INTRODUCTION: In an era when most people were looking for work, Marshall Miller was continually looking for workers. His ambition and ability fitted neatly into the Peace River economy in the early days when so many things needed to be done. When many were inhibited from undertaking a new enterprise by having to rely too much on their own particular skills or abilities, Marshall would see the opportunity, assess its value to the community, find someone who had the needed ability and put him to work. Whatever he undertook he demanded that it be done well. When it had served its original need, he sold it as promptly as he had undertaken it.
EDNA MILLER PROCTOR:
Edwin Marshall Miller, who had the first drug store in Pouce Coupe, was born at Bentink, Ontario in August 1895. The name of the drug store was Bergham’s. It was in March 1899 when he moved out west to Didsbury, Alberta, with his parents and three older sisters, where they took up a homestead two miles north of the town. There was a large family of ten children.
It was when he was out working on a farm near Drumheller, Alberta, that he met his wife, Jean. They were married in a nearby town, called Benton in July 1917. While working in this area, at Benton and Oyen, Alberta, one of his main jobs was breaking wild horses. After they were married, he managed a livery stable in Drumheller for a year and a half.
Their first child, Edna, was born at Oyen, Alberta. Either late in 1919 or 1920, Marshall and Jean along with their little daughter, moved to Didsbury and took up farming about two miles north of the old Miller homestead, where they lived until 1927.
During those years, three more children were born. They were Clarence, Leona and Marjorie. He was farming on two or three quarters of land there. He put up a lot of hay every summer as they had several head of horses, cattle and other stock. He often took on contracts for road building and gravel hauling. Edna and Clarence rode horseback three miles to Mowers School.
Almost every year they would get extensive hail damage to their crops. The last hailstorm they got there was in the year they left when three hail storms occurred, each from a different direction. The hail broke every window out of three sides of the two-storEy house. The hailstones were the size of golf balls and some were about the size of hen eggs.
After that hailstorm in July 1927, Marshall decided to come to the Peace River Country and have a look at it. Dan Abel had been down to Didsbury the year before and told them about Dawson Creek and Rolla, and the good land in the Peace Country. So about the middle of July 1927, Marshall and his friend Ben Loukahouse, as well as his brother Sam and Sam’s friend Wayne Goucher left Didsbury by car. When they got to Edmonton they were told that the road was real bad and they could not get through by car. So he left the car in Edmonton and tooK the train to Grande Prairie. On the train coming up here they met Tom Norman and Henning Naslund and his partner Charlie Bender.
When they arrived in Grande Prairie they met Jack Fynn, who was trucking or taxiing from Dawson Creek to Grande Creek. He and Ben stayed at Reasbeck’s Hotel. He wanted to buy the Reasbeck farm as he sure liked the location and land, but Mr, Reasbeck said that it was not for sale. It was at this time that he bought the George Hart quarter section of land on South Dawson. Ben Loukahkouse rented the Bergen quarter which is situated at the north west corner from Hart farm. They only stayed in Dawson Creek about ten days. George Hart drove them to Grande Prairie and then they went back to Didsbury. Ben never did come back up. Marshall was most impressed by seeing the fields of heavy yielding grain crops, after seeing his own crops beaten into the ground after all his hard work seeding it. He said, “The wild strawberries are big like tame ones.” Sam and Wayne stayed and worked for Dan Abel and helped him take off his crop, and it was a real heavy one. After harvest Sam and Wayne went back to Didsbury. Marshall was getting ready to ship and move up to Dawson Creek, so they decided to come back up with him.
By train they shipped two carloads of machinery, thirteen head of horses, furniture and the dog named Bob. Marshall drove the car from Didsbury to Edmonton, along with Jean and their four children, then took the train. They arrived in Spirit River before their belongings did. So they stayed in the Spirit River Hotel until the rest of the crew along with horses, machinery, etc. arrived. They met Mr. And Mrs. Jim McFarland and their two girls, who also were staying at the hotel at that time. It was about November 28, 1927, when they were all in Spirit River and the weather was thirty below. There were other men who came along with them also and were on the train, helping care for the horses. To mention were Herbie Evens, (Wayne and Sam), Dunc Sanderson and Russell Cline. Included in the thirteen head of horses, was a ball-faced bay pony which belonged to Herbie. Also one heavy set team which belonged to Sam.
When they unloaded at Spirit River, they put all the sleighs together and loaded up the furniture, Jean and the kids and set out for Dawson Creek. For a lot of the way they travelled on an up-graded road. They were told later that it was an old railroad site, where the government had started to build the railroad from Spirit River to Dawson Creek, which was opposed and work was stopped. Then later was up-graded for the road. Later on N.A.R. extended out from Grande Prairie and the railroad was completed to Dawson Creek, January 15, 1931.
It was about December 3, 1927 when whey arrived at Reasbeck’s Hotel in Old Dawson Creek and there was three feet off snow. It was so cold but lovely clear sky and sunny all the way from Spirit River to Dawson Creek. Men would sometimes get off the sleighs and walk for awhile and swing their arms. Mrs. Reasbeck cooked them all their first beef-steak dinner on their welcomed arrival to Dawson Creek. As a blizzard was in progress they stayed there a few days before starting out on their destination journey on to their farm in South Dawson. They arrived there December 7, 1927.
George Hart’s right hand, Mr. Brady, moved out of the bunk house, leaving it ready for the Millers to move into. Newby’s lease was not up until December 28, 1927, so they were occupying the house. When they got to the farm, Sam had $14, Marshall had $16 and a wife and four children. So he and Sam freighted to Spirit River that winter. Some of the men slept in the pump house until the original house was vacant.
Their car which they brought with them was a 1926, two-door model, 490 Chevrolet. It was said to be the first car to motor into Hudson’s Hope.
There were several buildings on the place. It was in 1914 when George Hart took up a homestead there, the small log house adjoining the original two-storey log house was what he first built for him and his wife to live in. There were two buildings close together, which were directly across from the houses. The log building was the store; the other two storey one was the storehouse and icehouse. They had carried on a stopping place for the travelers. The trappers also would stop over there, when they came to sell furs or trade and buy groceries. There was a blacksmith shop behind these two buildings, and also a granary there. Just south of the old log house store was a fenced yard with the chicken house inside. Next to that was the pump-house. The water from the well was quite hard which was pumped into a tank, by a pump engine for the stock to drink. There was a log barn and a pig pen and some feed corrals, where the stacks of bundles were stored for the winters’ use. There was also some kind of an open building affair which provided shelter for the range stock during the winters.
There was over half the quarter broke up for growing grain. The rest had a lot of bush on, which was fenced and used for pasture. There was a dam in the pasture which supplied water for all the stock. The first stretch of breaking that George Hart had got done, was a strip of land directly north of the buildings, which was the extreme west part of land next to the west road, and extending north to the Old Hart Highway, known as John Anderson’s corner. He broke this strip of land with the oxen, the saddle horse and the milk cow hitched to the plough.
The Millers often talked about their first Christmas, which was held in the Old Dawson Hall. On being newcomers to the area, the children’s names were given in by Mrs. Lena (Crum) Pack, and they were invited into town to the Christmas-tree party and concert. Their children each received a gift along with a bag of oranges, apples, candy, nuts and popcorn. That evening while driving into town with team and sleigh the sky was very clear with a full moon shining.
The children attended school at the South Dawson school-house, which was located a bit more than one-half mile south.
Marshall also bought the Jimmie Kearnes quarter, being the southeast quarter of the section. He also rented the Jorrest Kinsel quarter for a year or so before buying it, this is now the southwest quarter of the section. Directly south of the Hart homestead Marshall remodelled the log store building and made it into a garage. He also took out the west windows of the lower half of the store-house building and boarded that up to serve as a granary. They gradually purchased cattle, chickens, pigs, etc. Marshall and Jean always worked very hard. Owing meant long hours of labour. Most of the brushing and breaking was done with horses. As Marshall was on the road much of the time freighting, it was necessary to keep a hired man or two most of the time. Marshall bought his first truck in Grande Prairie, which was a Reo.
During the year of 1929, Jean was not very well and had spent some time in Pouce Coupe Hospital. On November 11th of that year a fire started in the bunk-house and got out of control burning down both the house and the bunk-house. Some household belongings and furniture were saved. Marshall was on the road at the time and Jean was in the hospital where she had been for two months. Mrs. Lena (Crum) Pack took the [children?] in for a few days until the men and the hired girl got the log house on the Kinsel place cleaned and ready to move in there. Those buildings were directly across from South Dawson School.
On November 14, 1929, their daughter, Thelma was born in Pouce Coupe Hospital. Marshall brought his wife and baby home to this location. He immediately started building a house a few yards north of where the old log one was before. It was not completed until early 1930, when they all moved in. In those days hired men had to be roomed and boarded, and there were a few men working on the house. To this day that house is still standing. It was also that year of 1930, when he had a house built in Dawson Creek at 900-104th Avenue, when he and Jean moved to town for two years. He also built a two-stall garage to service his trucks in, at 909 and 913 Alaska Avenue. He still was farming and freighting during their two-year stay in Dawson Creek. The Louis Shopper’s rented the farm for one year from March 1931 to March 1932.
In April 1931, a son, Bill was born in Pouce Coupe Hospital. In late summer of 1932, they moved back to their farm in South Dawson where they lived until 1942. They traded their house and lot in town to Fred Chase for their 80 acres of land with buildings, which is located five miles west of Dawson Creek in the South Dawson area. He later bought 80 acre from Jim Henderson, which adjoined the Chase place making up a quarter section which he farmed and rented out. Later Chases sold the property at 900-104th Avenue to Wilbur and Della Harper. Then the Miller house was sold to Mary McPhee and moved off that location to its present location at 1424-105th Avenue.
During those ten years, he carried on with the usual farming activities, and freighting to Spirit River and Grande Prairie and also with the usual hired help. The children were growing up and worked too, as there lots to do. Jean sold a lot of butter and eggs, usually at the Co-op store, in exchange for groceries. She looked after a large strawberry patch as well as a large garden. The happy times shall always be remembered during the many summers when they exchanged visits with the Erdman Hendricks family when they lived on their homestead east of Pouce Coupe. Many Sunday picnics were held out under the trees, and the children would wade in the Pouce Coupe River, which was not far from their buildings.
Marshall built an addition on to the west side of the log barn which was the cow stable. Also built a large dam south of the house. The same dam is still there. Jean was a faithful wife and saw to it that everything was taken care of while he was on the road. Almost every fall he went to surrounding communities with his threshing machine to thresh grain for the farmers. He also got road jobs and hired men to do the work. He also had an ice-cutting machine and an ice-loader and got large and small contracts each winter to fill up people’s ice-houses. The N.A.R. icehouse was always a good paying job.
He used two horses down at the Cutbank River to haul large squares of ice-blocks up from the river to pull on to the sleighs and trucks. One horse was left on top to pull at the pulley to bring ice into the ice-house from off the vehicle. On many occasions when hauling pigs oru to Alberta, before the railroad came into Dawson Creek, he and his helpers would often have to go out to the farmers pig pens, to catch the pigs and lift them (usually 200 pounds or more ) up to the truck and lift them over the box. As those farmers didn’t have a pig chute, for the pigs to walk up on into the truck.
In the summer of about 1935, he and Jean along with their three youngest children motored out of Didsbury, Alberta, to visit relatives, and also motored on to Vancouver to visit with the rest of his folks. It was their first trip back to Didsbury since they moved to Dawson Creek.
About 1938, Marshall built a large barn, just east of the dam. They held a dance in the hayloft for the opening. About this time Marshall bought one half acre of land situated between Spinney Garage and Callison’s Motel on 13th Street in Dawson Creek. He then moved the garage from the down town area to this location. On October 24, 1940, he sold the lots on Alaska Avenue to John Duncan McEachern for the sum of $400. These lots are now occupied by the Harvey Husks for their mobile trailer sales.
About 1942 he started building onto the two-stall garage. He also had a bunkhouse set up at this location. Here he fed a crew of men and serviced his two trucks, while he had a contract to work on the Alaska Highway. Mr. Mutrin was servicing the trucks and working for him otherwise, too. In October of 1942 he bought the house from Jack Fynn, which was located at 1300-102nd Avenue, and they moved in. That was when they left the farm, sold the machinery to Mr. Mytron and rented the farm to him for eight years.
One time, perhaps the winter of 1943-44, during the ice hauling, Marshall’s Marquette car fell through the ice just above the riffle (which has shallow fast water underneath) and left his car while he walked over to where the men were cutting and loading ice on to the truck. His son, Bill, was along with him. Ray Newby and Eric Lunquist were among the men there who were working for him. All of a sudden they heard the ice crack and down went the car into about six feet of water. The lights were still on for sometime, shining through the water. They ploughed and spidded [?] out the ice first and then used the team of horses to pull out the car. It was well into the summer before the cushions of the car got dried out.
During 1945-46, he had a log hauling contract with his trucks from Mile 59 Alaska Highway to Charlie Lake. During 1946-47, he had a sawmill at Hudson’s Hope. Both trucks were hauling out logs and trucking coal, also. The last long haul his trucks made up the Alaska Highway was in 1947, when they hauled the large barge north for Woods Streeper.
In 1947 a lot of moving and selling was going on in preparation to move to Hudson’s Hope. In April of that year, Marshall sold his quarter section of land, 5 miles west of Dawson Creek, known as the old Chase place to the V.L.A. It was at that same time, when their daughter and son-in-law Jack and Leona Wilson bought that property from the V.L.A. In April of that year, Jean bought a house and lot at the location of 1436-105th Avenue.
Tha same year Marshall,,along with Earl Smith (Smitty) and Jack Riskey decided to go gold mining at the portage, located just above the canyon. So during that summer they bought a barge, a gold-washing machine and a pump. After completed and all set up, they washed gold for three days, when winter set in and the river froze. If I remember correctly, they got two gold nuggets each. They left everything the way it was until spring. Marshall and Jean went to the coast that winter to live. Before anyone reached their belongings in the spring, the ice broke up and took barge and all the equipment down the river. It was an expensive loss, and they never did take up gold mining again to that extent. Marshall, himself, was still gold mining minded, until when the Bennet Dam was built. So on several occasions he would go prospecting for gold, which never really amounted to very much.
It was also in that year of 1947, when they sold their at 1300-102nd Avenue in Dawson Creek to Joe Dill, where later Reynar’s Funeral Home was built. In 1948, they moved to Hudson’s Hope where they bought a hotel and a small farm of about 100 acres. On the farm he planted and grew registered alfalfa. Later he and Bud Laye were partners in building Birch Grove Auto Court, a gas pump-station and a commissary. Later he and Bud dissolved the partnership and Marshall took the property.
While living in Hudson’s Hope, he built two river boats, called Canyon Queen I and II. Canyon Queen II was a 49 foot river boat that he operated as an excursion boat on the Peace River, from Gold Bar, above Hudson’s Hope to Finlay Forks from 1949 to 1955.
About 1950, he sold their three-quarter section old farm place in South Dawson to Forrest Peterson. Mr. and Mrs. Price now own this property, where they built a new modern home. Since about 1950, John and Ann Callison have owned Marshall’s property of garage and the half acre on 13th Street. Just previous to this date, Marshall sold it to someone who had it for a very short time. The Callisons rented out the garage for a few years. They later on had the building dismantled, and then rented the half-acre of land to Loiselle Transport for their trailer parking space. In 1952 Jean sold her house at 1436-105th Avenue to their daughter and son-in-law, Ed and Thelma Yackel, at which place they still reside.
In March, 1956, they sold all of their property at Hudson’s Hope to Biroshs and Andrews. Bob and Harriot Birosh still live on the farm. About nine years ago they built a new home there. They remodelled the original little log cabin for their guest home. They named their river boat the Canyon Queen III. Marshall and Jean then moved to Taylor, where he bought some property and had a pool room built which he operated. Their living quarters were built in the back part of the poolroom.
In 1961, he sod the property to Irene Oraz, this is now known as Irene’sCafe. She remodelled and built on to the building. Her son and family now own and occupy the building. She is retired, and still lives in her house near Irene’s Cafe.
The Millers then mived to McLeod Lake, B.C. where they bought a house and lot. While there in his retirement he built a house-boat, twenty-two and a half feet long and twelve feet wide, on four pontoons. It was in March 1964, when Jean passed away suddenly. Although living alone was quite lonely for him, he always enjoyed the times when he could take his sons and grandsons on fishing excursions in his house-boat and could say with justifiable pride, “I Built it”.
In 1968 he remarried to a friend of theirs, who had previously lost her husband.
Her name was Helen Soiland. They later took up residence at Greenwood, B.C. In March 1972, Marshall took sick and passed away quite suddenly in Grande Forks Hospital. He was buried beside Jean, in the Dawson Creek Cemetery.
He was a family man-who had great ambitious. He got many different contracts, where he hired men, and after the job was finished, often times, there was not enough money to meet the expenses.
Through all of his hardships and heartaches, he still maintained his good-natured disposition. He had a love for travel. In his retirement years he spent four different winters in the State of Arizona. Whether it brought a big profit or a big disappointment, his genial smile remained as he went on to a new venture. In a quiet way he contributed a great deal to the whole B.C. Peace area.