John Edgar Moore

John Edgar Moore

HAPHAZARD HISTORY: The life of John Edgar Moore

The Moore House is named after its builder and area pioneer

Barry Sale

Haphazard History

On Second Avenue, across the street from the School District #27 administration building, you can see a large, hip-roofed building which houses the offices of Axis Family Resources. This is the Moore House, named after its builder and area pioneer.

John Edgar Moore was born and raised near Leyton Brock County, Ontario. In 1870, while still in his teens, and against the wishes of his parents, he set out for the West. For four years he worked his way through the northern United States and the Canadian prairies. In the late spring of 1874, he travelled up the River Trail to the Cariboo, stopping overnight at the Meason Ranch at Little Dog Creek. The next morning, he set out again, very impressed with the lush valley, the rolling green benches, and the plentiful grasslands in the area. A few miles further on, he came to the Chiaro place with its large white clapboard ranch house. There, he was welcomed by the owner Frank Chiaro, his son Felix, Frank’s wife (and Felix’s stepmother), and her daughter, Anne. He stayed with the Chiaros for a few months working as a ranch hand, before continuing his travels up to Prince George, then back through the Chilcotin area.

But the Alkali valley held a real attraction for John Edgar, as did Anne Chiaro, and in the summer of 1875, he returned to preempt a homestead between the Meason and Chiaro places. There, he built a small log house, purchased some cattle, and began farming. Two years later, he and Anne married. Together they raised a family of eight children, George, John Jr. (Johnny), Tom, Laura, Mabel Matilda (Dilly), Marie and James Wesley (Wes).

Around 1896, his father-in-law, Frank Chiaro was badly injured when a horse fell on him and he broke his leg close to the hip. The closest doctor was at Ashcroft, a very painful three- or four- day trip by buggy. It was decided that bed rest was the best course of action, hoping that the break might set and begin healing on its own. Unfortunately, blood poisoning set in, and Frank suffered a prolonged and painful death.

The Chiaro ranch was left to Felix and Anne, but Felix did not want to remain there, so he sold his half interest to his brother in law. John Edgar relocated his family from their cramped log cabin up to the big white ranch house. He started up a store, built a large barn, and even a schoolhouse, privately hiring a teacher to work there. The ranch prospered.

In 1902, the Onward Ranch in the San Jose Valley, was in danger of foreclosure. John Eagle, son of the original owner Charles, had taken over the operation in 1890 following his father’s death. He and his half-brother, Tom Paxton, had formed the business of Eagle and Paxton—Store Merchants, but they were heavily indebted to their supplier, the Harvey Bailey Company of Ashcroft.

John Edgar Moore, who knew a good deal when he saw one, purchased the ranch (over a thousand acres) and its general store in 1903 for the sum of $9,500. Over the next 17 years he refurbished the ranch house, restocked the store and made it a very profitable operation, added a huge livestock and storage barn, and built up the annual yields of hay, grains, and vegetables. The Onward became a very busy place. Ox freight wagons and mule teams stopped there regularly, dances were held on the top floor of his warehouse, and there was even talk of establishing a new town, to be called San Jose, adjacent to this prosperous and successful ranching enterprise.

John Edgar spent virtually all of his time at the Onward after he purchase it, working diligently to build it up. The task of managing the home place fell to his sons, John Jr., who looked after the ranching end of things and Tom, who continued to run the store. John Edgar also purchased land alongside Chimney Creek at the bottom of the long hill on Highway 20 that descends in the valley. He sold it in 1939, and it was sold again to Sid Pigeon and the Avery brothers. It was renamed the “A and P Hill.” This ranch has been owned by the Bill Stafford family since 1956.

When the new railway town of Williams Lake was in its infancy in 1920, John Edgar saw its possibilities and decided to move into the growing village. He sold the Onward Ranch in the fall of that year to Charles Cowan and his wife Vivian of Kamloops. Moore established another successful general store, the Moore Mercantile Co. at the corner of Oliver Street and Railway (now Mackenzie) Avenue. When he retired in 1925 at the age of 72, he turned it over to his son Tom, who renamed it the T.A. Moore General Store. This building had a prominent place in the life of our early town, the upstairs serving at various times as a dance hall, meeting room, church hall, coffin makers workshop, and morgue.

While he was in the process of constructing his store, John Edgar was also building a substantial private residence on what was then the outskirts of town. His family occupied this place until his death in 1943. It was a large house, and often out of town students boarded there with the Moore family. Following John Edgar’s death, the building was sold, and it was converted into a convent, called Rosary House, operated by a group of Roman Catholic sisters. A small chapel was added for the nuns. Catholic girls from surrounding area were educated in this boarding school.

It is ironic that the Moore House became a Roman Catholic institution. John Edgar and his wife Anne were both strong, traditional Presbyterians. When their daughter, Laura, was in her teens, a cousin came from Ontario for a visit and persuaded John Edgar to allow her to go back East to complete her education. He agreed, but a few months later, he was horrified to discover that this education was taking place at a Catholic school.

Laura spent nine years in Ontario, finishing her schooling taking up dressmaking, then meeting and marrying Charlie Moxon before returning with him to the Cariboo. Apparently, John Edgar must have been satisfied with the educational arrangements, because both Marie and Wes followed Laura to be educated in Ontario’s Catholic system.

Over the years, the Moore House has changed hands several times, serving as a private residence, an apartment building, and a centre for a number of small businesses. In the Mid 1970s the Williams Lake Association for Community Living purchased it and used it as a training centre. In 1998,the original building was destroyed by fire, but to their credit, the new owners, Axis Family Resources, had it rebuilt in the original style. It’s a building which still stands as a testimonial to one of our early entrepreneurial pioneers.

READ MORE: HAPHAZARD HISTORY: Onward Ranch steeped in history

Barry Sale is a retired teacher who writes a monthly historical column for Black Press Media

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