Where is Sunny Vale?

Why do some communities prosper while others disappear? For the people who came to Sunnyvale in the 1890’s it might have been just the lack of a train station. Many of the people coming to Central Alberta to establish a homestead would step off the train station in Leduc and begin to set up their claim, some went west and others to the other points on a compass. 
    Among the very first to step off a train were Adam Simonton and his son-in-law “Coonie” Ulrich. They came from Oakley, Kansas along with a friend, John Irwin, from Coby, Kansas. They left the dry lands of Kansas in search of land that had water available. Simonton would settle along Blackmud Lake and John Irwin along the east side of Leduc Lake (now known as Telford Lake). Meanwhile Ulrich was busy establishing his homestead in a valley below his father-in-law’s farm. 
    Simonton and Irwin would write back to friends in Kansas and more and more settlers came looking for land that was far from dry. As the population rose and more children were arriving the new comers saw a need for a school. Simonton and Irwin began the process of registering with the Northwest Territorial Government in Regina for a school district. They had to provide a name and chose Sunny Vale and had to have at least six students for approval. So on the very same day that Leduc was approved for a school district the people of Sunny Vale were also approved. The school year started on May 7th and ended on October 31st. The Sunny Vale School District #298 would survive until 2007 when it was dissolved and became part of the Black Gold School Division.
    The first school was a log cabin and would be destroyed by fire and was rebuilt in 1908. Fires were a major hazard for farmers in the early days as a prairie fire could destroy hundreds of acres of crop in a very short time and very quickly could put a homesteader in life threatening situations. In the fall of 1896 a prairie fire swept through Sunny Vale destroying most of the hay crop and then that winter was one of the worst on record killing hundreds of heads of cattle.  To make ends meet John Irwin and his sons poisoned scores of coyotes and sold the pelts for 50 cents each.  Others would survive only because of the high volume of rabbits that were everywhere.
    But, through it all the land produced for those who stuck with it and in 1897 farmers were recording crops of 100 bushels an acre for oats. Then in 1898 the area got a shot in the arm from an unexpected source, the Klondike!
    The Klondike gold rush saw a tremendous influx of people seeking their fortune in the far north of the Yukon. They were determined to take the overland route and flocked to Edmonton as the jumping off spot. They needed beef, pork, horses and produce and Sunny Vale and area farmers were only too happy to provide. This gave encouragement for farmers to expand and soon Sunny Vale had its own sawmill and threshing operation. An interesting side note was Lester Irwin, John’s son, would be the first to sail on Leduc Lake with a sailboat made from the lumber cut at the mill. Lester called it the Columbia. 
    Over time, new folks came to the area and as Leduc grew the line between Sunny Vale and Leduc disappeared and by 2007 when the Black Gold School Division absorbed the Sunny Vale School District the name had already become part of Leduc’s history.

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