Larry Evans: The history of Aennofield

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As the 1960s dawned, the Alaska Highway News would see some changes, as would the town of Fort St. John. One of these events, which affected us, was the amalgamation of the Village of Aennofield with Fort St. John. 

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When I was growing up, Aennofield was a place on the far side of town that you stayed away from. There were tough kids out there and you didn’t want to mess with them. It was in 1972 when I joined the Fort St. John Fire Department that I learned that Aennofield was once a municipality on its own. I asked the then-Fire Chief Carl Lutz where our fire trucks had come from, and he said the 1953 American LaFrance and the Cab-Over Tanker came from Aennofield when the village amalgamated with Fort St. John. Over the years, I have learned more about the Village of Aennofield. While I cannot cover all of its history, I hope I can shed some light on where it began, as well as how and why it has ended up a subdivision of the city.

The quarter section one mile east of Fort St. John, lying along the south side of the Airport Road, was known as Mathews Subdivision, now known as Aennofield subdivision. The property was originally owned by Mrs. Crawford. Mr. Bouffieux (Mrs. Crawford’s partner) traded it to Bert Bowes for a John Deere tractor. Mrs. Aenno Mathews purchased the quarter section from Bert Bowes except for 10 acres in the Northwest corner, which is now the location of Robert Ogilvie school, which was built in 1959. Micky Warren and his mother bought the first lots at the west end of Block 1 along the Airport Road. 

The first house in the subdivision arrived on October 14, 1954, when Fletcher Fell moved his house from the planer mill one half mile west of Fort St. John and put it on his lot at what was then called Mathews Subdivision. On May 22, Percy Fell bought a lot on Block 1 from Mrs. Mathews for $125. He built a little house on it and the next year rented it to two nurses. Carl and Imelda Plemel moved there in 1956, renting from his father-in-law until their house was built in 1959. The house is located on what was Pioneer Avenue (or 99 Avenue) next to Maple Grocery. The first trade licence for the Village of Aennofield was for Maple Grocery. It was acquired by Mr. Percy Fell for the princely sum of $5 and was good from July 1, 1956, to December 31, 1956. The licence was issued at Pouce Coupe, the location of the nearest government agency. 

Mrs. Plemel told us how her mother, Mrs. Mary Lohman, had helped make Christmas special at the village by making a Santa suit and then dressing up as Santa. Percy Fell drove a horse-driven cutter (Santa’s sleigh) around Aennofield complete with Santa (Mrs. Lohman) stopping house to house to deliver gifts to all the children. The gifts were bought from money raised at dances and suppers held at the village hall. The community hall was a centre used for many occasions including wedding receptions, town hall meetings, as well as for holding immunization clinics by the public health nurses. There was some talk of plans to bring a bull to an outdoor event at the community hall. When the weather turned rainy, the event was moved indoors. There wasn’y a lack of excitement as a couple of fellows decided the bull should still attend the event. Upon entering the hall, the bull sent children screaming for their mothers...only to find out it was a good imitation of a bull that could dance pretty good!

Percy Fell was the first fire chief, and may have been the only one. The fire trucks were usually parked in someone’s garage as there is no reference to a fire hall. All I know for sure is that when Aennofield was amalgamated with Fort St. John, we acquired their fire trucks, which were put to use for decades by the Fort St. John Fire Department. The trucks were eventually replaced by newer models, with the 1953 American LaFrance going to the rural community of Beryl Prairie, and then sold to a community even further south.

It was in June 1959 when the first serious thoughts were given to a possible incorporation. When Percy Fell and Paul Corriveau met with J.E. Brown, Deputy Minister of Municipal Affairs, to discuss the project. A volunteer committee for incorporation was formed and Paul Corriveau was chosen by fellow committee members as president. It wasn’t until September 6, 1961, that a plebiscite was held to determine whether or not 3/5ths of voters were in favour of incorporating the Village of Aennofield. Up until this time, the area was known as Mathews Subdivision, not to be confused with Mathews Park that we know of today. The results: 112 ballots were cast, 80 said yes, and 32 said no. Sixty-seven votes were required for a majority. 

The population at that time was about 640 people and there were seven businesses within the boundaries. One of these businesses I remember was a Texaco station called Spruce Service Station, located on the corner of Spruce Street and Movie Avenue, or 82 Street and 95 Avenue to us, and now the location of Carriere Park. Spruce Service Station was at one time operated by the Priebe family. Mardi Brooks remembers riding by the service station on her bicycle to see if Mrs. Priebe was outside as Mrs. Priebe had the most beautiful red hair the local girls had ever seen. There was also a building supply store owned by the Giebelhause family, which later was re-located to 92 Street and 100 Avenue. There was McFadzen’s Upholstery Shop, Holmes Shoe Repair, and, of course, Maple Grocery which also served as a post office and message centre for the community. 

Rod Shortt worked at Maple Grocery during some of its busiest times. There was also an eatery in Aennofield called the Skyway Cafe. This was located on the Airport Road and was named for obvious reasons. I remember eating there occasionally and found it to be a good change from our regular hangouts. The Skyway Cafe building still stands and is now used by several businesses including St. John Advertising on the Airport Road.

I’m not sure when the first talk of amalgamation between Fort St. John and Aennofield began, but one article I read, dated December 1964, talked of a petition with four signatures that was sent to Fort St. John town council by Howard E. Perrin. The petition asked for the inclusion of the quarter section of land lying south of the Airport Road and adjacent to the Fort St. John town boundary on the west side and Aennofield boundary on the east side. 

There were 15 land owners on the quarter, five of whom were residents and the four signatures gave the necessary 2/3 for a petition of this nature. Over the next few years, it was discussed at length by both politicians and the public, and when the dust settled and everyone had their say, it was agreed that Aennofield would become part of the Town of Fort St. John. So, on the 19th day of April, 1968, it was proclaimed the Village of Aennofield was no more and the area would become the responsibility of the Town of Fort St. John.

Prior to amalgamation, Fort St. John council was comprised of Peter Frankiw, Pappy Galbreath, William Stark, Paul Odermatt, and Mayor Ralph Pomeroy. The Village of Aennofield Council was comprised of Glenn Fox, Willard Horst, Warren Smith, and Mayor Mel Clarke. 

Following amalgamation, the council was comprised of Mayor Ralph Pomeroy, Deputy Mayor Mel Clarke, and all others were aldermen. This remained until the next civic election for the town at which time one mayor was elected and six aldermen. This is how the council for the City of Fort St. John is comprised today. 

In the years that followed, the Aennofield subdivision filled in with new homes, and, as the boom-bust cycles came and went, Aennofield came into its own as a good place to live. It has come a long way from the days when it was called “AnyOldField” as my high school friend, Dwight Phillips, used to call it. 

This column is dedicated to the people of Fort St. John and Aennofield who had the foresight and co-operation to see that working together was beneficial to all residents living within the newly defined boundaries of Fort St. John.

Larry Evans is a former fire chief, city councillor, and lifelong historian living in Fort St. John.

© Copyright Alaska Highway News

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