First Trip by Automobile Over the Edson Trail

Who would consider travelling over the Edson Trail by car? A.M. Bezanson of course who would go to any length to promote the Peace River District; specifically the “Bezanson Townsite”.

In an effort to promote sales of business lots at the “Townsite”, A.M. Bezanson had offices established in Vancouver and Edmonton. A.J. Davidson, a real estate promoter from Edmonton, stated he might be interested in promoting sales of lots at the “Bezanson Townsite” if he could see the country however he
thought his age was not conducive to travel the “Trail” by horse and wagon. Without hesitation, Maynard stated that the “Trail” was suitable for automobiles. Following which, Maynard wired all the Hudson Bay Managers in the Peace River District that he was going to drive a car over the “Trail”. They all responded that they considered the proposed trip by automobile absolutely impossible. That comment only spurred on A.M. Bezanson to accomplish such a feat.

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On December 8, 1913, Mr. Bezanson unloaded a 1912 Cadillac from a flat-car in Edson. It was a heavy load with 800 pounds of fuel and luggage. With Bill Milford, Davidson’s chaffer-mechanic behind the wheel, the three set off with many local Edson merchants looking on in amazement that someone would attempt to drive a car across the “Edson Trail”. The “Trail” consisted of criss-crossed frozen ruts often a foot deep along with many stumps from the trees that had been cut off rather high by the survey crew not to mention the miles upon miles of muskeg. Fifty miles later, they reached the Athabasca River. The ferry had already been removed from the water but the river still was not completely frozen over. The three men decided to build a raft out of logs and attached it to the ferry cables. They drove the car onto the raft and it sank. Luckily the water was shallow enough that the car could be driven back to the bank. More logs were attached to the raft and once again they loaded on the car and crossed the river without any further mishaps. Four days later they reached the Smoky River – a distance of 250 miles. As the road to the “Bezanson Townsite” had not been maintained, Maynard and his companions attempted to cross the river at Goodwin’s Crossing. Two wheels of the car on one side fell into a deep crack in the ice. Luckily Maynard had brought along a block and tackle however they needed poles to be erected as a tripod. In an attempt to locate suitable trees to be used for the poles, Maynard fell through the ice. However after considerable exertion he managed to pull himself back onto the ice. The car was finally lifted out of the crack and the group eventually reached the west bank and continued on to the “Townsite”.

After showing Mr. Davidson the “Bezanson Townsite” which included the proposed nearby railroad crossing along with the mill-site and surrounding land that would be suitable for agriculture,

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the group carried on the village of Grande Prairie and then on to Beaverlodge. At every stop, everyone would come out to see the spectacle of a vehicle in the area.
Next stop – Ground where school was actually dismissed so that teachers and students alike could see the first vehicle in the area. On to Peace River Crossing where 12 miles of roadway had to be cut wider to enable the a car to pass through, back to Ground and ventured on to Sawridge by crossing the Lesser Slave Lake. This section of the journey was quick as they maintained a speed of 65 miles per hour on the ice. However just past Sawridge, the car once again fell through the ice. Out came the block  and tackle and once a tripod was erected, the car once again was hoisted out of the water. This time the vehicle sustained a considerable amount of damage however with the expertise of Mr. Davidson’s mechanic, the car was operational in a few hours. Once they reached Athabasca Landing they headed on the last leg of their journey with one rim coming off every few miles.

1800 miles later they arrived in Edmonton, tired but exhilarated at what they had accomplished. However after all was said and done, Mr. Davidson decided not to invest in the “Bezanson Townsite” as he was uncertain that the proposed railway would reach that area. Undaunted by the set-back in the potential sales of business lots at the “Townsite”, Maynard continued on to Vancouver. He arrived on December 23, 1913 just in time to spend Christmas with his family before he ventured back to Edmonton to continue in his quest to solicit investors who would start business ventures at the “Townsite”.

** Information gleaned from A.M. Bezanson’s book, “Sodbusters Invade the Peace”
No part of this document may be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any means without written permission from the author.

By Wanda Zenner

BEZANSON CELEBRATES: BEZANSON SCHOOL – 2017 – 60 YEARS STRONG!

In the 1950’s the area in Bezanson was thriving and it’s student population growing. In 1955, in true Bezanson spirit, farmers of the Bezanson district gathered together on their own time to build a teacherage to attract new teachers to the area.   In 1957 the County School Committee, having finally acceded to the ratepayers requests to move to “centralization of schools” in the district, opened the brand new 4 room “Bezanson School” with running water, lighting, and even a science lab.

Mr. Andruski, Superintendent of Schools at that time, was quoted as saying:

“A good building alone is not going to provide a good education itself. We must have dedicated teachers and co-operation of parents.”

“Credit for this school goes to the parents and citizens of Bezanson – only because you have given your support to the County and School Committee as a whole.” (Herald Tribune – Oct 25, 1957)

Many of our Grandparents and our parents were the pioneers, the builders of our community, our consolidated school, our Memorial Hall, our BEZANSON! They set the bar high many years ago, but here we are 60 years later, a community of dedicated volunteers, committed parents and teachers, powerful community builders, still as strong as ever!

 

And so August 26 & 27/2017 we “Celebrate Bezanson” – the past, the present, and the future!

 

 

Donna McNally

Beginnings in Bezanson

Ancel Maynard Bezanson was a tireless adventurer, promoter and pioneer of the Peace River region. His travels in the Northwest part of Alberta were documented, and then published in an effort to promote the Peace Region to potential settlers. His descriptions of the vast agricultural areas and immense opportunities that awaited new settlers helped to bring people from all over the world to our region. Bezanson’s first book The Peace River Trail was published in 1907 by the Edmonton Journal and sold over 5000 copies. His second book, Looking Ahead in the Peace Country – Building of a City was published in 1914 and described in detail the plans for his town site and the fruitful region of Northwest Alberta.

In anticipation of the Canadian Northern railway crossing on the Big Smoky River, Bezanson incorporated and developed a town site on the banks of the river. This town site was located approximately 12 kilometers southeast of the present day hamlet of Bezanson. Not only was the potential railway crossing an ideal location for a city, but the banks of the river provided a good place for a ferry crossing as well. Transportation routes were vitally important to the growth and development of the West, and providing services and stopping points along the routes played an important part in this growth.

Photo courtesy of South Peace Regional Archives: Bezanson family fonds CA GPR 0155.-0155.01-1990.30.089

Development of Bezanson’s town site was swift and plans included building many businesses, wide streets and even installing streetcars. It was a grand vision and the first few years saw many businesses erected including stables, rooming houses and even a jewelry store. The Herald had noted that in 1915 the town site of Bezanson had as many or more buildings than Grande Prairie. Unfortunately, the building and construction of the town site fizzled out when it was decided to re-route the railway in to Grande Prairie from the north via Rycroft.

By 1917 with the news that the railway was not crossing at Bezanson most residents moved on, A.M. Bezanson himself enlisting in the Army

Medical Corps, and what was left behind was only the footprints of the townsite buildings. In 1926, the logs from the Presbyterian Church at the townsite were purchased by and moved to build a store at the present day Bezanson hamlet.

Grande Prairie Herald March 23, 1915

The area of the original Bezanson townsite was designated a Provincial Historic Resource in 1986. The park at the Old Bezanson Townsite, complete with log buildings, a playground and a monument to recognize the pioneer women of the Peace, was first opened in 1988 after a team of volunteers helped to create a lasting historic reminder of the community’s past. Since this time, the park has largely been overseen by the Bezanson Agricultural Society. In recent years in an effort to re-vitalize the park, the Old Bezanson Townsite Committee has played an important role in replacing historic signage and promoting the history of the townsite and the community of Bezanson.

Down a New Road, Photo Courtesy of South Peace Regional Archives: Bezanson family fonds: CA GPR 0155-0155.01-1990.30.064

Today the park is managed by a partnership between the Bezanson Agricultural Society, the County of Grande Prairie No. 1, and the Old Bezanson Townsite Committee. In the summer of 2014, The Old Bezanson Townsite Park played host to the 100th anniversary celebration of the community of Bezanson. A few hundred attendees spent a beautiful August afternoon celebrating the opening of the new playground, a roast beef on a bun luncheon, horse-drawn wagon rides, children games and speeches from dignitaries. The celebration was organized by volunteers from the Bezanson Agricultural Society and Old Bezanson Townsite Committee, and with the support the County of Grande Prairie’s 100th Year Anniversary grant.

2014 The opening of the new playground at the Townsite— Old Bezanson Townsite Committee, County of Grande Prairie Councillor Harold Bulford, MLA Everett McDonald, MP Chris Warkentin

In anticipation of the upcoming Celebrate Bezanson homecoming in August 2017, members of the Old Bezanson Townsite committee will be submitting historical vignettes of the Bezanson community, from its origins on the banks of the Smoky River to its current location in the hamlet. Our hope is that we as a committee, will not only be able to present the history of our community and region, but we will also inspire our community members to take an active interest in the roots of our community.