Fonds 569 J. O. Watson

J. O. Watson fonds. — [ca. 1925-1963]. — 0.1 cm of textual records. — 4 photographs. — 3 video recordings.

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Biographical Sketch

J. O. (John Orville “Jack”) Watson, the son of Thomas and Catherine Watson, was born in Kirkwell, Ontario on April 27, 1894. He was of Scottish ancestry. Verta Minnie Cook, the daughter of Arthur and Minnie Cook was born in Hamilton, Ontario on January 15, 1895. Jack and Verta were married in 1915 or 1916 in Wentworth, Ontario. Their oldest son, John (Jack), was also born in Ontario, in about 1917. The couple later moved to Saskatchewan, homesteading there. Jack Sr. also ran a garage business. James (Jim) was born in Waldeck, Saskatchewan in 1918. The Watson family moved to Grande Prairie in January 1919, on the advice of Verta’s aunt and uncle, Bertha and Dan Chambers. Three children, Katherine (Dolly), Gerald, and Gloria (born January 20, 1933), were born to Jack and Verta in Grande Prairie. For a period of time in the 1940s, the family lived on the Coast while Jack lived in Grande Prairie and would visit them periodically.

In 1922, a garage was bought from the Charley B. Wilson estate (on ‘the Boulevard’ north of Richmond Avenue, possibly located on the northeast corner of 100 Avenue and 102 Street, where the Crummy’s Garage was later situated) and the Ford dealership taken over. Jack Watson’s partner was Fred Roberts of Bear Lake. Fred and Jack also briefly operated garages in Beaverlodge, Hythe, and Sexsmith. The Grande Prairie Garage Co. was incorporated in 1925. In 1935, Fred Roberts sold out his share to return to farming and O. B. Harris joined the partnership instead. When he sold out, Jack became the sole proprietor. Later Jack’s second son, Jim, joined the business. They continued as partners until 1961.

The Wilson site was sold a few years after its purchase to blacksmith Popkey. In 1925, the garage was expanded to add a store room and office. A gravity gasoline pump was installed the same year. In 1926, the Grande Prairie Garage built a new brick building across from the post office to include a show room, storage, and mechanic shop, on land purchased from Reverend Alexander Forbes (the southeast corner of 101 Avenue and 100 Street). Another building was erected in 1928 on the same lot to house a showroom, offices, stock room, and workshop. The 1926 building was converted into car storage and a vulcanizing and battery department. By 1928, the Grande Prairie Garage was dealer for Ford and Lincoln cars, Oliver implements, and Humming Bird Separators, and had two gas pumps. Another addition was made in 1929 to create space for greasing and washing cars and a ladies’ rest room. 

In 1937, the Garage installed three new “computer” gas pumps and a hydraulic car hoist. More alterations were made in 1940, when the old wash and grease building was torn down and the space used for used cars. A new, heated wash and grease stand was built and a Ford laboratory test set installed the same year. In October 1940, the Garage suffered a fire in the workshop, which burned Jim Watson and another employee and caused damage to the building. The fire brigade was able to extinguish it before the entire Garage and inventory were lost. Another, much more serious, fire occurred in July 1954, completely demolishing the garage building and causing the loss of three cars within a span of 2 hours. However, the business reopened on the same site a couple of days later in temporary buildings. A new location for the garage was found on west side of Clairmont Road (11002-100 Street). Building began in August 1955 and the garage opened November 1956, selling Ford cars and tractors. This new building had sales offices, the parts department, and the showroom on the 40 x 112 foot ground floor and a customers’ lounge and administrative offices on the second floor. The old location on 101 Street appears to have been retained, at least for a time, as a used car lot. The Clairmont Road location also suffered a small fire caused by a dropped gasoline bottle in 1964. Jack retired from the garage business in 1964. 

Jack served on the Town Council for seven years and in 1946 was Chair of the town’s Waterworks Committee. During his tenure in this position, the town approved the expenditure of a large amount of money on the Bear Creek Dam, a disposal plant, and the water and sewer system. In February 1949, Jack was elected Mayor by acclamation for a two year term, succeeding J. E. Thomson. He was serving as mayor during the period that the 1950 Grande Prairie High School, Wapiti Dorm, new Memorial Arena, and new Post Office were built and traffic lights installed. 

John Orville Watson died on August 16, 1965 at the age of 71. His funeral was held at St. Paul’s United Church. Verta died on October 25, 1983. Both are buried at the Grande Prairie Cemetery.

Jack and Verta’s son Jack Jr. married Minda Rodulfa, ran a car business in Redwood, California for a while, and ended up living in Hawaii. Second son James (Jim) served in WWII, then married Alice Lewiski in 1946. He worked at the Grande Prairie Garage until 1961, then farmed in the Beaverlodge area, later working on oil rigs and at P&G. Alice passed away in 2004 and Jim in 2011. Third son, Gerald, served in the RCAF, married Pearl and is still living (as of 2014). Daughter Katherine (Dolly) married a Switzer, eventually settling in Kamloops and is still living (as of 2014). Youngest daughter, Gloria, married Roy Borstad in 1953. She passed away on June 10, 1987. 

Sources: Grande Prairie Herald, Northern Tribune, Grande Prairie Herald Tribune, Beaverlodge to the Rockies Supplement, 1901, 1911, 1921 Censuses, 1962 Telephone Directory, GP and District Branch of the Alberta Genealogical Society Gravemarkers of Northern Alberta, Pipl Directory (online).

Custodial History

The records were donated over three accessions in 2013 and 2014 by J. O. Watson’s grandson, David. 2013.003 consisted of three photographs of the garage fire loaned for copy. 2014.016 consisted of a paper copy of a photograph of the garage. 2014.029 consisted of the three family films.

The poster of the garage (ca. 1948) has an unknown provenance and was formerly housed in the SPRA reference collection.

Scope and Content

The fonds consists of four copies of photographs of the Grande Prairie Garage, including the garage [ca. 1925] and its destruction by fire in 1954, a poster advertising the garage [ca. 1948], and three reels of family film [ca. 1960-1963].


Title of fonds based on contents.

Grande Prairie Garage, [ca. 1954]
3 photographs; b & w; 4 x 6 in.
Copies of three photographs showing a fire at Grande Prairie Garage, Ford and Monarch Dealer, ca. 1948, with a crowd of people watching the fire burn. There is a fire truck in one photograph and all three show men plying hoses to stop the fire.
Location: 2013.003.01-03
Grande Prairie Garage, [ca. 1925]
1 photograph; b & w; 8 x 10 in.
Photograph of Grande Prairie Garage on 100th Street and 101 Avenue in Grande Prairie. The Garage was located on 100th Street and 100th Avenue and was owned by J.O. Watson. It burnt down in 1954.
Location: 2014.016.01
Commercial Films and Travel, [ca. 1960]
8 mm film
The first ca. 225 feet of this film are commercially produced black and white shorts including a “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” cartoon, “Killing the Killer” showing a fight between a cobra and a mongoose, a travel film about Africa, and a film featuring planes. The remaining ca. 175 feet of film are colour home movies which have been spliced onto the commercial film. Unfortunately the locations are not noted, but appear to be both local and travel. Scenes include a view of a river and bridge, a girl in a garden, picnics, fair rides, parades, flowers, a sunset, mountain scenery, a waterfall, at the beach, and some buildings.
Location: 2014.029.01
Travel, [ca. 1963]
8 mm film
The film reel consists of colour home movies showing mainly travel scenes. The film is well labelled and indicates that the content includes the following: R___ National Park at Suttons, Niagara Falls, Cardston’s Mormon Temple, Gloria in Mother’s wedding dress, Banff hot springs, moose, home at Grande Prairie with flowers, Victoria with home family, May Street, Victoria’s Beacon Hill Park, Regatta at Victoria, rainbow at Grande Prairie, Jack and the boys at Grande Prairie, Calgary’s Prehistoric Park, P. Goulds [?] at Jackson City, Gloria’s wedding, Victoria, Vancouver’s Lions Gate Bridge, Stanley Park, Dunvegan, fishing, Banff and the Bow Valley, Brentwood Bay, Dolly and family at Stanley Park, Ford Museum, Greenfield Village, and the Toronto Exhibition. Groups of family and friends, children, and many gardens and flowers are interspersed throughout. Of greatest local interest are the footage of the Watson home and garden, the rainbow over Grande Prairie, and the Dunvegan bridge and ferry.
Location: 2014.029.02
Peace Country Scenes, 1963
8 mm film
A reel of film showing various scenes of the Peace Country, including sunsets, Dunvegan Bridge, children playing in the snow, a rainbow over Grande Prairie, plants and a garden, and a snowy landscape.
Location: 2014.029.03

View a digitized copy of this item here.