By W. Ewoniak and Nona Stauffer (Interviewer), April 1973
Mr. John Ewoniak, Bill Ewoniak’s father, was the first Ukrainian settler in the Clayhurst district. He took up his homestead in 1930 and lived there till his death in the early 1940’s. John Ewoniak came over from Europe in 1900 and first worked and lived in the Edmonton area before settling in the Shandro District in Alberta. In the late 1920’s he heard of the abundance of good land in the Peace River Country. He decided to move his family to this big country and see for himself. He was able to bring his stock, household furniture and supplies in by rail as far as Hythe, Alberta, this being about one hundred miles from his final destination. From Hythe he hired Mr. Efner Johnson to haul all of his belongings and to bring his cattle and horses. As he was one pioneer that knew of the many hardships that they would be facing, he brought ample flour, sugar and a supply of all staple goods. When they arrived at the Peace River they hired Streeper’s scow and took it across the river into Alberta from which point it was necessary to come back into B.C. and the Clayhurst district. The cattle were taken across on the scow but the horses were made to swim the river. All the goods were loaded on stone-boats and pulled by teams. It took a tremendously long time to get it all over to the homestead.
Then the job of building a log cabin was started and barns also had to be built. The logs were faster to get at the beginning as all the land was covered with poplar, which is soft timber and made building easier.
Bill Ewoniak worked on the railway at Hanna, Alberta from 1929 to 1939, but would come up to his father’s homestead in the winter, spending the winters of 1932, 1934, and 1936 there. In 1939 he came up and took a homestead for himself. Some of the following are stories that Bill was able to tell me, pretty much in his own words …
After we were able to get some land cleared and were able to grow some wheat we were faced with the long haul of taking it to Dawson Creek. As there were no roads or even much to call trails in those days, this trip often would take up to six days to complete. Now I may be a little ahead of myself. First we did have to thresh this wheat and that had to be done by hand in the winter or at least when it was cold enough to freeze. The wheat was laid out on the ground and water poured over it and left to freeze. Then by hand we would be beat with a hand flail and the chaff then had to be blown out. As there was little or no wind in the country then we were forced to make our own by improvising different machines and many belts. Once the wheat was threshed we put it in sacks; each weighed about 150 pounds. From there we would load 25 sacks to a sleigh along with a couple of neighbors, we would begin the trip. It was necessary for three neighbors to go together as so often it was necessary to stop and unload the sleighs and put five sacks at a time on a stone-boat. Then pull it to the top of a steep hill, this procedure having to be done till all the sacks were to the top and the sleigh brought up, then again they had to all put back in the sleigh. On other hills we would hitch all six horses together and pull each sleigh up one at a time. Even when one team could manage it was necessary to stop often, as the team would become winded. In Dawson Creek we would have a portion of our wheat ground for flour and traded the rest for sugar, tea, coffee and other staples.
The brush cutting and farming was done on a share basis. What labor was hired had to be paid for with eggs, meat and butter. Dad and mother would often tell of how families would stop at their place until they could find a homestead. There were as high as 15 families at one time. As many of them had made their way into the district by riding the rails and walking, they would sleep in the roundhouses at the railway stations. This type of living meant they were very dirty when arriving and often lousy as well. Mother would make them take and leave all their clothes outside and put on makeshift clothes until she could wash and disinfect them all.
As there was no roads nothing was done about keeping the trails open in the winter. With each blizzard the trails would become higher and higher. The horses would often slip over the side floundering in the deep snow and often the sleigh or cutter would be tipped over. One bad blizzard I had to go out with a young team of horses, and being young they were unable to follow the high trail so I had to go in front and lead them feeling for the side with my foot. Even then we had our share of slipping and tipping. With the older horses they seemed able to sense the feel of the trail and of course traveling was easier.
Many the time we had to roast wheat or barely which we used for coffee, and dried alfalfa for tea. We grew our own gardens, and were able to pick all the wild fruit we needed. Moose and deer were plentiful in those days and made up much of our meat.
In later years when you did get roads and I was the proud owner of a Ford coupe roadster life was a great deal easier. I do remember how in those days all the women in the district would stand out at the gate with a note wanting me to pick them up something in town. One humorous request came from a farmer wanting me to bring home his bees. He handed me a bottle that looked like water but it really was water and honey and he told me I was to take a big mouthful and then spray it into the box for the bees to eat. This was all in being a good neighbor and it is what made the district of Clayhurst what it is today.