Weekly Ponderings: People brought character and culture to Peace River (Part 11)

Here we are back within the Nyeste story – stuck in the mud, as it were. You will recall the Junior Frank Nyeste and friends, including Ruby Viola Hogue, his soon-to-be wife, were on their way to a dance at Rosedale Hall in East Peace in the general area of the Northern Sunrise County Building. “The road up there was not the best.” By that, Thomas Nyeste, writer of the Nyeste story in Peace River Remembers, meant there were potholes – big ones, made worse by rain that filled them.

That was one factor in their adventure. The other had to do with the wood-spoked wheels on the touring car they were in. The two combined to provide a challenge. An especially deep, water-filled pothole grabbed one of the vehicle’s rear wheels fracturing the vulnerable spokes.

Dressed in their best going-to-a-dance attire, the driver and passengers had no choice but to get out and change the damaged wheel. After some maneuvering, change it they did. Now, to get out of the hungry hole where we left them stuck in the mud.

With a heavy foot on the accelerator and some strong pushing, the car was free. “By that time, everyone was coated with mud from their shoes to their eyebrows.” The adventure was not over yet – not by a long mile. They had to get home. “They got stuck in almost every pothole, making it home in time for the morning chores.” So, all was not lost, except perhaps some pride and dignity.

In 1937, Nyeste Senior and Junior built a flat-bottomed scow with the help of old friend, Del Weber, and headed to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, by way of the Peace River and Great Slave Lake. There, Nyeste Junior worked at various jobs around the mines and was, eventually, transferred to Norman Wells, where it is recorded he was among the first crew ever to drill through permafrost.

In the meantime, Nyeste Senior was with the Negus Gold Mining Company, being paid 50 cents an hour to cut wood to feed the mine’s nine boilers. After three months of doing this, he was promoted to steam engineer. While in Yellowknife, he operated one of the community’s first taxis. He returned to Peace River in 1953 after working for Husky Oil near Lloydminster for five years. Then, he retired in 1965 at age 68. For the Senior Nyeste, retirement did not equate to inactivity. According to all reports, he enjoyed life – mixing and visiting with old friends at social functions. Sports was his passion – pool and bowling, reportedly two of his favourites, although he participated in Alberta Seniors Games competition in disking, described as similar to curling, but not on ice. This, he did with teammate Capt. Jack O’Sullivan in 1980, when he was 92 – the oldest participant. O’Sullivan marvelled at Nyeste’s energy during the three-day event. “I’ve never seen him play like that before.”

In addition to being a competitor in the provincial Seniors Games, he was twice chosen the lighter of the Games flame, even though into his ’90s, he needed to climb a ladder to do so.

Frank Nyeste, Sr. died in Peace River Nov. 25, 1983, at 95. He requested his body be donated to science.

We return to Frank Nyeste Junior, who, prior to his return to Peace River from Norman Wells received a citation in 1943 – the Medal of Freedom from the United States War Department. It reads: “Mr. Frank Nyste, a Canadian civilian risked grave danger, Aug. 13, 1943, to go to the rescue of four men whose airplane had crashed on the Mackenzie River near Fort Norman, NWT. In the forbidding weather, he and two others, navigated a small boat through heavy waves and removed the stricken men from their partially submerged aircraft.”

As hinted earlier, Frank Nyeste, Jr. and Ruby Viola Hogue married in 1949. In 1951, they were parents of six-month-old Thomas, who became the Nyeste history writer, when they returned to Peace River, where Frank worked as an automobile mechanic until 1960. He bought a garage, which he sold for a larger one in 1964. A year later, he began acquiring land in the Weberville area. Always on the move, he set up a Chrysler dealership four blocks from the garage and “almost directly across from the Northern Alberta Railways depot [corner 98 Street and 94 Avenue on Main Street].” The building had housed International Truck and Farm Equipment, managed by former Peace River mayor Thor Forseth, and Byers Transport.

He sold the Chrysler dealership in 1972 to Arnold Guthrie and retired. But didn’t, really. He was restless – started a mobile home business, in conjunction with his son-in-law Bob Hart.

Junior Nyeste’s interest and skill in sports is, like his father – legendary. Junior’s interests and involvement, on paper, anyway, seems a little broader with boxing, hockey, baseball and harness racing attracting his interest. The latter and horses found him owner, trainer, and driver of a three-horse stable.

Frank Nyeste Jr. died June 26, 1977, in University Hospital, Edmonton, following a lengthy illness – age 55. Cremation in Edmonton. A Memorial Service – Peace  River – St. Paul’s United Church.

The Jerry family is the next on our agenda of those who brought character and culture to Peace River. Patriarch, Henry Earl Jerry was born in Collingwood, Ontario, Oct. 14, 1895; moved west, specifically to Montana, when he was 14 to work in a meat market; married Josephine Iona (Dot) Young in Montana in 1916. Henry and Dot became parents of Robert Henry (Bob) in 1917.

The aforementioned tells quite a story, but not quite all of it. So, we continue. After Henry checked out the Peace River area in 1919, with the thought of opening a meat business “in the northern frontier town”, he and Dot moved to town a year later, homesteading at Harmon Valley, once known as River Bend. At first, he spent little time on the land, what with setting up his business and all.

He set up the meat market with partner John Olson in the north end of town, using skills he learned as a teenager in Montana. The business thrived. After 20 years, the partners moved their business to downtown, near the McNamara Hotel, where B & C Jewellers were until 2010 and where Hollyhocks is currently 2020. There it remained as the Peace River Meat Co. Ltd. Until a couple of years after Henry’s death in 1956.

Jack Coulter, in his Peace River Remembers account, writes that Henry built a large slaughterhouse near H.A. George’s north end home – across from what is now T.A. Norris Middle School. According to Coulter, Henry “tapped the oil well [Victory] that had been drilled in earlier years [on the west bank of the river] and piped the raw natural gas into the slaughterhouse. He used it for flare lights, and also for heating.”

Coulter continues: “Henry Jerry was a go-getter and always ready for anything that cropped up.” He describes one instance – the Cadotte River Gold Rush – north, northeast of Peace River, in the very early 1920s. “There was plenty of excitement for a time over this and the male population of the town was thinned down considerably for a time until it was found that the whole thing was pretty much a hoax.” Have we not heard about this before from Muriel Oslie. However, it was enough to get Henry up and going. “He rented a saddle horse, rented a pony from me [Coulter] by a friend of my uncle’s to use as a pack horse, and took off with some of the others to seek his quick fortune. Like the others, he returned and wrote it off as a lost cause.”

Henry and John kept up with the times. In 1950, they installed a frozen food locker plant and an extension to the back of their building, which housed an up-to-date smoke room to produce “delicious ham and bacon – the Peace Star brand,” writes employee Frank Richardson. There was also a trackage system, whereby sides of meat could be unloaded from a van, into storage – out of storage to the cutting tables “without having to be lifted during the entire process. The locker plant soon proved to be a spectacular success,” writes Richardson.

We will continue delving into more aspects of the Henry Jerry family history in the next Ponderings.

Sources: Peace River Remembers; Peace River Museum, Archives and Mackenzie Centre files; Fort Vermilion Mercy Flight of 1929, Alberta Aviation Museum, Edmonton; Record-Gazette

Beth Wilkins is a researcher at the Peace River Museum, Archives and Mackenzie Centre.

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