrs. Jim Robertson and family, Carl Lindgren, Archie Dunsmore and George Dixon all arrived. These were soon followed by a great number of others. Of those who took up land about the same time and still remain in Bessborough are the Verdzaks, Fibichs, Weselaks, Frasers, Simliks, Swedjas, Haights, Holloways, Vopickas, Bill and Pete Walker and Mr. Bizek. Mr. and Mrs. Sutherland, who still own land here, came in 1930. Also from England came Mr. and Mrs. Mellor and family, and Stan Carnell. Many more families and bachelors came into the district about that time or later, but of these only a few still remain in Bessborough. The Lazinchuks came in to take over the store when Frank Raha and family left. Jim miler and John Payne, Ted Paulsen and family and Mr. Hamilton are still here. In 1956 Mr. and Mrs. Hamman and Curt Pop arrived from Germany to take up land.
Numerous others came and took up land here, but later passed on or moved away. Among these were Pete Daly, Mile Mallory, Earl Jackson, Pat Ward, Bayleau, De La Ronde, Walter Houle, Orford, Park, McLeod, Alphonse Pelletier, Johnnie Lechow, Kyasko, Miller, McCauley, Raha, Tichy, MacIntyre, Hodak, Miss Green, Tenborg, John Johnsrud, Fred Lucyk, Rand, Ralph, Allan, Van Wyk, Greene, V. Jensen, Harry Horton, Napoleon, Brown’s, Oscar, Ted and Bud Frederickson, Jake Rody, Frank McAleer, Calahason, Matt Graham, Stewy Anderson, Fred Thompson, Herman Miller, Steve Molosky and Gillard.
Conditions were hard for all the early families. The depression was on, and money in many cases, practically nonexistent. Most settlers lived more or less off the land, with the little money that could be had going for absolute necessities. In spite of this everyone managed to have fun in community affairs. Around 1930, when the majority of settlers moved in, there was always a new house to warm up. Even after they had all been warmed up there was scarcely a Saturday night that the community didn’t gather at one home or another to dance or play cards. Music for these events was supplied by Oscar Frederickson, Roy and Don Haight, and Mr. Fibich. To add to the entertainment Mr. Fibich would show his skill as a magician by pulling a rabbit out of a hat. He says the same trick would be difficult today, owing to the scarcity of rabbits.
Everyone was an ardent softball or basketball fan. On summer Sundays the community would gather at Oscar Frederickson’s ball diamond, located on his farm. Grown-ups and children alike joined in the fun. They formed a team and were part of tournaments with neighbouring communities. The players rode horseback to Sunrise Valley, Kilkerran and Sunset Prairie.
LOCAL BOYS IN ARMED FORCES DURING WORLD WAR II
Eleven men went from the district to join the armed forces between 1941 and 1946. These were:
Archie Dunsmore Charlie De La Ronde Clayton Fraser
Ralph Sutherland Bud Frederickson Frank Vopicka
Gilbert Mellor Jack Watson Alan McLeod
Jerry Weselak Alex Robertson
Of these all returned safely except Jack Watson, who was killed in action in Italy in 1944. Only Alex Robertson, Charlie De La Ronde and Frank Vopicka are still residents of Bessborough. However, Joe Lazinchuk, Ted Paulsen and John Payne — all war veterans — have come in since and farm here.
The first Post Office was located in Sutherland’s old house in 1925. The mail was hauled by team and wagon or sleigh from Arras every Saturday. The first mail carrier was Mr. Sutherland. He was succeeded by Fred Lucyk, Roy Haight and Mrs. Walter Houle.
When the Lazinchuks took over the Post Office in 1953, the mail contract was changed, so it could be brought out from Dawson Creek every Friday by Lazinchuk’s themselves.
The first school was held in Mr. Sutherland’s log house in 1930, for a few months, with Mr. Sutherland as teacher. The children who attended were Jerry Weselak, six Robertson children and Jean Sutherland.
A log school was built by the community during the mild winter of 1930-31. The teacher and pupils moved into this in the spring of 1931. A new school was built in a different location in 1937. The old log school was given to the farmer’s institute in exchange for building a barn and icehouse at the new site. In 1955 the school was moved to its present location.
The school was named Willowbrook about 1931 by a group who gathered for the purpose of selecting a name. It was descriptive of the willows and the brook near the school. The district got its original name from the school, but when the post office was opened it was found there was another Willowbrook in Saskatchewan. So to avoid confusion, the name was changed to Bessborough, after the governor-general of that time. The school’s name remains – Willowbrook.
SCHOOL TEACHERS 1930-1958
|Mrs. Alice Tenborg||Sept.||1942|
|Mrs. Dorothy Clarke||Nov.||1942|
|Mrs. Leona Chapman||Nov.||1951|
I. GREAT CAESAR (The Gang in Action)
Harry (Antony) Frank Vopicka
George (Caesar) Alex Robertson
Jane (Calpurnia) Julia Robertson
Lucille (Portia) Mary Raha
Members of Audience (The Mob) Frankie Ward, Patsy Ward,
Emil Weselak, Joe Vopicka
II. “GRIN” By Robert Service Johnny Verdzak
III. The Spirit of Christmas (A winter reverie)
Introduction The Quarrel
Scene I A delightful trick
Scene II Hunting for happiness
Scene III The A.B.C.’s of Christmas
Conclusion The Awakening
Ronald Emil Weselak
Marian Jean Sutherland
Tommy (Teddy) Frankie Ward
Lucy (Dolly) Patsy Ward
Florence Mary Raha
Beth (Spirit of Christmas) Julia Robertson
Sam Frank Vopicka
Eddie Ralph Sutherland
Peter Joe Vopicka
IV. “The Cremation of Sam Magee” by Robert Service
Women’s Institute: The present W.I. was formed in 1957 with 13 members.
Previously this organization was known as “The Bessborough Ladies Club”.
Under this name the ladies carried out many community activities. In the 1930’s the
main activity was the “Christmas Tree”. Charter members of the present W.I. are:
Anita Haight, Dorothy Haight, Anne Holloway, Chris Lazinchuk, Mabel Lindgren, Etela
Magusin, Phoebe Paulsen, Babs Robertson, Charlotte Robertson, Agnes Simlik, Alice
Walker, Isabelle Weselak, Vlasta Verdzak.
Farmers Institute: The farmer’s Institute was first organized in 1932 with Steve Miller as
President, and Don Haight as secretary. During the first years the membership was quite
large and through it, the local farmers were able to get things that they might not have had
on their own, such as a fanning mill, ice saw, tongs and disc sharpener. Stumping
Powder was procured at reduced rates.
Minutes of the first meeting have been lost, but the membership for the years 1938-40 is given below:
Joe Watson George Kyashko
Don Haight Dunc Robertson
Martin Weselak Fred Lucyk
Joe Verdzak George Dixon
Frank Raha Tomas Swedja
Archie MacIntyre Ed Fibich
John Johnsrud Frank Lainchbury
Jim Mcleer Roy Haight
Hugh Robertson Albert Hodak
Jim Robertson Pete Walker
George Rand Bert Frederickson
Bill Holloway Wes Fraser
Wesley Sutherland Joe Vopicka
Walter Patterson had a store in his house in 1932 which served the needs of the east and north end of the district. Those in the south went to Arras for supplies.
In 1934 Frank Raha opened a store at the present location, which served the whole district. When he moved to the coast in 1946, Lazinchuks became the owners.
Bessborough Memorial Hall was built in 1945 by the people of the community in commemoration of the boys of the district who served in the Armed Forces.
The phone line came through from Arras to the district in 1938. At present phones are located at Holloways and the store.
DO YOU REMEMBER?
Johnny Napoleon brought the first car into the south end of the district. Sutherlands had the first car in the north end of the district. Ted Frederickson also had a Model T which he brought in but soon took it out again because he couldn’t drive it anywhere in here.
Ed Fibich had the first threshing machine.
The first sawmill was owned by and located on George Rand’s homestead. It was a steam outfit and cut many thousand feet of lumber from timber standing where Ted Paulsen’s grain fields are now.
The first baby born in the district was Maurice Tenborg.
Vera Raha and Dunc Robertson were the first couple of the district to get married.
Mr. Frederickson was the first settler in the district. It wasn’t long before he became well known for his waffles and sourdoughs and barrel of molasses. He was a very early riser, and if any of the settlers were around that early in the morning they would find him eating sourdoughs and molasses, and reading the Saturday Evening Post.
His son Smith used to come through the district to hunt moose, and if one were shot close to the homestead, it would be strung up and butchered like a beef. There was no butchering on the ground for Mr. Frederickson. He put a huge moose head, which seemed to reach nearly half way across the room.
After several years he returned to the coast where he later passed on.
The Robertsons – contributed by A. Robertson
In the spring of 1930, we Robertsons moved from the farm we had rented from the Harpers at Kilkerran to the homestead. It was a great day for us, moving to our permanent home in the Peace River Country. We had a couple of miles to go before we came to where the Kilkerran Hall now stands. The Joe Watson family lived across the road from there then, and were all out to wave us on our way. We had a few more miles or fair road, and then we had mud holes, one after another to contend with. Sitting in loaded wagon boxes we all got very cramped and we children very restless. The trail came through north of Blackstock’s homestead and came out about the middle of what is now the Lindgren farm. Then we came to Joe Frederickson’s. He was the first and only resident in the area at that time. He was out to meet us with a big smile. He was an old man at that time, but always happy and talkative. Dad and Joe talked for awhile and told us we had less than two miles to go, which cheered us all up some especially mother. She had more than had a day of it attending to dinner, and a wagon always did tire her, let alone riding in cramped quarters. We arrived at the homestead about dusk and all of us, I am sure, were glad our “Edson Trail” was only ten miles long.
Dad had not finished the house as yet, but it had a good roof which was the main thing. The cellar had been dug with a “slip” and horses before the house was built, and was now full of water. It ran the full length of the house. This was a great sport for us young ones, sailing miniature boats on the water when there was a small breeze. We children all seemed to thrive in those days and lucky enough not to have any major illness.
We were playing outside one day when we heard a terrible roaring down in the timber to the north. We, of course, ran for dad who was fixing in the house. When he came out and listen, he said, “Oh! That sounds like a man to me, perhaps he is lost”. So he commenced to whistle and yell. After about fifteen minutes a large man about 30 years old came out of the bush. He was carrying a small axe with a bright red handle.
A preacher came and stayed for a day or two. He had a team of horses hooked to a caboose. What he was doing back in here, I still don’t know. Three men came one day, two could not talk English, and one was an interpreter. Their names were Hodak, Tichy, and Fibich. They later settled in the district.
One night father and I were making a smoke smudge for the horses, near the house, and two men came walking along. They had camped half a mile south for the night and were scouting to make a trail to their homestead which was two miles north. The older man was Ernie Fraser. The other fellow was possibly Joe Ralph, I’m not certain of that now.
Ted Frederickson had a homestead north of his dad and we saw a lot of him in those days. He lived with his dad. He had a fine saddle horse and we always looked to him to bring news from outside. He was also very interested in helping anyone get started in the area. He did a lot of hunting and riding and quite a few times brought mother some wild meat. Father was interested in getting a school for us. He got a lot of cooperation from Mr. Sutherland, who had land a mile south of us. Ted Frederickson was also quite active in this matter. School opened first in Mr. Sutherland’s house. Mr. Sutherland was the teacher. The children were Sutherlands, Robertsons, and Weselaks.
One morning when father had gone to work and just before all us six children were going to leave for school, we had a strange visitor. Poor clothes were common in those days, but this man’s clothes hung on him in shreds and he had no shoes. Mother asked him his name and he said “Pete”. Then we knew him as we had heard of him before. He was hungry and mother gave him some food. He was very religious man, but he did not talk very much. He was better known to everyone as “Crazy Pete”. Many a homesteader “got up on his ear” when he saw Pete’s track, as he thought a large bear had passed. I never did hear his correct name.
When the Joe Watson family moved in we had a close neighbour and we children had someone to play with and visit. Joe was very enthusiastic about sports. He did a great deal for the young people in organizing in that line. I believe he deserves a great deal of credit for the success of the girl’s basketball team in later years.
One of the great entertainment of the day used to be the “House Warming”. Every settler with a shack or house got one. Oscar Frederickson was tireless with the fiddle and often played until sunrise. I don’t remember him wanting to quit. If there was anyone to dance, he would play. There was often a shortage of women, so me being about ten years old, and fairly big, I was sometimes taken on the floor to do the woman’s part when they had square dances. I used to get so dizzy, I would just about get sick. Ever since, when there is enough women, I stay clear of those square dances.
We finally got some new schoolteachers. First Bauchman, and then Mercer. I passed to high school with Mercer teaching.
A few more years and the war offered something different. It did not bother some people much. The sad effect of the war in this district was that Jack Watson was killed in it. No doubt his death dealt Joe a severe blow which eventually put him from this world.
I bought the old homestead, where I grew up, from father in 1948. Dad and mother then moved to New Westminster, B.C.
I am now married and have three children.
The Lindgren Family
Carl Lindgren arrived from Norway, in the spring of 1927. He worked on the prairies all summer. He came on up to the Peace River Country in the fall of that year. He worked around the Kilkerran district.
In 1929 when Carl was travelling into the district he soon got stuck in the sea of Peace River gumbo. However, with the help of Mr. Frederickson, he finally managed to get out. He stayed with Mr. Frederickson until he had his own shack built. About all he owned was a team of horses, a plow, and old disk, a pancake saddle, and the bush homestead he had just filed on. He then went about getting logs for a shack and a barn and building them. As years rolled by he managed to clear more land, with the good old axe, and a faithful team of horses to pull the stumps and break the land.
Later, Carl would saddle up old Babe and ride to Kilkerran to court Mabel Murray. His perseverance paid off when she later became his wife in 1934.
By this time the district was well settled. They now had a good log school, and would soon have a graded road to town.
They have three children, Marie, the oldest, finished grade eight here in the district. She then went to high school in Dawson Creek. She is now married and living in Dawson Creek. She is now married and living in Dawson Creek. Charlie finished grade eight here and now attends high school in Dawson Creek, and helps with farming at home. The youngest, will start school here this fall.
They are still living on the homestead. A larger barn was built in about 1936 to accommodate more horses and cows. It has now been turned into a pig barn, since tractors took the place of horses.
Contributed by E. and W. Fraser
In the spring of 1930 Ernie Fraser journeyed to the Willowbrook district. He was accompanied by his son Wes, Joe Ralph and two old timers by the names of Big Jake and Little Jake, also in search of homesteads. They traveled by horses pulling loaded wagons from Hythe, which was at that time the end of steel. They met with many inconveniences, as there were no roads into this area at that time. It was just a matter of going through the bush and picking their way around dead fall or man handling it out of the way.
The weather wasn’t very cooperative, raining continually for the month of June. Coming from the prairie region, it was a great change for the new settlers. Living in a tent during all the wet weather was not very pleasant either. The water spaniel that came with them didn’t like all the wet weather and kept sneaking into the tent which was over crowded without there being a wet dog underfoot.
A lot of grief was caused over lost horses in the bush. No one thought of throwing a cowbell in the wagon. So much time was spent in hunting horses. This wasn’t too bad in dry weather but proved otherwise during the month of June.
Having a family of eleven children, the arrival of the Fraser family added greatly to the population at that time.
Contributed by C. Robertson
We came to Devereaux from Gordondale, Alberta, in 1930, where dad was running a stopping place. Since there was no school in Gordondale then, my brother Henry and I were sent to my half sister, Mrs. Joseph Houle at Devereaux to go to school.
In 1937 dad and mother came up and got a homestead.
Contributed by L. Weselak
Don Haight farmed ten miles north of Drumheller. In the fall of 1930 the Peace River bug finally caught up with him and he decided to look the country over.
Don and his brother Roy, travelling in an old Model T Ford, left for Dawson Creek. This point was decided upon as former friends from Drumheller, namely, the Elmo Tuttle family and Joe Ralph were already settled in this area. After many hardships including pneumonia, car trouble and bad roads and show [sic] they finally filed on land in the Willowbrook district and returned home to Drumheller. In March, 1931, all our possessions were loaded in box car and Don and Roy left for Willowbrook, built a log home and in April their mother Margaret Haight, Don’s wife and two children, Doreen and Jack, a baby of three months, came to join them.
However, it was not long before we considered Willowbrook home. Our gardens flourished and there was always plenty of wild berries and moose and deer meat. Although money was non-existent, trading was brisk so one seldom lacked necessities.
There were house parties practically every Saturday night, ball games on Sundays and everyone was very gay and happy.
The years passed quickly. Farms were established and life began in earnest.
Don Haight died of a stroke n February, 1952. His family, including four grand children, is still living in the same area. Margaret Haight also passed away in July, 1953.
Contributed by P. Walker
I came to the Willowbrook district in 1934 from Vancouver. It was impossible to get work. So, having read about the wonderful Peace River Country, where crop failures were unknown, I decided to homestead and grow some potatoes and garden to eat. Luckily there was a plague of rabbits at that time. So spuds and rabbits it was. It was rather hard to catch them without a gun, but snares and a barrel worked. I put a bit of oat bundle inside the barrel and leaned a board against the outside so that the rabbits could walk up and hop down inside the barrel. It was an easy matter to kill them with a stick.
Every year seemed to be a little better than the last, but progress was slow. It took money to build a farm out of a homestead even in those days. If it hadn’t been for stooking and threshing around Dawson Creek, I have no doubt that we would have died of starvation. A cow was the first livestock I had and her milk helped the food situation. Finally I acquired some old horses and machinery, etc. and homesteading started in earnest.
In 1942 I married and we have three children. We’ve had several accidents in the family. At the age of four, the eldest had his finger cut off on a new drill and it was necessary to see the doctor and have it stitched. Then nine months later he had a fork stuck in his eye, which meant another trip to the doctor and a stay in the hospital.
Oh, homesteading has had its bright spots as well as its dull, and I suppose with the help of the family the homestead will become a farm sometime in the future.
Contributed by C. Lazinchuk
Hailed into the Peace River Country in the summer of 1950 from a little village of Myrnam – 100 miles east of Edmonton.
Bessborough district isn’t any too different from what it was like around home so it didn’t take very long to like it around here. The scenery was pretty around here, especially the spruce and pines, something we had to travel for miles to see back in Alberta. I also missed the prairie gophers when I first came out, but the squirrels soon took over, as I hadn’t seen one till I came to Bessborough. I also was badly fooled by the alders here. When I first saw them they sure resembled the hazelnut trees that grow wild around home. I ran to them to pick nuts only to find they weren’t nuts.
Exactly one month after I arrived at Bessborough it was the morning of August 15, when we got up to 15 inches of snow, which was very unusual for me to see, but now I’m used to seeing snow at almost anytime of the year.
Lazinchuks came into the Bessborough district in the spring of 1948. They bought out Raha’s place, also the little general store which he operated. The reason for selling out in Alberta and moving into the Peace River district were no more land available around Musedora and with boys in the family, there was no chances of expanding into farming, whereas around here there was all kinds of land to be taken up yet and chances were good to go into cattle raising.
Contributed by R. Haight
Don and I came up on the N.A.R. in a freight car with our effects in March 1931, to build a house on the land we had homesteaded the year before. We had to get it done so that our mother and Don’s wife and children would have a home when they got here.
Most of the trip from Drumheller to Dawson, I spent looking after the horses, and hiding from the trainmen. Don was allowed on – one man per car, but I was surplus. However, Don heard from the others where the closest checks were made, and at these points I’d retire behind the animals and furniture, under the straw and other stuff, until the train had passed through the station.
When we got to Dawson Creek we found the town had been moved from where it had been when we were up the fall before. We left practically all our stuff piled on the siding there, and came on with the team and sleigh, with the cows tied on behind, out to the site of our homesteads. We had to come in by way of Murphy’s corner, which was the only trail into our part of the district. When we got to about a mile from our land, we found handsome Harry Horton had put up a small shack on his land. He invited us to stay there with him while we were building. Several other men were staying there, too. George Kyako was one of them. He had built a hen house and told us to put our cows and horses in there. So back to George’s place we went, and then came back to Harry’s where Jake Rody had cooked a good supper.
Another frequent visitor at the shack was Pete Valdimer Jensen. He was very religious in a peculiar way. He had so many funny ideas and habits that everyone called him “Crazy Pete”. Later on he often threw a scare into the women folk around, but actually he was harmless. Anyway, Pete had built himself a shack down close to the river. He believed the Lord was caring for him, so as he had no grub of his own, he would come up to Harry’s shack nearly every day to see what the Lord had provided in the way of leftovers. Jake made pancakes for breakfast, and it infuriated him to have Pete come in and make off with any that were left. He would start swearing at Pete, and Pete would start praying for Jake’s soul, and when the cussing got really bad, Crazy Pete would get down on his knees and pray all the louder. This made Jake so mad one day that he took after Pete, swearing that he was going to kill him. Crazy Pete rushed off down the trail with his hands held before him in prayer.
Later on when we had a house up, we took Jake Rody home to his homestead, as he had no horses. On the way, a stick came up through the bottom of the rack and pierced his beanbag, leaving a trail of beans behind. When Jake discovered this, he thought that fate was really against him, and his swearing could have been heard for miles. Later on the beans sprouted all along the trail. I remember the frost got them pretty early.
Before the Rahas opened the store on the correction line, the district was really divided into two parts. Those who lived on the south end did their trading at the store and P.O. at Arras. Several people homesteaded on this end, and were scarcely known by those on the north and east of Willowbrook. One of these was Harry Williams, a young adventurous man from New Zealand. He would try anything and usually did. He had some of the narrowest escapes I ever saw. One day I was outside and heard a most peculiar sound. I thought at first it was a coyote, but it didn’t sound right, so I got on Ruby and rode down to the river to see. When I got there, there was Harry holding up his horse which had one foot through a crack in the ice. His axe was on the bank only a few feet away, but he didn’t dare move from his horse, or it would fall over and break its leg. So he stayed there and called the Australian bush call, hoping someone would hear him. I got the axe and soon chopped out the horse.
Alex Murdock and Jim Darby came in one fall with a little bit of grub and built themselves a tiny shack close to the river. In the spring they built a boat and took off down the cutbank, but before they reached the Peace River their boat was wrecked on the rocks, and they lost some of the few possessions they did have.
Mr. Mellor, who lived on the riverbank had lots of interesting experiences. He would ferry people across on the raft. Anyone interested in hearing incidents on early days should talk to him.
Later Orfords became our neighbours on the south, taking up the quarter left by Miss Green. They had homesteaded at Lone Prairie, but because of poor roads and the absence of a school, the government had offered to trade their land there, for some closer in.
Johnny Napoleon was another neighbour. Johnny was a big game guide and after each hunt in the fall would call around to regale us with stories about the “dudes”.
Contributed by E. Magusin
I became a resident of Bessborough in September 1956. My duties were as teacher in the local school. Here I had the pleasure of teaching 21 Bessborough children. I lived at the teacherage with my sister Annie.
The favorite sport of Willowbrook class is softball. We were, however, badly defeated in the game against Sunrise Valley in June 1957.
The class cooperated in presenting 2 Christmas concerts. Both evenings closed with Santa Claus giving gifts to all children.
My first impressions of the class were overwhelming, and I felt I could not face them for a year. These changed and I spent two years teaching years. The pleasant, helpful attitude of the children made teaching enjoyable. The cooperation of the parents helped make teaching a success. The neighbours made social life pleasant.
Contributed by A. Walker
The Watson family came to the Peace River country in the fall of 1929, and stopped at Kilkerran where dad worked for a farmer. A couple of years later, I think in the spring of ‘32, dad built a shack and moved out to the homestead.
Times were hard as they were with everyone. We had a cow and an old Pinto horse at first. I believe we had some hens too. Spuds, onions and eggs seemed to be the diet. I guess we had the odd bit of moose and deer as well, supplied by the neighbours. Dad was no hunter. I can remember a neighbour bringing me some bear meat but I wouldn’t cook it. Dad trapped rabbits and helped skin them. After the skins were dried and cut into strips he wove them into a rabbit blanket. Sure was a heavy thing but very warm.
Clearing land with an axe seemed to be a way of making a few dollars and getting some land cleared and broke for oneself. Certainly different from today’s method.
We girls left home to work and marry.
Jack joined the army in 1942 and was sent to Italy where he was killed in action in 1944. Dad had a heart attack and died in 1948. After awhile mother moved to Dawson Creek, where she still resides.
The Sutherland Family
Several “first” things started with the Sutherlands. Mr. Sutherland was the first teacher, and they kept the first Post Office in their house. They also boarded the first school teacher after Mr. Sutherland. Mrs. Sutherland recalls that one boarding teacher they had was amazed to see Mr. Sutherland cutting ice on the dam one day, and wanted to know, “Who is on the other end of the saw?’
Jean Sutherland, who was a pupil in the first school, now lives in Nelson, B.C. Harry lives in Dawson Creek, and Ralph became a doctor and practices in Saskatchewan.
Contributed by D. Haight
I came to teach at Willowbrook school in September 1939, at a salary of $83.00 a month. After I had heard from the inspector where I was to teach, I phoned a girl I knew who was teaching at North Dawson and asked her what she could tell me of Willowbrook or Bessborough. She said, that although she had heard of the place, she didn’t know where it was. I found out later that although Bessborough was the next district to hers, neither she nor the people where she stayed had ever been west of their own district. With horses the only means of transportation not many went riding just to see the country.
I came up on the train with a lot of other Peace River teachers. War had just been declared by Britain and all the talk was about how soon Canada would be in it, and so on.
Isabelle and Don, in whose home I was to board, met me in Dawson Creek, and brought me out by car. The car belonged to a friend who was visiting from outside. Practically no one on the district had a car, and that was to be my last ride in a car until I went back to Vancouver in June. However, I did have one truck ride, with other members of the community, to the Legion sports day the following June.
Because no one close had a truck one was hired to come out from Dawson and pick up the school children and any adults who wanted to go to these sports. It was a lovely day, and a large crowd went. The truck had a tarp over the top in case of rain, so it was very hot.
Everyone took a picnic lunch which was eaten on the sports grounds. Stan Carnell had promised some “special” sandwiches, and after they had been eaten, he informed us they were made of ground hog. Several ladies turned pale at this, but Mrs. Robertson, who was a real pioneer, said “By gee whiz, they were just as good as any beef” she’s ever eaten. They felt better after that.
A wonderful time was had by all, especially the children, who took part in the races and in between ate ice cream and candy, with nickels, which they had been saving up for some time. When it came time to go home, there was a great round up of kids, but we finally got them all on board, after one mother had been asked off to explain why her son had thrown a stone through a car window. Everyone was fixed up and we took off. Coming home it got very sultry, and the combination of heat and excitement was too much for some of the ladies, who had to rush to the back, where they were sick.
After we left McLeods corner, it started to rain in torrents. The road was soon a sea of mud. When the Haights and I got off the truck, Isabelle dropped her hat, which she had been protecting from the weather into the mud, and Don put his foot on it. The hat was never the same again but we all had a quick recovery, after sliding home down the hill.
The next fall the brush close to the school caught fire from some brush piles which were being burnt. Mrs. McLeod, who had had the phone, called the district forester, who came out and organized a group of men to fight the fire. In spite of the fact that all the children hoped it would burn down, the school was saved.
I married Roy Haight in Dec. 1940, and went to live on his homestead. To say I was starting a new life was putting it mildly. I had to start from scratch and learn everything. The first bread I baked was so hard it could have been used as a foundation for the new hen house we were building. As Roy’s mother had made cheese, I was determined I was going to do the same. After I had made several cheeses, I put them down in the cellar to ripen. One day to my horror, I discovered they were full of maggots, so the whole batch went down the creek. Later, I did overcome the fly problem. Extra cheese was sold at Raha’s store.
Roy made a cellar under our hen house. One day I went out, and found one of our mares had got in and fallen through the floor. All that was sticking out of the hole was the top of her ears, and Roy had a sweet time getting her out. She was none the worse for her experience, but we abandoned the cellar.
When Mr. Fibich was first seen by Carl Lindgren, he was up in a spruce tree. Seeing no bear around, Carl decided he was looking over his homestead. Mr. Fibich tells us he and Mr. Tichy and Mr. Hodak worked together building each other’s homes. Mr. Hodak and Mr. Tichy travelled four miles on foot each morning and night to the site where Mr. Tichy’s cabin was being built. Mr. Fibich camped under a spruce tree. When the house was finished, the furniture had to be brought the four miles by hand. Mr. Tichy strapped the main body of the stove to his back and proceeded to the new homesite, climbing over logs and boulders. When Mr. Hodak and Mr. Fibich arrived at the house with their parts of the stove, Mr. Tichy had not yet arrived. They spent an anxious night wondering what had happened to him, with Mrs. Tichy exclaiming “The bears have got him. There’ll be nothing left but his rubbers”. In the morning Mr. Tichy staggered in. He had been lost and had walked nearly to Sweetwater. He said he left the stove and marked the spruce tree. They searched for several days and then gave up. Finally, years later, Weselaks, who were at the time skidding logs out, found it.
Contributed by A. and G. Mellor
Allan McLeod and his wife homesteaded in March 1930 and Gilbert H. Mellor, Winnifred and Jean joined Mr. Mellor in July, travelling from England as far as Hythe. Then, to Arras, finally arrived at McLeod’s, where they stayed until Mr. Mellor, assisted by Alphonse Pelletier, built a log cabin on his homestead. Stan spent several winters on a trapline on the hills to the west, a carefree bachelor in those days.
Also in the district were Fred Lucyk, Johnny Lechow, George Kyashk, his wife and children.
Steve Miller and his wife moved in with Steve’s dad, who later died, as also did Steve. Mrs. Miller later married Joe Ralph and they took over the Arras Post Office.
The McLeods moved out to Victoria where they still live. McAuleys were west of McLeod’s place and Alphonse Pelletier north of McCauley’s.
A fire swept through Mellor’s and Pelletier’s homesteads in 1931 and killed the timber on Pelletier’s place. He had to have a mill in to salvage what he could in lumber from his trees.
Winnifred Mellor married Walter Houle and lived on Walter’s homestead south of Sutherland’s.
George Dixon, now living in Dawson Creek, homesteaded north of Jockey De La Ronde, who was west of the school.
Contributed by A. Haight
When I came out of normal school, I flipped a coin — would it be the Peace River or the Okanagan? Tails — it was the Peace River! And what a lucky flip it was — for here I found such wonderful children to teach, as well as my future home.
Arriving in Bessborough in 1950 I could hardly be called a pioneer – but I certainly felt like one. I had never seen a cow, except in pictures; I couldn’t tell wheat from oats – and what exactly — was a “quarter” of land? I certainly had a lot to learn. In 1953 I finally hooked my farmer and have settled down to a post-graduate course in farming, which I hope will last all my life.
Contributed by I. Weselak
Mrs. Martin Weselak and family farmed at Gerald, Sask. In the fall of 1929, Mr. Weselak and his brother-in-law decided to look over the Peace River Country. He was not too impressed while here, but upon returning to Saskatchewan decided that he much preferred the Peace River Country.
In the spring of 1930 Mr. Weselak, accompanied by his son Jack and a neighbour, Mr. Tom Swedja, returned by boxcar, with all their possessions, to Hythe — the end of steel. There they met Ed Fibich, who was also going north, so they travelled together. Mr. Weselak had his possessions trucked to Doe River, later moving to Willowbrook district, where they filed on land. Mr. Fibich and Mr. Swedja are still adjoining neighbours.
Mrs. Weselak, her daughter Margaret, and two sons, Jerry and Emil, followed later, living in a tent until their home was completed in July.
After many years of hard work they now have a well-established farm. Mrs. Weselak is noted for her beautiful flowers, shrubs and garden, winning many ribbons at the Local Fall Fair.
Mr. Weselak, now 70 years young, is still very active about his farm, and his sons Jack and Emil farm nearby. Margaret is living in Dawson Creek and Jerry is now married and resides in Edmonton.
This summer Mr. and Mrs. Weselak plan an extended trip into Saskatchewan, their old home, to visit their many friends and relations. It will be Mr. Weselak’s first trip out since he came in 1930. We wish Mr. and Mrs. Weselak a very pleasant trip.
Contributed by A. and D. Holloway
In May 1932 we moved from Sweetwater to Bessborough, but it was called Willowbrook then. As the roads were only trails we had to leave our car behind and travel with a team and wagon, with some of our furniture.
The first night a bush fire came so close to the house that we had to leave most of the household goods in the wagon, ready to leave if needed. Then we set up the bed out in the yard where the brush had been cleared. The mosquitoes were very bad in those days, as the bush was so thick we didn’t feel much wind.
There were very few neighbours and it was very lonely – also the depression was on so farming was really a hardship. As none of us had much machinery to work with.
The next winter our baby was born. He would have been the first baby to be born in the Dawson Creek Hospital but I didn’t know I could get in at that time, as it had not been officially opened. When we were coming home from the Pouce Coupe Hospital it was very cold and snowing. I was so afraid the baby would smother if I kept his face covered so I looked at his face from time-to-time. As we were on our way to Doe River to visit my mother-in-law we had to stop at Rolla to have dinner and feed the horses. When we got to the hotel, Mrs. Forbes who was running it then, told me the baby’s cheeks were freezing, so we had to stay overnight, and it took weeks before his cheeks were better.
The snow was very deep that winter and the horses would slip off the narrow trail. One day the sleigh turned over and the box came off, leaving us in the snow with a young baby.
We didn’t have radios then so we used to read a lot and the books travelled all around the neighbours. Later on we got a Post Office in the district. Then the name changed to Bessborough, after the Governor-General of Canada at that time. It was a great help when we got a telephone in 1937. As we are about eighteen miles from Dawson Creek and it was nice to have in case of sickness.
Our children had to travel seven miles a day to and from school. The roads were never snowplowed and the snow drifted so high sometimes that the only way they could get through was on skis.
Contributed by P. and T. Paulsen
The winter of 1948-49 we spent in the small Alberta town of Belloy. It was the first winter we had ever spent in the Peace River District. But, alas, not the last. It was here also that we met Ken Waters who owned a farm near Dawson Creed in the Bessborough district. Since there was to be a delay in the breaking of the land that we were to purchase near Belloy through the D.V.A., Mr. Waters soon interested us in his piece of property. After one quick weekend to look this property over, we purchased it from him.
In May 1949 we moved to our new home in Bessborough. This, however, was not without some misgiving on my part. Just as I was about ready to drop asleep, Ted informed me that we had, “Very quiet neighbours”. “What”, I asked, “Do you mean by that?” “Oh, just that graveyard is just across the road from us.” And so my peace of mind was shattered. Well, I’ve lived beside the graveyard for nine years now. It doesn’t bother me anymore, in fact my neighbours are quiet and cause me no trouble — and I have learned to think of our farm at Bessborough as home.
Mr. Verdzak lived in a trapper’s cabin while building his own house. He packed the logs on his back, proving the determination of our pioneers. While he was building his house the trapper’s cabin burned.