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Audio Part 2:
FRED MERCREDI: We start by saying that this is in 1923, September 2, when I went to work for George Ireland, who was a rancher, putting up hay up in Stony Lake, Alberta. We had a big snowstorm about the 17th of September. It snowed for three days — about eighteen inches. George Ireland decided to thin out his stock and got me to help drive them to Berwyn, Alberta. It’s northwest of Grimshaw. We pastured the cattle ‘til we got there. It was twenty-one days ‘til we got there, a distance of about two hundred and fifty miles, bush roads, bush trails, pack trains. He sold his cattle to a fellow named Lampley, forty head of cattle for four hundred and thirty dollars. That’s not very much money! Three and four year old steers.
Then he hired me to go trapping for him on the Keg River and Fort Vermilion wagon road, and branch lines where there was a lot a fur in those days, beaver, mink, etc. I trapped there until pretty near spring.
Then I went to work for a man named Sheridan Lawrence, one of the greatest men that ever walked in the Peace River Country. He had a store, and a sawmill, a flourmill, and a big ranch of about four pigs and about two hundred and fifty cattle. I worked for him until 1926, and then I had a job working on the steamer, the D. A. Thomas. I worked there the rest of the summer. On the last trip we got down to Fort Vermilion, where I went back to work for Sheridan Lawrence, feeding two hundred and some head of cattle at Prairie Point. He had a lot of feed — straw, good hay — a lot of Brome grass and wild hay. There were two of us, Albert Flett and I feeding these cattle. In the spring when they started calving, we had quite a time — feeding them, looking after the calves, and watering them. That was the winter of 1926-27. That spring when the D. A. Thomas came back to Fort Vermilion, I got on as deck hand, coming up to Hudson’s Hope and down to Fort Vermilion Chutes. We used to get stuck on sandbars. I remember the captain’s name was Captain McLeod. He used to remind me of King George V, with the whiskers and the mustache. I used to sit on the bow of the boat and watch him – “Gosh, this man just looks like the King”. I told him that one day. He just laughed! He was a great man. The trips up and down the river were great. We used to see a lot of game, bears, moose, deer, lots of geese. It was pretty good times.
We used to load wood for the steam engines. That was our biggest job. We’d load for two or three hours at a time, from the top of the hill, throwing the wood down the bank where they had these two-wheeled carts to carry the wood on the gang planks into the boat. We kept it up all summer, getting stuck on sandbars once in a while. But all in all, it wasn’t too bad. I worked there until we pulled the boat up on the bank in Peace River.
Then I went to work in Grimshaw for a fellow by the name of Tom Shenty, a farmer there. He had his own threshing machine and a Fordson tractor. He had a mechanic by the name of Edward Kidder. I was field pitcher. Oh! My arms used to get pretty tired working twelve to fourteen hours a day. We went all round threshing for other people. Then when winter came, I hauled grain to the elevator, four miles. A four-horse team on a bobsled with a hundred and twenty-five bushels of wheat. I had to shovel all this with a grain-scoop without a handle. Just a little bail as a handle for the left hand. That was quite a job shoveling a hundred and twenty-five bushels of wheat into this box. I made two trips a day.
I guess that’s what you call pioneering! And I’ve done lots of it. Now I’m jumping from one job to another.
I remember when I came to Grande Prairie. I didn’t have too much money when there wasn’t too much work around. After a little time in a logging camp we had to quit because there was no snow around Christmas time. I went to Grande Prairie. There wasn’t any job, so I went to work washing dishes instead of loafing around. Then I got a job clearing land by hand. There were seven of us — I was foreman on the job, four miles out of Hythe — south of there, a school section. I was there when they drove the golden spike at Hythe. The train came in there the night of the grand opening of the Hythe Hotel. There was a hockey game that night, across the street from the hotel. There was free beer. I was drinking beer with the rest of them. I was under age, but I was big for my age I guess. Anyway, nobody bothered me. So I drank beer.
But these are the happenings while I was just a kid in Northern Alberta.