Freighters brought supplies to pioneers

Many entrepreneurs saw the opportunity in bringing goods to remote settlements.

The last evidence of Widdis Transport sits behind Silva Gro Nursery waiting to be scrapped.

The last evidence of Widdis Transport sits behind Silva Gro Nursery waiting to be scrapped.

The photo of Don Widdis’ (Squeak’s) freight truck brings back many memories of the early years in the Cariboo, for a large number of people living in small, remote settlements.

The truck was one of the early ones, used to haul freight of all kinds, to small communities when small communities were everywhere as settlement spread out along a muddy, rocky path called a road. Spots like Buckridge, Castle Rock, Woodpecker and Becher (pronounced Beecher) House, are now long gone.

The pioneers relied on these freighters for delivery of many items such as clothing, tools, food, gossip (news) and letters as the pioneers laboured on land clearing, plowing, seeding, fencing, herding, roundup, slaughter and driving cattle to market.

Money was scarce so only essentials were delivered. How the freighters made a profit is best explained by the fact their labour was very, very cheap or of no value at all. Many people plied that trade in the Cariboo early years, such as Alec Fraser.

Don Widdis was one of the knights of the road, called “squeak” because of his high voice. He was born at Woodpecker and worked at the H.G. Gardner sawmill on the Barkerville Road at 13 Mile Lake in 1938 with Glen Huntsley. They often came to Quesnel to see Audrey Healy and Glen’s mother in Ruric Marsh’s Log Cabin Court (at the south end of the wooden bridge.)

Beer parlours were a major recreation spot then as TV, cds, movies, etc. were not known. Squeak came home one night and recited this rhyme, which Audrey remembers after all those 73 years.

The lightning flashed

The thunder rolled

The whole wide world was shaking

The little pig stuck up his tail

And ran to save his bacon

After a drink or two he sang his own version of Wabash Cannon Ball – Hodgson Cannon Ball.

Jack Ritson was the cop then when 21 years was the entry level to a beer parlour. Audrey reports Jack looked at Squeak and said “tonight your 21.”

Don drove for T.J. Hodgson’s Chilcotin Mail and Express in 1952, then bought his own truck for his Widdis Transport. He could be counted on to get through no matter what the conditions were – sometimes a bit late, but…? He was the first into Bella Coola.

He died in 2005 or 2006, in southern Alberta.

The photo was taken behind Silva Gro Nursery, where it waits to be scrapped; there you can catch a glimpse of a relic of an era not to be seen again.

With files from D. French – The Road Runs West; The Witte Sisters – Chilcotin: Preserving Pioneer Memories; and Audrey Healey.

Andy Motherwell is an amateur historian and regular Observer columnist.