Past, Present & Beyond – This was the Year That Was: Pt. 1

Barbara Roden's column of the area's colourful past: The Year in Review from 1914.

It’s time for the annual “year in review” column, a chance to look back and see what was making news in Ashcroft and area. My memory not being what it was, I took a look back through the pages of The Journal, and found a number of stories that stood out. The weather was, as always, a subject dear to the hearts of locals, as was the state of the roads. Their poor condition did not, however, deter some drivers from going faster than the law allowed, prompting pieces in the paper about police cracking down on speeders and the annoyance of joyriding on village streets.

There were fears for the future of the curling club and annoyance about an out-of-hand Halloween prank, while burning within village limits came up once more, and a historic property went up in flames. Steps were taken to be more inclusive of immigrants and make them feel at home in their new country, and the future of the Ashcroft library was discussed. There was dissatisfaction with the government in Ottawa over the slow pace of a federally funded building project, and with the provincial government for skirting around, rather than addressing, a matter vital to the hearts of many in the province. Near the end of the year there was consternation when Canada found itself embroiled in a war thousands of miles away.

If any or all of these events seem familiar, but you can’t quite place when you read about them in The Journal, don’t worry. Everything listed above did happen; but the year in question was 1914, not 2014. As Sherlock Holmes noted in The Valley of Fear (published in 1914), “The old wheel turns, and the same spoke comes up. It has all been done before, and will be again.”

Take the weather. American writer Charles Dudley Warner famously wrote “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it,” and quite a few curlers, during the winter of 1913–1914, doubtless wished they could do something about the unseasonably mild weather that rendered the newly-built Ashcroft curling rink almost useless until February 1914, when temperatures finally dipped below freezing. Dissatisfaction with the temperature continued in the summer; a long hot spell (“one of the real old time summers – hot and dry”) was finally broken for a short time in August, but not before it had wreaked havoc on the Cariboo Wagon Road, which was described as being in a “deplorable condition. The surface seems to be entirely gouged out of it in some places, and the holes are filled with dust.”

The state of the roads did not stop some people from enjoying the still fairly newfangled “automobiles” that were an increasing sight in the Interior. In May 1914 The Journal reported that while an “auto” was very useful in its place, out of its place it was a nuisance: “And it is certainly out of place at one o’clock in the morning. The practice of racing a snorting automobile down Brink St. and up Bancroft during the small hours of the night should be discontinued unless in cases of absolute necessity.” It wasn’t just Ashcroft that suffered; in August it was noted that “some automobiles have been speeding through Clinton considerably faster than the law allows.” The speed limit was 10 miles per hour, and a party of miners exceeding this limit through town were stopped at 59 Mile House and returned to Clinton, “where they were fined $20 and allowed to proceed on their way.” One wonders if Mr. W.S. Sloan was stopped for speeding at any time during his trip from Fort [now Prince] George to Ashcroft in May 1914; he completed the 453 km journey in a record time of only 19 hours, leaving Fort George at 5 am and arriving in Ashcroft at midnight the same day.

Fire was in the news in 1914, beginning in February, when Dr. George Sanson, Health Officer, asked Ashcroft residents to ensure a “thorough cleaning up of their premises”. He advocated “the burning and hauling away of all rubbish” in yards and lanes, and it seems clear that more than one Ashcroftonian decided that burning was the easiest option. This prompted a letter in The Journal from a disgruntled resident, published under the headline “A Smoke Nuisance”: “I wonder if you would spare me a space in your valued paper to ask the readers, friends, and neighbours to take pity on those poor unfortunates who are trying to get what fresh air they can . . . have the refuse removed before burning, so that the smoke will not penetrate the houses, let alone the lungs of the public. Hoping that anybody who reads this will try to remember other springs which have been so disagreeable on account of the smoke.”

Later in 1914, a potentially dangerous Halloween prank involving fire drew the wrath of an editorial in The Journal, which reminded readers that Halloween pranks were supposed to be “harmless tricks on the unwary. The practice of stuffing a stove pipe with a piece of oiled sacking, and thereby endangering property by exposing it to risk from fire, is not a Halloween trick, it is a crime . . . the boys in Ashcroft who resorted to this means of amusing themselves should bear this in mind.” The origin of a Boxing Day fire was a mystery, but the devastation it wrought was immense: H. Blair’s garage, along with two large trucks, a Cadillac passenger car, and a valuable collection of tools, was burned to the ground. The fire threatened James Haddock’s nearby warehouse and other buildings, but “the tact and bravery displayed by our volunteer brigade saved a large portion of the town”, including Haddock’s premises.

To be continued

Barbara Roden