Turn of the Century Life in Wetaskiwin

Pipestone Flyer

    There were a number of events that the 20th century will be remembered by. To name a few, there were a number of severe recessions, most notably in the 1930s and the 80s. There were devastating world wars, and men on the moon. There were  also monumental improvements in the standard of living of ordinary people. In 1900 the life expectancy was about 47 for a man and 50 for a woman. At the end of the century it was about 75 and 80. This improvement was fueled greatly by new inventions to make life easier.

    In the late 1800s in Wetaskiwin and anywhere else, horses provided the main form of transportation and “pollution”. A horse can produce 20 to 30 pounds of manure a day. If you were in a big city like Edmonton or New York, multiply that by a thousand and you’ve got a big mess on your hands. Never mind the fact that livestock would be herded through town on a regular basis. Once Henry Ford introduced his Model T car in 1908 things would eventually evolve into a more mechanized world. 

    In 1900 Wetaskiwin was a small developing village “striding into the 20th century with energy and optimism. Even the names of the streets, used since the townsite was subdivided in 1892 gave a certain amount of character to the community”. MacDonald Street (51st  street) was named for our first Prime Minister John A. MacDonald, Pearce Street (50th ave) for William Pearce the chief surveyor of the Northwest Territories. Alberta Street (52st street) for Queen Victoria’s daughter. There were streets named after Governor Generals. 

    Subdivided lots in town had 50’ fronts and were 150’ deep. Lots facing Railway Street were 26’ by 130’. “Streets were 66’ wide which suggests original planners made no provisions for major thoroughfares or business districts”. There were only two railway crossings at the time and as the village grew this would cause a bottleneck of horses and wagons, and you thought there were no traffic jams back then. The village council was made up of men who were interested in the progress of the community. One of their first motions at their first meeting was that “cattle and horses  be prohibited from running at large within the street area of the village between Nov.1st –May 1st each year. Business and trade would improve and more professional men settled in town. At this point in time woman were deemed unqualified. There was activism to change the plight of woman going on at the time, however it wasn’t until 1927 that the “Famous Five” woman’s group would challenge this in court arguing that woman were “qualified persons”.

    There were many stories of pioneer families eking out livings. “Henry Nelson and Sam Reist, living on farms a short distance from town, were very much in demand in the construction trade, and always busy in the village. Reist especially could not be idle, he had 7 children when he arrived from Iowa in 1900. Being a carpenter back then was not an easy occupation. Henry walked the 4 miles to town each morning, worked ten hours for $1.50 then walked home again”.

    People were forced to be innovators. There was produce that farmers wanted to sell but no market. John west took it upon himself to change this. One time “he took all the butter that came in and had a butter maker work it over and pack it into tubs that were then shipped to lumber camps in B.C.” Mr. West accepted as much produce as possible and stored it in a warehouse and sold it as he found a market. The farmer who produced these goods was given a credit note or store merchandise. There was no cash, but this was better than no market at all. Most new settlers had little or no money at all. Under certain circumstances one could obtain credit from the Federal Government, however the process was quite daunting, and interest was at about 30%. If you couldn’t pay your debt back, land and/ or livestock would be seized. The loan would be dated and stamped Wetaskiwin NWT. Yes Wetaskiwin was part of the North West Territories until 1905 when Alberta was created.

    Settlers new to the area went to great lengths to earn a few bucks, survival depended on it. “One such fellow took 25 sacks of potatoes to Edmonton and sold them for 25cents a bag. He then bought himself a new pair of much needed high top boots for $2.50, and had a few dollars to spare. Another fellow T.T. Jevne cut and sold cord wood to the mill in Wetaskiwin. Jevne knew that all work and no play made for a dull life on the homestead, so he used some cordwood money to buy his wife an organ. It was a great source of pleasure for the Jevne family and many others in the district. Gustav Schnee walked all the way from his Gwynne area home to find work in Edmonton. He was on the police force for a time at 50 cents a day, and even tried panning for gold in the North Saskatchewan River”.

    Working away from home though necessary to supplement meager farm incomes created other problems.  It meant extra work for the wife and family. In some cases it meant giving up the family farm as people would gravitate to the city because of more opportunities. At any rate, what the country lost the city or town gained. Those hardy hardworking pioneers shaped the county to what it is today. Such was life in the early days.

    References: Siding 16 Vol. 1, McCord Museum, The City of Wetaskiwin Archives 4904-51st.   archives@wetaskiwin.ca

Just Posted

file photo
UPDATE: Leduc RCMP, Millet Fire Department and more on scene at serious multi-vehicle collision

Traffic is expected to be diverted for several hours and alternative travel routes are recommended.

File photo
Leduc RCMP request assistance to identify armed robbery suspect

Leduc RCMP are searching for suspect involved in an armed robbery at the Leduc Giant Tiger.

Alberta is now below 3,000 active cases of COVID-19, as the province reported 2,639 Wednesday. (NIAID-RML via AP)
Red Deer below 100 active COVID-19 cases for first time since March

69.7 per cent of Albertans 12 and over have at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine

Premier Jason Kenney says the provincial government is doing everything it can to encourage Albertans to get vaccinated. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Travel prizes added to Alberta’s vaccine lottery

More than 40 travel rewards available for those who are fully vaccinated

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

The Calgary skyline is seen on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
2 deaths from COVID-19 Delta variant in Alberta, 1 patient was fully immunized

Kerry Williamson with Alberta Health Services says the patients likely acquired the virus in the hospital

A vial containing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is shown at a vaccination site in Marcq en Baroeul, outside Lille, northern France, Saturday, March 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Michel Spingler
mRNA vaccines ‘preferred’ for all Canadians, including as 2nd dose after AstraZeneca: NACI

New recommendations prioritizes Pfizer, Moderna in almost all cases

House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., center left, reaches over to Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., joined by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., center, and members of the Congressional Black Caucus as they celebrate the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act that creates a new federal holiday to commemorate June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to enslaved Black people after the Civil War, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, June 17, 2021. It’s the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was created in 1983. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Biden to sign bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday

New American stat marks the nation’s end of slavery

A screenshot of the First Peoples Cultural Councils First Peoples’ Map. (First Peoples Cultural Council)
Online resource blends B.C.-Alberta’s Indigenous languages, art and culture

Advisor says initiative supports the urgent need to preserve Indigenous languages

A plane is silhouetted as it takes off from Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C., May 13, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Report calls for airlines to refund passengers for flights halted due to COVID-19

Conclusion: federal help should be on the condition airlines immediately refund Canadian travellers

Green party Leader Annamie Paul speaks during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, June 15, 2021. Paul has survived another day of party strife after a planned ouster shifted course, leaving her with a tenuous grip on power ahead of a likely federal election this year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Green Leader Annamie Paul blasts ‘racist,’ ‘sexist’ party execs who sought ouster

Fallout has continued, with two of the federal council’s members resigning

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and U.S President Joe Biden shake hands during their meeting at the ‘Villa la Grange’ in Geneva, Switzerland in Geneva, Switzerland, Wednesday, June 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool)
Biden says meeting with Putin not a ‘kumbaya moment’

But U.S. president asserted Russian leader is interested in improved relations, averting a Cold War

Most Read