Having crossed the ocean from Liverpool to Quebec aboard the S.S. Melita, and after a long train ride from Quebec City to Edmonton, we boarded the Edmonton-Dunvegan and British Columbia train for Grande Prairie. According to [memory] we got on the train on Monday morning in Edmonton and arrived in Grande Prairie on Thursday, after many stops while the tracks were re-built up over the muskeg. Mother did all the cooking and we gathered food along the way. We could get on or off practically at will. It was raining heavily and kept right on raining as we moved into the Immigration Hall, a cold barn-like place, or so it seemed. And, then we waited for my Uncle, Ted Jones, whom the rain had delayed.
When he arrived, we loaded our settlers effects — as the boxes were marked. After purchasing all the groceries we could haul we started up the trail to what is now Progress, where Uncle and his partner John Hannam were located in what was called Jones Valley, as these were the only people there at that time. We camped every noon and towards nightfall, picketing one horse and leaving the other one loose. We always camped near a creek or where there was water for the horses and always there were mosquitoes in hordes. We were soon covered with bumps and lumps. Poor Mom, they pretty near drove her crazy. We had never been out of the big city before.
When it was clear we slept under the stars. If it was cloudy, we put up a big canvas shelter. And, it was scary sometimes when the coyotes set up a big noise or a big old gray owl would sing his song close to camp. We eventually reached Pouce Coupe. How I remember that first scene from the trail the little store owned by Jack Haskins, and the old Provincial Police Barracks, which is still there at the point of the hill, or the ,Hillcrest Motel, as it is now called.
We stayed at Joe Carter’s for about two days. They lived on the west of the little creek in a log house right across from where Maynard Leeland lives now. That’s on the old back road from Pouce Coupe. Mr. Carter talked me into having a piece of chewing tobacco, which needless to say, made me very sick, because I didn’t know, and just ate it. When we were ready to leave the Carter’s, Uncle picked up all the mail to go west and we headed for Dawson Creek. The trail came across where the back road to Pouce Coupe comes around to Hasler’s slough, and right up the valley to Jim Brown’s corner — well, that would be Fynn’s Corner now — to the old Dawson Creek . That was across the creek on 108th avenue, where Petrick’s dugout is now.
Mr. Bullen came out to greet us and there he had a small livery barn. Ray Harmer had a little trading post there, in a little log building. Mr. Bullen built a hotel, and the town built up there to a post office, pool hall, drug store, two general stores, a Co-Op, and Harper’s, harness shop, dance hall, restaurant, garage, blacksmith’s shop, livery, bar and butcher shop, and the skating rink that I helped to build.
Here in Dawson Creek, we proceeded out west following the creek to the George Hart place in South Dawson, where we exchanged wagons. Uncle had a wide-wheeled wagon which he exchanged for a mountain wagon that Mr. Hart had, because it was lighter to haul. There was a good-sized store at George Hart’s, a lovely two-storey log house, and a nice bunk house, where we stayed the night. Mrs. Hart was a very nice woman, and she made us very welcome. This was the established stopping place for all the traffic going west. Mother came and ran this a few years later when Harts moved to Pouce Coupe. There was a pretty good stock in the store, but your purchases had mostly to be made so they came out even money, as there was no way of making change. Sometimes, they could run down to a quarter, but most of the time it was just even money and round to the closest dollar.
There was a bunch of pigeon holes in the wall there, where the mail was left. Anybody going to South Dawson, from Pouce Coupe, picked up all the mail to go west and it was sorted and put in these pigeon holes, some to go to Devereaux at the Cutbank River, and some to go way up north to Fox Creek. The next stop taking place was at Sunset Prairie, and there the mail was dropped at Bill Stewart’s for Groundbirch and Bill Cowdrey’s for East Pine, this was all picked up and taken along by people that were going past these places. If they were going past, they took the mail as far as they were going and left it. Leaving Hart’s place at South Dawson, we then went west up the creek, crossing there where Jack Wilson lives now. And, the trail wound through the bush, coming out on top of the hill north of Devereaux School and on down to the Cutbank River from Old Mark’s stopping place, where we fed the horses and had lunch with Old Mark. He was a rough old man, but he had a heart of gold. I don’t think anybody left there hungry. Art Young was Mark’s partner, and still lives across the road from the old stopping place.
My Mom didn’t know just how to take Old Mark. He was trying to be on his best behavior and not use any more profanity than he could help, but he was not used to a woman being around. But, a good cup of tea sure helped.
Leaving there, we had a bad piece of road just on top of the hill across the river. There was a stretch of muskeg. In one place we had to unhitch the horses and get them on solid ground and then take a chain back to the wagon and then pull it out. We sure gave the mosquitoes a treat, and they were there in hordes.
The next step was Bob Stouter’s at Buffalo Creek, and he insisted that we have tea with him. His little log shack had no floor in it, and his whole flock of chickens seemed to have the run of the house. You’d never think as you scoot down the hill to the bridge that we had to lock one hind wheel on the wagon to come over and down to the creek back to the little log bridge at the bottom. Bob was a Scot with a broad accent, and his cabin was really frugal. There was an old square table in the middle, and his chairs were blocks of wood. He had a homemade cupboard and a bunk in one corner, but he was a real nice chap, and sure was glad to have someone to talk to.
Leaving there, the trail went north and west where the Hart Highway is located just about right on the tail all the way from Fox Creek. It crossed its high point just this side of Livingston’s Corner. Livingston homesteaded this a few years later. We came straight west from Pedersen’s farm and followed the cutbank right on over the hill and down into Jone’s Valley.
We could see the log buildings with some cattle, way off in the distance. It was a welcome sight after bumping around in that wagon for so long. We were all covered with mosquito bites and they were getting hot and red and itchy by this time, and we couldn’t keep ourselves from scratching them.
I think before I go any further, I should make a correction. The man that owned the General Store in Pouce Coupe, his name was not Jack Haskins, it was Frank Haskins. I guess I started talking before it started recording right on the tape. And, we arrived in Grande Prairie early in June of 1921. My mother, my two sisters, Nelly and Annie, and my brother Fred with my Pa. That way we started a long wagon ride to his brother’s.
I remember going to Sunset Prairie for the first Christmas party when we were here, which was a lovely time. And, I think it was at Walter Walsh’s. Walter played the banjo, Tim played the mandolin. We danced and sang songs, and had a wonderful time.
After leaving my Uncle’s, I worked at many Jobs around different parts of the country, finally taking up homesteading at South Dawson in 1925. As I said, I had many jobs — punched cows, worked in the bush, and after renting George Hart’s farm, hauled wheat to Spirit River. Which puts me in mind of a story that’s kind of interesting that happened on the Spirit River Trail at a stopping place called Beaver Dam.
In the middle of the night, Timothy Ernest O’Callaghan arrived from O’Callaghan’s Lake. The lake is named after Timothy Ernest, which is Lakeview now. He was traveling very late, him and an old Swede by the name of [?], and we were sleeping in a new bunkhouse at a stopping place that George Bremner had built at Beaver Dam, and they had put the roof on this – it was a pole roof – after the ground had frozen. They threw some hay and dug the dirt around and the dirt up on the roof and it was a very comfortable bunk house. But, as I said, these two old gentlemen were traveling pretty late. They pulled in and as the barns were all full, they just tied up their horses and fed them and came and cooked up a meal. And, Timothy Ernest, he liked fried onions, and he really had the old stove just sizzling hot, right up to the roof. And, Dick Smathers, a well-known resident from Briar Ridge, East Pouce Coupe, and Bonanza area, was sleeping up in that top bunk and for anybody sleeping up in that top bunk, there was just no more sleep. It was so hot you had to get out of your sleeping roll. Somebody got up and threw the door open, but the stove as I said, was red hot right to the roof and Dick looked over the edge at the old Irishman and said, “My goodness, Tim you really got a lovely fire going there.” That stove was red right up to the roof. And, old Tim looked up at him and said, “By golly, it is, it’s just about as red as your head isn’t it, Richard!” And, anyway, they pulled out and we had to get up shortly after they left. The place was absolutely full of smoke, and we opened the door. We couldn’t find the fire, and then we discovered they had set the hay between the poles and dirt on fire up on the roof. There was just no way we could get water in there to put it out, and it just kept on smoking and smoking until we had to all get up and hook up and pull out of there either that, or choke to death. Timothy Ernest was happily on his way and he never even knew of the upset he had caused at that bunkhouse.
My first trip to Spirit River was with a herd of cattle, a hundred and forty-four head. And, these were gathered at the old corral at Riley’s Crossing, which was the starting point. It was in May. I remember because we arrived in Spirit River on the twenty-fourth of May and the train crew were playing baseball. Every time we loaded the car full, somebody had to go and get the engineer to spot another car. The stockyard would only hold one carload, so we were really busy holding the herd on the open prairie west of town, cutting and sorting the cows out. We did some hard riding that day.
The biggest shipment was John Dudley’s, who farmed where the golf course is now. Adam Stutz from Saskatoon Creek and Dad Lineham also had some in that herd. Then, there was as well, Henry Ortwin and the Watt brothers, also from Saskatoon Creek. The most of these cattle had been grain fed all winter, and so were very fat and well finished.
I was nearly pushed off the bridge at Cache One. We were crossing the old railroad bridges. I used to ride point, and I would rope an old brindle cow, big one, one of the leaders, and take her slowly across the bridge. This bridge was a hundred and eight feet high in the center and just straight railroad ties. I was just taking the rope off the lead cow and was working my way back with my saddle pony across to string the herd out so we wouldn’t get too many on the bridge at one time. What I didn’t know, was that there was an old Indian staying in one of the bunk houses and he had two big Husky dogs and they suddenly heard the cattle and came rushing out and made such a noise that the cattle stampeded across back over the bridge, catching me in the oncoming cattle about the middle of the bridge. That little pony sure pushed his way around. We were lucky that none of them were pushed off. Then we spent the rest of the day on the banks of the creek, getting the cattle across. I think if I had been packing my 30-30, that Indian would have been out a couple of dogs. We had two big bulls in the bunch. One got across the tracks and up town in Spirit River, but he was quite easy to find. I heard more than one woman holler when she saw that big red Shorthorn bull in her back yard.
I loaded five barrels of kerosene for the Co-op Store on the chuck wagon. The other wagon had a hayrack on it with enough feed on it for the four horses the four work horses – and four saddle horses, that I was taking back home. Some of the men, went on to Edmonton with the cattle train. I also made two trips in late summer and fall with cattle we were driving across the country from Mrs. Brainard’s at Horse Lake. We went southeast through all the sloughs and around the lakes to Sexsmith. Bill Reasbeck was the trail boss on both of these drives. There were a lot of animals from all over the country. Anybody having a few cows to ship, brought them down to the corral at Pouce Coupe, which was located on the river, so that water wasn’t a problem. If the cows were branded, the owner’s name and brand were recorded. If no registered brand, then a distinct mark was put on the rump where it was easy to see. The first day out was always hard riding as the cattle would be trying to go back to the range where they had been raised on, and as they came from all over the country, that’s where they headed out to.
I would like to tell you another amusing story this one is about the first Postmaster of the Post Office at Saskatoon Creek. A resident by the name of Louis Cadona, his wife – a great lady, but very deaf- and a son whose name was Willy or Billy. They hauled the mail from Pouce Coupe to the old town, and then on to the home place. It was sorted in Dawson Creek. They drove a team and a democrat, or a large buggy. So, this one day Louis was indulging, maybe not wisely, but a little too much and while waiting for the mail to be sorted, he fell asleep sitting up in Wes Harper’s store. Somebody — I can’t recall who it was, got a bright notion that it would be quite a joke to clip off half of Louis’s mustache, which was quite heavy. Louis slept soundly through the clipping. The mailbag was loaded in the democrat and then Louis was awakened. They gave him a couple of drinks and then he took off through the door and went home. I talked with Willy afterwards, and he really got a big kick out of the whole deal. But, he said, what a battle there was when his mother saw his dad. He was late getting home and said he hadn’t been drinking, but was very surprised when she handed him a mirror to see himself with his mustache half gone. The poor little guy’s story was shot down in flames right there. So, you can see, things were not always grim.
I remember one Hallowe’en when we put the Minister’s buggy under the bridge at the old town. And it was a week before he found it. That was Jim Hendersen, the Presbyterian Minister. He had brought his girlfriend to town for a party. She lived a mile and a half south of town. Tina Willard was her name, and I guess they enjoyed the walk home.
The winter of 1930-31, Robert McQueen, who later became my father-in-law, took a contract to move the Dawson Co-op Store and Reasbeck’s Hotel from the old town into the new town where it’s presently located. (The hotel was burned down in the explosion of 1943). I worked for him during the moving of these two buildings. The Co-Op store was doing business all during the move. Nothing was taken out of the store for the move, not even a rack. We cleared the road north past where Petricks live now, to Bentley’s corner, half a mile, and then after crossing the creek, came east across Bentley’s to Knutson’s field and across Knutson’s field about where 101st Avenue is now. We had to build two bridges to roll on, one on the south fork of the creek, and one on the north fork of the creek — the Dawson Creek. Our first job, was getting the timber out of the bush to put under these buildings. Pa McQueen was busy at home building a capstan, using a large log for the drum, and it was eighteen inches in diameter. The tree that the horses were hooked on was approximately sixteen to eighteen feet long. Sometimes we used a team of horses, and sometimes just one horse. We put what were called shoes at the ends of each of the big logs that were carrying the building and under these shoes were the rollers. These were seven inches in diameter and made from jack-pine logs. Planks were laid in front of the building and then picked up after the building was rolled over them, carried up and then laid down ahead of the building again. A man on each corner would move these rollers from the back of the shoe to the front.
They were doing business in the store all the time. People came to where ever we were from all over the country just so they could buy their groceries in the store that was on the move. Coal and gas lamps supplied the lighting. We did not break a single thing, not even to knock a can off a shelf.
Upon reaching the basement which was built by Alf Sharp, who later became the Postmaster, we set it down on the concrete and then went back to the old town and started to load the Hotel. This was a two-storey building which we moved with a couple of minor incidents. Oscar Marion was the cook, and an excellent one too. We ate our meals in the hotel everyday. One morning the pipe came out of the big chimney, but was quickly put back into place. The second incident happened as we were crossing the bridge. The outside log on the bridge broke. These bridges were just made with three logs across to accommodate the plank end rollers for the building to roll on, and the outside log broke and I was working on the capstan with a team at the time. Pa called to me to keep the rope tight, so I just sat there holding on to that rope until the boys got pulleys and posts under that broken log and got it back into place. Then, watching Dad’s signal, got the building moving again, and it was safely across. By then I had to go in and get warm because it was very cold outside.
James and Melvin McQueen and Jim Blackstock will remember those two trips. Jim was by far the best man we had on the sledge hammer. He was the guy that anchored the caps on the dead-man for the rope pulleys. These were anchored down with heavy steel pins and on a cold morning if you were up, or were watching, the sledge hammer would clip off the pins and he would hit the pin with the handle, and eventually the head would fall off from the other side of the pin, broken right off slick. But, as I said, Jim could drive far better than anybody else, so he always got the job.