Tag Archives: Peace River

Book Buying Season

With Christmas nearing, Shirlee Smith Matheson and I decided to introduce some of our books in the next few blogs. Both of us have written and published regional history, but rather than summarize content, we will share highlights during the writing of those books. We’ll treat one book each per week with the exception of December 5 when poet Bob Stallworthy is my guest blogger.

Our books are available through trade publishers and bookstores. However, the easiest way to purchase them is directly from us by email or through our websites: www.wordandhistory or www.ssmatheson.ca

 Sharing the Good Timesby Faye Reineberg Holt (Detselig, 2000).

For this book, I focused on the positive experiences and memories of prairie women. I had read countless books on their hardships, and I knew those hardships were real. But, I believed that most women also had found many things that were rewarding and joyful in their lives. So, I wrote about such women and included photos reflecting those experiences.

Tall and dignified-looking, Eunice (Dunny) Robertson Hanna had been a teaching colleague, and I clearly remember interviewing her. At her Calgary home, we studied old photographs and talked about her 1942 enlistment in the army and her military service. Becoming a training officer for the Canadian Women’s Army Corp (CWAC), she served at Vermilion, Alberta. As we talked, she laughed as she recalled amusements enjoyed by herself and other women during their off-duty hours. Then, she became teary, remembering friends who had died during the war.  I was fortunate to have worked with Dunny, to have attended ballets and luncheons with her for years, and to have included her and other fine women in the book. Women’s stories are filled with hardships, but, women have also enjoyed good times. So I hope you will discover those stories in my book or the books of others.

Young Blood of the Peace by Shirlee Smith Matheson (Detselig, 1991)

While living inHudson’sHope,BC, and being known as “a writer” I often received local requests to write everything from birthday poems to personal résumés. It still came as a surprise, however, to receive a call from a Catholic Sister of St. Joseph, Sister Gemma, who frankly informed me that a group of people had been discussing the career of Father Jungbluth (locally known as Father Youngblood), the Oblate priest who served four local churches in Moberly Lake (First Nations), Kelly Lake (Metis), Chetwynd (a mixed congregation) and Hudson’s Hope (mostly white).  “He has lived an interesting life,” announced Sister Gemma, “and we have decided that you should write a book about him.”   

“But . .. ” I stammered, “I don’t even know him!”

“So meet him!” was the instant response.

“But . . . he’s a Catholic priest – and I’m not Catholic.”

“We know that,” she said patiently, as if speaking to a child. And then she added a statement that changed my life.  “But you’re a writer – and writers can write about anyone!”

And so that evening I went for a walk in the snowstorm– similar to the snowy walk taken by Pierre Trudeau while he made his big decision on whether to take on the challenge of becoming Canada’s Prime Minister — and decided to take on the challenge of writing about a man I had never met, who embraced a faith, and lived a lifestyle, quite different from mine, to see what might happen. 

I met him, and went on to travel with him one day a week for three years to get his story, and those of the First Nations people who comprised his parishioners.  The result is Youngblood of the Peace, a book now in its second edition. And further, I went on to write a stage play based on the book, which was produced at the Fringe Festival inEdmonton. 

Father Jungbluth and I remained close friends until his passing. And that’s the story of my – and Pierre’s – big challenge, successfully met.

Rendezvous on the Peace, Part III

Again, with the last section of “Rendezvous,” notice Shirlee’s fine use of imagery to create pictures in our minds. Also, Shirlee’s photo—one taken while boating on the Peace River near Hudson’s Hope— offers another glimpse of the river’s beauty. With the water framed by rock and trees, we are drawn into the photo to some distant point on the river, in much the same way Shirlee’s words allow us to see the river as we follow her journey.

Peace River near Hudson's Hope Photo by Shirlee Smith Matheson

Rendezvous on the Peace, Part III

by Shirlee Smith Matheson

It is midnight now, and I am quite weary.  I think back to an earlier time when people enjoyed – and in some cases endured – the bliss of this solitude.  I have read of their efforts to brighten their homesteads with banks of flowers – delphiniums, bluebells, bachelor buttons, forget-me-nots, goldenrod and fireweed – that paraded their colours and scents to such a small audience.  I see Lucille Adems peering from behind the French doors of her wilderness cabin to watch the moose and caribou browse in the willows – or in her carefully tended garden.  I hear the cabin-bound trappers and prospectors wonder aloud if the outside world has quit its mad pace so they might venture back to rejoin society.

Perhaps I did fall asleep because we are now at Finlay Forks.  It is half-past twelve midnight.  I grab my bag and follow Ken off the boat onto a dock and along a narrow gangplank, barely visible in the dark and bouncing with each step.  The black waters of the Williston Lake reservoir slap against the boards, leap up the soft sandbank, chase me to the safety of shore.  Not a light turns on to greet us, for the generator has been turned off for the night. We walk silently, single file, over a boardwalk fronting the cabins. Ken opens the door to one, drops my bags and lights a candle for me. Good night.

I roll out my sleeping bag, trying not to think of mice or men, howling mountains or ghosts of the Peace’s past.  Tomorrow I will meet the voyageurs and, for their entertainment, I’ll resurrect, through my stories, the people, places and proud history of this once mighty river called the Peace.

The foamy whitecaps on your breakers leap!

The rolling, boiling eddies lurk below.

How long you’ve been, how long to be, I ask you?

The river answers, “Only God can know.”

Poem by Earl Kitchener Polon, co-author of This Was Our Valley

Note from Shirlee, 2011

Shirlee boating on Peace River Photo by Bill Matheson

This Was Our Valley tells the story of the river and the two hydro-electric dams that were built across its narrows, resulting in the 600-foot deep reservoir today called Williston Lake that flooded 640-square miles of fertile lowlands.  And with a plan to build a third dam called Site C, on the once-mighty Peace River, the cries from the Cave of the Winds are meaningful echoes of a time long past.

To discover more about Shirlee Smith Matheson, check the About Shirlee page or go to www.ssmatheson.ca


Serial publication of longer works has existed since before Dickens’ time. Today, publishers might ask, “Is serialization still an option?”

My answer is, “Yes, especially on the web.” In fact, web designers prefer short passages, subtitles, photographs or other methods to keep general readers involved but not weary-eyed reading page after page of text.

 To follow up on my belief in reprints and serialization, I’m republishing a work that I believe deserves attention. “Rendezvous on the Peace,” by Shirlee Smith Matheson, was first published by the Chinook Branch of the Alberta Historical Society in the newsletter History Now (ca.1994) It is an example of nonfiction in which the descriptive and poetic language is moving. Part I of the work reprinted below offers setting and context. Next week, Part II will provide glimpses of history, and the following week, Part III becomes reflective, returning readers to setting. Yet, both the creative reflections and vivid descriptions seem related to photography concepts. To begin, this week, enjoy the fine use of language.

Rendezvous on the Peace

by Shirlee Smith Matheson

Part 1

 The river wends its way forever and forever

Its ripples splash to dampen shoring rocks.

It knew no master, this, the Peace so mighty

When it was harnessed not by dams or locks.

Poem by Earl Kitchener Pollon, co-author with Shirlee Smith Matheson, This Was Our Valley (Detselig Enterprises, Calgary, 1989, reprint 1993)

We leave at dusk to travel 90 miles up the Peace River from Hudson’s Hope, BC, to Finlay Forks.  Ken Kyllo is captain of this 26-foot jet boat powered by an Olds 455-cubic-inch engine and assures me he’s made this trip thousands of times, day and night.

I’ve often heard of Finlay Forks – the point where the Finlay River flowing from the north joins the Parsnip River from the south to become the mighty Peace.  That energetic offspring plunges through the Continental Divide of the Rocky Mountains, races northward for 2,600 miles and crosses the finish line to pour its waters into the Bering Sea.  Now, however, the energy of the Peace is harnessed by two (perhaps soon to be three) hydro-electric dams, and so this portion of the river on which we are travelling tonight is called simply the Peace Arm, an extension of the dams’ reservoir named for a former politician, Ray Williston.

I’ve been invited to read from my books written about this place and its people, namely This Was Our Valley and Youngblood of the Peace.  My reading is part of the welcome celebrations planned at the Forks for 23 voyageurs from Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario, who have spent four years retracing the historic voyages of Sir Alexander Mackenzie.  Their three canoes have already traversed the Peace Arm that we are jet-boating over tonight.

The evening sun turns the water to a shimmering mirror and the surrounding cut banks to golden walls topped with a dark green fringe of forest.  Ken Kyllo maneuvers the large boat around “deadhead” logs partly submerged in water and other dangerous debris. Several times he stops the boat to remove sticks from the engine’s jets.

Gold is a word often associated with the Peace River in days gone by, bringing hopeful prospectors and equally excited homesteaders.  One of the most famous families was the Beatties who built a magnificent ranch at Gold Bar.  Now the homesteads are all gone, submerged by the waters of Williston Lake.