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Beginnings in Bezanson

Ancel Maynard Bezanson was a tireless adventurer, promoter and pioneer of the Peace River region. His travels in the Northwest part of Alberta were documented, and then published in an effort to promote the Peace Region to potential settlers. His descriptions of the vast agricultural areas and immense opportunities that awaited new settlers helped to bring people from all over the world to our region. Bezanson’s first book The Peace River Trail was published in 1907 by the Edmonton Journal and sold over 5000 copies. His second book, Looking Ahead in the Peace Country – Building of a City was published in 1914 and described in detail the plans for his town site and the fruitful region of Northwest Alberta.

In anticipation of the Canadian Northern railway crossing on the Big Smoky River, Bezanson incorporated and developed a town site on the banks of the river. This town site was located approximately 12 kilometers southeast of the present day hamlet of Bezanson. Not only was the potential railway crossing an ideal location for a city, but the banks of the river provided a good place for a ferry crossing as well. Transportation routes were vitally important to the growth and development of the West, and providing services and stopping points along the routes played an important part in this growth.

Photo courtesy of South Peace Regional Archives: Bezanson family fonds CA GPR 0155.-0155.01-1990.30.089

Development of Bezanson’s town site was swift and plans included building many businesses, wide streets and even installing streetcars. It was a grand vision and the first few years saw many businesses erected including stables, rooming houses and even a jewelry store. The Herald had noted that in 1915 the town site of Bezanson had as many or more buildings than Grande Prairie. Unfortunately, the building and construction of the town site fizzled out when it was decided to re-route the railway in to Grande Prairie from the north via Rycroft.

By 1917 with the news that the railway was not crossing at Bezanson most residents moved on, A.M. Bezanson himself enlisting in the Army

Medical Corps, and what was left behind was only the footprints of the townsite buildings. In 1926, the logs from the Presbyterian Church at the townsite were purchased by and moved to build a store at the present day Bezanson hamlet.

Grande Prairie Herald March 23, 1915

The area of the original Bezanson townsite was designated a Provincial Historic Resource in 1986. The park at the Old Bezanson Townsite, complete with log buildings, a playground and a monument to recognize the pioneer women of the Peace, was first opened in 1988 after a team of volunteers helped to create a lasting historic reminder of the community’s past. Since this time, the park has largely been overseen by the Bezanson Agricultural Society. In recent years in an effort to re-vitalize the park, the Old Bezanson Townsite Committee has played an important role in replacing historic signage and promoting the history of the townsite and the community of Bezanson.

Down a New Road, Photo Courtesy of South Peace Regional Archives: Bezanson family fonds: CA GPR 0155-0155.01-1990.30.064

Today the park is managed by a partnership between the Bezanson Agricultural Society, the County of Grande Prairie No. 1, and the Old Bezanson Townsite Committee. In the summer of 2014, The Old Bezanson Townsite Park played host to the 100th anniversary celebration of the community of Bezanson. A few hundred attendees spent a beautiful August afternoon celebrating the opening of the new playground, a roast beef on a bun luncheon, horse-drawn wagon rides, children games and speeches from dignitaries. The celebration was organized by volunteers from the Bezanson Agricultural Society and Old Bezanson Townsite Committee, and with the support the County of Grande Prairie’s 100th Year Anniversary grant.

2014 The opening of the new playground at the Townsite— Old Bezanson Townsite Committee, County of Grande Prairie Councillor Harold Bulford, MLA Everett McDonald, MP Chris Warkentin

In anticipation of the upcoming Celebrate Bezanson homecoming in August 2017, members of the Old Bezanson Townsite committee will be submitting historical vignettes of the Bezanson community, from its origins on the banks of the Smoky River to its current location in the hamlet. Our hope is that we as a committee, will not only be able to present the history of our community and region, but we will also inspire our community members to take an active interest in the roots of our community.

From Cleats to Skates and Back Again

The autumn season brings about many changes. Changing seasons brings bright yellow and orange leaves to our forests and yards. Children exchange bicycles and summer gear for back packs and lunch boxes as they head back to school. For 13 year old Daven Maurer from Bezanson, the fall season means trading the baseball cleats and ball gloves for skates and hockey sticks. Maurer is a multi-sport athlete from Bezanson who plays competitive sports on a year round basis.

Daven Maurer of the Grande Prairie Reds with Grandma Eleanor Ford. Submitted photo credit Tammie Maurer

Maurer spent the majority of the summer playing baseball for the Grande Prairie AA Reds. The Grande Prairie Reds teams are operated by the Grande Prairie Minor Baseball Association and offer teams for male and female players from ages of 3-18. The baseball season runs from April with tryouts until mid-August. The AA teams travel at least two times a month during the season to competitions across the province. For Maurer, this past season was the first year of playing AA baseball although he has been playing competitive baseball for four years now.

After baseball season wraps up, Maurer switches to the sport he has played for the past seven years – hockey. This winter Maurer will be lacing up for the Sexsmith Vipers. The hockey season runs from September until April, just in time for the beginning of ball season. Among his favorite events in competitive sports, Maurer says baseball provincials in Camrose and winning a banner in hockey are top of the list. When asked why he continues to play every season, Maurer says, “because it is fun and I enjoy competing.”

A dedicated athlete, Daven also represents the Bezanson Bulldogs on the school sports level. Maurer has played volleyball, basketball, badminton and track for the Bulldogs and credits his involvement in school sports for helping him to grow into the athlete he is today. “School sports help me practice and become a more well-rounded athlete. It means a lot to me to play in Bezanson because I am supporting my school,” says Maurer.

Maurer sliding in to home plate. Submitted photo credit Mark Bamber.

Being a competitive athlete means one must travel to practices, tournaments and games on an almost daily basis. Daven’s parents know the dedication it takes as they both played competitive sports at an early age. “Both my parents played sports and they like sports. I also have supportive grandparents that help to take me places as well,” says Maurer. What makes it even more challenging is that both Daven and his younger brother Koen play competitive sports.

Team sports and school sports are not the only things that interest Maurer. Maurer says, “I enjoy dirt biking, golf and this year I also did a Spartan race and plan to compete at the adult level next year.” Maurer has goals of growing and developing skills that will open up more doors for him athletically. “I would like to play at more competitive levels in sports,” says Maurer. He also has a strong interest in math and science and has future plans of becoming an architect.

Bezanson has produced so many great athletes over the years, and we continue to provide opportunity for students and adults alike to engage in sport and recreation. We wish Daven all the best on the ice, the field, the court, the course or wherever his travels take him on his journey through athletics!

Following Her Passion

An 18 year old athlete from Bezanson has temporarily moved away from home in order to train and practice in the sport she loves. Alyssa Lavalley, a recent graduate from Peace Wapiti Academy, is training at the Gorsline Stables in Sherwood Park, Alberta. An already decorated equestrian show jumper, Lavalley hopes to use this experience to grow and develop her skills and abilities and further her love of the sport. Lavalley explains,” the reason I do this sport is because I’ve always loved horses and always been told I had a good connection with them. They have actually helped me so much when I was really little.”

Alyssa & Whiskey
Alyssa Lavalley and Whiskey. Photo credit Lianne Lavalley (submitted)

Equestrian show jumping courses are designed with a certain pattern in which you must go over 12 jumps in the cleanest (without knocking down a rail) and fastest time. Lavalley says,

“I love the challenge and working with a horse to honestly become one. There is no feeling like having a horse trusts you with everything you control and knowing they are in your hands. All sports have their glory but this one has brought the most to me.” Lavalley competes on her horse Whiskey SR, who is named after the Smoky River ranch they both call home.

Lavalley is a former Bezanson School student athlete who competed in many sports for the Bulldogs including cross country running, track, volleyball and basketball. Growing up in Bezanson has given Lavalley many opportunities to excel on the athletic and academic stages, as well as in numerous community events such as the annual horse show. Recently Lavalley was awarded with an Academic Excellence Award for her performance in her senior year of high school. During her final year at Peace Wapiti Academy, Lavalley continued on with school athletics and was a member of the Titan senior ladies basketball team. This past spring the senior ladies basketball team earned a birth to 3A High School Provincials where they earned an ASAA Team Sportsmanship Award.

Lavalley has been an avid horse rider since she was very young. “I started riding horses since I was 5 or 6 then started jumping for fun around the age of 13 just at the ranch”, says Lavalley.

She then started competing on a more competitive level in 2014, and has earned numerous awards at events across the province. These awards include a first place finish at the Gorsline Fall Classic and a second place finish at the Spruce Meadows Champions Welcome in Calgary. That event has been her most memorable as she and Whiskey were in first place with a clean round right up until the last competitor. Lavalley says, “We were in first place till the last rider and horse beat me by less than a second in time.”

The decision to move away from home to train was not as difficult for Lavalley because of the connections she has made over the years. “Honestly it wasn’t that hard to move away because I know a lot of people in Edmonton that helped so much. A lot of people I would consider family”, says Lavalley. “The hardest part of moving away was not being out in the country and being around my family so much,” Lavalley says as she also credits her supportive family for the ability to follow her passion.

Alyssa Lavalley. Photo credit Lianne Lavalley (submitted)
Alyssa and her younger sister Kayla make up a duo known as Team Red. They have travelled together and competed together over the past few seasons. “Team Red is what me and my sister call ourselves since we are both red heads and our horses have the same colour of hair. So we are known as that now and have our own facebook page”, explains Lavalley.

We wish all the best to Alyssa as she follows her dream, and want to remind her that her home town is behind her every step of the way. Bezanson continues to be a place of growth for our young people; this is just another example of a local success story.

2016 Bezanson Community Student Bursary Recipients Announced

Congratulations to this year’s recipients of the Bezanson Community Student Bursary. Grande Prairie Regional College (GPRC) post-secondary students Tatum Auclair and Tristan Willson are awarded with this year’s bursaries, which are funded by our three major community contributors: the Bezanson Agricultural Society, the Bezanson Volunteer Fire Department and the West Smoky Legion #244. There is a total of $1500 awarded each year to former Bezanson School students who apply and qualify for the bursaries at GPRC.

Tatum Auclair - Photo Credit Audrey Hewings
Tatum Auclair – Photo Credit Audrey Hewings

Tatum Auclair recently completed her Education Assistant (EA) certification at GPRC. The EA program is designed to prepare graduates with the tools they need to work in educational settings under the direction and supervision of a teacher. EAs are very valuable in our schools and educational facilities as they provide a great range of support to students and teachers alike.

Tristan Willson has recently completed his first year in Heavy Duty Mechanic Trade program at the GPRC Fairview campus. The Heavy Duty Mechanic program at GPRC is designed to train mechanics in the maintenance, repair and overhauling of heavy engines. This trade program is 4 years in length and is comprised of classroom instruction, on-the-job training and technical training.

Tristan Willson Photo Credit Tammy Willson
Tristan Willson Photo Credit Tammy Willson

These community bursaries were designed to encourage our community members who have attended Bezanson School to enroll in post-secondary studies at GPRC or at a GPRC campus, and to provide some avenues of support for those who qualify. Applications are available online through the GPRC Financial Aid department and are accepted each year with a June deadline. More information on the bursaries is available at our information page on Grants & Bursaries.

Carla Dodd, the Financial Aid Coordinator at Grande Prairie Regional College speaks to the importance of resources to support students in their post-secondary journey. Dodd says, “When students are facing financial struggles, it can often preoccupy their thoughts, preventing them from being able to clearly focus on their studies. Bursaries from communities like Bezanson can help relieve this stress and allow them to be more successful in their studies.”

The Financial Aid team at GPRC can help students navigate the world of bursaries, scholarships and student loans. Dodd emphasizes, “Post-Secondary students are often on a very tight budget and every bit of money has a significant impact on their success!”