We lived in Rolla, Missouri, and when I was a kid, my dad was quite a mover. So, we came up to South Dakota and had a homestead there. After staying there for eight years, he got tired of that. Well, at that time there was lots of literature from Canada trying to get settlers to come up into Canada. So, that suited him and we came up to Edmonton in 1909.
In 1910, he worked on the railroad as there was lots of construction work on the railroads at that time. In 1911, he worked on the railroad and finished up out of Edson, Alberta, on the C.N. which at the present time has been abandoned and the track taken up. Well at first my father — he was a mover like I say — and the Edson trail commences at Edson, Alberta. So, that fall, after getting done on the Railroad, he went out and built us a stopping place out of logs, forty-five miles north of Edson.
After we finished in the spring, we loaded up and started north into Grande Prairie and we had the intention of staying in Grande Prairie. But, when we got to Grande Prairie, we heard of the Pouce Coupe Prairie, so, my father couldn’t resist. He said he hadn’t got to the end of the road yet! So, my father and mother and my older brother came up and looked the country over and decided we’d move to the Pouce Coupe Prairie. So, we came up in the spring to the Pouce Coupe Prairie.
At that time, Mr. Tremblay and his family lived down near Pouce Coupe, where he is today. He had been in here — Mr. Tremblay had been in here thirteen years himself, and his family had been in here for four years before we came — and we had a real welcome. Mr. Tremblay was a real man for pioneering. It seems that the right man seems to turn up at the right place pretty near every time and Mr. Tremblay was no exception. He had a big root house full of potatoes for any newcomers and sure welcomed us.
But, my Daddy, he saw the trail leading up to Rolla. This country had been surveyed in 1911, so it wasn’t opened until 1912 and we had to wait to file on the land until the middle of the summer. We got here to Rolla on the first of May, 1912. Anyway, we stayed.
No other persons were around at the time and there were a few who came in that fall, but most of the settlement took place in 1913. I remember the first winter we were here in 1912, there was about six bachelors around and we had them all for Christmas dinner. Six of them, that is, north of the Saskatoon Creek which we called Rolla District.
Then, when I was seventeen years old, my dad reserved a quarter section for me at that time. Most people wonder what we did. First thing, we plowed and planted some potatoes and we planted a little garden. And most of them wondered how we made a living in the first place. But, we planted oats and we planted potatoes to sell to the incoming settlers. That’s what we lived on. Most everybody came in with a little money to buy feed and to buy vegetables and things. But, on the whole by the time everybody got settled in they all had one thing in common — they were all practically flat broke. Everybody was in the same boat, and it has turned out good since. Later on they got all settled up.
It was, it seems to me, when we first came in here, the mail came in about once a month. Mr. Tremblay had a post office, and we had to walk down there to get the mail. Fifteen miles it was. Later on they got it up there twice a month, so we was quite happy with the mail two times a month. Later on of course we got it in once every week.
But all of us boys were quite happy. Dad was happy, but the one that really carried the load was Mom. She was afraid that some of us kids would get sick, what with the doctor way down at Grande Prairie. But, guess we couldn’t afford to get sick so we didn’t.
But, anyway, time slips along and other people came. We weren’t the only families out there. Some of them went back to the United States and stayed there about a year and then back they came. I’ve been back to Edson, Alberta one time and the people, they want to know why we came from Edson up to here.
We came here to get the open prairie spots. It was quite a fine district. Few bush and we could clear a little patch of it and that would be all there would be on a quarter, even half a section.
But it was difficult going with the horses. That was real horse and buggy days. From Grande Prairie up here there were no bridges. We had to ford the creeks in the spring before we got into Pouce Coupe. But we were sure made welcome by Mr. Tremblay and as he had been in here so long, he had about a hundred head of cattle.
But, around the Rolla district we were the first settlers. After a spell of course, Dad applied for a post office, as we really needed a post office in here after they got the mail going. So, we did get a post office at Rolla. But, to think back now there was lots of people came in here to get a homestead and start farming. And the majority of them had never been on a farm if you can imagine how tough it was for those type of people. Some went in for feed cattle. That was my father’s idea when he came here, to grow some cattle. But, to buy the cattle it took time and of course everybody was trying to learn from the other fellow what to do.
We brought a mowing machine and rake in with us. One of the neighbours borrowed it one time but, he didn’t have any horses, he had a team of bulls and we put them on and they couldn’t walk fast enough to run the mower so we had to go with our horses and cut his hay for him.
But however, like I say, I’m sure I would never had made it up here myself, but my father was a mover and he had to get right to the end of the road before he was satisfied. Since then I have retired in Vancouver.
Came up to visit in Rolla three years ago and as I took the road into Rolla, they were paving the highway from Dawson Creek after fifty-eight years of taking the homestead, we got a paved road into Rolla.
Buildings and fuel all came from the logs, that is the dry logs. I went north about a mile and looked over the hill and I could see a clump of spruce that had been fire killed. Very handy for building material, and, later on they all went up and started cutting logs to build a house. The best fuel that we could get most any place was dried trees and small bush. That’s one thing about this country for homesteading. There was logs and there was building material and there was wood and the fact is that there were game like prairie chickens and rabbits and we got moose meat. That was the reason why people came here. They could make a living practically from the land if they knew how.
Yes, we had the Pierce brothers and the Vincents and there were lots of bachelors. The sad part of it is, that is the way I see it, the girls could not get homesteads, just the boys. So, that made it that people with families of girls didn’t come into the country. They were mostly loaded with lots of boys in the family and that’s that way they got it, that’s the way they settled the country.
But, then there was Tim O’Callaghan. He was on the survey crew when they surveyed this and he picked his homestead out next to a lake that they named after him, O’Callaghan’s Lake. Then, there was Ted Beaton and then you’d come to Zimmerman’s Place. The old timers have left quite a while ago. George Hiffernan came in before the war and came back and farmed his homestead after the war. But, to think back right now, it would be difficult without having a diary as I went along and picked the names of these people but there is some real old timers in here that everybody is interested in.
The quarter section that Rolla is built on today once belonged to a Mr. Ole Grotheim. He was a bachelor who built a little house right in the middle of the bush in a clump of dry poplar. He went in there and built a small cabin out of these dry poplars. He was a small man so he didn’t need a big house. He stayed there until he died.
Most people who came in the early days, in the first fifteen years, finished up right in this country. And then of course when the railroad came in 1930 things started to change. By then the town or the village of Rolla, most of it moved to Dawson Creek so at the present time it’s further out, which being as it’s a farming community, those twelve miles are just about right.
We had dances, we built a hall quite early here at Rolla and we had our dances there, but we used to go from house to house and have parties and dances and that sort of thing. And then in the summer we had the baseball team. We had a team in Saskatoon Creek and we had a team in Rolla and another team over in Dawson Creek. But, most of the time we had to make our own amusement. There was absolutely nothing here at the time so we had to get together and just make our own amusement.