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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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