Travelling Down The Road In My Mercury

Pipestone Flyer

Photo credit to Wetaskiwin Heritage Museum courtesy of the Red Deer Archives. 

    Transportation in the mid 1800s in the Wetaskiwin area was more likely on your horse and buggy, rather than any Mercury. Getting on a well worn trading trail that First Nations and fur traders carved out would be as good as it got. These early trails were the first highways to the west. When Fort Edmonton became an important trading center for the three main Indian tribes in the area, clearly marked trails guided their travels from their buffalo hunting grounds to the North Saskatchewan River. At times there were skirmishes on these trails between the Blackfoot and the Cree. “The Hudson’s Bay Company tried to discourage the tribes from trading at the fort at the same time in order to lessen the murder and mayhem at their very gates”. The trails were just footpaths and were created out of necessity. Water routes were the major determining factor for where pioneers would settle before roads were put in. 

    Today for us, it is a simple 3 hour drive in the luxury of our vehicle from Edmonton to Calgary. In the 19th century it was a slow uncomfortable, muddy and often dangerous 4 day journey. The stopping houses and halfway houses “were a godsend, providing livery services, a home cooked meal, a place to clean up, and a warm bed”. In the fall of 1873 John McDougall took it upon himself  to make some improvements to the Edmonton to Calgary Trail, and with a group of volunteering men, felled trees, cut brush, and made the trail passable for wagons and cattle. In 1873 the North West Mounted Police established Fort Calgary. This furthered the need for more trail improvements and thus the Calgary/Edmonton trail was born. Already essential for the fur trade, the trail also became important for settlers in the West, as they braved the untamed landscape to establish homesteads. The trail was given two names depending on which way you were travelling. It was either the Edmonton to Calgary Trail or the Calgary to Edmonton Trail. Was that the beginning of the rivalry between the 2 cities, based on the fact that one could not stomach the thought of having their northern or southern counterparts name used first? Hmm, we will have to look that one up.

    In 1891 when the railway from Calgary to Edmonton was completed, many thought this would slow the trail use down. It was much easier to spend 12 hours on the train than 4 days on a cart. However money was a factor and alot of people couldn’t afford the luxury of the train, so they would continue to take the coach instead. The use of automobiles was still almost 20 years away. By 1892 several homesteads had been established along the way, with regular mail service arriving in 1884. The trail was mapped and surveyed in 1886, and “a comparison with that of explorer David Thompson shows that the trail had changed very little over 200 years”.

    Several other trails were also in existence back then. The Battle Lake Trail went around the North side of Battle Lake. It was used by First Nations people as well as pioneers and missionaries travelling to Buffalo Lake and Rundle Mission on Pigeon Lake. The Old Pigeon Lake Trail was another, a mail route was established from Wetaskiwin through Westerose and out to Yeoford three days a week. This connected the west to the thriving community Wetaskiwin had become. The Edmonton to Red Deer Forks trail meandered from Edmonton to the fork of the South Saskatchewan and Red Deer Rivers, connecting the city to these very important waterways. Other trails such as Todd’s Crossing, the Agency/Buffalo Lake Trail and Tail Creek trail were also in use and equally important.

    The opening of the west depended on waterways, trails, roads and railways. The men responsible for exploring and constructing these pathways go down in history as the forward thinkers of their time. The next time you get in your luxury vehicle and are cruising from Edmonton to Calgary, think about what it would have been like before John McDougall and his men cleared trees and brush, and how you would get across any waterways. As we move into the future one wonders what is next. A hundred years from now we will probably be looked at as deprived and primitive. Today I will not mind it a bit as I get in my nice truck and drive home.

    References: Siding 16 Vol. 1, Wetaskiwin Heritage Museum, The City of Wetaskiwin Archives.

 

Just Posted

Four charged in armed Samson Cree Nation home invasion

Suspects tied to prior forcible confinement case

Watch out for increased coyote activity in the coming weeks

No plans to remove coyotes from Wetaskiwin: Fish and Wildlife

Millet Fish and Game celebrates 30 years

Three decades marked with awards banquet, charity fundraiser

Red Deer will officially be the home of the Canadian Finals Rodeo

CFR has potential to bring in an economic impact of $20-30 million

UPDATE: Highway 2 lanes were closed due to milk truck fire near Millet

A southbound truck hauling milk and cartons collided with a bridge

Season opener ice race

Ice races held annually on Pigeon Lake

Liberals quietly tap experts to write new paternity leave rules

Ideas include creating an entirely new leave benefit similar to one that exists in Quebec

Insurers say Canadian weather getting hotter, wetter and weirder

Average number of days with heavy rain or snow across Canada has been outside norm since spring 2013

Two Canadians, two Americans abducted in Nigeria are freed

Kidnapping for ransom is common in Nigeria, especially on the Kaduna to Abuja highway

Are you ready for some wrestling? WWE’s ‘Raw’ marks 25 years

WWE flagship show is set to mark its 25th anniversary on Monday

John ‘Chick’ Webster, believed to be oldest living former NHL player, dies

Webster died Thursday at his home in Mattawa, Ont., where he had resided since 1969

Bad timing: Shutdown spoils Trump’s one-year festivities

Trump spends day trying to hash out a deal with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer

Las Vegas shooter acted alone, exact motive still undetermined: Sheriff

Stephen Paddock was behind the gunfire that killed 58 people including two Canadians

Botox, bomb shelters, and the blues: one year into Trump presidency

A look into life in Washington since Trump’s inauguration

Most Read