Unlike the American Wild West, the settlement of the Canadian west was a generally orderly affair. This is thanks in no small part to the immense work done by the North West Mounted Police, who arrived in the Alberta area in 1874.
For Wetaskiwin, the settlement of the region was not lawless and that is thanks to an officer by the name of Ephraim Girling.
Girling was sent to the area in 1892 by the Fort Saskatchewan detachment to take care of any unruly upstarts who happened to appear in the Wetaskiwin area.
Girling was born in 1870 in England, but came to Canada at the age of 10. He would enlist with the North West Mounted Police in 1889, and rode along the Edmonton-Calgary Trail prior to the railway being put through.
Arriving when he was in his early-20s, he sported a large moustache and a big black horse that gave him an authority in the community. On duty 24 hours per day, he kept the peace and quiet in the community and was very successful at it.
From horse thieves to drunkards, there wasn’t anyone that didn’t meet Girling when they broke the law and often they never broke it again.
One story relates how a group of men were making a ruckus after getting drunk on Main Street. Girling went to deal with them but had to go to Meeting Creek suddenly. He gave one of the men a rifle and told him to take charge of the group. When he returned from Meeting Creek, law and order was restored in the community.
While in Wetaskiwin, Girling would meet a woman by the name of Margaret Gould, and he was immediately captivated by her and her blue eyes. The daughter of the section foreman, Girling often had dinner at the family’s home during his time as the NWMP officer.
On the first day of May in 1895, after three years with the NWMP in the area, he would marry Margaret and shortly after would leave the North West Mounted Police.
Together, the couple would raise five children and never leave the district. Girling would begin operating a very popular bakery in the community following his policing career.
Following Girling, there would be many more officers but few would have the lasting impact on the young community that Girling did and he would command respect for the rest of his years as a resident of the Wetaskiwin area.
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Craig Baird writes a regular local history column for The Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer.