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Customs At Del Bonita

Heritage of the High Country
A History of Del Bonita and Surrounding Districts,
Pages 201 - 202

Outport of Del Bonita, Alberta

The outport of Del Bonita is situated fifty-two miles south of the parent port of Lethbridge. To the west is the outport of Carway and to the east is the port of Coutts. The nearest town southwest of Del Bonita port is Browning, Montana, and further on Glacier National Park. To the southeast about forty-two miles away is Cut Bank, Montana.

A splendid view of the Canadian Rockies is visible all along the western horizon. Chief Mountain in Montana stands predominant. Farming, cattle and sheep ranching, gas and oil wells represent the industries of the region. There are deer, antelope, rabbits, foxes, coyotes, and many types of game birds in the area. Trout and pike fishing Spots are not too far away.

History of the Del Bonita outport goes back to 1912 when by an order in council, May 13, 1912, Twin Lakes, in the Province of Alberta, was established as an Outport of Customs and Warehousing port under the port of Lethbridge, effective I July, 1912. Prior to this, customs service was discharged by the North West Mounted Police. Sub-Collectors at Twin Lakes were S. A. Harris, 1913-1923, William Roberts, September 1923-June 1925. Then customs services reverted to the Mounted Police. The last R.C.M.P. officer at Twin Lakes was Constable Graham.

On December 7, 1932, Mr. Patterson, assistant inspector, closed the customs office at Twin Lakes, as very little international highway travel was arriving or departing from it. R. C.M.P. Constable Hugh Graham was in charge and moved all the records and furniture to Fareham (Whiskey Gap) where a new customs office had been opened. Mr. Frank Freeman was the first Sub-Collector at Fareham. All records were stored in a small windowless room in the lumber yard. The next day a table and chair were put in the office in the lumber yard. Mr. Patterson bought a gas lamp for the office, but it was rarely used, as the only night traffic always called at the Gilbert farm home about four miles east of Fareham, where Frank Freeman stayed. Frank Freeman was customs officer until February 1, 1934. During this time it had been chiefly a summer office.

J. R. Gresham took over duties at the Fareham office on February 1, 1934. Later in the year the outport was established as a permanent office. The office was still in a room of the Advance Lumber Company's office. For a time Mr. and Mrs. Gresham and small son boarded with Mr. and Mrs. Gilbert. Later a house was moved from Woolford and set on a foundation beside the lumber yard, and part of it was rented to the government for an office, and part to Mr. and Mrs. Gresham for a home.

This office was first called Fareham after the railway station and the community. It was later changed to Whiskey Gap when the office was permanently established. The district was better known by that name, which is the name of an old smuggling trail through a nearby coulee.

Whiskey Gap is situated about twenty miles southeast of Cardston, near the International boundary. The reason for opening a Customs office at Fareham (Whiskey Gap) was to enable wheat growers in northern Montana to haul and to unload their grains into the elevators there, later to be shipped in bond by rail back to the United States via the C. P. R. The average maximum distance by truck for farmers hauling to Whiskey Gap (Fareham) was about fifteen miles, whereas it was about forty miles to the nearest rail siding on the Great Northern Railway. Mr. Herbert Legg, inspector of customs, made these arrangements, as well as for elevator companies at Fareham to have special bins set aside as Customs Bonded Warehouses under Customs lock and key.

During the course of a year the volume of grain handled in this manner was of considerable proportions, and the arrangement was of much value to farmers, elevators, and railway alike. As the grain arrived by truck it was checked as to quality and quantity before being permitted to go into bins. It was exported under both Canadian and United States Customs supervision. Cars were sealed and accompanied by the usual Customs manifest.

In addition to the hauling of wheat, there was a small amount of automobile travel, back and forth among neighboring farmers in Alberta and Montana, which needed Customs attention.

About 1938 construction of a highway from Cut Bank and Browning, Montana to Magrath and Lethbridge was undertaken. It was completed in 1939. This new highway crossed the international boundary at a place called Del Bonita, named after the post office just two miles north of the border. Its construction changed the whole situation as far as customs services and control was concerned, The outcome was that the office at Whiskey Gap was closed and moved a few miles east to Del Bonita. The Montana wheat farmers then had to report in and out at the new office with their grains and vehicles, instead of being able to go directly the shorter way to Whiskey Gap. With the closing of the Customs offices at Twin Lakes and Whiskey Gap, regular R.C.M.P. patrols from Cardston were made of those two areas to prevent improper practices taking place relating to Customs.

In 1939 construction of an office-residence at the present customs site of Del Bonita was begun. The Whiskey Gap office was closed and the records and equipment moved to Del Bonita during the summer of 1939. J. R. Gresham was the Customs officer in charge. The office was in a tent until the new building was ready on December 1, 1939. J. R. Gresham continued as Customs officer until 1945 when Leo Spencer accepted the position. As business increased a helper was required and Bob Hately was appointed assistant. Other assistants to Leo Spencer were Jack Regehr and William Secretan.

In June 1956 C. C. Simpson was transferred from Lethbridge to the Del Bonita Customs and William Secretan continued as part-time officer.

On July 26, 1963, after many delays, construction started on the new office and residence. The buildings were finished February 11, 1964. Then the search for water began. After digging about fifteen holes of varying depths on the property and the neutral strip, water was found one and seven tenths miles west of highway 62 on May 22, 1964. The well is one hundred ten feet deep. Some water was hit in very hard sandstone at a depth of sixty-two feet. Piping and trenching, to bring the water from the well to the Customs office and residence, were completed November 5, 1964. The water pipes go under Highway 62. The new office opened for business December 8th, 1964, with Customs officer C. C. Simpson, and part-time officer William Secretan. Clare Simpson moved to Lethbridge in June, 1969.

In June, 1969 Cliff Cartwright was transferred to Del Bonita outport from Lethbridge Port. His assistant, William Secretan, was transferred to Lethbridge in June, 1970. Vern Olsen was assigned as relief officer from 1970 to May, 1972. Elwood J. Jackson has been relief officer from 1972 to the present time. Cliff Cartwright and his wife, Mary, and daughter, Carolin, find that friendly helpful neighbors are making their initiation into life in the open spaces easier.

Other officers not previously mentioned who served at various times in the past were R. McKenzie, now out of service; Mr. Laing, deceased; J. Peters, now in Winnipeg; L. Wililiams, now out of service; 0. McCrea, now in Ottawa; G. Spencer, now at Carway; L. Billingsley, now at Aden; D. Myskow, now at Coutts; and L. Ramsden with Investigations, Winnipeg, and Barbara Juhasz, now at Carway.

Officers on the American side have included W. E. Stenzel, Gordon Pouliot for Customs with Marion Taylor and Darrel Harrison for Immigration. Mr. Pouliot and Mr. Harrison moved away in 1979. The new man for Customs is Mr. John Carter.

Up to the present time the commercial entries and tourist traffic have more than tripled.

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Mary Tollestrup