Commentary – Where the pavement ended, the mud began

Pearl Lorentzen

There is a photo of me as a toddler sitting in a tire in my grandparents’ garden in Kinuso. I don’t remember it being taken.

Before moving to Slave Lake, I had a vague idea when my family left this area, but I didn’t know when they arrived.

While moving up to Slave Lake, I asked my grandparents, Lorentz and Mary Lou Lorentzen, when they moved to Slave Lake.

“The second week of September 1969,” grandpa said.

“The pavement ended at Slave Lake.”

I was moving 50 years after my grandparents, my dad, and his siblings. I wondered what had changed.

Grandpa recalled his fastest trip between Slave Lake and High Prairie.

“The rain poured down on the gravel road. The water was so deep the car had a bow wave,” grandpa said.

My grandfather doesn’t drive fast, so I knew there was more to this story. Peeling the layers, I learned this trip was memorable as part of a series of moves from Three Hills in 1969. A trip which still takes 5 1/2 hours.

On Sept. 1, he and his family helped some friends move back to Three Hills. He got a call that a school in High Prairie wanted him to teach the next morning at 9 a.m. He decided to stay for supper at their friend’s house and drive through the night. He arrived shortly before 9 a.m. to teach the class.

On Thursday, they told him he had a full-time job in Slave Lake, which started Monday. He had Friday and the weekend to return to Three Hills to move their house trailer. On Saturday, after setting it up, he missed the bus to High Prairie, so he hitchhiked. He stood there in either his blue cowboy hat or Second World War helmet liner, raincoat, and probably rain boots.

A young couple in a big borrowed Chevy four-door picked him up.

They were returning to Peace River after their honeymoon. He climbed into the back seat. As they sped off, he said, “I sat back and prayed and started preaching.”

He started teaching Grade 5 the following Monday at E.G. Wahlstrom School.

Having driven on a gravel road in torrential rain, I can well imagine those speeds were terrifying.

Another E.G. Wahlstrom teacher in 1969, Harry Bartlett, grew up in the area before the roads were paved. He remembers all the mud.

“When it did rain, everybody wore rubber boots slopping through mud. Riverboat Days were dubbed Rubber Boot Days,” says Bartlett.

He remembered, “a long-time resident wore rubber boots all year round. He’d fold them down the top. He was well-known, so everyone emulated him.”

Bartlett claimed it took time, but you could break them in. I can’t quite envision it.

I enjoy spring runoff and playing in puddles, but don’t think that I would have liked having to wear gumboots every time it rained. They suction onto my calves and are hard to take off. I don’t like driving on gravel and am glad that my first trip to High Prairie, whenever what ends up being, will be on a paved highway.

The new paved highway between Slave Lake and High Prairie was finished in 1971. A lot has changed in 50 years, but spring is still muddy and rain makes roads slippery.

I look forward to learning what else has changed.

If you have memories from 1969 in Lesser Slave Lake area, please give me a call at [780] 849-4380.


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