Friday August 01, 2014


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Fifty years of prosperity at Prespatou: Part II

Looking Back
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        Each of the families that arrived  at Prespatou had two quarters of land, between Umbach Creek and the Beaton River, north of the Blueberry.  In this wilderness, untouched except by the oil roads, they planned a big new farming community, the foundation of which was already laid in the first seven families that moved in.  In all, eleven houses had been built besides barns and sheds for the livestock, all done by November 1961.

        Ernie Stubbs of Taylor supplied the lumber for building.  When the first men arrived, Ernie was right there with a skid shack, which he unloaded at once.  The men moved right in, and had supper in it and slept in it that night.  Ernie then came along with lumber.  A train of six trucks made the first trip, taking all necessary supplies.

        When the first buildings were completed, the leaders returned for their families and livestock.  Only small numbers of livestock were brought at first, sufficient enough to supply settlers for the winter.

        The arrival of Mennonites in Prespatou was the third attempt by them to settle in northern British Columbia.  The first was in 1940, when the British Columbia and Saskatchewan governments and  CN Railway brought 25 Old Colony Mennonite families from drought stricken areas in Saskatchewan to the Burns Lake District.  These settlers established churches in Cheslatta and Grassy Plains.  The families were led by Heinrich Bueckert.  He was joined by Johann Martens in 1945.  Eventually the Old Colony Mennonite Church in the Burns Lake area ceased to exist and families relocated to La Crete, returned to Saskatchewan or immigrated to Bolivia.

        A second settlement attempt was made when a group of Old Colony families moved from Saskatchewan to Mile 22, near Tower Lake Road.  When they arrived they went to Pouce Coupe to get the land titles and to find the land had been  already granted to a group of Mormons.  Julius Enns, Jake Reddekopp and  Jake Giesbrecht came to look at some burned out land in Prespatou.  They made an application to the  Minister of Lands for 38,000 acres to the Beaton River.  The Minister of Lands sent them away as it was too soon to farm the land following the fires.  In 1960 they received word that the land was now good enough to farm, but they were told each  family had to come and stake his own land.  In June 1960, John G. Fehr came with equipment to cut lines and clear brush, then he advertised that the land was accessible.  In May 1961 the Old Colony Mennonites received final approval that they could now come and settle the land. Lloyd Byra wrote to them that the grass was abundant  and soon the cattle came to graze the rich grassland.

        As the families moved in and cleared the land, they built their church.  In September 1962 the Prespatou Old Colony Mennonite Church was built near the Prespatou Cemetery and later moved in 1964 to the Village of Prespatou.  A new and larger church was built in 1986 to accommodate the growing congregation, and in 2011 an even bigger church was built.  Also in those first years the children attended the  Altona and Rosefield Schools, with Mr. Henschel the teacher. There was also a school at Prespatou, which later became the only school as the other school houses were moved over to Prespatou, so there was one large school.  At Prespatou some of the children were picked up in the school bus, which was an open one-ton truck with seats in it.  Jack Friesen was the bus driver for many years, he was also significant in keeping the community together.

        The stories abound of how this community has helped each other, in good times and bad.  Mr. Henry Wiebe was blind, but the farming had to be done.  So he had his young son, around five years old,  help him drive the tractor by being his eyes, a job the young son and the father, working as a team, did very well.  Mr. Henry Wiebe went on to father 12 kids, providing for them without vision.  Another story is  told by John Giesbrecht about his wedding .  The bride was in Saskatchewan, and John had to cross the swollen Prespatou Creek to get to his bride.  When the rain came down the creek was so high it washed the little bridge away!  How was he going to get to the other side so that he could get married?  His friends got together, built a raft and pulley system and before you knew it John was on the other side of the creek and on his way to Saskatchewan for the wedding!  The raft and pulley were put to use many times getting people, and supplies across Prespatou  Creek until the water level dropped and the bridge could be re-built.

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