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Horsing Around on Main Street


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 way.

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