Updated: May 7
By Judy Pollard and David Stevenson
April 2, 2022 marked the 70th anniversary of the crossing of the Canadian border by a small group of American Quakers, on their journey to become residents of the Kootenays. This story is compiled from the writings of Ted Pollard and David Stevenson describing their recollections of the historic trip.
The Journey to Kootenay Lake
In early 1952 a small group of Quakers decided to pack up all of their belongings, leave their jobs and their homes and move from California to the Kootenay. Those involved in this move were deeply disturbed by the socio-political environment in the United States and they were willing to give up a comfortable life in warm and sunny California.
During and after World War II, the U.S. was a difficult place for pacifists and non-combatants, such as Quakers, to live. For example, during the war all those who refused to join the military were detained and placed in what were called conscientious objector camps, or Civilian Public Service camps. John Stevenson was placed in one of those camps and later became a member of the group that moved to Canada.
After the war Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch-hunt for communists was increasing in the U.S. As well there was the “loyalty oath” that most employed people were required to sign as a condition of employment. As a religious principle Quakers will not swear an oath. Those who would not sign the oath were labelled communists and considered to be enemies of the state and forced from their jobs. Because of this labelling and job loss many Quakers were leaving the U.S. for other countries.
In the beginning the group consisted of four families: the Bob Boyd family, the John Rush family, the John Stevenson family, and the George Pollard family. After much soul searching and talking this small group decided that Canada would be a better and safer place to live. The decision to move to Canada was easier for Pollards as George was a Canadian citizen so it was not necessary to go through the immigration process.
The Boyd family truck in 1952 with Beth Boyd in front. (Courtesy David Stevenson)
The move to Canada started in the fall of 1951 when John Stevenson, Bob Boyd, John Rush, George and Ted Pollard went exploring to BC. They looked around the Kootenay and Slocan valleys for land and for a suitable place to live. After considering these areas it was decided that more time was needed for exploration and another trip would be needed, so they returned to California.
In January 1952 the Pollards left the L.A. area and went to Tracey, California where they joined the others. In the middle of March 1952 the Stevensons and the Pollards left Tracey in a caravan for the long trip to Canada.
The caravan was made up of a much overloaded 1936 Chevy three-ton truck pulling a trailer, a Model A coupe, and two Model A sedans, one of which pulled a four-wheel half-ton trailer loaded with about one ton of household goods. The Model A Ford had very little compression and mechanical brakes, so the overloaded trailer pushed the sedan very fast down steep grades. Helen would quickly drive in front of John who was pulling the trailer, and the two Model A’s would go bumper–to-bumper down the hill to control the speed.
Pollards and Stevensons arrived at the border on April 1 and entered Canada on April 2 at Rykerts south of Creston. From there they went to Walkers Landing on Kootenay Lake, where the Yasodhara Ashram is today. The Graham Brown family who lived there were also Quakers and they welcomed the group of Americans.
During the six weeks there, George Pollard and John Stevenson searched for good places to buy land. In late April Bob Boyd and John Rush arrived in Boyd’s truck with another large trailer. They continued to explore the area and finally decided that Argenta was the place. At that time it was a very small village consisting of five families and three or four single men.
Land in Argenta was affordable, some housing was available and the people there were welcoming. The rumour in most of the other areas was that they were rich Americans and they had left their Cadillacs at the border. Because of this the price of land skyrocketed, but not in Argenta. One of the local land owners tried to sell swamp land $3,000 an acre.
Life in Argenta
On May 10, 1952, Pollards and Stevensons drove the caravan from Walkers Landing to Kaslo. The road from Kaslo to Lardeau had just been completed as a mining road and was rough and almost impassable. To drive it with the heavily loaded vehicles would have been a disaster. Because of this the contents of the Boyds’ and Stevensons’ trailers were loaded onto a railway box car.
The Stevensons’ two Model A’s and Pollard’s truck and Model A were loaded onto a railway flat car. Then both the box car and the flat car were loaded onto the CPR barge, to be taken to Lardeau by the steam tug Grant Hall and unloaded. After the trailer had been unloaded into the box car, Bob Boyd and John Rush returned to California with Boyd’s trailer.
From Lardeau Pollards and Stevensons made the 26-mile, two-hour drive to Argenta, which was an adventure in itself. At that time the road from Lardeau to Trout Lake was on the old CP railway grade, very narrow and a challenge to drive. They took this road for 13 miles, then turned off and went over the Howser pass, then down to the Duncan River.
The Grant Hall pushes a barge on Kootenay Lake. (Courtesy David Stevenson)
They crossed the Duncan River on the very old Great Northern Railway bridge, made up of railway ties and two-by-ten planks, hoping it would support the heavy loads. The road was narrow and winding through potholes, across beaver ponds, and finally across the Hamill Creek bridge, another old bridge just wide enough for the vehicles.
Pollards made that trip a few more times to bring Stevensons’ things from the boxcar to Argenta. A few months later the Boyd and Rush families made the trip from California and joined them in Argenta. Two or three years later, the Elliots, the Wolfs, and the Valentines also arrived.
After getting to Argenta the next challenge was housing. The Stevensons rented, and eventually bought, the land between the wharf and Argenta Creek. The old Argenta hotel and a cabin were on this land and vacant. Stevensons moved into the hotel and Pollards moved into the cabin.
Soon after arriving George Pollard bought a piece of land known as the Hanna place. On this land there was an old log house that was slowly sinking into the ground. George and Ted jacked it up and replaced the foundation logs, making a better system for support. A couple of years after making this old house liveable, it caught fire and burned to the ground, so a new house was built. Each of the other families built new houses as well.
After housing was taken care of it became evident that in order for all everybody to survive a plan for making a living was needed. This plan included the formation of a producers’ cooperative, which was called the Delta Co-op. The co-op undertook several approaches to earning income.
For example: the co-op helped Pollards build a large chicken house with space for 750 laying hens; a contract was obtained to build a new school for the community; the group bought a John Deere tractor and tried logging for poles; and they also experimented with raising hogs, and later raising cattle.
With the help of Hugh Elliot, they bought a D6 Caterpillar tractor, using it to clear several acres of land on what were called the flats. This land was used for raising hay to feed the cattle.
The clearing of the flats sounds easy but it was not. The area was like a mosquito factory spread over many acres of flood land. The work stirred up the brush causing mosquitoes to come out by the millions. Because the mosquitoes were so bad the men had to be covered from head to foot, even wearing beekeeper-type head covers. In spite of best efforts, none of the agricultural production proved to be profitable enough to support the group. Getting products to market was a major obstacle.
Water transportation was slow and infrequent. When agriculture did not work people found different ways of making a living. George Pollard got the job as postmaster. Bob Boyd started teaching music in the public schools in the area. John and Helen Stevenson, with the support of the Argenta Meeting, started the Argenta Friends School, based on the tenets of the Society of Friends (Quakers), which functioned for 25 years. Many young people from the community and from all over North America were students at the school.
The John Rush and Elmo Wolf families left after a few years. Descendants of the Pollard and Boyd families as well as the Elliots and Valentines still reside in Argenta.