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Looking Back: Rural communities north of Fort St. John

As I drove around Fort St. John the other day it struck me that we were becoming a fairly large berg. It got me thinking of the other communities that surround us.

As I drove around Fort St. John the other day it struck me that we were becoming a fairly large berg. It got me thinking of the other communities that surround us. The history of the North Peace is written in these communities and they all played a part in the development of where we are today. From what I have been able to determine, each community started out the same size. Most had stores and post offices and most all had schools which served many purposes. But what made them communities were the people, and while the following story deals with the communities north of Fort St. John one should never forget the communities to the south, east and west as they played a big part in our development as well.

In the following story, the "tin shack" is mentioned a couple of times. If any one has any information on this ie: location, purpose, etc, please call me at 250-785-2416. Thank you. Enjoy!

Little did the Clarke brothers, Joe, Alf and Bob realize when they loaded on their outfit the "tin shack" that it later was to be of historical interest in the Montney District. The Clarke brothers left Maple Creek, Saskatchewan with 100 cows and 120 horses, machinery and the Tin Shack. They travelled by train to Peace River and from there by foot to Montney where they arrived in August 1919.

Clayton Martin, who arrived in May 1919 from Edmonton, was the first settler. Martin had bought his cattle in Calgary and a team of horses in Taylor, in the fall of 1919. When he lost his herd that first winter he bought another herd in 1920. In 1922 the Clarke brothers had their first crop using seed from Rolla, but it was not until 1925 that Martin had a crop. Previous to this the stock was pastured in summer on a government lease at Cecil Lake and wintered at Taylor. These cattle ranchers got along well among themselves and with the First Nations Beaver people who camped nearby. Their Chief was Montagne or Montaignais (which is seen spelled in numerous ways). From his name the name Montney was derived. This became the name of the district which later spread out for many miles. But the Tin Shack was the landmark and one heard it mentioned more often especially in 1928 as it was then that Alf Clarke started a store at the Tin Shack. Previous to this time Martin and the Clarke brothers had got yearly grubstakes from Peace River Crossing.

In 1928 Joe Clarke and Clay Martin hauled supplies from the store to the 35 men cutting the old Fort Nelson trail which took three months to finish. Joe Clarke started his trading posts at Fort Nelson and Fontas in 1928. As early as 1922 Bill Innis had started a trading post at the Pine Crossing and Stan and Jake Peffer had a post at Nig Creek. Clay Martin brought in the freight from Spirit River while Bob Clarke looked after the stock at the Montney store.

W.W. Ross, a freighter, had a post and warehouses about five miles from the Tin Shack. When he abandoned the buildings they were put to good use by settlers. Still another name was added to the history of the district when Bob Barker was stopped and robbed of money and valuable furs at a spot about ten miles north of the Ross buildings. The name of Holdup was given to this community which officially was called Murdale.

Clay Martin and Bus Milne started a sawmill at Holdup in 1928 so homesteaders were able to get lumber, slabs and sawdust which was used for insulation and in which to pack ice to melt for drinking water. Rain and snow supplied water for the use of the household and stock.

Schools were needed for the many children who came in with their parents. In 1929 the first school at Holdup was in a temporary location until the new school was built. Miss Thelma Paynter was the first teacher. In 1930 school was held in one of the vacant Ross buildings until a school was built at Crystal Springs, across from the Charlie Clarke place. Miss Dorothy Tilton was the first teacher. About two miles from the Tin Shack near Martin's a new school was opened in 1930. It was named Clayton after the first settler. Mrs. Dorothy MacDougall was its first teacher. There was a portable school at Stoddart Creek in 1951 but the attendance did not warrant it being kept open so the pupils attended the Montney school at the Montney Corners. This consolidated school was opened in 1952 and children came by bus from all schools in the surrounding communities. Bill Garlock was the first bus driver and retired in 1964. Schools were used for all community gatherings and church services in the early days until a hall was built at the Montney Corners. The Women's Institute put up a smaller hall which was used for small gatherings.

In 1929 the first Montney post office was not far from the Tin Shack, on the property of George Long, known to all as "Shorty" Long. In 1932 he moved to Montney Corners and continued as postmaster until 1952. The office was moved across the road to the property of Harvey Parker, where Mrs. Parker continued to serve the public as postmaster.

In Murdale (Holdup) there was a post office from 1930 to 1956 with Mrs. Callison, Mrs. Ben Draper and Mrs. Roy Hubbard working as postmasters.

Mrs. Jim Young used to come out to the schools when she was in charge of the Red Cross Outpost Hospital. Mrs. Rita Carson and Mrs. Harry Waite, both residents of Montney, did valiant services locally when the need arose.

When people depended on walking or driving to the store, there were several small stores throughout the district. As early as 1929 M. Slyman and F. Nassar started a store at Murdale. Then Slyman moved to Montney where he ran a store until 1940. The Titus store was first located about halfway between Montney and Murdale but moved to the Montney Corners in 1931. Mrs. Hagen operated a small store from 1931 to 1936 and sold out to E.A. Tucker who enlarged the store and carried on a trucking business as well until 1947 when he moved all of his businesses to Fort St. John. In 1932 another store was opened up across the road from Tucker's. It was built by Russell and Charlie Bailie, who later sold it to George Bissett. Bissett then sold out to Hans Espe in 1956, where Hans and his family ran the store and post office until it's closure. The store still stands at the Montney Corners but is now a printing business.

Those still residing in the district in the 1940's saw the old Fort Nelson freight trail become a tote road for the building of the Alaska Highway and the road bed through the district for the railway. Montney District was made up of three communities; Murdale, Crystal Springs and Montney. The community members have played an important part in the development of the North Peace.