Interviewed by Ruby Stevenson and Dorthea Calverley
INTERVIEWER: When did you come to the country, Mr. Mounsey?
GEORGE MOUNSEY: I came in July 1919, as a “soldier settler” directly to Sunset Prairie. [Veterans of World War I had incentives to take up land.] After we left Beaverlodge, which was up on the hill then (where the experimental station is now) about two miles west we turned north for about a mile. Through the bush there was a wagon trail that had been cut out to Pouce. At Pouce we found two livery barns, old Bob Baxter had one where the Capital Motors is now.
? was on the other side of the street. There was the Bank of Commerce, and Frank ‘Askin’s (Haskins) store, and a little old log restaurant. Along by towards where the hospital is now, “Asler (Hasler) had about four little one-room shacks. That’s about all there was — no out-post hospital or anything like that. No government building — the government agent came about a year or two later. That was “Dinty” Moore. He was the first one, Dinty Moore occupied one of these little log shacks, his clerk was Aubrey Fisher. That comprised the “government staff”. A year or two later they moved where the Post Office is now. There was a new building there put up, and Lester ‘Arper (Harper) took over the tax assessment job. Then houses started to be put up, but it was a long time before there were as many buildings as is now.
INTERVIEWER: I understand the village of Rolla was there than.
GEORGE MOUNSEY: There was. A log had been put up, but I was never there for a long time, so I don’t know how many businesses were there.
INTERVIEWER: What about the road between Pouce and Dawson Creek?
GEORGE MOUNSEY: It just wound through the land, no road allowances cut out or
anything. We got to Tom Ray’s store (site of future “South Dawson”.) Then we followed the cut-line, the route of the old ‘Art ‘Ighway, up to the South Dawson ‘all. George ‘Art had built a hotel there and ran a stopping house. They were half a mile off the highway on what they called the Water”. Then we followed the cut-line a mile west and then took off through the bush.
INTERVIEWER: Was it a willow flat then?
GEORGE MOUNSEY: No, we angled orth west towards where Devereaux School is now, and came out just about where Barney ‘Ogg is on the Cutbank. We had to ford the river at the Cutbank. – Some people that were ahead of us had trouble because the river was in flood. It took two teams to get across. They lost a mare and a stud – drowned. A lot of people stopped there, at Arras, and put in the winter – then moved on.
INTERVIEWER: What was it like coming in as a Soldier Settler? I understand that you got a bad deal.
GEORGE MOUNSEY: No! It was our own fault. Sketchley’s brother and another man came up with another man, financed by a number of other men, came up and looked the country over. They got the Great War Veterans in Calgary to work on the Government in Ottawa to get us in here. Then Skektchley and the other man and my brother came up and picked the land out for us. They’d got the names of those who were willing to come.
INTERVIEWER: Did you come directly from England?
GEORGE MOUNSEY: No. I was in Canada before the war started. Sketchley had come back before me and we were like a bunch of sheep who came along.
INTERVIEWER: How important was breeding stock?
GEORGE MOUNSEY: We got a loan from the Soldier Settlement board for a team and implements, and to buy some cattle. The Soldier Settlement Board was willing to go a hundred and twenty-five dollars for a milk cow. Of course when you wanted to buy one – Oh, a hundred and twenty-five dollars. Then when you went to sell your increase – well we got nineteen dollars clear for a three year old steer. Everything went haywire. The hungry thirties were already coming on, and stuff was worth nothing.
INTERVIEWER: How did you get through the Dirty Thirties?
GEORGE MOUNSEY: I’ll give you a little idea of those days. [We] raised five kids. The first one, the oldest boy was born in England. We were coming through the bush in them days. You know, down here where Freddy Walsh lives? We used to come across a coulee just east of his house there, nine times out of ten the sled would tip. Fifty yards up ahead was a road allowance, so we got the government to put a little bridge in. Jim Stubby ran the crew — we all got the little bit of money for working on it. I got sixty dollars. We went to town. The engineer said ,”I’ll give you an extra day for taking us in.”
That was after the Co-op started in the Old Town in the twenties. It took two days. Ed Hauger was running the store at the time. They cut off the sixty dollars in the store (evidently from the bills Mr. Mounsey owed). We got waiting for us to come home with a few dainties. We had gone over the cheque for sixty dollars, and that’s what our order was.
“Would you be wanting anything?” he says.
“Well,” I says, “I got no more money.”
He says, “You’ve always paid up well enough.”
I’d got a few things, a few oranges, and a bit of candy – nothing flashy – for the kids. I had three then. During the winter, I’d shot coyote — there was a two dollar bounty on them in them days. But I couldn’t get the two dollars because I wasn’t a trapper. There was a trapper — old James Stuart (Stewart?) — he used to camp with us when he came along, so he took the fur in . He got two dollars for the hide and two dollars for the bounty — He gave us the four dollars when he came back — wouldn’t take anything for his trouble –so I had that.
INTERVIEWER: Can you remember the price of a hundred pounds of flour?
GEORGE MOUNSEY: Three dollars, three-and-a-half. You could buy that Pouce Coupe flour for three dollars a hundred — take your own wheat in and get it milled. You’d give him so much, and get some flour back. It was three dollars in the store. They’d bring those little cukes from the Peace in the fall. You’d buy them for three dollars a hundred — now they want forty cents for one!
INTERVIEWER: Our finances in those years were extremely tight in those years, but I wouldn’t trade those years for today. How about you?
GEORGE MOUNSEY: It’s the same here. I tell them now — look what they’re charging for a bottle of rye — five and six dollars. We used to get the best Scotch whiskey in Calgary for a dollar a quart! I worked for thirty cents an hour before I joined the army, in Banff. We used to get buy bacon — three pounds of lean often for a dollar and a quarter, and you’d buy tickets for bread, and from the dairy you got pure milk for ten cents a quart, ten cents a loaf for bread. You had to take a case of eggs — thirty dozen, different fellows used to go in together. You got them brought to the shack for ten cents a dozen, shipped in from Alberta. On thirty cents an hour, ten hours a day, we made money. We could buy a steak big enough for two men for sixty cents. I was road foreman over here for a while — and my wages were eleven dollars and nine cents a day, April 1, 1952. A laborer now, down at Progress here — and them punks is sitting on their rear ends half the time, getting over twenty dollars a day, yeah! But they’re paying it out and they aren’t any better off than we were. But look what they’ve got to pay for a pair of boots now, and they have to have them, safety toes and tin hats, etc. I can’t see where they’re any better off.
INTERVIEWER: Do you regret having come up here?
GEORGE MOUNSEY: No I haven’t. I could have gone back to a job. It was tough for awhile, but I didn’t give up, and I don’t regret it.
INTERVIEWER: How did you clear your land? Did you have machinery?
GEORGE MOUNSEY: A double-bitted axe and a team of oxen. That’s what I cleared mine with.
INTERVIEWER: This was fairly heavy bush.
GEORGE MOUNSEY: It had some open patches. If I’d had the machinery they brought out after the Second World War, I’d have had the whole place cleared. You couldn’t sell stuff even if you did. I was making Soldier Settlers’ payments. I couldn’t have sold wheat, but I had no money to buy seed with. I finally got some money to buy seed to put ten acres of wheat in. I had to haul it to Marshall Millers’ to take in his truck. When he got to Hythe it was worth twenty-five cents, so I got nothing out of that. I’d sell a few bushels to neighbors for chicken feed, and get rid of it that way.
INTERVIEWER: Was the Soldier Settlement Board tough on you?
GEORGE MOUNSEY: It wasn’t too bad. We were under Edmonton — the superintendent was there. He got a little tough — started writing snorty letters. He got one back from me, as snorty as he sent. We all got a circular letter, see? It was in numbered paragraphs,– “we weren’t doing this and that!” There was one paragraph to say “they didn’t want to put me off the land as long as we played the game”. I had three kids then — That man got my nanny! I wrote back, and I paragraphed mine, and numbered them. To that paragraph I said, “Don’t you think I’m playing game? I’m improving this land and proving it up and you’re holding the title. Anytime you feel like putting us off come and try it. I was in the army for five years and I was trained to use a rifle, and I’ve got a good one. Come and try putting me off. I’ll be waiting for you.”
I got a letter back saying, “I received your letter of such and such a date, and noted its contents.” There was never another. I said at the time that I’d bet he was a guy that had never seen any active service — had a good office job all the time.
INTERVIEWER: What did you do for entertainment?
GEORGE MOUNSEY: We had the best time ever we had! We started the First of July sports at old Jim Stubley’s place after the women got here – the wife came out in ‘20. There were one or two before, and the year after several others came. Some had settled at Progress. Old Mr. Hannam came in. Yes, we had first of July at old Jim Stubley’s. We made a barrel of homemade beer, and had a dance that night, and had a good time. So we kept that up.
INTERVIEWER: Who cranked the ice cream freezer? That was hard work.
GEORGE MOUNSEY: I guess everybody had a hand in it. You remember Murphy? He was across the creek here. The road used to wind through, and come down by his house, and our creek up here. When Willow Valley settled, they kept coming through my place until we got the road allowance out.
INTERVIEWER: It was in this settlement that you first requested district nurses.
GEORGE MOUNSEY: Yes, it was through the Institute that Nancy Dunn came.
The Women’s Institute started it around Victoria. Now there’s politics mixed in this. She was a Conservative, on a loose end, drawing a cheque. Well, now we got a letter right back: “This was a good place to put her. She was on the payroll and they wanted her out of Victoria.” Now Jim Stubley was a Liberal then – (break in tape) She took in this place, Groundbirch, Progress, (school districts then) and Sunrise Valley.
INTERVIEWER: Did she just come around and make inspections or was she active in nursing?
GEORGE MOUNSEY: Oh, anybody that was sick, she would run them in to check them. Do you remember Old Doc Beckwith? She tacked on to him, and she’d send all the business she could his way. He was in Pouce, and at Dawson. She did a lot of good, but she worked harder than she needed. She had a team at first, then she got a car. But she made her work harder than she really needed. She was a little touchy, one of that nature: “you must do as I say!”
I was secretary of the school board. She’d want this done and she’d want that done. Well, we had only as much money as we voted because we had to pay for it in taxes. We had to pay the teacher. We had to pay on the school only as much as was voted at the annual meeting. It took me quite a time to drum that into her head, that there wasn’t any more money until the next annual meeting. It took a long time.
INTERVIEWER: How many years was she here?
GEORGE MOUNSEY: She was around quite a few – I forget how many. Nurse “Yoho” came after Miss Dunn. She was stationed at Progress, and had everything west of the Cutbank to East Pine. They moved her into Pouce when they got big thing (school unit) going. She was all right – a little more sensible than Nancy.
INTERVIEWER: Tell us about the start of your church.
GEORGE MOUNSEY: Miss Hazel — one of the “Van girls” — was really the start of that. She came from our part of the country. We read it in the Province that she was in B.C. We often wondered whether she’d ever get up here. They (The Anglican Church) had ever so many vans working in B.C. and the prairies. She had one ordered for up here from the Ford Company. Her and Miss Sales came along that summer to pick it up. It didn’t get in that summer, but they started out to work. You remember Roseneau? He was the mail carrier, once a week, going out on Friday, staying overnight, and back on Saturday. We got all the mail at ? on Saturday at twelve o’clock. He had a little team of ponies, and two wheels with a home-made weeny-edge box. Everybody was there waiting for mail comin’. He must have somebody lookin’ for land.”
We could see somebody riding. It was Miss Hazel and Miss Sales. He had that rough box and a board about – this – wide nailed on it to sit on. The two ladies were hanging on with both hands! He pulled up, and they introduced themselves. Of course we brought them home right away. That’s how we got acquainted with them.
INTERVIEWER: They went away on across the Pine, didn’t they?
GEORGE MOUNSEY: Oh yes, how they wandered all over that summer.
INTERVIEWER: They got into Feller’s Heights. That’s how come I taught Sunday school for them for several years. Did they get riding horses?
GEORGE MOUNSEY: No, they walked, and hitched rides. The next summer they got the van, and girls to drive for them. The headquarters has been here ever since, at Sunset. Miss Hazel got the church going. Collected up stuff and got the lumber.
INTERVIEWER: Was this before Dawson Creek and Pouce got churches? Was this the first one?
GEORGE MOUNSEY: There was a church at Rolla, later at Kilkerran. She didn’t have anything to do with those. She took a fancy to us, wouldn’t have anything to do with those. She took a fancy to us, coming from the same part of the Old Country. My brother Tom was a great Anglican. They collected stuff — everything like the Communion service was coming to the wife in the mail sent from other churches — the cloths from Vancouver, etc. And we’d have little gatherings and collect money.
INTERVIEWER: Most of the things came from England didn’t they?
GEORGE MOUNSEY: Most of it from the North of England. I had an uncle there who gave some money. She raised a hundred — or was it three hundred pounds, that they spent on the inside of the church, for materials, It was all free labour too.
INTERVIEWER: It’s a beautiful little church.
GEORGE MOUNSEY: It’s in bad shape now. The roof leaked in so we’re redoing it. We’d like to see lumber on the outside, because the mud chinking is falling out.
INTERVIEWER: Who serves it now? The Dawson Creek rector?
GEORGE MOUNSEY: He shouldn’t come out! Mr. Peake, who used to be with Canon Hambridge at Fort St. John. He has the whole Hart Highway now — It’s too much.
INTERVIEWER: My feeling is that history is people, and the funny things are as some humorous happenings in this area.
GEORGE MOUNSEY: I could tell you one funny one. You remember George Corrie? Well, he got married in the old log hall, over here. His wife came out from the Old Country as so many did. You remember Dean Henderson (?) – – he married them. They
put on a wedding fete for them — there was a little booze — I don’t know how it come there. But Jim Stubley got a little too much. Ha, ha. There was a wagon standing out in front of the hall. Jim got under the wagon, and was moaning and groaning. His wife happened to come out — there were some cattle running around, there was a bull among them. Jim’s wife said, “That must be one of them bulls.”
Henderson says, – “I guess it is.”
Then she found out it were Jim! Then she chased him out of there. She were mad! Yeah. We had a doings once a month here and once a month at Progress on old Tubby Partridge’s shack — he had quite a good sized one. Everybody used to come. There was old Tim (?) he had a violin — and later on there was old Dan McKinnon, who brought his violin. There were lots of people who could play, to spell one another off while they had a dance. We’d always take the girls. It cost nothing. We’d always have a bottle — it was cheap them days.
INTERVIEWER: Did you get that from Tom Ray?
GEORGE MOUNSEY: Oh, no, from the liquor store, and everybody had a little sip while it lasted, and that was it. Now you can’t make any money at a dance and then some. Now there’s more drinking and quarreling and some want to fight.
INTERVIEWER: Don’t you think people liked one another as people in these days? They respected one another.
GEORGE MOUNSEY: Why sir! — they all got out and met one another.
INTERVIEWER: And they weren’t without their wit, were they?
GEORGE MOUNSEY: No! They had a sense of humour and were honest. Now, if you’ve got a bit of a garage and got anything in it, you have to padlock it. We’d go away and leave the house unless you were going on a long trip. If, at that time, it were like it is mow, you’d have moved out.
INTERVIEWER: Did you have any eccentricities about your homestead life — what we’d call “hang-ups”? My husband always insisted on the water barrel being full.
GEORGE MOUNSEY: Yes, kept the kindling box full. We banked that stove up when we went to town, and there was fire there when we came hone at night. That’s a dandy heater. It burns wood, but if it gets hot, it shuts itself off. With the old heaters, it’s a wonder there weren’t more houses burned out — all cracked and everything.
INTERVIEWER: How did you keep your vegetables?
GEORGE MOUNSEY: Just in the cellar. The house sat on a knoll. You banked it up all around.
INTERVIEWER: There were many ways of preserving vegetables in those days — salting them, and drying them and canning them.
GEORGE MOUNSEY: We did very little of that — just put them down in the cellar. INTERVIEWER: Did you have an abundance of wild meat when you came?
GEORGE MOUNSEY: Oh my gosh. We had so much moose meat we got fed up with it. Walter ?? kept us in moose. He shot fourteen moose one winter on his trapline, and there wasn’t any of that meat wasted. He had twelve husky dogs — he’d come and tell us, and we’d pack it in. The ribs went to the dogs. It was scattered around. None of the other meat was wasted.
INTERVIEWER: Did you have any trouble with the game warden?
GEORGE MOUNSEY: Not in them days, no. I put a piece in the paper one time — I can’t remember the man’s name, but Constable Duncan was here. That big tall Duncan, the Provincial Policeman. Taylor, the chief, was at Fort St. John. Duncan was just a constable here at Pouce. He looked in one of our shacks, where I had this piece of meat here. He says, “Well, that brings back old days when I was up at Normark Lake.”
He had met this fellow coming down the trail with pieces of meat in both hands. That fellow said he saw the policeman coming on a saddle horse, and said to himself, he did, “Here’s where I get pinched.”
Duncan stopped and passed the time of day, and said, “Well it seems you had pretty good luck. Don’t waste any.” And he rode off. You know, Van Fellows, who lived up on the old Rattray corner there? Well, Van had got a moose south of there, in the summer. The policeman was going in to see an old man who was kind of up against it. So he met Van, stopped and inquired his way to this old couple’s. He couldn’t help seeing the meat. After inquiring the way, walked a little way off, and then turned round and came back. Van said to himself, – “He’ll inquire my name and everything.” – but he just asked a question, turned round and walked off. Van was running the road crew to get a little money. They were camping at Tubby’s and Tubby was the cook. Tubby was getting short of meat.
There was a man by the name of Edmonson (?) who was quite a hunter. Edmonson said, “If you’ll put my time down, I’ll guarantee to get you some meat.”
“Go ahead on the morning, ” said Van.
Constable Duncan had been out west with a team, I guess he had, and a democrat. He stopped in for something to eat, a little late. He walked right into the arms of Edmonson. He’d got a moose, but the teams were bringing it in. Tubby was as dumb as the dickens.
“Oh!” he said, “Here comes Edmonson . We’re out of meat, “he says, “and then he told him what he’d sent him to do! Sergeant Duncan, (R.C.M.P.) had been finished eating for quite a while and was sitting there smoking. He was in such a hurry to get Tubby paid and get out that he laid his pipe down to get away to the barn. He met Edmonson with a quarter of moose.
“Well, Mr. Duncan, “says Edmonson, “I’m in for it , eh?”
Nothing stopped the sergeant – he just got his team out and drove off. After he was gone, Tubby found his pipe on the table. That wouldn’t happen today.
INTERVIEWER: Actually the police were doing more in those days to help people than to push them around.
GEORGE MOUNSEY: Yes. They would come around in the winter to see how we were, and ask how we were off, and see that we weren’t sufferings.
INTERVIEWER: I can recall their coming down to Fellers Heights where our first homestead was. The homestead inspector was being driven around, and the game warden together. I had absolutely nothing to serve then except wild meat. So I fried the steak and made fresh biscuits. Oscar Quesnel, who was the game warden got up and very gravely thanked me for a lovely dinner — said he had never eaten such fine beef!
GEORGE MOUNSEY: There was a woman who came in to run Bill Bullen’s little hotel. She had moose meat on the table. Constable Duncan, the first Duncan, and she said, “You know, Mr. Duncan, that’s bear meat.” It was legal to kill a bear.
[Lapse in the tape].
INTERVIEWER: A man called at our place one time – a Mr. Neil or McNeil – Wasn’t he out here?
GEORGE MOUNSEY: Oh! Jimmy Neil – he’s still out here!
INTERVIEWER: He was a J.P. or something here wasn’t he?
GEORGE MOUNSEY: Yes, after Jim Stubley pulled out. Jim was a magistrate.
After he left the country, it was only right that someone get the position. Pension papers from the Old Country, or other papers had to be signed or witnessed before a J.P. or something, so the Institute asked that a Commissioner be appointed. Jimmy was secretary of the Farmer’s Institute, so he became a J.P.
INTERVIEWER: He told me that Sunset Prairie had the least criminal record of any place in the country; because he had to hear the cases, he hadn’t had a case yet—-
GEORGE MOUNSEY: He’s never had a case yet!
INTERVIEWER: He told me that he saw to it that, if a couple of fellow got to bickering he would go and compose the quarrel, in case it would come to court and he would make the wrong decision. I’ve heard he sometimes had to use pretty powerful means to bring some people to order.
GEORGE MOUNSEY: Well, he’d just talk to them. Like the case of that man (so-and-so-?) The fellow cut a piece of his fence down so that his neighbor’s horses could get into his crops and be “found” there and impounded. (There was a payment for the one who took stray cattle to the pound.) They had to be driven, not led. One could also get damages for destruction of crop and there was also a “pound fee” for keep of the animals.
Well, I was working on the road and along came (anonymous) and his brother and that big woman . I was working on the road with .
They came along with some horses, fifteen or twenty head of them. The owner happened to be away at the time, so his wife went and told him what had happened. The driver (of the horses) had an old truck – he’d fixed it up into a jeep, he was driving that, and his boy was riding a saddle horse. That was against the law (herding on the road with a vehicle).
Lloyd (the owner of the horses) came along after the horses had got by. “Did you see driving my horses to the pound?” he asked.
I said, “I don’t know where he was taking them.” I said, for I didn’t want to get mixed up with the neighbours. There was another, and old Swede on the job.
“Yeah,” he says. “And he was using a yeep to drive then, too!” He says.
Lloyd says, “He was, was he!” and goes on. He meets coming back.
Well the next day I go over to the neighbours, and Jimmy (Neil) comes there, too.
He says to me, “Did you see (So-and-so) driving Lloyd’s horses to the pound yesterday?”
I says, “You know damn well, I did, I says. “I was working on the hill there. You know I saw him without asking.”
Neil said nothing more for awhile. “Did you see him drive them with the jeep?”
“I’m not saying nothing more,” I says. “But you know damn well he was driving them, and you know what he was driving then with!’
Neil just went up quiet-like and said, “You’ll just pay the pound fees, and drive those horses back yourself – and not with the jeep – or it will cost you a lot more.”
He’d been driving the vehicle on the road without a license, too, you see. That was the way the law operate here in those days.