By Dorothy Isted
Special to the Pioneer
Berta Moore was born in 1905 in southern Alberta to homesteaders Stuart and Ethel Cameron. The family moved to Wasa, B.C. in 1914. Their first home there was a tent with six-foot (two-metre) boarded sides, floors with carpets and beds set on them and a stove and heater installed for cooking and keeping warm, in which they lived in through the entire winter. A log house was constructed the next year.
In 1916 the Kootenay River flooded, which stopped the trains running for two months. This was followed by oppressive hordes of mosquitoes. They were so bad the men could not work outside and the women took to wearing newspapers underneath their stockings and dresses.
Berta at age 12, the oldest child, had to cut wood with a crosscut saw, harness the horses and take them for groceries and haul bags of grain from the depot. School was a mile (one and half kilometres) away and she walked, rowed in a boat her father built or went over the lake ice in the winter. Cameron Point on Wasa Lake was named after the family, who built the irrigation ditch there.
Desperate to finish school, she made a deal with her father she would cook at a camp until September in exchange for room and board in Cranbrook to attend high school. The cost was $27 per month. In her memoirs she described this as frightening because she was weak in many subjects. She got help from her teachers and did well, winning a provincial gold medal for an essay she had written. Berta then went to teachers college in Victoria and returned to Skookumchuk, where her family had moved, to teach there.
Berta travelled 15 miles (24 kilometres) by horseback with a friend to Ta Ta Creek dance and there met Harry Moore. Harry and Berta corresponded by mail for several years, seeing each other when opportunity arose, and were married at Bertas parents home in Larchwood (five miles, or about eight kilometres, from Skookumchuk) in 1929.
Harry had been born in Ontario in 1902 and his family too had worked hard at farming in Alberta. At one point they raised 200 pigs, shipped them to Winnipeg and the freight charges cost more than they got from the sale of the pigs. Like Bertas family, Harrys came seeking a better life in B.C.s timber industry.
The young couple moved where the work was Wardner, Larchwood, Findlay Creek. In 1932, Harry got work piling stones for road work along the big hill in Skookumchuk. He walked 12 miles (19 kilometres) each day for this and was paid $18 per month. They were able to purchase land due to borrowed money and an estate sale, in Mud Creek. Because it had a school, it was considered a town and not just a logging camp. It was located across the highway from the current White Swan turnoff near Canal Flats.
Here they built a house and business, which Berta ran along with Harrys father. There was a store and gas pumps. Harrys brother Jack worked with him hauling ice in the winter and storing it in sawdust, and cutting and hauling wood the rest of the year. Berta was kept busy looking after their small children Beverly Anne, Cameron and David, substitute teaching, making butter, organizing a home nursing course, cooking and washing for her family, and driving the children to school in Canal Flats. She drove an old Studebaker that had brakes that only worked when she backed up.
Though the business was successful, they needed more income. Harry leased a portable mill and worked from Ta Ta Creek and north into the Columbia Valley. The Moores moved to Edgewater in 1942 and extended family followed. Barry and Valerie were born later.
Barry Moore has a thirty foot long map created in about 1910, commissioned by a company called Columbia Valley Orchards, owned by a Dr. Gaddes (the family later spelled their name Geddes.) Dr. Gaddes was B.C.s Commissioner of Colonization and had studied the climate, soil and existing farm records. He was convinced there was good agricultural viability in the valley. The map shows plans for a much bigger town than ever existed in Edgewater, along with roads and irrigation networks, and huge parcels outside of the town; in all, ten thousand acres (40 million square metres). The company went bankrupt in 1918. They raised about one million dollars in stocks and bonds to buy the land. That sum would be equivalent to more than $21 million dollars today. Parcels were bought by the Geddes and converted into Columbia Valley Ranches.
Columbia Valley Ranches had a contract with Canadian Pacific Railway to supply rail ties. The company was struggling with logistics, had a tract of cut wood and were going to lose the contract. But horses couldnt deal with the steep terrain. Harry Moore had a good reputation for getting the job done and a Cat (Caterpillar machine). They asked him to come up and help out. He did his job so effectively that the mill yard was overrun with logs and he ended up taking over the mill and wound up running the whole operation.
Mr. Geddes then asked Harry to purchase the operation, as Mr. Geddes no longer had his heart in it. If the company could not be sold, it would be abandoned and the town would die. Barry Moore recalls one logger Adolph Johnston coming to his mother in tears after the announcement. His horses were so smart, they would pull a log down a mountain, get unhitched and then travel back up for another one all by themselves. Adolph Johnston asked her, What about my horses? What about me? Berta told him no one would be let go.
Harry had to assume all the unpaid mortgages and pay Mr. Geddes. Harry sold $50 lots to families and gave them free credit to build their homes. Because it was a company town, every time a water main broke, the men at the mill had to quit what they were doing and go fix it. Eventually the town formed an improvement district and took over this responsibility and in exchange for payment, water lines were to be supplied to new lots. Harry built the Edgewater high school to save kids having to travel into Invermere.
There were several efforts to unionize the mill but the workers refused. They were happy with the good wages, steady work and medical benefits provided by the Moores. The workers met the organizers with axes and hand tools and the union people left so quick one of their cars rolled over into a creek.
A dam had been built at Baptiste Lake, the towns water source, in 1924 and needed upgrading. Uncle Don Cameron and Harry Moores son David, who had an engineering degree, used Harrys Cats to excavate and repair the dam, which is still working well. Payment was never made on infrastructure. Harry donated the community park. He built a runway above the town.
Bertas sister Dorothy Cameron established the Edgewater Credit Union, the first one in B.C.s interior, and it made a big difference to the town. Berta heard of a charity in B.C., Frontier Dental, and persuaded the organizers to send a dentist to the community each summer. Children were able to get their teeth looked after for the small Family Allowance payment of six dollars.
The men who worked at the mill were always credited with its success. Barry recalls, The head rig was run by a Lancaster bomber turret bought cheap. Those guys came up with that idea. They were always inventing things like the jammer, which loaded logs onto trucks. What was neat about it was they recycled all this complex machinery from old trucks, saving all kinds of time and effort by using existing chassis. They didnt have money to work with. Edgewater ingenuity was the key thing.
The Moore family dealt with several devastating fires at their mill and rebuilt each time. But it was a government policy change that did them in. The company was sold in 1966 and the mill shut down. Harry and Berta enjoyed their retirement years flying in their own plane as far away as Mexico. Harry died at the age of 94 in 1996 and Berta at 98 in 2004. Cameron returned to Mud Creek. Beverly Anne (deceased 2006) and Valerie moved to Vernon, David to Colorado and Barry remains in Edgewater.