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Colonization & Settlement of Central Alberta

News articles about Central Alberta heritage that supplement and complement the objectives of the Forth Junction Heritage Society

July 1, 2017, Red Deer Advocate (Paul Cowley)
Canada 150

Land company shaped immigration to region
   The merits of Central Alberta were obvious to aboriginal people for thousands of years.
   It was not until the relatively recent past that the first European immigrants arrived and began to leave their imprint on the area.
   "A lot of it was shaped by what was known as the Saskatchewan Land and Homestead Company," said Red Deer City Archivist Michael Dawe.
   "It bought 115,000 acres of land in and around Red Deer so that had a really major impact on who settled here."
   That company, which was started up in the 1880s, had Methodist Church roots and not surprisingly used their network to encourage other Methodists, from Ontario and the Maritimes, and as far as Great Britain and the U.S.
   Rev. Leonard Gaetz was both a Methodist and the local agent for the land company.
   In the 1890s, you started seeing large numbers of Scandinavian settlers coming into this area, mainly settling west of Red Deer. Sylvan Lake became home to a number of Finnish families, and Estonians among others were also drawn here.
   Many had first settled in the U.S. before moving to, what they hoped, were better prospects further north.
   Beginning around 1897, a cold, dry spell that had plagued agriculture eased. As well, the Klondike Gold Rush led to general economic improvement.
Chinese immigrants at CPR station   In Central Alberta, the growth of mining in the Kootenays created ready markets for grain and other products, which fed the local economy.
   The Great West Lumber Company and the Roman Catholic mission on the North Hill attracted a significant number of French-speaking immigrants. Scandinavians were also attracted by the lumber jobs.
   "People ask why do people come here? Well, they come because there are jobs," said Dawe.
   Immigration stalled during the First World War, but then picked up in the years after when many moved here from the British Isles, where social unrest and hard economic times led the government to encourage emigration.
Hebridean immigrants 1923 CNR station RD   "One of big schemes was to bring Scottish Hebrideans, first to Red Deer and then from Red Deer they disbursed."
   Gaelic speaking, the Hebrideans found enough local people who knew their language to get by, but it wasn't easy for the new arrivals.
   "The big disadvantage for the Hebrideans is they weren't farmers, they were largely fishing people."
   Immigration slowed to a trickle during the Great Depression and the Second World War. Following the war, many Dutch people sought out a new home in Canada, a nation they credited with liberating them.
   Many were skilled farmers and dairy producers and Central Alberta county maps are still full of Dutch names.
   "We had a very large influx of Dutch-Canadians to Red Deer and Lacombe and places like that," he says.
   "Post World War 2, the economy was bad in Britain so a lot of them moved to Canada, where they hoped prospects would be better," he said. There was a noticeable influx in residents from the British Isles in that period.
Vietnamese immigrant 1980 Spruce View   Strife also led to a number of other waves of immigration that had an impact in Central Alberta. The Hungarian Revolution in 1956 saw some make their way here and unrest in South America around the 1960s and 1970s saw many look to Canada.
   The Vietnam War also led thousands of the so-called "Boat People" to make their way to Canada and Central Alberta.
   Also in the 1950s and '60s, immigration restrictions were relaxed for Asians and there was an influx from China and South Asian countries such as India and Pakistan. Now, the largest visible minority communities in Alberta are South Asian, Chinese and Filipino.
   Red Deer has continued to welcome newcomers from other countries who are looking for a brighter future. Most recently, Syrian families escaping the civil war have found peace in Red Deer.
Chilean immigrants 1976   Statistics Canada's annual census provides a snapshot of the city's ethnic heritage.
   According to the 2011 census (the ethnic breakdown numbers aren't available yet from 2016) the most populous groups with roots in the Americas came from the U.S., El Salvador, Colombia and Mexico.
   Europeans were led by the United Kingdom, Netherlands, Germany, Poland and Russia. African immigrants came mostly from South Africa and Nigeria with others spread among the many nations throughout the continent.
   Those originally hailing from Asia were led by Filipinos, Chinese, Indians and Vietnamese.
Photos: 1. Yung Hing Fong with his children Joyce, Herald and George at the Canadian Pacific Railway's Station
  Park in Red Deer, Alberta.
  2. Hebridean (Scottish) immigrants arriving at the Red Deer (CNR) train station in 1923.
  3. School children in Spruce View "people pass" a Vietnamese refugee boy in 1980.
  4. Families of Chilean refugees welcomed in Red Deer in 1976. All contributed photos.

Nov. 19, 2013, Innisfail Province (Johnnie Bachusky)
Wimborne comes alive again with new book
Historical society works more than two and half years to
preserve its hamlet's history

selling Wimborne history book   Alex Benedict remembers a time in Wimborne when Friday night was the special time of week when the Central Alberta hamlet came alive with the passing of the train.
   "Friday night was the busiest night of all. There was as many people there as in Innisfail," said Benedict. "The train brought in the supplies, like all the groceries. There were two grocery stores in Wimborne."
   Benedict, 74, has lived in the Wimborne area his entire life. His father came to the area in 1929, the year the rail line came through. It was supposed to go all the way to Red Deer but that never happened.
   Even still the railway gave the hamlet its life -- bringing people, supplies and serving the country grain elevators.
   But all that has changed. The rail track was pulled out years ago. The grain elevators are long gone. And Wimborne, which at one time had 75 citizens hopeful for boundless prosperity, is now down to just 25.
   "The town is disappearing," said Benedict. "For farmers like ourselves we have 25 miles to haul our grain when I used to only have a mile.
   "This is the modern way," he said, noting Wimborne is centrally located in the region -- 30 kilometres west of Trochu, 45 kilometres southeast of Innisfail and only 50 kilometres northeast from Olds. "Once the roads got better these poor little stores in town couldn't exist because the big ones take over."
   But the train no longer comes to Wimborne. The last of the hamlet's four elevators was toppled more than a dozen years ago. The grocery stores have long been closed, as have the hamlet's school, meat market, print shop, and pool hall.
   "They are gone. The only thing we have now is one garage and a post office," said Benedict. "Our kids don't know much about the town because it is down to a ghost town now."
   But Benedict and others in the community have recently made sure that the young will never forget Wimborne and the promise it once held.
   Earlier this year the Wimborne and District Historical Society launched its history book, the first one ever written about the community and the surrounding area.
   The 592-page book contains more than 320 family histories with accompanying photos. As well, there are 230 pages of general history covering the past 112 years, including the hamlet's businesses, schools, sports and organizations that made Wimborne a locality of promise.
   Benedict was the "finder" on the 20-member historical committee that diligently worked for two and a half years on the project, putting in endless hours to contact former residents, researching, writing, editing and proofing.
   In 2005, he and his wife Sharon went to the provincial archives in Edmonton and obtained the school records of all the kids in the Wimborne area from 1929 up to when the school closed in 1979.
   "The idea for a history book had been thrown around the community for quite a while, about 10 years. I have to say Dorothy Weimer, the last teacher here at the school, bit the bullet, and said, 'OK, let's get at it," said Benedict.
   "There is not many people older than me left in the area, and that is why we decided that we had better get something down on paper because my kids don't know where the restaurant was. They don't know where the pool hall was.
   "There was a curling rink and a skating rink and all that kind of stuff but now there is nothing," he added. "You have got to get the stories and history of the town written down."
   The committee initially printed 1,200 books, which are now selling for $40 each. Since the summer 700 have been sold.
   "With this book we are trying to let people know what was here. It is all about awareness," said Benedict. "If you don't then there is going to be nothing left."
Photo: Roy and Cordella Scarlett selling the book.

July 17, 2013, Red Deer Advocate
Heritage projects share grant funding
   Several Central Albertan heritage projects are among the 71 that received a portion of the $1.3 million in grant funding from the Alberta Historical Resource Foundation heritage grants.
   The Canadian Northern (Meeting Creek) Historical Society received $24,940 to help with the conservation of the Canadian Northern Railway Station and Roundhouse in Big Valley.
   "The pride Albertans take to preserve our colourful history is a result of the efforts of many individuals, organizations and municipalities," said Alberta Culture and Community Spirit Minister Heather Kimchuk. "By conserving our historic sites and landmark buildings, and documenting the province's journey through time, we preserve the legacy of those who came before us and help build the cultural capacity of communities across the province."
   In Nordegg, the historical society received $43,575 for the conservation of the Nordegg/Brazeau Collieries Minesite.
   The Stettler United Church received $34,820 for the conservation of the church.
   The Delburne Futures Committee got $5,000 for historic walking trail signage.
   Three Hills got $3,290 for the Anderson Park Information sign.
   The Alberta Historical Resources Foundation assists Alberta Culture in promoting public awareness and enjoyment of Alberta's heritage and is Alberta's primary window for heritage preservation funding.

January 9, 2013, Red Deer Express (Michael Dawe)
The history of the Village of Sylvan Lake
The year of 1912 was a very exciting one for Sylvan Lake.
   The community was enjoying one of the greatest booms in its history. Two railroads, the Alberta Central and the Canadian Northern Western, were building rail lines through the area on their way to the rich coalfields west of Rocky Mountain House.
   All of the rail construction meant that there were lots of good paying jobs. Farmers had a great local market for their hay, produce and livestock.
   New settlers began to flood into the community to start new farms and businesses.
   According to a news report of the time: "The clatter of hammers is most deafening. You can see piles of lumber anywhere you look which is soon tackled by carpenters. The next time you look, you see a new building going up. The place is full of tradesmen, merchants and manufacturers of all kinds looking for one of Sylvan Lake's best spots. With hardly an exception, they say they believe that Sylvan Lake is destined to be one of the principal cities of the northwest in the near future."
   In addition to all the new residents moving into the community, the number of summer tourists surged as well. New cottages were constructed in Upper and Lower Camps. New lakeshore subdivisions for further cottage developments were created at Jarvis Bay, Northey's Point and Whitewold Beach.
   The community boasted a large new hotel, the Alexander, which had all the modern conveniences including gasoline lighting.
   The older Sylvan Lake Hotel underwent extensive renovations and several more rooms were added. Soon, there was also a local opera house, two public halls, two pool rooms and a number of restaurants.
   There was talk of a large moving picture theatre being built. There was even talk of the C.N.R. constructing a mammoth summer hotel, similar to the ones which had been built by the C.P.R. at Banff and Lake Louise.
   With the free-wheeling pastimes often associated with a summer resort, Father Henri Voisin, the head of the Roman Catholic Priests of Ste. Marie of Tinchebray, wrote that "The time had come to enliven the completely materialistic atmosphere by the salutary presence of a church."
   Consequently, Sylvan Lake's first church, Our Lady of the Assumption, was constructed in the summer of 1912.
   Attention was also paid to the educational needs of the growing number of children in the community. Previously, children on the east side of Sylvan Lake went to the Finland School, while those on the west side went to Kuusamo School.
   Now, a new school, Sylvan Dell, was constructed in the burgeoning hamlet. When the school opened on Sept. 23, 1912, there were 27 students listed on the register.
   As the fall progressed, there was increasing consideration given to having the community incorporated as a village.
   A petition was circulated and sent to Edmonton. Approval for incorporation was granted by the Provincial Government on Dec. 30, 1912.
   The start of 1913 was celebrated with a large New Year's Eve dance at Heenan's Opera House. Despite bad weather, the hall was packed and the evening was judged an outstanding success.
   The first elections for the village were held on Jan. 20, 1913. Earl Grimson was elected mayor with Alexandre Loiselle and Albert A. Godden as councilors. R.P. Jones acted as both returning officer and the first secretary treasurer. Jones had also been both the first secretary treasurer of the Sylvan Dell School District and the first passenger to ride on the new C.N.R. train into Sylvan Lake.
   By March, Sylvan Lake acquired its first newspaper The Sylvan Lake Times. Because of the large numbers of Francophones living in the community, The Times was published half in French and half in English.

Feb. 3, 2010, Red Deer Advocate (Paul Cowley)
County heritage project a first for Alberta
   Red Deer County is credited with being the first rural municipality in Alberta to take a systematic approach to identifying its heritage sites and complete a detailed management plan.
   County council unanimously approved in principle a Heritage Management Plan on Tuesday that is designed to identify, preserve and protect historical buildings and sites.
   Councillor Jim Wood expressed his support for the initiative, which has been in the works for several years. It is a tragedy that some communities have already lost important historical buildings that were torn down, he said.
   Bob Buckle, of Heritage Collaborative Inc., said the plan offers a clear process for identifying potential historical sites and judging whether they should receive special designation.
   As part of the background work, 88 potential historical sites were surveyed and 27 have been included in an initial inventory.
   The main goal for the county is to create a register of municipal historic resources. The county has already designated two sites: the Holy Trinity Anglican Church at Pine Lake, and the Markerville Lutheran Church. A number of other sites, such as the Markerville Creamery and Dickson Store, have been designated by the province as historic resources and could be added to the municipal list.
   Local historian Michael Dawe offered his expertise as an informal adviser to the county project and gave the municipality credit for being a provincial leader on the heritage management front.
   "I think the County of Red Deer has a long history of showing very strong support for heritage identification and preservation," he said. Dawe said the county is taking a systematic approach to protecting its heritage resources. "They are showing the way for the province, and a very good way to do things. I'm very impressed with what they've been doing."
   Taking a step-by-step approach to surveying the sprawling county, identifying potential historic sites and creating a process to review them will create a solid plan, he said.
   "It will really pay off for them because as issues come up in the future they have not only done their homework but they've also put in a strong system to ensure that things are dealt with carefully and objectively."
   Among the consultant's recommendations is one to create a heritage advisory board. A staff person could also be designated as heritage officer to oversee the plan.
   The county could also look at designating historical special zones, for areas such as Markerville, which has three provincial and municipal historic resources.


News articles about the vision and progress of the Forth Junction Heritage Society
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News articles about recent rail-related development projects in Central Alberta
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News articles about regional destinations, tourism and miniature worlds


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