Early Pioneers of the Houston Area

Mr. and Mrs. T. Aitken

Tom Aitken left Scotland in 1898, and arrived by foot into the Bulkley Valley in July 1908. He started a sheep farm at North Bulkley, about seven miles east of Houston. In January 1913 he married Nora Booth, who had left her home in Sheffield, England in 1911 for what she thought would be a short stay in Canada to see what it was like. After a stay in Vancouver and Victoria, Nora Booth had answered a newspaper ad placed by Archie McInnes, asking for a Mother's Help in the Bulkley Valley. Here she met her future husband.

Aitken Family

Betty Aitken (Dungate) and Nancy Aitken (Goold).

For eight years the couple managed the post office at North Bulkley. Three children were born: Nancy (Mrs. J.T. Goold), Betty (Mrs. W. Dungate), and Richard (Dick), all of whom later made Houston their home.

The Aitkens eventually moved into Houston so their children could attend the one-room school newly built there in 1916. They moved into the Mission House (the old Anglican Church), paying $10 a month rent. There was no electricity. Food was grown on the hoof or in the garden and canned. Nora had the job of being janitor of the school. Betty Aitken married Bill Dungate on November 11, 1935. They had met on Betty's first day at school, but didn't marry until Betty was 21. Betty and Bill first lived in Prince Rupert, and moved back to Houston after the Depression. They had one daughter, Nora, who later moved to New Brunswick.

Aitken Family

Picnic in 1923 at North Bulkley - The Aitken family, the Ayliffe family and Miss James, the Houston schoolteacher.

The Mission House was home to Nancy until she was married to Jack Goold (John Goold's nephew, who had worked his way across the country, at times by boxcar) in 1936. Jack and Nancy had six children: Bill, Barry, Jack, Patricia, Keith, and Gordon. (From an interview with Esther Mercer, 1995)

Mr. and Mrs. Charles Barrett

Around the year 1900 the Diamond D Ranch, some seven miles west of Houston, was owned by three men, Charlie Barrett, Ned Charlson, and Jack Seeley. These men ran pack trains from Ashcroft to the Yukon for the government while the telegraph line was under construction. Later they continued packing supplies for cabins along the telegraph line from Hazelton to Telegraph Creek. In 1910 or 11 the partnership dissolved and Charlie Barrett became sole owner of the ranch. He also owned the ranch west of Diamond D, known as the Government Ranch (later owned by Pelissier).

In May 1912, Miss Helen Lehrman came to Telkwa to visit her sister and brother-in-law, Dr. and Mrs. Wallace, and while there she met Charlie Barrett. A romance blossomed, and they married in 1915 and settled on the Diamond D Ranch. (Note: a marriage certificate submitted in January 2001 shows that the marriage of Helen Lehrman and Charles Barrett was registered in 1919. Could it be that they were married in 1915 and did not register the event until four years later?)

Helen Barrett became known for her hospitality as well as her gardening skills, with unsurpassed rhubarb and lilacs produced in profusion. The Barretts also handled the post office for the Barrett District, with mail carried from the CNR station 2 1/2 miles away.

Charlie Barrett passed on in 1946, and Mrs. Barrett soon after sold the ranch to old-timer and friend Mr. Jack Price, who lived on the ranch until 1967. Mrs. Barrett went to Seattle to live with a sister. The property later became the Harry Hagman Ranch, and, in 1998, at time of writing, Dr. and Mrs. M. Yaremco live on this property.

The Barretts were a major influence in the development of the Houston area, leaving their name to a settlement, a lake, and a mountainous outcropping known as Barrett Hat.

E.G. Bellicini Ermildo Giovanni Bellicini, one of ten children in a poor family, left Bianzona, Italy in 1904 to seek his fortune in the New World. He arrived in New York with 57 cents in his pocket. He soon landed a job in a coal mine, and mining became the way he worked his way across the States, hoping eventually to get to Alaska. He made a friend in a swarthy black by the name of John Brown, who told him of a promising mine by the name of Sibola, halfway between Prince George and Prince Rupert far away in British Columbia, Canada. Emil Bellicini and Brown resolved to find it, but along the way, Brown died in a mining accident in Alaska.

Bellicini decided to continue the search. After a long and eventful journey, he arrived in Pleasant Valley (now Houston) just before Christmas 1908. Mr. Herb. Silverthorne, who ran the post office and a small store there, gave him a job at $1.00 a day to help him through the winter.

In June 1909, Bellicini met Joe Allen and Jack Adams, who were to become life-long friends. Bellicini took up acreage adjoining theirs, land which was later owned by the W. Vandenbergs. One of his first crops was a field of potatoes. Sibola Mountain was still a dream to be pursued. Bellicini believed there was placer gold there. Working with Kid Price and Bill Sweeney, in 1913 he finally reached what today is called Nadina Lake and saw for the first time Red Mountain, knowing Sibola was not far away. He had earlier paired up with prospector Kid Price from Idaho, and between the two of them they conducted a staking spree which was to create a slight gold rush to the Sibola. area. In 1915, "The Kid", suffering from rheumatism, returned to Idaho, and Bellicini was left to explore Sibola, a pursuit which lasted some 35 years.


E. G. Bellicini in the 1940s with marten and muskrat skins worth over $3000. He was one of the main traders during that time.

He also found other mining interests and a new partner for a time, Chung King Ho, with whom he explored the Bob Creek and Owen Lake country.

In 1918 Bellicini travelled to Washington to marry Rosie Tieni and the couple returned to Houston. The couple raised a family in Houston. E.G., as he was known, had a hand in many businesses: hotel management, fur trader, woodsman and lumber businessman. He was the first in Houston to own a planer.

Emil Bellicini died in hospital in Haney in the fall of 1969 after a long and colourful life in the north. He was 85 years old. His wife Rosie passed away a few years later. Son Morice Bellicini and daughter Gloria (Merkley) still live in Houston in 1999.

Harry Davis

One of the earliest pioneers in this valley was Ontario native Harry Davis, who arrived in Houston in 1904 after staking coal mine property on the Telkwa River. He bought land here and named the surroundings "Pleasant Valley". He farmed all the area on the east side of Butler Avenue and north of Riverbank Drive. When other settlers arrived, Davis recognized the need for a school and donated some two acres of land east of Butler Avenue, where, in 1916, the first school was built. (In 1998 the community hall is situated on this property.) He served as a school trustee for many years. He also donated two acres to the Anglican Church, and the Mission House was built next to the school, a building which later served the congregation of the Church of St. Clement.

Davis is remembered for many kindnesses as well as for his ability to delight a crowd with tap-dancing.

A house built by Davis around 1919 as a teacherage still stands in Houston. It is located on Riverbank Drive, across from the Catholic church. It is inhabited in the 1990s by the Paul Batley family.

Harry Davis died in 1938 and was buried in the Houston cemetery.

Efforts by Nancy Goold and members of the Houston Women's Institute have resulted in the mountain overlooking Houston from the north being named Mount Harry Davis.

Mr. and Mrs. George Dungate, son Bill George Dungate arrived in Pleasant Valley by foot in 1913, coming from Vernon, B.C. where he had worked as a joiner/carpenter since leaving his native England in 1906. Once established in a cabin along the creek that still bears his name, he sent for his wife and their two children, Bill and Maisie, who arrived by train in December 1914. Later, a set of twins, Ted and Doll, were born in their home. The family cleared land, a little each year, until there was enough for a garden and a hay crop. In 1918 the Dungates acquired land closer to town and their new home was built. There they established a dairy herd and shipped cream to Vanderhoof. When that creamery closed in 1924, the Dungates moved to Prince Rupert where George could work in his own trade.

Mrs. Dungate passed away in 1936, and Mr. Dungate returned to Houston for a while, but later moved back to England where he stayed until the end of the war. Then again he returned to Houston, living with Bill or Ted or Maisie until his passing in 1949.

Bill and Maisie were among the first children to attend school in Houston in 1916.

Bill was five years old when he arrived in Houston in 1914. He grew up in a little shack on the farm near the creek that now bears the Dungate name, four miles out of town. He attended school in Houston, getting up in the early hours to milk up to 18 cows by hand first. One of his schoolmates was Betty Aitken. On November 11, 1935, the two married, although the event was almost a mishap, since the wedding was planned in Prince Rupert where Bill was living at the time and Betty, who was still in Houston, was unable to travel to the coast because heavy rains had washed out the tracks! The couple lived in Prince Rupert for 7 1/2 years. Daughter Nora was born in 1938.

In 1943 the Dungates returned to Houston and took up residence on the 160 acre Benadi property which they had bought from Betty's mother, Mrs. Aitken. There they lived and farmed (cattle, eggs, poultry), an occupation Bill combined with working in the woods until his retirement in 1974. Bill and Betty continued to live on the farm until his death in January 1993. His life was a legacy to the community: Houston farmer (he farmed the land along the creek that bears his name; and in early days also hayed 'Napper's Place' at 13 km on the Morice River Road), wildlife observer and conservationist, weatherman (each summer for 20 years Bill and Betty recorded the weather for the Houston Forest Service), community photographer, and 'water-witcher' or diviner. Many a Houston well exists today because Bill was able to pinpoint the location with a forked wooden rod which dipped when he held it over a vein of water. This was a gift he demonstrated since he was eight years old and continued to use for more than 70 years.

He is remembered especially for his darkroom work, restoring old pictures and leaving a photographic record of the history of Houston.

In 1978 Bill became a recipient of the Queen's Jubilee Medal in recognition of his contributions to this community. Bill and Betty Dungate in 1985 were declared "Freemen of Houston".

John and Hazel Goold

John Goold and his cousin Frank Madigan left Sussex, New Brunswick in the early 1900s and headed west across the U.S. In 1908, while Madigan had gone to Alaska, John Goold ended up in Prince Rupert. It was little more than a tent town then, and Goold found work helping John Houston setting up the first printing press there. Eventually Goold began to travel inland, and by 1919 he found himself in Houston, the new owner of the store and post office there. Later he met and married Hazel Campbell, a sister to Mrs. Slavin, whose husband for a short while owned Houston Hotel.

In 1927, the Goolds built a larger store on a new location on the south side of the tracks. By this time the post office had been turned over to Mrs. Middleton. The Goolds gave the community many years of friendly service.

In 1945, the store was sold to John Koning from Neerlandia, Alberta, and the Goolds went on to buy the store and hotel in Topley.

Goolds Store

John Goold's store built in 1927.

The John Goolds had one son, Jim, and one daughter, Ruth. John Goold passed away in 1955.

Jack Goold, a nephew of John Goold's, married Nancy Aitken in 1936. The Jack Goolds also served the Houston area as storekeepers. They established the store on 9th Street which served the entire community for years, later changed hands and became known as Houston Food Market. The Goolds were known for their charity, and stories exist of local residents too poor to buy food finding bags of groceries on the porch. Others, especially new immigrants, tell of the "credit" they established with the Goolds, when no bills were ever received for purchases made during their first days in the area.

Frank and Marie Madigan

From Sussex, New Brunswick, Frank Madigan, a cousin of John Goold, worked in Juneau, Alaska before travelling alone down the coast in a small boat to Prince Rupert. From there he travelled to Houston, filed a homestead at Buck Flats, and prospected the Sibola country. He did considerable assessment work on Sweeney Mountain. In 1918 he met Marie Swanson, who was visiting her brother John Swanson, also a Buck Flats pioneer. The two were married in November 1918 and raised two sons, Francis and Jack.

Madigan Home

The Madigan home in the Buck Flats area around 1920.

In Houston, Frank did some clerking in the store for cousin John Goold, and later bought the Houston Hotel, which he sold to E.G. Bellicini in 1935. Then he turned to farming in the North Bulkley area.

Frank passed away in 1949. Marie Madigan was laid to rest in Houston in 1970.

The MacInnes brothers - Archie and Jessie, Neil

In October 1901 two men arrived in Pleasant Valley on horseback, coming from Hazelton on the newly completed Telegraph Trail. They were Archie and Neil McInnes, who had worked on the trail before the turn of the century and had decided to return to Pleasant Valley. Archie was sent by the Superintendent of Telegraphs to the North Bulkley Cabin, situated near what is now called Cote Creek.

Later they farmed in North Bulkley, supplying hay to packers working the Telegraph Line, and providing a stop-over for travellers. In 1903, when they heard rumours that a railway would be built through the valley, they pre-empted a section of land two miles east of Cote Flat, each taking half. Their land later became known as Pioneer Ranch (later known as the Barnett Ranch) and Meadowbrook Ranch. (The Wilson brothers own this property in 1998 - Bill owns Pioneer Ranch and Brian owns Meadowbrook Ranch.)

The brothers became known for bountiful harvests of cabbages, turnips, cauliflower, and potatoes. The soil was rich, and crops were excellent.

Archie McInnes married Jessie Aitken (sister to Tom Aitken, Nancy Goold's father) in October, 1905.

Since they had to travel 40 miles to Aldermere (Telkwa) for their mail (which came up the coast and inland from Kitimat in those days), the McInnes' opened a post office in their home, which operated on and off until 1956.

The McInnes', in 1917, were the first to cut in a winter road from the North Bulkley area to Houston, since travel to Houston via the Summit Lake Road was long and round-about.

Pioneer Ranch became known as a stop-over for weary travellers en route from Hazelton to the Ootsa Lake area via the Telegraph Trail.

Archie and Jessie McInnes had three daughters: Vera, Ivy (later Mrs. Eric Strimbold, the mother of Archie Strimbold, Linda Bremner and Frank Strimbold ), and Neva, who moved to Victoria. Both Vera and Neva went on to university and became teachers. Ivy married Eric Strimbold when she was 18 years, her husband being a lot older than she was. She worked hand-in-hand with her husband on the farm. (From an interview with Esther Mercer, 1995)

Eventually Archie and Jessie sold their ranch to Frank Barnett and moved to Terrace to enjoy their retirement.

Neil McInnes passed away in 1948 at the age of 94 and was buried in the Houston cemetery. Archie McInnes passed away in 1951 at the age of 89 and was buried in Terrace.

Annie and Nora Middleton

Annie Middleton and her daughter Nora arrived from England in the spring of 1923. They first travelled to the Francois Lake area, where Annie Middleton expected to be married, but the plans fell through and Mrs. Middleton eventually ended up cooking for Harold Silverthorne near Houston. Nora had in the meantime married Lee Newgard, and the couple moved to a spot near Francois Lake that is still known as Noralee.

In 1926 Mrs. Middleton became Houston's postmistress, taking over that operation from John Goold, a position she held for the next 18 years. Later a new post office building was constructed on the north side of the tracks. When Annie Middleton died in 1944, her granddaughter Dorothy Newgard (later Ruiter, then Goldecker) filled in for three months until her parents Lee and Nora Newgard could move to Houston. The Newgards built the large hip-roofed house across the tracks opposite the CN station that was a Houston landmark until it was destroyed by fire during the 1990s. They operated a post office in this building until 1953, when the operation was moved "downtown".

Mrs. Annie Middleton was the mother of Nora, and the grandmother of Nora and Lee Newgard's children Dorothy (Goldecker), Anne (Baggerman), Stan Newgard, Neta (Gerow), and twins Nancy (Szydlik) and Grace (Gervais).

Frank and Emma Mosher

This couple arrived from New Brunswick around 1914 and took over the post office from the Herb Silverthornes and opened the first general store in Houston, located then by the Bulkley River, across the tracks. Mosher (with partner Mr. Law from Nadina) dealt mostly in furs, used by the railwaymen for coats. Around this time flour was selling for $5.80 for 100 pounds, and three pounds of coffee could be bought for $1.00. Frank Mosher succumbed to the flu in 1918, (he was buried in Hazelton, as were so many pioneers) but Emma, who had been visiting in New Brunswick at the time, returned with her sister, Miss Marr, and lived in Houston until 1923. Then Emma sold the store to John Goold, and the two sisters returned to New Brunswick.

The Mungers

Roy Munger's first trip into the area was in 1911, and the young man was so impressed with the area he returned in 1919 with his parents, Frank and Jenny Munger, who were from the Kamloops area (Faulkner). Frank was originally from the US, and his wife Jenny had come from Ireland. They settled and ranched on the Summit Lake Road and Hwy. 16 property where great-granddaughter Maxine Bell ranches in 1998.

Roy was born in 1892, grew up in B.C. and told of riding in the Calgary Stampede in 1912. During his first years in this area, he hauled coal with a four-horse team from the mine in Telkwa to the railway. In the summer he worked as a packer along the Telegraph Trail for surveyors and mining companies. He also logged ties for the railway.

Roy and Hazel's daughter Jule was born in Telkwa, where Pete Slavin (Hazel Goold's brother) owned the hotel. There were two more children: another daughter, Louis, later Mrs. Jim Campbell, and a son, Frank Munger.

Jule married Harry Andersen, and they settled on what is now Vallee Creek Ranch, which Harry had bought with "Soldier Settlement" money from Nanne Vriend (who had bought it from Jack Price) in 1946.

In 1998, Juan Andersen and Maxine Bell of Houston are direct descendants of the Munger family.


Roy Munger and Harry Andersen hauling logs from the woods to a portable mill in Houston about 1950.

Jack Price

Young Jack Price wanted to cross the ocean from Wiltshire, England on the Titanic but was unable to book a passage. Instead he crossed the ocean aboard the Megantic and arrived in Hazelton around 1914. He worked there for a short while and decided to explore eastward, arriving shortly after at the Diamond D Ranch and finding work with ranch owner Charlie Barrett. In 1918 Price laid claim (pre-empted) the land later sold to Nanne Vriend and then to Harry Andersen (Vallee Creek Ranch) and started into the cattle business. He also operated the Government Ranch (the old Pelissier place) for a while. Price remembers the area as pretty rough, with plenty of home-brew and a six-shooter for every man.

Jack married in 1927. Three sons and three daughters were born. He bought the Diamond D Ranch in 1946. He and daughter Gloria lived on the Diamond D Ranch until the early 1960s, when he sold it to Harry Hagman. He had over the years raised many a head of prize cattle and helped develop much timothy hay and seed.

Mr. and Mrs. Fred John Reynolds

Mr. and Mrs. F. Reynolds with their family of six sons and a daughter arrived from Winnipeg on the passenger train into Houston in May 1914. Fred's first job was as a section man, the railway still needing much work. The Reynold's home for that first winter consisted of a couple of tents pitched beside the railway tracks. The next summer they bought land one mile east of Houston and built a seven-room home across from what later became the Houston Golf Club.

Mrs. Reynolds brought into the area the first grand piano as well as some beautiful pieces of furniture, which contrasted with the crude homemade furniture many of the other pioneers had built themselves. Mrs. Reynolds provided many evenings of music as a pianist and as an accompanist until her death in 1957. (Her piano was later sold to Houston music teacher Lorraine Klassen, who took the piano to Swift Current when the Klassens left the Houston area.)

Their large family prompted the development of a school in the area, with a log building opened in September 1916 for classes. Ted, George, Dave, Jim, and Kathy Reynolds were in that first class of seven students in Houston's first school. (The other two students were Bill and Maisie Dungate.)

The Reynolds family cleared land and sold railway ties, which were sold for 32 cents for a number two. They trapped, farmed, worked for the railway, and made a living from the land.

Mrs. Reynolds passed away July 16, 1957. Fred Reynolds lived until the age of 90 and died on July 27, 1969.

The Silverthornes

Initially there were two brothers: Bob Silverthorne, who arrived in Pleasant Valley in 1906, and Herb Silverthorne, who, with his son Harold, then 10, came in the spring of 1908 after Bob's enthusiastic reports of the valley.

In August of 1908, Herb's wife arrived from Oakland, California with 8 year old Margaret. In 1909 the Herb Silverthornes built their house on the hill that still bears their name and opened the area's first post office and store there. (Before the railway came through the mail was brought in from Government Ranch, a distance of about 9 miles west of Houston.) In 1914 Mr. Silverthorne turned the post office and store over to Mr. Mosher, who built a new store in nearby Houston. A 1917 map of Houston shows the location of the Bob Silverthorne home as being about a mile west of Houston, immediately south of where the rail tracks curve northwest - most likely in the Buck Flats area.

Daughter Margaret married George Barrett in 1917 (brother of Charlie Barrett, who owned Diamond D Ranch), and they moved to the Yukon in 1925.

Son Harold married Elizabeth Winstanley of England in 1922. He had a house built for his bride - the house a mile west of Houston on the Buck Flats Road that John and Lucy Lieuwen occupy in 1998, most likely on the property first owned by his uncle Bob. However, after two years of marriage, Harold was suddenly left a widower with a baby daughter (later Betty O'Neill of Smithers) to care for. Grandparents Herb Silverthorne and his wife took in the little girl, as well as granddaughter Rose Barrett, who lived in the north far away from schools. They moved in with son Harold, closer to town.

Following the example of his parents, who had been very active in community affairs, Harold Silverthorne worked untiringly on the school board for many years. Harold had a taxi and trucking business (John Veenstra later bought his taxi.) In 1941 he married teacher Dorothy Fee, the daughter of a Vancouver railwayman. Two children were born, Grace and Clifford.

In 1948, Harold passed away, and his widow moved back to the Vancouver area for three years before returning to Houston where she eventually taught for twelve years. For a while Mrs. Silverthorne also operated a store in Houston, opposite to where the Houston Food Market is today, a store she acquired as a property settlement after a buyer defaulted on payment on the trucks Harold had owned.

Mrs. Dorothy Silverthorne is fondly remembered today by many Houston residents as the tiny, enthusiastic teacher who played the piano, helped the children of Dutch immigrants to learn English, and taught grades one to eight, first in a one-room schoolhouse, and later in the new school complex that to this day bears the Silverthorne name.

Note: For a more on Houston's pioneers, see Marks of a Century, the newly published history of Houston, released in November 1999 and available from the District of Houston, (250) 845-2238.

Copyright © 2020 District of Houston - All Rights Reserved
Site By Trinex Internet Solutions