July 16, 2009 | Tips from Travellers >
New Hazelton, Historic & Heritage Sites
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Stories of Hazelton’s history flow as plentiful as the water that runs through the rivers that surround the Hazeltons. One story, which I find particularly fascinating, is the story of the arrival of the first car to Hazelton. In mid- 1911 the rumours of motorized vehicles being used, elsewhere in North America, ignited an excitement and curiosity throughout Hazelton! Soon after, the folks of Hazelton decided that they too would like to see a car drive the dusty streets of Hazelton. Anticipation grew around the idea and finally a hefty $1000 dollar reward was offered to the first person who could bring a car to Hazelton on its own power. “A fairly large number of enthusiasts entered the race but most of them withdrew after coming to know that there was no roadway.” In the end Mr. P.E Sands, the president of Seattle’s Studebaker automobile agencies, decided that he would brave the difficult terrain and desolate wilderness of British Columbia. Sands had a Flanders 20 with a three speed transmission. On August 28, he left Seattle and took a route over the Snoqualmie Pass to Ellensburg, Washington, then to Kamloops through the Nicola Valley and on to Ashcroft. Next he travelled via the Cariboo Wagon Road to Quesnel and then headed northwest following the Yukon Telegraph Line. He was on a challenging mission. There were no proper roads to speak of; rugged terrain, forests, steep mountains and swamps added to his obstacles. He drove through rain, made bridges on creeks, cut down trees, made roads, and sometimes had to haul the car by ropes. When they reached Quesnel, ‘men and women flocked about to view the novel vehicle – the first motor car many of them had ever seen.” At Aldermere near Smithers, they were given a warm reception, good food and entertained by dance. Most unforgettable was the party arranged for Sands when he finally reached Hazelton. He was given the reward the next day and started back to Seattle with his car on a sternwheeler to Prince Rupert.”
Now Sands had a secret, he had deceived the Hazelton folks and a man named Bob Montgomery knew it! “Apparently, Sands didn’t make it to Hazelton entirely on his own. He hired a pack team, dismantled the car and carted it for quite a distance. This was discovered by Montgomery”, an ex-convict and one time bank robber, “as he met the contestants on their way to Hazelton.” Sands paid Montgomery half of his winnings in order to keep his mouth shut; therefore, as Sands “waved goodbye to Hazelton” he was “in fact not as happy as he may have appeared.” Somewhere along the line the secret seeped out and is now a legend that locals love to talk about, laugh about, and even re-enact the story of the first car to Hazelton in theatrical performances!
This summer, I had the pleasure of meeting the daughter and granddaughter of one of the men hired to pack the car by donkey. The pair came into the Information Centre with their father’s story and pictures to prove it. I was delighted to have the opportunity to see a photo album filled with hundred-year-old photos in it, one of which was a picture of a donkey bearing the weight of a recognizable, disassembled car. True evidence of Sands deception!
Stop by at the Visitor’s Centre in New Hazelton, located at the junction of Highway 16 and 62 to learn more about the car and other legends, and pictures of the pioneer days in Hazelton!