Recent History – 2001
Jan. 9, 2001
By Gerry Clare (column “From the Archives”)
The arrival of the railway in 1931 and the beginning of the Alaska Highway in 1942 were obvious milestones in the development of Dawson Creek. So also was the change in status from village to city early in 1958.
Dawson Creek was created as B.C.’s Centennial City, helping to mark the centennial of the union of the two colonies of British Columbia and Vancouver Island.
On January 6, 1958 the provincial cabinet passed an order-in-council granting the village’s petition to become a city. At the swearing-in ceremony, Gordon Kittson remarked that “it was just 21 years ago last May that the village of Dawson Creek was incorporated under the guidance of the first village commission which consisted of Wes Harper, George Bissett and Arthur Chamberlain.” Kittson also paid tribute to the 25 people who had acted as village commissioners since 1937 and who were leaving the new city’s financial affairs in good order.
Following a banquet in celebration of the event, Magistrate W.C. Bowie led the swearing in ceremony for the new council. The new mayor, Roger Forsyth commented that “cities are like heroes. They are made, not born. We on the new council intend to work in close co-operation with both junior and senior Chambers of Commerce to sell Dawson Creek to the world.”
“It is significant”, the mayor remarked, “that British Columbia was more or less discovered from here. We hope that eventually British Columbia will discover us.”
MLA Stan Carnell paid tribute to the new mayor, council and city and in his remarks said he could see a time when there would be three bridges across the Peace, including one at Hudson’s Hope.
Speakers from Edmonton and Vancouver joined other local dignitaries in helping to launch the new city. Jim McKenzie, President of the Senior Chamber of Commerce reminded Mayor Forsyth of the big job ahead for council.
“To you, Mr. Mayor”, he stated, “we have given the task of guiding the footsteps of this lusty infant into the dynamic metropolis of the north.” Chuck Maguire of the Junior Chamber of Commerce presented Mayor Forsyth with a gavel to mark the occasion.
To bring the number of aldermen up to that required for a city council, a by-election was held in early February. Only about 30 per cent of the eligible voters turned out and they elected Floyd Wilson and Keith Fisher-Fleming to round out the council of mayor and six aldermen. The mayor and the remaining aldermen had been elected to form the village council and continued in office as city council members.
The 1957 air photo that accompanies this article shows a city in transition Ñ starting to look like the present city but still showing signs of wartime highway construction activities. There is no traffic circle where the Rolla Road meets the Alaska Highway and 8th Street. And 103rd Avenue does not continue east across 8th as it does now Ñ the area where the main Dawson Co-op store is located was part of an army base.
The Mile Zero Post is in its present spot, although hard to spot, and had been there for 10 years when the picture was taken. The cairn officially marking the beginning of the Alaska Highway is shown in the middle of that pre-traffic circle intersection.
A lot more open space appears north of the NAR station but some of the wartime warehousing and rail spurs can be seen as well as the big engine house for locomotive servicing. To the west of the station at least a half dozen grain elevators stand ready for the harvest. A beehive burner marks the location of the Fort St. John Lumber mill.
The huge reservoir used by the railway for the steam locomotives is clearly visible in the photo. City Hall, the Fire Hall and the RCMP complex occupy that area now. The largely empty hillsides north of the railway are pretty much covered with houses now.
In other news, the provincial government had just called for tenders to replace the bridge at Taylor. The suspension bridge, which collapsed in October 1957, was to be replaced rather than repaired. In the meantime, road traffic continued to use the PGE bridge, sharing it with the trains heading to and from Fort St. John.
The government seemed to be backing off on its promise to build a new hospital large enough for future needs. Eventually, in 1962, the 100-bed St. Joseph’s General Hospital opened at 13th and 110th and the 1930s vintage building was demolished.
Two movie theatres competed for the entertainment dollar. In early January of 1958 the Crest offered two big attractions: “Hollywood or Bust” starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis and “Fire Down Below” with Robert Mitchum, Rita Hayworth and Jack Lemmon in the lead roles. Over at the Vogue, now the Elks Hall, you could enjoy “Omar Khayyam” starring Cornel Wilde and Debra Paget. The other big hit, a western, starred Jack Palance and Anthony Perkins in “The Lonely Man.”
Pratt’s 5-Cents to 1-Dollar Store on 102nd Avenue took out a four-page ad for a January clearance event. Seamless nylons were selling for 89 cents a pair and dresses priced regularly at $19.95 were on at a 25 per cent discount. Sport shirts were marked down from $7 to $5 and parkas were being cleared out at $11.99. Good wool blankets were tagged at $3.99 and a 24-piece set of china could be had for just $7.49.
Harry Giles was an official weather recorder and reported, in his summary of the 1957 conditions, that both June and September had high temperatures of about +27C while February came in with a low of -42C. On October 4, nearly 36 cm of snow fell and July 31 was the wettest single day with more than two cm recorded in 24 hours.
So, there’s a brief look at Dawson Creek in the month the village first became a city and helped celebrate B.C.’s 1958 Centennial.