The town of Chetwynd was once known as “Little Prairie” but with the coming of the Pacific Great Eastern (P.G.E) Railroad in 1957, the name of the community was changed to Chetwynd in honor of the Minister in charge of railroads, Ralph Chetwynd.
The Honorable Ralph Chetwynd first came to B.C. in 1908. He settled in Ashcroft, and later became the manager of a fruit farm at Walachin. After the war he returned to the Caribou and was associated with cattle ranching and transportation there. In 1952, he was elected MLA for the Caribou.
Ralph Chetwynd also became a director of the Pacific Great Eastern Railway. He was a staunch advocate of the development of the Peace River Country, with an undying faith in its potential. There is a picture of him in the Chetwynd Pictorial of 1968 that shows him wearing a stack of hats, which he won from scoffers who “bet their hats” that the Pacific Great Eastern (P.G.E). would never get through the Rocky Mountains. He died in April of 1957, missing by a few months the arrival of the railway in the town named for him.
Twenty six years after Little Prairie’s first post office was registered, with P.A. Widmark in charge, a crowd of 3000 people were gathered on its original site, awaiting the arrival of the first train over the Pacific Great Eastern Railway from Vancouver.
It was a blustery March day in 1958. Practically everyone in the local area was on hand to welcome the train, along with hundreds from all over the Peace River District. Many of them had been waiting 30 years for a rail outlet to the west coast.
The train carried cars of pipe; symbolic of natural gas development, steel railway track symbolizing continued extension of the Pacific Great Eastern (P.G.E.), a pig-a-back car with a Northern Freightways van representing the great freight hauling along the Alaska Highway and box cars for shipping the amount of lumber and grain available from the Peace River District.
With rail service established, a developing lumber industry supporting a growing local economy, the Westcoast Transmission pipeline in place, and strong indications that the Peace River hydro-electric project would proceed, the location began to attract business and industrial investors.
On July 1, 1959 there was an official ceremony and parade to dedicate the new name of Chetwynd. The Canadian Girls in Training, who were organized by Korky Grant, marched in the parade, singing lyrics composed by Irene Campbell, to the melody of “Clementine”
In a valley in the mountains, situated mighty fine
Lived a few hard working settlers, life for them was one hard grind.
Little Prairie served the district, news and mail and groceries too;
Come the railway, better living, changed to Chetwynd and the new.
Say goodbye to Little Prairie and the times that were so fine
Pack our memories in a basket; put the lid on for all time
People coming, people going, things are always changing round.
To the old folks there’s a sadness as the signs are going down.
And the new folks of tomorrow, with the future looking bright
Look ahead with hope and promise, change to Chetwynd, from tonight.
Serving Area: 8000
Elevation: 2019 Feet
Primary Industries: Forestry, oil, gas, & mining, ranching & tourism
In 1962 Chetwynd became incorporated as a Village.