Coming Up: The Alaska Highway Road Show

If you like storytelling, don’t miss the Alaska Highway Roadshow on July 6th in the Grande Prairie Museum Community Room at 7:00 PM. Only 100 tickets are available and they are selling fast at $10.00.  Tickets can be purchased at the door or in advance from the Grande Prairie Museum (Cash Only)

Performers Bill Dolan, Alison Tubman, and Kathy Jessup have a long family history in the north, and they have created an entertaining look back at the history of the Alaska Highway through research, family stories, music, artifacts, and photographs.

Raised as “highway kids,” they lend an authentic voice to this ninety-minute tribute concert. Audiences will gain an appreciation of why the Alaska Highway deserves to be Canada’s newest National Historic Site and why truckers and all those who’ve called it home over the years proudly share a special bond. The Trail of ’42 is a remarkable story, and as the Highway reaches its 75th birthday, this is the time to tell it!

Spring Cleaning at the Archives

Recently, as part of our Integrated Pest Management program (IPM), the SPRA held its first annual spring cleaning bee. You may be thinking, “Integrated Pest Management! Does the archives have bugs?” No and yes. Technically, most bugs are not true bugs, they are insects. (I know a gardener who takes the terminology very seriously and I do too as a gesture of solidarity). So, no bugs in the archives. But the occasional spider and millipede does get in there. Both eat other insects. Luckily, the spiders like whatever it is they put in the pest traps and the millipedes seem to starve to death so the records remain safe.

IPM is less about dealing with a pest problem and more about preventing a pest problem.

Material coming in is inspected. Any items that look suspicious are quarantined. Pest traps attract wayward critters and give us an indication of what is wandering in. But the most important preventative activity for our IPM is housekeeping.

We regularly clean our working space but the storage shelves are a bit trickier. In both the unprocessed area and the processed storage vault, the shelves are full of boxes. Not something that gets dusted every day. Or week. Or month. It is a big job. Not a job for one or even four staff, only one of whom is here full time. The job needed doing and we needed help so we called in our volunteers. It was a great fun day of dusting, reorganizing, and out with the old.  (Empty boxes only. This is an Archive after all) We followed up all that hard work with a potluck lunch.

A few shelves in the vault still require dusting and a pest spot check in the bottom rows of boxes. It won’t be as exciting now that Meg isn’t here to scare me with, “Oh my gosh! This one is huge!” Thanks, Meg. I  had skipped my cardio that day and needed to get my heart rate up.

While it wasn’t all done, we accomplished a lot. More than just cleaning. It was great to get all the volunteers and staff together. We’re not all in at the same time and catching up helps us bond as a team. Volunteers were able to see more of the archive than they usually do. They are generally very focused on their projects and don’t get to see the other work areas. And last but not least we were able to assure ourselves, by moving around boxes and checking files, that the SPRA really is in good shape. If we ever do encounter a pest problem, we’ll be better able to pinpoint the possible causes and determine solutions because we have limited the possible start time to some time after June 2017.

That is a lot of value for a cleaning bee at the Archive. Thanks to all the wonderful volunteers and staff who made it happen.

by Archivist Josephine Sallis

Upcoming Cemetery Tours

South Peace Regional Archives is hosting two cemetery tours this summer and we’re inviting you to join in!

On Tuesday, July 4 and Friday, August 25 at 7:00 PM we will be hosting our annual cemetery walking tours.  Join us at the Grande Prairie Cemetery (84 Avenue and 112 Street) to discover the rich and interesting history of Grande Prairie and area through the lives and stories of its people.  Our tour will highlight the lives of those who served in the two world wars.  Please note that this will be the same tour that was given last summer.

Call the Archives at 780-830-5105 to register (limit of 25 participants per tour)

D Is For Dimsdale

On September 23, 1924, an announcement appeared in the Grande Prairie Herald, that a new town had been created on the western extension of the Edmonton, Dunvegan, and British Columbia Railway. It would be called “Dimsdale”, after Henry George Dimsdale, a locating engineer for the railway.

The original name of the district was Spring Lake, after the small spring-fed lake which is now Dimsdale Lake. As fertile farm and prairie land, it was snapped up for homesteads as soon as it was surveyed in 1909. By 1912, there was already a school on the south shore of the lake, first named Greystone and then Wapiti School District when it was moved 1 ½ miles west of the current hamlet.

In 1926 the railway was built and the townsite laid out next to the railway track. Rapid development followed. Besides the railway station, there was two stores and some residences. Ramsfield’s Store contained the post office, opened in September 1927. The United Grain Growers elevator was also built that year and boasted it had “been taking in wheat steadily; that is, when it was not too full to take in any more. Three times it has been filled to capacity and over 100,000 bushels have been received.” Eventually there were three elevators, as this Herald-Tribune newspaper photograph from November 1970 shows.

In the mid-1930s, a badly-needed community hall was built, and in the 1950s, a curling rink. There was also the Hystad Bros. Planing Mill—they drilled the first community water well across the tracks from the store.  In the country near the hamlet were the Spring Creek Presbyterian Church and Cemetery to the south, and Wapiti School to the west.

There were many active community organizations such as the United Farmers Association and United Farm Women, and the Dimsdale Women’s Community Circle whose records are archived at SPRA.

Wapiti School District was centralized to Wembley in 1955, but the school, converted to a home, is still on its original site.  The post office and store also closed in 1967, and the Dimsdale Hall is the only active community building remaining in the hamlet.

If you have records or photographs of Dimsdale that you would like to archive, please give us a call.

By Executive Director Mary Nutting

September 23, 1924

November 18, 1927

November 18, 1970

Soldier Spotlight: Hedley Johnson

Regimental Number: 7793
Rank: Private
Branch: 7th Canadian Mounted Rifles; Reserve Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery; 1st Battalion, Canadian Garrison Regiment

According to the Canadian War Museum, some 619,636 Canadians enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces, approximately 424,000 of whom served overseas.  With such high numbers, one would expect that there were often soldiers with the same, or at least similar, names and initials.  Sometimes these similarities resulted in cases of mistaken identities, which was never more distressing than when an incorrect name appeared on the casualty lists.  Such was the case with Hedley Johnson.

Hedley was born in Brantford, Ontario on November 30, 1887. He came to Grande Prairie in October of 1910 and filed on a homestead at NE 34-71-5-W6. Hedley enlisted in February of 1915. On June 24, 1915, he married Carmelia “Carrie” Macklin in England. Hedley served only in England and Canada because of his flat feet and bouts of rheumatic fever. In June of 1915, there was some confusion as an H. Johnson was reported to have been killed in action. It turned out to be a H. Hugh Johnston (possibly referring to Norman Johnston, who is also listed on our memorial), and corrections were printed in the Grande Prairie Herald a week later. Hedley and Carrie arrived back to the homestead in February 1919, where they continued to live until they moved into Grande Prairie in 1928. In 1946, they moved to Rocky Mountain House. Hedley died in Edmonton on February 23, 1973.

Sources: Smoky River to Grande Prairie p. 215; Pioneers of the Peace p. 178-179; Grande Prairie Capitol of the Peace p. 70

June 8, 1915

June 15, 1915

June 17, 1915

February 11, 1919

What A Collection

Ethel Vader’s Golden Jubilee Senior Citizen Award

I always like it at the archives when someone comes in carrying boxes, which happened last month. My next favorite thing is when I hear there are more boxes at home.

South Peace Regional Archives is now home to a wonderful collection of information from the Grimm, Vader, and Scott families who lived in the Rycroft area. The collection consists of hundreds of negatives, photographs, account books, certificates, WWII letters, etc., the list is long and extensive. One item from the collection is a certificate that was given to residents of Alberta on its Golden Jubilee in 1955. The certificate in this collection was given to Ethel (Scott) Vader. Ethel was born in North Dakota in 1888, moving with her family to Calgary as an infant. Ethel and her husband Dan moved to Spirit River where they remained for many years.

These extensive family records still need to be processed by our Archivist but will be a great benefit to historians and family researchers in the years to come.

By Research Archivist Patricia Greber


Work in Progress: Bill Turnbull fonds Part 2

It has been a very busy few months meeting people, attending workshops, and researching for the Canada 150 display. Some days I get to be an archivist and work at my ongoing arrangement and description project, the Bill Turnbull fonds.

One of the great things about Bill’s records is that the photographs and files came with a list of titles and dates for sets of photographs. Some of the photographs are individually labeled. This is a dream come true for an archivist. While we do not require that collections be organized before they are donated, we do love when there is an original order we can follow. The arrangement process moves faster for one thing. For another, a discernible original order provides for a better understanding of the context in which the records were created and used. We can be confident we are not messing with the history or contextual information contained in the record.

Sadly, one of the tasks I am spending a lot of time on is carefully scraping sticky residue off photographs. Bill’s photographs are generally in very good condition but a number of them have spent time glued or taped into scrapbooks. It is a bit tedious and I sometimes think, “These photographs are not even that old; maybe this is overkill.” That is my age speaking, though. Some of these photographs are almost forty years old. Not quite as old as me but still old-ish. And with good care, these photographs will be really old someday. Old enough that someone will marvel at the health and vitality of their sixteen-year-old great-grandmother captured in a still image.

That is one reason why we do what we do at the SPRA. Record creators like Bill start the process of preserving evidence of the past by capturing moments and information they feel have value. We help those documents and photographs, and anything else people are generous enough to create and donate, weather the passage of time so they too can become one of the “old-timers” future researchers marvel over.

By Archivist Josephine Sallis

C is for Cornwall

The district of Cornwall, south of Ridgevalley, was named for nearby Cornwall Creek, which in turn was named after “Peace River Jim” Cornwall, MLA for the Peace River District from 1909 to 1913. He was a great promoter of Peace Country and while MLA, he financed a month-long tour of the region to show adventure writers, reporters, agriculturists and geologists the potential he saw in the Peace region.

Cornwall School was built on the banks of this creek, ½ mile south of Twp Rd 705 on Rge Rd 262 in 1936. This was home base for the Cornwall Baseball team, as well as the first meeting place for the Cornwall Mennonite Brethren until a church was built in 1942. The community also had a Drama League, a CGIT troupe, and a Good Neighbours Club which supported the Red Cross, soldiers during wartime, and people in need. The school closed in 1960, and the church evolved into the current Gospel Light Church in DeBolt. The most visible remnant of Cornwall is the Cornwall Cemetery on the Ridgevalley Road, four miles south of the hamlet.

Several children studying outside of Cornwall School, ca. 1941

Northern Tribune ~ October 8, 1942

Northern Tribune ~ March 26, 1936

Northern Tribune ~ July 15, 1943

Northern Tribune ~ April 7, 1938

Soldier Spotlight: Private Fred Blanchard

Portrait of Fred Blanchard in World War I uniform, 1915

Regimental Number: 101077
Rank: Private
Branch: 66th Battalion; 7th Canadian Area Employment Company

During the First World War, it wasn’t uncommon for young men to add a year or two to their age in order to get into the army.  Quite a number of eager Grande Prairie boys lied about the year of their birth so that they could enlist, in spite of being under 18.  Fred Blanchard lied about his age too – except that he made himself out to be younger so that he could join up in July of 1915.

Fred was born in Hampshire, England on March 6, 1862. He joined the British navy in 1878, only 16 years old, and served for nine years. His first military service was in Egypt; in 1882 he was presented a bronze medal for distinguished service by the Khedive of Egypt.  From 1885 until 1887 Fred served with the navy in Burma, where he once again won a medal for distinguished service.  Later in his career Fred was engaged in chasing slave traders along the east coast of Africa on board the HMS Turquoise.  He left the navy with an honorable discharge around 1871 and, for a change of career, joined the Metropolitan Fire Brigade of London.

In 1909 Fred came to the Peace country.  His wife Emily and their children joined him in 1910, and a year later he filed on a homestead at SE 17-72-7-W6, on the east side of Lake Saskatoon.

When fifty Grande Prairie boys left for Edmonton in July of 1915 to enlist in the 66th Battalion, Fred Blanchard was among them.  He was 53 years old.  On his attestation paper, he gave 1870 as the year of his birth and passed himself off as a 45-year-old.  At some point his deception must have been discovered as the March 6, 1917 Grand Prairie Herald printed an article wishing Fred a happy 55th birthday as he celebrated in the trenches.  According to two letters to the Herald from Frank Longair, Fred remained in high spirits and good humor during his military service.  Upon returning to Lake Saskatoon after his discharge in January of 1918, Fred said that “he had helped Old England in every battle for the past decade and he must help her through this one.”

His loyal service was still remembered at the end of his life.  Fred died on March 15, 1930 and was buried with full military honors in the Soldiers’ Plot at Hope, British Columbia.

Sources: Pioneers of the Peace p. 33, 34; Lake Saskatoon Reflections p. 101-103

August 8, 1916 ~ “Fred… never for a moment loses his temper or his inimitable stock of humor.  He is always in good spirits and has proved his right to the title of ‘old war horse.'”

March 6, 1917 ~ 55 and “feeling fine, except for an occasional attack of rheumatism, but was holding his end up on the Somme with the rest of the boys.”

January 17, 1918 ~ “…he had helped Old England in every battle for the past decade and he must help her through this one.”

B is for Bridgeview

1930 Chattel Mortgage

1932 Discharge of Chattel Mortgage

On April 25, 1935 the Northern Tribune carried an article which began, “On Tuesday evening of last week Bridgeview players presented the drama, ‘Dust of the Earth’ in the Masonic Hall here.”

The Masonic Hall mentioned was in Spirit River, and the proceeds of the drama went towards building a community hall in Bridgeview, about 10 miles south on Secondary Highway 731. A one-room country school had been established here in 1929, and a post office and store in 1931.

The people who lived at Bridgeview were mostly homesteaders, and they were a pretty active and social lot. I only found five articles in the paper, but besides the Bridgeview Players, the articles talk about a Young People’s Club, the Ladies Aid, the Bridgeview Hockey Club and an ice rink, a dance sponsored by the Veterans of the community, a box social and dance to raise money for the Christmas concert, the Holmberg orchestra, a skating party, bean supper and dance sponsored by the hockey club, and a wedding shower for a new bride. It always amazes me how much community building went on during the Great Depression.

The community hall was never built, and the school continued to serve as a community gathering place. Later on, ca. 1940, a small white church, the Bridgeview Alliance Tabernacle, was built just south of the school and a cemetery laid out behind the church. You can still see the old school, church and cemetery as the remains of the Bridgeview community, and you can read about the families in the book Memories and Moments: Bridgeview, White Mountain, and Willowvale.

The oldest collection at the Archives came from the Coulter family in Bridgeview. It contains the 1820 Will of Hudson’s Bay Factor John Davis, and, among other documents, this mortgage on the family horses and cows during the depression. This collection can be viewed as the Davis, Hodgson, Coulter fonds on our website.

Northern Tribune ~ April 25, 1935

Northern Tribune ~ December 9, 1937

Northern Tribune ~ February 27, 1936

Written by Executive Director Mary Nutting