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It was in August of 1928 that I arrived in the hamlet of Dawson Creek, having come from Edinburgh, Scotland, earlier. I spent a short time in Montreal with relatives and then in Edmonton with Scottish friends. Coming from there on the Northern Alberta Railway was quite a journey. Disembarking at Grande Prairie, and then by car to Dawson Creek, was another experience. I really felt that I had come to the end of the world.
I came out to look after two lovable children who had lost their mother, a dear friend of mine. Later I married W.S. Bullen, the father.
At that time Dawson Creek was a very small community. The shopping centre, if you could call it that, consisted of two general stores — the Co-op run by the late Mr. Hauger and Fred Newby and W.O. Harper’s store, who was also the fur buyer. At these stores the farmers congregated and had a real visit together at weekends and off-seasons. This visiting was a highlight in our lives.
A very small miniature building was our post-office, run by the late Mr. Groh, the druggist. Previous to this the mail was delivered to the hotel dining room and people collected it there. The mail carrier was Mr. L. Cadona, who was post master of Kilkerran district. People who lived in Kilkerran called at his home for letters. He and his wife drove a horse and buggy, winter and summer, over the route.
When rumors about the railway being extended from Hythe to Dawson Creek started, new settlers arrived, and one day I counted the total inhabitants of Dawson Creek –it boasted 30 people. My husband commented, “My, but it is growing.”
The other stores were Love’s Drug Store, a Saddlery, a Butcher shop and a Blacksmith. The latter two were located on the east bank of the creek, side by side. When shopping for meat if you found the butcher wasn’t in his shop, the blacksmith obliged. He would come and cut off a chunk of beef. One couldn’t be too fussy —you had to take what he gave you.
There was also a flourmill on our land, just behind the house. Many farmers as well as ourselves had wheat ground. I think 50 bushels of flour was enough for my family’s baking to last at least six months. As well we got the cream of wheat, bran, flour seconds and also shorts for the animal’s mash.
We had a large vegetable garden, which I tended, and beef and pork. But I had to learn how to can and preserve, and also how to make bread from our flour. Some kind neighbours told me I couldn’t bake using new flour — it had to be aged a bit. However I proved otherwise and always got good results.
There were two hotels in Dawson Creek — the Dawson and the Queens. The former was moved over to the new site, just where the present one is now. The other, a new building, was dismantled and a house built with the lumber from it. This house is still standing on 103rd Avenue.
It was something to see, when these large buildings were moved over to the new town. A person could shop in the store as it moved along. The Co-op was moved on rollers with horses pulling. The work was done by the late Mr. McQueen.
There was a community hall where social affairs were held and on Sunday a religious service when we were fortunate enough to have a student preacher, or the Anglican Church Van girls. Later the Anglican Sunday School Van was staffed by Miss Hassle & Miss Sales, who conducted and organized, and did wonderful work, both preaching and teaching. They asked me one summer to carry on the Sunday School, which I did, until our Anglican Church was built. This small church was moved over to the new town, to the site where the present one is.
The United Church was built on the same block, just south of us, but as the population increased, so did the congregation. Then the United Church erected a larger building west of the main town centre, where it still stands. A new St. Mark’s Anglican Church was built in later years also.
Mr. Bullen was a cattle buyer for many years. He traveled to various places, north of the Peace River and to surrounding ranches. The cattle were assembled in stockyards at our farm, and the cattle drovers and ranch hands slept and ate at our house. The cattle were driven next day over the Spirit River Trail to the end of steel, where they were loaded on the train for shipment to the Edmonton stockyards. It was a long haul, and a strenuous one for the drovers. However the rails were laid, and in 1930 the trains reached Dawson Creek. New stockyards were built near the elevators in the new town. After that, the work was finished for us. Mr. Bullen had a butcher shop at that time, and got involved in that work.
Another big project we had was to get a hospital for Dawson Creek. A committee was formed, with Mr. Bullen as chairman. He and the late Father Serrand canvassed the whole area and got most of the merchants interested in donating time and money. This was in 1931. The hospital opened on November 30th, 1932. I might add that the volunteer labourers at the hospital were paid a $1 a day and often the workmen handed over 50 cents for a donation.
The ladies of a community formed a Ladies Hospital Auxiliary. We worked diligently, put on sales and raffles, dances, etc., to raise money to pay off the (construction) debt, which we did after ten years of hard work. That hospital was badly needed. Twenty beds were always in use and during the disaster –the explosion in 1942 — it was bursting at the seams. Cots and beds had to be put up in the corridors.
The Sisters of Providence, the sponsoring organization, did wonderful work with a small staff. Still the community grew and a larger hospital was needed. In 1958 plans were being made to build a new hospital, and in 1961 this was realized when a hundred bed hospital was opened.
The building of the Alaska Highway was a war time measure. The influx of American troops and contractors made our new town into a bustling city of over 3,000.
In 1942 Mr. Bullen passed away, and six months after that the Government acquired our land for the emergency airfield, and our oldest boy was called up.
Another era commenced with the building of the Hart Highway to Prince George, beginning in 1953. This opened up the country even more.
I moved into town after selling off stock etc., and my life took a new direction. I had to find a job to keep things going. Our livelihood had gone. My daughter Anne got temporary work at the post office during the boom, after school. Later she left for business college in Edmonton. My son Jim, then eleven years old, was attending school, and I got my daughter Anne’s job at the post office, and was a postal worker for twenty years after that. The Federal Government had reorganized our area under the Edmonton office, and I had to reapply for my job as a member of the civil service.
On looking back over these 46 years I have found that life has been a challenge, but I have a satisfying feeling that I have achieved something. I have been happy in those years, beginning with my years in the old hamlet of Dawson Creek, and have enjoyed seeing the town grow into a city. It has been a good life.