One of the first areas in the Central Alberta to be settled was the area around Pigeon Lake. As early as 1783 the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) sent fur traders into the area trying to extend their influence and to capture more of the fur trade from the upstart North West Company. The Bay was interested in catering to the Stony Band and for over sixty years the post became a place for trade and served as a stopping off place for those traveling between Edmonton and Rocky Mt. House.
In 1840 the HBC agreed to allow the Wesleyan Missionary Society to establish missions throughout the land they controlled. Long before Father Lacombe or Rev. McDougall even made their way west. A young man from Cornish, England by the name of Robert Rundle was designated to establish a mission along the shore of a lake the Stony called Hmi-hmoo translated as Woodpecker Lake and introduced gardening to the First Nations people living in the area. It was surrounded by a deep forest and with rich black soil suited for farming. It had all the earmarks for a successful mission. The surrounding forest influenced Rundle in calling the mission Woodville.
Unfortunately in 1847, three months before his assistant Benjamin Sinclair arrived Rundle had been thrown from his horse and suffered a badly broken arm that did not heal properly and left him crippled for life. After helping Sinclair establish the mission on high ground near where present day Mission Beach is located. Rundle was forced to return to England in the spring of 1848 and never return.
Unfortunately the mission was built right in the middle of territory disputed by the Blackfoot and the Cree. Sinclair and his wife, Margaret, decided to abandon the mission after a Blackfoot war party attacked Sinclair’s party near Battle Lake and moved to Lac St. Anne and then to Smokey Lake.
It would be another seven years before another attempt would be made to re-establish a mission at Woodville. This time Rundle’s brother-in-law Thomas Woolsey and Henry B. Steinhauer joined forces and returned to the old mission site. They found two log buildings in desperate need of repair and the lumber for the church decayed and useless. But, a delegation from the Stony asked Woolsey to settle amongst them. Woolsey did remain during the summer, but constant warfare made it impracticable and too dangerous during the winter.
John McDougall fell in love with Henry Steinhauer’s daughter Abigail and married her in 1865. The newly weds decided they would return to the original mission site that had been abandoned for nearly twenty years and rebuild. McDougall would later claim that their honeymoon journey in a horse drawn cart was the first wheels to roll west of Edmonton. Though warfare among First Nations people continued and the troubles brought about by the Northwest Rebellion resulted in stories of scalping and escapes from death the mission would remain. It has the honor of being the only mission to be served by every missionary and their assistants, sent by the Wesleyan Missionary Society, to work in Alberta during the early days of missionary work.
By 1858 the area was known as Pigeon Lake as the sky seemed full of passenger pigeons. The village of Ma-Mi-O is a First Nation word translated as white pigeon.
The Woodville Mission flourished until the mid 1890’s. Several factors would cause the decline. The development of the railroad had switched the movement of goods from canoe to rail resulting in the mission seeing a dramatic lost of traffic, the advent of reserves for First Nations people, and the decline in the fishery all contributed to the reduced need for the mission. By 1903 the land the mission sat on was surveyed and a John Henry Lee was issued title to the land in 1906. That year the mission disappeared from church records along with the name Woodville. Today the old mission site is a peaceful spot providing a beautiful view of the lake and countryside. A monument, which can be seen for miles, is located near the site of Woodville the first Protestant Mission in Western Canada.
The 1890’s may have been the beginning of the end for the mission but it was just the beginning of the influence that Pigeon Lake would have on the development of communities in Central Alberta, but that is a story for another time…
Note and picture supplied by Ted Okkerse from the
Pipestone Flyer Archives.
The above picture was loaned to me by a gentleman named Carl Jenson formerly of the Cloverlawn area. It was featured on the front page of the Pipestone Flyer July 18, 1997. Which incidently was the first full sized version of the Pipestone Flyer ever.
It looks like a train with several cars in tow. Although it is a steam powered train engine, it has been adapted to work in the snow and fitted with skis in the front and tractor wheel and tracks. The cars behind it are sleds loaded with logs. This particular picture shows the tractor pulling 14 sleds loaded with logs from the Pigeon Lake area.
The picture was taken in 1937. The tractor/train had a run of about 6 miles from the logging area to the mill. The mill was one of the largest in Alberta at that time and was operated by the Fraser family headed up by “Big Bill Fraser” shown second from the left at the front end of the tractor.
When other methods began to be used to haul logs to the mill, the engine was dismantled and used to power the planer mill at the town of Breton.
Mr Jenson worked for the Frasers the winter of 36/37 and his job was to look after the engine, such as greasing and water supply and maintenance. The engine burned coal which was hauled in the tender just back of the engine.
Jenson was 84 at the time I first spoke to him and was born in Yuke Meadow, now Cloverlawn. According to Mr, Jenson the far left man at the front of the engine is Harold McEntire who was the driver (or engineer). The second man from the left is “Big Bill Fraser”, the head Honcho of the operation. Third man from the left is Johnny McEntire but he was unable to identfy the fourth man. The man inside the engine is Tine Gilchrist and the man on the side of the fuel sled is Lonnie Powel.