The Corner House - A Landmark in Horsefly

by Harriette Erickson

The Corner House occupied a unique place in the History of Horsefly. From its early days, it seemed destined to fulfill many functions in the community. 

Although the Corner House was always occupied by families who used it as a private home, it was also the social centre of Horsefly. It saw many parties, meetings, and play performances and functioned as an unofficial Community Club. It was also a stopping place and provided shelter for transients if the hotels were full. Through the years, it also acted as a "teacherage" and many teachers boarded there while teaching in Horsefly School.

One of the most interesting things about the Corner House was that, although occupied by various owners and tenants through the years, it never lost its unique flavour. It was almost as though the House maintained a life of its own meeting the needs of the community including its own occupants.

The residents of the Corner House were, almost by reason of living there, the leaders of the social, culture, educational, and business aspects of the little town of Horsefly.

The original Corner House was not much more than a one room cabin built by Billy Reid Sr. in 1910. It was built for Mr. and Mrs. J. P. Patenaude who operated the store across the road in Horsefly. They lived there until about 1916.

J. P. 's son, Alfred and Alfred's wife, Annie, lived in the cabin from about 1916 to 1918 and may also have operated the store.

In 1918, Neil Campbell's sons, Bob, Al, and Jack purchased the log store and the property across the road on the corner including the small cabin. Neil Campbell's granddaughter, Gretta Parminter, tells something of the family's life at the Corner House.

"In 1920 we moved to Harper's Camp (Horsefly) from Victoria - my father, W. D. McDougal, his wife Agnes (Campbell), myself, my aunt Grace Cessford (Campbell) and her daughter, Erma Pegues (Cessford). My father, a sea captain all his life and now about 71, was to look after the store for my uncle, Al Campbell, who was opening a store in Likely."

While this extended family lived in the Corner House, a small second addition to the House was built by Ben Gruhs and Joe Williams. Before too long, another addition containing several bedrooms was erected. Ben Gruhs also helped to build this building and very nearly lost his life when he was pinned down by a rolling log.
Gretta Parminter continues, "We had by this time added on to the original cabin and the 'Corner House' or 'Loch Leven' was now a large 10 room house, and it was a happy one". We had a piano and many enjoyable musical evenings were spent in the large living room with many of the community joining in".

"Erma had 2 sons, Bob and Joe, and as my two oldest were boys, Jack and Bill, and very close to the Pegues boys in age, they were after referred to as the 'four corners'. My two daughters, Barbara and Margaret, were born while we lived in Horsefly and, after leaving there for Williams Lake and Quesnel, we had four more children".

"The Corner House also boarded the school teachers who became very good friends: Lily Walters (Widdowson), Esther Gruhs (Larson), Kay Carter (Harris), Aubin Fairley (Burridge), Mary Jeffery (Lane), Nancy Ramsey, Norvena Irwin, and Ruby Barrett (Aikenhead)."

"My family moved to Williams Lake in 1939, but remaining at the Corner House were Bob Campbell, Grace Cessford and Erma Pegues."

About this time a fourth addition was built behind the third addition to the cabin. It was a new kitchen which Erma Pegues planned.

Lily Widdowson Walters had been a classmate of Gretta McDougal in Victoria so she was more than delighted to accept a teaching position in Horsefly in 1923 and moved into the Corner House with Greta's family. Lily lived happily in this 'teacherage' for several years prior to her marriage to Glenn Walters in July, 1927.

Succeeding her as teacher was Esther Larson Gruhs. She describes the Corner House as having 5 or 6 bedrooms, a living room and kitchen. She joins Lily in remembering many social activities at the House especially the plays that were directed by Mrs. Cessford, Gretta's aunt. All the people in House participated as well as others in the community.

"Ben (Gruhs) was always the leading man. And - anybody that you could get that would take a part." Esther recalls. "I know that Ben came to his first practice word-perfect from the beginning to end. He made everyone mad because he knew his lines."

Esther remembers, "Captain McDougal (Greta's father) was a sea captain (prior to coming to Horsefly). He got his captain's papers when he was 19 and used to talk about the sailing days in Alaska."

In 1930, Esther married Ben Gruhs and was followed as teacher by Kay Carter (Harris) and several others before Ruby Aikenhead Barrett arrived in Horsefly to teach in 1937.

Ruby remembers that "one went into a long hallway (in the Corner House). There was a desk there so that the teachers could do their work near a stove at the end of a hallway. Up that hallway there were two bedrooms, one for the teacher and one for Mr. and Mrs. Parminter (Gretta) and their two girls...Then upstairs I think there were four small bedrooms".

Ruby paid $25.00 per month to board at the Corner House and she says, "What boarding consisted of was the best food in the country. It was a really good place to stay. There was just everything you needed to eat...And excellent, excellent cooking".

Social life in Horsefly was minimal in the "dirty thirties" as people were too poor. "There were dances once in a while," Ruby says, "There was plenty of social life right in the Corner House. There was fourteen or fifteen of us all the time".

About 1947 Al Williamson purchased the Corner House and lived there for a time with his wife Margaret. He was also running the store across the road. Margaret became ill and Al took her to the Coast, after which his daughter, Yvonne Walters and her husband, Leonard, occupied the Corner House for a time.

In 1951 Melba and Harry Brown moved to Horsefly and Harry, after years of farming in Beaver Valley began to rebuild the store, which had burned down.

The Browns rented the Corner House from Al Williamson and provided lodging for "Gramps" Williamson and Peter at first. Melba had retired from teaching in Williams Lake, but the increased enrollment in the Horsefly School demanded another teacher and Melba was persuaded to take the job. In addition, the Browns ran the Corner House as a guest house and also worked in the store every night until 11:00 or later - whenever the last customer left.

Melba describes that hectic period while they were rebuilding, "a number of tourists who had been in the habit of buying their groceries at the Store, finding no store, they would come into my kitchen and open up my cupboards looking for supplies. The regular customers depended on us too and at the time they would give Harry orders and he would send out to Williams Lake to have the orders filled and then we would have to put all those orders into boxes and occasionally they got the orders mixed up and that would be a dreadful Saturday night."

Teaching and taking care of paying guests at the Corner House could also get confusing as Melba found. She says, "When I was teaching I only had about half an hour for lunch and half an hour for supervision (of the children), but luckily we lived across the street from the school and on my half hour off, I would run home and sometimes there would be several people sitting in the front room waiting for me to serve them lunch, so I had a basic lunch that I could get ready in a hurry and then I would have to leave them with it and I would tell them how much it would be; when I came home the money would be on the table and all the dirty dishes."

Harry Brown had similar stories to tell about the Corner House and remarks that the charge for bed and breakfast was $1.50.

Melba remembers the night they opened the new Community Hall. "It was quite a night. We had guests who came out from Williams Lake...After the dance (in the early hours of the morning), they all started dropping into the Corner House and somewhere along the line someone said they were hungry, so out to the kitchen with the frying pan and one volunteered to make hotcakes and somebody else volunteered to make the bacon and eggs so they fixed themselves up a breakfast and everyone ate. And before this they rolled back my carpet and they were all dancing in the front room 'cause somebody could play the piano'. And away went everyone about 7:00 in the morning and I was dead beat. Ida Clarke stayed to help me clean up the dishes and we did that...and around the corner came three fellas and they were hungry and wanted breakfast. I said, 'You can make your breakfast but I'm going to bed.'...I was a little concerned about my father when I got up that day and I went to ask him, 'Dad, how did you make out?' and he said, 'Oh, it was so nice, when I got up this morning there were three men cooking their breakfast in the kitchen so they fixed mine too.' He was so delighted."

Melba and Harry sold the store in 1956 and moved back to the ranch in Beaver Valley briefly and then into Williams Lake. The Corner House became home then for Yvonne and Leonard Walters again for a year and Alice and Wilfred Racher also spent a year there. By this time the house was becoming pretty run down and in need of much repair.

Several families came and went between 1958 and 1964 when the Corner House was finally taken down and then burned. Its historical value was was recognized by some members of the community, but it seemed impossible and impractical to restore it at that time.

For over fifty years the Corner House was the centre of Horsefly - geographically and in other less tangible ways. Built for the owner of the first store, J. P. Patenaude, it continued through the years as the home of the "storekeeper" in addition to all its other uses. The long rambling log cabin with the two large pine trees shading it lives on in the memories of many Horsefly residents today and, when they speak of that old house, it is with the fond remembrance of many happy times spent there in the days when there wasn't much more in Horsefly than the School, the Store and the Corner House.

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