Joan Patterson remembers when the streets of Fort St. John had logs for curbs and dragging her bike through mud for an hour after an unexpected rainstorm just as workers were burying the city’s water mains.
Last week Prince George-Peace River MP Bob Zimmer presented the local historian with a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal to honour her contributions to the preservation of history in northeastern B.C.
Patterson, who grew up in Grande Prairie, Alta., first came to Fort St. John in 1952, when as an 11-year-old she remembers her father, who as a driller for Commonwealth Drilling, was on the first rig to strike oil in the area.
She returned to Fort St. John in 1964 with her husband Everett. In 1967 she began a 24-year career as a pilot car driver escorting oversize loads, usually to Whitehorse.
Her interest in the region’s history grew during those years.
“I collected Alaska Highway books and my interest [in history] kind of grew from there,” said Patterson.
“Some of it is was just like getting a paid holiday,” Patterson said, noting all the good friends she’d made during those days on journeys that took her as far afield as Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T. and Valdez, Alaska.
As the moving business slowed down in the mid-80s Patterson thought that it was a good time to start volunteering.
In her first task for the historical society she was to put together a calendar with Mildred “Millie” Hazlett, her onetime Grade 5 and future close friend.
“We spent the whole winter here going through archives and after that I was hooked,” said Patterson.
Since that time the Patterson has donated countless hours of her time to the historical society and the museum. She currently sits on the society’s board of directors and acts as its treasurer.
This energetic Jill-of-all-trades helps build the exhibits, orders merchandise for the for the museum’s shop and singlehandedly keeps the museum open nearly every Saturday through her volunteer hours
“She’s an amazing volunteer. The museum couldn’t exist without her help. She’s always the one who does the crazy stuff [to fix things] like go up on the roof or in the crawl space. Things I wouldn’t do and I’m a lot younger,” said Heather Longworth, the museum’s manager and curator.
Patterson’s daughter, Linda Patterson, and her partner, Ken Kramer, own and operate the Fort St. John Dairy Queen.