North of this settlement and west runs an old police trail from the R.C.M.P. post at Peace River to Hudson Hope and further west. Up to 1923 there were numerous well- used Indian trails coming in from the north and following the river flats. One large camping ground was discovered on the flat just west of the Starnes’ boat landing on the Big Bear Hill. The Indian trails followed the R.C.M.P. trail west to Fort St John.
In the winter Catholic priests from Peace River and the Grouard missions would travel by dog team with Indian guides and visit every trapper’s camp along the way. In 1923 the last trip like that was made by Father Grouard. Survey parties came in over the old road, which ran west from Hines Creek to Clear Prairie, Eureka and south to this district.
The first road to be constructed was built from Starnes’ boat landing to their building site in 1928. Later Mr. J. Starnes cut a road up the Big Bear hill. This followed the open places and skirted the hill west and up the Big Bear, then north, crossing at nearly the same place as the present road. Later this wagon road was continued west to Deep Creek, crossing this creek a little north west of the present crossing at Mr. Bertyl Jonssons’ place. Later Bertyl Jonsson built a road almost in the same place that the present one now follows. This road leads to the Cherry Point District and to Dawson Creek, which was the main outlet and the end of steel after 1931.
In the early years, as we mentioned before, our main highway was the Peace River and upon this river numerous boats made trips during the summer carrying supplies, collecting furs, carrying passengers, prospectors and also mail. In the summer of 1923 Captain Douglas Cadenhead had the mail contract from Peace River to Fort St John. His gas boat delivered the mail at Starnes’ boat landing once a week. Later this mail route was discontinued.
In 1924 Harry Weaver of Peace River placed a boat on this run, with his last trip being made in 1932. Supplies for trappers were obtained from Peace River or Rolla. If the supplies came in from Rolla they were taken by raft down from Ed Mast’s landing to Starnes’ Landing. Some of our first trappers were Mr. Jesse Starnes, Walter Riddle and T.A. Starnes.
In 1921, after returning from the war, J. Starnes married and brought his wife into the district, the first white woman to live in Bear Canyon. They built their home on the river flat east of “Kill-Um-Creek”. Here the first garden of our district was broken and planted, giving wonderful results of cucumbers, cantaloupes, corn, and all the hardier vegetables. Besides the vegetables they grew small fruits such as strawberries, raspberries and currants.
The first field survey party from the University of Alberta arrived in October 1929 with Ottawa Yonge at the head and Herb Foster as guide. They stayed at the Starnes place in Bear Canyon while in the district. Word was left that a land survey party would be back in the early 1930’s.
Exactly a month later Foster brought a party of land seekers in. Among them were John Howe, Chauncey Berge, Bertyl Jonsson and Howard Davitt. B. Jonsson now lives on land bordering the school district. All of the above land seekers chose land in the Bear Canyon district and still own it with the exception of H. Davitt.
Late in 1930, Chauncey’s wife arrived from Saskatchewan along with Dave Van Patten, Mr. Oliver and family who took homestead in the district. Julie Johnson of Cherry Point, mother of J. Johnson, took a homestead and in 1931 she gave it to her son. Albert Clumsy took up the homestead of B. Erickson, who had gone back to Sweden. Louis Price homesteaded west of John Howe on the hill. From the year 1931 there were a great many settlers to come into the district. In 1937 Mr. and Mrs. Vanhooren came in, followed in 1938 by Mr. P. Erickson and family from La Glace, Alberta. They were followed by Alvin Soderquist, Mr. and Mrs. Kalundby and Mr. and Mrs. Krantz as well as Chester Lyste.
In 1931 Mr. and Mrs. Berge (Sr.) and family took land which Mr. H.E. Craig owned being able to purchase the house for twenty dollars. The main parts of the house were finally moved to Clayhurst and used in his buildings there.
In 1947 to 1949 settlers were still moving in, the first being Mr. & Mrs. Travers and family, Hughie Locke from Cherry Point, Roy Lyste and R. Fredrickson and many more as well.
The district has opened up fast since 1949 due to the advent of tractors, brush-cutters and pillars. The roads were vastly improved by 1950 with the first grading being done that year. Mr. Travers (Sr.) was appointed foreman and he was able to keep the roads open for cars and trucks. With the help of the Ericksons, Krantz and Jonsson were able to hire Fred Johnson to plough them out in winter. One of the last times they were ploughed out was just before the government took them over. Mr. Erickson and Krantz decided to do the ploughing themselves only to have the road fill right in again the next day. At this time they were very hopeful of having a road built linking them with Hines Creek giving them easier access to other Alberta points.
The first buildings in the district were log cabins plastered and chinked with mud. Later frame buildings were built, the lumber coming from a local mill owned by Mr. P. Erickson. The first public building was a store owned and operated by Mr. & Mrs. P. Erickson and housed in their granary. Up to 1951 they did not have their own post office but were very hopeful of getting one. The school was the only other public building, this being built of lumber on a good cement foundation and with a brick chimney. The settlers of the district all took a hand in building this school with Mr. Krantz overseeing the work. They also were able to put gray insulbrick sheeting on it. The school was built in 1949 and equipped with only tables and blackboards till the year of 1951 when a lovely oak teacher’s desk and pupil’s desks were sent in by the government. Up till this time school was held in Mrs. Krantz’s home with Mrs. Travers as supervisor. All teaching was done by correspondence and this was also the case when the new school was opened. Mrs. Isabel Berge acted as supervisor in the school. Mrs. Pauline Craig was the first teacher and she had twelve pupils.
There were many occupations in the district such as ranching, mixed farming and some trapping for small animals like weasels and squirrels. There were practically no beaver or muskrats left in the district in the later days.
This is a lovely district to live in, both in summer and as well in the winter. In summer fancy picnics, fishing, berry picking, hiking, hunting and dozens of lovely spots along the river to daydream in (if one finds time). The scenery is unexcelled anywhere. In winter skiing on the hills, snowshoeing, tobogganing, sleigh riding in the open, not to mention snowballing at home and school. Then if these things become too exhausting, a quiet evening beside a nice warm fire, a good book, cozy chair and lots of apples, popcorn or home made candy. Card parties and old time dances are also favorite forms of entertainment. In all of these social events in the district, there has always been a fine co-operative spirit among the settlers.
[Note: This narrative contributed by Mrs. E.H. (Pauline) Craig as a study that was done while she was teaching in the district.]