As a young man my friends and I would often go for drives on the back roads around Fort St. John. On one such occasion it seemed like we were driving forever on a back road north of town when we came to a Mennonite family. We stopped to ask for directions, which they were happy to give us, with a warning to make sure we turned right and not left at the sharp curve corner. If you didn’t heed their warning it was about a 200 foot drop to the Beaton River below! So of course, we followed the directions they gave us with great care! This dangerous curve became well known amongst the locals as “Caution Curve”! How did Prespatou get it’s name? We’ve heard it may be a native word for Huckleberry as the name Prespatou was in existence before the Mennonite families arrived. If anyone knows please let us know!
On September 8, 2012, the Mennonite Community of Prespatou celebrated 50 years of settlement in the North Peace. The celebration included all day events held on the grounds of the Prespatou Seniors Home. Breakfast was served by the young members of the Prespatou 4H Club, with lunch and dinner organized later in the day by Marie and Gert. There were two horse and wagon teams giving rides, both men with the reins share the name John Giesbrecht! Mr. John G. Giesbrecht also educated everyone with a history lesson later in the day as his family were among the first to arrive in 1961. It was a great reminder of how hard their fathers and grandfathers, as well as the women of the community, had worked etching farms out of virgin land. This hard work has made Prespatou a very prosperous community, with many of their businesses contributing to the economy of Fort St. John. The celebration continued throughout the day with a parade from the Prespatou School to the Countryside Lodge. The parade was compiled of many of the original trucks, tractors and farm equipment that arrived with the first of the settlers, with descendents of original owners driving them in many cases. Master of Ceremonies for the parade was Joe Wiebe, who was great at commenting on the history of some of the entries. The first tractor in the parade was a 1961 Massey that was owned by Peter Klassen Sr., and was driven by Willie Klassen. There was a 1948 cat and a tractor drawn grader that were used to make many of the roads and keep them clear of snow once the roads were built. It was amazing that so much of this equipment was still in working order!
Many people at the 50th Anniversary were sharing memories of when they arrived. Sal Wiebe was 12 years old when her family arrived from Saskatchewan, that was in October 1963. She though it was a great adventure. Along with her parents were two older brothers, two older sisters and one younger brother. They had two small buildings to live in when they arrived, so the boys slept in one and the parents and girls slept in the other, and they were fine.
Mr. Henry Bueckert and son Bill arrived with the family in August of 1964. His remark was that it was a “rough move”. Hella Bueckert Zacharias remembers walking in and climbing over the deadfall to get to their property, as there was no road. Where it was wet it was very muddy and slippery so the kids took off their shoes finding the slippery mud a lot of fun! Henry Bueckert is the oldest person in Prespatou, and is 88 years old.
Anna Klassen was with some of the families to arrive in 1963. She was 11 years old and remembered very few roads when they arrived, and the few there were had very deep ruts. Willie Klassen remarked that he had nothing when he arrived, and now has a lot. He says he has the Farmers Institute and many other sponsors to than for that.
Peter B. Wiebe came in 1960 to survey the area with his brother Jack. He stayed with a family that had an attic, so that’s where he slept. The family had a little baby. Many years later, when Mr. Wiebe needed some physiotherapy in Fort St. John, he ran into the baby again, as his physiotherapist! When Mr. Wiebe first came he used a little D2 cat to do the preliminary surveys. They pushed a trail through from the Rosefield Bridge. The Triad Road was a triangle of roads connecting mile 73 on the Alaska Highway to the Beaton River and to Fort St. John. Mr. Wiebe came every summer from Saskatchewan to work on the land and the house before moving the family to Prespatou. Mr. Wiebe’s Dad came with him in April of 1964 and passed away in the Fall of the same year.
The oldest settler to move to Prespatou was Tina Neudorf’s grandfather, Henry Neustaeter, who was 78 years old when he arrived. Mr. Neustaeter received 160 acres to farm. He is the first person buried up on the hill.
On September 23, 1962 the Dick and Agatha Braun family moved from Burns Lake. The children, Henry, Katherine and Judy all squeezed into the front seat of the pick-up with their parents for the drive through the Pine Pass to Prespatou. Katherine remembers the move very well as they had stayed behind in Burns Lake when many others had already left for Prespatou. The reason was Mrs. Braun’s mother was not well enough to travel so the family stayed until her death then set out on the adventure through the pass. The family also towed a small trailer to sleep in during the journey, as well as had some livestock in the back of the truck. Every so often the family would have to stop and let the livestock off the truck for a rest as the ride through the mountains was a pretty bumpy one, and slow going. This was particularly harrowing for Mrs. Braun as she was deathly afraid of heights, so sitting up high in the cab of a two ton truck must have given her a pretty frightening view, to say the least! Many of us remember travelling along the steep banks of the Pine Pass in the early years, and to make matters worse the highway has always been under some kind of construction! The family eventually made it to Prespatou all in one piece. It was quite a realization when they arrived with just the little trailer and livestock. Next on the list to do would be to build a house and a barn before winter set in. No problem, the Braun family pitched in and everything was ready before the snow came to stay. Marie was born one year after their arrival at Prespatou, she was born n 1963 in Fort St. John.
To be continued with Part II...