In 2018, a local researcher embarked upon a project to mark the historical one-room school sites in the Bezanson District. The Kleskun Hill Museum Society applied for and received a Community Initiatives Program Grant administered by Alberta Culture and Tourism to fund the project and with the assistance of the County of Grande Prairie No. 1 to install the signs, all the sites were marked by October 2019.
Vivian Johnston was born on March 17, 1926 at Burdett, Alberta. She was the 3rd youngest in a family of nine children born to Ole and Ellen Nelson. Once Vivian graduated from High School, she decided to move to Grande Prairie and stay with her sister so that she could attend St. Joe’s Business College
In 2010, the LaValley family decided to renovate the basement of the Legion Hut – all in the name of their mother and grandmother, Emilia LaValley.
Charlie Moon, along with his siblings and widowed mother, Elizabeth, left Orillia Ontario in 1905 for Edmonton where they resided until 1912. The older Moon boys soon found employment at lumber camps. Upon hearing of the opportunities for homestead land in the Peace District, the family made the arduous trip over the Edson Trail and settled in an area northwest of the Bezanson Townsite. As all of Charlie’s brothers and his mother filed on land in close proximity to each other, the area soon became known as the “Moon Settlement”. To supplement the farm’s income, Charlie would work in lumber camps during the winter months. Lumbering soon became a way of life for Charlie and he could foresee an opportunity for a profitable business venture. Charlie along with his brother, Pete, operated a mill for several years in the 1930’s along the Wapiti River south of their farms. When crown land became available for timber berths northeast of Crooked Creek, Charlie found an excellent stand of white spruce that had never been ravaged by fire. He had a new sawmill built in Edmonton and moved his operation to the area legally known as N ½ LSD 2 22-71-25 W5. The mill was powered by two steamers, one of which was a 165 Case. He moved in 1940 and started to saw in 1941 following which, he entered into a partnership with Hector Morrison of Grande Prairie and the “Crooked Creek Lumber Company” was established in 1946. The operation soon became known simply as “Moon’s Mill”.
The mill-site and camp became a small village with twenty-six log cabins for married men and their families, a store complete with gas pumps, a cookhouse, shops and two bunkhouses – one large enough to house twenty men and another smaller one. A large log building was erected and served as a school and dance hall. Cooks included Ada Bryenton, Rosie Dorscheid and Thelma Ames whose husband, George, fulfilled the “flunky” duties. Elsie Ames worked as the storekeeper and company bookkeeper. Pete Doerkson was hired to maintain the livestock; specifically, the cows that supplied the fresh dairy products. He also butchered the pigs that the cooks would use for meal preparation and saw to it that fresh pork was available for sale at the store. Any purchases at the store would be deducted from wages earned. Water for the camp was hauled with horses and a stone boat. Many employees stayed at the camp year round and would continue to saw and pile lumber in the summer. As in any small community, entertainment usually consisted of dances on Saturday nights or alternatively, card parties.
In an effort to provide an atmosphere of life whereby employees could bring their families that often consisted of school-age children, Charlie sought the assistance of Stan Hambly, a former school inspector, to see if it would be feasible to provide educational instruction at the mill. A special permit was granted to operate a private school during the winter months. Mrs. Betty Moon was the 1st teacher followed by Mrs. Isobel Moody in September 1948 for one year while Mrs. Moon was on maternity leave. The teacher often had as many as 20 to 25 pupils receiving instruction at one time. The school opened on November 7, 1947 and operated until June 28, 1952.
Some of the employees of the mill itself included sawyers – Vern Sederstrom, Art Loewen, Bill Chapman; boilermen – Pete Wright, Charlie Ames and Otto Miller; canter – Elmer McLaughlin. Emery Parrish hauled logs with a four-up team and sleigh, Paul Diemert and Cliff Loewen skidded the logs with horses. As in any operation there can be serious accidents; Harry Nellis one of the repairman, lost a portion of his arm.
The Mill operated from 1941 to 1953 and could produce 40,000 FBM per day. They logged in the winter but sawed year around. The operation had started logging with crosscut saws and horses and ended with power saws, cats and arch trucks. The Mill operation had a planer-mill but seldom used it. Rough boards were cut three inches thick and then shipped to the Northern Planing Mill in Grande Prairie where they were planed down to two inches.
In 1946, Bickell & Swallow Lumber Company and Crooked Creek Lumber Company formed a new company, Northern Planing Mills and located the business in Grande Prairie at 9649-94 avenue, an area that was next to the Northern Alberta Railway Yard. The location is currently occupied by Prairie Sunrise Towers. Although the operation was very successful with the profits being split proportionately to the volume of lumber supplied, the mill was destroyed by fire in April 1953 and not rebuilt.
In 1952, Hector Morrison and Charlie Moon along with the Bickell’s; Roy, Bob, Bill and John incorporated Northern Plywoods Ltd. to produce plywood from poplar logs. Veneer began to be produced in the spring of 1953, followed by the production of plywood. By now Moon’s Mill had completed the timber berth requirements stipulated by the Province and had essentially closed down. The Scott family who had a mill nearby, lived in the “Store” the first winter it was vacant.
The September 18, 1952 Herald-Tribune reported:
Alberta’s Only Plywood Factory Locates Here
Sod for a thirty to forty thousand dollar plywood factory was turned at Grande Prairie on Tuesday by officials of Northern Plywoods Ltd. . . . The Company was only recently organized. Major shareholders are all residents of the Peace River Country.
By 1955, the operation had several hundred employees and an annual payroll running into the millions of dollars with plywood being shipped across Canada and points beyond. Canadian Forest Products Ltd. of Vancouver, BC became interested in the enterprise and bought out Hector Morrison’s and Charlie Moon’s shares in the Company. The plywood plant was located on Hector Morrison’s land, which at that time was quite a distance out of town. The Sears building and the Real Canadian Superstore (12225 to 12429-99 street, GP) are currently located on the old mill-site. The two steamers that powered the mill were eventually obtained by Stan Reynolds of Wetaskiwin who was collecting period-specific artifacts and equipment for display. He donated his collection to the Province of Alberta – a department of which had established the Reynolds-Alberta Museum that opened in 1992.
It was the end of an era for Charlie Moon. An era that was initiated as a small-scale sawmill and ended with the sale of his interest in the only plywood factory in Alberta. He had returned to the farm in Bezanson in 1953 and continued farming until his death in 1967. The community was deeply saddened at the loss of a pioneer who had contributed immensely to the development of the area through his many business ventures.
Written by Wanda Zenner
This article is an excerpt of the original article published in the Forestry Magazine “Trails & Tales”.
**No part of this document may be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any format without written permission of the author**
“Smoky to Grande Prairie” History Book
“My Story” by Roy Bickell
Ross & Theresa Moon – mill photos
Charlie Wales interview
“Sawmills: Across the Smoky” History Book
“Leslie & Morrison Family History” courtesy of Bill Leslie
Sharon (Moody) Dodd
The November 25, 1954 issue of the Herald-Tribune reported: “Hundred Willing Hands Pitch in to Build House for Widow”
Although the majority of residents of Bezanson and surrounding areas only recall Gaboury’s Café, the business actually began years earlier and was known as the Ferry Inn followed by the Way Inn, and after Gaboury’s ownership, it was known simply as Smoky River Café.
Emilia (Emily), born on October 25, 1922 at Sexsmith, was the 2nd oldest of John and Tillie Marek’s six children. In 1928, The Marek family moved to a farm in the Twilight District and Emily and her siblings attended the Twilight One-Room School. After completing Grade 9, Emily attended St. Joseph’s High School in Grande Prairie.
Craig’s family, the Johnston’s, arrived in the Bezanson area in 1912. Craig, born on March 12, 1975 at Grande Prairie, is Wanda Zenner’s middle son. He has two brothers, Daren and Barry. Craig attended the Bezanson Consolidated School followed by High School at Sexsmith and then on to NAIT in Edmonton where he studied Civil Engineering.
By 1949, the veterans from Bezanson and the surrounding area decided that the formation of a Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion would be a worthwhile endeavor for the Community. They followed the model utilized by the East Smoky Legion Branch No. 89 from DeBolt and received a favorable response to their application for a Charter. Therefore, the West Smoky Legion Branch No. 244 came into existence on March 4, 1949.
The Bezanson Baseball Team, the Eagles, was formed after the war in 1948 and had flashy white and red uniforms.