[missing text]….60 degrees below, snapping the new wire in many places. This intense cold was followed by strong winds which overturned great numbers of trees, so that line-men had a difficult task to make the necessary repairs. From all points of the north the government telegraph service was continually in receipt of letters expressing the delight of the people in having telegraphic connection. Businessmen from that territory visiting Edmonton went to the district headquarters of the service to express their great satisfaction at the action of the department in building the line. During the year 1912 the line into Peace River Crossing was extended to Dunvegan and then to Saskatoon Lake. The inrush of settlers had the effect of greatly increasing the cost of maintenance, particularly in the matter of provender for horses. Hay sold as high as $30 a ton, oats $1.53 a bushel, there being no established prices. An appropriation of funds was made in 1913 for the construction of a telephone line from Grouard to High Prairie. The volume of business steadily increased on the Edmonton-Peace River line in 1912 and ‘13. The great bulk of the business was done with Edmonton, it being the commercial centre to this country to the north and it was found necessary to engage another operator to assist the agent at this time. During the years 1913 and ‘14, the lines, for the most part, were kept in good working order. However, the section between Athabasca and Grouard gave much trouble. This section traversed heavily timbered areas and fierce forest fires sweeping through the district burnt poles and killed trees, many of which left standing were later blown down by strong winds and fell on the wire.
During the summer of 1913 extremely heavy rain caused the Lesser Slave Lake to overflow its banks, and flood that portion of the line between Sawridge and Grouard. This, and the trouble caused by the E. D. And B.C. railway while clearing their right of way gave lineman a great deal of extra work. In 1914 and ‘15 Lesser Slave Lake again overflowed its banks and washed out a portion of the line. During the time the line was down, messages were transferred by boat between Sawridge and Grouard. A few miles of line in the most troublesome part were moved to higher ground. An appropriation was available during this year for the extension of the line from Lake Saskatoon to Hudson’s Hope. An office was established in Pouce Coupe on February 11th, 1915 and on March 5th at Fort St. John. The line was completed to Hudson’s Hope on August 4, 1915, giving a continuous wire to Edmonton, 748 miles distance. It is interesting to note, that of an expenditure of about $87,000 dollars, over $5,000 was spent on feed for horses, and nearly $500 for blacksmithing. Settlers in the district were prodigal in their thanks to the Department for placing them in touch with the outer world. Settlers in great numbers were still pushing onwards, far beyond railways, while the government telegraph line was the one thing that gave them connection with the outside. The importance of this line to the settlers, businessmen and the country generally, cannot be overestimated.
The first provincial police officer was stationed in the Kilkerran district. This was Mr. Duncan, and he lived within a quarter mile of the Piper homestead, establishing the police station there in 1914. In 1917, Constable Duncan moved to the present site of the Pouce Coupe Village. Besides his duties as police constable, he was registrar of births, deaths and marriages, official administrator, mining recorder, game warden, etc.
The first settlers had a very long journey to make to file their land claims. They had to go to Grande Prairie, to the Dominion Land Office there. Pictures show a small office on a muddy street and a long patient queue of men waiting to file. Stories tell that men stood in the queue all night rather than lose their place in the line. In 1915, George Soloway, a homesteader who lived close to Pouce Coupe was appointed Lands Agent and in 1918 this office was turned over to Tom Jamieson who served the settlers for a number of years from a small building on his Pouce Coupe farm. He served as sub-agent for the Dominion Lands Department until 1930. Other government agencies followed the police and lands department settling office and home in Pouce Coupe. In the winter of 1920 and ‘21 a government agency was established under Mr. Robert D. (“Dinty”) Moore, followed shortly by Mr. Fred Fraser. Magistrate Aubrey Fisher was named deputy agent. And Mr. Lester Harper was named head of the taxation office. At first, court cases were few and usually settled before the magistrate. Cases beyond the magistrate’s jurisdiction were heard at Fort George, as Prince George was then called. This procedure was expensive so next a judge was sent in once a year from Fort George. Judge Robertson, the first of these, enjoyed a bush holiday. He made his annual trips in by boat down the old trade route of the Parsnip and Peace Rivers. Having arrived at Taylor Flats, the judicial person traveled overland to Pouce Coupe and there settled whatever cases were slated for trial. Duties accomplished, Judge Robertson journeyed to Edmonton thence to Fort George. In 1916, the Bank of Commerce opened a branch under William Hasert in a corner of Frank Haskin’s store in Pouce. Six months later the bank moved into the building the Pouce Coupe branch of the Canadian Bank of Commerce still occupies. And in 1919, two banks, the Merchant’s Bank and the Bank of Commerce opened branches in Rolla. Although these bank openings foretold the present busy commercial life of the district, it seems unlikely that large sums of money were then being deposited or loaned because the settlers were so very largely occupied with getting their first small field into production. Most wheat beyond the homesteader’s own seed requirements would be sold to some later arrival as would oats or bundles. It took the work of some years and a deal of money to change a homestead into a paying farm. Meanwhile homesteaders often ran a winter trapline to get ready cash. Earliest crops were flailed out. The first threshing machine was owned by Hector Tremblay; it was turned by horse teams. And about this machine Bud Piper tells: “The first time we threshed grain, four stacks of oats, a cog wheel broke and repairs to allow finishing of the stack threshing were not obtained until the next spring.” The settlers were dependent on their vegetable gardens. One early flower garden was grown by Esme Tuck of Pouce Coupe in 1920.
Old-timers invariably recall the fun they had in those early days, so the reader shouldn’t get the idea that life was all work. Everyone who possibly could attended the social gatherings. If attendance implied bringing the family cow as well as the family, well that was accepted and done. The first hall was in Pouce Coupe [?], north of Rolla. This hall was a fine log building and was opened in July 1915, with two days of sports. There was dancing on the two nights and a fiddlers’ orchestra from Grande Prairie. The first sports of the district had been held at Tremblay’s in July 1914. The dance following was held on the floor of their new, large, unfinished house. At the same place on July 1, 1915, the first community picnic was held. People enjoyed a tug-of-war, log rolling on the river and a dance that lasted two nights. Kilkerran and Rolla boasted their baseball teams. An old-timer reports the first stampede was held in Rolla in 1919 and the first fair in Dawson Creek about 1922, and the first large agricultural fair at Rolla in 1923. Fortunately these pioneers were mostly young and healthy. There was no resident doctor. In emergencies good neighbors such as Mrs. Kate Edwards, Mrs. Miller, Mrs. Mixer, Mrs. Bullen and Mrs. Vincent were skilled, kindly nurses. Of this group only Mrs. Mixer was a registered nurse. Mrs. Mixer describes the trying season in 1919: “Then came the time of the flu epidemic. It was pretty bad to try and get along without a doctor. I went to Pouce Coupe for three weeks. Meanwhile a neighbor took my place at home. A Mr. Brown in a little restaurant in Pouce Coupe had seven people in bed and was trying to cope with the situation. Finally the bank manager in Pouce got busy on the wires and a doctor came one very dark night, no moon, no stars, and we all kept looking down the road for that little beam of light. However, soon after that Dr. Archie Watson came and took up residence in Pouce Coupe.”
There was some beginning of public health services also. One account tells the first doctor visited schools in 1919. He rode a horse for these visits and for vaccinating children. There was no hospital until 1921, and on October 17 of that year the Alberta Red Cross opened a hospital in Pouce Coupe. In emergencies, the settlers still had a long wearying trip by team to get to Pouce but once there had competent medical care. Also records tell of Dr. Watson: “No trip was too hard, no trail too bad, no winter’s day too cold, and no distance too far for him to answer a call of distress.”
Meanwhile the E. D. and B. C. Railway was extended gradually closer and closer to the B. C. Peace River District. And in 1914 the rails reached Mirror Landing. McLennan was picked to be divisional point. By 1916 the north branch of the line reached Peace River town, and the southern reached Spirit River. From Spirit River the contractors built the grade thirty miles further until it neared the Pouce Coupe prairie. However, the steel was not laid on this grade. Instead the railroad was completed to Grande Prairie where the farms were a lot larger, longer established, and well developed, but lacked a market. This was in the middle of the first World War years and no more steel was to be had for railroad construction. However, B. C. settlers made good use of the railway grade. It was the shortest, best route to a railhead and became the freighting road so well known as the Spirit River Trail. On occasions when the road from Grande Prairie was passable, the first motor car of Grande Prairie district made taxi trips. The first motor car privately owned and operated in our area was driven into Grande Prairie and into Rolla in 1919 by Charlie Hatch, son of James Hatch, pioneer of the Rolla district. The census of 1911 showed a total population of less than 2000 persons in the entire Peace River District. Included in this figure were settlers, traders, missionaries and Indians. The census of 1921 showed twenty thousand. The Pouce Coupe prairie, in this decade, had registered one of the largest rates of population growth because before 1912 not many more than a dozen people comprised the population. After the first rush of settlers the population figures remained steady for some years. A large proportion of the younger men joined up and went off to do their part in World War I. The survivors returned after spreading the good news of their fertile farmland. In the reconstruction period following the war, many returned veterans came to settle in the area which their buddies had described so glowingly. One group numbering twenty-three returned soldiers and their families settled in the Sunset Prairie area in the summer of 1919. Fortunes fluctuated with the times, and when individual fortunes went from bad to worse, some of the first homesteaders left to try their luck elsewhere. Several circumstances made settlers proud of their new country. One was the readiness of their neighbors to pitch in and help when needed. Another was the honesty of the settlers. Old-timers invariably recall that house doors were never locked and that… [missing text]