By John R. F. Baxter
I was born in 1943, on my dad's farm beside the original trading
post, a son of the pioneers. My family came to Whitecourt 79 years
ago, in 1920. They beat the railroad which came in 1921. The old
trading post was build in 1897 by Charlie Williams at Sagitawah
(pronounced sak-ta-wah), a Cree name meaning a flat piece of land
where the rivers meet.
Dan Noyes at Noyes Crossing told Patrick Shand-Harvey of the
trading post, "been here since 1897," as documented
in the true story Packsaddles to Tate Jaune Cache. This was also
the year of the discovery of gold in Bonanza Creek which started
the Klondike gold rush. This same year the Mounties blazed a trail
through the Whitecourt area heading for Fort St. John for the
Klondikers to follow.
Many did come this way and noticed the good farm land, still
unsettled. The trading post was situated where Trading Post Trail
takes off from Millar Road. It was built of spruce logs about
10" to 12" in diameter and was still quite sound when
my father tore the building down for firewood about 1950. The
roof had caved in and the floor fell into the cellar. Fifty-some
years had overcome the sturdy construction.
Charlie Williams packed furs out and trading goods in on pack
horses. It was on a trip out, leaving the trading post vacant,
that Dan Lamey found the vacant trading post and took it over.
Dan had come back from the Klondike and as Frank Chaisson stated
"seems like there's been a bit of claim jumping right here."
When Charlie returned he said the land nor the building is worth
fighting over, "I'll just move on," and so he did.
Horse and horse power was a very important part of our heritage
and still was when I made my first debut in 1943. Living by the
side of the road, I could tell who a rider was by the way he set
his horse, long before you could see his face. You could tell
who was coming by their rig or their team.
Life was much the same as it had been for my ancestors. The automobile
was not yet the main transportation as the roads were dirt and
the snow was not ploughed from the roads.
One spring Saturday afternoon we climbed in my grandfather's
wagon, heading for town. On the way, in a dip on the road, the
spring runoff was over the fence posts and we had to cross it
with the team. Harry Wedow came along to drive as he thought there
might be trouble. The team was not shod and as they entered the
water up on their bellies, one horse slipped on some ice and fell
down, jerking the other one down. Water covered their backs, just
their heads sticking out. After one half dozen tries, and a lot
of splashing, we had two standing horses and proceeded on our
Whitecourt had two stores, Western and Torgersons store with
a North Star Oil gas pump on Main Street. There was a hotel, livery
stable, blacksmith shop and corrals, stock yards and Mr. Jerry
Graham's Post Office. Hitching rails were on the streets, board
walks in front of the store. A butcher shop supplied the meat
and a pool room and barber shop were the main businesses. A couple
of cafés and a beer parlor adorned the hotel and, of course,
the C.N. station.
On one dry Saturday, my Grandad Wagoner drove the Model A to
town. He let the women off at Torgerson's store and then proceeded
south on Main Street with myself and cousin Judy in the front
seat. She was next to the door. Grandad make a u-turn at the post
office and the door came open and Judy fell out without Grandad
noticing her being gone. My cousin Percy was on the sidewalk and
ran over and picked Judy up, unhurt and laughing. I had quite
a time getting Grandad stopped as we were halfway back down the
street. This happened in 1948.
Another time I had ridden my bicycle to town and I always wished
I had a saddle horse. Irene Paranto came riding down the main
street on a classy sorrel saddle horse. Harry Johnson was on the
sidewalk in front of Chow Hoy's Café. Harry opened the
café door and said "Irene ride that horse in the café."
She got the horses head and front feet in the door but the horse
stopped. Harry's next move was to put Gracy Karlzen up behind
the saddle, then he looked at me and said, "Here's another
guy who wants a ride," and put me behind the saddle in front
of Gracy. Irene started the horse north, down Main Street and
the horse started trotting. Gracy was bucked off and next Irene
left the saddle. There I sat hanging on to the saddle strings
and the reins on the ground. That sorrel could buck and I stuck
with him till he quit. By then Harry was there gathering up the
unloaded girls. I probably could have bought that horse off Irene
for a nickel, but I didn't have the nickel and she wouldn't ride
him home. Harry had to take him home. This was around 1952. I
may have ridden the last bucking horse on Main Street.
Such was life in a frontier town, that was the end of the road
and end of the rail. In 1955, Highway 43 had its Grand Opening
with the ribbon cutting ceremony taking place at the Iosegun River
Bridge. Thus came the end of the frontier way of life.
John R. F. Baxter