In 1980, at the time of our "Homecoming", Al Powers sent us audio tapes from Regina where he has lived since 1943. The following are excerpts from the tape:
Friends at Eaglesham: I'm sure that a number of you will remember the Powers family and maybe this tape will give some newcomers information about what it was like in the '30s up there.
We went there first for a visit in 1932. My wife, Rita, was a sister of the MacDaids, Joe, Ted and Leo. We kind of took a liking to the place. We went back to Edmonton where we had been living and the next year decided we would move up. I got a friend of mine who knew livestock to buy me a team of horses, a cow, wagon, sleighs, a rack and different things I'd need up there. I loaded them all into a boxcar and away we went.
In those days there were very few roads. In 1932 and '33, there were mostly trails and a great many sloughs. When we were back for a visit in 1962, I noticed that Egg Lake had dried up - I don't know if it dried up or if it was drained. The old road came right out on the highway and it circled around where Levi Cyr used to live. All the trails were that way. There were a great many windfalls and sloughs to travel around. I remember one summer it was so bad that the water came right up into the wagon box. I took the hind wheels off the wagon, fastened the tongue on to it and built a little cart on it so we could get from place to place. Many times the water was right up to the horse's bellies. The roadwork came gradually. It took several years before we could get around the way we liked. I'll always remember a fellow named Bill Ripley, postmaster at Belloy. Bill had been out to the city and bought himself a car. He drove it on the road as far as the east side of the river at Watino and couldn't get any farther. We were sitting by the post office one day when we heard this car coming - a funny sound of iron wheels on the rails. We looked and here it was Bill Ripley on the railway track. He had taken the tires off his car and come across the railway bridge and right up to Eaglesham. He stopped at Eaglesham on the siding for a while then on to Belloy. Well, that's the way the roads were in those days. When I was there in '62 I was surprised to see the progress that had been made on the highways and on the roads. It's quite simple to get around now.
When we went there to live there was no school, no elevators, just Joe MacDaid's post office, Forget's store, and I think, three houses on the townsite. We resided a quarter of a mile north from the road that leads to the elevators, kind of kitty-corner to the old cemetery where my wife, Rita, and my two daughters are buried.
We got an organization going known as the Eaglesham Progressive Association. We had a high old time at some of those meetings. Everybody wanted this and that and the other thing, and some were impatient to get things but we did a lot of good there, got a lot of things going.
I was the secretary. I wrote in about an elevator, and they gave us a choice of which one we wanted, and we picked the Wheat Pool, so we got that going. I noticed in '62 that there was also the other elevator which was our second choice.
There was no school there which was bad for the youngsters. There were a lot of children around - the Boivin family, and the Girards and others - so we got busy. Again, as secretary, I wrote to the Dept. of Education and made enquiries about getting a school. They were very cooperative and told us what we had to do to get organized. We decided that rather than wait we would get permission to use the church as a classroom for a year. In the meantime we got working on the school building. We had quite a good system. We didn't want to get into any debt so it was decided that each person who had a homestead in the school district, which was four miles east and west and four miles north and south, would have to do $20 worth of work or pay $20 in cash. The grant from the government would buy the desks and blackboards, and we got enough cash from the homesteaders to buy windows, doors, flooring and whatever other lumber we needed. It was a hewed log building, quite a nice size, lots of windows. When we were there in '62 it was standing near the new school - on Forget's old farm, the windows were broken and I imagine it's out of commission now. But we got it started. We got a teacher in. Mary Peterson was the first teacher. We got along fine in the church for the first year and in the second we had our new school open. We had wood there to burn in a big heater. Albert Audet took over lighting fires in the mornings in the wintertime for $l.50 a month.
When it came to levying taxes on each farm, on looking through some of the material that came from the Dept. of Education I found that we could tax the railway company so many mils per mile. They had four miles going through our school district. No other school district had tried to force the NAR to pay that tax. They put up quite a fight and took us to court. They lost the case, appealed and lost that, so they had to pay. During the court case they said that the only things we could tax would be their bunk houses and the stockyards. Well, we had not included that in the four miles we were taxing, but when we sent them the tax notice we did include it. It wasn't very much but we did include it just to sort of get even for them putting up such a fight. We were surprised when the superintendent from Sexsmith came down to find out how we had worked it. I don't know if other schools got money from the railroad or not but they should have.
There was always something doing up around there. We got a drama organization going and put on some plays - three or four, I guess. The first one was held in the church and after that we held them in the schoolhouse. We had curtains. We bought some factory cotton, the women got together and sewed, then we sewed some advertisements on them at $5.00 apiece which paid for the cotton. We had a great old time. Each play was taken to Watino. The only place we could get to show the first one there was the pool hall. They moved the pool tables back, put some boards over them and that was our stage. We got the curtains up. We had a big crowd there - of course, we only charged $.25. We also put the play on at Belloy. It was a lot of fun getting these plays up, rehearsing them and all. We had good crowds. We had some money in the bank. Joe was telling us in '62 that our bank account was used to help pay for the community hall that they have there, so it was money well earned and well spent. It kept us out of mischief, as they say.
One day we were listening to the radio. It was during the war. They had an army station at Grande Prairie and the army was putting on a Queen contest to raise money to buy some equipment, probably for the recreation hall. Rita and I listened and thought it would be a good idea if Eaglesham got into that. It would get our name known a little better around the districts. We knew we would have to act quickly and not give the people too much time to think about it or they would think we were crazy trying to start a thing like that. Without having a meeting we decided to go right ahead with it and nominated the teacher without her permission. She was Ozana Prevost whose home was at Wanham. She was a lovely girl. I went to the post office and phoned the base, told that we were submitting a name and asked if they would send us some tickets. After school was out I went and told Ozana what we had done. She laughed and said she didn't mind but wondered if we would be able to sell any tickets. I said sure, we will. A lot of people thought I was nuts, that we wouldn't have a show against some of those bigger places. But we went ahead and I'm going to tell you, Eaglesham really put their heart into it - not only Eaglesham, but also Watino and all the towns up to Wanham and Rycroft. We even had some people in Grande Prairie selling for us. When the train came through Joe MacDaid and some others would be over at the station selling tickets. We never passed up an opportunity to sell a few. I know a lot of youngsters, including my own, were pulling weeds in the garden to get money to buy a ticket for their teacher. It went over so big that the night before the contest a chap from up west of Grande Prairie whose daughter was in it found that Ozana was ahead of his daughter, so he went and bought 500 tickets himself and put them in before sales closed. His daughter was crowned queen but Eaglesham got all the credit.
The major in charge gave a nice talk praising Eaglesham for the work they did. He told about how he had been to Eaglesham and that it was just a store and a post office and three houses and how he was amazed at the number of tickets we had sold, and when he got through the people really cheered. Ozana got twice as many cheers as the girl who was crowned. That helped put Eaglesham on the map. Everyone knew where it was after that.
There were some nice people settled at Eaglesham, and you were always welcome wherever you went. If you stopped at someone's place at mealtime they'd be offended if you didn't stop and have a meal with them. They were all so friendly. We used to have get-togethers at someone's house and have a card game or sing-song - anything to have a little fun and amusement. We also had a ball team which was pretty good. We played some of the other teams like Belloy and Watino. I asked Eaton's to put up a trophy for an annual baseball tournament which they did. I don't know what happened to the trophy. I guess it's long lost.
We put on a sports day each year. The first year there was so much water around Eaglesham that we had to go to Fox Creek to hold it. It was a nice affair. We had various kinds of races. When the roads got a little better, we held it right in Eaglesham. The last one was held right beside Forget's store, back of it. We even had a midway with games. There was a firm in Edmonton that I knew about which sold this kind of equipment and also things for prizes. I wrote to them and told them that we had no equipment but we would like to put on this little midway. They said they would loan us the equipment if we would pay for the prizes. They just shipped it all up and when the day was done, we just shipped back what was left and they sent us a bill. We did pretty good on that. We made some money, had a lot of fun - baseball games, tournament and those wheel games and toss the ring, and even a little lunch booth where they sold pie and sandwiches. When I was there in '62 I went to see Albert Audet. "Boy," he said, "I often think that sports day that you people put on over at Forget's there. We sure had a lot of fun that time".
He was quite a boy, was Albert. When we were getting the school started we had to take a vote about whether we would have it or not. The bachelors had gotten together and decided they were going to vote against building this school. Albert was one of the leaders. Of course, he wasn't married then. They didn't know that if they wanted to vote they would have to come and give their name and address and had to state out loud if they voted yes or no. Albert was the first so I said, "Full name" and he said "Albert Audet". I said "do you vote for or against the new school?" He hemmed and hawed and his face got red and his Adam's apple was bobbing up and down and finally he said, "I vote for it". The bachelors were mad at him but they all voted for it too. So it went through with no trouble at all.
Poor old Levi Cyr was dead set against the school. Once the school was built, in the first part of January he would always be the first one to come up and pay his taxes even though he was against it in the first place. Once we got it he realized it was needed for the children.
One time we had quite a bush fire coming from the southwest through the district. It was really tearing through and I could see it coming, going to hit toward Levi Cyr's. So, being Justice of the Peace, I went down there, about two miles. It was getting closer, and I said, "Levi, come on, I'll help and we'll start a back-fire". The trail went back of his house, as I mentioned earlier, at the circle there. "If we start a back-fire here we can possibly save your buildings". He said, "Oh, no. No. It won't jump the trail here. I will be all right. I'll just stay and watch". As it was getting closer the cinders were flying through the air. One of these lit in Levi's beard and got it on fire! Next thing one lit in the straw on the roof of his barn, and on his house. He lost both buildings.
Levi was a very powerful man. Fact is, an uncle of his was supposed to have been the strongest man in the world. Some of you may have seen a commercial where a man is standing between two horses, each horse pulling against him with his arms locked and the horses can't break the lock. Well, Levi was like that. Joe MacDaid wanted to build an ice-house. We got some logs and I was giving him a hand. We worked together pretty good like that. We got the bottom part up. Near the top we had to use ladders. We had this big log that was kind of green and our ladders were kind of flimsy. I was on one and Joe was on the other. We couldn't get up the ladders with the darned log. Along came Levi. "Having trouble, boys?" he said. "Well, you boys take that end and I'll take this end.." His end was the big, thick one. Boy, he walked up the ladder with no trouble at all and kept Joe and me busy getting the lighter end up. Another time I was coming here with a team from Fox Creek when I met Levi down there where Brittons were living. He had twelve boards on his shoulder - 12-inch boards. Here he was walking along, one hand up on top of the boards and holding his pipe with the other hand. I said, "Wait a minute, Levi. I'll turn around and take you home". He said, "Oh, no trouble at all" and just walked along as if he were carrying a handful of toothpicks. He was a pretty good guy. He kept to himself a lot but he was a kind-hearted old fellow.
We had quite a few old-timers there. There was Hans Skaug. The first school was built on the corner of his property. He was a pretty good citizen. He liked to see the place grow.
We had quite a few of those fellows who had come from Quebec. There was Maurice Monette. He was living on the next homestead north of us, and I'm going to tell you, he was quite a character. I never met a man who could tell you so many stories in half an hour as he could. He knew they weren't true and he knew we knew they weren't true, but he kept on telling them. He had a funny way of telling them, and it was always good for a laugh. He was a great axe-man. I had two big trees by the barn and they were leaning-king of toward the house. I was examining them one day and noticed they were getting some rot in them, around the roots, so I said to Maurice, "I'd like you to come up sometime and give me a hand. I don't know if we can do it but I'm getting scared of those trees". He looked around and said, "Oh, we can take them down". He went home and got his axe. It was razor-sharp. He brought his son Albert along with him. He rigged a kind of a brace to force the trees where we wanted them to go. He told me where they would go and, boy, he dropped them both in the same place. It took less than an hour to get the two of them down and cut up the branches. Another time I had a broken sleigh runner. I used to go out before the snow came to cut my year's supply of wood. I would clear out a little circle and pile the wood on each side of the circle. When the snow came I would haul it in on sleighs. While hauling I had gone over a small log under the snow and it broke my sleigh runner. Maurice was going and saw me out there working on it. I told him I would have to send to Eaton's to get another one. He said, "No, don't do that. I'll make you one!". He looked for a good sound poplar and dropped it. He took the steel part of the runner off, flattened one side of the trace and put the broken runner on it and with a pencil drew around it, where the curves were and all. He trimmed the log to the length he wanted it and cut it down to the width of the runner. With his axe he cut out that runner so you would think it had been done with a power machine. When spring he told me to rub lots of oil on it - used oil from cars - several times during the summer. I thought the thing would break the first time I got on the road, but it didn't. He knew his wood, old Maurice.
The fire which burned our house and caused the deaths of our two little girls and of Rita was in 1943. The three boys and I missed them terribly. The little girls, especially Dorothy, were my shadows. Dorothy would follow me all over and everything I was doing she would want to do. I had to make her a three-legged stool for milking the cows. She learned how, when I was stripping one cow. to make the next cow move over and be ready. I got a kick out of how she would lean against the cow and the cow would move for her. One day she came out in the yard when I was hoeing in the garden. She came down the path and said, "Daddy, Mommy scolded me". I said, "What did you do?" She told me and I said, "Well, that wasn't a nice thing for a little girl to do, was it?" She shrugged her shoulders a bit, so I said, "Come with me". I took her up to the flower bed, picked a flower and said, "Now, you go and tell Mommy that you're sorry and give her this flower". The door was open a couple inches so I peeked through and there was Rita with Dorothy in her arms, hugging and kissing her, tears covering Rita's face. After that, whenever little Dorothy would get into trouble, she'd run for the flower garden and get a flower for her mother. The boys used to have fun up there too. There was ball in the summer and in the wintertime we'd have a bit of a rink. I blocked a place in the driveway where the water would freeze and make a little rink. The kids would come up after school and they'd play hockey.
We enjoyed our trip to Eaglesham in 1962. The weather wasn't too good. It was hot - around 92 degrees. We met a lot of friends. We met Miillie's mother Delphine, and her dad, Chris. Chris was the one who drove Rita to the hospital after the fire. We were trying to phone to Spirit River to see if they had gotten to the hospital. There were only two phones in Spirit River on Sundays, one to the hospital and the other to the police. Being a J.P. I knew the police quite well. But the police had gotten only part of the story. They got to understand that it was me who was to be in the hospital. The police who was in Wanham got into his car and came down to Eaglesham. He took one look at me and said, "You've got to go to the hospital". I said, "I can't go. I've got three boys to look after." Well, Pete Blomert and his wife were very kind to us, and they took Ken and Gerry, the two smaller ones, and Ned stayed with Joe. It was Chris who took Rita up and I went up with the police when they returned. It was a very sad thing and it took a lot out of the boys and a lot out of me.
I remember Christmas at the school at Eaglesham. We had a Christmas party every year. Even when we held school in the church we had one. We had a Santa Claus suit - one with a mask and whiskers and everything. We used to get Joe Sauve to be the Santa Claus. We had a rule that parents couldn't bring their own gifts and put them under the tree for their children. The reason for that was that some families were making money and could afford good presents and other families had all they could do to buy enough food. So that the children wouldn't be hurt we decided that at the school party we would give only the gifts that we had bought from the Progressive Association. We had this going for several years. We had the Santa suit stored in a box. I don't know what happened to it this one year but the mask got cracked in several places. so we put tape on it. Hans Skaug had hitched up his team and put some bells on them, and Joe Sauve was in the sleigh. The bells would ring and we wouldn't allow the kids outside. To cover the damaged mask we told the kids we would be 20 to 30 minutes late getting started because Santa had been in an accident - his sleigh had hit a stump and he had been thrown out and got his face cut. When Joe finally came in with the sack over his back with the toys in it and the tape on his face, the kids were saying, "Poor Santa. Poor Santa". I don't know if they ever found out about the broken mask but the story went over big with them that night.
It was hard to live at Eaglesham. There was land to clear. Before Albert Audet was married we were talking about clearing land. He said, "Oh, I don't mind that at all. I get up in the morning, have my breakfast, take my axe and go out, cut a square six feet by six feet, lie down and sleep until noon, have my lunch, come out again and cut another six feet by six feet, then lie down and sleep again until suppertime". There was always some guy making wisecracks to keep us all laughing.
Times were tough in the 30's, you know. There were a lot of people moving in from the prairies. You couldn't get anything for your grain, and there wasn't much grain around Eaglesham then. You couldn't get much for animals either. Hans Skaug had a 3-year-old steer, fattened it up to be shipped to Edmonton and thought he'd have a little spending money. He was waiting for his cheque to come in but instead of a cheque he got a bill from the railroad for $1.78. They had taken the money they'd gotten for the steer, charged $1 for dehorning, taken off the rail charges and were $1.78 short. That's how tough things were.
Of course, there was some game there. The rule was that a family could shoot one moose or deer once a year for each member. One day a chap came in from Fox Creek, sat down, and I could see something was troubling him. "Something wrong?" I asked him. "Yeah, I got myself into some kind of a mess. I was getting short of meat so I went up into the Birch Hills on my horse and I took my rifle. I saw a deer get up behind some bushes, so I shot it and down it went. A second later it got up so I gave it a second shot. It got up a third time so I shot it again. When I got to the top I found I had shot three deer instead of one. I was only entitled to one. I don't want trouble so I thought I'd ask you what to do". I said, "You didn't do it deliberately. I'm sure there are lots, especially the older people, who could use some of the meat".
There were lots of bears up there. The darned things would come prowling around at night, the dogs would bark, so you'd have to get up and chase them away. I got caught outside with one, one night. Rita woke me up saying there was something outside, the dog was barking, and I'd better get up and see what was going on. I look out the south window and couldn't see anything. there was a picket fence out there around the garden that I had made with willow ranches. I look out the east window and still couldn't see anything. I went back to the south and I could see Skippy running back and forth, so I looked out the door and here was this big bear. I just had my pajamas bottoms on. I said to Rita, "Hand me out the rifle". I had the big hunting rifle that I kept loaded hanging above the door, and I had a .22 standing there, but I always unloaded it before I took it into the house. Rita handed me the empty .22, locked the door and put some chairs and a table against it. I was out there and the darned bear kept getting closer to me and closer to me. Finally I let a big yip out of me, jumped in the air and hit the butt of the rifle against the boards, and then yelled, "Get him, Skippy!" He was walking towards me on his hind feet. Skippy ran and got him on the hind leg, and away the bear went. Rita swore that she didn't lock the door but Ned said, "Yes, you did, Mommy. I saw you do it". Boy, did I get bitten up by the mosquitoes! They were very bad that year. I didn't get much sleep the rest of the night. The bites would swell up. I'd get up and rub some soap on them and they'd ease a bit. We had a good laugh about it after, you know. Rita felt kind of cheap but I told her not to worry, she had been excited and didn't realize what she was doing.
It's good for us to get together and swap yarns, especially for us older people. Sometimes the younger ones must think we're a bit off our rockers, the way we laugh about the old times. I do a lot of work with my recorders. I have three of them, and well over a hundred tapes that I have made. It's a lot of fun. My doctor says it's the best therapy I can get...keeps the mind active and I'll live to be 100! I feel pretty good now but I don't know if I want to be 100. I've had a lot of joy in life. I've had tough times too, but on the whole it's been good.