Peace River was a great place to grow up. I expect that might still hold true.
One of the things I remember most about my youth is exploring Peace River and its environs. That is one thing I do not think kids of the current generation get: the ability the explore on their own.
Peace River was a great place to explore. If you have never been the town of Peace River the town is nestled in the Peace River valley. The Peace River flows through the middle of town separating the town into the main east part and some small separate sub-divisions on the west bank (West Peace, Pine Acres and Saddleback Ridge). The west side of town has grown substantially since I left town.
Three river join at Peace River. Obviously the Peace is the main one. It is about the size of the North Saskatchewan, but much faster and deeper. Just south of town the Smoky River joins. And right in the middle of town, along the east bank, the Heart River splits downtown and the north end from the south end of town.
My house was along 101 street. 101 street was the main road through the south end of town. It ran north-south, starting at the firehall in the middle of downtown and ending up in River View – the south most sub-division in town. The north end of town was mostly flat, built on a flood plain and protected from the Peace by large dykes. The south side, my side, was layered. Each north-south road was either higher or lower than the ones running parallel to it.
My backyard was a steep hill to the east of the house. Getting there by car meant driving back along 101 st toward town centre until you nearly reached the Heart and then taking Judah Hill Road (or at least the start thereof). On foot you could climb the hill pretty easily. It was covered in a light scrub brush. In winter, it would have made a great toboggan hill except for two flaws. There was a five foot rock retaining wall holding the hill back from the house that you’d fall off of and the gap between the house and the car port was only about 5′ wide. Going off the wall into either the house or the carport was far more likely.
We did use it as a toboggan hill on occasion.
For pedestrians, there was a set of stairs a block down from my house. Blue stairs – literally they were referred to as “The Blue Stairs.” I used to know the number of steps, but it was somewhere between 80-90 I think from top to bottom. They would have made an interesting challenge for stair training. The stair height at the bottom was quite shallow, but the rise at the top was quite steep. You worked harder the farther you went up and running down you had to take care with your step or trip as they got shallow. Run up and down the stairs I did. Or jump off the stairs onto the hill and make my way through the bush of people’s backyards until I reached my own.
Across 101 street was another hill going down covered in bush again. Thicker bush filled with Poplar and Birch trees. At the bottom of the hill was the hospital grounds where Dad worked as I grew up. Someone had built a tree fort in the bush. Awesome. It wasn’t fancy, but since Tim and I were the only kids on our block it was basically all ours!
The junction to get down to the hospital was out usual sled hill. There was a bit where the trees had been cleared out. There was a much better sled hill on the north side of town, but this was where we went when Mom booted us outside in the middle of winter. Going to the other hill was an outing.
At the base of the toboggan hill was the hospital service ramp. Inside you could wander the basement of the hospital. The boiler room, machine room, laundry, morgue and an underground tunnel between the hospital and the nursing home were all down there. Mostly I used it to go to the cafeteria though and meet Dad for lunch. Mrs, K made some kick butt fish and chips and jello.
On the other side of the ramp was the Nurses Residence. It was torn down when I was still pretty young, but I remember it. For some reason the shade from the residence and the big old trees that surrounded it made the 100 feet alongside it feel like a mountain trail. When I was very young and Mom would take me to visit Dad at work we would sing the Happy Wanderer’s Song as we walked along the path.
But the best area to wander on the South side of town was the Heart River valley. Along the Heart River was the town ball diamond. It was cool in that it had a dedicated bridge built to cross the river for no reason other than to get to the diamond. Behind the diamond the train crossed the river on the way out of the valley, but it was much higher up on a pretty cool trestle bridge. I was always to0 chicken to go and play on the bridge.
Behind the ball diamond was a curve in the river known as Bare Ass Bend. In the spring the Heart River was dangerous. It could flood over the dykes and at times both the ball diamond bridge and the Heart River bridge on 101 st could be under water . But most of the summer the Heart River was about calf deep. At bends in the river you could find pools that got about 4-5 feet deep.
At Bare Ass Bend there were a series of rocks you could try and walk on to cross the river, but it was easier to wade across. On the other side was the start of the Heart Valley nature trail. You could follow the trail along the riverfor a couple kilometers before it stopped being cared for. You could walk back in the river, stopping to splash in the pools as you reach the bends in the river.
It was a perfect place for a young explorer because once you were 1 minute away from the ball diamond you were off alone in the bush. You could play hide and seek, cowboys and indians or pretend to be explorers. (I didn’t know at that age that literally great explorers like Alexander Mackenzie had basically done the same thing through the area.) You could find a rock outcropping and climb it. If you brought a fishing pole you could catch minnows. On some of the mud flats by the river you could make a small fire and pretend to cook your fish lunch. (Normally I’d pack sandwiches instead.) In theory if you went far enough you would climb right out of the valley and reach the 9 hole golf course just outside Nampa. I never did that, but I’m pretty certain I’ve had golf balls make the journey back down the river.
I’m not sure when I started exploring the neighbourhood. I know I was walking and riding my bike to school by the end of the 1st grade. So probably around then. By the time we outgrew our K – 3rd grade school and moved to the big 4 -12 school in the north part of town I was ranging even farther. Out to the Pines to see Dave (on my bike), certainly over to the swimming pool on the other side of the Heart River and into the north end of town to see Jason and occasionally Robin (although I visited him more in the Pines house, the Riverview house and the Pat’s Creek house.)
The valley holds many other cool places. For so long as I had the imagination to want to be an explorer there was always a new place to explore. That was part of what made it a great place to grow up.
The map does not give the idea of how steep it was. The hospital was much lower than my house and the street above much higher.
View Around Town in a larger map