In June, my husband Don came from Willmer, Saskatchewan to Grande Prairie looking for a homestead, and having heard about the wonderful Peace River county he came up to have a look. Although he didn’t find a homestead, he came back very pleased with what he had seen.
We decided to move to the Peace River country. So, we piled our household effects into a truck and Don drove it while I drove the car, a Chrysler. With our three youngsters, I also pulled a four-wheel trailer with our camping outfit behind the car, as we planned to camp all the way. I wanted Don to drive the truck ahead, but I couldn’t drive behind and watch the high road and the truck swaying around. So I led the way after the first day and he had to watch my trailer swaying from side to side when I drove over forty miles an hour.
We ran into the head of a storm around Saskatoon and as it was pouring rain and bitter, we got a room in a hotel and stayed for two days, making our meals in the room. We stayed in the auto court in North Battleford for a day and also spent a day in the camp in the old fairgrounds in Edmonton. From Edmonton we got to Clyde and there we left the gravel behind — the roads beyond there were all dirt.
What I remember most was the muddy road through the bush country. We crossed the Athabasca on a ferry and had a terrible trip around Slave Lake. We pulled into Slave Lake one dark rainy night around 8:00 p.m. and I saw a sign that said auto court and stopped to inquire what facilities were available. The man said that for 50 cents, we could go into the camp and set up our tent, and I asked if there was any water or rest rooms available. He said that there was plenty of water in the lake and there was lots of bush for rest rooms. I argued that we could stay on the side of the road for nothing and have the same facilities. So, after much bickering, he offered to let us camp in an abandoned cabin for the night for one dollar which we did, but we had to put up our tent inside the house to keep dry. However, we slept well and pulled out the next morning and into the deep ruts and gumbo. We caught up with a great many folks who were much worse than we were. Most of them with horses pulling hay racks with their settlers’ effects and their families and the usual milk cow or two following behind. For the next few days sometimes they passed us stuck on the highway, and other times we passed them. We had to go to Peace River Town to cross the Peace on the railroad bridge and to cross the Peace again by the Dunvegan Ferry. The hill to the ferry on both sides was very steep and I was really scared for fear I’d stall the car on the hill going off the ferry and back down into the river. But Don said to give it the gun, so I went up the hill and off the ferry like a scared cat. There were cars parked on the hill waiting to get on the ferry and I noticed some of the drivers looked quite scared as I passed them. I stopped at the top of the hill and when Don came up he stopped too. He told me how the bedsprings tied to the trailer I was pulling had bounced sideways and they were just missing the row of parked cars by inches.
It took us two weeks from Willmer, Saskatchewan to Grande Prairie. I stayed in Grande Prairie a week while Don went looking for a homestead. I sorted us out and did some washing. Someone at the auto court there suggested that Don could get work with the truck up in Dawson Creek hauling for the railroad for Hythe. The N.A.R. Railway still wasn’t in Dawson Creek at that time. So, we left the truck in Grande Prairie and came over to Dawson Creek where Don was able to buy a small house. It had a good roof but it was only unsodded lumber. Anyway, we went back to Grande Prairie to get the truck. It took us two whole days and two whole nights to drive from Grande Prairie to Dawson Creek as the roads were rutted so deep and bumpy all the way. Several times we got stuck right in the middle of the road and the wheels would get balled up with gumbo and I couldn’t move. The weather had turned cold and it was -20 degrees when we got as far as Swan Lake. It was night and there was no accommodations available. Olive Fynn was running a stopping place at the time but she was filled up. So, we all got into the car and we took the camp stove in too and after having something to eat we slept in the car. One of us stayed awake to keep the stove from either going out and us freezing, or else getting too hot and burning us to death. As soon as we arrived in the old Dawson Creek, we unloaded the truck and Don got plenty of work. One of the first things he did was to buy a lot where the new town now stands. Jim Bond sold the lot. It was in the middle of McKellar’s wheat field. It was the same lot that 200 Realty is on today. Mr. Stedman moved our house over to the lot and came up and sodded it up for us that fall. The weather turned mild in November and there wasn’t any snow all winter and it didn’t even freeze at night a lot of the time. Several families lived in tents all winter long with no difficulty and shacks and houses sprang up all over the new town. The Anglicans built a hall where the church how stands and the first Christmas concert was held there with everyone in attendance. There was a scarcity of treats until Gumbo Slim came in carrying a box of apples and some hard candy which he handed out to the kids.
During the fall and winter several new buildings were added to the old town; Reasbeck’s Hotel, the Pool Hall, the C0-op, and Wes Harper’s store. There weren’t many streets, and unless there was frost on the gumbo, it was very slippery. One day I sent first Jack, then Jim for bread to the store. Both fell in the mud and when I scolded them for being so careless, Jim said well, Wes Harper fell down too, and if he could fall down it was quite all right for the boys to fall down! The N.A.R. Railroad reached Dawson Creek in the spring of 1931.
During the fall of 1931, Don was looking for a homestead. He drove to East Pine with a load of supplies for the store and left his truck there and walked with the Johnsons from East Pine to Little Prairie. It was just a trail and there was a feud on among the settlers out there and someone had felled big trees across the trail. You couldn’t climb over them and while crawling under or going around, Don’s knees gave out and he had to stay overnight in a trapper’s cabin while the others went on. He made it the next day back to Johnson’s place, and after resting a few days walked back to East Pine. He decided then that he would never walk so far after this where he couldn’t take his truck. Later on that fall he went to Jack Mallory’s at Sunrise Valley and acquired a quarter section out there which is still in his estate today.
We never had enough money to live on a homestead but by working in the summer on the fields we managed to keep it up. We were very hard up for a few years and two baby girls were born to us in Dawson Creek. Don was hurt during the explosion and spent nine weeks in the Edmonton Hospital. When he was able to work again, he did taxi work for awhile and eventually went into business and started Dawson Universal Sales along with a couple of other fellows whom he bought out a little later on. He worked there until he retired.