During the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, potatoes were being grown commercially on a flat bordering the Smoky River near the homestead of Ancel Maynard Bezanson and not too far from the Bezanson Townsite.
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.
What is Kaidak? Where did the name of your business come from?
Kaidak is a turnkey energy industry Facility Construction & Maintenance provider, employing Project Supervisors, Pipefitters, Welders, Apprentices, Equipment Operators, Project Managers, Coordinators, Dispatchers and Administrative staff.
Although the earliest recorded information pertaining to the sponsorship of swimming lessons in the Legion Meeting Minutes was in 1966, the lessons certainly occurred much earlier. There are those who remember attending the old pool in 1959 – 1961. The pool was built in 1948 and was situated on 99th avenue where the Grande Prairie Curling Rink is now located. At that time, parents car-pooled or should I say, “truck-pooled” as kids actually rode in the truck box to make the trip to Grande Prairie.
The new pool, located in Bear Creek Park (now known as the Muskoseepi Park) opened in June of 1962; therefore any lessons after that date would have occurred at the new pool. Transportation was organized by 1962 as there are those who only recall riding the bus. The outdoor pool closed in 2013.
Eventually a large recreation centre known as the “RecPlex” was built in the early 1970’s and housed an arena and an indoor pool. As the City’s population continued to grow substantially, a new 450,000 sq. ft. multiplex recreation centre known as “Eastlink” was built on the south side of Grande Prairie and opened in December 2011.
The West Smoky Legion has gone above and beyond over the years to ensure that all the children in the area had the opportunity to learn how to swim. Various fundraising events were held specifically to be in a position to sponsor the swimming lessons. Even during the early 1980’s when the Legion was experiencing a slow financial period, the sponsorship never waivered. The earliest information in the Meeting Minutes of 1966 had 83 participants recorded. The number of registrants has varied over the years from a high in 1983 of 122 to 60 in 2019. Although the original lessons were for ten days, they have been reduced significantly over the years.
It is interesting to note that during the Legion’s sponsorship of swimming lessons, there has been three generations of students. Donna & Don McNally, Grant Bulford, Lynne Oe, Wanda Zenner, Duane LaValley, Arne LaValley, Grant LaValley, Maxine Robertson and Tom Laverick are some of those who were among the original participants who subsequently ensured that their own children learned to swim and now have the pleasure of watching their grandchildren learn a very important life-skill – all sponsored by the Legion.
Written by Wanda Zenner
West Smoky Legion No. 244 Meeting Minutes
Donna McNally, Danny Diederich, Grant Bulford, Melvin Bulford, Lynne Oe, Christine Thorpe, Cherry Dionne, Carol Sorensen, Maxine Robertson, Duane LaValley, Arne LaValley
Rodeo and horsemanship events have been a part of this region since it was first settled. Many rodeos and stampedes were originally created as an event to get away from the regular stresses of farm and ranch life. Rodeos and stampedes were an opportunity for the community to come together, participate in games and amusements and sometimes use the skills and horsemanship talents from farm work to compete against other rodeo athletes. Most rodeos and stampedes not only had events for cowboys, but they also had events for kids which was entertaining for everyone.
Bezanson has always had roots in the farm and ranch way of life and it also has a lengthy history of being a social community. From its very beginnings down at the townsite, community races, sports days and picnics were a regular occurrence. It is fitting then, that Bezanson in later years also hosted rodeo events in its annual Stampede, “The Biggest Little Rodeo”. The rodeo grounds were located in the area where the Bezanson ball diamonds and curling rink sit today. “The shoots were on the west side of the arena while the horses bucked out of the east side, there was a covered barn and the bleachers were on the east side around the corral,” Henry Diederich reflects on his days being involved in the Stampede.
The Bezanson Stampede was an annual event from 1947 – 1962 in the hamlet of Bezanson. The event brought together many people from the surrounding area for an event that included calf roping, cow hide races, wild cow milking, potatoe races, saddle bronc, kids rodeo events and more! This event did not include bull riding! Although there is not a lot of information about the Bezanson Stampede, I sat down with a few of the people that volunteered to make the event happen: Grant and Margaret Moon as well as Henry Diederich. Grant was the President of the Stampede back in the day, he and Margaret were tireless volunteers in the Stampede event, and Henry was the announcer from 1947-1962.
The Stampede at Bezanson was full of activities: carnival, rides, Ferris wheel, as well as a couple of food booths complete with pies, hot dogs, hamburgers. Grant recalls that, “One year they had Coca-cola and the next year it was Pepsi-cola. This alternated every year.” Children’s games and events were a part of Stampede Day also. Roy Robideau did most of the organizing for the kid’s games during the rodeo years. They had a supper in the evening for sale, then a dance.
Grant and Margaret also remember how the money from the stampede (after it had stopped running) was given to the hall group. The hall was an important part of the community that everyone made use of; dances, meetings, movie theatre. Margaret says,” Everyone paid for stampede, even the workers (volunteers). Dances at the hall men: $1, women: free. Dances started at 10 PM, swept at 12 AM, midnight dinner at 12 AM for 30 minutes and these dances would last until around 2-3 AM. Music was performed by locals such as Earl Patterson, Bredesons, Fords and Dwayne Stark.”
The rodeo portion of the event included wild cow milking, mutton busting, calf-roping, potato races, cow hide races, cow riding (instead of bull riding), bucking bronc-bare back, stake races and barrel races. Neither the Moons nor Henry remember a human corral for the rodeo but when it ran in the hamlet, there was a fence up. The Moons remember that, “Henry Diederich was the last announcer, Johnny Stark before Henry.” They also remembered that, “Bud Patterson rode around on his horse with a cone and shouted out the announcing in the arena.”
The stock used for the rodeo came from local farms originally. The animals were branded to keep track of them. In the last few years the Stampede organizers bought horses, which after Teepee Stampede bought horses too, were traded back and forth for the events. Many local farmers supplied stock for the event. Henry remembers bucking stock supplied by Bob Frakes and cattle supplied by Bob Mcfee, Hap McLaughlin, Pete and Charlie Moon.
One of the memorable stories from the Bezanson Stampede was the infamous Bezanson Gravedigger. It was deemed the wildest horse. Henry remembers, “Delmer Weegar used to ride. Once when the others were chicken to get on the Bezanson Gravedigger, Delmer volunteered. He probably would have ridden it too if he hadn’t hooked his foot on the gate on the way out.”
On top of the all of the riding events, the Bezanson Stampede also held the Pleasure Class and Glamour Class. This is where they would dress in costume and show off their horses around the corral. There were cash prizes for these groups and even a trophy for the winner. Grant remembers the last trophy possibly going to someone that was from Fort St. John.
Rodeo clowns Delmer and David Weegar on horseback at Bezanson Stampede.
Rodeo clowns at Bezanson Stampede.
Courtesy of South Peace Regional Archives CA GPR 0502-2010.48.03
Henry reminisces, “The Stampede was like a big family event with everyone coming. There were lots of locals with the odd out of towners. It was the biggest event of the year, everyone came and many people camped.” Hosting a big event took a lot of volunteer effort. Grant recalls, “Ten days work to get it ready, and then take it all down. A lot of work. [We had to] find people to work in booths and to volunteer.”
When asked as to why the Stampede in Bezanson didn’t have a longer run, Grant Moon replied, “Not sure, maybe the lack of interest or it was too much work for one day. It was not because of the Teepee Creek Stampede. Guys would come from Teepee and help Bezanson and then vice versa. They always worked together with the stampedes.” Henry Diederich recalls that the decision made to discontinue with the stampede was also due to the need to upgrade the chutes and rodeo grounds and the lack of funds to do so.
The communities of Teepee Creek and Bezanson worked together for their stampedes. This was very important because then they were able to have more volunteers and even more horses at each of their stampedes. These communities that worked together helped each other grow and develop. They provided the assistance to help one another complete a huge event for each community. Although the stampede did not continue past 1962, the community had a successful rodeo for the little while they had and that brought them together as a community.
Stampede Day showing entire Bezanson Stampede Grounds in 1957
Courtesy of South Peace Regional Archives CA GPR 0502-2010.48.04a
1945 Stampede Time at Bezanson showing the cowboys Harvey Weegar, Don Stark, Desmond Stark and Jim Stark.
Photo Courtesy of South Peace Regional Archives CA GPR 0502-2010.48.01
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
What is Echo Hill Farms? Where did the name of your business come from?
Echo Hill Farms is a sustainable and ethically focused pastured pork and specialty cut flower farm located in the sandy hills of Bad Heart (NE of Teepee Creek), overlooking the Smokey River valley. From certain vantage points on our land we can bounce our voices off of the river valley banks…hence the name!
Tell us about Echo Hill Farms – where did the idea come from and what is the purpose?
We have always wanted to own land and create a space for ourselves and our children. A space where our actions are in harmony with nature. Upon purchase in 2015, we immediately set to work revitalizing the soil and we did all of it with pigs…and fell in love with their intelligence, workability, and deliciousness. Over the last 5 years we have increased our herd to a manageable size that allows us to offer seasonal, pasture raised butcher hogs as well as weaner pigs to families wanting to raise their own. Both Jerome and myself are avid gardeners and so last year we decided to diversify our farm by growing specialty cut flowers. Growing fancy flowers in a 100 day growing season has its challenges, but the success of last year has us gearing up for many more seasons. Everything we do here on the farm we do with sustainable and ethical agricultural/husbandry practices. We use natural fertilizers, practice no till, create low stress environments for animals, and work to create a space that invites nature into its folds.
Why is this important to you?
I was always in awe of my grandmother, a woman who wasted nothing, worked hard, and found joy in successes large and small. Her yard, although in the city, seemed immense and filled with nature. Being able to recreate that for our own children while encouraging sustainable approaches to farming have been paramount to our farms vision.
What is the best way for people to get a hold of you to purchase your products? Currently we have both farm Facebook and Instagram accounts. Messages or direct phone calls are our primary point of contact. We will be working toward a website soon…but I am technologically disadvantaged!! Our pork and weaner pigs are available seasonally and by wholesale purchase. Our flowers are of course seasonal and available at the Sexsmith and Grande Prairie Farmers Markets, Gateway Homesteader Health, by special order, and very soon we will be launching Bouquet Subscriptions.
When did your family move to the Bezanson area?
I followed my husband back to Alberta in 2004. We bounced around the Peace Country a fair bit, finally landing in Bezanson in 2011. We found our 80 acre farm in Bad Heart several years later and put our roots down permanently.
What does living in Bezanson mean to you?
I loved my time in Bezanson and still maintain many wonderful friendships and connections within the community. It is a tightnit small town in a bustling industrial area…a reassuring reminder that no matter the world around you, connection and community are paramount.
What is your dream for Echo Hill Farms?
I think we are living it! There are so many struggles along the way for small and large farmers alike, but producing quality food and quality flowers with the smallest environmental footprint we can manage has been incredibly fulfilling. Plans and ideas evolve, but for now we meet the coolest people, spend the majority of our time outside, eat well, and have each other. We don’t want for much more!