The eldest son and second child of Margaret Aiken Alexander and Henry Haddow, Walter was born in the Scottish mining town of Mid Calder on March 5, 1906. He says he was “not by any means an extra bright scholar,” so at sixteen, having completed what would here be Junior Secondary School, he got an exemption from further education and went to work in a blacksmith shop at a coal pit.
During World War I many of the Canadian Expeditionary force, returning to their homelands from Canada became unofficial immigration agents. Among them was Jim Alexander, Walter’s maternal uncle, his mother’s family having already emigrated to Canada and USA. The boy and his family caught Canada fever but it was 1926 before Walter, his Dad, and brother were able to go. Meanwhile, Walter had worked at several phases of coal mining until he had become ill from working on the coalface in a wet place.
Meantime, the lad had become a devout Christian from which he has never wavered, and which has been the basis for his reputation for unquestioned integrity.
At the end of October 1926 the young miner reached his uncle Jim Alexander’s at Waskatenau, Alberta. Naturally, he gravitated to the coal mines at Clover Bar near Edmonton, but the living accommodations did not appeal to him in the bunkhouses where he “became as lousy as a pet coon” — a condition that would not be tolerated today under union surveillance. The alternative then was an abandoned riverbank shack. While recovering from blood poisoning in his hand, he attended a Gospel Hall in Edmonton where he met the John Sutherlands, with whom he eventually travelled to the Peace River Country.
A change to promised “farm work” turned out to be backbreaking root-picking for $35 a month, $40 “if satisfactory”. An initiation into the dodges by which some sharp farmers evaded paying even such niggardly wages turned the young fellow to another field –the building of grain elevators — first at Calgary where his friend John Sutherland was foreman. The pay was 55 cents an hour for a ten-hour day — camp accommodations being a tent and a cookhouse. The railway was extending west from Edmonton with elevators being located every few miles. Walter left his hammer mark on those at Cherhill, Champion, Milo, Brant, Ensign, Haylakes, High River — all in mid-Alberta — then Huallen, Beaverlodge and Hythe in the Peace River country. Here the idea of helping to fill elevators, instead of building them, led Walter to Mr. Albright at the Experimental Farm. From him, and a Mr. Harcourt, he heard of the Soldier Settlement at Sunset Prairie, west of Dawson Creek. There was no Sunrise Valley district at that time.
When elevator construction shut down in late October 1928 one of the workmen who had an old Model-T Ford undertook to drive Walter, the two John Sutherlands, and a Manxman and a Swede to Sunset Prairie, where Wes Sutherland lived. The car had no top, and no side curtains — and no heating system of course. It was a bitterly cold trip, cold enough to induce the tee-totaller, Walter, to take “a wee drop” of a bottle the other men bought at Pouce Coupe!
The next day, Wes Sutherland picked up the newcomers at Reasbeck’s Hotel in the “Old Town” of Dawson Creek. At Archie Livingstone’s — now Progress — the young Scotsman got his first taste of the pioneer’s staple diet, moose meat. It was by no means the last! They pushed on to the well-known Cap Forrester’s. Wes Sutherland took them across the Kiskatinaw that same afternoon to look over what was available as homesteads. Several alternative numbers were noted down in case somebody else had filed on one’s first choice on the interval. Getting back to Cap Forrester’s in pitch blackness impressed the newcomer, but being relegated to an old, unheated 8’x 8’ chicken house to sleep in made another kind of impression. Too cold to sleep, Wes got up and rummaged about for some hay which he fired in an old pail. The combination of much smoke and no heat was survived until next morning when they moved on to Wes Sutherland’s, where he lived on the old Charlie Mixer place in North Dawson. Another trip to Wembly –the then end of steel — followed in a Model-T with side curtains. This time there was heat, but only in the engine which “steamed all the way to Wembley”. On December 4, Walter filed on his land.
On December 5, the old E.D. and B.C. Railroad must have made some kind of record, for it arrived in Edmonton–all the way from Wembley to terminal in one day!
That night he met Mary Miller. In summer, they set a wedding day for December 6, 1929. Meanwhile in early March, Walter, his father, mother and sister, Nettie and a young man named Ernie Dilworth came back to the homestead he had filed on. By now the end-of-steel was Hythe, and the road to Dawson Creek was better — but not much! The taxi driver, Bill Holloway, piloted the party to Pouce Coupe where Ernie Dilworth got some land plots from Tom Jamieson, who was then Government Agent at Pouce Coupe.
In Dawson Creek, Walter bought an old buckskin horse, a jumper-sleigh without any shafts, a few groceries and a tin cook stove. Having no shafts, the conveyance would travel as erratically as a log being “snaked” out of the bush. With no provisions for attaching a “britchin” on the horse’s harness, the vehicle would run down on his heels on every hill unless the young men grabbed hold of the back corners and held on and dragged their heels. Came Cap Forrester’s hill and Mrs. Henry Haddow got out, stoutly refusing to ride down when the boys unhitched the horse, took hold behind, and “let it go”.
The thirty-five miles took two full days, first to Livingstone’s, and then on to “Sunrise” to John Norgaard’s empty 12’ by 14’ cabin. Northern hospitality at the time was expressed by a note on the door, “Go in and make yourself at home till I get back.” Northern etiquette demanded only that the visitor leave some food if he could if he used any of his host’s. But more especially that he left the woodbox full, and some shavings cut and laid ready for a fire.
Five weary people were glad of a night’s rest — three in the pole bunk on a mattress of spruce boughs and two on the dirt floor. The Dane — John Norgaard — was the first settler in the valley, first living there during the winter of 1928-29. George and Joe Day had been the first to file on homesteads, but they, as well as “Pete” Peterson, Dunc Sanderson and the late Mr. Harcourt (father of Jack, Bill and Jim of Beaverlodge) “went out” for the winter of 1928. Mrs. Henry Haddow and Nettie were the first white women to live in the Sunrise district.
It was not a picnic for any of these former city folk. “There was not an over-abundance of food”, relates Walter Haddow. “There was lots of evidence of moose and deer being about, but none of us knew much about hunting. Therefore we were confined to a diet of beans, rice and raisins — no potatoes — eked out by more or less edible flapjacks which each took turns frying. A far cry from the good Scots scones the Haddows had been used to in the old land! Mr. Haddow Sr. spaded up a garden between the trees. One morning, when some things were growing, it was trampled bare by some animals. In the absence of fences deer were forgiven but when it turned out to be a newly arrived neighbor’s pigs, the basis of community factions began to appear.
The Haddows proceeded to build their own house of poplar logs. Not one piece of factory lumber was used except for the window frames. Even the door was made from hewed logs and the roof was of poplar poles, very unevenly laid and covered with sod. It was said that when it rained outside, it rained inside. The only dry place in the house was under the table, and that was because of the oilcloth on top.
In a land where rain, snow or surface water is still the only local water supply, the Haddows had the usual problems with drinking water. Mrs. Haddow borrowed a saddle for the buckskin from Cap Forrester. With ten-pound syrup pails — which had good lids — tied all round the saddle she would head for the river, three miles away. Considering that “Kiskatinaw” means “Mud”, the problem wasn’t satisfactorily solved, but it had to do. When land-seekers or new, uninitiated neighbors came to the house and used it all up for “a good wash-up” and the tea which hospitality demanded, there could be a major domestic crisis. Unless it were a rainy spell when a makeshift eaves trough, or a snowy winter when melting much snow to get a little water could soon remedy the lack. Old-timers tell of what we today would call “recycling” the precious fluid, until — depending in what it had first been used for — the same tub or pailfull passed from one chore to another until it “wound up” washing the floor or “slopping the pig” or being ladled carefully on to infant vegetables during a dry spell. Having a baby in the house before “Pampers” had been invented could be an added drudgery of demand and supply!
After the first winter the building of an ice-house in which blocks from the nearest river could be packed in insulating straw or sawdust or shavings from an available mill, to last until the next freeze-up solved the problem of having a supply on the place. Not a drop was wasted.
On December 6, 1929, Walter and Mary were married in Edmonton. Walter says with his quiet twinkle, “It was on December 4 when I filed on my homestead; on December 5 when I met Mary, and on December 6 when I married her.”
Their honeymoon in February 1930 was a trip to the homestead for a month. Walter, John Norgaard, J. Harcourt and E. Dilworth took the opportunity to cut a trail east of the settlement to connect with the old Fort St. John trail at Sweetwater. Section lines meant nothing — the trail took the line of least resistance through the different sections to the Kahovics and Jimmie Mathews’ place.
Mary was not daunted by the prospect of homesteading but they returned to Edmonton to work for a grubstake, returning to the village on the second train into Dawson Creek in January 1931.
Meanwhile the young couple had spent the summer in a tent at McMurray, beside the Clearwater river –“a sort of honeymoon”. Their first baby, Walter McLaren, was born in Edmonton’s Royal Alexander Hospital and named for the Minister who had performed their wedding ceremony. The second trip to the homestead was by hired truck. It being an open winter, it was a fairly easy journey. The young couple now brought a good stove, some chairs and a “Winnipeg couch” which looked like a settee by day, but extended into a bed by night.
Other settlers had begun to come in 1929, among them Leo Cyre, who brought a tractor and some livestock. The first breaking in the district was done — a seven-acre field for Henry Haddow and some for J. Day.
Mrs. Cyre’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Boutieller, were French people. Mr. and Mrs. M. Skinte and others were early comers, followed by many more. Some of them found employment with the Public Works Department cutting out a road going east past the H. Studley place, thence South from the place where the cemetery now is. It was thought that there might be a town there down by the river, because, of course, it was expected that the railroad would be extended west from Dawson Creek.
Bentley and Walsh of Sunset Prairie broke a lot of land in 1929, ‘30 and ‘31, using a John Deere tractor.
By the fall of 1930 a Post Office was granted. Mrs. Henry Haddow was Postmistress and her daughter Nettie was assistant. The first Registered letter, No. 1, was recorded January 28, 1931. Mail from end of steel came as far as Sweetwater, where it was picked up by H. Haddow and his sons, at first by horseback, then by two-wheeled cart in summer and a jumper in winter. Sometimes it was necessary to wait over for a day or two at Sweetwater Postmaster Kenny’s, because the mail was hauled from Dawson Creek by team. Floyd Wilson, later a merchant, Chief of the Fire Department and Alderman of Dawson Creek, drove the Royal Mail in those early days. After May 6, the Peace River Block News used to come by team or rider from Rolla [where it was published every week]. As in all districts, pioneer life was always challenging, occasionally amusing, but seldom dull.
When Walter Haddow and his bride returned to the Valley, there were a number of children requiring schooling. The government gave a $200 grant for shingles, windows, nails and supplies. The logs were got out by the settlers and other work was done by volunteer labour. Miss Adele Johnson was the first teacher at the opening in September 1931.
We are indebted to Walter Haddow for the following account of the Sunrise district through the years.
Leo Cyre brought in a tractor and some equipment, some horses and some pigs. He did the first breaking, the seven acres for J. Day. Bentley and Walsh of Sunset Prairie brought their John Deere tractor and bush-breaking outfit in.
The number of settlers, and the isolation caused by the deep Kiskatinaw Valley fostered a resolution to ask for a local Post Office. One was granted in the fall of 1930, so that it was necessary to go only as far as Sweetwater where Mrs. Don Kenny was still Postmistress, and then carry the bags to “Sunrise Valley”.
The naming of a new Postal District must be done with tact, and due recognition of old-timers, etc. Besides, it must satisfy the Post Office Department, so that there would be no confusion of like names in the same Province. Sunrise Valley was spared the bickering that erupted surprisingly often in other places. Sunset Prairie was on the west side of the Cutbank or Kiskatinaw River. The new district lay in a valley on the “sunrise” side. It is not recorded (here) who proposed the name, but the acceptance was unanimous. The name passed on to the School District in due time.
In September 1937, the school was opened. The teacher’s residence was at Mrs. Lampert’s home until her death in 1945. At one time, the enrollment was 33 in all grades.
Miss Evelyn M. Clark taught for two years before she married one of the Sunrise “bachelors”, Stanley Zoerb.
Sunrise boys and girls who joined the ranks of married folk were Nettie Haddow to Owen Walsh, of Sunset — the Fitchs, the Willichs, the Studleys and the Petersons.
Ernie Dilworth found a bride in Lily Taylor who left a good home on the “ould sod” of Ireland for a log house with sod roof and dirt floor and loved the new land. Like many others, they built bit by bit as finances allowed – -but no National Housing Authority told them how they had to “lay out” their plans, nor held a mortgage over their heads! David John (Jack) Dilworth was the first child born in Sunrise Valley. Over sixty children were born in that Valley, seldom with the help of a doctor, but many with the midwifely assistance of Mrs. Henry Haddow.
On one occasion, when an expectant mother was unable to get the customary motherly assistance of her neighbour, a bachelor neighbour is said to have come to the rescue, and was able to report “mother and baby doing well”. One ‘preemie’ weighing only “two pounds and a bit’, dressed in his little sister’s doll clothes, lived his first weeks of life in an “incubator” consisting of a cardboard shoe box on an open kitchen-stove oven door. No one would call him undersized today!
The first death was a Mrs. Price. Percy Young, Mrs. H. Haddow — the first woman settler — and Mr. Henri Boutieller were early among the deceased. And then came the tragic week in July 1945 when Mrs. Lampert, George Day and Mr. L. Lewis all passed on.
Community life is more than statistics. As early as 1931 a meeting [to form a Farmers’ Institute?] was held at the Harcourt home, with Mrs. F. Lampert as secretary followed at the Cyre home with an organizer present, Mr. Rodney Deslisle. Mr. Henry Studley was elected first president and Mr. L. Broughton, secretary. Naturally, a Women’s Institute followed, organized on January 10, 1933. Such organizations sponsored community and inter-community activities.
By 1939 Sunrise had its own ball team. Picnics and sport’s days enlivened every summer — and, of course, the Christmas concert was the teachers’ responsibility and the children’s’ highlight every winter.
Student preachers of many denominations visited the district through the years, the schoolhouse and private homes serving as meeting places. Ecumenical problems seem not to have arisen as Anglican, United Church, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Baptist, Jehovah’s Witness, Mennonite, Plymouth Brethren, the C.M.A. and the British and Foreign Bible Society — and others — ministered to the same congregation. Finally, Rev. T.B. Witmore of Rolla began to drive by team every Sunday for an 11 a.m. service. A Rev. V. Burnett ‘graduated’ to a car and his successor was Rev. R. L. Thomas — all from Rolla.
The Anglican “Van Girls” brought correspondence courses in Christian education. The United Church had supplied Sunday School papers for children of various ages. It was not as simple an operation as one might expect, to serve such a district. As late as 1954, the road was only “high graded” and graveled only a few miles between the country store and the Alaska Highway. Where horses could not navigate the mud, the men or women walked. Mrs. Anna Willich drove her cattle to market on shipping day at Dawson Creek via Bessborough, stopping only one night along the way.
Shortly after September 3, 1939 Mr. C.O. Bowen of Vancouver brought a then-unusual vehicle into the isolated district. Today we would call it a “camper”. His purpose was to bring a slide show of the German sinking of the S.S. Athenia of which Mr. Bowen had been a survivor. Thus, World War II came close to the quiet community area. Twelve young men of the community served in the Armed Forces.
After the War, by buying an old Army building and giving voluntary services to renovate and decorate it as a community Centre, the settlers achieved a long cherished dream.
They achieved, also, inter-community communications before 1954 by organizing their own system of private telephones with seventeen subscribers. Through the Department of Transport, a “Central” was established by which they ended their complete isolation by access to the expanding telephone system of the Block.
This covers the accomplishments of a quarter of a century. We hope to get a résumé of the achievements and highlights of the last two decades to complete a picture of a district pulling itself up by its own “bootstraps” — a typical story [in the Peace]