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J.B. Oliver Funeral Home
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James Bowes Oliver first visited the Peace Country (by car!) with three friends in 1914, getting as far as Peace River from Edmonton via Athabasca. In 1915 he opened a store for the Crummy Bros at the "end of steel" which at that time was Pruden's Crossing on the Smoky River, but by the fall had moved on to Grande Prairie to work in the Crummy Bros store there. Not long after Mr. Oliver arrived, he established a furniture store which quickly evolved into a funeral home. Since the furniture store made the coffins, and he had a flat-bed vehicle (drawn by horses), he was also commissioned to take the coffins to the cemetery, and often to act as an ambulance by taking patients to hospital.
In 1917, James signed up for World War I, so was absent when the Spanish Flu epidemic began. Town council petitioned the military to release Oliver to assist with burying the dead from the flu, but were refused, so it was business-man Frank Donald who took over the task. Arriving back in Canada, Mr. Oliver stopped to take a two-month course in stone cutting in Hamilton, Ontario, but was back in the Peace River Country in 1919 and resumed the furniture and undertaking business. He married Ann Partlow in 1920 and the couple raised four daughters in Grande Prairie.
About 1930 J.B. built a fine new furniture store on the main intersection in town, right beside the Imperial Bank on the corner of 100 Avenue and 100 Street. It was called J.B. Oliver Furniture, but the undertaking service still operated from this base. Finally, in 1951 a separate building was constructed for the funeral business at 10130-101 Avenue, but it continued to act as the ambulance service until 1961 when a van was purchased by the City for ambulance use only.
Mr. Oliver was active in the community as the First Master of the first Masonic Lodge in Grande Prairie in 1917, president of the Old Timers' Association, Grande Prairie School Board, and United Church Board. He was instrumental in the creation of the Wapiti Park, which was later re-named O'Brien Park.
Mr. Oliver passed away October 21, 1967 and is buried in the Grande Prairie Cemetery. After he passed away, the funeral home was operated by his son-in-law Laurie Little (who had joined him in business in 1952) and by other partners. In 1971, a larger funeral home was built at 10212-102 Street with garage space for the hearses and a larger gathering place for family and mourners.
Grande Prairie, Alberta
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South Peace Regional Archives
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Created by TD on May 24, 2016